(airdate: February 9, 1967)
Story: Gene Roddenberry Teleplay: Boris Sobelman
Director: Joseph Pevney
Reger: Harry Townes
Landru: Charles Macauley
Marplon: Torin Thatcher
O'Neil: Sean Morgan
Lindstrom: Christopher Held
Captain's Log: The Enterprise is orbiting Beta III, investigating the disappearance of the Archon, a starship that disappeared a hundred years earlier. The first landing party is attacked and "absorbed" into something called the Body, so Kirk and a second landing party beam down to investigate, where they discover a society being run without anger or fighting - save for a 12-hour period known as the Festival, in which all inhibitions appear to be removed. The Body is controlled by someone known as Landru, who quickly discovers that the Enterprise party are not of the Body. However, there is resistance to Landru among the inhabitants, and they help keep Kirk and Spock from being absorbed. Kirk and Spock make their way to Landru and confront him, discovering that Landru is in fact a computer. Kirk convinces it that it is harming the Body, whereupon it destroys itself, freeing the inhabitants of Beta III from its influence.
Whoops!: Why does the script insist on having Kirk call McCoy "Doc" instead of the more familiar "Bones"? It's not completely unprecedented, mind - Kirk's called him "Doc" a couple times before - but never to the extent here. It's quite jarring. And while we're discussing oddities, there's a moment where Spock has his eyes open while laying down but doesn't immediately react to Kirk getting his attention. It's probably meant to suggest that Spock sleeps with his eyes open, but it still looks weird. In addition, he shows his ears to the people in the guest house with no comment whatsoever.
When running for their lives at the start of Festival, a rubber brick bounces hard off Lindstrom's head (you can see him clutching his scalp as the shot ends).
The matter of how the hollow tubes work is brought up as a mystery but then never mentioned again. And why can the tubes absorb Sulu into the Body without any problems, but Kirk and the others need to be hooked up to a special absorption machine? Why not simply use the tubes on them?
Nitpicking now, but Kirk appears to record a Captain's Log while unconscious.
Classic Lines: "You said you wanted freedom. It's time you learned that freedom is never a gift. It has to be earned."
"Creativity is necessary for the health of the Body."
Kirk: "You would make a splendid computer, Mr. Spock." Spock: "That is very kind of you, Captain."
Library Computer: Beta III is an inhabited planet in the star system C-111. The inhabitants are humanoid in appearance, dressed remarkably like late 19th-century urban Americans. [There's a bit at the beginning where Sulu, under Landru's influence, yells at Sociologist Lindstrom about the clothes they were sent down in, which, assuming Beta III and Earth underwent similar developments in fashion, look to be about a hundred years out of date. This would suggest that the Archon was able to transmit information about Beta III to the Federation before it was lost.] The majority of the Betans are said to be part of "the Body" and under the influence of their ruler, Landru.
The Body is controlled by Landru, a sophisticated computer. Roughly 6,000 years earlier, Beta III was an advanced culture that was destroying itself through wars. One of the Betans, Landru, was able to halt the wars and take Beta III back to a simpler time. He created a computer capable of maintaining the "peace and tranquility" after he was gone. [There's some vagueness here; it's not clear if Landru created peace on Beta III and then created the computer to maintain it, or if it was the computer that led to the peace in the first place.] This led to (in Spock's words) "a machine's concept of perfection - peace, harmony...but no soul." The Betans seem to believe that Landru is still alive, somehow (when confronted with Landru's true nature, Marplon reacts with surprise).
Landru the computer is incredibly powerful; not only can it control the behavior of the entire population of the planet, but it can also shoot strong heat beams into space, capable of taking down a starship (both destroying the Archon and nearly destroying the Enterprise - the power exerted is great enough that Scotty can't divert any power away from the shields without destroying the ship). It can knock out people with a sonic pulse and can neutralize phasers, and it can project an image of an older man in a blue gown and gold chasuble [presumably the image of the historical Landru], which can speak to others (although it doesn't appear that it can actually hear what people say in reply). Nevertheless, it's implied Landru can overhear people talking [unless this is simply paranoia on the part of the Betans], and is possibly in constant communication on some level with members of the Body. It can control large groups of people at once without effort, provided they are members of the Body. Anyone deemed to be not part of the Body can be "absorbed" into it, thus perpetuating the peaceful society on Beta III - albeit a society without any spirit or free will. [There's a suggestion that sufficiently independent or violent people can't be absorbed into the Body and must be killed instead, but that this is always a last resort.] Absorption is achieved either via the use of a special tube carried by the Lawgivers, or by a special chamber, where a person is manacled to the wall while lights [and presumably energy] play over them - although this process can be circumvented and/or faked by the person in charge of the machine. Landru itself is housed in a sealed-off room behind the Hall of Audiences.
The Body is policed by Lawgivers, who wear brown hooded robes and carry hollow tubes. These tubes can be used to kill people or make them part of the Body. [It's not at all clear how the tubes work - perhaps they allow Landru to focus his power?] The Lawgivers are physically human, but they behave more like a computer, unprepared to deal with anything beyond the expected - Spock likens them to "a computer when fed insufficient or contradictory data." [The suggestion is that the Lawgivers have been taken over by Landru more directly than the rest of the Body, but this is never explicitly stated.] They can apparently commune directly with Landru, making a whistling-like audio oscillation while doing so. Those who break the law are absorbed into the Body. The law appears to be suspended for the Festival, a 12-hour period in which the Body is permitted to behave violently, with assault, arson, and vandalism on display. The Festival begins at the Red Hour - 6 pm - and continues until 6 am the following morning. The younger members of the Body are required to participate in the Festival; failure to do so is against the law. Older members are exempt from participating.
Some Betans are [for unexplained reasons] immune to Landru and absorption into the Body. There aren't many of them (although people with this immunity have been around for at least a hundred years), and they organize themselves in groups of three - although not everyone in a group knows who the other members are. These people have a prophecy that the Archons will return and help them.
Following the destruction of Landru, the inhabitants of Beta III begin to revert back to more familiar human behaviors (such as fighting with each other), their free will having been restored. Sociologist Lindstrom remains behind with a "party of experts" to help restore the culture of Beta III. [Nice to see the Federation taking responsibility for their actions.]
The USS Archon was a [Federation] starship which disappeared a hundred years prior in the vicinity of planet Beta III. The ship was destroyed when Landru pulled it down from space, but this wasn't known until the Enterprise investigated. The rest of the Archon's crew were either killed or absorbed into the Body.
The Federation (or possibly just Starfleet) has a Prime Directive of non-interference, but that only applies to a "living, growing culture", which Kirk decides (and Spock agrees) Beta III is not. [This is in fact the first mention of the Prime Directive on Star Trek.]
Final Analysis: "You attacked the Body. You have heard the Word and disobeyed. You will be absorbed." An interesting premise, but one they never quite pull off. The metaphor of the society as the Body, which is kept healthy but is meaningless without a Mind (aka free will) to accompany it, is generally well executed (and pleasingly understated), but the abstract nature of the problem makes it occasionally difficult to get a firm grasp upon. This, combined with the occasional draft artifact (such as the nature of the tubes) and convenient bit of plotting (certain people being immune to Landru's effects just so they can point Kirk and company in the right direction when needed), means that "The Return of the Archons" never quite coheres as well as it should have. But even with these issues, the end result is never less than entertaining.
Plus we get our first real instance of Kirk talking a computer to death; that alone makes it worth at least a little of your time.
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Page originally created: March 9, 2016
Page last updated: October 1, 2018