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The Trek Nation - And the Children Shall Lead

And the Children Shall Lead

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at August 25, 2006 - 5:41 PM GMT

See Also: 'And the Children Shall Lead' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: The Enterprise responds to a distress call from a scientific expedition and finds that all the adults have committed suicide, while the children are playing around their parents' bodies without any apparent concern or regret. Aboard the Enterprise, McCoy cautions that the children may be suffering from a kind of post-traumatic shock, but Spock believes that the adults on the mission must have been attacked by an unknown entity that caused their despair and may be responsible for the children's apathy. While alone, the children summon their "angel" - a creature called Gorgan who intends the same fate for the inhabitants of other planets, recruiting an army of followers. Using mind control, the children take control of the bridge and engineering to take over the ship, but Kirk and Spock are able to resist the attempts to trigger their deepest fears and demonstrate to the children that Gorgan promises not eternal childhood but death. The creature disappears and the crew regains control of the Enterprise.


Analysis: "And the Children Shall Lead" frequently wins surveys to name the worst installment of Star Trek of all time, and in a field with contenders like "That Which Survives", it really takes some doing to be so despised. This is the performance on which every comedian bases his impersonation of William Shatner: the scenes where Kirk loses control of himself, first in the cave on Triacus and then on the ship in the turbolift, are so comically awful that it's impossible to take anything else in the episode seriously. The children don't help matters either: Tommy Starnes, the oldest of the children, is a sneering, scrawny know-it-all boy who is considerably easier to despise than Wesley Crusher, while the three younger boys are largely interchangeable and the little girl is one of those adorable demons in blonde ringlets like the eternally annoying Cindy Brady.

In an odd twist of fate, though, I rewatched this episode to review the night my husband's grandmother died - we had just put it on and sat down with the kids when we got the phone call and paused the DVD. So some of what I had considered the most exaggerated aspects of the storyline, like Spock's analogizing the children's refusal to grieve with pure evil, had a kind of sad resonance; the story's still dreadfully executed, but the concept didn't seem as stupid from the outset as it always had to me before. The children are focused on very superficial distractions like ice cream and running games, which Tommy really seems too old for: like the pre-adolescents in Miri, he's pathetically clinging to childhood in a way that's absolutely creepy, even though he also likes the privilege of being the oldest and therefore the de facto leader of the children.

It's never clear how the alien managed to distract the children so thoroughly that they ignored their parents' deaths - losing a parent is often the most terrifying nightmare for children, yet though Gorgan preys on the beasts of others, he suppresses this very thing in his young followers. It's not entirely convincing that games and benevolent smiles were enough to turn these children away from parents who, from the records of the expedition, were affectionate and involved in their children's lives. So the horror of the opening image in which all the adults are seen dead by their own hands while the children race through playing hide and seek diminishes as the episode continues: it's not quite plausible, particularly when Tommy says that his parents are happy on Triacus, as if they're still alive.

Kirk makes many stupid decisions in this episode. He feels unaccountable anxiety in the cave on Triacus and nearly falls apart, but instead of going to McCoy for immediate evaluation or concentrating on what might have been the causes of that feeling in the cave, he goes back up to the ship and sends down teams of security officers to patrol. Sulu and Chekov manage to take the Enterprise out of orbit without attracting anyone's attention, and Kirk orders two more security officers beamed down to the planet before anyone bothers to check whether the planet is still there - surely the most horrible of all the horrible red-shirt deaths! He leaves Tommy on the bridge while he and Spock both go off to consult with McCoy, even though he's already put a guard on the children because he suspects that something is not right, thus allowing Tommy to seize complete control. Kirk's authority is further undercut by Shatner's fits of acting - one gets the impression that he simply could not take the script seriously, and thus could not portray fear or unhappiness with nearly the conviction he showed in "The Paradise Syndrome" or "The City on the Edge of Forever."

The hallucinations we see for the rest of the crew are just plain goofy. Uhura sees her death, but her major concern (in the mirror she apparently keeps beside her console in case she needs to freshen her makeup or something) seems to be that she is no longer young and pretty; Sulu sees a giant collection of knives that look like a Renaissance Faire armory wall decoration. Scotty, by contrast, doesn't sound that different than usual, as he is panicked about his poor engines being strained. Because Scotty's and Spock's inner demons are so close to their usual characterizations, Sulu's and Uhura's seem hopelessly overplayed, even though we as viewers can actually see the knives and the aged visage whereas we can't see whatever Spock and Scotty are picturing happening to the ship. Even the production crew wasn't trying this episode: we see the same knife patterns swirl on the viewscreen, we see the same shots of the kids shaking their fists to make the crew obey them, and Gorgan's rather bland appearance inspires neither awe nor fear. Given that the episode is a bottle show - the planet is clearly an artificial indoor set rather than a location shoot, and most of the story takes place on the Enterprise - the lack of visual distraction coupled with all the intense close-ups of some of the weaker performances of the series makes for pretty unimpressive entertainment.

When an episode is too dreadful to take seriously, like this one becomes after the crew loses control, I look for ways to enjoy it anyway...usually by laughing at it. The worst moment of "And the Children Shall Lead" is also its saving grace for me: the scene with Kirk in the turbolift clinging to Spock like he's afraid of losing his boyfriend, wailing that he's all alone until Spock, whose face is close enough to kiss him just by puckering his lips, murmurs, "Jim." This is screamingly funny if you're not of the inclination to find it perversely touching, and I can watch it either way. I can't remember now who wrote the parody of this scene where Kirk stammers, "Spock! I'm losing my ability to act!" and Spock gently replies, "Jim. You never had any," but I can't stop thinking about it, listening to Shatner babbling about how he's losing command and looking like he's embarrassed to be there while Nimoy plays Spock with a sweet earnestness that refuses to scoff at this preposterous situation because Spock would be concerned first and foremost about his captain no matter how silly the phrases coming out of his mouth.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.