TOS: S2E20: “Return to Tomorrow”

In which Vulcans are better than humans, robots are not as good as humans, and we meet something I’ve been hoping to meet since the first five episodes.

The Enterprise is tracking a something hundreds of light years out from explored space. I’ve decided that the best way to explain how the Enterprise can go so far and apparently so fast is that we’re only seeing an episode every few months of shipboard time. After all, we get a five-year mission in, what 90 episodes? 112 if you count the Animated Series? On average that’s an episode every 16 days, but some appear to be packed in a little tighter than others.

Anyway, a voice comes out of the aether over a dead planet, and calls itself Zardoz, or Sargon, or something. Unfortunately for him, he’s dead. Fortunately for the crew, he’s a benevolent undead sentient thought-pattern, for he brings a warning that the same thing might happen to humanity.  He also has a godlike power to interface with the ship’s computer and control it perfectly. Maybe I’ll get to increment a counter today.

She looks familiar...

She looks familiar…

Enter the Babe of the Week, Ann Mulhall whi is played by the actress who goes on to be Doctor Pulaski and therefore I’m looking forward to the fate that awaits her as a redshirt. I don’t like Pulaski, for reasons I’m sure I’ll cover later. Sneak preview in the mouseover text. Anyway, it looks like Sargon chose her for this mission so we’re probably looking at some sort of breeding situation. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Mulhall beam down, but it looks liek Sargon may be benevolent after all. He leaves the redshirts on the transporter pad so he won’t have to murder them horribly.

Okay, so Sargon is a sphere with glowly lights in it. The metaphysics of Star Trek are interesting. Beings can exist as ‘pure energy,’ and all species, if they survive, wind up transcending to this state, at which point the get god-powers. It is… unclear… how this could possibly work.

Shatner's "posessed face" is remarkably similar to an O face.

Shatner’s “posessed face” is remarkably similar to an O face.

There’s an implied question about whether this rigmarole is functionally equivalent to the soul. It’s hard to imagine, from a reductionist point of view, how anything can exist as “pure energy,” in the way that we can imagine how phasers or even warp fields work. I like the Q a bit better, because they are more or less handwaved as three dimensional projections of vastly more complex beings that exist outside the bounds of what humanity thinks of as ‘spacetime.’ I suppose, though that Sargon didn’t say he was pure energy, only that that’s what McCoy would detect. So I’m okay with it again.

Most of the other glowy spheres are dead, and there are two left. It kind of seems like they can’t communicate with each other in the spheres, which seems kind of a hellish way to spend five hundred thousand years. Seems more like a prison than a waystation. I’m not sure which would be a worse hell, though. Being isolated and alone for half a million years, or being stuck, No Exit style, with the same two people.

Seems like Sargon was lying. He’d said that Kirk was still in his body but hidden, whereas Kirk said that he was in the sphere. The plan is for Sargon and his compatriots to build robots to live in.


They’re discussing the possibilities, and it sounds like the crew are being pretty extensively bribed with technological miracles and pipe dreams. McCoy is actually being the sensible one here. Why didn’t these dudes build android bodies for themselves back when they were gods? McCoy’s not buying it more for the danger prospect than anything else. Kirk gives a rousing speech about the Apollo missions, the first warp flights, the glorious possibilities that await the bold. This is actually a pretty great monologue, at around 22 minutes in, and I recommend the episode based on this alone. The fact that this is halfway through the episode and will no doubt go wrong and prove to be a huge problem that jeopardizes the entire Federation is irrelevant. Kirk epitomizes the explorer here – bold and brash and flying by the seat of his pants, but all the better a captain for it.

"Will I dream, Sargon?"

“Will I dream, Sargon?”

Preparing for the worst-case scenario, if it takes the aliens about ten minutes to overcharge Kirk’s body to the point of nearly killing him, that gives three aliens about 24 hours of body time before they’d need the Enterprise to be among a larger population of hosts. What? Don’t look at me like that, I’m just being prepared.

At 24:20, Kirk, Spock, and Lieutennant Worst-doctor-in-starfleet-come-the-next-franchise are hosts for aliens. Let’s see how long it takes for this to go obviously catastrophic.

It takes ten seconds for Spock to start hitting on nurse Chapel.

It takes two minutes for Kirk to break the nonesistent fraternization rules in Starfleet.

It takes three minutes for the one that’s in Spock’s body, Hanock, to casually mention that the Vulcans should have conquered humanity.

And after five, Hanock admits to giving Kirk the wrong formula to compensate, getting him killed, and then casually mindwipes Chapel.

So it seems like Sargon and his wife are sincere, but Hanock is a traitor or insane, or just wants to feel sensation. He’s tipping his hand to Thalessa, trying to convince her to steal a real body despite the fact that they need injections every hour, which is really not viable in the long term and will get the consciousnesses forcibly expelled from their bodies using whatever energy field they manage to come up with and dispersed.

Do you want to be dispersed? Because that’s how you get dispersed.

Kirk’s body dies and Sargon goes with him. McCoy can keep Kirk a vegetable for a while, long enough for Hanock to convince Thalessa to blackmail McCoy, to let her stay in a human body in exchange for restoring Kirk’s mind to a body. Fortunately, she comes to her senses and it turns out Sargon was never actually dead hooray. He went into the Enterprise.

It doesn’t take away from how good Kirk’s monologue was, but the crew seem largely a superfluous backdrop to this three-person drama that’s playing out. There’s pretty clearly a trick going on – the spheres are destroyed but Chapel walked out like a zombie, so she’s pretty clearly got Spock’s mind in her. It’s elegant, what plays out, and I won’t take away the solution, but it still winds up being vaguely unsatisfying just because Sargon winds up saving the day.

So on the one hand, at least we have transcendent beings that are actually good people. More or less. Well, two out of three ain’t bad.


Did we miss something awesome?