S01E22 – “The Return of the Archons”
The Enterprise encounters a world free from war, free from crime… free from thought. It is the will of Landru that the landing party will be absorbed.
The nature of great sci-fi is that stories become metaphors for other ideas. A society without freedom of choice or thought can stand in for anything: dictatorship, theocracy, or even just a good old fashioned separatist cult. Doctor Who called it the Daleks and the Cybermen. Star Trek would later use the Borg. A friend of mine told me to call out The Purge. And so on down the line. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid. This episode was one of several that played up this idea of a loss of individuality, and… Kirk vs. the computer. It’s important to note that this is the first episode that mentions the Prime Directive of non-interference, and Kirk’s rebuttal is that it applies to a functioning society, not to a stagnant, dying one. Interesting interpretation, no?
A lot of potential in this episode, none of it realized. It starts by pushing us face first into the deep end, screams at us, and then just drags. Meh. The only thing I hate worse than an episode that’s truly bad is one that doesn’t have the guts to be truly bad. Of course, that’s one of the things I do love about this series. Sometimes, even the bad ones are fun. This one… not so much.
S01E23 – “A Taste of Armageddon”
On the planet Eminiar VII, war is fought by computer, and casualties are determined by mathematics. When the Enterprise is ordered by a Federation ambassador to proceed towards a peace agreement, the ship is classified as destroyed by the enemy attack. All crew aboard are ordered to report for disintegration within 24 hours.
Another classic episode of Kirk vs. the computer. It’s essentially Shirley Jackson’s classic short story “The Lottery,” writ large. I’m with Spock on this one. It has a kind of logic to fight a war without physical devastation to a culture, but like him, I do not approve. It would be quite the philosophical debate as to whether or not a civilization should move towards a war of this kind. After 500 years, a war like this can only end in complete attrition.
In a situation like this, it’s extremely difficult for me not to agree with Scotty when he says, “The best diplomat I know is a fully charged phaser bank.” What’s the greater morality here when peace is not an option? In the Vietnam era, the question of ambassadors vs. the military would certainly be a hot topic. The concept of perpetual war would also be on the table, a situation that we most definitely understand all too well these days, especially as we proceed towards an era of increased reliability on drones. Would that such questions were relegated to history and academics, but that’s one of the many reasons why Star Trek has endured. This is truly one of the more twisted setups for a story, and it makes for a rock-solid episode.
The locals should be very happy that it was Kirk in command and not one of the more trigger-happy captains in the series. A Constitution-class starship would give that world a truly bad day. Oh, wait… Kirk did order that bad day, didn’t he? The good news is, he didn’t have to follow through. It’s easy to point fingers, but he issued General Order 24 straight from Starfleet’s playbook. Sort of makes me wonder what happened in the past to put it in the books where a starship is permitted to wipe out the entire inhabited surface of a planet. I get chills thinking about it. It makes for an interesting thought experiment to consider how Picard might have handled this situation.
S01E24 – “Space Seed”
The Enterprise encounters an unregistered sleeper ship bearing genetically-enhanced super-criminals from Earth’s dark past.
KHAAAAAAAAAAAN!!! Sorry, couldn’t resist. But, of course, it’s also too soon. About 15 years too soon. Do you care? I don’t care. This stuff is part of our cultural lexicon for a reason. So much to say about this episode! The problem is, I have no clue how to contain it all.
Easily one of the very best episodes in all of Star Trek, to say nothing of just the original series, and it all comes down to Khan himself. There’s nothing like an opponent who is presumably superior at every level to give our heroes a proper challenge. It comes down to strategy, a point that Khan congratulates Kirk on at every step and even seems to enjoy. So satisfying.
This is the episode that first establishes the last of the world wars and the Eugenics Wars to be one and the same (and/or very closely related), placing it in the mid-1990s. The canon plays with this and mixes it up a bit here and there, but on the whole, this foundation is secure in most cases. On that personal note, I will never forget when Operation: Desert Storm happened early in my senior year in high school shortly before Khan was supposed to have taken over the world, and my very first thought was that we were heading down this road, after a fashion. And then Iraq surrendered to the CBS news crew, so clearly I was wrong. It also happened to be Star Trek‘s 25th anniversary. Roddenberry passed away, I saw Shatner and Nimoy at Astro-Con, Star Trek VI… interesting year for me. Back on point…
“Have you ever read Milton, Captain?” I’ve read Milton (though I seem to have lost that review — didn’t transfer it over, apparently). I wholeheartedly believe this man has taken Milton to heart, such is Montalban’s delivery. There are those magnificent thespians who are seemingly incapable of a bad performance, no matter how terrible the production around them. Montalban is one of them so far as I’m concerned. To give him a character and a script of this magnitude is such a joy to watch. That je ne sais quoi that he brings to bear is one of my weaknesses, why I’m able to see through Lt. McGivers’ eyes so readily, albeit for thankfully different reasons. I could write an entire dissertation on the difference between off-putting arrogance and the true animal magnetism of confidence. From the outside of the gender binary looking in, it seems so simple sometimes, but it really never is that easy to define. We simply know it when it happens. That’s what makes the charismatic monster so dangerous. As it’s said in the episode, “Superior ability breeds superior ambition.” I prefer superior ability to manifest in the arts and humanities, which is why Montalban impresses me so, and Khan is just scary as hell. The character only begins at the script, after all. To think, he’s still sane here. Next time…
If you’ll excuse me, I’ll be over in the corner, fangirling…
S01E25 – “This Side of Paradise”
Kirk is ordered to evacuate the colony on Omicron Ceti III, but when the plants fire off their spores, the entire crew mutinies.
As we’ve seen, some episodes are written entirely around the idea of scratching beneath the surface of Spock’s iron will and helping to expose his humanity. This is another one of those times. Spock in love, Spock at play… Spock angry enough to take his captain’s head off. It’s a good showcase for some character beats, and a fun little episode on the whole, but it’s not the most plot-intensive of the scripts.