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In the original Star Trek episode "Return of the Archons", there are two very different portrayals showing how the minds of outsiders are "absorbed" by the computer Landru:

  • In the scene prior to the opening credits, a brown-robed "lawgiver" approaches Sulu on the street, points his staff at Sulu, and fires. Seconds later, we see Sulu transported away. After he materializes in the transporter room, Sulu speaks strangely and questions why the rest of the crew is "not of the body". Sulu has been "absorbed".

  • At the end of act III and the start of act IV, the lawgivers visit the landing party in a holding cell. Instead of using the staffs they are carrying, the lawgivers escort McCoy, Kirk and Spock to the "absorption chamber", a separate room where the process of absorption is to take place.

I am trying to reconcile these two different scenes. What is the correct process to "absorb" a person? Why can it sometimes be done with just a staff and at other times must be done in a special room?

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Why does there need to be only one "correct" process? Clearly the Lawgivers are perfectly capable of absorbing someone without bringing them to the Absorption chamber. But that doesn't mean that this is always the "correct" thing to do.

We don't see Sulu's initial interaction with the Lawgivers, so it's impossible to do a direct comparison of with how events unfolded for Kirk and the others. But we do see Sulu running from them. Presumably, when faced with their power, he attempted to escape. This is probably how most people who have not been absorbed react to the Lawgivers. It also adds urgency to their attack: if they do not subjugate Sulu immediately, he will escape.

Kirk on the other hand tries his usual diplomatic approach. He is defiant of Landru but not afraid. Spock concludes that this was highly unexpected to the Lawgivers.

KIRK: What about the Lawgivers' inability to cope with the unexpected?

SPOCK: We shouldn't depend on that happening again, Captain. In a society as well organised as this one seems to be, I cannot conceive of such an oversight going uncorrected. Interesting, however. Their reaction to your defiance was remarkably similar to the reaction of a computer when fed insufficient or contradictory data.

KIRK: Are you suggesting the Lawgivers are mere computers, that they aren't human?

SPOCK: Quite human, Captain. It's simply that all the facts are not yet in. There are gaps.

Presumably, Kirk, Spock and the others were transported to a facility where Landru could fill in the "gaps", gain a better understanding of the intruders, and make a more informed decision. They had the luxury of doing so because Kirk was not actively trying to run from them.

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