Star Trek: The Original Series
"Patterns of Force"
Air date: 2/16/1968
Written by John Meredyth Lucas
Directed by Vincent McEveety
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Sometimes you have to grant a story a few points and look at the bigger picture. "Patterns of Force"—in which Kirk, Spock, and Bones beam down to a planet that has modeled itself after Nazi Germany because Starfleet officer John Gill (David Brian) has violated the Prime Directive and intervened—is such an episode.
Here's a show where the outcome of an entire planet rests on Kirk and Spock sneaking around a Nazi base and outmaneuvering the bad guys by using some of the oldest tricks in the book of spy movies. The literal use of the Nazis seems a little on the excessive side; I find it hard to swallow that Gill would incorporate the hatred and racism of Nazism (and even so specifically their symbols) in his attempt to create this "efficient" state.
Nevertheless, "Patterns" works reasonably as a plot-heavy episode with the underlying cautionary tale of interference and the subsequent need for action, both in opposing evil and in setting mistakes right. As conveyed, it's not incredibly deep, but it's workable.
Previous episode: Return to Tomorrow
Next episode: By Any Other Name
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29 comments on this post
Thu, May 2, 2013, 12:52pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Jan 5, 2014, 1:41am (UTC -5)
There's also a lighthearted moment where, while putting on their commandeered Nazi uniforms, Spock comments that Kirk "should make a very convincing Nazi," to which Kirk gives a dirty look in response. This exchange almost seems to point at the off-screen irony that both of these actors are Jewish.
Thu, Aug 14, 2014, 11:18pm (UTC -5)
What the episode really "shows," through its plot, is that creating a society in which unquestioning obedience to a leader is a goal, makes it really easy for the "wrong" leader to take charge. That's got some heft to it, because it shows how well-intentioned ideas can be exploited by evil men. But, you know, that still makes the problem of Nazism all about the leader, as if one of the great horrors of human history can be written off on one man. John Gill maybe was doing great, if it weren't for that darned Melakon going and drugging him! Yeesh. The episode, for somewhat understandable reasons, doesn't get too close into the psychology of the Nazis -- pretty much every character we spend some time with ends up turning out to be in the Resistance, to the extent that I half expected it to turn out that literally every Ekosian who wasn't Melakon was in the Resistance.
When Gill starts talking about the importance of the non-interference directive, I rolled my eyes a little. I agree with the Prime Directive as a general rule, but all this episode "proved" was not to start a Nazi Party on a planet for "efficiency" sake, and then let yourself get drugged by a psychotic lieutenant.
I'm perhaps being hard on this episode, but I think the specific choice of Nazi iconography means that the episode has to be held to slightly harsher standards -- the weird allegories like "A Taste of Armageddon" may meander too, but they're still about abstract ideas which have many historical referents. Nazism is so *specific*, and so recent (even more so at the time of the episode), and to have an episode both conclude that the problem isn't the leaders but the whole style of leadership (agreed) and also that it all went wrong when one psycho took the reigns and is all gonna be completely fine once he's out (...?) rubs me wrong. I think this is a place where more abstract allegory is useful -- Nazism is too big for this episode, fine, show Gill's attempts to impose "order" on the planet lead to fascism from Gill's choices, or because the Ekosians *at large* were going in that direction (rather than, again, *one guy*), or something.
As it stands, some of the episode's commentary against cultish top-down leadership still stands up okay, and there's some fun to be had in the Kirk and Spock duo, and there's some good material for the Resistance members. But really -- I think this episode is a letdown. I'd probably say 2 stars.
Sun, Mar 15, 2015, 10:46pm (UTC -5)
By the way: I wonder if Jammer is aware that Nimoy just passed away. Someone should tell him.
Tue, Oct 13, 2015, 12:44pm (UTC -5)
I can't imagine why the later line was cut other than maybe some one thought it might sound vaguely like Kirk was complementing the Nazi's. Any one else remember this?
Sun, Mar 13, 2016, 8:26am (UTC -5)
Mon, Sep 19, 2016, 5:19am (UTC -5)
Yeah what to say about the actual episode...
Kirk and Spock become blood brothers, then Spock's a dick and dances around on Kirk's freshly whipped back for reasons only discernible to him. Whatever, play laugh track. Thankfully we never have to see Spock shirtless again after this episode. *shudders* That much hair is not logical.
Kirk and Spock's mutual hero turns out to be some idiot who not only broke the Prime Directive but did so to start a Nazi state. How disappointing for them. These guys need to find better role models.
For some reason they need McCoy to tell that a man is obviously all not there.
Spock is an expert at putting on shoes now. Since when did "resident alien" mean "dispenser of stupid advice"?
It's got some funny moments though, if you can stomach the premise.
Escaping by pretending their new friend was dead and they were dumping his body outside was some pretty dark humor. Or maybe just dark.
Tue, Nov 15, 2016, 5:46pm (UTC -5)
LOL. Best line ever.
Wed, Nov 16, 2016, 1:54am (UTC -5)
It's not the deepest Trek episode out there, but "Patterns" is still smarter than a "Star Trek Enterprise" shoot-em-up or JJ Abrams reboot film, and I find a lot to like in it. There's tension, excitement, a fresh percussion-driven musical theme that goes beyond a mere recycling of past episodes' music, and intriguing characters who hint at a deeper texture and context than many Trek outings. This is really superbly done, with the spy gimmicks and double-crosses keeping things more interesting than usual. And the Kirk-Spock chemistry in the jail cell and various fish-out-of-water scenarios, mixing in Bones at the end of the show, feels spot-on in terms of unforced TOS actors' chemistry.
The pace and break from ship-bound storytelling in "Patterns" is especially refreshing after so many TOS outings where the characters sit around rehashing positions or making speeches while the plot grinds to a halt. This is a story about weighty Trekkian moral issues -- primarily, the need to repair the damage of a Prime Directive violation in a context of two warring factions -- that manages to feel exciting and even fun in an offbeat way. Hard to pull that off, as many later iterations of Trek (i.e. TNG) have proved, but the mix feels right here.
And the use of the Nazis, who are undoubtedly the last absolute "evil" that people nowadays agree upon, really sharpens the Prime Directive issue. By painting the contaminated population as Nazis, it really ups the tension and pressure for Kirk to act in some way to undo the damage, and creates a real interest in seeing how he'll manage to resolve it without violating the Prime Directive further. This is not "Star Trek Insurrection," where it was hard to get on board morally with Picard's decision to side with a lilly-white gated community of 600 people against the common good of the universe. It's also not "Return of the Archons" or "Taste of Armageddon," where Kirk simply defeats a computer to influence the fate of a culture beyond the point where it's simply a matter of defending his ship. This time, for once, Kirk's meddling feels completely justified and even morally necessary.
Fri, Jun 2, 2017, 3:04pm (UTC -5)
Also dubious how John Gill would seriously think Nazi Germany is the way to go - and then Melakon comes along and takes charge. The old violation of the PD and its consequences at play here.
Some interesting discussion about historical tyrants - absolute power corrupts absolutely - that's fine and interesting and provides the necessary philosophical examination of what they went through.
I'd rate this 2.5 stars out of 4 - a familiar theme dressed up in Nazi Germany costume.
Sun, Jan 14, 2018, 3:16pm (UTC -5)
Sat, May 11, 2019, 9:20pm (UTC -5)
The first time I saw this ep, years ago, I laughed that anyone would believe the dopey-looking man on screen was actually talking and making sense, and that his barely coherent racism was worth following. I was the dopey one.
The character interaction was good. The John Gill character was not.
I was pleasantly surprised that the writers didn't come up with a reason Kirk had to kiss the ep's sexy lady (to save the planet, of course).
Tue, Jun 18, 2019, 11:38am (UTC -5)
What's frustrating about this one, is that they dress up in Nazi costume for what seems like at least four different times only for it to never work. You start to get the feeling that any plan involving dressing up as Nazis is never going to work and it's just stupid. Then, bafflingly, the final attempt (at a time you'd think the SS base would be wise to the ploy) to sneak in as Nazis works without a hitch.
Of course, the main weakness here is that the episode builds up so heavily to the Gill reveal that we expect a solid explanation as to why he turned the planet into Nazis. However, we find that he's just drugged and he had pure intentions starting a Nazi-styled empire. I'm not going to get into why that reveal is convoluted because others have so well. To cut to the chase, this reveal isn't particularly insightful about the Nazis or about non-interference in general. Like others have noted, if you're going to do a Nazi story, you need to really hit home and make a strong message or else you're just wasting your characters on an old cliché (yes, it was old in the 1960s - remember, there were films about Nazis *during WWII* [ex. Casablanca]).
So, I can see where they were going with this, and I think the character work and humor was good enough to make it entertaining. In fact, I did enjoy a lot of it, and perhaps that's thanks only to some incredibly good acting. The story Itself simply lacks meat, or the meat isn't nearly as delicious as what the episode promised.
"I was pleasantly surprised that the writers didn't come up with a reason Kirk had to kiss the ep's sexy lady (to save the planet, of course)."
That's pretty funny! I do think a better resolution between Kirk and Daras would've helped, though. It didn't need to be a kiss. It just needed to be a better explanation as to how they were going to undo the Nazi damage.
Tue, Jun 18, 2019, 11:53am (UTC -5)
TNG and DS9 were smart enough to deal with WWII themes indirectly with metaphors that weren't so heavy-handed and I think it paid those series well -- particularly DS9.
Sat, Jul 13, 2019, 5:56pm (UTC -5)
And I'm not sure why either would have any interest in joining the Federation after what happened.
I see this as a Romulan opportunity.
Wed, Dec 4, 2019, 2:54pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Feb 21, 2020, 1:15am (UTC -5)
For some reason, it also bothers me when Kirk and Spock beam down to a simpler culture and end up being captured without any direct means to solve the situation. It just feels so stupid. Like a federation observer who breaks the prime directive so that he can introduce nazism to an alien culture. ...
I/II of IV
Tue, Mar 10, 2020, 12:14am (UTC -5)
Ho Chi Minh had led the Vietnamese to shrug off the European yoke, and he has much inspiration from both the USA and Marxism; the latter dominated. It also motivated his lieutenants, and they were much more ruthless. Ho wanted the revolution, but the lackies gladly made sure there was no outer OR inner threat. Ho was the figurehead, the man on TV who impressed world society; the thugs ran the show.
I believe that, at the very least, heavily influenced the episode, and Nazi uniforms were the visual portrayal. (National Socialism and Communism are virtually identical, largely differing in purpose/justification of expansion.)
Wed, Jan 6, 2021, 12:26am (UTC -5)
This is the only episode of TOS that I think could actually be improved with a laugh track.
Still, lots of BDSM fodder for the slasher set. Nazis whipping our bare-chested heroes in a jail cell must have made some poor fool's day back in 60's. ENT's decontamination scenes were never this indecent.
Mon, Jan 11, 2021, 5:22pm (UTC -5)
And not for decades...
Only after the xxth rerun, in early nineties (I think) someone bothered to give this a dubbing as German language version and bring it on TV screen (or rather, publish on a video cassette edition).
So, the memory of WW2 was fresh enough in end 60's German television (probably state-run ZDF) brass thought this would either hurt people or create legal problems with all those svastikas being shown (nazi symbols are forbidden in public, up to this day). This as a historical side note.
About the plot, it ends with a big amazement. Because the problem is simply solved by eliminating the leadership. What about the hate they have sown and exploited for years. How could it be everyone immediately forgets about it and is friends with the other faction? They swallowed the ideology and lived it to the last minute, it should be hard to get this out of their heads, particularly for the side with the upper hand who must have enjoyed their privileges the system brought them. So Gill does a speech about having done a mistake and everyone should stop molesting, suppressing, killing the others? This turn is quite unbelievable and too easy.
Wed, Apr 21, 2021, 12:28pm (UTC -5)
- where did the nuclear warhead come from? It was Zeons who were technologically superior to Ekotians, yet in the few years of "Nazi" rule, there simply wasn't the time to create them: the Zeons didn't have the technology of war, Ekotians didn't have technology full stop.
- early on, Spock determines both races are "humanoid". Yet it's quite clear from the episode that these people aren’t merely humanoid, they're all human.
(Rationale: obviously the races had to look human so that Gill could be presented as the Fuhrer, also so that Kirk and Spock (with woolly hat over ears) would be seen as natives.)
- and yet, Kirk and Spock are identified immediately as Zeons by an Ekotian 'Nazi' from their appearance; it would have been so much more convincing if he'd asked to see their papers, then arrested them when they didn't produce.
(Rationale: can't think of any!)
- in the prison cell, it's Kirk who dreams up the plan to use the subcutaneous implants as lasers. Yet you'd think it would be Spock as Science Officer who would think of it.
(Rationale: was this one of those occasions when Shatner commandeered lines intended for other cast members?)
- the ending was loose and unresolved, with the future of Ekos in particular apparently 'secure' following the death of the one Maverick "Nazi".
(Rationale: the Ekotians had had only a few years being hypnotised under "Nazi" rule and many of their leaders were secretly Resistance members. It doesn't seem so unlikely that the population would awake 'as from a dream'.
Despite all these flaws, the episode was nevertheless an enjoyable adventure, with enough thought-provoking stuff about Nazism.
Wed, Sep 21, 2022, 10:27pm (UTC -5)
But it could have lost 5 or 6 minutes.
Spock is an inefficient bumbler in a couple of scenes - entirely out of character.
Too much light-hearted banter in an episode about NAZIS ffs.
Wed, Oct 12, 2022, 8:09pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Nov 3, 2022, 5:48pm (UTC -5)
There is also an odd confusion with the timeline as there are references to Gill only being to there a few years yet Darla (?) talks of growing up idolising him and she looks to be at least early twenties.
Wed, Nov 9, 2022, 11:37pm (UTC -5)
However what the episode does achieve is that it's making a subtle point very different from what you'd expect from a Nazis vs good guys story. In fact it isn't even a Nazis vs good guys story on a fundamental level. The episode is about the PD, and highlights two different and overlapping cases of cultural pollution. The first and obvious one is John Gill, a prodigal historian, thinking he can help a culture improve itself. In this story, he believes his brilliance and expertise makes him great enough to do what others can't, which is to successfully help shape another culture according to his intellectual will, to benefit them. And the episode shows that not even the most ingenious of us can control the destinies of millions and make changes that are controllable. No matter the intention, unintended consequences will follow. Those consequences may even cause you to become the monster you're trying to prevent. It's worth noting that he didn't choose the Nazis because he's a mere maniac: he chose them because this was a barbaric, warlike people who were already hellbent on violence. Presumably he concluded that only a violent role model could possibly interest them. Their problem, he observed, was a fractured society always at war with itself, so he proposed to have them follow an example of top-down unity, all focused on a single goal. In context, this is not actually as crazy as it first appears in the episode. It's important to remember that they were most likely already committing atrocities before he did anything, just against each other. He wanted them united, which is essentially the lesson Earth learned to its benefit. The lesson is that you can't just bootstrap a society into following a paper schema.
The second case of cultural pollution is one of the most understated, almost forgotten, facts revealed to us in the story: the Zions - sorry, Zeons, had previous already visited Ekos and taken it upon themselves to share their technology and culture. We assume this was to help the more primitive Ekos advance themselves so that they could join Zeon in an age of enlightenment and peace. Except we're also told that Ekos was savage and violent even after their visit: John Gill didn't contribute anything to that. They would no doubt have turned around and tried to exterminate the Zeons with their new technology regardless of whether they were wearing Nazi uniforms or anything else. The fact that Gill gave them the Nazi ethos perhaps made them more efficient (so the episode claims), but likely not any more bloodthirsty than they already were. Perhaps the political unity made them more effective in targeting and wiping out the Zeons on their planet, but I expect that even if Gill had done nothing the Zeons were going to find themselves under attack regardless, if they weren't already. Gill's side project is almost a red herring in context of the enormous cultural interference the Zeons had already perpetrated on a less advanced civilization, and it nearly wiped them out. Their pacifism and Jewish names may make them play as victims in the blunt teleplay, but if you look purely at the story points they are in fact responsible for this horrible mess and don't even realize it. Since the episode is all about cultural interference - Gill's last words are ones of regret regarding the PD - it can't be an accident that this sub-plot is about the Zeons having made the same bonehead move Gill did, albeit for different reasons. The Zeons no doubt did it out of pure altruism, and Gill seems at least in part to have done it to satisfy his sense of his own brilliance, a god complex of sorts. But the motives don't really matter: what matters is that if you believe in the idea of the PD it's because you simply can't avoid causing unintended collateral effects when you start messing with someone else's way of life. It's fascinating how pivotal and yet unexplored the Zeon contribution to the problem is.
One message buried in all this is one that I have thought about before, and which you can find in C.S. Lewis: being too brilliant and educated can make you stupid in a way that merely smart people (or average people) could never be. I could say a lot about this topic, but perhaps I'll just leave it at that.
Sat, Nov 26, 2022, 8:30pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Nov 26, 2022, 8:35pm (UTC -5)
Actually Roddenberry was not Jewish...
Fri, Feb 17, 2023, 11:56am (UTC -5)
Last year on Mission: Impossible, Martin Landau impersonated Martin Bormann(!) to hoodwink a bunch of Fourth Reich enthusiasts in Argentina.
Just a few months ago, "The Producers" premiered.
Hogan's Heroes is in its third season.
On Laugh-In, we've got the "Very interesting" Nazi.
What John Gill was try to make (and what the writers were trying to portray) was "good fascism". The show ultimately settled on Nazi imagery because it was cheap and readily available. I don't fault the show-runners for that.
As for the concern that just because Melakon's dead doesn't mean all is well for Ekos, granted, but I will note that:
That's kinda what happened in 1945, and this version of the Nazi Reich has its #3 and #4 positions occupied by Zeon sympathizers.
If that sounds implausible, I'll point out two things, one hypothetical, and one actual:
1) Gill probably wasn't a psychopath, and he surrounded himself with good people, Eneg among them. It makes sense there'd be some left in the upper party echelons.
2) Eli Cohen, the Israeli spy who became the #3 person in Syria before being caught and executed in '65 (a story that was widely known when "Patterns of Force" was written).
Fri, Apr 28, 2023, 8:36pm (UTC -5)
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