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The Return of the Archons
Star Trek Original series, season 1, episode 21
The Enterprise has entered orbit around planet Beta III in the star system C-111, on a mission to discover the fate of the starship Archon and its crew which disappeared 100 years previously. Sulu and Lt. O'Neil are sent down to investigate. The town in which they find themselves, and its inhabitants, look as if they're from the late 19th century midwest. The people are polite, tranquil, almost zombie-like. But the two crew members are being pursued by a menacing robed figure (a "Lawgiver", it transpires) carrying a tube-like device. Just before Sulu is beamed out he is hit by an invisible field from the tube and rendered docile, like the rest of the population. After materializing on the Enterprise, Sulu, in a dreamlike state, accuses his crew mates of being "not of the Body". His says "They knew we were Archons" and mumbles "Landru, Landru".
Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and several others transport down to investigate. They talk to a passer-by who asks if they are here for " Festival", which begins at "Red Hour". A young woman, Tula, greets them and says that her father, Regar, can offer them rooms. The town clock strikes six and the men and women in the street go into a wild frenzy, which lasts throughout the night. The landing party escape to the building in which Regar and a couple of other elders are to be found. Kirk and his party learn that the inhabitants of the planet are part of the Body which is controlled by a mysterious entity called Landru.
Regar turns out to be involved with an underground resistance that is trying to avoid being "absorbed" into the Body. He explains that Landru helped save the planet from war 6,000 years ago and that Landru's vision was for a society that lived in peace and harmony. However, something went wrong and the people became subjugated and mindless. When the Archons – the crew of the Archon – arrived a century ago, Landau "pulled them down from the sky" and they were either killed or absorbed.
Landru appears as a projection. He informs them that "your individuality will merge into the union of good". Kirk and Spock begin to suspect that some inhuman, probably machine force is in control of the Body. Meanwhile, Mr. Scott reports that heat rays from an energy source on the planet's surface are attacking the Enterprise and causing its orbit to decay.
A "hypersonic" wave renders Kirk and his men unconscious. They wake up in an underground prison to discover that McCoy has been absorbed. Kirk is summoned next to the absorption chamber, followed by Spock. However, the chamber controller, who has just come on duty, is Marplon, another member of the resistance, and he saves Kirk and Spock from the absorption process.
Back in their cell, Kirk and Spock conclude that Beta III's society is so soulless that it must be being controlled by a computer. Kirk decides that the machine must be deactivated. Spock is concerned that this interference would violate the Prime Directive – the first time the existence of this order is mentioned in Star Trek. Kirk argues that the Directive "refers to a living, growing culture".
The Lawgivers on guard are overpowered and Marplon leads Kirk and Spock to the Hall of Audiences to communicate with Landru. The projection appears again. Kirk and Spock blast through the wall behind it with their phasers (returned to them by Marplon) to reveal the projector itself – a powerful computer created by Landru, before his death, to run the idyllic society he helped establish. But although Landru fed his knowledge and aspirations into the machine he could not give it his wisdom and the computer ended up trying to make the population conform to its own standards of perfection. Individuals who resisted its conformity were absorbed or terminated. The computer's own prime directive to create a perfect, harmonious society led it to deprive the people of their freewill and creativity. When Kirk explains this to the computer it reacts by destroying itself and thus releasing its grip on the planet's inhabitants.
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