Written by John Meredyth Lucas and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Vincent McEveety
The second season of the original Star Trek series seemed to find certain plots that worked well and then beat them to death. The most egregious was the use of a world with some sort of intelligent humanoid life that ends up developing parallel to a period of Earth’s history. Patterns of Force wasn’t the first, and it was easily the worst use of this plot.
The Federation sent a cultural observer, John Gill (David Brian) to the planet Ekosia. He hasn’t been heard from, so the Enterprise is sent to investigate. On the way, they are attacked by a thermonuclear device; a device that is beyond what was the last known of the Ekosian technology.
Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) beam down to Ekosia. There they find Ekosians dressed in the uniforms of Nazi Germany. They learn that John Gill is presiding over the place as Fuhrer.
I tried remembering how I felt about this episode back when I would first watch it, but unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like it made the intended impression on me. I’m sure the idea was to shock the audience with a sort of “it can happen here” mentality, but it misses the mark. I don’t know if that realization is all the more galvanizing with events like people with Nazi flags having stormed the nation’s Capitol, and there seems to be a lack of understanding among many about exactly what’s wrong with that.
John Gill was supposed to be a revered historian on Earth. Coupled with that knowledge and an understanding of the Prime Directive of non-interference in a planet’s development, why would he choose to steer society into emulating Nazi Germany? One can always make the “trains ran on time” argument, or that John Gill was a secret white supremacist, although that wouldn’t seem to apply to a different planet. In a remarkable coincidence, there is a neighboring planet named Zeon, and the Ekosian Nazis refer to them as “Zionist Pigs.”
Looking back now, it’s a wonder this aired and anyone went along with it. Was it condemning Nazism? It’s really not clear on that as having a 23rd-century historian decide it’s a good idea to steer a developing culture to emulate the society suggests that he saw some benefit to the society looking back on it. So is it embracing the society’s ideals and trying to distance itself from the rest? Clearly, that’s not the case here. How could someone so revered by the Federation, and by James Kirk himself, create this society without there being any warning?
There’s also the question of how quickly he was able to do it. He couldn’t have been a cultural observer all that long. With no background in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, he’s easily able to steer this society to embracing Nazis in less than ten years (fandom shows a timeline of eight years between when he was first assigned to Ekosia and when the events of this episode happen).
There’s little to highlight here in the way of special effects or makeup. When Kirk and Spock are imprisoned they are supposedly whipped. The makeup to make it look like the guards drew blood is very obviously just painted on their skin (green in the case of Spock). It almost looks like an airbrush or spray can was used. This is one time when the makeup department was sorely lacking.
There’s more of a story here, of course. It involves Kirk and Spock attempting to get to John Gill and the Ekosians who help them. I can’t say the story is worth watching because there are no long-term ramifications in the Star Trek universe. I’m sure the story was considered “edgy” by some just over twenty years since the end of World War II, but now it just seems ridiculous.
I have to wonder how it felt for Leonard Nimoy, a Jew, to put on a Nazi uniform.
Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – Return to Tomorrow
Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – By Any Other Name