Star Trek TOS: Spock Diagnoses Human vs. Machine in a Nun Outfit

The Return of Archons

Star Trek: The Original Series

Season 1, Episode 22

The Return of Archons

Sulu encountered turmoil on Beta III, and when he transported back to Enterprise, he was off-kilter. Beta III evidently disappeared one hundred years earlier, so Kirk and his team traveled to the planet for exploration. Notably, Kirk was dressed like Wyatt Earp, while Spock resembled Wyatt Earp’s favorite nun. 

Akin to Shore Leave and The Squire of Gothos, this episode had a trippy, dream-like texture. And while those two installments felt drug-induced, The Return of Archons utilized horror film vibes. Kirk looked debonair in a suit, though. 

When a specific time hit the clock, the “town” turned into frenetic lawlessness. The people acted as zombies in normal human shells. A discovery was made that Kirk and his cohorts did not attend the crazed festival, irritating the townspeople in charge. Just like Christopher Pike flummoxing his captors in The Cage with rage, the people of Beta III were incapable of handling Kirk’s defiance, which he implemented on an apparent hunch. 

This society was allergic to disobedience and deathly afraid of conquerors, a rightful and scathing indictment of human conquest. Native peoples don’t enjoy invasion, particularly on the backdrop of the Vietnam War. 

Landru, the presumed leader of Beta III, stated that Kirk’s people would inevitably deliver war, disease, and crime — how’s that for an anti-war message? With his stern warning to Kirk, Landru also employed a mind-numbing tactic, temporarily subduing Kirk and his crewmen. Following the trippy theme, the group woke up in prison modeled after a cave. 

Image Courtesy of SoulTrapMatrix on YouTube:

Spock likened the natives to computers because of Kirk’s defiance experiment, furthering the conversation about the infallibility of computers from the prior episode, Court Martial. Computers are indeed fantastic, but the original proprietors of the machines were skeptical of their shortcomings. And that apprehension came from Spock, whose entire character was constructed on a foundation of logic similar to a laptop.

Referring to the “tranquility of the machine,” Spock decided the folks on Beta III were soulless. In response, Kirk advocated murder — perhaps a first in the series — of Landru, justifying Landru as an evildoer unlike the previous creatures encountered in the series. Even Spock was a bit miffed by the declaration. 

But the Batman element was on display. Would Kirk kill to thwart his enemy? He didn’t have to. Landru was a computer — Spock was right — and murdering a computer is, well, not murder. 

This episode also marked the first time “freedom of choice” escaped the lips of a Star Trek actor. That happened when Kirk and Spock had a true-blue debate with Landru, The Computer. The machine essentially self-destructed because it could not handle Kirk’s insubordination. 

The destruction of Landru instantly healed all the afflicted Enterprise crewmembers from their brainwashing plights. Interestingly, with Landru deceased, Kirk nominated a sociologist to stay behind on Beta III to help cultivate the culture in a human form. Call it Star Trek’s take on righteous nation-building. 

This was a weird episode. Probably the most bizarre to date (in Season One). 

Themes: Anti-War,  Man vs. Computer

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. His odyssey with Star Trek starts from beginning to finish, watching ‘The Original Series,’ all the way to the present day. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).