Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Prominent Jews In Swastikas?! Star Trek's Journey To The Planet of the Nazis Is "Patterns Of Force."

The Good: Good acting, Not a bad concept
The Bad: Poor acting, Very recycled plot, Fails to emotionally invest the audience
The Basics: With a plot that has essentially been done by Star Trek before, the Enterprise journeys to a planet where a Nazi government has been established and we end up disappointed.

So, late in the second season of Star Trek, actors Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner who are both Jewish (though Shatner might not have known his heritage at that point) ended up in Nazi uniforms. No, this was not for a weird Rolling Stone or Vanity Fair cover, this was for an episode of Star Trek. For all of our claims (myself included) of Star Trek being a terribly original, groundbreaking science fiction and dramatic series, sometimes it just got stuck. When it found a good idea, it sure stuck with it. In the second season of Star Trek, there are four episodes where the Enterprise encounters Earth cultures recreated on alien worlds. While the series hit a high note with one of them - "A Piece of the Action" - "Patterns of Force" is episode three of the four plot-similar episodes and it's a toss up between being unmemorable and just plain bad.

The USS Enterprise is cruising along when it is fired upon by nuclear missiles, which it quickly dispatches with its more efficient weaponry. The missiles were fired from the nearby planet Ekos, which is not supposed to be technologically developed enough to have such weapons. The Enterprise investigates and discovers the Ekosians have adopted a Nazi culture. Instead of Jews, the Ekos Nazis are attacking the nearby planet Zeon. Spock and Kirk go undercover as Nazis to learn what happened to the planet, what happened to the Federation observer who was on Ekos and how to undo the damage that the cultural contamination is certain to be doing to the people of Ekos and Zeon.

"Patterns of Force" might have been better had it not followed episodes like "Bread and Circuses" where the Enterprise found a planet where Rome never fell and "A Piece of the Action" where a Federation ship contaminated a culture by inspiring the imitative culture there to create a society based around the Chicago Mobs of the 1920s. Yet, even without these other Star Trek episodes to rely on as superior examples of the concept, "Patterns of Force" seems weak as an hour of television.

First off, the Federation cultural observer on Ekos is John Gill. In order to have any respect for our protagonists, we - as viewers - have to respect their judgment some. Captain Kirk idolizes John Gill and took classes from him at the Academy and was impressed by him. In "Patterns of Force," we see none of the brilliance that supposedly inspired Kirk and that makes the premise of the episode even more flimsy. In fact, the episode suffers from the basic idea of how a cultural observer trained to have professional detachment would allow himself to essentially set up a government. Even more frightening is the idea that Gill would choose Nazi Germany as the most efficient government on Earth. I'm not going to debate world history, but it seems to me that the level of peace, prosperity and freedom exhibited on Star Trek might indicate that whatever government Earth is under in that time period might be a little better off. After all, for all the efficiency of Nazi Germany, there was the inhumanity, reliance on a war economy, unrealistic ambitions of world domination, persecutions of anyone considered the other, and the same tactical stupidity that sunk Napoleon.

And Gill's late realization that those who do not learn from history repeat its mistakes just seems silly and stupid considering its source. I mean, honestly, if one were to emulate a government that imploded horribly when its leaders were captured or killed, what would one expect in its replication? It's entirely foreseeable that it would collapse. At least Rome had a couple hundred good years. Britain survived its step off ruling the world better than any power in history, wouldn't that have been a better example?

So, we have a silly premise that the viewer and the characters are forced to take seriously. The problem is, it's almost impossible to take the episode seriously because it is so obvious, forced and derivative. But more than that, it's impossible to get emotionally invested in the characters of the episode because we never truly see the barbarism of the Ekosian Nazis. Sure, they walk around harassing the few Zeon citizens on their planet, but we don't see death camps, unexpected brutality or any truly successful attempts to exterminate the people of Zeon.

Instead, the characters are campy stereotypes that are thoroughly unsurprising. So, for example, we have the Nazi woman who turned her father over to the Nazis who turns out to be . . . well, what we're not supposed to suspect, but probably do. Daras feels more like a "type" and one of the superlative aspects of the episode has to be that she does not end up liplocked with Captain Kirk (as virtually every other blonde on Star Trek inevitably does).

The only performance that is truly noteworthy in "Patterns of Force" comes from DeForest Kelley as Dr. McCoy. Kelley plays McCoy as awkward and drunk in his Nazi uniform and the swagger is funny and a definite change from Kelley's usual hotheaded approach to McCoy. Sadly, McCoy is only a supporting role here.

Neither Shatner nor Nimoy give particularly astonishing performances as Spock and Kirk. Much of their place in the episode is to continually explain the plot to the viewer (they talk about Gill recreating Nazi society a number of times) and it's unfortunate that so much time is spent reiterating a pretty simply concept. In fact, while in their Nazi uniforms, Shatner and Nimoy do not alter their performances, which basically makes the episode like Spock and Kirk playing dress-up rather than trying to pass in an alien society. It's like how Alias became a series of dress-up dates for Sydney Bristow rather than actual personas.

Likewise, none of the guest stars give Earthshattering performances. Skip Homeier plays Melakon, the true power behind the Ekos Nazis and he plays him well, despite the character being somewhat monolithic. Homeier does fine as the villain and it's hard to ask more from him given the way the character was written.

As it is, though, "Patterns of Force" is generally a disappointment. The social messages that support the Prime Directive are better exemplified in other episodes (like "A Piece of the Action") because they do not hinge on characters acting contradictory to their characterization. This certainly leaves the viewer wishing for something more and better.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek - The Complete Second Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the second season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek reviews, please visit my index page!

© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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