Star Trek: The Original Series
"The Return of the Archons"
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™ 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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53 comments on this post
Tue, Jul 24, 2012, 1:38am (UTC -5)
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.
Sun, Mar 31, 2013, 7:09pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Mar 20, 2014, 7:37am (UTC -5)
Thu, Mar 20, 2014, 12:55pm (UTC -5)
-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.
Fri, Apr 4, 2014, 2:08am (UTC -5)
Mon, Apr 28, 2014, 12:51am (UTC -5)
Fri, Jul 18, 2014, 6:52am (UTC -5)
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 9:56am (UTC -5)
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'.
Mon, Feb 9, 2015, 8:14am (UTC -5)
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.
Mon, Feb 9, 2015, 8:26am (UTC -5)
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.
A real winceFest.
Sat, Feb 14, 2015, 10:44pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Feb 27, 2015, 1:02pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Sep 11, 2016, 7:59pm (UTC -5)
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.
Mon, Nov 7, 2016, 8:11pm (UTC -5)
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.
Sun, Dec 11, 2016, 3:42pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Feb 7, 2017, 3:53pm (UTC -5)
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.
Tue, Feb 7, 2017, 10:56pm (UTC -5)
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.
Thu, Feb 23, 2017, 9:38am (UTC -5)
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.
Sun, May 21, 2017, 9:54pm (UTC -5)
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.
Sun, May 21, 2017, 11:19pm (UTC -5)
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.
Mon, Oct 2, 2017, 5:54pm (UTC -5)
Not much else to add here; it's just a cool mysterious episode with almost a Doctor Who vibe of hokiness mixed with intelligent analysis of big issues. But I will say I enjoyed Sulu's landing party teaser and McCoy's later absorption into the body, as well as Spock's look of bland indifference and even boredom as he's strapped to the wall for absorption -- and his sly smirk as he says "peace and contentment on his way out is a hoot. You may capture Spock, but there's no way you'll ever intimidate him with things which make no scientific sense like hollow tube guns. Nobody puts Spock in the corner.
Side note: It's cool seeing the Landru communication hologram today, as DS9 experimented with hologram comm systems on the Defiant toward the end of its run and Discovery now uses them as the norm instead of view screens. I don't recall that TNG, Voyager (other than the Doctor), or Enterprised used holograms for communication in this way. But holograms pop up on TOS every now and then, a decade before Star Wars gave us the "help us Obi Wan" hologram. Fascinating stuff.
Mon, Oct 2, 2017, 6:03pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Nov 23, 2017, 7:52pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Jan 14, 2018, 7:39am (UTC -5)
If Kirk had been around in TNG days, his solution to the Borg probably would have involved making out with the Borg Queen before talking the Borg into a logical feedback loop that blows them all up. :)
Tue, Apr 17, 2018, 7:57pm (UTC -5)
If the Landru computer is 4000 years old, why is it even working? I would have expected the priests or lawgivers to know the truth, and to be in charge of maintenance and reprogramming. It may be like that because it's suffering the computer of senility. Don't destroy it. Repair it.
And if you want to know why things are the way they are in New Orleans, "it is the will of (Mayor) Landrieu."
Sat, May 12, 2018, 3:32pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Aug 4, 2018, 9:25pm (UTC -5)
It has been a while, but I always thought they figured the Archon crew had been absorbed into "the Body", but they had fought it long enough they had earned Legendary status among the rebels. That was my take anyway. The Landru computer seemed to have been around for a long time before the Archon arrived.
Fri, Aug 24, 2018, 10:31pm (UTC -5)
Borg Assimilation, anyone?
Wed, Apr 3, 2019, 9:23pm (UTC -5)
I did like the way it reminded me of The Borg.
Fri, Apr 12, 2019, 7:43pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Apr 18, 2019, 5:41pm (UTC -5)
Wasn't a fan of this, most of the episode dragged. French Andrew then gets told to blow up with a dose of American Dream logic, and does so. It probably seemed deep at the time though.
Mon, Oct 14, 2019, 11:19am (UTC -5)
Otherwise, yeah, it's a pretty generic Kirk versus the cult of bad ideology episode. The messages here get better treatment in "The Ultimate Computer", "This Side of Paradise" and even "The Apple". I did find it a pretty fun watch however, and you got to love Kirk being all cavalier the whole episode. The part where he tells one of the law guardians that "you better start looking for a new job" came off really funny considering the circumstances.
Mon, Oct 14, 2019, 3:24pm (UTC -5)
"However, the episode isn't consistently anti-Christian as the solution to beating the machine is telling them how important soul and human spirit are (which is a message aligned with Christian values)."
Yeah, I would say that the message seems to be against what I would call 'fake Christianity', i.e. the sort of society that forces a bunch of conduct and for everyone to walk around pretending to be happy all the time. It's the Christian-shaped tyranny that I think is being criticized, which to be fair many Americans probably equate with Christianity as a whole anyhow. But I think Kirk and co. are effectively operating as "real Christians" here insofar as they see it as their obvious goal to save people who are in trouble and to help them start thinking for themselves.
I also agree that this is another "look for a better structure" type episode, and it's probably most like The Apple in that a happy-seeming people are told it's not good enough. The difference here is that the people aren't really happy, they're just forced into a mode of conduct that in reality leads to explosions. So basically the episode is saying this model doesn't work at all. In The Apple that type of society actually does work, but at the expense of keeping the people like children for all time. The Side of Paradise is actually a funny one and I'm not even sure where that one lands in Trek ethics. Basically it's a strange case of mutualistic parasitism where the spores get what they need and give the humans everything they need, albeit also at the expense of their ambitions. I feel like that one is closer to really asking "do people really need their ambitions, or are those just a means to get to the pleasure they want?"
Fri, Nov 1, 2019, 10:36am (UTC -5)
Fri, Nov 1, 2019, 11:12am (UTC -5)
Just a thought - you may find eventually that most bad actions are done with a sort of ignorance of their real implication. There's an expression "they know not what they do", which is to say maybe they know on some surface level but that doesn't mean really knowing the long-term effects and their implications. People take a little bribe, eh, they know it's a small offense and what's the difference. They don't know that if that creates a culture of corruption then the small offense is actually building up a major problem likely involving a lot of death.
Is the computer running on autopilot really different from most of us when we do things we shouldn't? I'd say only a handful of people do things that are wrong, they know they are wrong, they know exactly the full implications, and still don't care.
Wed, Nov 6, 2019, 9:05am (UTC -5)
Then many are ignorant, or trying and failing to help, and few are evil. I suppose that if you keep trying to help and it is only making things worse, then they are ignorant, but the computer eventually seems to realize in its last moments that it was in fact the problem.
Fri, Nov 15, 2019, 1:31am (UTC -5)
The end, especially, had me laughing several times.
Mr. Lindstrom reporting from the surface to Kirk.
"How's it going?"
"Couldn't be better. Already this morning we had half a dozen domestic quarrels and two genuine knockdown drag-outs. It may not be paradise but it's certainly human."
"Sounds most promising."
or when the computer has been destroyed and Marplon and the robed servants looks upon it as Kirk leaves.
"Let's go see how the others are doing. Marplon can finish up here."
Yeah, they can thank them later XD Let me tell you, had it been Janeway instead of Kirk people would absolutely LOSE it.
Sun, May 10, 2020, 10:01pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Sep 20, 2020, 8:57am (UTC -5)
Sat, Nov 21, 2020, 11:32am (UTC -5)
In the end, I have to go with @Chrome, just as you did.
I'm not sure if you (@Peter G.) or @Chrome have read "Radio Free Albemuth" by Philip K. Dick (who also wrote Blade Runner), but I think you might really, really enjoy it!
@NCC-1701-Z, LOL! I would pay good money to see Kirk make out with the Borg queen. "What are little girls made of," indeed :-)
The Red Hour reminds me of this article on German nudity during communism I was reading recently:
"For Germans living in the communist GDR, where travel, personal liberties and sales of consumer goods were curtailed, [free body culture] functioned in part as a “safety valve,” according to Bauerkämper; a way to let off tension in a deeply restrictive state by providing a bit of “free movement”."
Man, life on the other side of that iron curtain must have been so different...
Fri, Mar 19, 2021, 8:41am (UTC -5)
You could also say that it's a forerunner of 'The Handmaid's Tale', except that the conditioning applies equally to men and women. Notice the hoods on the brown-clad enforcers? Very similar to the white hoods the Handmaids wear. And when McCoy is conditioned, he comes out with "Blessed be the Body!". I wonder... did Margaret Attwood unconsciously reference this episode for T.H.T.?
There were weaknesses in the story. Why did the brown enforcers talk and act like computers, yet were actually revealed to be men after a fist fight (in the 4th episode in a row!!)? Why was there no explanation of an alien planet kitted out like a 19th Century Wild West set? Why, when the away team arrived, everything was perfect, yet when 6 a.m. sounded after the first night's Festival, the mess from rioting was all around - no-one cleared up? And, of course, the end scene - a computer powerful enough to trap the Enterprise and keep an entire population enslaved, falls for some very limp logic from Kirk.
However, it's nevertheless a good episode and has some good moments. The first ever mention of The Prime Directive (ironically also used by the computer to assert its own motives!); and Kirk makes a good speech near the end about the importance of freedom to make mistakes being an essential part of the human condition.
3 stars (just about...)
Fri, Mar 19, 2021, 8:53am (UTC -5)
Sat, Mar 20, 2021, 9:10pm (UTC -5)
Funny recollection: I always thought the holographic “Landru” had more than a passing resemblance to Pres. ANDREW Jackson (look at a $20 bill). Same hairstyle, face and robed garment. Not suggesting any metaphorical significance though.
Mon, May 9, 2022, 4:29pm (UTC -5)
It's a very simplistic story here, its metaphors and allegories rather obvious. The brown-shirts and their Wokeblaster tubes are standing in for government minders and fascist enforcers, "absorbing" the populace and punishing the "wrong-thinkers." And if you think Mike is right and that this is just an old-fashioned and obsolete take on modern society, with outdated metaphors only "relevant to the 60's," I would tell you to play close attention to McCoy's crazed reaction, while "of the Body," upon realizing that Kirk is an interloper. It's as if McCoy was a member of today's Woke mob who's just heard someone say that men can't get pregnant. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The Festival / Red Hour also made me think of those stupid Purge movies. While the message is trite, both "Return of the Archons" and The Purge make the point that full-blown oppression is bad for the mind, and that such subjugated people would really need such a release ("pressure valve" was Peter G's good name for it) to blow off some steam. The episode clearly lands on the side of intellectual and individual freedom, showing that those of the Body are utterly bereft of ambition, passion and incentive in the name of passivity and "tranquility" of their society. Of course they would snap without the Festival Hour.
Kirk's confrontation with the Landru computer (the "indoctrination center," of course) at the end was simplistic and silly ("YOU ARE THE EVIL!"), but it sure was largely accurate. The Computer reacted exactly as members of a brainwashed group do, whether they be part of an oppressive religious cult, the anti-vaccine movement or the Woke mob. When they are confronted with logic and facts, their heads explode.
Kirk -- “How’s it going?”
Lindstrom -- “Couldn’t be better. Already this morning we’ve had half a dozen domestic quarrels and two genuine knock-down drag-outs."
My Grade: C+
Thu, Sep 8, 2022, 7:33pm (UTC -5)
Just one of the things I wonder!
Thu, Sep 8, 2022, 9:42pm (UTC -5)
Clearly they knew Sulu already had extensive experience with the big stupid grin.
Sun, Sep 11, 2022, 8:18pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Sep 14, 2022, 8:02pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Sep 16, 2022, 5:32pm (UTC -5)
The Festival is definitely not every night - I think it must have occurred annually and after harvest since the food must be grown for towns and cities in outside places such as the Valley and it wouldn't be much good if the farmers were ripping up and trampling the crops. The only thing that is odd is that no one cleans up afterwards although it does make it handy when Landru mobilises the citizenry who only have to pick up the handy bricks and other objects as weapons. In reality, you'd think that people would be tasked to clean up and at least put temporary repairs in place pending replacement of window glass etc.
Another thing I found interesting is that the "resistance" isn't really that at all - Reger and his colleague are practically paralysed with fear at the prospect of actually taking action against Landru when Kirk tells them they have to do something practical. They mention prophecy - Kirk impatiently cuts them off when they bring this up - but it seems that they were expecting the Archons to come back and do everything for them. The "resistance" is really a talking shop about the magical time when the Archons will return. Reger's colleague is a bit more active - he does prevent Kirk and Spock being brainwashed and he guides them to the audience hall - but Reger, who had been a bit more active before, taking Kirk and co to a safe place, breaks down under the strain and tries to throw himself on Landru's mercy. So they aren't a real resistance at all because they expected someone else to do the job for them and when it comes down to it, at least in Reger's case, are sorry they ever questioned the will of Landru.
Sat, Sep 17, 2022, 2:54pm (UTC -5)
Good observations on both subjects. Concerning the Festival, I think it’s intentional and quite clever to leave most questions regarding its rules and purposes unanswered. We see the scene through the eyes of the Enterprise crew: at first the creepy, nightmarish atmosphere, the tension of imminent danger, and then the breakout of violence and total chaos. They don’t know what to make of this, how to behave and react… but it’s clear that any break of those rules they don’t know can be deadly dangerous.
I also agree with your thoughts on the “resistance”. It seems that Landru’s mental control over the people is so powerful that even those who resist aren’t “immune” to it… they can only fight against being “absorbed” into the Body, but just as everyone else they have lost their free will and thinking. As you say, all they can do is to wait and be prepared for the Archons to return – they could never have brought about Landru’s downfall alone. I particularly liked the short dialogue in the cell when Kirk says: “You said you wanted freedom. It's time you learn that freedom is never a gift. It has to be earned.” They wanted to be freed from Landru’s control, but this means they’ll be on their own again – which is clearly better but may not always be as easy as having a computer mastermind taking care of everything.
Thu, Dec 22, 2022, 4:56pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Dec 23, 2022, 7:35pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Jan 9, 2023, 2:35pm (UTC -5)
Archons is a fertile ground for quotes. In school, I, too, remember lots of "Come for the Festival, aye ya?", "Festival! Festival!" and "Happy communing." I'd watched syndicated TOS in three different broadcast areas, and one station, can't remember which, always completely omitted the teaser, which was a bizarre way to trim the length.
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