“Who Mourns for Adonais?” is hardly the first episode of any incarnation of Star Trek to feature a godlike being. It’s also not the last. It’s not even the only one to feature a godlike being claiming to be if not a god or even the God. But it may be the only time the god in question has a solid mythological foundation. Yes, it’s Captain Kirk vs. Apollo, and the prize is the right to not be a shepherd.
Some people can only learn lessons the hard way.
While on a routine trip around the galaxy, the Enterprise comes across a planet that should be uninhabited. Sure, it’s M Class, could support human life, but there isn’t anything like that there. Or, more accurately, there shouldn’t be. A large hand made of energy comes up from the planet’s surface, grabbing ahold of the Enterprise in an unbreakable grip. And before you can ask what the hell, a being claiming to be Apollo pops up on the viewscreen, demanding Kirk and his officers comes down to the planet’s surface. He wants worship. And if he doesn’t get it, he’ll crush the Enterprise.
By the by, before I go much further, the actor playing Apollo is one Michael Forest. I like to check to see if different actors amount to other things beyond these guest appearances, and Forest has a really long resume. Most of his work is English dubs for various anime series, but that’s rather impressive in its own right. He also rocks the toga look for this entire episode. We know return to our regularly scheduled commentary.
So, knowing his ship could easily be destroyed by the guy with the giant energy hand, Kirk acquiesces. Apollo distinctly bars Spock from the planet since the Vulcan is too gloomy. That’s fine. Spock is more valuable on the Enterprise for a mission like this. Kirk takes with him McCoy, Scotty, Chekov for some reason, and Female Crewmember of the Week Lt. Palamas.
Palamas is another sign of how in certain ways Star Trek has aged a little weirdly for 2019. Scotty spends the episode smitten with this woman. Kirk and McCoy comment on that in the cold open, pointing out Scott’s affections are a bit one-way. Palamas isn’t into Scotty at all, and Scotty is way too protective over a woman who isn’t returning his affections. Kirk and McCoy just think that’s a little too bad for Scotty. I think that might be a little too much for Palamas. But she’s just a woman according to, oh, every guy in the episode, so who knows what she wants?
Maybe she wants to be left alone? Just a guess.
As it is, Kirk has a simple choice according to Apollo. He can either get the rest of the crew down to the planet’s surface to live the life of ancient Greek shepherds, worshiping Apollo the whole time, or they can die. Like, all of them. Presumably that includes Spock, even if he reminds Apollo of gloomy old Pan.
But here’s the thing: even as Apollo tries to charm the willing Palamas, Kirk is looking for freedom. Apollo can expend great power, but he seems weaker afterwards. Making himself bigger or blasting Scotty with lightning takes a lot out of a god. And sure, he may have cut the away team off from the Enterprise, but Spock, Uhura, and Sulu aren’t exactly sitting around waiting for help. If Apollo expends too much energy, then they can maybe beat him.
That would involve making Apollo mad, and for Spock to figure out something at about the same time. And while Palamas stops Apollo in his rage the first time, she does listen when Kirk explains what’s really at stake. And what’s at stake is nothing less than the right for humans to evolve.
While the episode never confirms or denies the theory, Kirk and McCoy figure Apollo may be the real Apollo, but he was never a god. He was a powerful alien who visited Greece five thousand years earlier. The locals, being bronze age shepherds, simply took him and his kind for gods. We do learn the others moved on long ago as only Apollo believed the worshipers would eventually find him again.
Instead, the worshipers he finds destroy his power source, rejecting his offers once and for all. It wasn’t as if Apollo would have accepted the crew still using their advanced technology. No, they had to live as humans lived 5,000 years earlier. Even if the crew still believed in gods, and the general scoffing pretty much all of the humans give Apollo tells us they probably don’t, Apollo wants them to turn back the clock more than anything else.
That’s what makes this Apollo somewhat tragic. He sort of means well. True, he demands worship and subservience, but he doesn’t see that as a bad thing. He’d love the humans like a father would his children. And therein lies the kicker. Why wouldn’t Kirk and Co. want that? Kirk explains it easily with a single line: “We outgrew you.”
That’s the thing about childhood. Kids grow up and aren’t kids anymore. At some point, parents need to let their children be themselves. Good parents know this. Apollo just had to learn it the hard way.
That said, it wouldn’t be Star Trek without some kind of realization. If this guy was the real Apollo, the Greeks built their civilization modeled off the work and ideas of Apollo and his missing brethren. They were early guides for a great foundation for a lot of human learning. Good parents do that too.