Monday, March 9, 2015

Star Trek TOS Goodness, 21 The Return of the Archons

Another cold open (as in Tomorrow is Yesterday), except this time we can recognize Sulu, albeit dressed in "period" clothing, and some quick references to "the captain". Clearly we have a "landing party in trouble" type of situation. One thing I didn't appreciate before is how much the exposition of the whole planetary "culture" fell on Takei's shoulders exclusively -- "of the body", "Landru", anger alternating with placidity, babbling, "Archons", "paradise, paradise, paradise...". Great job by George setting all that "strange new world" mystique up for the rest of the episode!

"The Archons" turns out to be a complete MacGuffin of course, "Archon" being the name of a ship that "disappeared" here "100 years ago". And yet they use it as the episode title, gaah! It would be like the film "Casablanca" being titled instead "Obtaining the Letters of Transit".

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam us all down with a second landing party to investigate. (Who the heck is flying the ship? Must be Scotty alone.) And we're introduced to some more mysterious terms -- "Festival", "will of Landru". Interesting depiction of a culture "in extremes", usually highly placid, but getting twelve hours of extreme "spring break" on a scheduled basis. Of course, it's a metaphor for our own industrial "modern life".

Speaking of extreme contrasts, another one is how the Lawgivers publicly execute Tamar on a hearsay accusation of "mocking" and then proceed to state that "Landru is gentle". Oh, really?

Long story short, the whole society is controlled by telepathy, and has been for 6000 years, for their own "good". It's a reductio ad absurdum of "benevolent dictatorship". The reductionism going even so far as having the real Landru having programmed his entire "life essence" into a computer somehow before his death. For all the "complete control" the computer exerts, there is nonetheless an underground movement as well. There's always an underground (Bread and Circuses, Patterns of Force). Go figure.

As usual, it is rather short work for Kirk and Spock to figure all this out, and for Kirk to convince the "life essence" part of Landru that the "computer" part has mucked up his intentions royally -- lord knows there are enough contradictions to draw from -- thus blowing up the whole enterprise.

I am having trouble finding any overall "goodness" in this episode now. The culture is just way too one-dimensional -- no explanation of, say, their economy nor their industry, nothing -- and yet there was all that time to talk about Archons, Archons, Archons. It was 100 years ago; they're all dead one way or another.

One thing that does stick with me for some reason is the penultimate twist (before the "Landru is a computer" reveal), that Marplon is the third member of the Tamar/Reger underground cell, and that Kirk and Spock have thus not been "absorbed" after all. I love twists, and the actor playing Marplon really sells this one. The absorption chamber is also really cool and well laid out. And finally, Spock's/Nimoy's eye-roll after having to fake the peaceful demeanor to his Lawgiver escorts is a priceless topper.

Two additional complaints. Once again we have a jarring pronunciation discrepancy that ruins the realism. Marplon pronounces "Reger" with a hard "g", while everywhere else in the episode it is soft, as "rager". And at the beginning, all it takes for Sulu to be "absorbed" is a single use of the Lawgiver's "stick". Why do they need a whole absorption chamber?? Oh well.

Finally, a few "commonalities". The street-level sets look almost identical to those in City on the Edge of Forever, while the dungeon sets look identical to those in Catspaw. And once again we have a paradise/utopia episode, like This Side of Paradise, Shore Leave, The Paradise Syndrome, and even A Taste of Armageddon.

Overall, a good science fiction premise with good twists, but with a bad emphasis on a MacGuffin.