The crew of the Enterprise investigates a planet where society is perfectly ordered and the people are fat, dumb and happy. Well, maybe just dumb and happy. And things are not so serene as they appear on the surface because every once in a while, the people just go bonkers and indulge in a twelve-hour binge of rape, vandalism and God knows what else.
It's later revealed that the society is controlled by a computer.
I guess those twelve-hour “festivals” as they're called are supposed to be some sort of safety valve. At least that's my assumption. They don't really explain why everyone just goes crazy and starts breaking things and no one really brings it up except for Lindstrom, the Enterprise's sociologist, who shows admirable concern for the well-being of others coupled with some terrible survival instincts.
This episode contains certain elements which reappear in later episodes (and even later science-fiction series):
- The society controlled by a computer.
- The hero (Kirk) using logic to induce a computer to shut itself down.
There's even a bit of dialogue that could have been the inspiration for:
“We are the Borg. You will be assimilated. Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile.”
Compare that with:
“You will be absorbed. Your individuality will merge into the unity of good. And in your submergence into the common being of the Body, you will find contentment and fulfillment. You will experience the absolute good.”
The similarities between these quotes are striking. Especially since the speaker of the second quote is the villain of this episode, the computer controlling the society. And the society it runs succeeds in “assimulating” Sulu, McCoy and a red-shirt as well as part of the crew of the USS Archon, whose disappearance 100 years before the events of this episode is what prompted the Enterprise to visit this particular planet of the week.
The fact that The Return of the Archons may have been the inspiration (at least partially) for one of the most compelling villains in the Star Trek canon almost makes me forgive the fact that it also probably inspired every episode where the Enterprise encountered a computer-controlled society or in which Kirk talked a computer to death.