Ari

Episode 50 – TOS 2×21: “Patterns of Force”

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Good news: this is our 50th Episode! Holy crap!

Bad news: Long story short, the official subtitle for this episode is “Nazis‽”

If you’re confused: that’s an interrobang, one of the most graceful forms of punctuation in the English language. No other symbol so effectively encompasses our feelings about this episode.

Because that’s right, kids. We’re there. Nazis in space.

Literal Nazis.

In space.

Literal Nazis in Space
Everybody did a pretty good job conveying the skin-crawling horror of having to dress up like a Nazi, I’ll give them that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’ve probably heard of this episode even if you haven’t seen it. Most sci-fi does metaphorical Nazis. Allegorical Nazis. (Uncomfortably topical Nazis, especially today, especially if you spend thirty seconds taking in American campaign coverage.)

Only Trek took one look at the tradition of putting our failings as a society into sharp relief by making clever and subtle references to one of the greatest horrors ever perpetuated by a human country and went “subtle? hah! SUBTLE IS FOR CHUMPS.” And then raided the Desilu costume store for every piece of World War 2 regalia they could lay their hands on, plus all the genuine Third Reich footage they could scrounge up. The least-subtle cherry on top? The downtrodden class of Planet Space Nazi are called Zeons, most of whom have spaceified Hebrew names. Imagine the word “subtlety” painted big and bright on one of those paper circles the mascot bursts through during a high school pep rally and you’re close to the levels we’re talking about.

The central plot of this episode: a famous and respected Federation historian tries to usher a chaotic and war-like alien world into the harmony of a united society by… replicating the Third Reich, with the argument that it was the “most efficient” state in Earth history.

Yes. These are words spoken on actual television, a mere twenty years after the end of World War 2. Imagine that.

Supposedly the historian in question intended to use a defanged version of Naziism, sans runaway bigotry and mass murder, but Something Went Wrong, that something in question being One Bad Guy who… ruined the Benign Nazi Revolution for everyone? I guess?

Obviously there are endless arguments to the contrary, e.g. There Is No Such Thing As Benign Nazis, most of which apparently fell on deaf ears in the room full of mostly-white, mostly-Christian, mostly-male Trek writers and producers, but perhaps the most bizarre choice made by the folks in charge was writing an episode like this and then sending two of the original series’ cast’s three Jewish actors down to impersonate and later get beaten up by space Nazis. It was an… interesting choice, to be sure.

Shatner and Nimoy blooper
A blooper image from Patterns of Force. Look, this is just a much nicer picture of the in-character one I almost put up instead, okay? The other alternative was puppies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All things considered, There Is No Such Thing As Benign Nazis is probably the best lesson we can draw from this episode, especially given the chilling similarities between in-episode nonsense rhetoric and the so-called debate we watched last week. It’s something that was obviously on the writers’ minds, and maybe something that should always be on everyone’s: that we’d damn well better learn from our history; otherwise, some day, someone might decide to hit replay on us.

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