#41: Return of the Archons
In case you forgot: The Enterprise is investigating the disappearance of the starship Archon over Beta III. Turns out Beta III is being run by a computer named Landru and he assimilated the Archons into his collective consciousness party, like a prototype Borg. Kirk saves the day with some good old-fashioned logic.
This episode has a pretty solid opening. The lawgivers and their Grim Reaper style hoods are striking, and the "festival" is a really juicy mystery. What is it? Why do people have to participate? Is it a compulsory kind of participation that they can't help? Is it coerced, or maybe even voluntary? Why are older people like Reger exempt? Never mind the weird unison with which the locals turn against Kirk and company, picking up their weapons at the same time and slowly advancing. They're a zombie horde without being zombies.
Moreover, this episode is a great example of set reuse (possible costume reuse?) done really well. They don't fuck around with anything like "oh it's an alternate Earth!" or "oh it's Space Nazis!"; rather, it comes across as an entirely believable alternate human civilization; the fact that everyone is SO FUCKING WEIRD makes the fact that they look like extras in a gangster film irrelevant. If anything, the understated costumes makes the Beta III locals even creepier because there is such a jar between what you expect a "regular" Earth human to do (as opposed to a green-skinned space babe in huts or tipi or whatever) and what they're doing.
You see, then, that this episode could have been great. I really cannot overstate how great the pacing is and how juicy the mystery is over basically the whole first act. But when it takes all that good stuff and just pisses it away in favor of Kirk out-braining a computer, it's so disappointing.
All of the questions the episode poses in the first half never get answered in the second half. This episode is everything I hated about LOST, only in Star Trek. If the episode had stayed on track, it would have been one of the greatest ones, easily.