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Star Trek TOS - Season 1 - Episode 21

Star Trek TOS - 1x21 - The Return of the Archons

Originally Aired: 1967-2-9

Synopsis:
The Enterprise crew finds a world run by a computer named Landru. [Blu-ray] [DVD]

My Rating - 1

Fan Rating Average - 3.93

Rate episode?

Rating: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
# Votes: 58 8 34 18 16 22 12 16 16 12 18

Filler Quotient: 3, bad filler, totally skippable.
- Pretty lame episode with no significant long term continuity. This is the first episode to mention the Prime Directive, but you don't need to watch this episode to understand the Prime Directive when it is used later. Ironically, Spock misuses the term in this episode, so add that to the list of reasons to skip this episode. ;)

Problems
- The window in the room where the landing party stays overnight seems to randomly shift between being pitch black and having a clear view of the festival violence.

Factoids
- The starship Archon disappeared when visiting this planet 100 years ago.
- Jon Lormer, who plays Tamar in this episode, also played Theodore Haskins in The Cage and in The Menagerie.

Remarkable Scenes
- The festival of violence. Nothing like a healthy bit of meticulously scheduled anarchy.
- The instant the clock chimes the violence either starts up or completely stops. Hilarious.
- Kirk neck pinches a guard, then Spock punches one out. Kirk to Spock: "Isn't that somewhat old fashioned?"
- Kirk telling the computer to destroy itself.

My Review
The Federation starship Archon reportedly disappeared while exploring the planet in this episode and the Federation apparently didn't bother to dispatch another ship to investigate the disappearance until 100 years later for no particular reason. By the time the Enterprise arrives, the Archon's apparent descendants seem to have colonized the planet but reverted to a 19th century society in the process, also for no particular reason. After a painfully slow-paced and dull plot, Kirk and his team finally discover that a computer apparently left behind by former occupants of the planet is what originally brought down the Archon and transformed its crew and its descendants into zombies. Once they discover this, Kirk and Spock simply talk the computer to death, because computers in the Star Trek universe have a tendency to be emotionally unstable and explode when they are sufficiently upset, contrary to how computers work in the real world.

And then there's lieutenant Lindstrom, the mouthy officer who accompanied Kirk to the surface. Nearly every word out of that guy's mouth jeopardized the mission. My favorite one of his lines was him saying "what kind of a father are you?" to the only man on the planet who could offer the landing party any answers or help. Way to go trying to alienate your only ally there! But Lindstrom's not the only moron among the cast this week. I'd be negligent in my duties if I didn't mention that Spock took readings which indicated a clear and present threat to the Enterprise, but failed to mention it. Kirk later in the scene deduces the threat to the Enterprise and was forced to ask Spock for confirmation of his hypothesis. Spock answers in the affirmative, as if it was obvious. No, Spock, it isn't obvious. That's why Kirk asked. Spock also mentions a non-interference policy that the Federation has called the Prime Directive, but such a policy clearly would not apply when dealing with humans descended from a Federation starship! This isn't Spock's day.

Landru himself wasn't exactly the brightest star in the sky either. My favorite line from him was the one about how he had created a world without conflict or violence or war. Yeah, all except for that "festival" thing. Apparently when the violence is scheduled and regulated it doesn't count anymore? The episode didn't even try to explain the purpose of the festival. Although I admit the festival scenes were the high point of the episode simply due to the sheer absurdist comedy value. Pretty much everything else in the episode is a waste of time. The poorly acted zombie antagonists spend most of their time just rambling slowly and incoherently. Frustratingly, they resist nearly every one of Kirk's inquiries for exposition about Landru. It's as if the plot is self aware. "Quiet! Be careful! Don't ask too many questions! We don't want the plot to advance too quickly! We've still got two more acts to get through!" But hey, at least the 19th century costumes looked great on the cast despite being strangely irrelevant.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From John on 2007-02-25 at 1:38am:
    I believe this episode is a stab at organized religion (most likely Christianity). Example: People blindly following the "will of Landru." Gene Roddenberry was an unapologetic atheist. This episode would be consistent with his core religious beliefs.
  • From Orion Pimpdaddy on 2007-12-10 at 11:18am:
    Problems:
    - At the beginning, when Sulu and the other crewmember are standing against the wall waiting to be beamed up, you can clearly see a reflection of one of the hooded lawgivers waiting to enter the scene.

    - The episode never explains why there is a festival.
  • From David in California on 2008-02-20 at 1:06pm:
    Wow, I've never been so put off by the difference between my own reaction to an episode as compared to that of others. I thought this one was terrific!

    I disagree that the only interesting part was the revelation that Landru was a computer. That was, as you say, somewhat standard. Moreover, the script is aware of this and works to ensure that it doesn't come off as the main point. Spock and Kirk both indicate several times that they suspect it's the case, and when Landru is revealed the exchange of looks between them and Kirk saying "of course" in an unsurprised way just to drive this home. Then they quickly dispatches the computer through simple logical appeal to its prime directive.

    Rather, I believe the focus of the episode is supposed to be around the reactions of the various people on the planet and the effects on them.

    The Festival is one such effect, and I think it's understood that the only way Landru can keep suppressed passions from boiling over is the occasional scheduled release of the anarchy. Personally, I find this notion dubious philosophically and psychologically, but it's surely a common enough idea to be grasped without explicit explanation?

    Also, we see the effect of some resisting and forming the "underground", the emotional reactions to the Festival and their enforced participation and on family members, how they hold onto a messianic myth about returning Archons, how they react to the introduction of the "outsiders", how they react with fear to the growing revelations about Landru, and so on.

    Now, I'm not saying any of the above is astoundingly original or anything, only to point out that the reveal of Landru as a machine isn't really the point, and that the episode is more concerned with the reactions of the human characters and is handled well, IMO.

    As to the theme against so-called "organized religion" (should we prefer disorganized religion?) even as an atheist myself I don't see why the reaction of a believer would be that this is somehow wrong or grossly polemic in some offensive way. I know religious folk who would acknowledge that there are "bad" aspects to a certain *manner* of holding religious belief--the blind conformity to unexplained traditions, the willful resistance of thinking and understanding and fear of inquiry, etc.

    So, overall as I'm watching the new CGI enhanced TOS and catching those few that I'd not seen while growing up, I was delighted to come across this one for the first time and disagree with both the review and the prior reader comment.
  • From Deggsy on 2012-02-22 at 7:12am:
    Hi, love the review website, always up for commentary on Trek :-)

    As for this episode, as far as I am aware, the plent and its people were already here, and the Archon came along, got caught up in Landru and his cronies, and were absorbed into the society. The locals' descendants then built up the myth about "Archons" someday returning.
  • From Ryan on 2012-06-20 at 7:13pm:
    I think you may have missed a major part of the plot which may be contributing to your low rating of the episode. As one of the posters above me noted there were definitely people on the planet long before the "Archons" arrived. Landru lived 6k years ago. So the Archons didnt revert to a random 19th century age, thats just where the people of this planet had progressed to so far.
  • From ChristopherA on 2012-07-11 at 7:58am:
    It feels like someone wrote a solid science fiction story, then it was rewritten and edited into a disorganized mess. Practically nothing about the society is explained to us, we just get led from one scene to another. The pity is that most of the individual scenes could have been good had they been part of a better connected story. You can imagine what they might be trying to achieve (with the festival, for instance), but it just doesn't come together in the final product.
    - The way in which Kirk defeats Landru is especially unconvincing, even for Star Trek. Proper form for destroying computers in Star Trek is to use the computer's own logic to prove it has violated its own directives. But all he really does here is to assert without proof that the computer's stagnant society is bad rather than good. Why would the computer just take Kirk's word on this and destroy itself?
  • From Alan Feldman on 2013-03-07 at 10:50pm:
    RETURN OF THE ARCHONS

    This episode takes bizarre to a whole new level.

    Re the Festival: When do the cleaning crews arrive? And with all the rock-throwing you'd think some ambulances and repair crews would be in order. I'm guessing this must be an annual thing. A society couldn't survive if it happened much more often. And at some point in this episode the Festival is completely forgotten.

    I like the way Bilar speaks. I also like the voices of the Lawgivers. Their hoods and robes look cool, too.

    All of the inhabitants we see are zombies except for a few. It is understandable that the members of the underground aren't, as they are immune to "absorption", and are therefore not of the Body. But why is Hacom not a zombie? And why doesn't he notice the difference? Actually, before Festival, Bilar and Tula aren't _totally_ zombied out, but they're not normal, either.

    Yeah, it's frustrating with Kirk constantly asking about Landru and not getting much of an answer.

    Landru looks pretty cool and spooky.

    The scene with Kirk defying the lawgivers is just plain goofy. Tamar is killed by a sparkler tube. After brief defiance by Kirk, the Lawgivers consult. Then the talking one clarifies. Kirk defies them again and simply grabs the tube (even though he wasn't close enough in the preceding shots). As a result, the Lawgivers turn 90 degrees as our talking Lawgiver says, "It is Landru." Hacom turns and says, "Landru", and just leaves. Why? Where does he go? Then Reger leads everyone out while the Lawgivers are "communing". Say what?

    Of all three times Kirk talks a computer to death, this is by far the worst. Spock's brief lines during this scene don't really help. Kirk and Spock tell computer Landru that the Body is dying. Well, the Body is bizarre and lame, but not dying. Seems stable to me, aside from the occasional "Festival". After a brief display of hubris, computer Landru becomes increasingly incoherent, erratic, confused, and panicked. These are elements of a "mere machine"? I like it when computer Landru says, "Help me! Help me! Help me! Help me! Help me!" as it destroys itself. Where did sci-fi writers of that era get the idea that computers are packed with explosives and can be talked into suicide?

    There are reasons the Landru society was sick, but not most of the ones Kirk came up with. And instead of celebrating anything positive that the newly freed inhabitants might have done they go for domestic quarrels and knock-down-drag-outs, which is defined at webster.com as "marked by extreme violence or bitterness and by the showing of no mercy". This is a good thing? I think freedom and creativity should be celebrated instead, which is something Spock should have pointed out. The problem wasn't that the society was too peaceful (again, forgetting the Festival); it was that it was lame, boring, devoid of freedom, and apparently stagnant.

    AEF, a.k.a. betaneptune
  • From Rick on 2013-05-01 at 1:09am:
    I think I finally featured out the festival. I think its Landru take on human mating. Seriously.

    There are a couple references to this. One of the old guys says that Kirk is young so he should be out there. That one is pretty weak, but the main one is that in every scene there is a man picking up a woman, throwing her over his shoulder and running off the screen. Cant believe I didnt see that before but its there. They couldnt come out and just call it an orgy so they went with this festival thing.
  • From kevin on 2017-02-09 at 12:58pm:
    Very under rated, but still flawed. The ending alone of talking the computer to destroy itself was horrible. Many other points seemed obvious to me,such as the Festival. I believe they mean it only happened rarely, as they mention Kirk and crew travelling a long way to participate in it, and as mentioned above was most likely an orgy or sorts, and violence to get out pent up anger.

    The planets people had been there for over 6000 years, so the main review missed that. The archons were simply assimilated into their 19th century society.

    A great idea, but not well executed in some key ways.

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