Back on the ship Sulu is out of his mind, and with good reason - he was sent down to the planet with totally out of date clothes! How embarrassing it must have been for Sulu to prance around in last season’s pants; no wonder they stood out on the planet, they were dressed like they hadn’t gotten the latest issue of Vogue. See, that’s not how The Body dresses anymore, Sulu says. That’s how the Archons dress.
Since the Enterprise is there to investigate the long ago disappearance of The Archon, a Federation ship that had sailed the cosmic seas one hundred years ago, that gets Captain Kirk interested. He mounts up with a larger landing party, this time consisting of Spock, McCoy, a sociologist, and two new redshirts, and they beam down. This time, though, they’re ready to mingle with modern The Body society. See, they’re dressed like extras in Maverick. Riverboat gamblers ahoy!
Except for Spock. He’s dressed kind of like a nun.
As they walk through the streets of the studio backlot, it becomes obvious that there’s something wrong with the people. They’re too content, too happy. But then shit gets wild - the clock strikes 6 and it’s THE FESTIVAL! Everybody goes hog wild, looting and smashing stuff and even getting very, very rapey. Essentially the inhabitants of Beta III start staging their own Gathering of the Juggaloes, only with less face paint.
Our intrepid heroes make their way through the partiers and come to a bed and breakfast. There are a bunch of old dudes in the place, and the show now grinds to a halt for a long moment of semi-exposition, semi-mystery building. The old dudes assume that the Enterprise crew must be from out of town because they’re not taking part in The Festival, and they talk about Landru, who is like their leader, and a whole bunch of other stuff. It’s all basically variations on The Body and The Festival and Landru and The Archons. Captain Kirk proves to be generally poor at mingling in, but the crew finds a place to stay for the night.
The next morning Kirk talks to Reger, who owns the B&B where they’re staying, and it turns out that Reger ain’t like everybody else - he’s not really part of The Body, either, and he’s immune to Landru’s control. But then things get hairy. Two Druid Dudes show up and they want to take Kirk and company away; they’ve been ratted out. But when Kirk refuses the Druid Dudes simply don’t know what the heck to do next. As the Druid Dudes confer, Kirk says that since the whole society seems to be built on obedience the Druid Dudes just don’t know how to deal with rebellion.
This gives the landing party and Reger the chance to escape, and they try to mix into the crowd in the street. Post-Festival everything is a mess, but the people are back to normal… until Landru sends everybody a psychic ‘Time to start wilding!’ message and the locals pick up rocks, sticks and other weapons and converge on the landing party. They try to escape down an alley way as people advance on them with sticks raised like pantomime murderers, and the crew is forced to stun the people with their phasers. It turns out that one of the angry locals is none other than O’Neill, the guy from the beginning of the episode with Sulu. Kirk insists on bringing them along.
Reger knows a place, which turns out to be some kind of styrofoam dungeon. Even for a show known for its cheap sets, the locations in Return of the Archons are pretty chintzy; it looks like a heavy breath will take down the ‘stone’ walls. Anyway, Reger pulls out a white light panel that looks like it comes from the Apple Store and sets it up to illuminate their hideout, which is a location reserved for the anti-Landru underground. Spock is pretty impressed, saying that a flat light is way ahead of this civilization, and Reger tells them that it comes from a time before Landru.
As Reger prepares to launch into another load of exposition about the history of Beta III, although he’s going to get interrupted and it will have to be continued in an info dump after the next commercial break. He explains that the Archons came, and they were all killed or absorbed; Reger casually mentions that Landru crashed the Archons’ ship, which makes Kirk pretty nervous. He calls back up to the Enterprise and Scotty has bad news - they’re being hit with heat beams so intense that they need ALL power to the shields to keep from burning up like Richard Pryor. And even still, they have about 12 hours until the shields fail and the ship goes.
But then things go from boring to bad - it turns out that Landru has been able to pinpoint the crew in their hideout thanks to the communicator signal. Spock can’t block the scan, and then all of a sudden Landru beams himself in. It’s a projection of a man with weird, upswept New Wave hair and wearing what, for the life of me, seems to be a backwards gold lame cape.
Kirk tries to talk to Landru, but he’s unable to hear. Then everyone is overcome with a high pitched noise and passes out. And so, for the second time in one episode of Star Trek, everybody is asleep. Possibly including the audience.
Kirk wakes up first; they’re in what is ostensibly different location. It’s another polystyrene dungeon, but this time McCoy and some other people we don’t care about are missing. Kirk shakes everybody awake and then McCoy shows up. Something is terribly wrong - McCoy is happy and at peace! He’s smiling! He’s full of love! He’s even nice to Spock!
Kirk is furious.
But there’s no time to mourn the Prozaced version of McCoy; the Druid Dudes want Kirk to come with them, and when he refuses they threaten to kill him - Spock realizes that Landru has learned from the last encounter. And so Kirk goes along, where he’s strapped into some kind of weird bondage thing (a Star Trek trademark is tying Kirk down. It’s amazing he still has his shirt on here). A guy with the amazing name of Marplon (you gotta love the old days of scifi names) comes in and begins using the machine to assimilate Kirk.
We cut to Spock being brought in; he passes Kirk, who is now totally of The Body - all smiles and love. But it turns out that he’s faking; Marplon explains to Spock that he’s part of the underground, just like Reger, and that while he was too late to save McCoy, he was able to keep Kirk from being assimilated. Now he tells Spock to also pretend like he’s of The Body, which could lead to an interesting moment - after all as a Vulcan Spock isn’t good with lying. But instead we get him being sort of snarkily happy, smirking at the guards as they come to take him back to the dungeon.
Kirk and Spock are reunited and begin thinking about how to get out of this. They have contacted the Enterprise and have learned that the shields have just six hours left, so they best get working. The conversation turns to Landru, and how to get to him - they’re told that before Landru all was chaos and war, and Landru brought the people back to a simpler time. But that was 6,000 years ago, so Landru can’t possibly still be alive, can he?
Spock says that the entire society of Beta III is soulless (an interesting critique from a Vulcan). There is no individuality or creativity. Kirk says that Landru has to have his plug pulled, but Spock insists that the Prime Directive says otherwise. Kirk then uses some weird loophole - the Prime Directive only applies to growing, thriving cultures, he says. Who the hell is he to make that decision? Is any culture that Kirk doesn’t particularly like not thriving? (Spoiler for the rest of the series: Yes)
Before they can get into a debate about the finer points of the Prime Directive, McCoy puts two and two together - these assholes are not of The Body! He righteously flips out, all but screaming ‘Killers! Assassins!’ (see City On The Edge Of Forever, which I will probably get to sometime in 2013). He does scream ‘Traitors!’ and tries to choke Kirk out; Kirk really doesn’t want to hit his friend, but McCoy leaves him little choice, so Kirk knocks him out. Meanwhile, a Druid Dude comes to investigate the noise and Spock sucker punches him. Even Kirk is impressed that Spock went with a primitive sock to the nose instead of the more elegant nerve pinch.
Kirk and Spock dress up in Druid Dude Snuggies and head off to confront Landru. Marplon is with them but is totally snivelling about the whole thing - he’s the worst member of an underground resistance ever. But still, he leads them to the Hall of Audiences, which is where people talk to Landru - and then Landru himself beams in holographically. While Marplon cowers and covers his face, Landru expresses his disappointment with everybody.
This whole farce has gone on just about long enough for Kirk, though, and he shoots a phaser at Landru. The phaser goes through him and blows a hole in the wall revealing… OMFG, Landru is a computer!
And now we get down to the nitty gritty goods of Return of the Archons. The whole episode has been a lot of futzing around leading to this great moment: Kirk versus a computer in a game of logical chess.
Kirk tells Landru that it’s just a computer, which sort of freaks Landru out, but not enough. Landru insists that it’s doing The Body good, but Kirk asks it ‘What is the good?’ And then Landru comes back with a whole thing about how the good is peace and prosperity and all this jazz. Which maybe makes sense, but WHAM! Kirk spent a couple of nights at the Academy staying up until it was light out trying to get into the pants of some philosophically-minded Andorian chick (you think a finger up your butt is something, try having them shove one of their antenna in your wormhole), and he comes back with an unstoppable counter argument about individuality and creativity and humanity. In fact, Kirk posits, Landru is doing the evil to The Body, not the good.
And so Landru commits suicide.
The Druid Dudes show up, all distraught, begging for Landru to give them guidance. This is the first time in their whole lives that they have been apart from The Body, that they have not had Landru in their heads. Six millenia of their civilization was spent building on the idea that Landru would always be there telling them what to do, how to behave. All of a sudden they’re disconnected from each other, from their central leader and from everything they ever understood. They’re adrift, alone, existentially destroyed, facing a horror of loneliness and confusion unlike any they could have imagined.
“If I were you, I’d start looking for another job,” Kirk tells them as he walks away from the smoking ruins of the computer that gave their life meaning. You can assume they collapsed and began weeping.
Back on the Enterprise, everything is okay. The heat beams are gone, and what’s more, Sulu is back to normal, so McCoy and the others should come around soon. But Sulu’s return to duty is not to Scotty’s liking - as he says that Sulu is okay and the camera pans over to the helmsman, Scotty gives him a deep, deep stinkeye. I think it’s time to work on the fanfic explaining this hatred. Get to it, gang.
And so everything is okay. The landing party - minus Lindstrom, who stays behind to form the society into his own image (see the season two episode Patterns of Force for exactly why this is a horrible idea) - is back on the Enterprise, which is speeding away from Beta III. Kirk tells Spock that he would make a great computer, which Spock takes as a compliment. Then Lindstrom calls up the Enterprise and gives a status update - things are getting back to normal on Beta III, so much so that there were a bunch of domestic incidents and a brawl that morning. At this rate the Betans will be killing each other by lunch! The end.
Review: I don’t know if I’ve lost my taste for episodes like this, but The Return of the Archons is a snooze. It presents some fairly classic Trek stuff, like the Donald Rumsfeldian idea that freedom is messy, and it presents classic Kirk snottily outthinking the enemy, but everything else about this episode is a bore.
The whole episode reeks of low budget. The sets are cheap, the costumes are obviously whatever they had laying around, and much of the episode is dedicated to inaction - a huge portion of the running time is about standing around in locations chatting. And chatting. Usually chatting about stuff that feels like filler, which is what makes the lack of explanation of The Festival more baffling. They certainly weren’t afraid of telling and not showing with this one, so why not tell us more about that?
I like what Roddenberry and company were trying to do here, but they would do the exact same thing more competently in the future.
Kirkin’ Out: Kirk has a couple of badass moments in this episode, but I think talking Landru to death is the highlight. It’s also a historic moment, since Kirk would do the same thing a bunch more during the course of the series. Talking a computer to death is almost a Kirk trademark, and I think JJ Abrams should include it in Star Trek 2.
Spockmarks: I like when Spock decks the guard, but for me the best bit of Spock in this episode is when it’s revealed he sleeps with his eyes open. So creepy.
Redshirt: Nobody dies. O’Neill is so disposable, and they beam down with TWO MORE red shirts, but nobody dies. I think a good death would have upped my enjoyment of the episode.
Dilithium Bullshit: Everything Landru does is magic. There’s never any explanation for how he controls the people of Beta III or what absorption into The Body really means. Or why it wears off, for that matter. The heat beams on the Enterprise I’ll accept.
Support Staff of the Week: Lindstrom is the winner. I like that the Enterprise not only has a sociologist on board but that they apparently have so many sociologists that they can leave one behind. I like that he gets to be the guy to guide the reformation of the Betan culture, despite having almost nothing to do in the episode. And I like that while the townsfolk are chasing the landing party he gets beaned with a rock the size of a fist and it appears to have no impact on him.
Continerdity: This is the first time the Prime Directive is mentioned. It is also the first time it is broken. This will not be the last time!.
Set Phasers to Quote: “You are evil! The evil must be destroyed!” - Captain Kirk