|||[Boldly Going]||| Star Trek: The Original Series—Season One: Ep. 1.21 “The Return of the Archons” – (Original air date: Thursday, February 9, 1967)


Welcome to my rewatching of the original 79 episodes of the series that launched the franchise. Below are the bulletpointed notes I jotted down while watching “The Return of the Archons.”

  • On this day in history: The first of the seven victims of the so-called Kenosha Murder Alley in Kenosha, Wisconsin, disappeared. This alley has been called, by some, the Bermuda Triangle of Murder. While the murders, which occurred between 1967 and 1981, may all be real, they don’t all seem to be connected and three of them may have been solved. It may just be a case of the legend being more entertaining than the truth.
  • The day after this episode aired for the first time, Friday, February 10, 1967, Laura Dern (Vice Admiral Holdo in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, among many other arguably better roles in movies and TV) and Vince Gilligan (writer/producer on The X-Files, and creator of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul) are both born.
  • The Monkees are still ruling the pop charts in the US and UK with “I’m a Believer.” Davy Jones would end up being one of the inspirations to introduce navigator Pavel Chekov in season two of TOS.
  • The Rolling Stones jump to the #4 spot in the US with “Ruby Tuesday,” which would end up being the inspiration for both a mediocre restaurant chain and a mediocre Marvel Comics character (Ruby Thursday).
  • If I seem to be stalling, it’s only because, at the moment, I’m finding the Kenosha Murder Alley and The Monkees more interesting than “The Return of the Archons.”
  • That’s not fair of me, I know. I didn’t dislike this episode. It’s just not one of my favorites. There were several things about it that I liked a lot. I’ll make sure to accentuate those.
  • For starters, James T. Kirk’s damned green wraparound V-neck tunic doesn’t appear in this episode, with or without the gold applique. I hate that shirt. Kirk’s uniform tunic is the golden yellow one with the black rounded neck, with his insignia on the sleeves. Period.
  • While we’re talking about Bill Theiss and Trek costumes, this episode opens with Sulu and a new crewmember named Lt. O’Neil (more Irish infusion into Trek) wearing tri-corner hats and what appears to be 18th Century garb. Not another time travel story already.
  • Nope. Not time travel. But, the costumes are never explained, really.
  • Sulu and O’Neil are running from characters wearing long, hooded robes and carrying long staffs of some kind. Some kind of fraternity hazing ritual, maybe.
  • Sulu calls for an emergency beam out. O’Neil panics and runs for it before the two men can be teleported back to the Enterprise. One of the robed characters points his staff at Sulu, which causes Sulu to begin smiling seconds before he is beamed out.
  • Sulu acts like he’s tripping balls when he rematerializes on the ship. He tells Kirk that he’s “not of the Body.” He mentions the name “Landru” a couple of times, then calls the people on the planet “the sweetest, friendliest people in the universe. It’s paradise, my friend. Paradise.”
  • Kirk asks Sulu where O’Neil is, and he repeats, “Paradise. Paradise.”
  • End of teaser. The four cool pings, the Shatner monologue, then . . . ahh, hell, you know by now that I skipped the rest. Thank you, Netflix. I’m trying to cut down on my intake of caterwauling sopranos.
  • During the Captain’s Log, we find out that the USS Enterprise is orbiting the planet Beta Three, searching for traces of the starship Archon which disappeared there 100 years ago. Sulu and O’Neil were the two officers who comprised the entire disguised search party that was sent down to the planet surface.
  • This time, Kirk beams down with a search party that includes Dr. McCoy, a black-robed and hooded Mr. Spock, and three other potential victims. For some reason, the costumes appear more 19th Century American to me this time, except for Spock’s weird-looking woman-in-mourning outfit. The men are wearing bootlace ties and long jackets. In fact, one of the men looks a lot like James West from Wild Wild West to me. It’s not him, but he looks a lot like Robert Conrad. I feel like he’s daring me to knock a battery off of his shoulder.
  • Both Star Trek and Wild Wild West were on the air at the same time, but they were on different networks (NBC and CBS). I doubt they shared costumes.
  • A man walks past the search party, hand on his heart and dopey smile on his face. Like Sulu’s. Spock calls the expression “Mindlessness. Vacant contentment.” A state of mind I’ve been chasing all of my life.
  • Joy to you, friends,” the man says, and Kirk responds in kind.
  • The Hoyt Axton-penned song “Joy to the World,” made famous by Three Dog Night, didn’t appear until 1970. My head canon insists that Axton—who was reportedly no stranger to self-induced mindlessness or vacant contentment himself—was inspired by this Star Trek episode. Jeremiah was a bullfrog, indeed.
  • The friendly stranger assumes that Kirk’s group are in town for the Festival, and he gives them directions to Reger’s house, where they can finds rooms where they can sleep it off. They have to hurry, though, because it’s almost The Red Hour.
  • The town hall clock tower shows that it’s a few minutes before six o’clock. And, yes, it’s a normal Earth-type clock. No explanation necessary.
  • The man introduces them to Tula, who is apparently Reger’s daughter. Since they are obviously strangers, she assumes that they are from The Valley (Perhaps The Big Valley, also on the air at this time, but on ABC). Kirk and his team allow this assumption.
  • The clock strikes six and The Red Hour begins. All hell breaks loose. Windows are broken, people start fighting, and of course a woman jumps on Kirk and kisses him. Kirk says they need to get out of there before he gets kissed again and they all make a beeline to Reger’s house.
  • I said I would accentuate the things I like about this episode, and this is one of them. I like the concept of the Festival and The Red Hour (which seems to actually be The Red 12-Hours, but that’s nitpicking). I’m not sure if this concept originated with TOS, because I know I’ve seen similar events in other things. The Purge horror movie franchise seems to be a current take on this.
  • While I like the concept, it’s never explained in this episode. Not at all. Just that it is the will of Landru, and if you want to be part of the group you just gotta riot at Festival time. I prefer to think of it as an even-more-lawless Mardi Gras.
  • The search party arrives at Reger’s house. Along with Reger, they meet two other older men, Tamar and Hacom. It seems that Hacom is a strict puritan sourpuss, a Landruite fundamentalist.
  • Since the Starfleet officers aren’t out raping and pillaging during the Festival, Hacom determines that they are not of the Body, which is a grievous sin. Hacom also thinks Tamar is mocking the Lawgivers. Also a sin. Everything is probably a sin, unless it’s being done in the name of the Festival. Or Landru.
  • Reger shows the men to their room. Kirk tells Reger that they have no plans to attend the Festival, but he would like to hear more about this Festival, and about Landru.
  • When the Festival ends at six the next morning, Reger wants to know if Kirk and his men are Archons. “What if we are?” Kirk asks. Reger’s buddy Tamar says they need to hide them, quickly. Landru will know. He will come.
  • Old sourpuss Hacom comes in with two of the robed figures with their metal staffs. Hacom rats out Tamar’s mocking and Tamar is killed.
  • The robed ones are the Lawgivers, I assume. They order Kirk and his men to accompany them to the absorption chambers. This is our transition into Act Two.
  • Kirk tells the Lawgivers to tell Landru that they’ll come in their own time to speak to him. Then he takes the staff from one of the Lawgivers.
  • The Lawgivers do nothing. They don’t even make Kirk and his men into happy flower children like they did Sulu.
  • Spock inspects the staff and says that it’s a hollow tube, without any mechanism.
  • Wait. What?
  • For some unfathomable reason, Kirk’s disobedience to the Lawgivers buys the Starfleet officers some time. The Lawgivers don’t know how to respond to people who openly disobey their commands, it seems. Now, people like Tamar who mock them behind their backs, they get killed.
  • Out on the street, everything is peaceful again. The same man who greeted them yesterday says “Morning, friends” to them today.
  • Suddenly, everyone stops and begins to pick up weapons. Reger tells them that they’re being summoned by Landru. He’s summoning the Body. The citizens begin to attack the landing party but are easily repelled by phasers set on stun. Among their attackers is the missing Lt. O’Neil. When he is unconscious, they bring him along with them.
  • There’s something very much like Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” in this moment.
  • Reger leads them to another stone building. This one has actual lighting panels instead of gas lamps. Reger tells them they’re from the time before Landru, perhaps as long as 6000 years ago.  Those are good lights.
  • Kirk determines that the Lawgivers’ hollow staffs are antennae of some sort for some sort of broadcast power. Spock detects strong power generations coming from somewhere nearby.
  • Reger says that when the first Archons came, they opposed the will of Landru. Many were killed, but the rest were absorbed into the Body. When O’Neil regains consciousness, Landru will find them through him. Reger is part of an underground resistance, organized in cells of three. Tamar, who is now dead, was a member of his group, but there is a third whom Reger doesn’t know, since Tamar was his contact.
  • Kirk orders McCoy to give O’Neil a sedative to keep him from regaining consciousness.
  • Reger tells Kirk that Landru had pulled the original Archons down from the skies. Since the missing starship was called the Archon, Kirk makes the leap in logic that his own ship might be in danger.
  • Kirk contacts Scotty, who is rightfully in charge of the Enterprise, perhaps for the first time in the series. It’s true. They are under attack by some kind of heat beams. Scotty had routed all of their power to their shields, but they can’t move or they’ll burn up. At the current rate, they’ll lose orbit in less than twelve hours.
  • Landru’s sensor beams locate the landing party. Then an image of Landru himself is projected into their new digs. Landru is a distinguished-looking man with upswept hair and impressive eyebrows. Spock says the image is not real, just a projection. No, duh.
  • Landru says some stuff, but doesn’t seem to be hearing what Kirk says. Yadda-yadda-yadda . . . you’re bad people so you’re going to be absorbed into the Body. Then everyone is knocked out with a loud sound. Time for another act break.
  • The landing party comes to in Act Three, inside a cell of some sort. McCoy, O’Neil and one of the other guys are missing. Kirk and Spock talk about it and decide that Landru is acting like a computer.
  • When McCoy and the other guy return, they’re acting as high as Sulu did in the teaser.
  • The Lawgivers appear again, demanding that Kirk accompany them. This time, when he refuses, the Lawgivers tell him that he will join them or die. It seems the computer’s programming has been altered.
  • Kirk is led to the absorption chamber. A priest named Marplon will oversee Kirk’s absorption into the Body.
  • Spock unsuccessfully attempts a Vulcan mind meld with McCoy, then is summoned by the Lawgivers himself. Kirk passes him on the way out of the absorption chamber. Looking as blown away as the others, Kirk says, “Joy to you, friend. Peace and contentment will fill you. You will know the peace of Landru.”
  • It appears that Kirk has been converted. On to our final act.
  • As Act Four opens, Spock learns that Kirk wasn’t converted at all, and that the priest Marplon is actually the third member of Reger’s resistance cell. Marplon believes that Kirk and his friends are the fulfillment of a prophecy, whether they refer to themselves as Archons or not. Marplon gives Spock back their weapons.
  • When Spock returns to the cell where Kirk is, they plan their course of action. Kirk has decided that Landru must be killed, the computer’s plug has to be pulled. Spock is concerned this would violate the Prime Directive.
  • I know, talk about the Prime Directive is old hat these days, but I believe this is the first episode it is ever mentioned. Something else I like about this episode.
  • Kirk argues that the Prime Directive refers to non-interference in a living, growing culture, which this one is not. Lawyered!
  • Kirk and Spock depend on Reger and Marplon to help them locate Landru. Reger gets cold feet and Spock has to knock him out with a Vulcan Nerve Pinch. Marplon takes them to the Hall of Audiences.
  • The Landru projection appears, still insisting that they are an infection.
  • Kirk and Spock blast a hole in the wall using their phasers, revealing a flashing and blinking computer system beyond.
  • The Landru computer makes another loud sound and neutralizes their weapons.
  • With no other recourse, Kirk talks to the computer until he can convince it that the logical thing to do is to kill itself. If memory serves, this won’t be the only time that happens over the three seasons of TOS.
  • With the Landru computer deactivated, the heat beams stop and the ship is out of danger. Dr. McCoy, Sulu and the rest come down from their peace and joy high. Everything is back to normal.

So, not the worst episode of Star Trek out there (I still think that dubious honor would go to one of the episodes from TNG‘s first season). But, not an outstanding episode either. The whole “missing ship” excuse to explore Beta-3 was very nearly a MacGuffin. Sulu and O’Neil were searching in the city, after all, and it wasn’t really talked about by Kirk’s landing party either. It becomes apparent that the original Archons were the survivors of the ship that Landru caused to crash on the planet, which logically makes the crew of the Enterprise the new Archons, returned. Even with all of this backstory, the Archon itself never seems to be more than an afterthought to Kirk.

Also, why wasn’t Spock, the Vulcan who thrives on logic, the one who talks the computer into deactivating itself? Is it just because Kirk is a better three-dimensional chess player? Or is it because Shatner wanted all the juicy lines for himself?

I give this episode 3 out of a possible 5 stars. One star each for the Red Hour, the Prime Directive, and the absence of Kirk’s wraparound disco shirt.

One thought on “|||[Boldly Going]||| Star Trek: The Original Series—Season One: Ep. 1.21 “The Return of the Archons” – (Original air date: Thursday, February 9, 1967)

  1. I’ve been enjoying this series for a couple of weeks now, as well as the articles between, and am finally going to “find” (read MAKE) room to promote it on my own blog. I can’t promise you a jillion new readers, but everybody likes Trek, right, and I’m sure there’ll be a few first-time readers who join you. Best of luck with this stuff, and have a great week!

    Liked by 1 person

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