If MST3K did Star Trek episodes, they couldn’t start at a better place than “And the Children Shall Lead.” Widely regarded as one of the worst TOS episodes, it has it all: Shatner overacting; endless monotonous exposition from the unthreatening alien villain; multiple instances of crew stupidity; and a group of irritating, demonic children that put Kirk in an impossible position: does he traumatize them for life, or beam them into space?
The show starts with Kirk and Co. responding to a distress call from a research colony. They find the adults have committed mass suicide, and their children are…less than distraught.
And not just because the Federation has grave markers that are impossible to take seriously:
After the kids get on board the Enterprise, they’re passed off to the care of Nurse Chapel, because getting ice cream is no job for a man. Hence, when Kirk comes in to talk to the kids, he makes Chapel get him some, too.
Kirk: I’ll have a dish, too
Chapel: Oh, of course.
When Kirk starts questioning them about their parents, they get upset and start running around and playing a game. Kirk posts a guard on them in their quarters, but that doesn’t stop them from carrying out an evil chant and summoning their alien overlord, Gorgan:
And, oh my god, he talks forever. And badly. And this is only his first of three scenes. He’d actually be a more effective villain if he just tried to bore people to death.
Gorgan encourages the children to control the adults by confronting them with their “beasts” – their deepest fears.
For Kirk, it’s losing his command, resulting in a turbolift scene where he clings to Spock and, well let’s just say if you didn’t get K/S shipping before, you will after you watch it.
Sulu sees giant daggers swirling towards him on the screen. Scotty is anxious about the engines, so what’s new, really?
And Uhura is terrified to the point of sobbing uncontrollably on the bridge by the sight of herself as an old woman.
I’m assuming we don’t get to see Chapel’s “beast” because the writers couldn’t think of something a woman would fear once they’d already used up growing old and ugly.
Or else because they didn’t want to show that Chapel’s real deepest fear is a lifetime of being a trained health care professional and still having to fetch ice cream for her male superiors.
Anyway, inexplicably, Spock and Kirk are able to break the kids’ hold over their mind. And they have this truly amazing exchange (after they accidentally beam two redshirts into space, shrug and move on):
Kirk: They’re children being misled.
Spock: They are followers. Without followers, evil cannot spread.
Kirk: They’re children.
Spock: Captain, the 430 men and women on board the Enterprise and the ship itself are endangered by these children.
Kirk: They don’t understand the evil that they’re doing.
Spock: Perhaps that is true, but the evil that is within them is spreading fast, and unless we can find a way to remove it
Kirk: We’ll have to kill them.
Please, tell me I was not the only person who was really excited to hear Kirk say that, and kind of hoping he would do it.
I mean, somebody seriously needs to put an end to this:
I would choose to spend time with Wesley Crusher as he is in “The Naked Now” over Tommy in this episode any day of the week. Seriously.
In the end, Kirk does not beam the children into space, as I would have done. Instead, he chooses to show them their parents’ home videos, to get them remembering how happy they were.
Then, he segues those images into images of their parents’ dead bodies, to remind them how they helped Gorgan push their parents to mass suicide.
For some reason that works, even though seeing their parents’ corpses in person and watching them be buried didn’t. But yup, the kids are clearly upset now.
And Gorgan’s hold on the children is broken. And yes, they may be scarred for life by the memory of their direct responsibility for their parents’ deaths, but McCoy is jubilant because the kids are finally crying!
Okay, Doc, maybe don’t be quite so happy about it. It’s a little out of touch with the awfulness of the situation. Besides, you’re overshadowing how relieved Uhura is because she’s young and pretty again!
Oh well, at least that’s over.
What We Learned:
- Coconut and vanilla ice cream mixed together is recognized as a universally terrible combination
- Women on the Enterprise get mirrors at their workstations.
- Gorgan and his gang of demonic children are among the least-threatening TOS villains, just ahead of the tribbles and behind Harry Mudd
Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass. Chapel asks Mary how she liked the computer-generated ice cream.