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Patterns of Force

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at May 19, 2006 - 7:22 PM GMT

See Also: 'Patterns of Force' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: On the way to the planet Ekos to investigate the disappearance of Starfleet Academy professor John Gill, the Enterprise comes under attack by a weapon far more advanced than the crew had anticipated. Upon beaming down, Kirk and Spock discover that the primitive Ekosians have industrialized and built a society that very closely mimics Nazi Germany, right down to the uniforms and secret police, and are planning to destroy the neighboring planet Zeon, starting with any Zeons who live on Ekos. The mastermind behind this plan is Fuhrer John Gill. Though Kirk and Spock try to disguise themselves as Nazis, they are taken prisoner and escape with a member of the underground, who explains that the Nazi movement's genesis coincided with Gill's rise to power. He and his associates are shocked to learn that Gill is an alien but claim that Deputy Fuhrer Melakon is really ruling the planet while Gill lives in isolation. Watching the Fuhrer make a broadcast, McCoy concludes that he has been drugged. When Spock performs a mind meld which brings Gill back to himself, the historian explains that he hoped to use the model of Nazi Germany to create an orderly society but Melakon took over. Gill denounces the Deputy Fuhrer, only to be shot by Melakon, who is killed in turn by the resistance. The Ekosians promise peace with Zeon and rebuilding.

Analysis: "Patterns of Force" is an episode I really want to like, to appreciate the warnings about fascism and how easily hatred is cultivated, but like "A Private Little War," it's just too cynical and has too many points of stupidity to be a real success. A man whom we're told is one of the greatest historians of his era tries to build a society modeled upon Nazi Germany - not just based on a misperception of the efficiency of the industrial programs, which would have exhausted available natural resources had they continued unchecked, but including all the horrors from the rampant militarism of a police state to the ideology of racial purity. Gill even reproduced the uniforms and weapons! "I was wrong. The Noninterference Directive is the only way," he wheezes on his deathbed, and even the Zeons feel sorry for him, but particularly rewatching the show this time around, this just makes me angry.

Gill's mistake wasn't violating the Prime Directive, and it wasn't (as Kirk, Spock and McCoy babble at the end) overlooking the fact that any leader won't be able to resist the urge to play God. (That's the same sort of cynicism about human nature at work in "A Private Little War," which is in direct contradiction of the hokey but wonderful human nature Kirk speechifies about in "Return To Tomorrow" and even "Mirror, Mirror" -- "In every revolution there is one man with a vision!") Gill's mistake is that he may be the stupidest teacher of history in the history of teaching! How did he never read George Santayana, who wrote that those who fail to heed the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it, or Aldous Huxley, who pointed out that what history teaches us is that we never learn from history?

Kirk and Spock live in an era when humans, a surprising amount of the time, demonstrate that they have learned from history. They do stupid meddlesome things on other planets sometimes, particularly when those planets appear to be reproducing patterns like those seen on Earth, but they have laws in place to try to stop them from doing that too much and problems usually arise when the intention is usually to spread democracy and freedom among people who haven't yet grasped the concept. The idea behind the Prime Directive isn't that one idiotic Starfleet professor might engineer a planetary takeover, but that civilizations have to work through their own wars and prejudices and baggage before they are ready to grasp the freedom of moving among the stars. In a later generation, Picard is actually ready to let an entire planet's population die rather than risk contaminating them so that they can be moved!

Okay, I found that Next Gen episode painfully stupid and rooted for Worf's brother to save everyone, but I find Gill even more painfully stupid, and Kirk spends the entire episode apologizing for him. Oh, John Gill would never have knowingly recreated Nazi Germany, he tells Spock. Then, well, okay, maybe John Gill did it, but his intentions must have been good. Oh, look, John Gill was drugged and his evil second-in-command took over...it wasn't his fault. Oh, and John Gill said he was sorry before he died, let's leave these people to sort out the gigantic mess Starfleet has created among them and go back to the ship and make jokes about civil wars. It's in terrible taste, and "Patterns of Force" was originally aired 40 years ago, when many Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans and European civilians victimized by the Nazis were watching. What were they thinking, ending with a pat "Oh, that was a silly mistake!" and some teasing?

What works in this episode is all in the execution. There's a lot of Mission: Impossible style sneaking around in a fascist country, with Kirk and Spock first pretending to be Nazis, then helping a member of the resistance escape, then having to fight off resistance members disguised as Nazis to be sure of their loyalty. Any episode in which Kirk and Spock are shirtless in a prison cell makes up for a whole host of gratuitous shots of Uhura's legs, Chapel's cleavage, etc., and the fact that they're climbing all over each other to escape just increases the naughty titillation value. Of course, in order to enjoy these things, one has to block out the fact that people are dying all over the episode - Daras' father, Isak's fiancée (who was abused while she lay dying) - that the real Nazi atrocities feel rather trivialized by this storyline, which almost gives me a new appreciation for Enterprise's much-loathed "Storm Front."

"Patterns of Force" isn't quite campy enough to get away with trivializing Nazis as Mel Brooks has made a career of doing. It wants to make a serious statement about the evils of fascism and have its comic tag too. There's the oddness of Ekosian leader Eneg, whose name is a reversal of that of World War II veteran and series creator Gene Roddenberry, renouncing his Nazi ways and declaring that it's time to live the way the Fuhrer intended, while many of the Zeons have Jewish-sounding names (Isak, Abrom, Davod) and maybe it all hits a little too close to home...Voyager's "Remember," which is also a Holocaust allegory, is much more effective. Maybe when it aired it was enough to show two Jewish actors, Shatner and Nimoy, wearing Gestapo uniforms as they struggled to depict Star Trek idealism in this story about a Federation mercy mission gone horribly awry.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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