Fifty years ago, Gene Roddenberry’s first “wagon train to the stars” began airing on NBC. Star Trek featured a cast of many nationalities, had people of color in important roles, it commented on the social problems of the day disguised in science fiction, and it was the first time we’d seen humanity out in the stars in a ship meant to not only get us to them, but to explore. It was a show about hope for the future, a future that we continue to ape from today with our cellphones, video conferencing communications, and even equipment you can carry around that will tell you the current and future weather conditions.
Was Star Trek perfect? No. Between all the series that they put out from the ’60s, to the reintroduction of the show again with Next Generation in the ’80s, and up through Star Trek Enterprise, there were some episodes that didn’t work, weren’t necessarily poignant, and some that were just not good sci-fi. I’ve seen a number of articles out there listing the great episodes. There are several guides on how to get through the shows as quickly as possible so you get the most for your streaming buck. These guides don’t necessarily go into much detail, though. They list them, but they don’t rate them or give you much info on them. Star Trek Essentials aims to be a little different. I’m going to go over two episodes each week, review them, and talk about what makes them special.
As a note, I’m not going with broadcast order on these, but rather production order, although for simplicity’s sake I’ve got the episode number as they appear on Netflix for those that want to watch these.
The Return of the Archons (Season 1, Episode 21)
The Enterprise heads to Beta III and sends down Sulu and O’Neil to try and find out the fate of the Archon, a ship that was lost there a hundred years ago. They draw unwanted attention from the lawgivers, and when Sulu comes back to the ship he seems to have lost his mind. Kirk heads down with a landing party to get to the bottom of things but it appears they’ve landed at the start of some kind of festival that turns out to be full scale rioting. The planet inhabitants all revere someone named Landru, who’s behind the Lawgivers, and some of the people not yet brainwashed by the lawgivers believe Kirk and his landing party to be the return of the fabled Archons to save them.
This episode feels like it could have easily been an Outer Limits or Twilight Zone episode. It’s a bit twisted in some of the things it deals with, but it also really works as a Star Trek episode. We get another instance of the crew dealing with what seems to be some kind of powerful being, and I love that they build on a history of Starfleet here with lost ships being investigated and the consequences of those ships visiting that can lead to a new direction for a civilization if left unchecked. It does raise some questions later about Kirk and the Prime Directive that haven’t been established yet, but it’s a good episode either way.
A Taste of Armageddon (Season 1, Episode 23)
Sent to open diplomatic relations with the civilization in star cluster NGC 231, the Enterprise is asked to stay away at all costs. The Ambassador aboard the ship overrides Kirk’s wishes to leave and they head to Eminiar VII to open talks. The leader of the planet reveals that Eminiar has been at war with Vendikar for over 500 years but the landing party can find no evidence of the war. When the Enterprise is targeted, the leader of Eminiar reveals that they wage their war by computer, and that people that are considered casualties are disintegrated in machines. That way the planets are spared the horror of the war, but unfortunately the Enterprise has been registered as destroyed. They take the landing party as prisoners and begin working to destroy the ship in orbit. Kirk objects and begins looking to end this war.
This episode resonates on a lot of levels. It worked back in the ’60s as a look at the Cold War where we launched nukes to fight and wouldn’t see the horror we were unleashing on the other side of the world. It works now where we use drones to dish out this kind of war and don’t necessarily feel the impact. This is one of those episodes that works on a lot of different levels to not only be entertaining, but also to warn people about a possible, plausible future, which is not only good Star Trek, but great science fiction.