In the original series Star Trek, the episode "The Return of the Archons" (TOS, S01 E21) has a placid, peaceful society with a scheduled time of utter lawless chaos. Several SFF works since then (like the Purge movies) have had similar setups. Was this TOS episode the first use of this idea?

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    Interestingly, this episode is the first ever to mention the Prime Directive. – Praxis Sep 10 '16 at 1:12
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    Hate Hour in Nineteen Eighty-Four? – Spencer Sep 10 '16 at 12:39
  • The Morlocks' fake air raids to collect Eloi for processing in The Time Machine? Also Melnibone had an event in which its princes (including Elric) paritcipated. Plus a real-world example, the Spartans' staged wars against the Helots. (sorry, my 5 minutes ran out) – Spencer Sep 10 '16 at 12:46
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    Rumspringa? – jwodder Sep 10 '16 at 20:26
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    @NKCampbell I already spent hours there and could't find a trope that refers specifically to "regularly scheduled chaos." The closest I could find were A Fete Worse Than Death and In-Universe Catharsis. – ApproachingDarknessFish Jun 1 '17 at 23:33

It's not the first, though what follows is, admittedly, an oblique or roundabout answer. Worth mentioning: I consider "Return of the Archons" brilliantly subversive, while not necessarily agreeing with the implications. EDIT: this answer is meant to interpret the episode as shown, with the statements of filmmakers being of interest, but secondary.

The episode's Red Hour refers back to real customs. The closest, from what I've read, is Saturnalia:

In sources of the third century AD and later, Saturn is recorded as receiving dead gladiators as offerings (munera) during or near the Saturnalia.[35] These gladiator events, ten days in all throughout December ... [were later] criticized by Christian apologists as a form of human sacrifice.[37][38] Although there is no evidence of this practice during the Republic, the offering of gladiators led to later theories that the primeval Saturn had demanded human victims.

Another Roman event, Bacchanalia, is even closer to Red Hour, but Livy's report is contested, and thought to be propaganda. Such rites moderated to the Lord of Misrule, Halloween ("Mischief Night"), and Mardi Gras. This gets into a sensitive area, but it's worth expanding on the connections.

Gene Roddenberry devised the story for "Return of the Archons." He famously rejected organized religion, but was curious and quirky, not necessarily feeling the same about all religions. Finally, his parents were from Texas (he was born there), where "Catholic" meant neighboring Louisiana (and Mexico, of course). Regardless of his stated deflections (IIRC), Red Hour is an extreme Mardi Gras, with leader "Landru" a common name of the region (spelled Landrieu). So is "Tallulah," the likely source for "Tula," the female character.

The episode's cultists wear monk's robes, and obedience equals being "of the body." The latter phrase is Christian generally, but perhaps evocative of consuming "the body of Christ." Roddenberry's memorable reaction to communion (age "around 14"), as told to The Humanist, March/April 1991: "how did Jesus become something to be eaten?"

Thus, if the episode satirizes or slams Mardi Gras as religious rite, Roddenberry and company were following Livy (and others, presumably).

(In terms of actual fiction, the closest I recall is Asimov's "Nightmare," where the regular chaos is very much unscheduled.)

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  • A couple of things: Roddenberry didn't come up w/ the "of the body" idea - that was freelance writer Boris Sobleman. The overall theme was rooted in loss of individuality due to technology (ie - computers - remember, this is the mid 60s), not religion. There is no indication in any of the memos that red hour was meant to be anything other than disorderly chaos / release necessitated by the rigid controls imposed by the technology (source: 'These Are the Voyages: Season 1' - Marc Cushman) – NKCampbell Oct 6 '18 at 15:56
  • Stan Robertson, NBC executive, summed the theme as follows: "the dangers inherint in a culture when it becomes too computerized and its most basic need, emotions, and functions can be programmed" – NKCampbell Oct 6 '18 at 15:59
  • I've never read that book, but nothing above would have affected my answer. Artists are not always the best at interpreting their own work, or necessarily conscious of their motivations, nor do they always tell the truth, especially when doing so could have gotten the story or script killed. I'm aware of the era's anxieties regarding technology, but that's like saying "The Ultimate Computer" has nothing to do with race/ethnicity, because that threat also involves a computer. Frankly, if you don't see religion as an obvious theme in "Archons," I'm at a loss. – professor_feather Oct 6 '18 at 17:30
  • That's fine - I'm just reporting what the actual production memos from the creators state – NKCampbell Oct 6 '18 at 18:22
  • Perhaps a clarifying note should've been included; I've made this edit. – professor_feather Oct 6 '18 at 18:55

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