Season two, episode two of Star Trek: The Original Series, Who Mourns for Adonais? is written by Gilbert Ralston, aired on September 22, 1967, starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley, and guest stars Leslie Parrish and Michael Forest.
In Who Mourns for Adonais? once again the Enterprise finds itself stuck fast in space, gripped by a gigantic green hand. And then, a head appears–both head and hand belong to a being claiming to be the Greek god Apollo (Michael Forest). He invites Kirk and company down to his planet, Pollux IV, to celebrate their return to the fold: “Captain Kirk, I invite you and your officers to join me. But do not bring that one. The one with the pointed ears. He is much like Pan. And Pan always bored me.” Apollo excludes Spock, much to everyone’s amusement. And so Kirk, McCoy, Scott, and new bridge officer Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig), along with female officer of the week Lt. Caroline Palamas (Leslie Parrish) beam down to Pollux IV to investigate Apollo.
Anthropologist and historian Lt. Palamas and Scotty have been furiously flirting since the first moments of Who Mourns for Adonais? but we get our first taste of a running joke throughout The Original Series: Scotty’s inability to get the girl. Seriously, he just cannot win. He even (apparently) kills one of them! He’s set up for failure from the get-go, here. They’re flirting shamelessly on the bridge, and just as he begins to gain some traction (she agrees to get coffee with him), a literal Greek god appears.
She’s a historian faced with an actual subject of her studies (not for the first time–remember Lt. McGivers?), and he’s declared his love for her and dressed her up really pretty. Not to mention, he’s all-powerful, can call lightning from the sky, grow fifty feet tall, stop starships in their tracks, and makes a habit of tossing Scotty around like a rag doll.
Not a chance; poor Scotty.
In the end, Apollo’s story is tragic. He’s a god in exile from Earth, from the people he claims to love. Yet he’s clearly a relic from the far distant past, a time long gone. The sort of blind worship that he hopes for from his people just doesn’t gel with the empirical rationalism that Starfleet boasts. If there’s a face to Nietzsche’s quote “God is dead…and we have killed him,” it’s Apollo’s. In order to escape, the Enterprise fires phasers on Apollo’s temple. Furthermore, the title and themes of this episode are allusions to the 1821 poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley called “Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats.” It’s about the end of an era, the passing of an age. It’s a beautiful elegy for a time long gone.
There’s some pretty solid sexism to be found in Who Mourns for Adonais?, with Palamas basically only around for her ability to wear a gravity-defying dress and to be fawned over by Scotty and Apollo. And, much like McGivers, she’s considering throwing everything away upon encountering a historical figure. However, I do like that Uhura is finally given something to do other than open hailing frequencies and scream. We see her getting her hands dirty, digging into the communications circuitry. She’s smarter than just pressing buttons, which we all knew, but it’s nice to see that, finally.
Ultimately, Who Mourns for Adonais? is a solid episode of Star Trek, doing what the franchise does well: tell interesting stories that explore humanity. Is it deeply profound? No. But it’s a trusty entry in the franchise.
So, no one really bats an eye upon the historic discovery that the Greek gods were real and that the Ancient Aliens guys are right. What?! That’s a historic discovery! I’m going to guess that some science vessel traveled to Pollux IV after this.
Originally, the episode was supposed to end with the reveal that Palamas is pregnant with Apollo’s child–something that a few Star Trek novels explore.
Kirk: “Where’s Apollo?”
Chekov: “He disappeared again like the cat in that Russian story.”
Kirk: “Don’t you mean the English story? The Cheshire Cat?”
Chekov: “Cheshire? No… Minsk, perhaps…”
– Another running gag, not only with Chekov, but with Scotty as well: revisionist history in favor of either Russia or Scotland.
Tyler is a teacher, librarian and the Co-host of The Geek Card Check Podcast. He has been a Film Critic for Ready Steady Cut since 2018.