Stardate: 5029.5 (2268)
Original Air Date: October 11, 1968
Writer: Edward J. Lakso
Director: Marvin Chomsky
“Hail, hail, fire and snow.
Call the angel we will go.
Far away, for to see.
Friendly Angel, come to me.”
Responding to a distress call from the science colony on Triacus, Kirk, Spock, and Bones beam down to the surface of the planet to investigate, but they are shockingly greeted with a pile of lifeless bodies. One man, Professor Starnes (Craig Huxley) staggers forward and then promptly dies –“he’s dead, captain.” The crew determines this must have been the site of a mass suicide. Then, a cohort of playful children emerge from a nearby cave, seemingly unaffected by the corpses all around them. They give no signs of grief. Perhaps they are suffering from depression, shock, lacunar amnesia, or an invasive bacteria of sorts.
The crew buries the bodies from the Starnes science party (the Starnes group was the first Federation visit to Triacus) and Spock’s tricorder picks up a strange disturbance in a nearby cave. As they enter, Kirk begins feeling a deep sense of anxiety. Unfortunately, there are no medical explanations for what has happened to the children. Dr. McCoy would like them to be further inspected by specialists, but Kirk refuses to leave Triacus until the Enterprise crew can ascertain what has happened.
As it turns out, the children perform a strange ritual which hails a ghostly figure called Gorgan, a droning humanoid alien dressed in robes who possesses some supernatural powers (Melvin Belli). He is an evil being who was accidentally unleashed by the science expedition on Triacus, and now he intends to rule the galaxy. Per Spock: according to legend, Triacus was once 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 –but evil is always awaiting a catalyst to send it back into motion. Thus Gorgan has recruited children to kill their parents, hail a starship, and help his efforts to rule the galaxy. All things considered, Gorgan is a pretty silly villain.
This episode drags on as the children carry out Gorgan’s wishes to sow chaos aboard the Enterprise. When the children pump their fists, they are able to harness strange supernatural powers that are never clearly explicated, and they delude everyone from Spock, Kirk, Uhura, Scotty, Chekov, and Sulu into believing strange delusions –for example, Sulu is compelled to redirect the Enterprise to Marcos XII where Gorgan apparently believes he will be able to commandeer the Enterprise. However, at the last moment, Kirk and Spock play a video for the children displaying their loving parents who were tragically killed as a result of Gorgan’s machinations. In the end, the teary-eyed children turn on Gorgan and he disappears as his face degenerates and crumbles while he shouts “death to you all…” The Enterprise then shrugs off this odd occurrence and heads for Starbase IV. Has the threat been neutralized? I suppose so, but it’s really anyone’s guess.
My Thoughts on “And the Children Shall Lead”
I thought the premise of this episode was enticing –a pile of dead bodies at a remote research facility where only the children have survived– however “And the Children Shall Lead” quickly becomes a dull and dreary yawn as the children continually wreak havoc unabated on the Enterprise with no one to stop them. Generally speaking, episodes that feature children in prominent roles of Star Trek tend to be weaker outings, though episodes like “Miri” and “Charlie X” are vastly superior when compared to “And the Children Shall Lead.” Why are the children not stunned or otherwise detained as they continue to cause chaos undeterred? What is the nature of their supernatural powers? Does it have limits? Do their powers entirely go away when Gorgan disappears? If so, why did Gorgan not simply use his own powers himself instead of recruiting children? Why does the video recording of the children’s parents change their perspective, whereas gazing upon the real bodies of their parents left them unfazed? What is it about the video that garners empathy for the children? And how are we supposed to think about this unsatisfying ending? Is it a victory for the Enterprise?
Some episodes are bad despite being fun in an amusing sort of fashion (i.e. “Spock’s Brain”), but “And the Children Shall Lead” is simply a bad episode because it is mostly boring and lifeless throughout the second half of the story. At one point, Sulu has a delusion in which he believes knives are flying at the Enterprise in space. Still, I would submit that “The Alternative Factor” is worse than this adventure, though both are among the worst of Trek. At least there are some classic moments of William Shatner overacting in full form in this one!
This was Edward Lasko’s only episode for Star Trek (his real name was actually “Lakso”). He also directed episodes of Planet of the Apes, Charlie’s Angels and Combat!
Director Marvin Chomsky (1929-2022) was the cousin of leading contemporary linguist and political philosopher Noam Chomsky, and this was the first of three episodes he directed for Star Trek. As of the time of this writing, Marvin Chomsky passed away only a few months ago.
Star Trek Trivia:
- In 1986, Leonard Nimoy dubbed this the worst Star Trek episode. It regularly ranks at the bottom of TOS.
- The title for this episode is paraphrased from a Bible verse (Isaiah 11:6).
- According to the stardates, this episode begins apparently only moments after “The Enterprise Incident” concludes.
- At one point, the children scramble Kirk’s voice on the bridge of the Enterprise. To accomplish this effect, the show employed the use of backwards recording.
- Child actor Craig Hundley, who played Tommy, became an experimental composer and inventor under the name Craig Huxley. His Blaster Beam, an 18-foot long aluminum bar strung with piano wire and played using artillery shells, appears on Jerry Goldsmith’s soundtrack for the first Star Trek film, as well as James Horner’s Star Trek II and Star Trek III soundtracks.
- In the chaos and confusion of the children aboard the Enterprise, two red shirts are beamed into outer space believing they are headed for Triacus.
- Melvin “Bellicose” Belli (1907-1996) was a prominent celebrity attorney known as the”King of Torts.” He was married six times and he was perhaps best remembered as the attorney for Jack Ruby, the man who shot Lee Harvey Oswald. His performance as Gorgan in this episode is forgettable. His son appears as one of the children (Caesar Belli as Steve).
- Gene Roddenberry, who was somewhat distant from the show’s production at this point, was reportedly horrified by Melvin Belli’s stilted, robotic performance as Gorgan in this episode.
- This is the only episode of TOS to feature the flag of the United Federation of Planets, a red flag with gold lettering.
- Numerous errors have been pointed out in this episode: footprints around the dead bodies at the outset, Kirk reaching into a deceased poisoned woman’s mouth, among others.
For a Star Trek episode that was clearly meant to educate us on the dangers of cults, and certainly how children can most vulnerable, I felt this one was important for its time and in some ways still can be. I remember talking about it with a teacher in school who found it interesting. Although it was clear that certain themes were becoming wearily repetitive at this point in classic Trek, it was always a good message that primal fears could be conquered and that blatant evils such as Gorgan could be ultimately vanquished. Thank you for your review and trivia.
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