“And the Children Shall Lead”
Written by Edward J. Lakso
Directed by Marvin Chomsky
Season 3, Episode 4
Production episode 3×05
Original air date: October 11, 1968
Recap: Dayton Ward
The Enterprise responds to a distress call from a Federation science colony on the planet Triacus. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down to find out that they either missed a memo as well as the most awesome party in the history of Delta Tau Chi that did not involve togas…or else everybody’s dead.
Well, not everybody. Kirk recognizes the colony’s leader, Professor Starnes, stumbling from behind a boulder before collapsing to the ground. McCoy gives him a once-over and declares him dead, to say nothing of being one lucky bastard, because he doesn’t have to watch the remaining fifty minutes of this episode.
McCoy determines that the colonists have poisoned themselves, but what drove them to do such a thing? Even before our heroes can begin to ponder this mystery, they discover that not all of the colonists are dead. The children, five in all, have survived whatever’s killed their parents. Seemingly oblivious to the tragedy all around them, the kids instead are focused on playing games, even as they stand by and watch their funerals. Are they suffering from some sort of trauma-induced amnesia, as McCoy suggests? Me? I’m already betting on alien mind-control, because that’s the first thing I think of when I see a teenager playing “Ring Around the Rosie” and he’s not pledging a fraternity.
Wait. They didn’t do that at your school? Oh. Never mind, then.
As Kirk and Spock theorize that some outside person or force had to be responsible for the colonists’ death and the children’s odd behavior, they investigate odd tricorder readings coming from a nearby cave. Once inside the cave, Kirk gets a serious case of Space Heebie Jeebies, which seem to match up to Spock’s weird sensor readings. But, I’m sure that has nothing to do with anything that happened here. Nah.
On the ship, the kids’ behavior continues to confuse and worry everyone, including being dismissive of their parents. Kirk’s first attempts at questioning them fall short, even with ice cream bribery, and the oldest of the group, Tommy, wastes no time turning the group against him. Epic fail, Captain.
With no bothersome
grups adults around to bug them, the kids say “Beetlejuice” three times recite a chant that prompts the first appearance of what looks to be Liberace, or perhaps just his tailor. He’s rilin’ the kids up for some kind of weird revolution against all grown ups. With their help, he’ll rule the universe, and nobody will ever again tell them what to do or when to go to bed or to get off their lawns. So say we all!
(“So say we all?” … “Forget it. He’s rolling.”)
Spock reports to Kirk that he’s reviewed Professor Starnes’ log tapes, and that Starnes has some pretty whacked-out notions (pronounced “unscientific hypotheses”). The professor reported feelings of anxiety on the part of the adult colonists, to which the children seem immune. As Kirk and Spock continue to watch, Tommy just shows up on the bridge like he owns the place, personal bodyguard and all, and nobody seems to notice when he starts making weird hand gestures just before the Starnes log tape extract breaks up and stops. Tommy asks to stay on the bridge and Kirk okays it, which is just the thing you do when you’ve got somebody under guard and they just saunter in to one of the ship’s most vital areas. Tommy hangs out after Kirk and Spock leave, watching Sulu and Chekov work as he starts to make more of those weird gestures that nobody sees—including the security guard who’s looking right at him. In short order Tommy has everyone on the bridge thinking they’re still in orbit above Triacus, even though Sulu’s set the ship on a course for deep space. Somebody’s in trouuuuuuuuuuuuble.
The kids continue to fling their mojo all over the ship, forcing various crew members to do stuff without their conscious knowledge. Down in engineering, Scotty realizes something’s wrong, and one of the kids directs some of his officers to overpower him. Elsewhere, Kirk, Spock and McCoy are continuing to review Professor Starnes’ log tapes, and they finally get to the part where Starnes realizes he’s being influenced by some unknown, alien force. Could this be what’s behind the children’s odd behavior? Well, now there’s a thought. According to Spock, Triacus was once home to a “band of marauders” who eventually were wiped out, and he mentions a “space legend” that warns of an evil waiting to be set free.
In the transporter room, a security team is getting set to beam down to Triacus in order to relieve the team already there. What they’ve been guarding up until now is anybody’s guess, but at this point I’ve run out of fingers with which to poke holes in this plot, which is really too bad, considering what’s about to happen. Kirk gives the redshirts some last-minute instructions before
sending them to their death giving the order to transport them to the planet’s surface, but it quickly becomes apparent that there’s no planet waiting for them. Whoops! Wondering that the frak just happened, Kirk and Spock get to the bridge in time to see Tommy and the other children reciting a chant to summon their weird friend, and then Liberace appears again. He tells the kids that they’re in the control, and if the grown-ups give them any guff then the kids should just “unleash the beast” inside each of them. Say whaaaaah?
Kirk orders Sulu to set a course to Starbase 4, but Tommy throws some more voodoo at him. Sulu suddenly sees swords and knives flying at him through space and he’s paralyzed with fear, because these are the kinds of thing that pose threats to a starship with deflector shields, phasers, photon torpedoes, and what we hope is a hull stronger than wet Kleenex. When Kirk tells Uhura to contact Starbase 4, Tommy makes her see herself in one of her workstation monitors, where she appears to age rapidly while studying her reflection in a mirror. Wait. Why is there a mirror there, anyway? So she can see anybody who might walk out of the turbolift and catch her playing Tetris instead of working? Oh, it’s all in her head. Is she really that insecure?
Even as Kirk’s trying to maintain control of the situation, Spock suddenly gets in on the act and refuses to obey Kirk’s orders. Kirk sees that Tommy’s the one behind all of this, so why he just doesn’t grab the security guard’s phaser and stun him, I’ll never know. Spock, being the stud he is, gives himself Vulcan Mind Reboot to ward off the kids’ influence just in time to watch Kirk have a full-blown meltdown. Spock hustles him into the turbolift, where Kirk pulls it together before the Dynamic Duo head to auxiliary control in order to retake command of the ship. They’re thwarted by Scotty and some of his engineers though, and just to rub salt in that wound, they’re also confronted by Chekov and some redshirts looking to pick a fight. Chekov tells Kirk that he’s been ordered by Starfleet to arrest him. But wait! There’s Tommy, standing in the corner all smug and stuff. Kirk decides enough’s enough and let’s loose with some of that patented Kirk-Fu. Bam! Biff! Zowie!
Kirk gets back to the bridge and tells Tommy to forget Marcos XII. He wants a sitdown with Liberace, and when the kids won’t call him Spock uses a recording of the children chanting in order to summon the mysterious entity. When the “Gorgan” appears, Kirk tries to talk him into turning himself off or whatever it is he does with all those alien computers, but it’s no joy. Gorgan tells him to go pound sand, so Kirk changes tactics and focuses on the kids, showing them video from their time on Triacus where everybody’s happy and alive. The kids respond to the imagery with happy smiles, which is Kirk’s cue to pull a bait-n-switch, and the images are replaced with footage of the kids’ parents, all dead and buried.
Man. That’s harsh.
The kids, confronted with the brutal truth of their role in what’s happened, start to cry and reject Gorgan. Giant alien acne puss erupts all over the Gorgan’s face, and he picks up his toys and heads home in a glowing green huff. Once he’s gone, everybody else on the bridge is released from the various spells they’ve been under. McCoy shows up in time to see that Kirk’s once again saved the day, and the doc’s just tickled pink that the children are finally wallowing in the misery of having participated in the murder of their own parents. Awesome, huh? And…scene.
I truly do love the original series, but this entry is my hands-down choice for worst episode not only for the season but the series as a whole. A promising setup in the story’s opening moments deteriorates into utter absurdity, unable to be elevated even by the earnest efforts of our beloved cast. The entire plot hinges on the abandonment of common sense to say nothing of the crew either being weak-willed victims or just morons. It’s a disservice to our heroes, even with the lame explanations and pseudo-technobabble used to justify it. They deserve better than what they got here.
Dayton’s Rating: Adrift in Space (on a scale of Warp 1 to 6)
Analysis: David Mack
It disturbed me greatly to learn this episode was the result of three story outlines and five teleplay drafts over the course of three months. That means the writers of Star Trek had eight chances to get this episode right and they bungled all of them.
The story starts off well enough. The mass suicide of a colony’s adults, who leave behind orphans who don’t seem to notice or care, is a creepy premise. Unfortunately, the rest of the episode fails to live up to this opening’s potential.
The budgetary limitations of the show’s third season are painfully evident in this episode: the indoor-planet set is looking badly worn, the corridors of the Enterprise are eerily deserted, and even the stock footage of the ship in orbit is washed-out and flecked with dirt and damage. (Obviously, this last detail won’t show up in the Remastered version.)
If the kids’ chanting is needed to summon Gorgan, how did he first enslave them? How did the kids concoct such a specific ritual? Their invocation of the “friendly angel” comes off as witchcraft, though I suppose one might argue the kids are acting as conduits or amplifiers for Gorgan’s psionic powers. Given recent research indicating significant differences in brain chemistry and neuroelectric patterns between children and adults, this isn’t such a far-fetched idea.
However, it all begs the question: what the hell is Gorgan’s long-term plan? He claims the universe will be his to rule and the children’s to play in. That’s all well and good until the children starve to death or die from exposure. Also, when the kids grow up, they will no longer be useful to him. How does he expect to recruit new minions? (I suppose it’s possible that, once corrupted, the children remain his servants for life.)
In the logs recorded by Professor Starnes, he cites stardates that are substantially later than that given in Kirk’s log at the start of the episode. This is either evidence that starships experience retrograde stardate progression or a continuity error. Speaking of continuity errors, it is never explained how Kirk knows to call the entity “Gorgan.” There is a deleted scene in which Tommy Starnes reveals the being’s name to Kirk, but that scene would have occurred after the scene in which Kirk first refers to Gorgan by name.
The scene in which two redshirts are beamed into deep space and to their deaths is particularly annoying to a Trek nerd like me. How did a trained transporter operator fail to notice that there is no planet below the ship? Or that the Enterprise was at warp speed? There weren’t any kids there to scramble the transporter chief’s perception, but it’s not until Spock checks the man’s work that the error is detected. You’d think there’d be a basic checklist to follow before beaming a person’s atoms across space: “Subject? Check. Power? Check. Destination? Hey, wait a minute….”
The most maddening moment, of course, is just after Kirk and Spock witness the children summon Gorgan to the bridge. Gorgan tells the kids that the ship’s crew are the “enemy,” announces the ship has been seized, and declares his intention to invade Marcos XII. At that moment, Spock and Kirk should have grabbed phasers and stunned the children. I’m not saying kill the kids—just stun them, for Pete’s sake. Instead, the kids are allowed to split up throughout the ship to cement their control over key personnel and systems.
And what are we to make of the crewmember’s respective fears? Is Sulu really afraid that there might be giant swords in space? Is Uhura really so vain that getting old is enough to make her break down in tears? That’s not just sexist but inexcusably stupid. Also, Shatner’s mini-meltdown in the turbolift is so bad that it hurts to watch.
Spock summons Gorgan by playing a recording of the kids. So, the spirit responds to the chant rather than the psionic invitation of the children? This seems like a lame cheat, but not nearly so lame as Kirk’s solution to the crisis. Why should showing the kids a video of themselves on Triacus break the Gorgan’s spell over them? If they didn’t notice their parents’ rotting corpses while they were standing over them, why would seeing the bodies on a video screen shock them? The climactic montage of weeping children is pathetic and manipulative, and the notion that children’s tears melt the Gorgan feels like a bad ripoff of The Wizard of Oz. (“I’m melting!”)
Lastly, why did McCoy vanish for most of the episode? And how do we make this entire episode vanish from the space-time continuum?
David’s Rating: Dead Stop (on a scale of Warp 1 to 6)
Check the Star Trek Re-Watch Index for a complete list of posts in this series.
Dayton Ward writes Star Trek and science-fiction novels, and he used to host Star Trek trivia on America Online. This is his punishment.
David Mack is starting to regret agreeing to re-watch Star Trek’s third season, but, as Geddy Lee once said, “Ten bucks is ten bucks.”