World’s Worst Trekkie: Carlie Takes On “The Return of the Archons”

You ever play that game where someone writes the first paragraph of a story and hands it to the next person, who writes the second paragraph of the story and hands it to a third person, who–while looking only at the directly preceding section–writes the third paragraph of the story, and so on and so forth? Usually, you get something that only kinda/sorta makes narrative sense, and not just because Janet tried to skew the whole collaboration into a string of alien sex jokes. Don’t try and look innocent, Janet; there were no aliens OR butt stuff anywhere in the six preceding paragraphs!

Well, that’s kinda what this episode reminds me of. Minus Janet and the butt stuff.

DISCLAIMER

There will be SPOILERS for this episode and probably the Star Trek franchise in general. You’ve been warned.

WHAT GOES DOWN, BASICALLY

Sulu and Lt. O’Neal are on an away mission, trying to locate the U.S.S. Archon, a ship which crashed on this remote planet 100 years ago. Evidently, the mission has gone poorly because sinister monks with magic sticks appear to be chasing them. Sulu asks for an emergency evac, but unfortunately the transporter room does not have their shit together today. O’Neal runs off, panicked, while Sulu gets zapped with the magic stick. By the time the Enterprise beams him up, Sulu’s been absorbed (AKA, brainwashed), all big grins and babbling about paradise.

It’s up to Kirk, Spock, Bones, and a few other dudes to beam down to Vaguely Old West Planet and investigate. Everyone they encounter seems as blissed out as Sulu, until the clock strikes 6, that is, and the “Red Hour” begins. Then everyone freaks the fuck out: screaming, attacking one another, attacking themselves, etc. The away team gets to safety, but one of the old local dudes is upset because all young people are supposed to be outside, participating in Festival. The all-seeing Landru, apparently, will not be pleased.

Everyone returns to normal (well, normal-ish) by the following morning; unfortunately, the sinister monks (AKA, lawgivers) try and take our heroes into custody. Kirk straight-up refuses to go, which completely stumps these dudes. Then the away team escapes with a member of the underground resistance, discovering a brainwashed O’Neal along the way. They stun him and hide out in a castle, or something, learning what happened to the missing U.S.S. Archon: it crashed due to mysterious heat beams emanating from the planet. Naturally, those same beams are threatening the Enterprise now.

Quickly, the away team is captured. They wake up in a prison cell, but oh noes! Bones has been absorbed! Kirk appears to get absorbed next, but it’s all a ruse: another undercover resistance member is helping them. Bones realizes this and starts screaming TRAITORS (it’s delightful), but Kirk quickly knocks him out. Then he and Spock find Landru: an ancient computer programmed with all the knowledge/experiences of Human Landru, who lived 6,000 years ago. But Computer Landru doesn’t have a soul (yawn), so Kirk easily talks it into self-destruction. (His argument? Computer Landru is harmful to the Good because it hasn’t let people make choices, which means they haven’t been allowed the opportunity for creativity, and without creativity, there is no life.) Once Computer Landru blows up, everyone goes back to normal and the Enterprise can safely leave.

MY TAKE

Well. It starts good.

I’m a sucker for a good in media res beginning, and at times the brainwashed citizens are genuinely creepy. The scene where they slowly stalk after our heroes in unison, each silently brandishing a weapon, is slightly comical but also eerie as shit. It’s a lot of fun to watch Sulu and Bones under mind control. And everything about the Red Hour is fantastic, up to and including its ominous name. This is an intriguing, completely unexpected version of Hate Plague, and I was really into the mystery of it all.

So, it’s pretty disappointing that no one in this show bothers to solve that mystery.

Velma would never allow this to happen.

Why the Red Hour is necessary to keeping order, why old people are exempt from it, etc. Festival is the most striking aspect of this episode, and after 20 minutes, they never mention it again. It’s frustrating.

I’m also not particularly impressed by the whole “Landru is a computer” reveal or by how quickly Kirk gets said computer to self-destruct. The former is pretty boring and reminds me way too strongly of “What Are Little Girls Made Of” (which I also didn’t like), while the latter is just patently ridiculously. I don’t necessarily mind the Logic Bomb trope in theory–for instance, I kind of enjoyed it in Stephen King’s Wizard and Glass–but Kirk barely has to ask five questions before Landru is defeated, and I somewhat doubt the logic of his argument, which, again, goes like this: creativity is necessary for life, therefore you suck, man. (Slightly paraphrasing.) This bullshit causes Landru’s downfall? This?

I’m well aware that these themes and tropes are here to stay in TOS. But since I’m also here to stay, well. Prepare yourself for continuous facepalm gifs.

RANDOM ASIDES

Interesting. I see Captain Kirk has chosen to send a whole two officers down for a planet-wide search. That doesn’t sound like a deeply ineffective plan at all. I see it going very smoothly.

While we’re on the subject, I might as well institute an official Sulu Watch, considering he’s my favorite character and all. (Spock is a very close second.) Sulu-Related Stuff I didn’t mention before: a) Absorbed Sulu drops his dopey grin long enough to yell at the ship’s sociologist for giving him the wrong undercover clothes, meaning everyone on the Enterprise is just letting down my bae today, and b) roughly two seconds after Landru is destroyed, Sulu is back on the bridge, with an adorably sheepish “look, I’m all better now” shrug. It’s pretty hilarious, although I do question the Enterprise’s policy of allowing the recently mind-controlled back on duty without any kind of period of observation.

I know it’s hard to beam people up if they’re in motion and all, but I still think the Enterprise should’ve been able to locate and retrieve O’Neal even after he ran away. Maybe if Spock had been in command. Hell, he probably would’ve managed to beam up Landru, too.

FASHION REPORT: Honestly, there isn’t all that much to report, since everyone’s dressed in either old-timey clothes or various monk robes. Still, I do enjoy that Spock actually bothered to put together a very nice, time-appropriate ensemble (gray pants, gray vest, white button up, etc.) under his big, black monk robe.

First Time We’ve Encountered: the Prime Directive! Although, interestingly, no one really bothers to define it in this episode. Kirk just tells Spock that it doesn’t apply here because this society isn’t living or growing in any meaningful way. (Which is true, but also sounds like the kind of specious argument you could use to justify all kind of gross bullshit.)

I’d give a lot, a LOT, of money to see Chris Pine and Karl Urban recreate the scene where Kirk literally tries to shake the brainwashing out of Bones, all, “Think, man!” It’s pretty awesome. Also, the scene where BB completely loses his shit and starts screaming at them for being traitors? Love it.

There’s a lot of repetitive dialogue in this episode. It really makes me want to point my finger at random people and yell, “You are not of the body!” and see who, if anyone, reacts.

Captain Kirk, our hero, is basically a callous jerk to the two underground resistance guys, including the dude who saved his ass from becoming an unwilling acolyte to Landru. For starters, he’s extremely nonchalant when he tells them they’ll need a wardrobe change and new jobs, you know, like their entire world hasn’t been entirely upended. He also tells them to start “acting like men” when they express fear of openly rebelling against their tyrannical godlike leader, who easily and permanently takes over people’s brains and has been in power for, oh, somewhere between the last 100-6,000 years. It’s cool, though, Kirk. Your snap moral judgments seem totally sound.

I guess it’s nice that Kirk leaves behind the sociologist and a team of “experts” to help out, but the phrase “restore the planet’s culture to a human form” bothers me a little, like, I know what he means and yet . . . I find myself weirdly anxious for these poor people and what culture the sociologist might decide they should have. Still, I suppose this is better than completely abandoning them with only a promise of eventual help. You know, like he totally did with the kids in “Miri.”

Landru might not have a soul, but it must have a fantastic operating system. It’s been running completely self-sufficiently for 6,000 years; meanwhile, I’ve had my iPhone for, what, only four years, and it already glitches, like, ten times a day? It saddens me. I am saddened.

LINE OF THE EPISODE

“The original Landru programmed it with all of his knowledge, but he couldn’t give it his wisdom, his compassion, his understanding, his soul, Mr. Spock.”
“Predictably metaphysical. I prefer the concrete, the graspable, the provable.”

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