Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Ark II: "Orkus" (December 18, 1976)
Here, the Ark II team stops for repairs and investigates reports of pollution. Unfortunately, Ruth and Adam fall prey to that pollution, and deadly toxins super-age them in a matter of moments. Unless an antidote can be developed, Ruth and Adam will die of old age in mere hours.
“Orkus” is a more hard-edged Ark II segment than some, albeit one with many familiar ingredients from 1960's and 1970's cult television. There’s the super computer that governs a stagnant society (“Return of the Archons,” “Guardian of Piri,” Logan’s Run, “Turnabout”) and a disease that causes extreme, instantaneous old age (“The Deadly Years.”)
In Star Trek, episode wrap-ups would frequently see Captain Kirk noting in a log that Federation advisers, teachers or helpers were on the way to help a planet changed by the Enterprise’s visit. Ark II could have used some of that specificity, particularly since Jonah and his people are trying to rebuild a world, and that agenda requires more than a cursory one-off visit to troubled villages and towns.
Yet the missions undertaken by Jonah and his crew are generally pretty loosely-structured, and there’s very little sense of follow-up or persistence. Many episodes involve the idea that bad actors and evil-doers, once confronted with their anti-social behavior, will see the error of their ways and do right. That is not a strong enough basis upon which to re-build a ruined world in my opinion.
I must confess: this is the very thing that bothers me the most about Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s easy to preach noble values when you live in paradise; when you have a full stomach and the time to “enrich” yourself educationally and otherwise. But what happens when you don’t live in paradise? Then what?
Because of the series format, the Ark II team often over-matches the bad guys. The vehicle’s crew has science, technology, knowledge and force fields on their side. Accordingly, many episodes do not feature an adequate or deep sense of menace. Thus the episodes that I remember best are those, like “Orkus,” which present a real challenge. Other examples are episodes such as “Omega” (about a mind-controlling computer), “The Cryogenic Man” (about an entitled 20th century businessman) and “The Lottery,” which features a kind of “phantom zone” pocket universe where a tyrant banishes enemies.