Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Star Trek at 50: The Return of the Archons

Season 1
Episode 22: The Return of the Archons
Filmed: December 1966 
First Air Date: February 9, 1967

Karen: When I was a teen, my geeky friends and I used to have fun with each other, repeating some of the lines from this episode like, "You are not of the Body!" or "It is the Red Hour!" or "Festival, festival!" and so on. The strange, insular society the Enterprise encounters on Beta III provides all sorts of curious behavior to remark upon. Despite goofing on this as a kid, I find this to be a very  effective story about the dangers of a rigid, controlling government or culture. The people of Landru's world have order and peace, but no joy, creativity, or freedom. No one thinks for themselves - every person is like a single cell in a greater organism. We could view this episode as an analogy for Communism, but it can be taken outside of the time it was produced and it still holds up. In any given time period, there seems to be no lack of groups trying to control people by stripping them of their individuality, whether it be governments, religions, or some other type of organization.

Karen: This episode is the first where Kirk is pitted against a computer or other sentient machine, and has a battle of wits. It is a theme we will see repeated again and again, but Landru was the first "living computer" to become unbalanced by the Captain's relentless moral arguments. Another first: the introduction of the Prime Directive, which was added to the script by Gene Coon. Coon may have come up with it just to provide a nice dramatic problem for the characters on the show, but the Prime Directive, with its code of noninterference (in living, growing cultures) would go on to be a major influence in Star Trek, not only in the original series but in every series and movie to follow. 

Karen: A couple of weeks ago the third movie in "The Purge" series came out. I haven't seen these films, but I randomly caught a half hour of the second one on TV one night, and I thought, "Hey, the premise of this is a lot like 'The Return of the Archons.' "  I did a little poking around and found out that the episode did provide some inspiration for the films (although from what little I saw of the movie, I'll stick with Trek). What they both have in common is that for a brief period of time, people are allowed by their society to do whatever they want. Nothing is illegal and they are not held responsible for any crimes they commit during that time period. In 'Archons', it is knows as 'Festival" and the time it starts (6 pm) is 'The Red Hour'. Festival is the way Landru allows people to blow off steam, essentially -although this means all sorts of mayhem, including, apparently, rape. This is implied to happen to Tula, daughter of Reger, one of the rebels who provides the Enterprise crewmen safe haven. This was all filmed by director Joe Pevney in a subtle enough way to get past Broadcast Standards, but if you're paying attention, it's there. So much for the perfect society. Kirk and Spock, galactic cowboys that they are, have more than enough reason to change the course of this world.

Karen: Filming was back at Desilu's Culver City backlot -you may recognize the streets of Mayberry again as Festival breaks out. I don't think Andy, Barney, or Floyd the barber ever saw anything as wild as that when they were living there! On another note, I always wondered about the actor who speaks to Kirk and the landing party right before the Red Hour. He has such an odd speech pattern. In These are the Voyages Volume 1, Mark Cushman has a comment from the actor, Lev Mailer. It seems he was under the impression he should be playing the role as if he were from New England in the 19th century! So that's why we get the weird delivery. Why did no one correct him though?

Karen: One of the conspirators against Landru, the 'priest' who guides Kirk and Spock into the inner chamber, is played by none other than Torin Thatcher, who you might also recognize as Sokura the evil wizard from Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. He also appeared on an episode of Lost in Space, but had been active in films as a baddie for many years before his television work.

Karen: This episode is a good example of how the show was able to weave in political and ethical elements while keeping the action-adventure dynamo rolling. One thing I find with many of these episodes is that the themes presented still have meaning today -they are not limited to their time but speak to us even today. I can look at the people of Beta III and wonder about a culture like North Korea. Or Scientology. There are unfortunately many examples. Good Trek tends to stick with you after you watch the show.


Garett said...

Good, interesting episode! I like that you mentioned Lev Mailer's unusual delivery Karen, as his character and speech stuck in my mind too. "Your daddy can put them up, can he?"

This one's almost like a zombie story or Invasion of the Body Snatchers, when people get taken over and become "of the body". It's a theme that talks about society, as you say, but also about the psychology of an individual. If you bottle things in, it's going to come out later anyway in a destructive form like Red Hour.

The part at the end where Kirk outwits the computer, I always found a bit too easy, but still entertaining.

I think these swings between tight control and letting loose happen in our society all the time, over the decades, not just in North Korea. "Let it all hang out" in one decade turns into "back to traditional values" in the next-- and then back again. It's like the tight control of Spock vs the emotions of Bones or Kirk. It's a great theme in Star Trek that speaks to individuals and society.

Martinex1 said...

I have only seen this episode once but thoroughly enjoyed it. It had a Twilight Zone feel to it. Until you expressed what the red hour and festival was, I interpreted it much differently For some reason it seemed to me the computer was driving the folks mad for an hour, that they were not in control, and the reason was unspecified. I didn't interpret that the people were willingly acting out those urges. I am going to have to watch it again as that was only my first viewing. Either way I really liked it. I did recognize the Mayberry locale as somebody mentioned that before. It would have been great if Barney, Floyd and others were involved in the festival! An Andy snd Kirk team up would have been classic!

Pat Henry said...

This one really holds up well over time, and is probably about as close as Original Trek ever got to exploring a genuine dystopia—not just misguided or misdirected or dysfunctional in some weird way, but a truly malevolent rigid mind-controlled police state society, predicated on supposedly positive outcomes, and reinforced by its own terms. We all know a tautology like Landru’s could never be disrupted by logic and reason and argument, but it is fun to watch Kirk dismantle it.

The new Trek movie is coming out, and I despair that the franchise will never again explore a society or a scientific concept again. Frankly, from what I’ve seen, Beyond Apathy might actually kill the franchise.

Edo Bosnar said...

This is one of those "grew to appreciate it" episodes for me. Initially, I always found it a bit off-putting because it had that idyllic, apparently early 19th century setting. But as a I got older, and learned to understand the limitations of available sets and costumes for a weekly TV show, I began to pay more attention to the underlying themes. It really is a strong, thought-provoking episode.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I always liked this one, and that line that Bones says: "You are not...of the body!", I love that line! I've always wanted to say that to someone just to see if they'd get the reference, but I haven't...yet. I didn't get into Star Trek until into the 80s and this is one of the first episodes I saw (maybe even THE first, I can't remember), so I have a soft spot for it.

Mike Wilson

Anonymous said...

Ah, gotta love Kirk's first encounter versus the Man,er, sorry, machine!

Yeah, Trek was at its best when it dealt with social themes like dystopian socities, the underclass or racial diversity.

By the way, in my mind,T & T has its version of 'Red hour' called J'ouvert - the wee early hours of Carnival Monday! :)

- Mike 'red decade so far' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Sharper13x said...

Martinex1 said - "It would have been great if Barney, Floyd and others were involved in the festival! An Andy snd Kirk team up would have been classic!” I want to see that. I would never need to watch TV again, because that would be the apex of the form.

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