TREK-A-DAY: Patterns of Force
EPISODE FORTY-NINE: Patterns of Force
The strangest Das Boot remake of all time…
If there’s one thing worse than Nazis, it’s space Nazis. And that is exactly what Kirk and Spock have to deal with in this random, but awesome episode. Upon landing on a humanoid planet where a Federation historian and cultural observer had been sent, Kirk and Spock find Nazis hunting the other resident alien culture the Zaeons in classic Nazi style. Through a number of hijinks and disguise work, they inflitrate the Nazi base, are captured, tortured, escape using an improvised laser, join the resistance, and solve the mystery of why Kirk’s mentor became the furher. From a plot perspective, it’s a fun World War II spy thriller episode, remincent of The Great Escape or Indiana Jones (or lately, Inglorious Basterds). But what I think is particularly interesting is the idea about history being exploited by someone far removed from the event.
This is not the first episode to deal with the problem of interference and disregarding the Prime Directive (we got that in spades a few episodes ago), but there’s a bit more at work here than just introducing a weapon to a culture. The Federation historian-turned-furher knew what happened in Nazi Germany; however, when faced with a culture that was collapsing and dividing, he implemented the Nazi system in order to quickly and efficently rebuild the planet’s unity and hope (as the Nazi movement united Germany very quickly…you know, before the horror began). He had hoped to keep it in check, but fell victim to his vice-Furher who doped him up and turned him into a mouthpiece of hate. The Vice-Furher then began the cultural genocide of the Zaeons, even going so far as to launch a fleet full of nukes against the other planet. What I like about this is the idea that a historian in the far future, so very far removed from the horrors of World War II could look on it with detachment and even respect. We’ve already seen this happen with the Neo-Conservative “Pax Americana” movement during the Vietnam War and later under George W. Bush (referring to the “Pax Romana” or Roman Peace, which essentially meant: conquer everyone and make them all Romans, then they won’t have any need to fight because we’ll all be equal…ish. The ‘ish’ was the big problem, as was the conquering, which essentially involved taking over one village and then demanding these new Romans go kill their neighbors one town over. Not such a great plan and was instrumental in the fall of Rome.) Despite the Roman plan’s failure, elements of the US government to this day think it can work better if they do it.
It’s also a fascinating example of the dangers of humans interacting with humanoid races. Much like the Chicago Mobster episode, there’s a unique danger in plugging Earth ideas into other humanoid societies that almost transcends interfering with a truly alien race. The concept of a hard-wired ability to adapt and re-purpose the ideas of Earth’s past by other cultures is a frightening one and perhaps the best argument for the Prime Directive to date.
This is also the first episode to deal with space Nazis, but not the last; as I recall both Voyager and Enterprise also explore them (Voyager through the Holodeck, Enterprise through…magic?) It will be interesting to see where those shows go with the idea, but nevertheless, I think the fact that this episode is more about the dangers of violating the Prime Directive and the mis-use of history rather than Nazis will set it a step above.
We shall see. Oh, and also, it’s the first time we get shirtless Spock AND Kirk in the same shot, leading to mass swooning and/or online romance fan-fiction: