Monday, April 5, 2010

The Original Series, Season 2: Who Mourns for Adonais?

The Original Series, Season 2
"Who Mourns for Adonais?
Airdate: September 22, 1967
34 of 80 produced
31 of 80 released
Click here to watch on


The Enterprise is on an exploratory mission to the Pollux system. Entering orbit of Pollux IV, a great hand seems to appear in space and hold the Enterprise firmly in its grasp. The owner of the hand shortly appears and claims to be the Greek god Apollo himself. Beaming down to his temple, the crew finds that Apollo expects treatment no different from humans of the 23rd century than he claims to have received millennia ago, and has the powers to back up his demands. Is this truly Apollo, and even if he isn't, how can the crew escape his very real powers?
Why, yes, Lt. Palamas, I do put makeup on my nipples... 


Kevin:The science fiction concept is pretty strong in this episode. Like so many powerful beings the Enterprise encounters, their power has both a technological and biological component. It raises the question what makes a god a god? Apollo's powers are beyond dispute. Does it matter what their source is?

Matthew: This is definitely one of the strongest and most fertile sci-fi concepts of the series as a whole. It's pretty shocking, in fact, that they got away with it. It is, of course, no great leap conceptually from the Greek gods to the Judeo-Christian one(s). It's a credit to the Trek concept that it slipped past the network censors. I'd be very curious to know if there was any influence from Erich Von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods, which postulated a similar ancient alien astronaut theory to explain earth's religions. I have to think that there was not, given the book's publication in 1968 and the production lead time for a show like this.

Kevin:Also, there is a very strong secular humanist thread to this story. Kirk repeatedly points out that mankind has outgrown gods like Apollo. There is that line about mankind not needing gods anymore, "we find the one quite adequate." Coupled with the Christmas Party referenced in "Dagger of the Mind," it may seem that Christianity is alive and well, but Christmas even in our time is fairly secular, and I don't think it's impossible that Kirk was being ironic. Humanity doesn't need a pantheon, its monotheistic deities caused enough trouble. In any event, even if it was meant to assert the longevity of Christianity, it's a fairly weak one, and Kirk doesn't really pit his faith in his god against Apollo, and the line at worst can be taken as a studio directive. In any event, this episode is one of many that not only debunks the god in the episode, but to some extent mocks the idea of believing in gods at all, at least for humans. Agree or not, like it or not, it's a strong and recurring theme, especially in TOS.

Matthew: Before you suggested it, the thought did not occur to me that the "one is adequate" line was ironic. I figured it was a regrettable concession to the network or to "propriety." Either way, the secular humanism you mention is certainly a theme here.

Kevin:I really enjoyed watch two parts of the crew work toward and achieve the same solution on their own. It credits all members of the cast in terms of intelligence and resourcefulness, and it makes their capacities when united all the more credible. The scene when Uhura, apparently wearing a smock over her miniskirt, is working on the communication system, Spock's affirmation of faith in her abilities was great for both characters. It very succinctly added a lot of depth to Uhura's character.

Matthew: I kind of had an issue with the dated discussion of Palamas "finding the right man and then leaving the service." It's the sort of writing you really have to be careful with, and they botched it here. It rips me out of the fantasy and plops me right down in the 1960s for a few moments, and that's a bad thing.

Kevin:My one problem is that Kirk and company jump on board a little too quickly to the notion that while he may not be a god per se, he is in fact the being known to the Classical Greeks as Apollo. Space monsters of all stripes have taken on familiar forms before, and for being so incredulous, they buy his cover story very quickly. I'm not saying he isn't Apollo, and the plot works better if he is, but the crew should have been more uniformly skeptical.

Matthew: Although I agree with a degree of skepticism, I like the fact that they jump so quickly to the conclusion as at least possible. It says a lot about their approach to scientific explanations of the supernatural. Also, they never come out and say that he certainly was Apollo.

Kevin:I did like the conversation at the end acknowledging what Apollo and his fellow "gods" brought to ancient Greece. It was credible and enjoyable to see Kirk lament the passing of any species, even ones as dangerous and powerful as Apollo's.

Matthew: Kirk's line "Would it have hurt us, I wonder, just to have gathered a few laurel leaves?" was great. A wonderful capper to the show.


Kevin:Both guest actors turn in solid to good performances. Michael Forrest apparently went on to have an extensive career as a voice actor, and it's easy to see why here. Obviously there was some editing work done to give the perpetual boom to the voice, but the underlying voice work was spot on. He manages to, like William Campbell's Trelane, walk the line between power and petulance and display the conflict of trying to (literally) lord over the crew while trying not to acknowledge that he needs them.

Matthew: I really liked Forrest in the Apollo role. He had the look, the voice, and the acting chops for it. I'm not saying it's Laurence Olivier or anything, but I believed him as an ancient astronautical god. And that's saying something.

Kevin: Leslie Parrish's Carolyn Palamas was everything Marla McGivers was not, in terms of falling for an antagonist who happens to be in your field of study. The actors had good chemistry, and I found her falling for him sufficiently credible if not overly speedy. It is only a 51 minutes show, after all. Her intercession with Apollo and accidental interference in Kirk's plan is moving, as she is still a Starfleet officer, protecting her captain, and the fact that she doing the opposite makes for a great moment. Shatner acts the hell out of that scene as well. He is angry and frustrated but can't truly fault her logic and her captain. In the end, she betrays Apollo, at great personal risk, and the result is a character with several layers of fascination and attraction born of her innate interest in the material, coupled with a competence and loyalty due her postition as an officer.

Matthew: Shatner's Kirk was up and down for me. His petulance on the bridge was unbecoming. But his stern command of his away team on the planet really worked.

Kevin:One complaint in acting, and it kills me to say it, but Scotty chewed the scenery down on that planet. The scene on the bridge was nice, but eesh. I choose to blame acting/directing, but Scotty was creepily obsessed with Carolyn. It was distracting and somewhat out of character.

Production Values

Kevin:The hand was hokey, but not as hokey as it could have been. It looked like a hand, and that counts for something given that most energy phenomena are blobs. The temple was a great set. The sparse, open setting actually provided credibility to the idea it was an ancient temple. Apollo's gold sparkly man-skirt was quite short, wasn't it? Even Uhura doesn't have to keep her knees that tightly locked. I also liked how Apollo's nipples had clearly been covered in foundation to make them less apparent on his broad, smooth chest....I'm sorry. I digress, but it is nice for once that the dude was the skimpily dressed one.

Matthew: I agree on the sparse sets - I generally think that the less they try for, the better it usually works out. I liked the sets a lot.

Kevin:One other thing. Apollo's Super Friends' Apache Chief growing in size thing was pretty cheesy. Though I suppose give the relative height of Apollo, the relative shortness of his sparkly man-skirt, and Lieutenant Palamas' angle of observation, her rapid descent into love is entirely understandable.

Matthew: I bet there are situations in which you would like that ability. That's all I'm gonna say. PS, Palamas' outfit was magical. How the heck did it stay up?


Kevin: I give this episode a 3. The guest acting was good, and the drama built well. There were a few really nice character moments peppered through the episode. What keeps this from a higher score is there could have been more substantive debate about the nature of gods and whatnot. And the places where it veered into cheesy, it did so with a vengeance. Otherwise, I was quite entertained by this episode. I will disclaim that this could very well be a 2, and I am unconsciously bumping it a point for the skin factor, but too bad. I have to reward them for doing things I like or they won't do them anymore.

Matthew: You know, when I first thought about this episode, I was leaning towards a 3. But in watching it again and really pondering it, I think it's in the top quartile of TOS shows, and perhaps even higher. It rates a 4 in my book. The concept is both extremely strong and thought provoking, the writing is at least adequate and at times very good, and the acting really works. In fact, I would say the production values are pretty good, too - simple but effective. There were really no effects that fell flat. I will also put forward the caveat that my love for this episode is growing due to my growing affinity for all things Ancient Greek. You know, the philosophy and all that. So that gives us a total of 7.


  1. Watched this again today. Kirk's line "what if, 5,000 years ago, a sophisticated group of space travelers came to earth, landing in the Mediterranean," really bums me about about the Battlestar finale.

    It was just so f-ing obvious how that story should have gone!

  2. Also, I would have liked some explanation of the mechanism by which these creatures need worship to persist. Are they psychic vampires or something?

    Anyway, it's a great episode, and Kevin was wrong to give it a 3 ;-)

  3. Another thing I noticed - Palamas' line when she pleads for Apollo not to punish the crew: "Apollo, please... you know so much of love..."

    They totally did it off camera, folks.

  4. How would you have felt if they melded the two universes? Make the Galactica and her crew the source of the Greek pantheon on the Earth that eventually leads to the Prime Star Trek Universe? I think it could have worked.

    I was secretly hoping that the Eye of Jupiter in Season 3 would be the Bajoran Wormhole, and they'd pop out right at DS9 in what would have been Season 8. Sisko's reappearance could have been worked in as part of the mythos. Adama and Sisko could have growling standoffs all the time. Enisgn Ro would should up and everyone on Galactica would flip the fuck out. It would be fantastic.

  5. I don't know how I would have felt about the second more involved idea. The Trek universe could certainly absorb it and not really change. Just another humanoid species, you know?

    But a more sly reference would have been perfect. Instead of the inhabitants of the Metirranean region being Cro Magnon or Neanderthal, they could have been the Ancient Greeks prior to the Mycenaean civilization.

    I suppose it doesn't really accord with this episode's description of Apollo's race as being roughly humanoid with a power-routing chest organ, manipulating matter with technology, and so on. BUT: if the Gods had all been Cylons, that could get around it.

    So I'm not really arguing for a tie between the franchises. I'm just saying that the BSG finale would have made so much more SENSE if the people who landed had been the Gods and the Titans of Greek history, respectively (the commanders as the Gods, their children as the titans). Placing them 200,000 years out of human history makes that connection impossible. It was a bonehead move on RDM's part. To not establish the connection makes is kind of crazy that all these people just HAPPEN to have all the names of the Greek pantheon, and for the actual historical Greek pantheon to have sprung up independently.

    All they would have had to do is mention some inter-species children, and give them names like Chronos, Rhea, etc.

  6. Or 2 million, however stupidly remote the dating was. I have forgotten most of the horrors of Season 4.

  7. Ahh..awesome, serialized, dramatic storytelling crashing and burning when it comes time to finally resolve things.

    It has happened before. It is happening now. It will happen again.

    End of line.

  8. I am not going to dispute the idea that this episode was ultimately more about trying to slam the notion of religion in general, and that Kirk's "we find the one quite sufficient" was simply a way of getting the story past the network censors. It represents Trek humanist philosophy at its absolute worst, since one could easily turn the tables around to note that societies that try to function without religion and faith end up being a lot more destructive (think 1793 France or every Communist society of the 20th century; more death and human misery than in all the so-called "wars of religion combined").

    This is one reason why while I will always like Trek for the entertainment it provides, I much prefer the faith-affirming universe of the original (and real) Battlestar Galactica.