Thursday, July 14, 2011

And The Children Shall Lead

Note: this post is one of a series of STAR TREK episode reviews originally written for the newsgroup. For more information, please read this post.

Episode 60 of 80
October 11, 1968
Writer: Edward J. Lakso
Director: Marvin Chomsky

Unquestionably one of STAR TREK’s worst episodes, “And the Children Shall Lead” guest-stars hotshot defense attorney Melvin Belli, of all people, as an ethereal alien named Gorgan. He uses his mental powers to brainwash the children of the Federation outpost Triacus into killing their parents (!) and then hijacking the U.S.S. Enterprise.

The episode’s main failing is that it is just damn boring. William Shatner hams it up a bit in places, as he was wont to do during the third season. In this case, his performance at least spices up the proceedings a little bit. But not much, as this episode is just difficult to sit through. The constant cutaways to one of the children pumping his or her fist (always accompanied by the same DUM! DUM! music sting) are monotonous, there doesn't seem to be any lesson learned in the end, and the finale in which the children suddenly snap out of their brainwashing by watching home movies is anticlimactic to say the least.

It is perhaps unfair to criticize Belli as an actor, since he isn't one and (it appears) didn't try to be. His scenes were probably all shot in one day, alone, in front of a blue screen with a script girl reading the lines of the actors he was supposed to be reacting to. Not that this gives Belli complete immunity. As one of America’s most successful trial lawyers, he knew something about theater, acting, voice, etc. In this episode, he shows all the range of a high school drama student on downers. He defended the Rolling Stones after the debacle at Altamont, and appears in the Maysles' GIMME SHELTER documentary. I don’t know how he ended up on STAR TREK; maybe he was a friend of producer Fred Freiberger's. It would be interesting to know if STAR TREK’s ratings received a bump because of Belli’s appearance in this particular episode. Sadly, this kind of stunt casting (which is almost never successful on a creative level) continues today.

Writer Edward J. Lakso was a TV hack who managed to write for a number of dramatic series, such as THE BIG VALLEY, MANNIX, CHARLIE’S ANGELS, STARSKY AND HUTCH, PLANET OF THE APES, HART TO HART, etc. I don't remember ever seeing anything worthwhile that he wrote, and some of his CHARLIE’S ANGELS teleplays are quite awful. It seems anyone who owned a typewriter got a third-season script assignment, to the exclusion of the established science fiction authors, such as Jerry Sohl, Theodore Sturgeon, and Harlan Ellison, who wrote during the first two seasons. Lakso shows absolutely no flair (in this episode at least) for plot, structure, irony, dialogue, or, for that matter, drama. He also directed a handful of films during the 1970s, including a Richard Petty biography starring #43 as himself (!), but they’re obscurities today.

On the other hand, Marvin Chomsky, who also made “All Our Yesterdays,” was a terrific director. His credits include ROOTS, HOLOCAUST, INSIDE THE THIRD REICH, BILLIONAIRE BOYS CLUB, and lots of episodic television. Lakso's script is so bad and Belli so miscast that David Lean couldn't have turned this episode into a silk purse, so I'm inclined to give Chomsky the benefit of
the doubt here. Sometimes credited as Marvin J. Chomsky, he won four Emmy Awards.

Pamelyn Ferdin was an excellent child actress who went on to roles as Tony Randall's daughter on THE ODD COUPLE and as a space cadet (literally) on the Saturday morning series SPACE ACADEMY. One of her SPACE ACADEMY costars was Brian Tochi, who also played one of the children in this episode.

How does Kirk know the alien's name is Gorgan? I didn't hear anybody mention it. I'm not even sure the children were aware of his name, since they always referred to him as an angel. It could be that Gorgan is actually the name of the alien's race, but no one told Kirk that either. I refuse to believe that the transporter lacks even the most elementary fail-safe system to ensure that people are not just beamed into space. Doesn't it make sense that the transporter would check to make sure the beaming coordinates are at least within transporting range before beaming takes place? And what about the poor bastards stranded on the planet? During the tag, Kirk tells Sulu to set course for a starbase. Maybe some of Gorgan's brainwashing was still in place.

The parade of daggers and swords that Sulu (George Takei) was so petrified of wouldn't even scare a child.


Will said...

In the movie Zodiac by David Ficher Brian Cox . He's in a TV studio waiting for the Zodiac Killer to call, the news anchor he's with mentions this episode and both agree that the cancellation of the series is a terrible thing.

hobbyfan said...

The first time I saw this episode, I could've sworn Melvin Belli was a distant twin of Alan Hale, Jr. (Gilligan's Island).

Fred Freiberger isn't quite so safe from bad ideas. Post-Trek, he spent some time at Hanna-Barbera, and gave them Korg: 70,000 BC, which lasted all of 1 season because it had the misfortune of airing opposite Land of the Lost & Shazam!, if memory serves me correctly. He also worked on the wretched Josie & the Pussycats in Outer Space toon as well.

Robert said...

I hated this one, too, mainly because the kids aren't sympathetic at all. Ironically, the little girl voiced Lucy in a few Charlie Brown shows.

matt said...
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Grant said...

I agree about a whole lot of "stunt casting," and as you say, it's as big as ever, or bigger. But at least no celebrity on STAR TREK ever played HIMSELF, projected into the future! I mention that because the show FUTURAMA often used that idea (including having the STAR TREK actors themselves in one story). Unfortunately the show ended up MILKING that idea a whole lot more than it should have, with DOZENS of real people showing up in the future. STAR TREK pretty much quit after Abraham Lincoln!

Speaking of people playing themselves, Melvin Belli does that in the movie WILD IN THE STREETS. But it's such a small cameo, it doesn't really take any acting (not even bad acting).