The Good: Most basic concept, Moments of Michael Forest's performance
The Bad: Characters, Plot, Most of the acting, effects, Execution of concept.
The Basics: When Captain Kirk and the Enterprise crew encounter the god Apollo, the results are exactly as bad as it might seem.
Every now and then I have to sit down to an episode of Star Trek that I did not enjoy the prior times I saw them and confirm that it truly was as bad as I remembered it being. The last time I felt inspired to sit and watch "Who Mourns For Adonais?" to see if it lived down to my expectations was when I met Michael Forest, who played Apollo, at a Star Trek convention. He was one of the most friendly actors I had met and when I returned home, I said to myself, "He was so nice, that episode can't be as bad as I seem to think it was!" Sadly, upon rewatching, "Who Mourns For Adonais?" truly endures as one of the worst episodes of the series, regardless of how nice a guy Michael Forest is!
The U.S.S. Enterprise is near Pollux IV when a giant hand in space grabs it and prevents it from moving away. Beaming down, Kirk, McCoy, Chekov, Scott and Lt. Palamas beam down to Pollux IV to find none other than Apollo, Greek God of Light living there. He demands fealty and worship from the Enterprise crew and is distracted by the beauty of Lt. Palamas. The crew resists, in the process Scotty is almost killed, and Kirk realizes that Apollo is dangerous and superpowered, but might be distracted by Lt. Palamas long enough for the Enterprise to break away. He sets his plan into motion with predictable results.
The lone worthwhile aspect of "Who Mourns For Adonais?" is the theme. The episode is all about what happens when gods are set aside. When humanity progresses to the point where wisdom, reason and respect prevail and society no longer needs god images to keep its population in line using fear and archaic rules, they tend to set aside their gods. This episode asks, what happens to the gods when humanity outgrows them. The answer here is that they become pathetic and kind of crazy and go off on power trips. It's hard not to admire the sense of humor that conceived that.
The problem is the execution. This is not the first time that Captain Kirk and his crew have faced off with godlike creatures, but it is the first time they have faced off against an actual god. Sadly, this ends up being a recasting of the terrible episode "The Squire Of Gothos" wherein Kirk and his crew take some time to find the source of Apollo's power and thwart him by knocking his power out. What works poorly with this idea is that the god Apollo is granted no inherent powers, he is just a conduit through which a machine rearranges forces in the galaxy. That is pretty pathetic and very ungodly. In other words, it's never a fair fight for the god or godlike being when they encounter the crew of the Enterprise. At least when the fifth season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer dealt with heroes taking on a god, the concept was well-executed and there was not a cop-out that allowed them to be victorious. With "Who Mourns For Adonais?" the issue of taking on a deity is kept simpler and wrapped up nicely within the hour.
Sadly, the episode gets off on the wrong foot with the appearance of the giant hand. The special effects in this episode are just awful and they seriously detract from the story being told. In this case, the special effects work as a detriment to the story instead of enhancing it (like good effects ought to).
Furthermore, this is an episode where character seems to come last, as if the writers spent so much time working out the details for the idea of what the piece was going to be about that they forgot entirely who the characters were. As a result, Scotty plays a lovesick fool, Lt. Palamas seems content with being ogled by Apollo for just her good looks and Chekov just shows up and acts like a parody of a Russian. Kirk is not a particularly impressive leader in this episode and when the plot falls into the same rut as the previously mentioned "Squire Of Gothos" did, Kirk simply reacts pretty much the same way he did before.
And Apollo is just a jerk. One wishes that there could have been more from Apollo, but here he's just a megalomaniacal jerk. He's bossy, rude and petty, a far cry from the way Apollo is treated in Greek literature. Indeed, while the producers of Star Trek may have gotten the good looking part down, Apollo is not given any lines or part that does not make him seem like far less than a mortal. Indeed, the viewer spends their time rooting for Kirk and wondering why Palamas is even tempted!
Apollo is played by Michael Forest and my lament is that he's a nice guy, but the character is written poorly. Perhaps this is a sign of what a good actor Forest is; the character is such a jerk, but the actor is not. Ergo, Forest's acting rules. I wish I could stand by that. The role is big and kind of crazy and Forest plays it adequately as it is written, but the part does not so much go anywhere with the godlike thing.
As for the main cast, none of them show up with their a-game. They trudge through the episode delivering ridiculous lines with a sense that they know the episode is silly and beneath them. As a result, only Leslie Parrish, who plays Palamas stands out. She is forced to emote and the guest actress steals the show on the acting front by being able to cry and look afraid at key points in the episode.
This episode is also marred by some of the weirdest camera moves and angles in the entire series. For sure, Marc Daniels had a purpose in the crane shot that allows the viewer to look down upon Kirk, McCoy and Chekov the way Apollo was, but some of the shots during the climax of the episode when Kirk, Palamas and Apollo are duking it out are just directoral exercises with little advancement of the story told through them.
The result is an episode that is all-around awful and it's impossible to recommend to anyone, even Star Trek fans or general science fiction enthusiasts. Anyone who doesn't love genre will certainly deplore "Who Mourns For Adonais?" As someone who loves the series, it's hard for me not to!
[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!
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© 2007, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.