Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Original Series, Season 3: And The Children Shall Lead

Airdate: October 11, 1968
61 of 80 produced
59 of 80 released


The Enterprise rushes to respond to a distress call from the science outpost on Triacus. When they arrive, they find that all of the adults have killed themselves, yet the children are strangely sanguine and playful. What can explain this startling incongruity? And will our heroes discover the answer before it destroys them just as it did Triacus?
Or will they all be forced to dress like foofy Christmas trees?


Matthew: This episode starts out with promise. A planet full of people killing themselves is at least a decent setup, one we've seen of course from "The Naked Time." In this story, however, we have some sort of psychic phenomenon causing the distress, as opposed to a disease. Things start to unravel pretty quickly, however. I'd put the problems with this episode into three categories: sloppiness, incredulity, and cheese.

Kevin: I agree. If I had not seen this episode before, a planet full of suicides would be downright creepy, and ballsy for 60s television. I think you've distilled the eventual problems pretty concisely. Let's examine them.

Matthew: On the sloppiness axis, we have many missed opportunities. I would have liked to see more people going crazy, possibly even crew members killing each other as they did on the planet. The Gorgan is referred to by various names, and it is never established how the crew learns any of these names. This is indicative of re-writes. The pacing of this episode is also sloppy in the extreme - by the second half, we cut to so many shots of Sulu terrified by cartoon swords and Uhura mortified by extreme age, I almost lapsed into a boredom coma. Couldn't we have had a look into anyone else's fears? Another missed opportunity.

Kevin: I'm bothered that Uhura's worst fear is looking old. Uhura, while lovely, has never been written or acted as particularly vain. I suppose anyone would be bothered by turning into the Cryptkeeper, but it would have been more compelling if the fear were a little more tailored to her character.

Matthew: On the incredulity axis, we are expected to believe that a transporter chief would energize transporters without verifying that the coordinates given were safe. Really? Yet again, we are also given the "guards" whose apparent duties include escorting their charges directly to the bridge, among various other high-security locations. At least show us the kids incapacitating the guard - otherwise, we have to believe in his utter incompetence. Does no one notice the creepy kids warping the minds of the crew? Would a taped recording of the kids' chanting really summon the Gorgan? Why would home movies snap the kids out of it, if the Gorgan could control them in plain sight of their parents' murder?

Kevin: No matter how you slice it the plot was pretty stupid. Given the ability of the Gorgan to control the perceptions of the adults, why not figure out how to convince them to drink the Kool-Aid? It would be a lot easier for the adults to gain access to places and things to takeover the Enterprise. Also, the crew takes way too long to start thinking something is up with the kids. They know the adults were induced by something to commit suicide. They know the kids are having a bizarre non-reaction. Detachment and not caring are too different things. This isn't PTSD. It's an obvious part of the larger problem.

Matthew: Cheesiness is pretty rampant. The childrens' chanting is ridiculous, and their masturbatory hand chop motions to control are borderline creepy. Since when does Uhura have a mirror at her station? Where did the home videos of the Triacus outpost come from? Why don't they have any homes? Do they all just frolic around in the dirt? The backwards-talking was pretty silly, too. The Gorgan is practically a tower of walking cheese.

Kevin: The hand gesture is well across the border and deep inside creepy territory.

Matthew: OK, all the negatives aside, I really enjoyed the Chapel scene in the arboretum. We get to see a nice new location, and Majel Barrett gets something to do. We also get a look at food slots in operation. We get a nice suggestion at the end that children are still corruptible into an evil state, while adults have had "gentleness" too deeply ingrained.

Kevin: Majel Barrett did a great job in that scene. I agree. But even that scene got on my nerves. These kids were reacting in no way as children would whose parents had just died. Even forcibly acting normal doesn't come off as normal to other people. It's simply not credible that no one started to connect the dots given the suspicious circumstances of the parents' deaths.

Kevin: One thing that annoys me is that we don't even get a good scene between any of the principals. Several episodes have been salvaged, or least made watchable by a nice moment or two between the Main Three, and the lack of even that drives home how weak an episode this is.


Matthew: As a rule of thumb, child actors are always irritating. This rule is not superseded here.As opposed to the main kids in a show like "Miri," these kids are never really believable, and their chanting is not convincing, either. The red-headed kid especially comes off as snotty. Watching the little twerp whining for some bizarre combination of ice cream flavors makes me want to smack him.

Kevin: I really, really, don't want to know what Chocolate Wobble is.

Boy! Come here and spread chocolate wobble on my stomach...

Matthew: Melvin Belli, a prominent California attorney, plays the Gorgan/Friendly Angel/whatever we're calling him. Dressed like a gay Christmas tree, he bellows his lines and doesn't really seem particularly scary or believable. Part of it is what's on the page, to be sure, but Belli doesn't invest it with anything more.

Kevin: I really don't know why they cast a non-actor. It kind of has to be annoying to the actual actors of the world. It would be forgivable if he were actually any good.

Matthew: The child actor who plays "Tsing-Tao," Brian Tochi, also showed up in TNG "Night Terrors" as an ensign on the bridge. 

Production Values

Matthew: I really liked the kids' outfits, definitely examples of classic Thiess. I had to ask myself what was with all the patent leather boots, however. Is this really something you raise your kids in? The adults, by contrast, get more boring jumpsuits. Oh, well.

Kevin: I like the kids outfits as well. I liked the multiple colors and patterns both to set them apart from the adults and to break up the jump-suited monotony. The Gorgon's muumuu was just stupid. Of all the times to not make your alien just shapeless blob of light...

Matthew: The arboretum set and food slot area were nice additions to the Season Three repertoire of sets. It's too bad we didn't see more of them. Oddly enough, the TOS arboretum was more convincing than the TNG one! On the other hand, the planet was a big nothing. We see one round tent. That's it. I know budgets were tight, but yeesh... Speaking of bad effects, the Gorgan optical effect quite dirty, with obvious hairs and dirt inbetween the glass frames of layered optical effects shots. Wipe, people!

Kevin:  The Gorgon looked vaguely out of focus the whole time, which I am assuming was a cheat to make the optical effect less obvious. It didn't work. The swords were also really awful. They looked like hand drawn animations, not objects. Also, why swords? Isn't the absurdity of the sword-tunnel enough to pull you out of the delusion. Why not conjure a realistic space navigation hazard? It would have spared us the sight of Sulu's sword shock every five seconds.


Matthew: This was a sloppy effort, overall. Haphazard writing, a weak concept, and little to no character development all bog this show down. Chapel gets some nice moments. That's about it. I've got to give this turkey a 1. It's easily within the bottom decile of TOS shows. If there's such a thing as a high 1, this is it. It's not Catspaw bad. But it is bad, and is easily skippable on any watch-through of TOS.

Kevin: While not as awful as The Apple, this gets a 1 from me as well, for a total of 2. One nice scene with Nurse Chapel is not enough to overcome a poorly developed story, a lackluster guest cast, and some lousy special effects.


  1. The Children Shall Lead gets a two when Paradise Syndrome gets away with a 7?! Outrageous! I don't care how many space muumuus and wanking-gestures this episode had, it was awesome! At the very least it was far less embarrassing than Kirk's Indian Vacation with every TV western cliche they could round up from the back lot.

    If nothing else, this episode should get some respect for positing that children can be selfish little idiots sometimes, as opposed to TNG's treatment of all children in the vicinity as perfect (sometimes genius) little angels. The episode where the children of the Enterprise save everyone from the Ferengi was particularly unbearable.

  2. Kevin, we might have to do something about commenters who possess such anti-TNG vitriol...

    Just kidding, Betsy. Honestly, though, I can't really see the argument for this over Paradise Syndrome. I agree that it was loaded with Native American cliche, but the story was just broken out much better. It was more entertaining and less stupid overall.

  3. Paradise Syndrome, if I'm correct, relies on these major points:

    1) The planet is going to be destroyed by an asteroid, and soon. So the 3 highest ranking officers go down to the surface for no discernible reason.

    2) 'Kirk to Enterprise' happens to be the password that opens the ancient alien monument, despite the fact that the odds of a language completely unrelated to Earth even having the same sounds are astonishing.

    3) This monument which appears to be designed to prevent an asteroid from hitting the planet, also is capable of giving Kirk amnesia for some reason.

    4) But not very good amnesia, because he named himself 'Kirok', which is just embarrassing for everyone involved.

    5) This pointless trip to the planet's surface was so tight on time, that McCoy and Spock don't even have time to look for the missing captain. What exactly was their plan for if they had run into any of the kind of unforeseen trouble they regularly run into, especially since they didn't even bring one security officer?

    6) Spock is unable to avert the asteroid. Did Starfleet think this mission out for them at all? Why the asteroid wasn't spotted sooner, why there is no standard procedure for what's got to be a pretty regular problem when you're protecting tons of worlds, and why Starfleet has decided to technically violate the prime directive even in a benign way are all questions that are completely ignored.

    7) Miramanee becomes the first ever stoning victim to die of no apparent injuries, but it's probably due to her incredible sexiness powers: even on her death bed she manages to keep one perfectly unbruised leg bent in a pin-up pose.

    8) Maybe it's because I haven't seen every episode, but I'm still waiting for anybody in Starfleet to treat the fact that humans throughout Earth's history have been kidnapped from Earth and seeded all over the Galaxy by an extremely advanced race as a big deal. As far as I know, nobody is even looking into this.

    HATE this episode. The offensive treatment of Native Americans is just icing on the cake of a completely brainless hour. Children Shall Lead at least manages to hold to an internal logic of the show that doesn't make everyone in command look like a moron.

  4. Excellent! Someone finally really putting their shoulder into disagreeing with us! Let the insanely detailed minutiae-based point-counterpoint commence!

    No one is saying Paradise Syndrome is great by any stretch. But I would argue that the depiction of Native Americans is a little generic, but it stops well short of offensive. I mean, no did that annoying "tap your flattened palm over your mouth repeatedly while screaming" thing. The words "red", "scalp", and "Injun" are thankfully nowhere to be found. As far as depictions of Earth cultures go, these is leagues behind Code of Honor.

    The point you raise about the Preservers is valid. Their existence should be earth-shattering for humans, but it is treated somewhat casually. I am just happy that they decided not to trot out the parallel Earth thing again.

    And there is plenty in Children Shall Lead that casts aspersions on the command staff. Why are children on the bridge at all? Plot. That's why.

    And yes, the amnesia thing is stupid. But all amnesia things on television are stupid. Actual amnesia, where you don't lose your memory of the past prior to the injury, but do lose your ability to remember 5 minutes ago in perpetuity is too depressing for episodic television.

    Finally, and I've fallen back on this before, but there is, at least for me, a gestalt watchability that I look for. An intriguing story that is adequately executed can still fail if the resulting hour of televsion just isn't that entertaining and vice versa. Paradise has a few more genuinely affecting moments, like seeing Kirk be happy as something other than a starship Captain, even to the point of resisting Spock's mind meld a little. Children Shall Lead is so awkwardly horrid that it makes me cringe with my soul to contemplate.

    And as a quick PS, I didn't see this post after I finalized my half of the comments, so I didn't see the picture of Hedonismbot until just now, so thank you, Matthew. That made my day and possibly my life.

  5. Those are pretty low standards for what's offensive in terms of the portrayal of Native Americans, especially considering the portrayal is *completely unnecessary*. That's one thing running throughout this episode that makes it so bad: since the idea of the Preservers is ditched, there is nothing stopping the writers from tossing out another thinly veiled group of aboriginal aliens. The decision to resort to obnoxious Indian stereotypes was totally voluntary.

    And that choice is at the crux of what makes Paradise Syndrome so gross: Why Native Americans? We see Roman knock-offs in a nearly modern society, but when they want a society that won't develop, and will eternally stay in a state of child-like innocence/ignorance? Indians. I argue that that kind of depiction is *way* worse than red body paint. The Noble Savage goofiness obscures the biggest problem: that by having this culture that we're specifically told is descended from Native Americans and portraying them as completely incapable of defending themselves, needing to be continually rescued by the Preservers and then by Kirk, having them not change, not develop, not grow, on a show that's all about mankind's NEED to grow, develop, and explore, you're portraying them as less than human. And when they needed to pick a group that was less than human? They picked Indians.

    That's where the watch-ability falls apart for me. The amnesia and the magic monolith and all the other stupid stuff just adds to that principle disgust with the episode. At least in Children Shall Lead, no one's right to be recognized as fully human gets called into question.
    ...Uh, sorta.

    "I apologize... For nothing!"

  6. OK, put that way, that is a fairly successful and damning indictment. In my defense, I did note in my review that I found the idea of no change in several hundred years suspect.

    I suppose I responded less viscerally than you did because over the last two and a half seasons, I've gotten pretty good at compartmentalizing the whole "Earth culture on other planets thing." I get it was a shortcut to be able to use standings sets and props, but regardless of the trappings, it's rarely satisfying, but it gets trotted out enough to become background noise in terms of analyzing an episode.

    I maintain though that no amount of ethnic condescension can rival the creepiness of the masturbatory summoning gesture of Children Shall Lead.

  7. In the end, we're judging not on sensitivity or political correctness, but value as entertainment.

    "Birth of a Nation" is on many cinemaphiles lists of innovative and amazing films, despite its virulent anti-black messages about reconstruction and Jim Crow.

    Of course, "Paradise Syndrome" is (at least I think) nowhere near as offensive. Does it simplify? Yes. Is it inaccurate, and does it represent the prejudices of its day? Sure. Does it denigrate? No.

    But the point is, it was a lot more fun to watch "Paradise" than "Children," at least when Kevin and I sat down to evaluate the episodes. There was almost never a moment in Children in which the viewer would say "oh, cool!" or learn something about the characters. "Paradise," OTOH, had several of these moments, on both spectra. Therefore, it elevates above its obvious flaws and becomes an episode worth re-watching.

    "Children" is bad. Not "so bad it's good," (e.g. "Threshold," "Code Of Honor," "Angel One," and maybe even "The Way To Eden") but just plain bad. There was an interesting germ of an idea, but it went off the rails practically immediately, and required lots of character acting stupid in order to progress the plot. The show diminished Star Trek by existing.

  8. Other "Just Bad" shows: Move Along Home (DS9), These Are The Voyages (ENT)

    Well, maybe Move Along is debatable. Kelly and I got quite a few laughs watching it.