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Friday, June 11, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek
"And the Children Shall Lead"

This was one of the last episodes of TOS I saw when I first began watching many, many years ago. I'm not sure exactly how I kept missing it--maybe some sixth-sense protecting me from bad episode of Star Trek.

Make no mistake. This is a bad episode of classic Trek.

But yet after viewing "The Paradise Syndrome," it didn't seem quite as bad as I recall. Of course, the fact that it's included on the same DVD with "Spock's Brain" and "Syndrome" makes the first disc of season three an early contender for worst disc of episodes ever.

I'm not sure exactly who attorney Melvin Belli is nor am I sure why he was cast as Gorgon the friendly angel in this episode. Watching his work in this one, I have to hope he was a much better lawyer than he was an actor. I keep thinking that someone on the production team owed Belli a favor and somehow got him included in the episode. Whatever the reason, his performance isn't exactly setting the episode on fire.

On the surface, the episode has a lot of isolated pieces that don't add up to a coherent whole. The Enterprise arrives at the planet Triacus after the colonists there sent out a request for a starship. Kirk and company beam down to find that the entire adult population have taken their own lives, but the children are remarkable unaffected. Kirk decides to hang out around the planet to find out what went wrong, but the children under the influence of Gorgon have other ideas. Seems that the planet was the home to some evil spirit in the form of Gorgon that preys upon innocence and belief. He's got the children under his power and wants to use them to head out into the universe and take over.

The children, thanks to a bit of help by Gorgon, are able to take over the ship by preying up various fears of the crew and tricking them into seeing things that aren't there. Kirk and Spock eventually break their control and wrestle back control of the ship by showing the children tapes of their parents playing with them and loving them before cutting to scenes of the dead bodies. The children grieve and see Gorgon as he really is, thus destroying his hold over them. He then vanishes and Kirk regains control of the ship.

There were any number of people over the course of the 79 original episodes that tried to seize control of the Enterprise away from Kirk. Khan comes the closest and actually takes over the ship before Kirk seizes control back in "Space Seed," but it's easy to forget that a group of kids take over the ship here. It's probably that I'm repressing any memories of this one much like the children do their grief.

As I said ,there are a lot of interesting ideas here. The whole plot about how the children have driven their parents to suicide is an intriguing one and one that should have a bigger emotional impact than it does. Kirk's use of the memory tapes to show them the horror of what they've done under Gorgon's influence is interesting and if the show were made today, I imagine we'd have a lot more about the psychological impact this would have on the children long-term.

Also, when the children trick the crew into warping the ship out of orbit for a Federation colony, we get one of more the more chilling red shirt deaths in the series. Kirk sends down two red shirts to the planet not knowing the ship is out of orbit. He realizes moments later when he tries to beam up the two red shirts the first two were relieving, only to discover he's beamed two guys to their death. Kind of a creepy moment for the show.

It's also interesting to see the fears the children play on to take over the ship. Kirk, of course, fears losing command of the ship. Uhura, interestingly enough, fears become old and wrinkly. Sulu fears a giant corridor of knives in space. Yeah, that last one doesn't make much sense to me either and it really doesn't when you see how it unfolds.

The episode has some clear parallels to the first season episode "This Side of Paradise" with the crew going over the edge and Kirk having to fight to win them back. But whereas that was an interesting character study of not just Spock but several other crew members, this one is largely an ill-conceived story that doesn't hold up well.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 6/11/2010 12:01:00 AM | |
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