Director: Joseph Pevney
Writer: Boris Sobelman
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Harry Townes, Torin Thatcher, DeForest Kelley, Brioni Farrell, Sid Haig, Charles Macaulay, Jon Lormer, Morgan Farley, Christopher Held, George Takei, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, Sean Morgan, Ralph Maurer, and David L. Ross
Composer: Alexander Courage
Air Date: 2/9/1967
Production #: 6149-22
Investigating the disappearance of the U.S.S. Archon, Lieutenant Sulu travels to Beta III and returns to the Enterprise in a blissful state. Upon further examination, Captain Kirk—accompanied by Spock and McCoy—determines that the planetary inhabitants are kept in a trance-like condition by Lawgivers, hooded figures who accept orders from a reclusive, enigmatic leader known as Landru (Charles Macaulay).
A spooky, mystery-themed episode of Star Trek, “The Return of the Archons” may intrigue fans of the sci-fi/horror crossover genre (Sid Haig even makes an appearance as the First Lawgiver). This offering should, however, be criticized for its languid approach to exploring the true nature of Landru—the ostensible antagonist of Boris Sobelman’s teleplay—and his brainwashed followers.
Discovering what lies at the heart of the Beta III colony, Kirk—desperate to free the colonists without directly violating the Prime Directive—engages in a verbal joust with a 6,000-year-old computer, unable to defeat the mechanism through firepower alone. In addition to establishing the Enterprise captain as a clever and highly skilled rhetorician, the climactic scene in “The Return of the Archons” should be noted for introducing a now iconic series trope (i.e., Kirk literally talking an android, machine, or computer to death when stripped of conventional weaponry).
Despite benefiting from a number of creepy situations and ominous character interactions, “The Return of the Archons” lacks an absorbing layer of tension surrounding the predicament of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy—likely a consequence of the insufferable pace at which the narrative of Sobelman (a one-time contributor to Star Trek: The Original Series) unfolds.
Also problematic are the many vague, under-explored concepts featured in this episode. Though possibly symbolic of the second Red Scare, the red hour panic on Beta III, for example, is never explained from a logical or unambiguous perspective.
Operating on the premise that various manifestations of collectivism (e.g., communism) are detrimental to human progress, “The Return of the Archons” acknowledges that every individual must remain as such in order to fully recognize his or her unique talents and abilities. (Note that even as a “benevolent” dictator, Landru prevents those under his rule from advancing beyond a childlike mentality—a statement on the fact that even “good” forms of authoritarianism result in utter stagnation, both on a personal and societal level, over time.)
“The Return of the Archons” contains a thought-provoking critique of collectivism, unquestioning adherence to the state, and artificial intelligence run amok. Science fiction enthusiasts are therefore advised to view this episode, the profound themes of which compensate for many slow-moving sequences.
Overall Quality: 8/10
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