If you’ve read almost anything I’ve written here, you may know of my problem with the Enterprise’s near constant contact with the occasionally beneficial, generally mischievous beings with unlimited power. I’ve complained about them (“Errand of Mercy,” “Arena”), occasionally justified their existence (“The Squire of Gothos”) and raved about them (“Charlie X,” “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” “The Corbomite Maneuver”). The thing is, they’re fucking everywhere.
So, I feel like I’ve given the same spiel about a thousand times, but the main issue is the fact that most of the time, god-like beings feel a bit like a cheat. They come in, do whatever they feel, are defeated (generally in the same way, since apparently all gods have some sort of weird internal magic battery) and then the crew moves on. It’s fun, but that’s about it.
That’s the basic problem with “Who Mourns for Adonais?” It’s an episode I feel like I’ve seen before but I didn’t think about that at all while watching it. I generally enjoyed it, but there’s nothing very original and a really strangely muddled message, but that comes later.
It certainly starts with one of the most surreal openings for the show. The Enterprise is coming up to Pollux IV, when a giant green hand grabs a hold of the ship, holding it in space. Soon, there’s a giant floating head reciting human mythology in a pretentious monologue that would make Chris Carter blush and he’s drawing Kirk and a landing party, sans Spock, down to the planet.
Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, Chekov, and crewman-of-the-week/Scotty-love-interest, Carolyn Palamas, an anthropology expert, beam on to the planet to deal with the being. He’s dressed as a traditional Greek god and claims to be Apollo. He says that it has been thousands of years since he has dealt with humans and is glad to see those who may worship him.
Of course, Kirk bows to no man and refuses to follow Apollo’s wishes, even as the God brings Palamas closer to him and strikes Scotty with lightning. The problems start to compound when Apollo ends up taking Palamas with him intending to make her a God.
Kirk knows that the only way to get his party off the planet and to save the Enterprise is to figure out the source of the God’s power and do all they can to defeat him.
Now this is both where I got hooked on and started getting a little confused about this episode. It’s suggested by Kirk that Apollo and the rest of the Greek pantheon were extradimensional travelers that arrived on earth and ended up being treated as gods by the ancient people. Ultimately, the rise of Christianity and science brought people to reject the old gods. With no one to worship them, they retreated back to the stars where they slowly faded without the adoration of the masses.
So all of that’s interesting enough and I’m sure the History Channel is currently touting some version of this as near fact, but the issue is that the episode makes this more and less important than it should be. The writers want to have it both ways at making this an episode about man’s rejection of religion and acceptance of the coming times but they also want just kind of a fun episode about another super powered man-child and his obsession with a buxom crew member.
All of this is made more agonizingly clear in the scenes between Palamas and Apollo. The whole thing is written to emphasize the relationship between humans attraction to the unknown and reeks of the similar situation between Khan and the crew-women of the week in “Space Seed.” Like in the season one episode, the woman mostly appears as weak as possible and as supplemental to the man. It’s required of the story, sure, but it also has a strange worshipful underpinning, partially because of the nature of Apollo’s status, but it still has a weird read.
Like in “Charlie X” and “The Squire of Gothos,” Kirk realizes that they need to force Apollo to overextend his energy source. It helps that Spock has been figuring out a way to overcome the hand and force field around the area to strike at the temple. Meanwhile, Kirk convinces Palamas to spurn Apollo, ultimately driving him to unleash his powers in full force. He returns to the temple just in time to watch as phaser fire rips into the building, ultimately leading him to reject his plans for worship and return to whatever cosmic home there is for the lost gods.
As I said, its kind of a neat episode despite the god-like being just the message is kind of an issue. The writing is never clear enough either way to find out if we should be reading into this one way or the other, There’s enough talk on the death of gods and human kind’s relationship with the divine and abandoning faith in the name of progress that it’s hard to ignore in the grand scheme of the episode. Ultimately, it’s one of the better episodes of it’s kind, but the message and the overly surreal aspects turn the whole thing perilously close to camp.
Right up there with “Mudd’s Women,” this might be one of the most hateful episodes toward women. Kirk and McCoy have a really odd talk about Palamas on the bridge and how she’ll get married and leave Starfleet. This doesn’t sit well when put next to the scenes between her and Apollo.
Apparently, Chekov is 22 and pretty much the new cadet on the Enterprise. Kirk gets some interesting jibes off of him.
“And I am the Tsar of all the Russias!”
“Insults are effective only where emotions are present.”
You’d think that the Adonais would be a Greek character, but the episode is named for a Shelley poem. Strangely, they don’t use that version of Adonais and instead go for the Hebrew translation of “Adonis,” which means “gods.” I just knew the Shelley poem.
Next Up: “The Changeling” which, yeah, I wonder what’s going to happen.