The Good: Not a bad concept, Psychology of the episode
The Bad: Terrible acting, Abysmal special effects, Dumb character aspects, Generally weak plot
The Basics: In one of the episodes that even the new digital effects won't be able to make any better, "And The Children Shall" lead is one of Star Trek's big strikeouts.
I'm a pragmatist in my love for Star Trek. As much as I adore the series, there are much better television shows out there. In fact, the first two spin-offs easily surpassed the quality of the original Star Trek. Part of the reason for that was that there was a greater priority on character. Star Trek was plagued as an episodic series (what happens in one episode does not generally affect another, characters do not so much develop as experience new things) that was remarkably inconsistent episode to episode. In the third season of Star Trek, some of the best episodes are sandwiched in between some of the franchise's absolute worst outings.
The U.S.S. Enterprise arrives at a colony world to find all of the adults on the planet dead. Captain Kirk, concerned that a madness might have overtaken them, evacuates the children who survived the adults' insanity to the Enterprise. Soon, the Enterprise is warping toward another planet, under the control of the children and a mysterious creature who is influencing them. The children use the creature, Gorgan, to exhibit telekinetic and hallucinatory powers that compel the Enterprise crew to do what they wish. The Enterprise is under their control until, of course, the intrepid Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy can remind them that their parents' were not beastly and the group of children is allowed to actually process their trauma.
"And The Children Shall Lead," this unbearably bad episode of Star Trek has a general concept that is not entirely bad. Gorgan is using the children to do his bidding because he is able to prey upon their innocence. But the real clever aspect of Gorgan is in what actually makes him tick, how he does what he does; he protects the children from thinking about their dead parents and basically leverages the emotional pain against the joy they receive by getting whatever they want. Given the choice, of course most children are going to choose ice cream over mourning (and yes, that is literally how simplistic this episode is at times).
It's the execution of the almost-interesting ideas that is so offensive to most fans of Star Trek. "And The Children Shall Lead" essentially cripples a group of the most intelligent, professional and skilled adults in the galaxy with one of the wussiest aliens of all time. And children. Heck, with Dr. McCoy's temper, the average viewer will wonder why he doesn't just beat one of the children. The episode is just gruelingly insulting to the fans of Star Trek in that the villains are not villainous enough and it's pretty much impossible to suspend our disbelief long enough to sit through this one.
Equally insulting is the stupidity at the level of the characters by the writers of this episode. The children prey upon the fears of the crew to incapacitate them. Sulu, if this episode is to be a guide, is terrified of flying the starship through cutlasses. I kid you not, the children make rows of swords appear on the viewscreen to compel Sulu from moving the ship off their course. In addition to being one of the worst special effects in the history of, well, time, this is just a ridiculous character expression. It makes as much sense having Sulu believe there are giant fear-worthy cutlasses outside the ship as creating a fear of thumbtacks for Captain Kirk (which the episode, fortunately, does not do).
Lt. Uhura's fear is only slightly less disturbing. It turns out she fears getting old and ugly. I suppose it would have taken a clever writer to suggest that a communications officer like her ought to be more afraid of something like aphasia. Sadly, the writing here is not so clever or sophisticated.
The resolution, which involves the children actually processing their emotions is all that saves this one from a zero out of ten. The idea that instead of shooting Gorgan, the children he controls have the be free to feel pain and emotional discomfort borders on clever.
Sadly, even the actors in this episode seem bored with the premise and none of them give their best here. William Shatner looks, most of the episode, like he's waiting for it to be over and like he is being forced to be as flamboyant as possible just to keep the episode interesting for him as a performer. None of the children give anything remotely close to a noteworthy performance.
Instead, this is a dud all the way around and even a fan of the series cannot truly justify this one. It's not worth your time to find or watch, even when it's on television.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek - The Complete Third Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the third and final season by clicking here!
For other Star Trek reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.