Stardate: 3468.1 (2267)
Original Air Date: September 22, 1967
Writers: Gilbert Ralston, Gene L. Coon
Director: Marc Daniels
“I knew you would come to the stars one day…”
Scotty flirts with the Enterprise’s expert on archaeology, anthropology, and ancient civilizations: Carolyn Palamas (Leslie Parrish) even though she hardly seems interested in returning affections. Meanwhile, the Enterprise proceeds on a cartography mission toward Pollux IV, a mostly uninhabited planet. It is the fourth planet in the Beta Geminorum system of the Alpha Quadrant. Suddenly, a giant ghostly hand reaches out from Pollux IV and grabs hold of the Enterprise, refusing to let go, while Kirk orders a relay of their location to Starbase 12. Then a man donning laurels appears onscreen. He welcomes his “beloved children” whom he he praises for leaving earth and venturing out into space to “return home” –he recalls ancient Greek heroes like Agamemnon, Hector, and Odysseus. He claims to have once visited earth some 5,000 years prior (and he also notes similarities between Spock and the Greek god Pan, so he asks that Spock not join them because he always found Pan to be “boring”).
The landing party consists of Kirk, Bones, Scotty, Chekov, and Palamas. On the surface, they find a beautiful Greek garden and are quickly welcomed to “Olympus” by a giant all-powerful humanoid claiming to be the Greek god Apollo (Michael Forest). He blocks all surface communications back to the ship and grows in size before disappearing. When he reappears, Apollo demands obedience. He falls in love with Palamas against the protestations of Scotty, and Palamas is set to be transformed into Apollo’s demi-goddess consort. The other gods –Athena, Aphrodite and so on– have all returned to the cosmos on the “wings of the wind.” Apollo alone remains, but he laments his status among mortals as a mere memory, leading an empty existence without praise and worship. He frequently must disappear to rest his godlike powers.
The Enterprise manages to breakdown the communications barrier, Palamas is persuaded by Kirk to reject Apollo, and the crew works together to defeat and destroy Apollo’s temple (the harbinger of his powers). This sends the tearful god back to the cosmos among his fellows Olympians. He disintegrates into the wind while Bones and Kirk lament the need to destroy the ancient temple of Apollo, especially when considering the legacy the Greeks have left which has led to this present moment.
“Mankind has no need for gods.”
While a bit campy, I thought this was simply a wonderful episode with much intellectual fruit to harvest. As a a science fiction reimagining of a Greek tragedy, “Who Mourns for Adonais?” is both a celebration and a lamentation. Like the Roman god Janus, this episode looks both forward and backward. It is one of those terrific Star Trek episodes which forces us to look a little deeper into the nature of things, acknowledging both the good and the bad. What does it mean for humanity to have conquered the gods? Can we survive as a species without mythological glimpses of the divine? To what extent do we actually rely on enchanted stories in order to ground our being and also construct beautiful places in which people feel truly happy? What if the gods of antiquity have isolated themselves on a distant planet at the far reaches of the galaxy?
Like “The Squire of Gothos” before it, “Who Mourns for Adonais?” presents us with an isolated, chaotic god-like being who is intent on enslaving humans. It injects an ancient deity into the futuristic state of human space travel. It is rightly regarded as a nuanced exploration of the tyrannical risks inherent to religious orthodoxies, both ancient and modern. There is also a fascinating dialectic here between a god –the vengeful, lonely Apollo– who rules over his planet with rigidity and order, and on the other hand we find an ascendant humanity which believes it has progressed beyond need of the gods by means of technology and learning. This is a hopeful episode, it is optimistic about the future, praising the twin characteristics of the modern era, namely technology and democracy. Kirk and crew defeat an authoritarian god by joining together, discussing and persuading one another, and using advanced technology to escape captivity by this maniacal god. The Enterprise’s destruction of Apollo’s temple also serves as a powerful metaphor for the death of the Golden Age of Ancient Greece. As Bones remarks, “I wish we didn’t have to do this” –we see that humanity laments the need to rid itself of the majesty of the ancients yet it still needs to climb ever higher. The notion that humans are meager antiquarians, fixed and unchanging, bound to dusty old museums where sorrowful memories linger, perpetuating lifeless traditions and institutions even though their vitality has long since vanished, is as silly as it is naive.
Since the gods of ancient Athens and Jerusalem are immoral by our present vista point, we might say the evolving nature of morality supersedes the gods themselves. In other words, the good supersedes and is prior to the divine (even in the Bible, God apparently declares a series of “Thou Shalts” in the Old Testament only to completely change his tune by proclaiming a string “Blessed are the’s” epochs later in the New Testament). Human morality forces certain questions upon the deafeningly silent divine –are the gods ever good? Can we ever trust in gods? In this episode, we find a morally progressive theme which actually embraces the death of the old world. Yet at the same time, the crewmen look backward with a certain degree of sorrow and nostalgia –the ruins of Apollo’s temple carry strange echoes of a once-vibrant culture. However, the crew knows that humans can only move forward (i.e. they are mere static antiquarian conservatives) –humans will no longer be made servile to the wayward whims of the theologians in this new age. Standing on the shoulders of giants, the conservative viewer looks backward at prior epochs, praising a fabled Arcadian image of the past, skeptical of all things newfangled, fearful of the unknown, hopeful that age-old traditions will be kept alive; while on the other hand the futurist viewer embraces the unknown, world-wearied of archaic forms of power, distrustful of the tyrannies of yesteryear, searching for an elevated and transcendent way of being in a utopian vision of things to come, seeking a common glimpse of hope, praising creators and a visionaries to come. In both cases we must acknowledge that humans have ascended to a new vantage point, what follows is merely a matter of how they respond to it –do they look to the past or the future? With the growth of certain developments over the past few centuries, humanity can now see a little further and has managed to conquer both the gods and the stars, but as the title suggests, we also acknowledge that something is lost in this new age. Adonais is still being mourned. That old domineering imperialist flame which once spawned the world’s monotheisms, has now been replaced by a ceaseless quest for knowledge as we venture out into the boundless limits of cosmos, and perhaps new theological narratives will ignite our passions in years to come.
Writer Gilbert Ralston (1912-1999) was a British-American screenwriter who created the Wild, Wild West television show. He wrote scripts for many shows including Gunsmoke, Ben Casey, I Spy, Hawaii Five-O and Naked City. This was the only episode he wrote for Star Trek.
Director Marc Daniels (1912-1989) was a World War II veteran and notable television director for a number of different shows. During his career he was nominated for several Emmys, two Directors Guild of America awards, and four Hugo Awards. He is tied with Joseph Pevney for most TOS episodes directed. Mr. Daniels later remarked that “Who Mourns for Adonais?” was one of his favorites he directed. This episode went over its allotted production budget as a result of Fred Steiner’s original score and a variety of unique effects employed.
Star Trek Trivia:
- The original story which inspired this episode was called “Olympus Revisited.” The title is taken from “Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats” by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Line 415 reads “Who mourns for Adonais?” lamenting the death of his friend and fellow poet, John Keats. The poem draws upon “A Lament for Adonis” by the Greek poet Bion.
- The producers originally wanted Jon Voight to play the role of Apollo.
- The Apollo’s temple set was constructed on an indoor studio set but swaying trees (courtesy of hidden stagehands) and dubbed-in bird sounds were combined with stock footage of an outdoor lake which give the illusion of being outdoors.
- Michael Forest was shot in front of a blue screen for the scenes which he grows into a giant.
- Jason Alexander cites this episode as his favorite of the original series, describing it as “thought-provoking, beautiful, and very sad.”
- Marc Daniels cited this episode as his favorite among the episodes he directed, claiming “it all came together so well”.
- There was an intended side plot here of Scotty’s arm injury leading to his severed finger thus explaining James Doohan’s personal injury sustained in World War II, however it was never actually included in the episode and the crew continued going to great lengths to hide his severed finger. There was also an intended alternative ending involving Carolyn Palamas becoming impregnated with Apollo’s baby, a plot thread which has actually gained some traction in Trek lore. It was also featured in James Blish’s novel version of this episode.
- This episode was released at the same time The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.