Looking for a missing Federation cultural observer, Kirk and Spock find themselves on a planet whose culture has been completely patterned after Nazi Germany.Looking for a missing Federation cultural observer, Kirk and Spock find themselves on a planet whose culture has been completely patterned after Nazi Germany.Looking for a missing Federation cultural observer, Kirk and Spock find themselves on a planet whose culture has been completely patterned after Nazi Germany.
"Patterns of Force" follows in this tradition, though it takes the somewhat unusual route of transplanting real situations of Earth's past to the requisite alien world. Skirting the risk of taking the easy route and simply condemning the unredeemable, making the lesson a bit too didactic, the episode instead veers in another direction entirely and becomes a wonderful critique and examination of enduring human nature and frailty.
The Starship Enterprise, lead by the redoubtable Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), is looking for lost historian John Gill (a barely-there David Brian) when it is fired upon by a missile from a planet that shouldn't have that capability. Kirk and his Vulcan sidekick Spock (Leonard Nimoy) beam down to investigate. In rapid sequence, they find out that the planet is controlled by real, honest-to-goodness Nazis, are captured and almost killed, and then find themselves in cahoots with an active resistance movement.
So, we have the set-up, that this is going to be an examination of bad, bad Naziism, right? Well, perhaps, but that is not the episode's real target. Wisely taking the brutality and illogic of Naziism for granted, instead, our heroes use that system's inherent weakness against it as they retain focus and search for the lost Gill.
Valora Noland, born the day after Pearl Harbor to parents who had fled Wiesbaden after Kristalnacht, and named after a speech by Winston Churchill, reportedly (understandably) hated playing a Nazi figure. However, she is the episode's blazing star. She plays Daras, a Nazi propaganda hero. However, is she really a Nazi, or something else? That answer is provided quickly, and emphatically, and thereafter Daras becomes more of a meditation on the media than anything political. Watch her preen as Kirk holds a camera in her face, and flounce up the stairs of the Nazi headquarters as if going up the red carpet at the Academy Awards (almost an inside joke there, I think). Valora knew how to act with her eyes, watch them closely throughout for some real emoting. Some may decry the lack of facial prosthetics and so forth (so painfully over-used in later incarnations of the series) to make the aliens look "different." However, this supposed negative turns into a major asset when it permits you to experience the emotions flitting across Valora's face as she first holds a gun on Kirk, then abruptly and surprisingly turns and fires at someone else. Strong females on Star Trek seldom fared well in the final analysis, but Daras defies that peril against all odds. A fabulous role played fabulously.
A fascinating aspect is the casual, almost backhanded slap taken at the reality of Naziism. For instance, the Nazis are shown to be infiltrated with the very people they were persecuting. Many real Nazis had, for example, Jewish origins, including perhaps Hitler himself, and they wasted a great deal of time investigating or justifying each others' phantom racial purity. This subtly supports the series' recurring message that we are all morally interchangeable and thus responsible for our moral choices. The absurd use of physiognomy to categorize and denigrate is completely sent up when arch-villain Malakon (Skip Homeier, in one of his several awesome guest star turns in the original series) pompously derides the smartest man on the planet (Spock) for his "low forehead, denoting stupidity." But the target is much wider than simply an indefensible political system and its self-serving justifications. The ending takes a sharp jab at modern media in general as being simply a tool to be mis-used even with the best of intentions. Daras is hailed for the cameras as a great hero (again) despite the fact that everyone in the room knows that she indeed may be a hero, but certainly not for the reasons the media will state.
The episode is about Nazis, yes, but that is just the launching pad for the real insights. Everyone in the cast gives a rousing performance, and I wouldn't be surprised if they felt something personal about the entire experience. This wasn't the only time TOS Star Trek mentioned Nazis (see "The City on the Edge of Forever,") and its treatment of them is extremely honest and, dare I say it, even-handed as a sort of aberration that somehow crept out of the Id's cage. Some will decry this episode as politically incorrect and the notion that anyone at any time could fancy Naziism as "efficient" as completely insane, but it certainly is possible that some future (and possibly wacky or senile, we learn absolutely nothing about the man) historian could completely misread history. And that reveals another point to this tale, the danger of misreading history from a distant vantage point. Never forget.... Human nature and enduring reality is the larger target, one that is hit dead center by a stellar cast and script.
- Jul 5, 2011