Monday, May 25, 2009

A Taste of Armageddon

This is a most ambitious Trek episode.  I'm delighted, because it's just the thing the show needed at this point.  Thankfully the ideological content doesn't edge out the adventure aspect of the show.  It achieves a respectable balance.

Kirk and crew are carrying an Earth ambassador to establish peaceful, diplomatic relations with a planet currently at war.  The kicker: the war is a digital one that's been faught in their cyberspace for more than 500 years.  When the virtual missiles "strike", the effected persons must report to disintegration chambers within 24 hours.  This maintains human casualties, but allows the respective civilizations to be preserved. 

Dramatically, this episode is structured beautifully.  You've got the diplomat who can't see beyond the facade of the war mongers below.  You've got the long-laid and ultimately misguided history of a civilazation just begging to be interveened, and you've got a Captain with a certain affinity for breaking a prime directive that hasn't been mentioned yet.  

When questioned, the representative of this civilization defends their method of conflict by arguing they've done away with the destructive ugliness of war and left only the necessary defining elements that are in line with our barbaric nature.  Kirk replies,     

"Instinct can be fought.  We're human beings with the blood of a million savage years on our hands, but we can stop it.  We can admit that we're killers, but we're not going to kill today.  That's all it takes."

There's that patented Trek optimism, rearing its head again.  It's astonishing to see such a basic yet phenomenally awesome first step towards the maturation of mankind.  To stand over the carnage of our birth and define ourselves against animal beginnings, toward an evolved and tempered existence.  Kirk's monologue encapsulates the basic ideological hope that must be embraced if mankind is to make it to the future depicted in Star Trek.    

We end on a delightful exchange between Kirk and Spock, who is criticizing the riskiness of the Captain's destruction of the war machine:

-"Sometimes a feeling, Mr. Spock, is all we humans have to go on."
-"Captain, you almost make me believe in luck."
-"Why, Mr. Spock, you almost make me believe in miracles."

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Return of the Archons

Many have claimed this an affront to organized religion or religious zealotry, but I'm not convinced. The Enterprise faces a society of people being controlled by a being called Landru. The people go about their lives in complete peace and tranquility, but at the loss of their individuality. They walk around murmuring greetings and well wishes, speaking of the unity of the "body" and the greatness of "Landru."

I believe, however, this religious interpretation falls apart when we learn the true nature of Landru: that he was a man who lived 6,000 years ago and upon his death programmed a machine to help his society maintain peace. In the light of this I think the familiar critique appropriate: be careful what you wish for. The hopes of society for attainment of any pure ideal that does not allow for the free choice of the individual is one that will come at dire costs.

The civilization we see depicted in this episode plays more as a warning for those who are proponents of such extreme ideals (potentially religion, but not specifically). I feel that this message may be a bit muddled in its final presentation, and an exploration of further themes or drama may have been wise. You see, nothing particularly dramatic or interesting develops of our characters or the guest cast introduced. The entire payoff of the show banks on the stressfulness of the issue at hand.

I will admit being quite amused at McCoy's trance when he is "absorbed" into the control of Landru. I can't for the life of me figure out if this amusement was intentional or not. Either way, the episode flirts with interesting ideas, but never puts our characters at enough risk or ties them to the outcome with enough sincerity to warrant severe reaction or dedicated interest.