MYTHICITY: (1) *fair,* (2) *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, psychological*
As I come toward the end of Season 2, there seems to have been an attempt to dump most of the weaker episodes together-- thus quite unintentionally providing a lead-in to many of the lesser episodes of Season 3.
In "Return to Tomorrow," a godlike voice summons the Enterprise to a dead planet. There Kirk and crew discover that three disembodied intelligences, preserved in crystal spheres, are the planet's only inhabitants. The three of them belonged to an archaic race of beings who once had humanoid bodies, but who advanced to godlike beings. A great war broke out between different factions among the beings, whose main sin, the leader tells the humans, was that "they thought that they had become gods." In the last stages the leader Sargon-- who just happens to have the same name as an Akkadian king-- managed to preserve the energy-bodies of himself and others from both sides of the conflict, though the only ones who have survived the centuries are Sargon, his wife Thalassa (Greek for "sea"), and Henoch (= the Biblical Enoch, who "walked with God.")
Sargon has waited the centuries until he was able to contact a spacefaring race like that of the Federation, so that he could ask them to give them a new lease on life. Sargon explains all this after possessing Kirk's body, much to the consternation of McCoy, Spock, and Dr. Ann Mulhall. Sargon wants the humans to give the three of them permission to leave their crystal receptacles, and exist for a while in the bodies of Kirk, Spock, and Mulhall while the entities construct robot bodies for their new lives. After that, they promise to use their advanced knowledge to benefit the Federation.
After some debate, Kirk and the others allow themselves to be taken over-- but it seems no one bothered to vet Henoch, who winds up in the body of Spock, Henoch doesn't want to transfer to a robot body, and in devilish fashion-- enhanced by Spock's devilish looks-- he tempts Thalassa to rebel against Sargon's beneficent will and keep her human body as well. Since Thalassa and Henoch possess hyper-mental powers, the crew must find a way to outwit the aliens. Fortunately, while Sargon isn't that foresighted, he does help the humans overcome the threat he spawned. All three aliens give up the ghost, with Thalassa and Sargon departing somewhat after the fashion of Apollo.
Sargon's narrative is obviously meant to echo the Biblical "war in heaven," and I found myself wondering if the scripter(s) were aware of the symbolism of the sea in the Old Testament, where the ocean-waters are generally viewed as inimical to God's way. That said, the script doesn't get as much out of the mythic material as have other episodes, though the opening scenes have some of the high-flown resonance of FORBIDDEN PLANET. Nurse Chapel has a bigger role than usual, but it doesn't benefit her limited character by much; an end-joke, in which she muses on how she and Spock briefly merged in spirit-form, is virtually laugh-free.
One could've wished that "A Piece of the Action" had been the only time the series used the "one-culture template" schtick, because the others are all pretty blah. In "Patterns," Kirk and crew find out that a Federation observer, John Gill, had recreated the regime of Nazi Germany on the once-primitive world of Ekos. In addition, though Ekos' planetary neighbor Zeon was somewhat more advanced prior to Gill's advent, the Zeons pay a heavy price for having emigrated to Ekos, for they become the "New Jews," the scapegoats that Ekosians persecute to keep their state united. Kirk and Spock try to go undercover in order to find a way to corner Gill and find out why he did what he did. However, the duo have remarkably little success blending in, so that most of the episode revolves around assorted escapes and counter-strategies. In the end the heroes learn that Gill meant to do good, hoping to employ Nazi Germany's model of efficient organization to improve the Ekosians. Instead, Gill himself was used as a mouthpiece by a scheming subordinate, and though the movement is defeated, it's left to the imagination as to how the society is purged of its contamination.
"Patterns" doesn't manage to make much intellectual sense of its idea of reliving the horrors of fascism. There are a few scattered comments at the conclusion about how the Nazi regime was inherently corrupt by nature of its quest for "absolute power," but Spock pricks this overly pat moral by viewing the entirety of human history as a panoply of tyrants seeking the same sort of power. Many TREK episodes prior were able to make interesting comments on the nature of power, but this one ironically has no clue about the nature of the "patterns of force" in human culture.