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

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13 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.

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