Star Trek: The Original Series

"Patterns of Force"

3 stars

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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11 comments on this review

Thu, May 2, 2013, 12:52pm (UTC -5)
This just isn't an episode I'd gladly watch again. I don't see it as a cautionary tale so much as just another Kirk and Spock in ackward period costume episode. As usual they up end and turn an entire culture around with an all too easy solution. Along the way we get a lot Nazi movie cliches and the obligatory gun pointing. Not an overall bad episode but not a three-star outing.
Sun, Jan 5, 2014, 1:41am (UTC -5)
I agree with mike. Nazi adaptations are such a cliche, but it's interesting to ponder that when this episode was made Nazi Germany was barely twenty years in the past.

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.
William B
Thu, Aug 14, 2014, 11:18pm (UTC -5)
Kirk et al. chide John Gill (correctly, of course) for not learning the proper lesson from history, but I feel the need to point out that Kirk et al. seem to learn the wrong lesson from this very episode. John Gill's mistake, Kirk assures us at the end, was in believing that Nazism failed not because its leaders were psychotic (though they were), but because there is something inherently difficult in having an absolute ruler with complete power, in the first place. And, as McCoy further adds, absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. From this, it would seem as if this is an episode in which John Gill's initial attempts to do good for Ekos are corrupted by Gill's eventual need to assert power which leads to bigger and bigger evil actions, or some such. However, a minute before, the episode's plot resolution hinges on the fact that John Gill thought Nazis were efficient, and tried to use Nazi-style authority without the vicious cruelty, and second-in-command Melakon drugged him, took over, and spread his evil racist lies; Gill says explicitly that Ekonians aren't bad or aggressive against Zeon, but it's just one evil man in Melakon, whose removal is presumed by everyone involved in the episode to mean the end of Nazism on the planet. Spock even makes a passing reference to these planets being great Federation candidates now that Melakon's out of the way. Right.

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)
A bit of trivia: the actor who plays Eneg - the "nice-guy-Nazi" (???) - is apparently the undisputed king of audiobooks. A recent interview with him has been posted:

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)
Fair at best.This episode seemed to exist merely to remind us that Nazi's were bad but very efficient. And so Kirk and Spock could try on the uniform. There is one thing I have noticed about this episode though. In the scene in which Kirk and Spock are first donning their uniforms dialogue has been cut. In the original release Spock says,"You should make a very convincing Nazi Captain." Kirk looks up and says,"Why thank you Mr. Spock, I think."
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)
Well for all you youngsters and your naivety. The episode aired in 1968. Only 23 years after the end of WWII. The Nazi's were still a sore subject with many. Roddenberry was trying to be edgy as usual. Fast forward to today, most of the people who were even young adults back then are no long with us. Almost 50 years later comments like: "about Nazi adaptations are such a cliche" are ignorant.
Mon, Sep 19, 2016, 5:19am (UTC -5)
Ah yes, the Nazi episode. Where our two Jewish leads dress up like Nazis and run around doing Nazi salutes all episode. (Yeah, I know Roddenberry was Jewish too.) I found this episode appalling. Dressing your actors up like the guys who committed a huge, recent genocide against their people just feels so gross. Maybe it didn't bother them though, I don't know, I only speak for myself.

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.
Jason R.
Tue, Nov 15, 2016, 5:46pm (UTC -5)
McCoy: "What in blazes is this?!"

LOL. Best line ever.
Trek fan
Wed, Nov 16, 2016, 1:54am (UTC -5)
Great episode of TOS, worth 3 1/2 stars out of 4 for me. The secret to "Patterns" is that it moves like gangbusters, with on-point dialogue and deft plotting, right up until the inevitably tidy conclusion that a one-hour teleplay requires. And even that ending -- with the tragic "Fuhrer" drugged up, as opposed to a computer or ex-Starfleet madman running the show -- feels memorable and unique among TOS episodes in this "Earth-like planet" sub-genre.

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)
A good action/adventure with some classic Star Trek humor between the big 3 - especially Kirk/Spock. It makes for an entertaining hour although it's not particularly profound. Kind of reminds a bit of "The Return of the Archons" with the underground inflitrating etc.
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.
Peter Swinkels
Sun, Jan 14, 2018, 3:16pm (UTC -5)
By today's standards this is rather tame but it must have been rather shocking back then. A few well presented interesting ideas. Better than average in my opinion.

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