8.03.2013

Captain's Blog pt. 48: Return of the Archons

"Return of the Archons" aired for the first time on February 9th, 1967. Its time-slot competition was Bewitched, My Three Sons, and Love on a Rooftop. US troops in Vietnam numbered 485,000 and counting; Che Guevara was still alive.


SCRIPT / THEME (out of a possible 10 pts. apiece): 20 / 20. "Archons" is a pitch-perfect representation of certain aspects of Trek: thinly-veiled social critique (in this case, religious conformity, the danger of programmed morality, America coming out of the 1950s stuff) and well-written sci-fi adventure with compelling characters.

"Mister Sulu has returned in a highly agitated state" is perhaps my favorite of Roddenberry's many swipes at organized religion.
 

"Archons" is also the prototype for the Kirk topples the computer-god/government by talking it into destroying itself.

 
"If I were you, I'd start looking for another job."
Someone needs to edit this scene and slow it way down with "Nobody Does It Better" from The Spy Who Loved Me playing over it.

Every discussion, suggestion, and conversation in this episode works on a traditional narrative level and a deconstructive one. Whenever you think you've cornered the moral statement being made, another aspect or question manifests itself, up to and including the last line. Its closest parallel would be "This Side of Paradise," where the viewer's left a bit unsettled when the end credits roll, despite everything being set "back to normal." We've seen a side to our heroes and their five year mission that doesn't sit so comfortably with the mission statements associated with it.

The IDW "reboot" of this story adds some interesting elements:

"In 2167, the USS Archon was sent to Beta III to set up a colony for the United Federation of Planets. Cornelius Landru, the head of Starfleet's Advanced Research Division, had invented a new artificial intelligence for a sinister purpose: population control. When the plot was discovered, the Archon was destroyed. The amnesiac survivors invented a religion based on Landru and the Archon. Landru lives on as a computer. (Kirk and the gang discover the cover-up and destroy Landru, freeing the people.) Back on Earth, Starfleet threatens to hold Admiral Pike personally responsible if Kirk makes another blunder like exposing the Landru Experiment."

It's not a bad 2-parter. The ongoing IDW series has its moments. It's too bad the coordinated multimedia alternate timeline mega-story didn't materialize the way Abrams originally imagined it. Back to the episode.

Barry Sobelman is given a story co-credit on this one. He wrote for a few other shows in the 60s but doesn't look like he did much beyond that decade. Well, except die, in 1971. RIP.

MEMORABILITY (out of a possible 5 pts.): For myself? 422. Among most Trekkers, a 4, maybe even a 5. Among the general population, probably a 1 or a 2. Sadly. If it does raise a blip on the cultural radar, it's likely due to the Red Hour, i.e. the Landru-approved orgy of defenestration and madness.

FESTIVAL! FESTIVAL!
You obviously couldn't show mass fornication in the streets on primetime TV, at least not in the 1960s, but you could simulate it with clever use of shadows.

The patriarchy of it all really jumps out, watching it in 2013. Particularly the scene in the aftermath of the Red Hour (which is kind of oddly named, since it clearly lasts all night) where the daughter returns home, screaming and upset and violated, and, surrounded by men, is shuffled off to one corner to be sedated. Then it's back to business, gentlemen.


KIRK AND THE GANG (out of a possible 10 pts.): 15. This category is sort of a wink-wink at how comprehensively Shatner nudged people out of frame (or outright pilfers their lines, as is evident here in many of his conversations with Spock, something Nimoy grumbles about good-naturedly in I Am Spock and elsewhere) but I'll also use this space to comment on cast performances in general. And in "Archons," everyone hits their marks squarely. You've got a lively interaction with a variety of guest stars and some great stuff from just about everyone.

Some of the Shatner wackiness bleeds through. His insistent pronouncing of "Landru" so the land rhymes with wand has been cracking me up without fail, for years. And there's this bit with Dr. McCoy:

You do remember!

Incidentally, the bit where a bug-eyed McCoy freaks out on them and starts screaming for the lawgivers has that wonderfully uncomfortable bit where Kirk is pleading with the Doctor to relax so he doesn't have to hurt him. (Before knocking him out, of course.)

But mainly, Shatner's subdued performance serves the story well. He's so sure of himself and that his course of action is the correct one. ("Start acting like men." etc.) It adds the appropriate note of "unreliable narrator," however unintentionally. I felt invited to read it as American Psycho this past time around, which made me chuckle at several points. Is this all in Kirk's head? Anyway: it's rare that I'll get to say this in this series, but Shatner is masterfully subtle here.


VISUAL DESIGN (out of a possible 3 pts.): 2.5 The sets aren't particularly spectacular (and the ever-popular Paramount back lot is re-dressed for the street scenes) but they're effective.

 

The costumes have that "Maybe they were meant for Maverick or Wild, Wild West" look to them, but they're also quite snazzy.


As for the TITLE:


it fascinates me. I don't think it gets anywhere near enough credit for the sense of mystery and weirdness it evokes in relation to the story that we actually see. So much of the backstory is only alluded to, but this sense of "Are you... Archons?" (and Kirk's evasive answer to that) informs everything that we do see happen. The return of the Archons is one part prophecy, one part poetry, and one part ominous: the end of everything. It's such a stylish frame to put around the episode. 5 out of a possible 3 pts.

INTERNAL LOGIC/ CONSISTENCY (out of a possible 3 pts.): 2.5 I mentioned the Red Hour discrepancy above, but that's not a deal-breaker. Maybe it's just the term used for the first hour of Festival. It probably is actually. This next one's not a deal breaker either, but hey, while we're here: the Lawgivers can "turn" people simply by pointing their tubes at them and Zap, you're Of The Body. But when Landru renders everyone unconscious with his hyper-sonic after the bit with the light panel, Lawgivers presumably take them to the Absorption Chamber? Why not just send in the lawgivers and zap 'em all while they're sleeping? Or zap them in the dungeon they put them in. Tsk. Stupid Landru.

GUEST (out of a possible 3 pts.): 2.5 Everyone does a fine job. Landru's ethereal calmness is especially effective.

We'll see Jon Lormer again down the road, in "Wolf in the Fold."
Let's not forget this creepy dude.

TOTAL POINTS AWARDED: 50-ish? I lost track. Let's just call it 50,000, or the one to beat. "Archons" has it all. Many Trek tropes originate in this episode (Kirk tricks the computer, the imperfect Eden, society's "master programming" on stifling autopilot, Scotty complaining about how the ship's only got a few hours left before it's destroyed, etc) and by and large are never done better.

6 comments:

  1. Speaking of creepy Of-The-Body dudes, Sid Haig is evidently in this episode somewhere. Raping hell out somebody off-frame, one imagines.

    This is indeed a pretty great episode, and it mostly works to this day.

    I'd checked out of the ongoing IDW J.J.-verse series before that two-parter came around; it dismays me that they seem to have flung another Starfleet-consipiracy into the mix.

    Not much more I can add here. Well done!

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    1. I can't speak to the IDW series, really, except the 5 or 6 issues I've seen . Actually, let's see... Archons, Op Annihilate, Galileo 7, and Where No Man Has Gone Before, maybe one more, so probably more like 8 or 9 issues. Are there lots of Starfleet conspiracies in the others?

      The bar's pretty low for me with the IDWs. I feel no need to collect it month to month, but it'll be a fine dollar-bin comic someday.

      Sidd Haig is in this?? I've got investigate.

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    2. First Lawgiver! http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Sid_Haig

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    3. I was referring more to "Into Darkness" than to the other comics in the ongoing IDW series. That's a well that Abrams and co. get to visit exactly once before I cry foul, and if they've visited it previously in the comics, then I begin to smell the rank hand of conspiracy theorist Bob Orci at work. That crap can fit with Trek on occasion; it patently cannot be an ongoing part of it.

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    4. I appreciate Bob Orci, to tell the truth, particularly his (so-called) conspiracy theory. But, of course, to each his own.

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    5. (Tho, all things considered, I agree with you re its overall place in Star Trek. A little bit - which we already have, more than enough, really - goes a long way.)

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