“And the Children Shall Lead”
Written by Edward J. Lasko
Directed by Marvin Chomsky
Season 3, Episode 5
Production episode 60043-60
Original air date: October 11, 1968
Captain’s log. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down to Triacus, a scientific outpost, responding to a distress call. They materialize to find a whole lot of dead bodies. There’s only one survivor: Professor Starnes, but he dies after a minute, and he doesn’t recognize Kirk before he croaks.
One of the corpses has a bottle of poison in her mouth, and Starnes’s last log entry on his tricorder indicates that they have to all kill themselves because of the enemy within. (Gee, that would make a great title…)
A bunch of kids run out and start playing, completely oblivious to the fact that their parents are all dead around them. A security team beams down and forms a burial detail. But the kids are still all completely unconcerned. McCoy feels this is their extreme reaction to the horror of their parents killing themselves, a kind of traumatic amnesia to not face the reality of their situation.
Kirk interrupts another game to have them beam up to the ship to be examined by McCoy. Spock hypothesizes that an outside force may have induced the mass suicide and that same force may have left the children safe for whatever reason, whether due to a quirk of biology or an intelligence.
Spock picks up a reading from a nearby cave. He and Kirk investigate (leaving the two security guards to stand around with their thumbs up their asses, I guess), and Kirk gets a massive wave of anxiety just from being in the cave.
Chapel takes the children to the arboretum and feeds them ice cream. McCoy reports no ill health, nothing physically or psychologically wrong with them, except for the part where they don’t care that their parents are dead.
Kirk sits to talk to them, and the kids make it clear that they’re thrilled to be off Triacus. When Kirk tries to discuss their parents and how much they love them, they start playing a game where they act like bees, running around crying “Busy!” Kirk denies them more ice cream, as it will spoil their dinner. Starnes’s son, Tommy, grumbles that grown-ups all say that.
Chapel takes the kids to their quarters, but Kirk holds Tommy back and asks him about what happened to his father. Tommy is evasive, saying only that his father was upset like he always was and that he was happy down on that dirty planet.
In their quarters—Kirk puts them under guard—they get in a circle and utter a chant that summons a big green glowy fat guy who tells them that they’ve done well to get on the Enterprise. The next step is to get to a bigger Federation outpost to gather more “friends,” and more people for the kids to play with. The kids start pounding on the table while the glowy fat guy tells them that the next step is to control the crew.
Spock pulls Starnes’s log entries, where he describes a growing feeling of anxiety, similar to that which Kirk experienced in the cave. Tommy comes to the bridge (accompanied by a security guard), and he proves able to make the log entry go blooey. After asking Kirk to take the ship to Marcos XII, and being denied, he asks Kirk if he can stay on the bridge. Kirk agrees, then goes off with Spock to meet up with McCoy in his quarters.
Once Kirk and Spock are gone, Tommy influences Sulu to take the ship out of orbit and pilot it toward Marcos XII. The kids are powerful enough to fool everyone into thinking that they’re still in orbit of Triacus.
Kirk, Spock, and McCoy view Starnes’s last entry, in which he was panicked and afraid of an enemy from within that would destroy them. Spock reports that legend has it that Triacus was the home of marauders, and legend said that the great evil of the marauders was awaiting a catalyst to return.
Kirk orders a relief security detail beamed down to Triacus, and intends to question the two who’ve been on-planet. But after beaming them down, they’re unable to retrieve the party on the planet—and Spock realizes that they’re not in orbit of Triacus, which means the two guards were just beamed into space.
The kids are all on the bridge when Kirk arrives, wondering why Sulu is insisting that they’re in orbit when they’re not. The kids then summon their “friendly angel,” and the glowy green fat guy instructs them to return to their posts and to unleash the crew’s “beasts” if they resist.
The crew just—well, stand there while this happens. Kirk orders Sulu to set course for Starbase 4 and Uhura to contact the starbase, but Sulu can only see a bunch of swords flying at the ship, while Uhura sees herself as a diseased old woman about to die a horrible death. Spock then disobeys Kirk’s orders, seeing no need to alert Starfleet when everything is under control. Then Tommy causes all of Kirk’s words to be gibberish, and when Kirk realizes that Tommy is causing it, Kirk is overcome by an anxiety attack.
Spock winces and puts his fingers to his head, at which point he announces that they have to leave the bridge. In the turbolift, Kirk’s panic attack grows worse, but he gets himself under control after shouting and gripping the walls a lot.
They go to auxiliary control, but Scotty is under the kids’ power now, and he refuses to override the bridge controls. Fisticuffs ensue for a bit, but then Kirk and Spock leave, only to have Chekov and a security detail try to arrest them—supposedly under Starfleet Command’s orders, but truly under Tommy’s. Chekov pulls a phaser on them. Fisticuffs ensue again, but this time Kirk and Spock are victorious and put the trio in detention.
Kirk goes to the bridge, where Tommy insists he’s not afraid of Kirk. But Kirk thinks that their friendly angel is the one who’s afraid. The kids refuse to summon him, so Spock just plays the recording of the kids doing their chant, and sure enough, the glowy green fat guy appears. Kirk announces that he has overcome his “beast,” and the crew will fight him, too. The glowy green fat guy scoffs at the puny humans with their morality and gentleness.
So Kirk takes another tack, showing the recordings that Starnes made of the kids playing with their parents and having fun. And then he cuts to their dead bodies. The glowy green fat guy insists that they had to be eliminated because they wouldn’t get him off the planet.
But for the first time, the kids realize what has happened, and they start to cry and grieve at last. Without the kids to support him, he starts growing pustules and boils and gets all icky and stuff.
And then he disappears. Sulu no longer sees the swords, Uhura no longer sees her dying self, and the kids have a cathartic cry. McCoy takes the kids to sickbay so they can be properly treated and Kirk orders Sulu to take the ship to Starbase 4, having totally forgotten that he left two security guards on Triacus.
Fascinating. Spock is able to overcome the “beast” inside him, presumably with his telepathy. Because he’s just that awesome.
I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy’s concern throughout is for the well being of the children, constantly expressing concern that they be able to work through the grieving process in a way that isn’t psychologically damaging. Which speaks very well of the good doctor.
Ahead warp one, aye. Sulu is made to be deathly afraid of animated swords flying in circular formation at the ship. Sure.
Hailing frequencies open. Uhura breaks down in tears because she some day will be old. Sure.
It’s a Russian invention. Chekov gets to pull a phaser on his captain and get beat up for the privilege.
I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty immediately resorts to fisticuffs when his engineers refuse to change course—remember, this is before he’s under the kids’ influence—and then does the same with Kirk while he is under the kids’ influence.
Go put on a red shirt. Kirk orders two security guards beamed down to the planet, but they’re in interstellar space, so they’re beamed nowhere and killed. Kirk barely even notices, more grumpy about the fact that his ship isn’t where it should be than the fact that two of his crew are dead. And he seems to have totally forgotten that there are two guys on Triacus, whom he doesn’t even go back for or make any attempt to contact in the end.
Channel open. “Hail, hail, fire and snow.
“Call the angel, we will go.
“Far away, for to see.
“Friendly angel come to me.”
It’s been stuck in my head since I watched the thing, so now it’s stuck in yours. I’ve never believed in the virtue of suffering in solitude. You’re welcome.
Welcome aboard. Craig Hundley, who last appeared as Kirk’s nephew Peter in “Operation—Annihilate!” is back, and actually doesn’t have his lines cut as Tommy. James Wellman plays Starnes, while the other kids are played by Pamelyn Ferdin, Caesar Belli, Mark Robert Brown, and Brian Tochi. Tochi will later return as a grownup on TNG as Ensign Lin in “Night Terrors.”
Plus we’ve got all the major recurring regulars in George Takei, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, and Majel Barrett.
But the “big” guest is total non-actor Melvin Belli as the glowy green fat guy. Made available by the casting of his child-actor son Caesar, Belli was a very famous (some might say infamous) attorney. Among his clients were Jack Ruby, the gangster who shot Lee Harvey Oswald, as well as actors Tony Curtis, Errol Flynn, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Lana Turner, and Mae West, musicians Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones, boxer Muhammad Ali, evangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, etc.
Trivial matters: This episode introduces the United Federation of Planets flag.
Brian Tochi is the fourth child actor to appear in the original series who would later be cast as an adult on a spinoff or movie. The others include Phil and Iona Morris, who appeared in “Miri” and were later cast in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (Phil), Deep Space Nine (Phil, twice), and Voyager (both); and Clint Howard, who appeared in “The Corbomite Maneuver,” and was later seen on both DS9 and Enterprise.
The glowy green fat guy is referred to as “Gorgan” by Kirk late in the episode, but it’s unclear how he came to learn that name, as it’s never mentioned elsewhere.
Gorgan was established by Greg Cox in The Q-Continuum trilogy as part of a band of powerful beings who spread chaos throughout the galaxy, alongside Q from “Encounter at Farpoint” and onward, “God” from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, and the swirly thing from “The Day of the Dove.”
Fred Freiberger apparently cast Melvin Belli as a ratings stunt, one he later regretted.
To boldly go. “Parents like stupid things.” I have a lot of trouble with this one for reasons that aren’t entirely the episode’s fault.
Well, they’re partly the episode’s fault…
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this rewatch, I grew up watching Star Trek on Channel 11, WPIX in New York City throughout the 1970s. But there were two episodes that I just could not watch for years, because as a small, impressionable child they gave me nightmares. One was “The Man Trap,” because of the salt vampire, and the other was this one, because of Melvin Belli as the glowy green fat guy. I got over it with the former, but because of the visceral oogies I got from the glowy green fat guy, I avoided watching “And the Children Shall Lead” as much as possible. In fact, prior to this rewatch, the only time I watched the episode since childhood was at the Shore Leave convention, where Peter David, Michael Jan Friedman, and Robert Greenberger played and commented on it for Mystery Trekkie Theatre 3000, an annual tradition at that convention.
Having now pretty much outgrown my primal fear of glowy green fat guys, I can watch the episode more objectively—and it still really sucks. I’ve missed nothing not watching it all these years.
Oh, it has its moments. The child actors are actually all quite good, particularly the always excellent Pamelyn Ferdin and the intense Mark Robert Brown—the shots of Brown through the grating in auxiliary control doing the punch-the-air thing while Scotty and the engineers go all pugilistic are very effective.
But overall, it’s a disaster, taking all the worst elements from “Charlie X” and “Miri” without any of the good bits. The pacing could generously be described as “languid,” made worse by the characters just standing around while the ship goes to pieces around them. The fist-pumping gesture that is (over)used by the kids to signify their taking control loses visual effectiveness after about the third time. Kirk and Spock overcome the mental control basically by the power of being in the opening credits while the rest of the crew get to be manipulated with great ease and no ability to fight back. The two security guards who are beamed into space are disregarded instantly, and the ones they were being sent to replace are probably still screaming into their communicators on Triacus wondering what the hell happened to their ride. And as an actor, Melvin Belli makes a great attorney.
Warp factor rating: 2
Next week: “Spock’s Brain”
Keith R.A. DeCandido urges folks to support the crowdfunding campaign for Altered States of the Union, an alternate history anthology being put together by Crazy 8 Press and ComicMix, featuring a story by your humble rewatcher about the Conch Republic of the Florida Keys, as well as stories by Trek scribes David Gerrold and Michael Jan Friedman, as well as Debra Doyle & James D. Macdonald, Brendan DuBois, Malon Edwards, G.D. Falksen, Alisa Kwitney, Gordon Linzner, Sarah McGill, Mackenzie Reide, Ian Randal Strock, Ramon Terrell, and more besides! The book will launch at Shore Leave 38 in July.