Season 1, Episode 8
Production episode: 1×11
Original air date: October 27, 1966
Star date: 2713.5
The Enterprise picks up an S.O.S. and follows it to a planet eerily similar to Earth, as it was in the mid-twentieth century. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Janice, and two red shirts beam down to the surface. They find the planet is a desolate wasteland (that looks remarkably like a late ’60s Hollywood lot…), uninhabited for at least 300 years. Doctor McCoy bends down to examine a tricycle sitting atop a huge heap of garbage, and a disfigured humanoid creature leaps out at him. The creature claims the tricycle is his, and in the broken thoughts of a child whose toy has been seized, he attacks the landing party. A brief skirmish breaks out until the boy-creature succumbs to seizures and dies. McCoy, somewhat stunned, takes a few readings and realizes: “Its metabolic rate. It’s impossibly high, as if it’s burning itself up, almost as if it aged a century in just the past few minutes.”
The landing party examines the nearby buildings and comes across a young girl named Miri, who utterly failed to hide from them. She is clearly terrified, pleading over and over with them not to hurt her. She calls them “grups,” which Janice realizes means “grown-ups,” and refers to the other children like her as “onlies.” She tells them that she doesn’t trust grups: “But I remember the things you grups did, burning, yelling, hurting people.” Meanwhile Spock tries to chase down other things-that-go-bump, which turn out to be wild monkey-children chanting schoolyard rhymes. (Okay, so they’re just kids, but I can’t help but think of them that way.) They pelt rocks at him and scurry away like animals.
Kirk’s dashing good looks are able to coax a bit more information about the “grups” out of Miri: “That was when they started to get sick in the before time. We hid, then they were gone.” All of the adults on the planet are dead of some vast plague a very long time ago, and all that’s left is a planet of pre-pubescent children. Miri, successfully persuaded by Kirk’s irresistable sexual energy (or something), agrees to take them to the nearest medical facility: and at that moment she notices blue blotches on Kirk’s arm. “It’s already starting. I knew it would. Just like it did with the grups. It’ll spread all over you, and you’ll yell, and you’ll try to hurt everybody and then you’ll die. I knew it would! I knew it would!”
The disease has infected the landing party.
They make it to the building that had been sending out the S.O.S., and it contains a full laboratory, including notes from the now-extinct adult inhabitants. The disease was part of the Life Prolongation Project, which seemed to work just fine on the kids, who only age one month for every one hundred years. But in adults it causes an insane metabolic nucleic acid mumbledybmumbledy breakdown that infects the victim with the crazy, driving him or her to acts of brutal violence before finally killing the person. The children are not immune: when they enter puberty, they will become infected with this horrible disease and die, as the one who attacked them in the teaser did.
Miri starts to hang around the captain, and it’s clear she’s interested in more than just a science lesson:
SPOCK: There may be other emotions at work in this case, Captain.
MCCOY: She likes you, Jim.
SPOCK: She’s becoming a woman.
Miri has developed a big ol’ crush, an ominous indicator of her own age (and her eventual fate). Kirk and Miri set off to find some answers, but the captain gets attacked by a post-pubescent girl (happens all the time) who he unsuccessfully tries to stun. The phaser winds up killing her, and Miri reveals that the girl wasn’t that much older than she is. Back at the lab, McCoy determines that the adults who beamed down have about seven days before the virus will utterly overwhelm and kill them. Spock is the only one not infected, though he is a carrier, and is likewise unable to return to the ship.
As the days tick by, Kirk and the crew become increasingly paranoid and exhibit borderline psychotic behavior. They begin snapping at each other for no reason, and become violent. The adults are so on edge that when they hear schoolyard chanting from the wild monkey-children, they all leave their posts to seek out the noise. In the meantime, the children have stolen their communicators, and with them, their only hope of finding a cure. Without the communicators to test the vaccine prototype, the concoction they’ve made could be, as Spock puts it, a “beaker full of death.” Pushed to the brink, Janice breaks down and begs Kirk to look at her legs, which have broken out in the blue sores. (Hey now…clock’s a’tickin’…) Kirk tries to comfort her, but Miri watches with jealousy—a new, scary, and dangerous emotion.
Miri returns to the wild monkey-children’s hideout and convinces them to kidnap Janice (no ulterior motives there, nosirree), which they do, successfully luring Kirk out into their trap. What follows feels like a disturbing send-up of Kindergarten Cop as Kirk first tries to control the children (he can’t), then tries to talk to them (they don’t listen), and finally is overwhelmed by them. Shouting “Bonk, bonk, on the head!” they physically scratch, punch, and otherwise hurt Kirk. Finally he points out that Miri has begun showing the sores, and that she—and the rest of them—will die if they cannot find a vaccine. She swears that it only happens “sometimes,” but Kirk persuades her:
KIRK: Not sometimes. All the time, Miri! As soon as you start growing up the way you are. Don’t you know why you don’t like to play games anymore, why you don’t see your friends the way you used to? It’s because you’re becoming a young woman, and the moment you become a young woman, you get the disease. All of you.
MIRI: That’s not true. It just happens sometimes!
KIRK: All the time, Miri! It’s happening to you right now! Look at it. Look at it, Miri, it’s in you!
Even this doesn’t entirely persuade the wild monkey-children, who continue to whale on Kirk. William Shatner gets his ass kicked by a bunch of little kids. It’s utterly surreal and unsettling, and gave me flashbacks to everything from Lord of the Flies to Children of the Corn. He explains that the children’s violent behavior makes them just like the grups, and without Kirk’s help they will all die.
The kids, scared and sober now, return the communicators—but it’s too late, because McCoy, knowing he would die anyway, has injected himself with the vaccine. Kirk and Miri arrive to find him convulsing on the floor. But slowly, his sores begin disappearing…
Everyone beams back to the ship, probably swearing up and down that they’ll never have children. They’ve contacted Starfleet to ensure that teachers, medical personnel, food, and truant officers (heh) will be making their way to the planet to help the children rebuild. As Kirk is about to give the order to leave forever, Janice says thoughtfully:
RAND: Miri. She really loved you, you know.
KIRK: Yes. I never get involved with older women, Yeoman.
Analysis: I’m going to state the obvious and say that this episode came right out of the Peter and Wendy playbook. We’ve got Jahn, the carefree Peter Pan type who leads some very lost boys indeed: they are violent and cruel simply because they don’t know how to be anything else. With no role models, no rules, and no guidance, they are trapped in a world of games and jokes that do little to equip them for the harsh realities of their own existence. Miri is a kind of Wendy, on the brink of growing up, but she has a maturity that sets her apart from the other children. This Neverland is a dark one. At one point Janice ruminates:
JANICE: Children who never age. Eternal childhood, filled with play, no responsibilities. It’s almost like a dream.
KIRK: I wouldn’t examine that dream too closely, Yeoman. It might not turn out to be very pretty.
And it’s very ugly indeed. Childhood isn’t eternal: to grow up is to die. This is true for the rest of us, too, but it’s a fact made all the more acute in Miri’s world. Part of the innocence of childhood is to be oblivious of your own mortality, to believe that you can and will live forever, that nothing can hurt you. It’s Peter Pan who, when confronted with death, says that “to die will be an awfully big adventure.” But in order to survive, they must grow up. They cannot farm, cannot recover resources, cannot create for themselves the things they need for a continued existence. It takes Kirk many tries to impress upon them that their world is not forever—their food is running out, and if that doesn’t, they will all die once they hit puberty anyway.
And speaking of puberty, Kirk gave me the creeps in this episode. I understood Miri’s devotion to him—Kirk is “different” from the other grups, he cares about others and is gentle and kind to her—but Kirk’s efforts to befriend her made me a bit uncomfortable. His smirks and smiles had a (clearly unintentional!) Humbert Humbert quality that made me shudder involuntarily. He compliments her, tries to comfort her, tries to be there for her—but he also deliberately manipulates her obvious interest in him (getting information out of her) and treats her more like a pet than like a parent. (At one point he tells Janice to “take Miri for a walk.” What, so she doesn’t pee on the carpet?) The long looks he gave her, the cheek caresses, and the hand-holding just didn’t sit right with me—they’re the same looks he gives sexy alien women. It’s one thing to be a teenager, hopelessly devoted to your teacher or some other adult; it’s another for the adult to feed that. I’m willing to write most of this off as Shatner’s acting lacking in nuance, but it’s not all him. His farewell joke about her being an older woman hit the “Ew” chord.
Creepy sexual tension aside, this episode just didn’t make sense to me. Did the teenagers really have 300 years of food stores? Does vaccinating them really do them any good, since most will live a lot longer without the “cure”? Are children really incapable of any kind of learned maturity without the biological hormones to back it up? I like the quest for immortality angle (it’s not one I tire of) and I really liked Miri—but they didn’t dig as deeply as I would’ve liked on the childhood/adulthood questions. I didn’t feel like this episode thought about its premise very hard, and that would’ve been fine if it had deeply probed any questions I found really interesting—but it offered neither good questions nor good answers, and on the whole fell pretty flat to me.
Torie’s Rating: Warp 2 (on a scale of 1-6)
Eugene Myers: “Miri” is a very memorable episode for me, one that I’ve always liked. I was surprised at how much of the episode I remembered (such as the excellent visual of the tricycle framed in the foreground of the street, one of many terrific shots) and how much I’d forgotten (the fact that Miri has Janice Rand kidnapped out of jealousy, not to mention the fact that the Yeoman ever beamed down with a landing party at all).
This episode is the first of many to take place on an alternate Earth, which Kirk says “seems impossible, but there it is.” Perhaps not impossible, but improbable, especially asking us to believe that such a planet could exist so close to our own galaxy, and that Kirk and Spock would readily recognize it as Earth circa 1960. Well, it was good for the show’s budget, at least. They correctly wave their hands past this to move on to the more striking premise, one you may have encountered before: this is a world where all the adults have died, leaving behind children to survive on their own. This probably hadn’t been done too often by 1966, and obviously “Miri” had not yet been parodied and referenced in popular culture the way it has today (for instance, in South Park‘s “Wacky Molestation Adventure”). There’s some element of wish fulfillment here that might have appealed to young viewers at the time: a prolonged childhood without adults to tell you what to do, a life without responsibility and “filled with play” (as opposed to that beaker that Spock says could be “full of death,” which describes the situation somewhat more accurately). But this is essentially a story about the search for immortality (aka “life prolongation”) and its consequences, which Star Trek revisits frequently. It’s also a story about childhood, growing up, and the loss of innocence—none of which is idealized for the impressionable children at home.
The “onlies” on this planet are far from innocent. They may not realize the impact of their playful actions, they may not mean to cause harm, but their behavior is tinged with malice—driven by fear of “grups” and their fear of eventually, inevitably becoming them, with the added downside of certain madness and death to follow. Though not much time is spent showing us what their lives must have been like for the past 300 years, we can infer it from the ruins of their society and the fact that they’re now running out of food. You can’t live under those conditions and remain a child, no matter what physical age you are. But, you can continue to pretend not to care, and it’s a child’s capacity for imagination and play that differentiates them from most adults.
Several of the kids in this group (and there must be many more groups all over the planet, admittedly with dwindling numbers) wear costumes and masks; notably there’s a boy in a cowboy hat and another in a Sherlock Holmes deerstalker. It’s also a child’s inability to understand “right from wrong” in a world without parents and teachers, authority and responsibility, that makes them particularly dangerous. Thus Miri’s friends are more based on Lord of the Flies than Peter Pan, though even Barrie’s Lost Boys are capable of incredible cruelty. The scenes where the children chant in the streets while pelting Spock and the security officers with rocks is chilling. And even while it’s funny to hear them shouting “Bonk, bonk, on the head,” it’s creepy when they overwhelm Kirk and beat him bloody while a little girl watches and smiles (which reminded me of the opening scene in the Japanese film Battle Royale). Of course, it’s up to Kirk to bring them to their senses, explaining things in terms children can understand:
All right, you want a foolie? All right. I dare you, I double-dare you. Look at the blood on my face. Now look at your hands. Blood on your hands. Now who’s doing the hurting? Not the Grups, it’s you hurting, yelling, maybe killing, just like the Grups you remember and creatures you’re afraid of. You’re acting like them, and you’re going to be just like them unless you let me help you. I’m a Grup, and I want to help you. I’m begging you, let me help you or there won’t be anything left at all. Please.
Kirks seems to have learned something since his experience with Charlie in “Charlie X,” because he takes the time to be caring and considerate to Miri and her friends, even while under the influence of the disease. It’s easy to see Kirk’s attention to her as inappropriate and perverse, but overall I had the impression that he was trying to ingratiate himself, be kind to a frightened child, and help her. When this makes her fall in love with him, he inadvertently teaches her about jealousy and pushes her to cause harm to Janice (again, the loss of innocence brought on by puberty) and does lead her on a bit in order to get what he wants. In the back of my mind I did wonder if his motivation was to help these children or help themselves, since their lives were on the line, but of course some philosophers argue that none of us do anything that isn’t in our own best interest, and here the result is the same: by helping the children, they help themselves. Why they leave the children on the planet is a whole other question, but we know they’ll get the help that they need. What we don’t know is whether the cure McCoy develops will also rob them of their extended lives, or what the effects of finally becoming adults after all this time might be. If they continue to age at their slow rate, puberty could well last for 6000 years, which sounds pretty miserable to me.
One of the highlights for me in this episode are the slang terms, the distorted words that have developed over 300 years: grups, onlies, foolies, and “the Before Time.” Around the time I first saw this episode, I also saw Michael Pollard, the “boy” who plays Jahn, again on the TV series Superboy, where he delivered the finest performance as the interdimensional imp Mr. Mxyzptlk that I’ve ever seen.
Eugene’s Rating: Warp 4 (on a scale of 1-6)
Best Line: Spock: “I am a carrier. Whatever happens, I can’t go back to the ship…and I do want to go back to the ship, Captain.”
Syndication Edits: A really great line was cut as they beam down to the surface. McCoy looks around and remarks of the 1960s scenery, “Now, this is marvellous. the most horrible conglomeration of antique architecture I’ve ever seen.” The only other significant cut is a shot of Miri sharpening pencils for Kirk, which is really just kind of creepy and weird anyway.
Trivia: The desolated planet set is the standard Desilu lot—the exteriors were repurposed from The Andy Griffith Show. Also, to fill out the horde of wild monkey-children, there are a bunch of familiar-looking sooty faces: two of Shatner’s daughters (his middle daughter, Lisabeth, is the little girl he holds towards the end of the episode); the director’s son; two of Grace Lee Whitney’s sons; and two of Gene Roddenberry’s daughters, among others.
Other Notes: Kim Darby, who played Miri, was actually nineteen—they gave her a shapeless costume to hide her age. She’s perhaps most famous from the John Wayne picture True Grit. Michael J. Pollard, who plays Jahn (the lead wild monkey-child), was actually twenty-seven. The following year he appeared in Bonnie and Clyde, earning him an Oscar nomation and two Golden Globe nominations, as well as a BAFTA award for Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles.
And in addition to the South Park parody, there was a popular New Zealand television show called The Tribe about ten years ago—again, a world in which all the adults had died, and the children formed groups and factions, surviving on their own. I caught it on satellite once and it’s got that Degrassi pre-teen soap opera thing going on (plus they live in the mall!) but it’s certainly weird and fascinating.
Previous Episode: Season 1, Episode 7 – “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”
This post originally appeared on Tor.com.