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The Return of the Return of the Archons
Gary R. Peterson7 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
"Omega" is an especially strong episode of the under-appreciated ARK II series. It hews closer to the science-fiction foundation of the show's premise than other episodes. And its homages to STAR TREK and other sci-fi media make it fun viewing for fans.

I find it irksome that the few reviewers of ARK II mention this episode only to note Helen Hunt had a small role. For me its most noteworthy guest star is Harry Townes, veteran of a million shows but among sci-fi television buffs beloved as Reger in the STAR TREK episode "The Return of the Archons."

That 1967 outing of STAR TREK presented a society under the control of a supercomputer named Landru. Townes played a man distressed by the danger Landru posed and who encouraged the Enterprise crew to overthrow it. Similarly, in "Omega" we encounter a society under the control of a supercomputer named Omega. Townes plays a man distressed by the danger Omega poses and who welcomes the ARK II crew's help in pulling its plug.

The Omega computer (technically the Checkmate, model Omega) dates to the 21st Century and has presumably been sitting unactivated for 400 years before the villagers--Towne among them--decided to reactivate it in the hope it would help them. Instead it logically deducted that because old people were responsible for the ecological calamity that befell the world Omega will, through mind-control, relegate the elderly to the fringes of society while elevating the young. This plays out by showing old people sweeping porches and hauling lumber while the young lounge at tables. Omega also inexplicably calls on its adherents to stroll about in long, flowing robes like new-age cultists awaiting the next Harmonic Convergence.

Omega exercises a chilling effect on the conscience. The opening scene finds Diana (the oft-mentioned 13-year-old Helen Hunt) attempting to lure her fugitive grandfather Marcus (Townes) back to the village where he can better be brought under Omega's control. (One almost expects Diana to utter, "You are not of the Body!") Realizing he's been deceived, Townes flees from her and pursuing villagers, only to stumble before the approaching ARK. The villagers stand aside, staring silently and ominously. Diana looks especially evil.

Once aboard the ARK and conscious Marcus blubbers about Diana being in danger, so Jonah dons the Jet Jumper and intercepts her. ("Little girl!" he shouts to her, "Are you Diana?" Her wary "Uhhh, yes" is unintentionally funny.) Diana's indifferent when told her grandfather is hurt, casually noting that "Omega can help him."

When Jonah meets Omega he is startled to behold a black monolith erected at the center of a reflecting pool. Omega declares his purpose and intentions and Jonah expresses his outrage a la Captain Kirk. (Interestingly, Jonah states that both young and old were responsible for what happened to the earth. I guess Woodsy the Owl and the weeping Indian failed to motivate kids to give a hoot and not pollute. A Slurpee cup here, a Reggie Bar wrapper there and pretty soon kids have wrought an environmental apocalypse!)

Science fiction devotees need no reminding that sentient super-computers are at best ill-advised (see Leinster's "A Logic Named Joe," "The Ultimate Computer" episode of STAR TREK, the films 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT etc.). At first glance it's tempting to believe Omega is performing admirably because in the mere three weeks he's been operational the village is the nicest one yet seen in the series. As opposed to the shantytowns populated by scavengers and ROAD WARRIOR prototypes, Omega's village resembles Colonial Williamsburg with a diverse people tending to rustic chores. But the order and tranquility is like that of the Village on THE PRISONER, where the placid exterior hides enslavement.

Jonah shares Captain Kirk's distrust of supercomputers tasked with trumping the human mind, so the plot's trajectory is established: man vs. machine. Omega's denouement is inventive and well handled. Samuel's succumbing because of his youth to Omega's alpha-wave siren's song added tension to an already suspenseful episode. And Adam getting his day was a fine finishing flourish.

Speaking of Adam, two scenes with him stand out. One is where Omega using logic convinces Samuel that Adam isn't a chimpanzee because chimpanzees can't talk. "He's not a chimpanzee," says Samuel, to which Adam scratches his head in disbelief. The second comes when Omega commands Samuel to stop Jonah and Adam is seen in a quick cut yelling, "No!"

As the closing credits played I was left unsettled by Omega's sudden change of heart. Jonah asks whether Samuel can reprogram him and the supposedly powered-down Omega suddenly pipes up declaring he's experienced an epiphany and a paradigm shift and will now only serve mankind. Hmmm. It was such a jarring change (with no logical explanation), as if Omega were saying, "Hey, no need for Samuel to peek behind the curtain and poke around the motherboard; move along, folks, nothing to see here!" Jonah buys it and boards the ARK (after dutifully delivering a condescending quip to Townes about "second chances" and "let's hope we learned from this"). I feared after the ARK rolled out of sight Omega reverted to type and reestablished his rule over the people.

A couple closing notes: (1) a scene featuring kids in long flowing robes running into the welcoming arms of kindly old people in long flowing robes can also be seen in "The Mind Group" episode. (2)Lou Scheimer provided the voice of Omega. Filmation fans will recognize Omega's voice as that of the Bat Computer on Filmation's 1977 ALL-NEW ADVENTURES OF BATMAN (the series featuring the much-maligned Bat-Mite).

"Omega" is an excellent episode of ARK II boasting impressive sets, welcome guest stars and a suspenseful story that offers up many allusions for science-fiction fans. Samuel summed it up best when he said, "WOW! What a mind-blower!"
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