TREK-A-DAY: The Return of the Archons
EPISODE TWENTY-ONE: The Return of the Archons
In short, today’s episode was also about machines versus humans, this case involving a computer programmed by a visionary to bring peace to a warring civilization and managing to do so by extinguishing its soul. When the crew arrives, they find everyone and everything tranquil and personality-less in a weirdly pseudo-1890’s landscape, only to find everyone rioting, looting, raping, and pillaging at night. This “Festival” disturbs the crew, who seek to put an end to the rule of Landreau, who has control over the popluace.
The approach to the machine controlling everything is very Wizard of Oz and fails to live up to the previous episodes dealing with machines versus human nature; the most important thing to come out of all of this is the very first mention of the Prime Directive (which Kirk uses to logic-explode the machine in the end). This is a huge, huge moment for Trek, as it defines the mission of Starfleet for the rest of the series (and gives all future episodes a hard ideology to push against.)
Aside from the Prime Directive, the most interesting story element here is never fully explored, but relates to ancient Greece. In Greek culture, control was key in one’s personal disposition, for one to be a good person, one had to exert control over their needs, desires, and urges, to put the State and the collective well-being first. This was known as the Apollonian side of the personality, the one that was akin to Apollo in its love of dignity, restraint, art, culture, etc. The other side, was the Dionysian, for Dionysis the chaotic god of wine, revelry and purveyor of good times. The Dionysian festivals were a time for the Greeks to cut loose, to throw off their restraint and essentially release the pressure valves on their lives for unconstrained debauchery. This is what the machine overlord is allowing its followers at their ‘festival’, a time when they need not greet each other cordially and act calmly, but can unleash the animistic side in a contained burst before returning to a life of constraint. It’s a fascinating concept and an ancient one that still carries relevance today with our modern attitude toward long weekends and Friday/Saturday nights where anything goes (or Vegas, if you want to go one step further) and ties quite well into the running exploration of the rational side of humanity versus the passionate. It’s a great way to kick off an episode, but sadly gets lost in the quest to stop the machine; but nevertheless struck me as an interesting call-back to our ancient roots.