Seasons of Seasons: Star Trek Season 1, “Return of the Archons”, “Space Seed” & “A Taste of Armageddon”

Sandwiched between two fairly solid Star Trek episodes is perhaps one of the most important entries of the entire original series to date. Even a neophyte Trekkie like myself had known of the legendary Khan in Star Trek lore, so my ears certainly perked up when Ricardo Mantalban stated his name. Of course, I had no idea of the context between his rivalry with Kirk or how it started, so to see that and have additional information for what’s to come was about as thrilling as anything I’ve seen this season.

My favorite episodes of Star Trek have been the ones where a long-standing lore is established early on and the crew of the Enterprise have to learn how to deal with it. Each of these episodes falls along that line with fascinating results. We start with The Return of the Archons, where the crew has to uncover the mystery of a planet that follows a bizarre set of rituals and begins espousing the will of Landru. It sets off with a set piece that feels like the direct inspiration for The Purge series, as the town descends into chaos and debauchery when the clock bell tolls. 

Things only get stranger from there, with everyone they encounter espousing the words of the mysterious Landru. We’ve encountered a good number of characters and worlds that feel worthy of returning to and, though the Enterprise crew solves the riddle of Landru by the end of the episode, The Return of the Archons contains a great deal of fruitful material. Far too many movies and television shows are still heavily indebted to The Wizard of Oz, so I won’t deduct any points from the finale of the episode when it’s revealed that Landru is essentially a sci-fi riff on that film.

Meanwhile, Space Seed (for the record, that title is icky) introduces the remnants of a bygone culture, which would be interesting enough even without Khan. The idea of Star Trek exploring the past of its universe – while explicitly commenting on America’s outlook for the future at the time – is as fascinating to me as finding a new alien world. Throwing out an idea like the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s, of which Khan and his ship were a product of, raises a great deal of questions about the Earth within the show’s universe. But Khan is just as fascinating once he awakes, and it’s no wonder that he’s endured as a character after all these years. He’s presented as Kirk’s equal, both physically and mentally, outwitting him at nearly every turn. I’ve debated how much of the show and movies I’ll check out once this season is over, but I’m absolutely intrigued to see what the show does with Khan going forward.

A Taste of Armageddon is perhaps the slightest of the three this week, but it presents a unique sci-fi conundrum that doesn’t feel like the show re-treading on familiar ground. It’s hard to not see the episode – and, in some respects, each of this week’s episodes – as an allegory for the Vietnam War, but the conflict between the Eminiar’s and Vendikar’s as anything otherwise. Kirk tries to convince the leaders of Eminiar to cease their imaginary war, but Anan 7 counters that, without a war simulation, a real war would erupt. The episode speaks to the growing sentiment around America that wars for any reason are ultimately pointless. As I’ve said before, there are certain episodes where the solution essentially presents itself early on, and A Taste of Armageddon is one of those.

Still, this is a strong bunch of episodes. They each present intriguing thematic material that belongs up there with the upper half of the season. And even when they fall flat, they introduce us to fully fleshed-out worlds that are worth returning to in future seasons.

Return of the Archons Grade: A-

Space Seed Grade: A

A Taste of Armageddon Grade: B+

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