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Patterns of Force

There is really nothing to recommend this routine episode. The premise, the latest in the very weak Prime Directive series (while also a member of the Earth Parallel series) is something we have seen before and very recently in "A Piece of the Action" and "Bread and Circuses". The Nazi theme replaces Chicago and Rome, respectively. It's almost as if someone said, "Hey, that Chicago one was pretty good. Do another one like that."

So this episode has the requisite Prime Directive violation, the ensuing derailment of best intentions, the studio backlot Earth parallels, and the quick fix (albeit somewhat more dramatic with all the gunfire). These things might be forgivable but for the very bland guest stars, confused plotting (whatever happened to that 3-hour automatic beam-up rendezvous so elaborately set up in the first act? and, if everybody in the Nazi party is part of the underground, why is the party so dangerous?), regrettable near-references (Zeon was an unfortunate name for the oppressed people), and Nazi extras that resemble "Hogan's Heroes" rejects. We are also given simplistic references to the historical Nazis which pass for this episode's cultural references.

But the big problem is a very common one: no bad guy (or at least a poorly-crafted one). Lucas (as writer) has chosen to build the tale around Kirk's curiosity about his former teacher. If we knew more about John Gill, or the relationship between the teacher and student, this might work. We might be strung along asking the same question Kirk asks. But we know nothing, and the episode becomes a routine set of misadventures which lead up to a disappointing revelation of what has happened to the mystery man. It comes down to: Spock and Kirk steal some clothes, get captured, escape, steal some more clothes, get captured, escape, lather, rinse, repeat. (This exact same problem marred the "Action" script.) It's just unimaginative storytelling, and borders on the dreaded automatic writing.

This doesn't work because the viewer cannot find anything to invest in. Hating Nazis is one thing. But hating Nazis as a class is much less powerful than hating Nazis as people. It would have been more interesting if John Gill had turned out to be a genuine traitor, or if he did not realize how wrong things had gone, or if he was being manipulated without his knowledge (and without drugs). The real bad guy is not even a character because we know nothing about him. He could easily have served as the object of the audience's hatred had he been better utilized (for example, if he had realized who our heroes were and set out to kill them before he was unmasked). The audience is further insulted by a happily-ever-after ending that feels tacked on and uncertain. Can the death of this one unknown character really undo the Nazi machine which has been created? Maybe, but a brief "Kum ba yah" moment is not sufficient.

There are numerous troubling scenes, such as the one in the jail cell which would serve as a blueprint for later Trek: the Technical Innovation. Kirk and Spock realize simultaneously that they have the tools to build a crude laser, then cut each other (leaving no trace of gashes), and use the extracted crystals plus a bed spring to gain their freedom. These guys could probably build a transporter out of a toothbrush and their uniform insignia! If a plot relies on such silly inventions, more work needs to be done.

Humor once again intrudes. The discovery that science fiction can be funny seems to have made the creative team wonder how laughs could be interjected into each episode. Thus we have Kirk making quips from a jail cell while Spock (covered with gentle green lash marks) climbs his back, and McCoy struggling with costume boots -- and then fake drunkenness -- during what might be moments of high tension in the story. It's not that comedy is unwelcome. Rather, comedy must be placed carefully, and grow out of character -- not situation. When used, it must not detract from the mounting tension.

Once again the Prime Directive premise comes up empty. Perhaps the problem is that the whole concept can only be interesting in one way: when someone breaks it. If our heroes go about their business honoring the principle, we have a lot of episodes about planet surveys from high orbit using only ship scanners. But once our characters (or their pals) meet aliens, it's inevitable that the rule will be broken, and once it is, it's impossible to repair without breaking it again (as Kirk and crew do again here).

The score by George Durning is again marvelous, though more understated than his other outings. Snare drums are used to set the stage, and the entire score has a military feel that would have worked wonders had this episode been closer to the mark.

With this episode, however, the second season has officially grown stale.

Rating: Middle Lower (5)