In a seemingly empty part of space, the Enterprise is suddenly held hostage by a giant hand. Held at its mercy, nothing seems to break Kirk’s team free from this oddly-shaped force field. They are soon introduced to their captor, a god-like being called Apollo, who exerts complete control over the ship and crew. In a story reminiscent of “The Squire of Gothos”, the powerful alien claims to be a god significant in Earth’s history, and he demands worship.
When piecing together the mystery of this individual, Kirk posits that he could in fact be the real Apollo. This speculation introduces an interesting concept concerning the source of certain religious beliefs, or the existence of true gods of a sort. Many historical mysteries, such as the pyramids of Egypt or advanced knowledge of ancient civilizations, are thought to have an extra-terrestrial origin by at least a few eccentric theorists. In the same vein, the episode is positing that this alien was Apollo, who appeared on Earth during the Greek era and acted as their god. Where the ancient Greeks worshiped and adored Apollo, these modern humans are less impressed.
The story focuses on humanity’s current relationship with the old god, which is portrayed as literal relationship. Apollo’s last remaining fan girl, Lieutenant Palamas, is an expert in ancient cultures. She is as fascinated with this new discovery as he is enamored with her. Apollo promises Palamas the universe, godhood, and everything… delighted that he now has the adoration of a new worshiper. However, Palamas is a Starfleet officer first, and she remains steadfast in her duty. She is instructed by Captain Kirk to spurn Apollo, thereby weakening him enough for the Enterprise to break free.
Although simplistic in its plot, the episode considers some interesting aspects about faith and belief. Is religion meant to be larger than life, endeavoring to make the individual feel small and insignificant? Or, is it personal, to allow us to feel loved? Lieutenant Palamas was able to enjoy a personal relationship with a god, although he seemed more like an ordinary man when he was engaging with her at this level. Perhaps Greek and Roman gods were more personal and anthropomorphic by design to represent the values of these particular cultures. Just as the ancient Greeks held family, relationships, and children in high regard, the behavior of their gods might reflect this (Hall, 2015). It is interesting when Kirk says, “We don’t need gods, we’re happy with the one,” as if to say the old gods of liberation were rejected for just one god of piety.
In the end, rejection of the god meant rejecting a relationship, just as society had to reject old ideals to be able to embrace new ones. The destruction of the temple using the ship’s phasers symbolized overcoming these old gods with the power of science. Apollo’s temple crumbled, and there was not a worshiper left to visit it. He commended himself to the abyss, proclaiming that the other gods were right about humanity… it didn’t need him anymore. Did the Enterprise crew care that he was the last of his kind? Did they consider him to be a discovery of vast cultural significance? Or, that such power could have had many applications? As gods fade in and out of our cultural consciousness, who among us has the concern to mourn them?
Hall, E. (2015). Introducing the ancient Greeks. Random House.