Star Trek Re-Watch: “And The Children Shall Lead”

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
Star date: 4842.6

Mission summary

Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy beam down to Triacus, an isolated Federation outpost. They find sprawled out on the ground each of the adult members of the exploration party. Most appear dead, but one of them moves: it’s Starnes, who looks like he had a very bad night. Shaking and sweating furiously, he fails to recognize Kirk, says something about “the enemy within,” and then promptly collapses on the ground dead. Hmm. Upon closer inspection one woman has a vial in her mouth–some kind of poison. All seem to have died by their own hands.

All except five young children, who rush out and demand that our heroes play games with them. Tommy, Mary, Steve, Ray, and Don rush to Kirk, link hands together, and dance around him while singing “Ring Around the Rosie.” Twice.

Captain Kirk thinks he may now understand why the adults shuffled off this mortal coil.

Kirk solemnly plants a (felt!) United Federation of Planets flag, which looks like the tacky product of Craft Day on the Enterprise. But the kids aren’t interested in funerals (or maybe just crafts), and start to play tag off on their own. McCoy thinks the children are suppressing the trauma of their parents’ deaths and suggests that maybe bacteria, or some kind of chemical, led to the parents’ mass suicide. Just then Spock discovers a disturbance in the force on his tricorder from the local cave.

McCoy takes the kids up to the ship while Spock and Kirk go cave-hopping. Upon entering, Kirk is immediately overwhelmed with strong feelings of anxiety and fear. He runs out of the cave and starts to feel better, though he can’t explain it. They decide to return to Enterprise to interview the children and check out Starnes’ logs.

The kids, meanwhile, are driving Nurse Chapel crazy with their complicated ice cream demands and general sense of entitlement. Why is Nurse Chapel the babysitter anyway? But Kirk shows up and asks to join them. He mentions that the ice cream is a nice improvement from the outpost, and the kids can at least agree on one thing: Triacus sucked.

KIRK: I don’t think your parents liked it very much either.
TOMMY: Yes, they did.
STEVE: Yeah. Mine sure did.
DON: Parents like stupid things.
CHAPEL: Oh, I don’t know about that. Parents like children.
MARY: Ha. That’s what you think.
KIRK: I’m sure your parents loved you. That’s why they took you with them to Triacus. So they wouldn’t be so far away from you for such a long time. That would make them very unhappy and miss you. I’m sure that you would miss them, too.

The kids look at one another, and then start running around the room shouting “Busy! Busy! Busy!” Nurse Chapel correctly infers that they’re doing a bee impression–you know, like kids do.

Kirk picks up one of the little girls to stop the madness.

TOMMY: Can we have some more ice cream, please?
KIRK: No, I don’t think so. It’ll spoil your dinner.
TOMMY: See what I told you? They all say it.

He then sends them all to bed, but posts a security guard outside their door. (He’s babysat before, I see.) This, alas, does nothing to suppress their inevitable descent into paganism. Wait, what? The kids all share a room, get in a circle, stack their hands on top of one another’s, and start chanting. Like kids do:

Hail, hail, fire and snow
Call the angel, we will go
Far away, for to see
Friendly Angel come to me!

This seems to summon the Ghost of TV Costumes Past (GCP), glowy and green. He congratulates the children on their successful manipulations so far and gives them a further task:

Marcos XII has millions of people on it. Nearly a million will join us as our friends. The rest will be our enemies. Together with our other friends who will join us, we will defeat our enemies as we defeated them on Triacus. A million friends on Marcos will make us invincible. No one will tell us where to go, when to sleep, where to eat. The universe will be mine to command, yours to play in. To accomplish this great mission, we must first control the Enterprise. To control the ship, we first must control the crew. You know how to do that. That is your next task. And as you believe, so shall you do, so shall you do.

Are you following?

Back on the bridge, completely oblivious to this intruder and the Level 3 Summon Monster spells going on in the kiddie room, Kirk and Spock review Starnes’ tapes. Starnes speaks of a growing anxiety among the team members. Their excavation on Triacus revealed that a planetary catastrophe wiped out most life but that one race survived by hiding in the cave. (How did an entire race survive in one cave? But anyway…) He also mentions that he feels his actions are being influenced… and at that moment Tommy, having surreptitiously slipped onto the bridge, makes a fist and bangs down on the invisible air. This (or possibly the accompanying trumpet music cue) cuts the signal from the tape.

Kirk finally notices Tommy, who asks to go to Marcos XII. Kirk says it’s much too far and intends to head to his quarters to review the new information. But Tommy asks to stay on the bridge–”I’ll be very quiet”–and Kirk agrees and leaves. Mary arrives on the bridge fairly soon and then the kids get to work: Tommy uses his mind control powers to have Sulu leave orbit, while convincing Sulu that he still sees Triacus on the viewscreen. Uhura catches this but Tommy gets her, too. Out of orbit and on their way to Marcos XII, Tommy and Mary smile approvingly.

In auxiliary control, Don is pulling the same stunt on the nameless worker there. Mr. Scott asks him why they’ve changed course, and the man insists that they haven’t changed course. Some man-wrestling ensues and Scotty is dispatched to the realm of the unconscious.

I swear, even the most powerful aliens we’ve seen so far didn’t have this easy of a time taking control of Enterprise.

In Kirk’s quarters, Spock and McCoy are reviewing Starnes’ other log tapes. Starnes says that he found himself requesting a transport from Starfleet, but couldn’t figure out what the transport was for–he was being controlled somehow. He instead tried to send a warning to Starfleet, sure that the only thing they could do at this point was to destroy themselves: “Alien upon us. The enemy within!” (He’s clearly confusing this with a much better episode.) Spock thinks possession is possible:

SPOCK: Possible, Captain. Evil does seek to maintain power by suppressing the truth.
MCCOY: Or by misleading the innocent.

Hey… misleading the innocent! I think we’re onto something. Kirk asks about the history of the planet–maybe it has some clues about what drove all those people to suicide.

SPOCK: According to the legend, Triacus was the seat of a band of marauders who made constant war throughout the system of Epsilon Indi. After many centuries, the destroyers were themselves destroyed by those they had preyed upon.
KIRK: Is that the end of it?
SPOCK: No, like so many legends, this one too has a frightening ending. It warns that the evil is awaiting a catalyst to set it again into motion and send it marauding across the galaxy.
KIRK: Is it possible that the evil found the catalyst?
SPOCK: I was speaking of a legend, Captain.
KIRK: But most legends have their basis in fact, Spock.

Most? Really?

Anyway Kirk is suddenly concerned that this evil presence is here on the ship so he orders a new landing party to relieve the men on the surface. They might have some clues about what’s going on.

In the transporter room, two redshirts (wave goodbye…) are beamed to the “planet.” Kirk orders the security officer to beam up the previous detachment, but no one appears on the transporter pad. Kirk activates the bridge monitor screen (does that ever come up again?) and they discover they are no longer orbiting Triacus–and that the men he beamed down to the planet are now dead.

Kirk contacts the bridge but they are, of course, unaware that anything is wrong. He rushes to the bridge and finds the children chanting again, and the GCP appears:

GCP: Friends, we have reached a moment of crisis. The enemy have discovered our operation, but they are too late. They no longer control the ship. We do. We shall prevail. They will take us any place we desire. Go back to your stations. Maintain your controls. If resistance mounts, call upon their beast. Their beast will serve us well.

Their…beast?

GCP: The fear in each one of them is the beast which will consume him.

Ah, gotcha. He warns that if the Enterprise crew decides to be all resistance-like and follow in the footsteps of their parents, the kids have permission to go Triacus on them.

Kirk commands Sulu to set course for Starbase 4, but all Sulu sees on the viewscreen are giant knives, like some horrible Food Network reality show. He won’t budge. When Kirk tries to use the controls himself, Sulu pushes him away warning that they’ll all be destroyed. Kirk orders Uhura to contact the Starbase, but Tommy transforms her console mirror (??) so that all she sees is an old, haggard, dying version of herself. Crippled by fear, Uhura cannot do anything. Kirk then orders Spock–trusty, reliable Spock–and Spock asks, “Captain, why are we bothering Starfleet? [...] The bridge is under complete control.”

Now Kirk is beginning to panic. He approaches Mr. Leslie and tells him to remove Sulu from duty. But everything Kirk says is gibberish. Only Spock is able to make out some of it, and with focus, come to grips with himself. Kirk, however, is beginning to lose it. Spock manages to break free enough to get Kirk and himself off the bridge.

KIRK: I’m losing command. I’m losing the Enterprise. The ship is sailing on and on. I’m alone. Alone. Alone. I’m losing command.
SPOCK: Captain.
KIRK: I’ve lost command. I’ve lost the Enterprise.
SPOCK: Jim.
KIRK: I’ve got command. I’ve got command. I’ve got command.
SPOCK: Correct, Captain.

They head for auxiliary control and find that Scotty, too, has succumbed to the children’s mind control. They try to man-fight their way through to the console but are rebuffed by Scotty and the other engineer. Kirk and Spock retreat and regroup in the corridor. Though it’s difficult to admit, they finally come to terms with the fact that the children have some kind of evil inside of them and unless they can dispel that evil, they will have to kill the children.

Right on cue, Tommy arrives with Chekov and two other guards. Chekov, looking particularly nervous, says that he has received a communique from Starfleet and must arrest both Kirk and Spock. Kirk tries to get through to him but to no avail: the only way to solve this dilemma is some man-fighting. Kirk and Spock win, and Spock takes the men to the detention center while Kirk goes to regain control of the bridge.

There he confronts Tommy (who’s in his chair!), daring the boy to summon the GCP again and prove that he’s not afraid. He cites the total absence of the creature as an example of its fear and powerlessness. Tommy still refuses to help, so Spock plays back the chant of the children to force the appearance of the GCP.

The GCP is a little confused by this–how did Kirk summon him?–but no matter, he insists that Kirk will lose and that his followers are obedient little witches. He also explains why he can’t take over the adults in the same way:

GCP: I would ask you to join me, but you are gentle, and that is a grave weakness.
KIRK: We’re also very strong.
GCP: Ah, but your strength is cancelled by your gentleness. You are full of goodness. Such as you cannot be changed. You are like the parents. You must be eliminated.

So that’s what Starnes meant by the enemy within! Men need their gentle side! (Shush. I am going to pretend that it’s an example of continuity and not bullshit.)

Kirk then replays for the kids some videos of them on Triacus playing with their parents, having fun. Then they show images of all their parents dead. Ouch. This seems to break the GCP’s hold on them, and they all begin crying. Kirk forces them to look at the GCP:

KIRK: Don’t be afraid. Look at him. Without you children, he’s nothing. The evil remains within him.
GCP: I command you! I command you! To your posts! Carry out your duties, or I will destroy you! You will be swept aside to make way for the strong.
KIRK: Look how ugly he really is. Look at him and don’t be afraid.

The kids are sobbing now, and the GCP has begun melting like a bad souffle. He disappears in a puddle on the ground, and all the illusions–the swords, the ugly version of Uhura–disappear.

McCoy arrives on the bridge–the lucky bastard managed to escape most of the episode–and finds the children crying. He is delighted by this because now they all finally heal, or maybe he just hates kids.

And then they all live happily ever after. I mean, except the newly orphaned children who will soon discover they killed their own parents. Happily. Ever. After.

Analysis

Demonically possessed evil children try to destroy mankind? What is this, a documentary? Kids can be righteous little brats1 so I didn’t find the premise here to be particularly disturbing or unusual. What I did find disturbing and unusual was the mass suicide at the beginning–a fantastically creepy nugget of an idea that went absolutely nowhere. *shakes fist*

That said, these kids were creepy. It’s no “Children of the Corn” but the emotionlessness with which they committed themselves was unsettling. Though it was cut from the final production, the kids originally chanted sing-song rhymes in order to effect their powers. To Sulu, Tommy says: “See—see—what shall he see/ His ship ripped apart by the daggers he will see.” And to Uhura: “See—see—what shall she see…/ A dying old hag where a girl should be.” I think that sing-song incantation would have cast a much darker tint on the whole episode and been overall more effective than the ridiculous hand gesture and accompanying horn cue.  I assume that the beginning with “Ring Around the Rosie”2 was supposed to set the stage for those later rhymes. We associate nursery rhymes with innocent sweetness (even if many of them are quite dark) and that would have been a great contrast to the evil in their blackened little hearts. But that went nowhere, too. *shakes fist again*

The big problem I had with this episode was how implausible it was. Why doesn’t Kirk just stun the kids with his phaser? Why doesn’t Spock nerve-pinch them? Gas the ship with sedatives? Creepy demon children should be easy enough for this paragon of leadership to neutralize. I kept shouting uselessly at the screen for someone to stop and think about how easily subdued those kids could be! And it went both ways: why don’t the kids mind control Kirk and Spock from the beginning? Forget Guy the Engineering Stand-in–go for the gold! The crew’ll follow him off a cliff anyway.

The other thing that really threw me was that Kirk, in the beginning in that cave, is incredibly susceptible to the power of the GCP–er, “Gorgan” I guess–while Spock of course is stoic and unaffected. And yet later Spock succumbs and Kirk is able to more or less resist. SPOCK? That never happens! Nothing ever came together–the “hints” I thought I picked up about where the episode was going and how it was going to play out all wound up red herrings because there was never any coherent idea. People can resist when it’s convenient and then can’t when it’s not. The kids can only control one person at a time on the bridge at first and then suddenly they can control the whole ship. What’s going on here?

While ordinarily I would have been all over the “you have too much goodness in you” bits, I found them entirely contrived here. First of all, Kirk isn’t exactly nice to these kids. He’s fairly short-tempered with them, even though their parents just died.  If we had seen Kirk falling over himself to be a nice guy maybe I would have felt differently. But Kirk just doesn’t seem to like kidsany kids–and that doesn’t help the Gorgan’s case much. That whole speech felt like it was tossed in at the end as a nice moral lesson for the children who may be watching.

It does have one really great moment, though, and that’s when Kirk is coming apart in the elevator. His greatest fear is losing the ability to command and overwhelmed by that he just starts to shut down. Shatner does a great job here–he’s vulnerable, but he’s not weepy or crazy or otherwise not himself. The only that brings him back is Spock, and it only works when Spock stops calling him “Captain” and calls him “Jim.” Kirk looks at his first officer and finally feels himself again. It’s a touching little moment.

One nit that keeps nagging at me: after freaking out that he beamed two of his own men into the vacuum of space, Kirk instructs Sulu to reverse course as if they’re going to continue on their merry little way. What about the landing party that’s still on Triacus and never got relieved of duty?

1 Case in point: I was on the subway earlier this week and two adorable little girls (looked kind of like Mary, actually) were chanting at one another. The first one said, “I win/ You lose/ Now I get/ To give you a bruise!” and started punching the other one. Then the other one said, “You won/ Fair and square/  Now I get/ To pull your hair!” and started pulling her hair. Children can be evil.

2 Which is not, in fact, about the Black Plague, though that interpretation was probably what persuaded the writer to include it here.

Torie’s Rating: Warp  2 (on a scale of 1-6)

Eugene Myers: The opening of “And the Children Shall Lead” is reminiscent of “The Omega Glory”: the Enterprise stumbles into the middle of a tragic mess, this time the dead colonists of planet Triacus. But it’s even worse, because it turns out the colonists’ children are still alive!

Unfortunately, it does get worse. Just like the promising opener of “The Omega Glory” (truly a teaser, because it never delivered), this episode goes completely off the rails. It holds on a little longer, stringing the viewer along with the mystery of what actually transpired on the planet–but not by much. As soon as the kids begin chanting and the ghastly Gorgan/Gorgon appears, things go downhill rather quickly.

I still found some things of interest before I wanted to look away from the horrors unfolding on the screen. Watching Kirk’s uncomfortable interactions with the children, it’s hard not to compare this to similar encounters on the show, notably in “Miri” and “Charlie X.” The children might as well be aliens—Kirk even calls them as much until he realizes they’re actually under alien influence. There’s a fascinating paranoia about kids in Star Trek and television of the Sixties, best exemplified in the memorable Twilight Zone episode, “It’s a Good Life,” in which a powerful child holds his family and neighbors hostage in constant fear that they will say, do, or even think
something that displeases him.

This sort of mistrust or basic dislike of children carries through to Star Trek: The Next Generation, where Captain Picard has difficulty relating to Wesley Crusher—who it turns out is also somewhat alien in nature. Compare this to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Commander Sisko’s relationship with his son, Jake, who isn’t an alien child but has one as a best friend. At the very least, we can trace Wesley and Jake’s fashion sense back to the shockingly bad children’s outfits in “And the Children Shall Lead.”

I was also struck by the reasoning behind Gorgan choosing the kids over the adults as his agents: he says the adults are “full of goodness,” too gentle to change, a surprising contrast to the media’s usual portrayal of the inherent innocence of childhood. Gorgan knows that children can be vicious creatures, though I wonder if he recruits them because they also have fewer “beasts,” or fears, at a younger age. They are also easily manipulated by promises of endless playtime, a common temptation in fairy tales and children’s stories.

What message, if any, are we meant to take away from this? The flip side of fearing children is that children also hate adults, a theme in both “Miri” and “Charlie X.” Here, the kids resent their elders because they’re always “busy” and like “stupid things,” perhaps a caution to parents today in a technology-driven world of constant distractions and demands that can distance us from the people closest to us.

Sadly, what meager subtext this episode offers is deeply buried under the ridiculous plot and nonsensical script. This is the most embarrassing takeover of the ship yet! Kirk and Spock inexplicably regain control of their senses while the rest of their crew is paralyzed by their fears, the same fears that have already been explored in other, better episodes: worry about losing command, the fear of getting old (Why does Uhura have a mirror at her station anyway? So she knows when the boss is coming?), and the fear of knives…in space. Uh. I don’t even know why Sulu is so frightened, since he collects old weapons. If the kids can control people’s minds and make them hallucinate anything, why even bother preying on them this way? Why don’t they make everyone, the captain included, do whatever they want?

I was most disappointed by the fact that Kirk reaches the children by showing them a silly home video and the “Friendly Angel” is revealed as not only a terrible actor, but grotesque in appearance. Not that he was much of a looker before, but why does evil always have to be ugly? Seductive evil is much more interesting and threatening, and harder to distinguish from good. How did Kirk even know its name was Gorgan, and why did he assume the creature is completely gone when he fades away? Playing back the chant to summon him was pretty clever though.

One scene did affect me: when Kirk accidentally beams those red shirts into space. It’s a sobering moment, more so because Kirk always suffers the loss of his men personally. Actually, I take that back: I was also affected every time those kids pumped their fists, but not in a good way; somehow I didn’t think notice the suggestive nature of their hand gesture when I was a kid, but it’s funny as hell now. Similarly, Kirk’s comment now seems slightly creepy: “Children, I have some pictures of you on Triacus…”

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 1

Best Line: SPOCK: Humans do have an amazing capacity for believing what they choose and excluding that which is painful.

Syndication Edits: Don knocking over the UFP flag, the entire sequence of Spock and Kirk checking out Gorgan’s cave and Kirk acting anxious, Nurse Chapel helps Steve order his ice cream, some of Kirk’s speech to the kids before they run around yelling “Busy,” Kirk referring to the cave he was never in, Kirk ordering security to watch the children, a shot of the Enterprise following a commercial break.

Trivia: When Kirk’s orders to Mr. Leslie are garbled, it’s actually a sound clip of him speaking in reverse. This is what he says:

Remove Lieutenant Uhura and Mr. Spock from the bridge. Confine them to quarters. Did you hear me? Take Mr. Sulu to his quarters. He’s relieved of duty. Remove Lieutenant Uhura and Mr. Spock from the bridge. Confine them to quarters. Take Mr. Sulu to his quarters, I said. Mr. Spock from the bridge. Confine him to quarters. Mr. Leslie, take Mr. Sulu to his quarters. He’s relieved of duty.

Memory Alpha links to an audio file of the clip re-reversed.

Other notes: Melvin Belli, who plays the Gorgon, was a famous personal injury and criminal defense attorney. He was known as “The King of Torts” and won a number of victories that changed consumer rights. He famously defended (for free) Jack Ruby, the man who killed Lee Harvey Oswald; Sirhan Sirhan, and dozens of other musicians and celebrities. He was cast in the hopes of boosting ratings. His son plays Steve in this episode.

Edward Lasko, the writer, wrote for about forty different shows including The Wild Wild West, Mission: Impossible, and Charlie’s Angels (which he also produced).

Marvin Chomsky, the director, is in fact the cousin of famous academic Noam Chomsky.

Craig Hundley, the red-headed boy Tommy, appeared previously in Star Trek as Peter Kirk in “Operation: Annihilate!” He’s a musician now and did some work on the scores for the first two Star Trek movies.

Brian Toshi, who plays the boy Ray Tsing Tao, later starred in Revenge of the Nerds and as the voice of Leonardo in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies. He also appeared briefly in TNG.

Pamelyn Ferdin, who plays Mary, was ubiquitous in ’60s television. She nearly got the part of Regan in The Exorcist but was passed over for being too recognizable. She was the original voice of Lucy Van Pelt in the Peanuts movies and the voice of Fern in Charlotte’s Web.


Previous episode: Season 3, Episode 2 – “The Paradise Syndrome.”

Next episode: Season 3, Episode 4 – “Is There in Truth No Beauty?” US residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

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About Torie Atkinson & Eugene Myers

TORIE ATKINSON is a NYC-based law student (with a focus on civil rights and economic justice), proofreader, sometime lighting designer, and former Tor.com blog editor/moderator. She watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books. EUGENE MYERS has published short fiction in a variety of print and online zines as E.C. Myers. He is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and a member of the writing group Altered Fluid. When he isn’t watching Star Trek, he reads and writes young adult fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is available now from Pyr.