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The Trek Nation - Who Mourns For Adonais?

Who Mourns For Adonais?

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at December 23, 2005 - 10:09 PM GMT

See Also: 'Who Mourns for Adonais?' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: The USS Enterprise is studying the uninhabited planet Pollux IV when a giant hand made of pure energy seizes the ship. A human face appears on the viewscreen to invite the officers to the surface, where Kirk, Scotty, McCoy, Chekov and Lieutenant Palamas are told by the being that he is the ancient Greek god Apollo. He is delighted that humans have ventured into space and come to worship him, but when he demands that Kirk bring his crew to live on the planet, Kirk balks. Tricorder readings and scans on the Enterprise suggest that Apollo has an extra organ in his chest that allows him to harness local power sources, which in turn lets him hurl thunderbolts and grow to fifty times the height of an ordinary human. He falls in love with Palamas and tells her that he will make her a goddess, but when Kirk encourages her to reject Apollo, he becomes weakened by his anger. By then Spock has discovered that Apollo's temple is the source of his power and uses the ship's phasers to destroy it. Scorned by humans and reduced to powerlessness, Apollo joins the other gods in the oblivion to which they have consigned themselves.


Analysis: "Who Mourns For Adonais?" is one of many in a long line of episodes that might best be summarized as, "Kirk meets god, kills god, moves on." The most excessive of these is, of course, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, in which the god Kirk meets claims to be THE God, though like Apollo he turns out to be just a great big tyrant. Apollo's excuse for bullying the crew is that he claims to need worship and love to live the way humans need food and water, but this doesn't make him particularly sympathetic; he comes across not as a starving man but a greedy, selfish one. And Palamas' crush on him, which she mistakes for love, is almost as embarrassing as Marla McGivers' obsession with Khan; the difference is that Palamas doesn't violate Kirk's orders or trust, so she is able to save the crew and then remain with them afterward rather than exiling herself.

I might as well state at the outset that "Who Mourns For Adonais?" is a very mediocre episode, one of the worst of Star Trek's very fertile second season, so it's just as well they got it out of the way early. It has its moments, particularly in terms of crew interaction, and I doubt anyone who has ever seen it forgets the giant hand floating in space and grabbing the Enterprise, but the premise is extremely thin. The compelling idea that the gods of ancient Greece were in fact powerful alien humanoids has merit, but the writers don't take it anywhere - how did they find Earth, why did they pick it rather than one of the other numerous inhabited planets in the galaxy, did they ever go anywhere else, how did they travel from Olympus through the cosmos? No answers, only questions about the unseen power source in Apollo's temple, the strange organ in his chest that McCoy never gets a chance to examine, the philosophy of compassionate conservatism that Apollo seems to have cultivated in his time alone on Pollux IV after the other gods gave up on humans. We don't even find out whether he literally needs worship to live, the energy of human love, or whether that's metaphoric and he merely gives in to despair at the end.

The Apollo-Palamas-Scotty love story isn't all that compelling either, since we know next to nothing about Palamas - even less than we learn about McGivers in "Space Seed" - and it's unfathomable why she would fall for a man so condescending to humanity in general, even if he does get her a pretty dress and promise to make her a mother of new gods. Heck, Trelane made similar promises, and in fact worked similarly to Apollo, though he was far less dependent upon a terrestrial power source. It's not clear that Palamas ever has the kind of interest in Scotty that he has in her; Kirk and McCoy are joking about his crush at the start of the episode, and she certainly doesn't take the kind of macho risks for him that he takes for her, which nearly get him killed. It's nice to see him have something to do besides tend engines, but he comes across rather unprofessional. As does Palamas. Even McCoy gets griped at by Kirk for not having snappy professional answers about how Apollo functions. Apollo compares Kirk at first to Agamemnon, Hector, Odysseus and Hercules, but the most obvious comparison here is temper, since the most heroic behavior comes from Palamas in defying Apollo and Spock in punching through his weaknesses.

There's much Apollo doesn't seem to have quite thought through, like the fact that a spacefaring race of humans is a lot less likely to want to tend sheep than ancient humans and also a lot less likely to be impressed by godly tricks that they can replicate with their phasers and transporters. These humans could create their own simple pleasures if they wanted; they've chosen to be explorers. But Kirk doesn't make these logical arguments. He insists that humanity has moved beyond the need for all gods, which fits in nicely with Roddenberry's secular philosophy but doesn't follow logically. Clearly humanity doesn't need a repressive deity like Apollo or Ba'al or an altered Gary Mitchell demanding tribute, but the unexamined flip side of this is mentioned by Kirk only at the very end: that the gods inspired art and literature and philosophy and politics.

Kirk's approach to dealing with a being of great power is always to bring it down to human level, as indeed Picard tries to do with Q. There's a funny kind of ego struggle that seems to be going on, a refusal to accept that anyone or anything could have such control over his destiny. It's helpful that the more evolved beings are so rarely benevolent; even the Organians are quite manipulative. And it's quite impossible to believe that many people didn't resent that sort of interference even in Apollo's heyday. One of the charges against Socrates was that he refused to acknowledge the gods. How could Apollo forget something like that?

Some of the nicer touches in this episode involve minor crewmembers; in this early outing by Chekov we hear bragging about Russian culture ("you mean English - the Cheshire Cat," insists Kirk), but he also comes up with a working theory of how Apollo uses power that Kirk says has earned him his pay for the week. Meanwhile, back on the ship, Uhura is charged with the task of finding a way to communicate with the surface, and we discover that she is capable of complex engineering, taking apart and rewiring her console in a way that Spock says no one else on the ship is better equipped to handle. (Spock doesn't get invited down to the surface because his ears remind Apollo of Pan, whom Apollo suggests was a party-pooper...ironic since Pan was Apollo's chief rival as a musician.) In fact it's Apollo who's the grouch, refusing to give the crew any time to adjust to his planet or his demands. His tears and pain at the end seem excessive given his total lack of sensitivity beforehand. He probably gets more credit than he deserves in the end from Kirk, who won't hesitate to kill the next god who comes along despite the nod of respect.


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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.