“You will be absorbed. Your individuality will merge into the unity of good, and in your submergence into the common being of the body, you will find contentment, fulfillment. You will experience the absolute good.”*
Gene Roddenberry was a humanist. He didn’t embrace religion. In his works, he disliked religion, perhaps considering it the “opiate of the masses.” A wicked narcotic, as in Huxley, designed to temper and control rather than enlighten. These ideas would form the basis of “The Return of the Archons” based on a very rough (and incomplete) premise about a powerful messiah figure in Landru who saved a world from destroying itself over 6,000 years ago.
The Enterprise is sent to a planet to find the missing ship, Archon. They send a small scouting party down, comprised of Sulu and O’ Neill, but they apparently didn’t get the costumes right. They split up when they’re chased by ominous yet slow-moving hooded figures with long staffs. They manage to get Sulu back to the ship right after he is zapped by one of these staffs, and now he’s behaving like somebody gave him a shot of heroin. He’s all smiles and babbling on about “paradise.”
Kirk, Spock, and a much bigger landing party beam down to look for O’ Neill. Spock notes the people of the town in which they’ve arrived all have vacant expressions and smiles on their faces like Sulu. They’re informed the “Festival” is to happen shortly. This festival consists of violence, madness, chaos, and destruction. Kirk and company take shelter in a house occupied by an older man named Reger (and his friends) apparently immune to the chaos.
They’re very curious to know who these strangers are but Kirk is weary of revealing their identities just yet. This is an incredibly creepy situation. They take rooms in the house. When the morning comes, everybody in the street wakes from the night’s activities and acts as though nothing happened at all. The hooded figures (called “Lawgivers”) arrive to arrest the landing party because they are “not of the body.” Kirk refuses to participate, and the Lawgivers are confused by his outright disobedience.
Reger takes the landing party to a safe-house. Spock deduces Reger is part of an underground; able to escape the Lawgiver directives, but unable to effect any kind of change. Reger and his cohorts believe Kirk and the landing party to be in fulfillment of prophecy. It’s interesting that while those who resist Landru are powerless to stop him, they also cling to some form of religion because of the prophecies they believe. It’s as if they’ve traded one belief system for another.
Meanwhile, the Enterprise is under attack from heat beams, but I think that part was thrown in to up the stakes, otherwise Kirk would take his landing party and beam back up to the safety of the ship. That’s why I believe the story to be rough and incomplete. When Kirk reasons this society is too sick to survive, Spock spars briefly with him about the Prime Directive. In this case, I’m with Kirk, especially where the safety of the ship and crew are concerned.
Even though we have all of these disparate threads connecting a flimsy narrative and no explanation for the “Festival,” “The Return of the Archons” is a fascinating study of religion. These days it’s become hip to not have a belief system, but according to my research, atheists and agnostics only make up 5% of a population, and there has been a shift toward understanding that a belief in God is not a complete and total belief in the words of that God.
In this modern age, religion (at least Western religion) has become more open-minded and oddly, atheists have become intolerant of other beliefs to the point of mockery and open hostility (for the record, I’m an atheist). It’s a switcheroo! It’s revealed that “Landru” is a highly sophisticated computer, capable of directing the lives of millions of people.
It’s never explained why these people have to be conditioned and brainwashed in order to live lives of peace and tranquility, or the need for brutal punishment of infidels and non-believers (or the “Festival,” for that matter) unless it is Roddenberry’s examination and final analysis of religion. Even after Kirk and Spock manage to destroy the computer with it’s own logic, Spock is somber. He really believed a society could be controlled by a computer.
*”… we are guided by what we see that can be unburdened by what has been …” This is a bizarre missive repeatedly made by Vice President Kamala Harris. It reminds me of the words Landru and his followers use when describing their philosophy of “peace” and “tranquility.”
Star Trek Rewind explores the Star Trek universe. From Archer to Pike, Kirk to Picard, and Sisko to Janeway— boldly read what no one has read before!
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