Star Trek Re-Watch: “Who Mourns for Adonais?”

“Who Mourns for Adonais?”
Written by Gilbert Ralston
Directed by Marc Daniels

Season 2, Episode 2
Production episode: 2×04
Original air date: September 22, 1967
Star date: 3468.1

Mission summary
The Enterprise is completing a survey mission of Pollux IV, an M-class planet with a “strange lack of intelligent life.” Spock describes it as “quite ordinary,” which should be your first clue that it’s probably a death trap. The second clue comes when the viewscreen, which previously displayed a beautiful image of the blue planet, now shows the image of a giant green hand.

CHEKOV: Am I seeing things?
SULU: Not unless I am, too. Captain, that thing’s a giant hand!

But wait, is it?

KIRK: What is it, Mr. Spock? Is it a hand?

Guys, it’s a hand. Really. This isn’t so hard.

UHURA: It’s almost as if it means to grab us!

Maybe it just wants to…lend a hand?

The space hand (Spock calls it a “human appendage” but I don’t want anyone to choke up their breakfast thinking about that one) wraps its green fingers around the Enterprise, holding it dead still near Pollux IV. Sulu tries “applying thrusts” (consensually? Who comes up with this dialogue?) but nothing will disengage the space hand—they are at its mercy.

The image on the viewscreen morphs from a hand to the head of a man, adorned in a laurel leaf hat. Smiling, he informs the crew that he is proud of their “bold venture” and that their “places” await them. We all know what Kirk thinks of authority figures, so he demands to be released. The space hand man, however, assures Kirk that no such thing will happen, and compares Kirk’s brashness with the tragic arrogance of Agamemnon, Hector, and Odysseus. (NOTE: if someone looking like a god says you remind him of Odysseus, be quiet. You don’t want to run into Captain Janeway in the Delta Quadrant, trying to get home.)

Space hand man demands that Kirk and his crew beam down to the surface, all except for Spock, who reminds him of Pan, and “Pan always bored me.” Can’t blame him—Spock isn’t much fun at parties. Threatened with the destruction of the Enterprise at the hands of…well, a giant hand, Kirk reluctantly agrees.

He, along with McCoy, Scotty, Chekov, and Lt. Carolyn Palamas (an anthropologist and archaeologist), beam down to an idyllic grove with a Greek-style temple in the center. Seated on it is the man from the viewscreen. He is dressed in a sequined disco gown that’s supposed to resemble a toga, but looks more like a discarded costume from Saturday Night Fever. He claims that he is the Apollo from Earth’s mythical past.

CHEKOV: And I am the tsar of all the Russias.
KIRK: Mr. Chekov!
CHEKOV: I’m sorry, Captain. I never met a god before.
KIRK: And you haven’t yet.

After all, what kind of Greek god has love handles? McCoy determines that this Apollo is a “simple humanoid,” but it’s clear that he can manipulate great amounts of power in the form of energy. Apollo goes on to explain that he and the other ancient Greek gods—Athena, Zeus, Aphrodite, Artemis—were a “gallant band of space-travelers” over five thousand years ago. Now that humans have found him again, they can never leave. Apollo expects the crew of the Enterprise to worship and love him, and in exchange they will be given a paradise, as “simple and pleasureful as it was those thousands of years ago.”

Uselessly, Kirk tries threatening the supposed god:

KIRK: I have four hundred and thirty people on that ship up there.
APOLLO: No, you do not, Captain. They are mine. To save, to cherish, or to destroy at my will.
CAROLYN: But why? What you’ve said so far makes no sense at all.

Apollo’s attention is diverted by the soft focus lens, which indicates female life. He notes that Palamas is “wise for a woman,” and to my absolute shock and awe she does not kick him in the balls but instead basks in the compliment. (I have my fingers crossed for next time.) Apollo asks her to join him, and Scotty tries to protect her—but the phaser he was using melts away, and Scotty gets thrown to the ground. Palamas agrees to accompany Apollo, then, and the two disappear.

We see them at a romantic pond, and Apollo lavishes compliments on the young woman: “I’ve known other women. Daphne, Cassandra, but none more beautiful than you.” (NOTE: When Apollo says you remind him of Cassandra, RUN!!!) She asks what happened to the other gods, and he explains that when humans stopped worshipping them they returned home. But without the slavering adoration of millions of subjects, they disappeared into the wind. He then changes the subject back to his preferred topic: “We were gods of passion, of love.” I bet you say that to all the girls!

Aboard the Enterprise, Spock is trying the same thing, hoping to find a way to penetrate the barrier that is preventing communication and transportation back to the ship. Spock believes that “M-rays” will do the trick, and instructs Kyle to find a way to use them.

Meanwhile, Kirk and crew are trying to pinpoint the source of Apollo’s energy, to find a way to disable him for long enough to escape and free the ship. Chekov noticed that each time Apollo uses his powers, he weakens, and then must retreat to “recharge” (which is presumably where he is at this point, with Palemas…if that’s what you want to call it).

Apollo and Palamas return to the grove and Kirk puts his plan in motion. He intentionally provokes the god, arousing his anger. Each of the men laugh in his face and mock his powers, refusing to comply with his demands. Furious, Apollo begins to hurt them—but Palamas begs him to show mercy, and reminds him that if the crew were to die he would have no one to worship him. He gives in, but vows to show no more mercy—the Enterprise crew will begin beaming down to the surface with all the supplies they need, and then he will crush the ship’s hull, preventing their escape forever.

Her good intentions cost the crew their chance out, so Kirk confronts Carolyn, telling her to reject and spurn Apollo. He feeds on love an adoration, and rejection is the only way to ensure their escape. He warns her that her love for him will condemn them all to slavery—peaceful slavery, but slavery nonetheless—and beseeches her to remember her own humanity and come to the aid of her race.

KIRK: Give me your hand. Your hand. Now feel that. Human flesh against human flesh. We’re the same. We share the same history, the same heritage, the same lives. We’re tied together beyond any untying. Man or woman, it makes no difference. We’re human. We couldn’t escape from each other even if we wanted to. That’s how you do it, Lieutenant. By remembering who and what you are. A bit of flesh and blood afloat in a universe without end. The only thing that’s truly yours is the rest of humanity. That’s where our duty lies.

She walks away, sadly.

Back aboard the Enterprise, however, Spock has managed to re-establish communications with the landing party. He’s also figured out a way to shoot the phasers through pinpoint holes in the barrier, and has narrowed the source of Apollo’s energy to a large structure nearby—the temple. Kirk orders him to fire on his command.

As ordered, Lt. Palamas tells Apollo that she doesn’t love him, and that she, as a scientist, was merely studying him. He was a specimen to be examined, and nothing more. Hurt and angry, Apollo summons a storm—but it’s too late, Kirk has given the order to fire. The Enterprise destroys the temple, thus destroying his power source, and re-gaining their own freedom.

APOLLO: I would have cherished you, cared for you. I would have loved you as a father loves his children. Did I ask so much?
KIRK: We’ve out grown you. You asked for something we could no longer give.
APOLLO: Carolyn, I loved you. I would have made a goddess of you. I’ve shown you my open heart. See what you’ve done to me. Zeus, Hermes, Hera, Aphrodite. You were right. Athena, you were right. The time has passed. There is no room for gods. Forgive me, my old friends. Take me. Take me.

He vanishes. Palamas cries, and even McCoy expresses heartfelt regret at what they had done.

KIRK: So do I. They gave us so much. The Greek civilization, much of our culture and philosophy came from a worship of those beings. In a way, they began the Golden Age. Would it have hurt us, I wonder, just to have gathered a few laurel leaves?

Let’s start with the title. “Who mourns for Adonais?” is the 413th line of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s pastoral poem, “Adonaïs: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats, Author of Endymion, Hyperion, etc.” Adonis was a mythological figure of ancient Greece, probably imported from western Semitic mystery religions. The version of events most are familiar with is that he was the product of an incestuous relationship between Myrrh (from whom the tree takes its name) and her father. Beloved by Aphrodite, he was killed, either in a jealous rage by Ares (her other lover) or by being gored by a boar. Aphrodite sprinkled his blood to create sea anemones and the color of the silt at the bottom of the river that flows from Mt. Lebanon. For the purposes of Star Trek (and Shelley, for that matter), Adonis was also a kind of corruption of “Adonai,” the Hebrew word for god. So the title alludes to not only a tragic male figure in Greek mythology, but could also be expressed as “Who mourns for gods?”

On the surface, this echoes a lot of the space douche episodes we’ve seen already. It has the same “Squire of Gothos” reveal of a hidden power source, the same “let’s pretend to play along” set-up, and even the same “let’s get him angry” proposed solution. But I think that this one strives to give more depth and complexity than that. What happens when humanity gets closer to obtaining that kind of omnipotent power? How will we—how could we—preserve our reverent admiration for beings with similar power? Doesn’t lifting the curtain ruin the trick entirely?

If there’s anything I learned from this episode, it was that if you’re a woman who is ever offered an archaeology job on a spaceship, don’t take it. You’ll inevitably be a slobbering devotee of whatever all-powerful being you happen upon. Lt. Palamas was a big disappointment, though I can’t say that I was surprised. I wonder if they weren’t trying to set her up as a kind of Helen of Troy, a woman whose heart led so many men to death. She has the power, here, to commit all of those on the Enterprise to slavery. She doesn’t, of course, and like McGivers in “Space Seed” she is ultimately vindicated by changing her mind and deciding to help her crewmates, but it seems almost cheap in the end.

It’s interesting that Kirk appeals to her humanity, and that that’s the key that changes her mind. He essentially accuses her of being a race-traitor, of forgetting her heritage and her history, and that bothers me. Would it be okay to condemn them all to slavery if the crew of the Enterprise were made up of Vulcans? Or even Klingons, or Romulans? And isn’t it possible to be connected to someone, especially someone one is in love with, on an level of intimacy beyond one’s own race and cultural history? He didn’t just appeal to her baseline compassion or her sense of right and wrong, or even the universal desire for freedom and autonomy, all of which I think would be adequate reasons—he appealed to her loyalty to her humanity. Is he implying that what she felt for Apollo could not have possibly been love, the two beings so different in their abilities? Or is it just an appeal to connect to the men and women whose lives are in her hands? It struck me as being profoundly weird, and potentially problematic. Any ideas about that one?

I was, however, a little surprised by McCoy’s remark in the beginning of the episode, which implies that while there are lots of women in the fleet they always leave their careers to be wives and mothers. I know that later it is stated that there has never been a female captain, which seems to validate this. I liked that Kirk affirmed that it was “losing an officer” (especially since most of the women we see are either glorified waitresses or in waiting to be acolytes to space douches), but it still disappointed me. I will note that I loved seeing Uhura repairing a computer console manually, which is the kind of thing you still don’t tend to see women represented doing. And Spock compliments her on her work, too: “I can think no one better equipped to handle it, Miss Uhura. Please proceed.” Aw.

I think what saddened me most about this episode is that as a “Greek gods” episode it didn’t actually do anything with that mythology. There was some name dropping, but narratively it didn’t strike any archetypal chords, and what a better background from which to evoke epic heroes that Greek mythology? He didn’t feel like the Apollo I knew from myth, and nothing happened that made me connect the events in the episode to the source they were drawing from. A big wasted opportunity, if you ask me.

Interestingly, though, it connects very strongly to the Shelley poem. The original poem is making the same pun that the title of this episode is making, alluding to Keats as a literary god, a cultural icon and hero to be remembered for all ages. Kirk notes at the end of the episode that for all the douchiness these aliens may have brought to Earth, they gave us a rich literary and cultural history that cannot be denied or forgotten. In killing Apollo, they killed not only the last of his kind, but part of their own history. Those aliens are so inextricably linked to the course of history that humanity took, and Kirk destroyed that. Was it worth it?

In a big way, TOS is constantly juggling with these questions of power: what do you do with it, what does it do to you, and how to respond to it, and it’s one of the things that appeals to me about the show. And while I appreciate that this episode tried to tackle some of those ideas, it didn’t really take any of them as far as I would’ve liked. Apollo never makes a convincing argument, and it didn’t feel like much of a dilemma. Power may command respect, but it doesn’t always deserve it.

Torie’s Rating: Warp 2 (on a scale of 1-6)

Eugene Myers: I’m a big fan of Greek mythology, which is one of the reasons I always liked this episode. I got excited when I saw the giant green hand floating in space, which is a memorable image that I didn’t associate with this episode until I saw it again. After my excitement died down, I realized there was a giant green hand in space, and I couldn’t quite take it seriously. The fact that everyone on the bridge was taking it seriously only made it seem that much sillier.

This episode is full of moments like that for me. It’s Apollo! Wait, it’s Apollo? Many elements of the episode seemed interesting or cool, but then there were other bits that were too cheesy or outrageous for me to enjoy, and often there was some overlap. The idea that the ancient Greek gods were actually aliens from space is fun (perhaps more Battlestar Galactica than Star Trek these days), and it was interesting to see Kirk’s reaction go from certainty that “he isn’t a god” to full belief. It isn’t a question of whether gods exist, but whether we still need them. Humanity has grown beyond its awe for unfathomable power, because now we understand the source of it and realize that we can attain it ourselves. Alas, Kirk ruins his argument that “mankind has no need for gods,” by following it up with, “we find the one quite adequate.”

It’s also nice to see an evolution in how they deal with “all-powerful” beings. Perhaps learning from his encounter with Trelane, Kirk immediately starts looking for a nearby energy source to explain Apollo’s god-like abilities; this unfortunately undermines the episode for me slightly. Chekov mentions electric eels who generate their own power, but the analogy doesn’t fit here because, like Trelane, Apollo has some outside assistance to perform his magic tricks. If he’s really a god, why can’t he have his own internal power source? Perhaps that unknown extra organ? It seems to me that a race passing itself off as the Olympians of myth would be just as omnipotent as the Q are later in Trek. It was also ridiculous that they couldn’t find the power source when they were standing right on top of it, though I enjoyed how the Enterprise worked with the landing party to resolve the situation, with special kudos to Uhura and Sulu, who really pull off the impossible with a little nudge from Spock, who demonstrates he’s learning how to command a crew after all. Never mind that they achieve their successes through some magic of their own, the old “reversing polarity” trick and something called M-rays (magic rays?).

Kirk also tries one of the same tactics he did with Trelane, trying to make him angry—this time in order to weaken Apollo and give them a chance to escape. The flaw in his plan is a big one: the attempt means sacrificing one of their lives, which seems like a large price to pay for someone who doesn’t believe in the “no-win scenario.” Though it happens often, it really struck me here how much Kirk accomplishes by manipulating people and their emotions. Time and again, he gets results by appealing to people’s better nature, or bringing out their worst.

It was nice to see Scotty’s character fleshed out more than usual, showing he’s interested in more than just engines and transporters, even if he let his heart rule over his head too often and became Apollo’s punching bag for his trouble. (For some reason I remember Scotty dying in this episode, but that must be a different one.) Chekov also starts to come into his own as a character, lending his scientific knowledge and youthful energy to the mission. It was fun to witness his first attempt to appropriate something as a Russian invention: in this case, Alice in Wonderland.

The most disappointing character was Carolyn Palamas, the beautiful woman of the week who falls in love with the powerful, dominating man/god. Like Marla McGivers before her, Lt. Palamas is a specialist in her field, “archaeology, anthropology, ancient civilizations” who quickly falls for Apollo when he pays attention to her. I was hoping that her specific knowledge of the Greek gods and culture would come in handy, but she’s just there to fall in love with Apollo then betray him. Her reaction when he swaps her clothes out for her bizarre pink toga is to admire it and say, “Oh, it’s beautiful.” And let’s not dwell too much on her abrupt change in behavior when she and Apollo do something that Kirk thinks Chekov is too young to know about. This isn’t too surprising in an episode that shows its Sixties values more than most, with Doctor McCoy describing Carolyn as “all woman” and lamenting, “One day she’ll find the right man and off she’ll go, out of the service.”

Still, Carolyn serves the plot because she “completes” Apollo by giving him what he needs: worship and love. And this turns out to be his weakness as well, because “a god cannot survive as a memory.” The loneliness that Apollo has experienced for thousands of years, after his fellow gods faded away to the cosmos, is what I find truly compelling and moving in this episode. It is clear how much it breaks Carolyn’s heart to lie to Apollo and pretend she was only studying him. And as misguided as his intentions were, when Kirk and the others refuse him and strip away his power (appropriately enough by destroying his temple), it’s depressing to see him realize he is no longer needed. The ending might have more of an impact if it were clear what happens to these immortal gods when they fade, but Kirk’s final comment is touching: “Would it have hurt us, I wonder, just to have gathered a few laurel leaves?” The fact that this was Apollo, and that he and the other Olympians had such an impact on humans but no longer have a purpose or place among them, adds to the tragedy of his loss.

Ultimately this is could have been either a fun episode or a thought-provoking one, but it doesn’t fully deliver on either. I respect the effort but wish it had been done better. I guess I have the same appreciation for it that I reserve for Harryhausen’s Clash of the Titans, another cheesy hodgepodge of Greek mythology. Still, “Who Mourns for Adonais?” at least provides an interesting contrast to Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, where Kirk is unwilling to worship an entity calling itself God. Say it with me: “What does God need with a starship?”

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 3 (on a scale of 1-6)

Best Line: Apollo: “I am Apollo.” Chekov: “And I am the tsar of all the Russias.”

Syndication Edits: Chekov’s line asking Sulu if he’s seeing things; the first and second scenes aboard the Enterprise showing Spock’s efforts to establish communications; Kirk asking McCoy about Scotty’s condition; part of Apollo’s speech about foolish mortals (the bits about how he’ll bring order to chaos).

Trivia: For you mythology geeks out there, it’s a nice touch that Apollo lives in the Pollux planetary system. Pollux (aka Polydeuces) was the twin brother of Castor, just as Apollo was the twin brother of Artemis.

The effect of Apollo becoming huge is a combination of tricky camera angles and traveling mattes. The temple itself was made in a studio, and the swaying trees you see are stagehands crouching in the background—that’s why they can’t seem to sway in time.

Scotty’s big fall was actually his stunt double, Jay Jones, wearing a harness that yanked him back on cue. If you watch the scene closely you’ll also notice part of the set crumbling on the left side of the screen, despite the fact that the man doesn’t go near it! Oops.

Syndication edits: Chekov’s line asking Sulu if he’s seeing things; the first and second scenes aboard the Enterprise showing Spock’s efforts to establish communications; Kirk asking McCoy about Scotty’s condition; part of Apollo’s speech about foolish mortals (the bits about how he’ll bring order to chaos).

Other Notes: In the original draft of the script, Palamas becomes pregnant by Apollo. It’s implied in the Star Trek Compendium that this was snipped by network censors. That ending is retained in the Blish novelization, however.

Michael Forest, who plays Apollo, was apparently very unhappy with his costume and you can see him in the second season blooper real strutting about effeminately to show his displeasure. Not sure how that logic works, but we can forgive the simple humanoid. The actor currently does a heap of anime voicework dubs under the name Alfred Thor (I knew he sounded familiar—he voiced a character in Scrapped Princess!).

If you recognize Leslie Parrish (Lt. Palamas), it may be from her roles as Jocelyn Jordan in The Manchurian Candidate.

Previous episode: Season 2, Episode 1 – “Amok Time

Next episode: Season 2, Episode 3 – “The Changeling.” US residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

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About Torie Atkinson & Eugene Myers

TORIE ATKINSON is a NYC-based law student (with a focus on civil rights and economic justice), proofreader, sometime lighting designer, and former blog editor/moderator. She watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books. EUGENE MYERS has published short fiction in a variety of print and online zines as E.C. Myers. He is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and a member of the writing group Altered Fluid. When he isn’t watching Star Trek, he reads and writes young adult fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is available now from Pyr.