Stardate: 2268 (technically no stardate is given for this episode)
Original Air Date: February 16, 1968
Writer: John Meredyth Lucas
Director: Vincent McEveety
“Even historians fail to learn from history…”
The Enterprise is searching for John Gill (David Brian), a missing Federation historian. Gill is a widely respected intellectual among Starfleet, he once taught Kirk during his Starfleet days, and even Spock praises Gill for his treatment of earth history as a series of “causes and motivations” rather than a mere timeline of events. Gill had been sent by the Federation as a “cultural observer” of the planet Ekos some years prior, but he has since disappeared. What happened? First, a bit of exposition about Ekos. The Ekosians are known to be a primitive warlike people, living in a state of anarchy, whereas its sister planet of Zeon is known to be technologically advanced. As the Enterprise passes the outer planet of Zeon, headed for the inner planet of Ekos, an unmanned probe approaches and detonates a thermonuclear warhead. However, this kind of technology is generations ahead of Ekosian development.
As Kirk and Spock prepare to beam down to Ekos, they have subcutaneous transponders placed inside themselves by Dr. McCoy using a crystalline material known as Rubindium which will allow them to be beamed back aboard the Enterprise even if their communicators are lost (where has this technology been in other episodes?) Kirk and Spock then don ordinary civilian clothes and almost immediately after arriving on Ekos, they encounter a man being accosted by a group of swastika-clad Nazi gestapos –this is apparently a planet run by Nazis! Good thing Spock remembers his history. He recalls the despotic Nazi regime from 20th century earth history, and moments later, Kirk and Spock watch a public propaganda video (fused with clips from Triumph of the Will) wherein John Gill is shown to be the planet’s führer. He must have violated the Prime Directive and claimed power over the planet, drawing inspiration from the Nazis.
As it turns out the Nazis on Ekos are driven by a xenophobic hatred of their neighbors on Zeon, whom they deem to be “enemies of the Fatherland.” They chant “Death to Zeon!” and “Hail the führer!” It doesn’t take long for Kirk and Spock to steal a couple of gestapo uniforms and move through the streets incognito (Kirk comments on Spock’s hemet: “That helmet covers a multitude of sins”), however the duo are quickly exposed when Spock is requested to remove his helmet revealing his pointed Vulcan ears. Kirk and Spock are then arrested, tortured, and imprisoned. While in prison, they devise an amusing scheme to escape from their cell using a nearby light bulb, and rubindian crystals in their implanted transponders which create a laser effect to burn through the cell door. After a brief stopover in the Nazi lab to recover their partially deconstructed communicators, they flee with fellow prisoner Isak (Richard Evans), an Ekosian who leads them to an underground resistance movement led by his brother Abrom (William Wintersole) and Daras (Valora Noland) who briefly stage a Nazi ruse in order to test Kirk and Spock’s loyalty.
That evening an address on the “Final Solution” for Zeon is planned, a solution which involves a planetary invasion and presumed genocide. Kirk and Spock join the resistance dressed in Nazi costumes (they also beam down Dr. McCoy for assistance) as they infiltrate the press conference by John Gill/The führer. However, they quickly discover that he has been put in a comatose state. He was apparently drugged by his vicious second-in-command, Melakon (Skip Homeier). The Enterprise crewmen help Gill temporarily recover his faculties in time to call off the invasion and also accuse Melakon of being a traitor, but a shootout ensues during which both Gill and Melakon are killed. It ends in a peaceful resolution between Daras and Chairman Eneg (Patrick Horgan), who has actually been a resistance operative this whole time. They jointly thank the Enterprise but ask them to depart as the future must be worked out between the people of Zeon and Ekos.
The episode ends as Spock says Ekos will make a fine addition to the Federation which leads to an amusing discussion of absolute rulership on earth.
While it was hilarious watching Kirk and Spock strutting around in iconic Nazi regalia, in all seriousness, the premise of this episode is flimsy at best. Why Nazis? We are told they were the most efficient form of despotism on earth –though contemporary historians have successfully rebutted this view. In all truth, the real reason Nazis were selected for this episode was as a cost-cutting measure by the production crew who were keen on recycling existing sets and props especially if it meant capitalizing on the success of shows like Hogan’s Heroes.
Not unlike the gangster planet on Sigma Iotia II, the Nazi planet on Ekos is reminiscent of classic Hollywood –I was reminded of the slapstick portrayals of Nazis in movies like Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator or Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. Yet somehow all these Nazis speak plain American English? Also, the thermonuclear warhead from the beginning is never really addressed. Who sent it? And why? Whatever happened to that dilemma? Additionally, I was fascinated by the retcon of the implanted transponders –wouldn’t this technology have helped the crew out of other troublesome situations? Needless to say, there are more than a few holes in this script, perhaps it is not worth examining too closely. Maybe it’s better to simply enjoy a fun little adventure. Fair warning to viewers: this is another shirtless Shatner episode (apparently Shatner elected to shave his chest while Nimoy did not).
Finally, the slow build reveal of John Gill in this episode is much-hyped but it is ultimately anti-climactic. It turns out that he has merely been drugged and he dies moments later anyway. It is a bit disappointing for the ascendant rise of a new Nazi führer. While there are lots of ideas explored about the corrupting influence of power (cue the Lord Acton quotations) and the troublesome notion that history repeats itself, even in deep space, unfortunately I thought this was mostly a contrived episode. It represents another excuse to re-use existing studio props in a somewhat silly fashion. Despite being a light-hearted comedy (albeit with a sinister undertone), “Patterns of Force” is nowhere close to the best of Trek.
Writer John Meredyth Lucas (1919-2002) penned a total of four Star Trek episodes: “The Changeling”, “Patterns of Force”, “Elaan of Troyius”, and “That Which Survives.” Originally, Paul Schneider (who previously wrote the Season 1 classic episode “Balance of Power”) was scheduled to write a similar Nazi-themed episode but his script was rejected in favor of this one.
Vincent McEveety (1929-2018) directed numerous television shows including six episodes of Star Trek TOS.
Star Trek Trivia:
- Paul Schneider (writer of the Season 1 classic “Balance of Terror”) initially wrote a script entitled “Tomorrow the Universe” for Season 1 based on similar Nazi-esque themes, but it was later scrapped in favor of John Meredyth Lucas’s script.
- An early draft of this episode had the source of cultural contamination arriving aboard a small “Ambassador-class” vessel called the Magellan amidst an outbreak off Nazism. The name was later applied in TNG to the Ambassador-class of ships in the mid-24th century.
- In an amusing twist, the headquarters of the Nazi Party in this episode are the redecorated offices of Paramount Pictures during the 60s. Perhaps it was a subtle jab at the show’s sometimes overbearing studio. The underground set was the same as the one used for “The Devil in the Dark”.
- The attacking Ekosian missile on the viewscreen of the Enterprise was actually originally composed of reused footage of the Orion scout ship from “Journey to Babel” earlier in the season.
- Spock’s green blood can be seen during the Nazi prison torture scene.
- One of the leading Nazis in this episode was Chairman Eneg (he is later revealed to be a double agent for the underground resistance), whose name is “Gene” spelled backwards (a nod to Star Trek Gene Roddenberry).
- Scenes from the Nazi propaganda film were borrowed from Triumph of the Will (1935).
- This episode was effectively banned in Germany for decades until it was finally shown on German pay TV in 1996, and it was later shown on a public channel in 2001.
- Several of the repeated Star Trek background actors appear in this episode: William Blackburn makes a brief appearance as Lt. Hadley, and Eddie Paskey also briefly appears as a Trooper.
- Even though no stardate is mentioned in this episode, Star Trek super-fan Bjo Trimble listed it as 2538.0 in her fan compiled episode guide entitled the Star Trek Concordia. She was one of the originators of the letter-writing campaign that kept TOS from being canceled (allowing for a third season). She also helped lead the letter-writing campaign to President Ford to rename the first space shuttle the Enterprise. Born in 1933, she is still alive today and is considered royalty in the Trekkie/Trekker fandom.