Thursday, June 13, 2013

And The Children Shall Lead

“We're writing radio shows. All the actors can do now is stand around and talk to each other.” Maybe no episode better demonstrates Robert Justman's complaint about season three Star Trek than And The Children Shall Lead where the script itself actively works to prevent Kirk from taking any meaningful action.

The central premise of writer Edward J. Lakso's script is that an evil alien called the Gorgan is using children as its agents of evil. Not a bad idea in itself. Creepy kids have a history in science fiction, The Twilight Zone episode It's A Good Life or the 1960 film Village Of The Damned, an adaptation of John Wyndham's book The Midwich Cuckoos. The problem is that here the children are used in such a way it becomes impossible for Kirk to take any substantial action against them without looking like a bully, or a monster. Kirk's standard operating procedures of fighting, or seduction, are certainly off limits. The whole plot could be wrapped up in five minutes if Kirk stunned the kids with a phaser, or got McCoy to sedate them, but that's something no network would be prepared to show. When McCoy also forbids Kirk from questioning the children on psychological grounds, Kirk is effectively unable to act or investigate. One of the reasons this story feels so static is that Kirk becomes a spectator. He's unable to do anything except react; react to the children taking over the Enterprise, react to footage from Professor Starnes' tapes, and react as he loses command.

There's also a production decision which adds to the inert feel of the story. The Gorgan is realised using special effects. On screen he is always semi transparent and covered with a glowing green special effect. This limits Marvin Belli's movement, and also stops him from interacting properly with the other characters. If Marvin Belli was the world's greatest actor he might be able to overcome the limitations of not being on the same set as the principle cast, and a costume which restricts his body language to the extent he is just a talking head, but he isn't the world's greatest actor; he's a celebrity lawyer who unsuccessfully defended Jack Ruby. It turns out stunt casting isn't a new development

Having written a script which actively works to prevent the lead characters from doing anything except watch footage from the doomed Starnes Exploration Party, Edward J. Lakso is then faced with several problems.

A) Kirk must learn why the children are behaving so strangely.
B )Kirk must learn about the true source of the children's power.
C) Kirk must learn how to summon the Gorgan.
D) Kirk must learn the Gorgan's plan.

Lasko's solution results in one of the silliest Star Trek scenes committed to film. It's certainly the laziest scripting since The Alternative Factor. In context the scene just about works, as does the whole episode thanks to director Marvin J. Chomsky and film editor Donald R. Rode (genuinely one of the unsung heroes of Star Trek his work lifts otherwise average episodes like Return To Tomorrow or A Private Little War), but out of context the scene where the children summon the Gorgan to the bridge of the Enterprise is ludicrous.

The problems with this scene are many. Firstly none of the crew react in an even slightly human way. When Kirk dashes onto the bridge, having discovered the Enterprise is no longer orbiting Triacus, the children are in the middle of the ritual to summon the Gorgan. Uhura is gazing placidly at them as if this is the most delightful thing she has ever seen, while Chekov is oblivious to the din going on just behind his right shoulder. Then when the Gorgan appears everyone looks surprised, but that's pretty much the minimum required level of reaction. There are two armed guards on the bridge what are they there for if not to point their phasers at intruders who materialise out of thin air?

Secondly, no one says anything. Not a, “kids please don't play in here,” as the children conduct their ritual, or a word from Kirk. It's genuinely ludicrous that Kirk doesn't try to engage with the Gorgan but instead stays silent for almost 90 seconds. William Shatner rightly gets a lot of criticism for his performance in this episode but frankly given the material he's working with it's not really a huge surprise he's given up and is apparently just trying to amuse himself. Watch this scene from the beginning of act three as the Gorgan appears, delivers a speech, and disappears again, before the children leave the bridge. Compare the silent statues who passively watch all this with the bridge crew we've seen over the previous 58 episodes; how do you think those characters would have reacted? By wondering how those characters would react, you've already put in more work than Edward J. Lakso. He needs a scene in which the Gorgan infodumps his entire plan in such a way that Kirk learns it, and so that's exactly what he writes. Only the Gorgan has information to pass on so none of the other characters are given any lines. We're back at the scripting level of The Alternative Factor where McCoy allows Lazarus to walk out of sickbay because the plot will grind to a halt if he doesn't.

Thirdly what dialogue there is, is terrible. “Friends we have reached a moment of crisis. The enemy have discovered our operation, but they are too late,” says the Gorgan, apparently misunderstanding his part to be the role of narrator. The enemy haven't discovered your operation, you've revealed yourself to them. The only reason you have reached “ a moment of crisis” is because your followers decided to conduct their secret ritual in public.

Fourthly, despite now knowing the Gorgan's plan no one makes use of the information. At the end of the Gorgan's speech three of the children are allowed to just walk off the bridge. One of the security guards even follows the children into the turbo elevator. Presumably he's following the captain's orders to the letter. “Post a guard on the children. They're to be kept under constant watch.” Obviously he's not going to intervene as the children take over the Enterprise, he's only been ordered to watch.

There is the core of an interesting premise in And The Children Shall Lead, but the finished episode never comes close to realising that potential. The script never makes it clear if the Gorgon is somehow one of the marauders who operated from Triacus surviving in psychic form, or the entity which inspired the marauders to their centuries long reign of terror pillaging the Epsilon Indi system. If it's the latter there's an intriguing H. P. Lovecraft aspect to the story. The idea that a cave on the planet Triacus is the home of an ancient corrupting evil, and that evil has now latched on to the children of the Starnes Exploration Party; corrupting them, turning them against their own parents, and ultimately encouraging the children to focus its power against their own parents and drive them to suicide. Unfortunately, something else the script never makes clear, is what exactly did happen to the parents of the Starnes Party. Did they kill themselves to escape the horrific illusions and tricks of the Gorgan, or did their own children summon up their parents darkest fears and drive them to suicide?

Enterprise crew deaths: Two security guards are accidentally beamed into space. The most unpleasant crew death since Yeoman Thompson.
Running total: 48.

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