Star Trek: The Original Series

"The Return of the Archons"

**1/2

Air date: 2/9/1967
Teleplay by Boris Sobelman
Story by Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Joseph Pevney

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The crew beams down to a world inhabited by people exhibiting strange behavior: a single-minded zombie-like trance state that explodes into temporary anarchy when "red hour" approaches. Kirk & Co. become involved in an underground movement to oppose the all-knowing Landru, a manipulative dictator that has apparently forced all of his citizens into uniform submission. Appropriately enough, Landru ultimately turns out to be a computer.

This episode is a metaphor for a lot of things, many of them approached with sophistication: anti-communist and anti-oneness sentiments, a warning of calculated technology replacing flesh-and-blood anticipation and adaptability, and the argued need for fighting authorities. But the plot flow lacks a cohesiveness to make it all come together into a unified, strong story with an underlying message. The "red hour" craziness is bizarre but confusing in narrative terms, and other small details of the plot are never fully developed.

Also, we have a slightly goofy resolution in which Kirk Outsmarts the Computer [TM] by feeding it some sort of circular logic that makes it fry itself and explode—arguments that just aren't convincing enough on story terms to be wholly worthwhile. Still, "Return of the Archons" has an intelligent underlying structure to it; it's just too bad the plot couldn't deliver on all fronts.

Previous episode: Court Martial
Next episode: Space Seed

◄ Season Index

20 comments on this review

Strider
Tue, Jul 24, 2012, 1:38am (UTC -5)
This is one of my least favorite episodes. I don't get how the people were incorporated into "the Body." Was there some computer chip in their brain? It didn't look like it. And what the heck happened at the red hour, and why? They all went nuts for 12 hours because...? And was that the so-called "festival?"

I liked the idea of there being an underground resistance, and Kirk et all almost automatically gravitating toward it, rather than the established authority. That's good American mythos right there. At least in the 60's, we still saw ourselves as the rebels fighting for the underdog.
mike
Sun, Mar 31, 2013, 7:09pm (UTC -5)
Barely tolerable. Maybe I'm missing the point because it's steeped in metaphors revelant to the 60's. Furthermore we've seen this setup before. We've got Kirk and his landing party trying to find and defeat another omnipotent super computer that holds godlike sway over a people. Of course he wouldn't interfere except the god computer has got the Enterprise locked in orbit, firing heat beams or something at it that will eventually destroy the ship. There were way too many of these shamelessly by the book plots in the original series and this one is as unremarkable as the others.
Corey
Thu, Mar 20, 2014, 7:37am (UTC -5)
The Festival allows selected townsfolk to rape, dance and beat one another, getting all their bottled up emotions released.
dgalvan
Thu, Mar 20, 2014, 12:55pm (UTC -5)
"Kirk Outsmarts the Computer ™" seemed to happen a lot in TOS. It's kind of an interesting artifact from a time when computers were huge, room-filling mechanical devices. Hard for us to comprehend with our present-day definition of "computer", but probably worked as a sensible idea for the audiences of mid-to-late 60's.

-I assumed the "festival" was Landru's way of letting the people blow off pent-up aggression and frustration, so that they could sustain their politeness the rest of the time. But that was just my assumption. . . they certainly didn't address it in the episode itself, which I thought was odd because it was a big deal at first and then never mentioned again.

-I also laughed out loud when the guards were left gaping at their destroyed Landru computer while Kirk walked by and said "If I were you I'd start looking for another job". Look at it from the guard's point of view. Some alien guys show up and destroy their system of government, philosophy, and religion all in one brief logic- conversation. Then head-alien (Kirk) just says, "see ya later suckers!" If I were the guards I'd be like: What the hell, man! We were fine before you got here!

-At this stage going through TOS's first season for the first time, I am noticing that almost all aliens they encounter look pretty much exactly like humans. With the exceptions of Spock, Romulans, Balok (Corbomite Maneuver) and the Gorn, pretty much all aliens they find on other planets are just humans. (The one with the kids who fear the "groups", this episode, the "Taste of Armageddon", etc.)

I recognize that budgets for makeup etc. were limited back in the day, so it's not a big deal, but it is a noticeable deviation that I'm glad the later Star Trek Spinoffs corrected. In those later shows, they would almost always add a little brow ridge, ear deviation, or even just a different hairstyle to show that someone is not human.


redshirt28
Fri, Apr 4, 2014, 2:08am (UTC -5)
Festival was about one thing my friends... procreation.
Peace of Landru
Mon, Apr 28, 2014, 12:51am (UTC -5)
Easily one of my top 10 episodes of the original series. I liked this one as a kid, but it's really grown on me over time. This is the first episode Kirk talks a computer to death. Classic. "It is almost the red hour" - that was absolutely the line used in college that we were about to party somewhere. And my personal favorite line in maybe all of Star Trek - "Are you of the body?" That was stoner code for - "are you baked?" The corollary to that - McCoy's angst ridden "you are NOT of the body!" was almost more classic. love, love love this episode.
Markus
Fri, Jul 18, 2014, 6:52am (UTC -5)
Of course it was a bit silly (again human-looking aliens, everything looks like puritan paradise), but I liked the premise and especially this sort of adventure/mystery, that many later ST-series failed to create. Dark chambers, etc.
John TY
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 9:56am (UTC -5)
Yeah I used to have some affection for this one in spite of its flaws. Or maybe because of them.

Note: I like how easily Sulu gets 'absorbed' and yet Kirk is allowed to get away with blue murder.

Much like dgalvan's comment above about Kirk's smugness at the end, I also laughed when Scotty says something about Sulu being back to normal and Sulu gives a coy little smirk and then says to the con officer 'relieving you'.
Jonn Walsh
Mon, Feb 9, 2015, 8:14am (UTC -5)
Okay, being passionate about TOS since its original run doesn't keep me from seeing it clearly and analytically.
The Festival.
5 PM until 6 AM.
Freak all night and clean/rebuild all day?
Is this every night? The streets were clean and unobstructed when Kirk and the Boys arrived so either all of the detritus and destruction from last night's mayhem had been dealt with already or there had been no Festival last night.
Broken glass, burned rubble, physical injuries.
I saw the prelude to rape, people hit with large sticks, rocks and other formidable objects being hurled about....Reger's daughter suffering obvious post-Festival trauma;
Who picks up the pieces and when is the laundry done?
When do these people sleep? Do they sleep at all? They do have beds.
And when Kirk and Co. arrive at Reger's hideaway, how is it that the torches are already lit?
Did you see the shadow of Reger's hand on the LightPanel, bottom right corner, as he sets it down? A shadow on a luminous light source such as this? A reflection perhaps, but not a shadow...Unless you're on a soundstage with overhead lighting and the LightPanel is a prop.
Oish! I'm only 19 minutes into the episode!
Oh, and the one who directs our Heroes to Reger's house for shelter soon after their arrival-worst overdub EVER.
Jonn Walsh
Mon, Feb 9, 2015, 8:26am (UTC -5)
Oh, and they walk so slowly. How does ANYTHING get done?
And McCoy gets absorbed but he's not set free by the LawGivers to experience FESTIVAL?
He's absorbed. He's Of The Body.
He should've been let free. "We were told to wait here" he says.
In the same prison cell as the infidels?
Strange. And then he's surprised and agitated when he realizes that Kirk and Crew are not Of The Body. There's just no logical continuity.
Agonizing.
A real winceFest.
Poltargyst
Sat, Feb 14, 2015, 10:44pm (UTC -5)
Jonn, Festival is not every night. It's once in a while. They thought the landing party travelled in from the Valley to attend it. You wouldn't travel in from the Valley every night.
Xander
Fri, Feb 27, 2015, 1:02pm (UTC -5)
Did anyone else find it really annoying that none of Kirk's party tried to escape the jail cell under their own steam? That cell door took aeons to close and the guards never even looked behind themselves, but everyone just waited quietly in the cell to be absorbed one by one. WTF?
Skeptical
Sun, Sep 11, 2016, 7:59pm (UTC -5)
Why does this seem like the quintessential TOS episode? It seems to hit all the tropes: alien planet conveniently reminiscent of a Paramount set, absurd special effects (throw a firecracker inside an empty tube, that'll be dramatic), an utterly goofy plot, Kirk outwitting a computer, overacting, what more could you want? As silly as it is though, I think it has a certain charm to it.

I love all the little details that went into the plot. It's not just some sort of talk about joining a utopia, you must be "of the body." Kirk and company aren't just outsiders beaming down, they are the Archons. This isn't just a typical brainwashed community, they have a red hour where everyone goes insane. The crowd on the planet aren't just obstacles for Kirk to work around, there was an active resistance movement hidden within cells of three. And, of course, the computer wasn't the overseer or some cliche name like that, he was Landru. Whatever one can say about this episode, it was certainly wasn't dull. Despite the goofiness of it, there's a bit of an epic feel to it I think.

BTW, as for the Festival, I agree that it's a relatively rare phenomenon that is there to allow for pent-up emotions to be released. Plot-wise, I think it's there to drive home both the horror of Landru's rule as well as to provide a reason for La Resistance. Of course, it also worked to start the mystery of what's going on here. Other than the teaser of Sulu and the random other guy getting caught, of course.
Rikko
Mon, Nov 7, 2016, 8:11pm (UTC -5)
I'm gonna say that I felt the episode lacked "cosmetic" consistency. Ok, you want to do an episode in random TV sets, fine, but at least try to follow a theme. The main one is like old western town, then when they are in the safe spot / Jail it looks like medieval thing and, finally, the computer room/mindbreak room were the classic minimalist high-tech place. All of them looking pretty cheap and unconvincing. Plus, they never comment how similar to old earth this place is? The streets reminded me of Miri's "planet".

I liked the mistery and weirdness factor in the beginning, even when some things don't add up in the long run. Happy McCoy and Zulu were very funny as well.



Why?
Sun, Dec 11, 2016, 3:42pm (UTC -5)
while were doing the "Computer ™" and "Kirk Outsmarts the Computer ™" thing think "Wesley Crusher Outsmarts everything ™" of TNG for comparison:)
Rahul
Tue, Feb 7, 2017, 3:53pm (UTC -5)
An episode that touched on a number of classic Trek themes that would be re-visited in subsequent episodes -- so something of a landmark episode even though it's not that notable in itself.
There is definitely the theme of communism under Landru (communal society without a soul/individuality) and Kirk & Co. quickly recognize that it's not a productive society -- applaud Trek for taking on this theme -- the heat beams on the Enterprise make their mission clear.
I enjoyed the episode except for the ending where Kirk (with Spock's help) use logic to cause the computer to destroy itself. Why didn't the computer use the soundwaves again to knock everybody out?
The festival/red hour was left to the viewer's interpretation - but omitting it would not have affected the plot - a non-sequitur, I think maybe to fill time.
Like many TOS episodes, an excellent premise with some questionable plot twists, some things unexplained, but still an enjoyable hour. For me 2.5/4 stars.
Peter G.
Tue, Feb 7, 2017, 10:56pm (UTC -5)
@ Rahul,

I would suggest to you that Festival is the most relevant event in the episode. The argument against controlling people through an enforced 'peace' would be that they only submit to it through force, not through agreement or good will. The episode seems to me to show that although passivity was forced upon the populace on the surface (in this case, technologically), brewing beneath it was a chaotic frenzy that no threat could squash. Festival was that society's way of venting those angry and frenzies impulsed brought on by the everyday tyranny of life there. Although it's notable that even the need for Festival already admits to a flaw in that kind of forced control of human beings, nevertheless by actually seeing the ugliness of it we're shown the ugliness of what that system really is. There is nothing at all peaceful about civility at the point of a gun.
Peter G.
Thu, Feb 23, 2017, 9:38am (UTC -5)
This morning I watched the first half of the episode for the first time in many years. I was struck by a few things I never noticed before. For one thing, the manner of calling the citizens members of "the body" is an automatic Christianity reference, implying "body of Christ", which is a term for the Church. Looking at the episode from memory I remembered thinking it was about communism as Jammer suggested, but watching it again made it clear that it was meant to be a Christian community. The tone of the citizens support the idea that they are supposed to be Christians, on account of the apparent mindless glee on their faces, the 'vacant minds', the friendliness (at first glance), and the absolute requirement to take in strangers and put them up for the night. This strikes me as exactly the way someone critical of some aspects of Christianity would view a Christian community, and especially so for the fact that everyone was brainwashed by a central authority.

To hammer in the point that this is about Christians (and how new members are 'absorbed' rather than killed if possible) we have the "red hour", which seems to me clearly to imply the pandemonium and violence associated with communism. In Russia, for instance, communism was ostensibly a response to a very Christian society, where all of the old values were turned on their head through force and mayhem. Within the context of the literal details in the episode Festival serves to vent the frustrated energies of the people, while on the interpretive side it seems to imply that when you enforce an unnaturally perfect behavior code on people it will result in extreme blowback, which on a cultural level can lead to very bad results like communism.

A side note I'll make about this episode is that it seems to almost serve as a counter-argument against the future of humanity as depicted in the later TNG series. In TNG we're told that humanity has evolved beyond the point of aggression and violence, and that the people on Earth are peaceful and resolve all differences intellectually. But for those who are TOS fans we know that in Kirk's time there was plenty of 'red blooded' heartiness among the Starfleet officers we see, including lust, aggression, sometimes the desire for vengeance, and so forth. And as humane as Kirk's approach typically was to resolving conflicts, one thing we cannot realistically say is that the methods on TOS were universally non-violent. "Errand of Mercy" is a good showcase for that. The events of "Return of the Archons" seem to suggest that mankind naturally has a kind of aggression and pent up energy (including sexual) which must be expressed in some way in order for people not to explode from time to time. In TNG we seem to be presented with a sort of sanitized society free from those visceral impulses, except maybe for Riker, who almost stands as a commentary on the docility of the other humans on the show. But here in TOS we're being shown that being docile or perfectly calm isn't the end-all in becoming an advanced culture. Rather, the key probably ought to be to integrate all of the darker impulses into a constructive way of life, rather than to pretend they're not there. Right or wrong, TOS seems to frequently argue for the Kirk way of life, which is passionate but logical, adventurous but humane. In Voyager Janeway basically refers to this crew as cowboys, and from the perspective of TOS it seems like the idea is being put forward that anything shy of having the gusto of cowboys is selling humanity short.
Rahul
Sun, May 21, 2017, 9:54pm (UTC -5)
@Peter G.,

Thanks for your comment - sorry I didn't notice it until now. I can see where you're coming from re. Festival. I think you're right in that it has a significance for what it says about the society under Landru's control, but it didn't seem to factor into Kirk & Co.'s plans for freeing the society and the Enterprise. Once it was done, it was done and it seems to just be treated as another bizarre aspect of the computer-controlled society.

What I think about is, if Festival is a period when the people are not under Landru's control, wouldn't they try to do what Kirk & Co. are trying to do i.e. figure out how to "unplug" Landru rather than destroying and going bananas? Or maybe they've simply lost the ability to think independently and can only rebel mindlessly.



Peter G.
Sun, May 21, 2017, 11:19pm (UTC -5)
@ Rahul,

Rather, I would suggest that Festival wasn't an unforeseen blip in the system, but was a control mechanism introduced by Landru when it became clear that the oppressive control was unacceptable on some level to the people. The computer system would recognize this and introduce a pressure valve. Not only do I not think the people were independently rebelling during Festival, but on the contrary, I think Landu forced them into periodic frenzy to release the tensions introduced by the forced peace. As they said in The Matrix, it's just another layer of control.

Submit a comment





Notify me about new comments on this page
Hide my e-mail on my post

◄ Season Index

▲Top of Page | Menu | Copyright © 1994-2017 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication or distribution of any content is prohibited. This site is an independent publication and is not affiliated with or authorized by any entity or company referenced herein. See site policies.