Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Personal Note

I now give myself permission to post on subjects besides And the Children Shall Lead, although I will probably be getting back to it sometimes.  In the meantime, this month my blog hits have risen above 1,000 for the first time.  This is due to a surge in interest in this blog in Russia, of all places.  And some of my most popular posts this week have been about Pisistratus taking over Athens.  No, I don't understand it either, but whatever.

And the Children Shall Lead: My Attempts at Improvement

OK, having said all that about And the Children Shall Lead, I have also made some suggestions on how to improve it. Could I write a better script that the original? I am going to have at least a go at it. We will see how far I get. The first attempt will take in the teaser and about the first half of the first act, i.e., the parts that take place on Triacus. Not the early emphasis on the legend and the beginnings of an attempt to explain WTF is actually happening:

Captain's Log, stardate 5029.5. Responding to a distress call from our archeological expedition on Triacus.
[The briefing room. We see Professor Starnes on the view screen].
STARNES: (Ranting incoherently). Alien upon us. The enemy from within. The enemy!
KIRK: This is the message we received from Professor Starnes two days ago. Spock, what do we know about this expedition?
SPOCK: Seven single individuals and seven married couples, five of whom brought their children along. All highly respected scientists.
KIRK: Bones?
McCOY: All received complete exams before setting out and were found to be in excellent physical and psychological health. Nothing that could account for this.
KIRK: So much for the scientists. What do we know about Triacus itself?
SPOCK: Home of an ancient society. Little is known about it. This is the first archeological expedition to the planet. No reliable histories of it exist. Our knowledge is limited to legends.
KIRK: Legends often have a basis in fact. What do they say?
SPOCK: According to legend, Triacus was home to a band of marauders from a telepathic race known and Gorgan who waged war throughout the Epsilon Indy system. Although few in number, they were able to conquer much more populous worlds by taking their children hostage.
KIRK: People who might otherwise have revolted were kept docile by the threat of harm to their children.
SPOCK: Precisely, Captain.
KIRK: What happened to these marauders?
SPOCK: According to the legend, there was first a revolt by the children, who escaped. Without hostages, the Gorgan were hopeless outnumbered. Their victims easily drove them from their own worlds and pursued them to Triacus.
KIRK: And what happened on Triacus?
SPOCK: The Gorgan were prepared for attack and had assembled extensive fortifications. The further their enemies advanced, the fiercer their resistance became until it suddenly ceased altogether without explanation.
KIRK: Was any explanation ever found?
SPOCK: Negative, Captain. The legend states that as soon as they were victorious, the Gorgan’s enemies fled in terror, believing that the evil was awaiting a catalyst to set it again into motion and send it marauding across the galaxy.
KIRK: I don’t think I like your legend, Mr. Spock.
INTERCOM: We are in orbit around Triacus, Captain.
KIRK: Let’s go down and investigate.

[Planet surface]

(On the ground, beneath a purple sky, adults are lying motionless. Kirk, McCoy and Spock investigate.)
MCCOY: (Looking at Professor Starnes’ body). He’s dead, Captain.
(Kirk removes a vial from his mouth.)
MCCOY: Cyalodin.
KIRK: Self-inflicted. Mass suicide.
(The sound of children playing, then the kids run into the scene. There’s a girl, three small boys and one older boy.)
MARY: You missed me.
STEVE: I did not.
TOMMY: Hi. Who are you?
KIRK: Kirk of the starship Enterprise.
TOMMY: I’m Tommy Starnes. This is Mary, Steve, Ray, and Don.
MARY: Come on. Play with us. Come on. (They make a circle and dance around Kirk.) Ring around the rosy, pocket full of posy. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down! Ring around the rosy, pocket full of posy. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down!

[End of teaser].

Captain’s log, supplementary. We have found all scientists on the Starnes expedition dead by mass suicide. Everyone has been deeply affected by what has happened here, with some important exceptions.

[Planet surface]

(Again we see the bodies, with the children running and playing.)
KIRK: No sign of grief?
MCCOY: No, Jim. No indication of any kind.
KIRK: Or of fear.
MCCOY: They seem completely secure and unafraid.
KIRK: Even without their parents being dead, Tommy’s behavior seems abnormal for his age.
MCCOY: The way those deaths occurred, any reaction is possible including regression or lacunar amnesia. That’s my diagnosis. Until specific tests can be made, it remains that.
KIRK: I’ll be guided by that opinion, Doctor, for the present. What about questioning them?
MCCOY: Not until the fabric of the traumatization weakens or you come up with another explanation for their behavior. Forcing them to see this experience now could cause permanent damage.
KIRK: Accepted, Doctor.
KIRK: Children. Children, listen to me. It’s late and it’s time to go up to the ship.
DON: Oh, not yet.
MARY: But we’re just beginning to have fun.
RAY: Not now.
KIRK: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. You’ll go up with the doctor.
MCCOY: Come on. It’s time to be going.

[They leave. Kirk turns to Spock, trailed by a couple of red shirts].
KIRK: While Bones examines the children, let’s have a look at what Starnes and his party found on this planet.
(The wander through the ruins. Besides generic ruins, we see signs of a battle – burns on the walls, spent phaser packs, bones, disturbed soil, extensive damage, etc. Kirk visually inspects the artifacts. Spock uses his tricorder, as does at least one red shirt.)
KIRK: Spent energy packs, burn marks, bones, violent damage. This looks like the scene of an ancient battle.
SPOCK: Indeed. My tricorder is reading signs of extensive phaser-type burns and traces of blood.
(The signs of battle damage become more frequent and intense).
KIRK: Signs of intensifying resistance, just the way the legend says.
(Suddenly the phaser burns, spent energy packs, bones, disturbed soil, traumatic damages, etc. cease. We see ruins that have suffered the ravages of time, but no sign of any violence).
SPOCK: And this appears to be where all resistance ceased.
KIRK: Tricorder, Spock? Anything that could account for the sudden cessation of all resistance.
(Spock raises his eyebrow as if to say that his tricorder can hardly pick up events that happened hundreds if not thousands of years ago, but goes ahead and scans).
SPOCK: (His tricorder beeps) Odd.
KIRK: Getting a reading?
SPOCK: There seems to be some disturbance coming from that cave.

[Cave, with a mysterious device in it].

KIRK: Picking up any life-forms, Mister Spock?
SPOCK: Definitely not humanoid, Captain. Impossible to make any specific identification. The readings do not correlate with any known information.
KIRK: (shivers) Oh, that’s strange. That’s very strange. I’m getting a feeling of anxiety in this place. It doesn’t sound very scientific, does it? But it’s strongest right here.
(The red shirts are also showing strong signs of anxiety).
RED SHIRT I: It gets stronger the closer we get to that device.
SPOCK: I’m not aware of it, Captain.
KIRK: Maybe that’s what’s registering on your tricorder.
SPOCK: I am not familiar with anxiety, but I wasn’t aware it could be registered on sensors.
(First one red shirt, then the other, panic and flee).
KIRK: No, of course. That’s, that’s me. That’s me. But what’s causing your tricorder to react?
SPOCK: Vulcan immunity to emotion has obvious advantages.
KIRK: Lemli is right. It seems to be emanating from that device over there. (Approaches it, and is overcome with panic and flees).
(Spock gets closer and closer, but as he approaches, even he starts feeling it. It takes him a greater and greater effort until even he is unable to endure it and leave, though not as panic-stricken as the others.

[Planet surface]

SPOCK: Are you all right, Captain?
KIRK: Yes, I’m fine. And you, Mr. Spock?
SPOCK: Having a human half has its disadvantages.
KIRK: Let’s get back to the ship. Whatever that device is, it appears to have a defense against approach. Let’s rig a censor array in the cave and lock it into the Enterprise censors. I want to figure out what that thing is. In the meantime, I want to check out those tapes from Professor Starnes’ tricorder. And I am going to question those children. Mr. Leslie, Mr. Lemli, you remain here and bury the bodies.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

And the Children Shall Lead: Escaping Mind Control

All right, now we get to the part so bad it doesn't even attempt to be coherent, just throws on a few platitudes and hopes we don't notice that it utterly fails to make sense -- how they finally defeat the mind control.

Kirk has a world class, Shatner-esque freakout over losing command.  Spock drags him off into the elevator where he continues, until Spock snaps him out of it, at which point he says, "I've got command.  I've got command.  I've got command."  And Spock says, "Correct, Captain."  They then head to Engineering where Scotty is being Scotty, i.e., freaking out over the state of the engines and believing any change of course will destroy them.  The black boy shakes his fist, but Kirk is unaffected.  The engineers, on the other hand, join Scotty to drive Kirk and Spock off.  Kirk assures Spock, "My beast is finished.  It won't return."  The Chekov trying to arrest them incident follows, with Tommy standing by, shaking his fist and able to control Chekov and the security guards, but not Kirk and Spock.

They return to the bridge and play the chant the children used to summon the "Gorgan."  Where Kirk gets that name from is never explained.  He and the Gorgan get into a platitude spouting contest:
KIRK: My beast is gone. It lost its power in the light of reality. I command again, and I ordered you here.
GORGAN: No, Captain. I command here. My followers are strong and faithful and obedient. That's why we take what is ours wherever we go.
SPOCK: You take from those who do not know you.
KIRK: And we know you.
GORGAN: Then you know I must win, Captain.
KIRK: Not if we join together to fight you.
GORGON: Foolish. You will be destroyed. I would ask you to join me, but you are gentle, and that is a grave weakness.
KIRK: We're also very strong.
GORGAN: Ah, but your strength is cancelled by your gentleness. You are full of goodness. Such as you cannot be changed. You are like the parents. You must be eliminated.
Kirk shows the children footage of themselves playing with their parents.  The children smile at the memories.  Then he shows their parents lying dead.  They start to cry.  The camera cuts between the surnames on the tombstones and the presumed child in question, crying.  The Gorgan tries to explain why this was necessary, without avail.  Kirk tells the children, " Don't be afraid. Look at him. Without you children, he's nothing. The evil remains within him." Then the Gorgan starts saying "Death to you all!  Death to you all!  Death to you all!"  He breaks out in hideous sores and disappears.  The illusions disappear with him, leaving only the normal Enterprise crew and the children, crying.

All I can say to any of this is what the ____?!?!?  I think the point here is supposed to be that there is nothing to fear but fear itself, that if we truly face our fears, they will lose their power over us and turn out to be false.  But honestly, all that really comes across is the characters spouting platitudes and thinking they are being profound.

I should add, for the record, that this issue gets addressed in other episodes, and most of them don't do much better.  The only one that gave any sort of coherent explanation was Specter of the Gun, a bad episode that tries to do Star Trek as a cheap Western.  Spock realizes that none of this is real, that if they believe the bullets aren't real either, the bullets will not hurt them.  But if they have any doubts, then the bullets will be fatal.  (I guess if you die in the Matrix, you die for real).  He mind-melds with them to convince them that the bullets really, truly, are not real.  Okay, bad, but at least they let you know what is going on.  The same problem occurred in some really excellent episodes, too.  In The Naked Time a strange disease strips away all inhibitions and common sense and brings forth people's secret, hidden nature.  The stripping away common sense is bad enough that one of the scientists stationed on the planet murdered another, while yet another one played with the life support systems and switched them off.  With the Enterprise careening toward doom, Sulu goes chasing crewmen with a sword while Riley locks himself in engineering, rants and treats everyone to incredibly bad singing.  Kirk and Spock end up getting the disease, too.  Spock cries in self-pity, while romantically yearns for his yeoman.  Yet somehow these two and no others manage to pull themselves together and function, their infection notwithstanding.  In The Enemy Within, a transporter accident splits Kirk's good and evil sides.  His good side turns out to be a total wimp, hesitant, indecisive, and just not tough enough for command.  This is expressly pointed out -- that the toughness to make an effective commander requires an element of evil.  Yet in the end the evil Kirk totally loses his nerve and starts whimpering, while the good side remains strong and calm. This seems like a copout, although McCoy does say earlier on that courage comes from the good side, which is rational enough to rise above its animal fears.

So having our heroic captain overcome some sort of mind control by sheer force of will is not unprecedented.  Other episodes (of various series) show a character succumb to mind control at first but break free when the controller pushes them too far.  And I suppose maybe with a better actor we might see Captain Kirk struggle and overcome his fears.  Maybe.  But I am inclined to think that William Shatner's admittedly dreadful acting is secondary.  The godawful script is primary.  It just doesn't convincingly show him overcoming his fears.  And, of course, it never explains why only Captain Kirk can overcome his fears and no one else can. Also, if you are trying to make an Important Point, spouting platitudes just doesn't cut it.  You have to show the thing you are trying to establish and have it done, with all individual, humanizing details in place.  Then throwing in a platitude or two for audience members who are a bit slow on the uptake is acceptable.  But in the end the lesson they are trying to teach, like the legend, is incredibly generic.  "Evil misleads the innocent" can be a moral, but we actually have to see evil misleading the innocent a whole lot more plausibly to make even a semi-decent story.

And speaking of innocent, what is with the children?  Why does the Gorgan affect adults and children completely differently?  Why do adults become anxious, fearful, and finally go completely mad, while children joyously follow?  Yeah, I know, adults are too "gentle" and "full of goodness" to succumb to its lure.  Sorry, spouting platitudes just doesn't cut it as an explanation.  Why did the children sudden understand that their parents were dead after seeing them on the screen and not notice when they were running and playing among the bodies?  Someone (can't find link) suggests that they failed to respond to the bodies early on because the Gorgan had so alienated them from their parents that they didn't care, but that the juxtaposition of seeing the good times and remembering they really loved their parents and seeing them dead that drives home the point.  That might actually be made to work, but you would have to beat the audience over the head with it a little more, for those of us who are slow on the uptake.

And finally, why does the Gorgan turn ugly and disappear along with all of its power when the children turn against it?  Certainly there are other episodes that end with an immensely powerful enemy losing its power and disappearing -- Charlie in Charlie X, Trelayne in Squire of Gothos, or Apollo in Who Mourns for Adonis.  But in all of these, we are told what is happening.  The Thasians are taking Charlie back; Trelayne's parents are telling him to "come in," and Apollo loses the will to exist when humans no longer worship him.  Also, cruel as the villain has been in these other episodes, the ending still makes you pity him.  I'm not saying you have to end this episode by pitying the Gorgan.  But you do have to tell me why the hell this is happening!  The best I can guess is that the Gorgan has to channel his psychic powers through children, and when the children stop cooperating, he loses is powers.  But seriously, if this is the case you need to tell me so instead just throwing in yet a few more platitudes.

In short, how Kirk and Spock re-take control is so bad it needs to be thrown out altogether and started again from scratch.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

And the Children Shall Lead: The Enterprise Crew

And now for the part of And the Children Shall Lead that was so bad it needs to be pulled up by the roots and redone altogether -- how the children and the Gorgan take over the Enterprise crew.

The trouble here -- well there are several of them. For starters, what is happening to the Enterprise  crew is not the same as what Professor Starnes recounted in his log.  Recall that first the professor (calmly) says that he is experiencing feelings of anxiety, and that everyone else is having them too, except the children.  Next, sounding tenser and tenser and more and more jittery, he says that the anxiety is getting worse and begins to sense that some unseen force is influencing them.  He starts doing things that don't make sense, orders a transport ship and, when asked what for, realizes that his mind is being directed.  Right after that he descends into gibbering madness and commits suicide. Implied here is that the Gorgan's power takes the form, first of vague anxiety, then of worsening anxiety, then of a sense that some unseen force is at work, and then of strange, irrational actions. Presumably it is when he (and the other colonists) become aware that their thoughts are being directed and try to fight it that the attack hits with full force and drives them to madness and suicide.

So if that is Gorgan's MO, something like that should be happening to the Enterprise crew.  They should start to feel uneasy, then get worse, then start doing strange irrational things and sense that they are being taken over by an external force.  Instead, first Tommy shakes his fist to short out the screen while they listen to the professor's log entry.  This is significant (and a mistake) because it is the only time they show actual power in the material realm, to make a physical thing happen, as opposed to exercising mind control and making other people serve as their puppets.*  Kirk and Spock leave the bridge, so Tommy shakes his fist and makes Sulu take them out of orbit, but continue to see the planet on the screen.  Chekov also sees it.  Uhura screams out that they are out of orbit, but they shake the fist and control her, too.  But no anxiety or awareness that they are under alien control, just unusual physical actions that they are unaware of.  In fact, George Takei gives his patented "feeling no pain" look that is as much his trademark as overacting is Shatner's.  We get something a little more like the irrationalism on the planet in engineering where Scotty points out that they are out of orbit and the engineers get into a knock-down drag-out brawl to keep him from changing their course.  But overall, everyone seems so calm, so unaware that anything is wrong that Kirk thinks he is still orbiting the planet and beams two hapless red shirts into space, only realizing his mistake when he tries to lock on and beam up the ones on the planet.  (Must keep up our body count somehow).

The children then inexplicably summon their "Friendly Angel" right there on the bridge in front of everyone!  Having been found out, he now directs the children to control the crew by summoning their "beast," i.e., the thing they fear most.  To call this part bad does not even begin to do it justice. Well, Professor Starnes final words were, "Must destroy ourselves! Alien upon us. The enemy from within. The enemy!"  I suppose you could argue that this is a response to the "Angel" awakening their "beast," i.e., the thing they fear the most and they are killing themselves to escape it.  Except that no one on the Enterprise shows the slightest suicidal tendencies.  Quite the contrary, their top priority seems to be staying alive.  Sulu thinks they are flying down a tunnel of space knives and will be killed if they change course.  Scotty thinks the engines are overloading and the ship will blow up if they change course.  Uhura thinks she is dying and buries her face in her hands, weeping.  So these are very definitely wanting-to-stay-alive fears rather than fears you commit suicide to escape.

Furthermore, these fears seem a lot more goal-directed than the fears of the scientists on Triacus. Granted, Starnes does say that he is doing things that make no sense, including calling for space ship for transport without knowing why, and that he is starting to realize that an alien is implanting these thoughts in his head.  I suppose the mass suicide could be Gorgan's way of eliminating people who are starting to figure him out and could be an obstacle to his plans.  But this is never made clear; it just seems like an outbreak of complete irrationality.  The crew's fears, on the other hand, are clearly directed toward a specific goal -- getting them to Marcus XII.  Hence Sulu and Scotty both have delusional beliefs that any deviation from course would destroy them; Uhura becomes too non-functional to call Star Fleet; and when Kirk breaks free from the Gorgan's control, Chekov is sent to arrest him.  And another inconsistency.  The crew only seem to act strangely when the children are actually present, shaking their fists.  Without the children around, they seem perfectly normal.  Were the children around shaking their fists every time their parents freaked out?  Granted, we don't know, but it seems unlikely.

And now let me get to summoning everyone's greatest fear, which is really bad, one of the worst parts of a bad episode.  Some of the fears I can kind of, sort of grant.  Scotty freaking out and hysterical over the state of his engines is just Scotty being Scotty.  Chekov's fear of disobeying an order is a bit extreme, but not completely implausible.  But Sulu thinking they are cruising down a tunnel of space knives that will slice them to pieces if they change course?  When those knives weren't there five seconds ago?  Uhura seeing a mirror on her console where there was never a mirror before, and thinking it shows a shriveled old women, even though she was young and beautiful when she looked in the mirror just this morning?  Captain Kirk's orders coming out as gibberish and the security guards not thinking this strange?  Anyone whose reason is even semi-functional would recognize these things as impossible.  My mother told me once that I was being a bit unfair to the episode, and that confronted with their greatest fear, most people aren't very ration.  And I suppose that is true, but -- space daggers, really?  Give me a break!  I could maybe buy it if they showed the characters gradually breaking down and losing their minds, but to see them abruptly going from perfectly normal to freaking out over something manifestly impossible as if someone had flipped a switch is just too much for me.

But besides that, there is the whole concept of showing everyone's deepest fear.  Or everyone's fondest wish.  Or everyone's secret fantasy.  Or any deeply hidden part of everyone's personality. Showing these deep, hidden aspects is (theoretically) a deep psychological study, but to attempt deep psychological exploration of all the characters at once mostly ensured that the exploration will actually be quite shallow.  Worse yet is attempting to cram it all between two commercial breaks.  I know of one Star Trek episode that made it work, arguably two.  The one that worked was The Naked Time.  The crew is exposed to a strange disease, spread by touch, that strips away all inhibitions and exposes secret, hidden traits.  This gives us one of the best deep psychological portraits of Spock as we see his anguish at having to deny part of his nature.  And apparently Leonard Nimoy had to fight for this characterization instead of just having Spock cry for no good reason.  Well done, Nimoy!  We might get some worthwhile insight into Kirk and the loneliness of command if only William Shatner were a better actor.  (Patrick Stewart in the same role would be sublime!)  As for everyone else, the episode doesn't bother with serious psychology, it just plays their hidden personality for fun and entertainment.  Sulu goes berserk with a sword!  Riley locks himself in engineering and sings incredibly badly!  Various instances of goofy behavior turn up here and there.  The personality quirks are fun and entertaining in and of themselves without the need for psychology.  The one that might work is Shore Leave, which features a planet where everything people think about turns real.  Most of what they think about proves more entertaining than profound -- a tiger, a war plane, a samurai, a .38, a princess outfit, Don Juan, a knight and, of course, Alice in Wonderland.

Most of the time, though, the approach attempts serious insights into all the characters at once and ends up being hopeless superficial.  A find example would be the Next Generation episode Hide and Q.  Riker is given the power of the Q and is faced with the danger of power corrupting.  He tries to use the power for good, to give his shipmates what they want most.  (All crammed into one act).  He turns Wesley into a grown man, gives Geordi his eyesight, provides Worf with a mate and offers to make Data human.  They all end up declining the gift.  I think the moral here is supposed to be that what most people want most -- to grow up, to find a mate, to achieve character development -- has to be worked for and earned or it has no real value.  Aside from the fact that that lesson doesn't work so well for eyesight, it doesn't give any real insight into their characters.  Real insight would only happen if the show had devoted an entire episode to the theme, having the characters embrace their gifts at first and then find the destination meaningless without the journey.  Where No One Has Gone Before is a vastly inferior knockoff on Shore Leave with everyone's thoughts becoming real, but it is not entertaining, just confusing and surreal.  Star Trek V has a Vulcan (revealed as Spock's half-brother) who can heal everyone's deepest pain and mostly just ends up doing a lot of  ret-conning that instead of giving insight violates the characters.  And the Children Shall Lead doesn't do it quite that badly, but the whole "waken the beast" sequence is so badly done that I personally would like to see it cut out altogether.  Or at least change the episode so that when everyone's deepest held fears start coming to life, they realize how this is exactly what happened to the scientists on Triacus.

Nonetheless, there is an even deeper problem here, one truly beyond remedy because it goes to the very core premise of the episode.  There are two story lines going on at once.  They are not exactly an A plot and a B plot,**  but one plot, the Gorgan taking over, seen from two different perspectives, the children and the crew.  Properly done, the children's story is a psychological drama, showing how the villain manipulates children to turn them against their parents. Properly done, Kirk and the crew's story is a mystery and suspense story as they struggle to understand what is going on and how to stop it before it completely destroys their minds.  It would be possible, with serious re-writing, to make the part with the Gorgan and the children work.  It would be possible to root out the entire story about the Enterprise crew and replace it with a better one that would work. But I am not sure that it is possible to do both of these at the same time.  Because strengthening one story line necessarily weakens the other.  The more insight be gain on how the Gorgan manipulates the children against their parents, the less real suspense there is in the mystery, since we, the audience will already know what is going on (and, of course, we always know that they will stop the evil plot in the end).  On the other hand, the stronger we make the mystery, they less real insight we can allow on how the children are being manipulated because it then there wouldn't be a mystery.

Furthermore, the mystery has the usual problems with mysteries everywhere, but especially in science fiction.  You have to give enough clues that the audience can look back and recognize what was going on, but not so many that the audience is jumping up and down screaming "Idiot!" at the characters for not figuring out what is going on.***   For instance, as discussed before, we need more characterization of the "band of marauders" who once lived on Triacus to give us some clues as to what is going on.  But if we say they were marauding telepaths, or that they exercised sadistic forms of mind control, or that they took people's children hostage, it would make what is going on too obvious.

So, ultimately this episode is trying to do two incompatible things at once, either of which would call for a good deal of skill to get right, while doing both at once would cancel each other out.  Then finally there is the mind bogglingly awful ending -- how they manage to break the Gorgan's power.  That will be addressed in my next post.

*Well, there is the time when Kirk orders Spock to send a message to Star Fleet and the children shake their fists and make him physically unable to comply.  But even that might be some sort of mind control at work.
**In fact The Original Series did not normally do what its successors did so often -- run two completely unrelated story lines at the same time.  It might have sub-plots or even interwoven plots, but normally all plots were related.  This, along with having a non-regular crew, was one way the original was better than its successors.
***To take other Star Trek examples, Journey to Babel used to be my favorite because of splendidly-done drama and mystery.  But looking at it now, the ending is unforgivable.  The mysterious ship trailing them and the mysterious spy on board turn out to be Orions, a group never so much as mentioned, let alone characterized, until then end of that particular episode.  This ending is properly called an asspull.  Wolf in the Fold does better. Although there is no way for the audience to guess that the murderer is actually an energy being that feeds on fear, let along Jack the Ripper, I have seen people watching this episode for the first time who figured out that the little bald man must be the killer because he keeps trying to derail the investigation.  Next Generation suffers from too many of these to name, but let us give a shout out to Man of the People as absolutely brilliant in this regard.  Watching it a second time, it is amazing how many seemingly deranged ramblings of a senile old woman, and how many seemingly bland platitudes of the evil ambassador actually turn out to be vital hints as to what is going on. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

And the Children Shall Lead: The Children

And now for the part of And the Children Shall Lead that definitely did not work, but could have been made to work, but only with a major overhaul -- the children, and how the villain turns them against their parents. To understand how poorly And the Children Shall Lead meets this challenge, consider other attempts to take it on.

In the early 1990's, three movies came out in short succession, each featuring a villain who seeks revenge against an adult enemy by turning their victim's children against their parents.  In the 1991 film, Cape Fear, a former convict seeks revenge on his lawyer for intentionally botching his defense.  In the 1991 movie Hook, the villain is, indeed, Captain Hook, and the hero is Peter Pan, now grown up and with children of his own.  In the 1992 movie The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, an obstetrician's widow blames his suicide and her resultant miscarriage on the woman who exposed him as sexually abusing patients.

I am not saying that any of these movies were particularly good, but the flaws lay elsewhere than the villain manipulating children against their parents.  All managed to show that part reasonably well. None were generic. All were psychological pieces about how this particular villain manipulated these particular children against their particular parents.  All of them showed actual family dynamics and children's interactions with their living parents.  The characters were given actual individual personalities and their relationships with one another were addressed.  And in the end in all these cases, the children's love for their parents proved stronger than their resentments, and they rallied to their parents when it became clear that the villain meant the parents actual harm.

And the Children Shall Lead did none of these things. Clearly, there could be no serious exploration of the children's interaction with their parents, since their parents were dead.  Their overall family dynamics were never addressed.  Furthermore, all the movies about villains turning children against their parents limit themselves on one family and one or two children.  Star Trek is taking on five children and five different families here, which is perhaps an unsupportable challenge.  But the episode does not even attempt to meet it.  The children have no real characterization as individuals; they are simply shown as the Gorgan's puppets.  Nor do we ever get to know the parents at all.  So we never get to see how the Gorgan turned the children against their parents to the point of not even caring that they were lying dead all around them.

Admittedly, we do get some hints when Captain Kirk tries talking to the children about their parents. He asks them about Triacus and they make clear that they did not like it. He says their parents didn't like it either.  The children say that they did and one adds, "Parents like stupid things."  Nurse Chapel points out that parents like children and Mary says, "That's what you think."  Kirk takes up the theme by saying their parents took them to Triacus because they loved their children and would miss them if they were apart, and wouldn't the children miss their parents, too.   That is apparently Getting Too Close because Tommy abruptly starts them imitating a swarm of bees.  Then he asks for more ice cream and Kirk says it would spoil their dinner.  Tommy says, "See what I told you? They all say it."  Kirk sends the younger children away and talks to Tommy alone. Tommy admits that he saw his father earlier that day and he was very upset but Tommy doesn't know why.  Tommy also complains that the grownups were too busy and never had time for them.  All of this suggests that the villain is controlling them by manipulating their resentment of adults and their rules. This is reinforces when the "Friendly Angel" tells the children, "No one will tell us where to go, when to sleep, where to eat. The universe will be mine to command, yours to play in."  So it would appear that he entices them with promises of a world without rules or restraints, where they can play and eat ice cream to their heart's content and never have to worry about bedtime or school.

This may be reinforced in the one place where we get a hint of individualism, which is also one where I find a nit I just can't resist picking.  Nurse Chapel holds up a handful of cards to offer the children their favorite flavor of ice cream.  Four immediately grab their favorite card.  Three boys rush up to the replicator, followed by Mary.  The small white boy holds back.  Nurse Chapel gives him a random card and offers him a "surprise."  Much to his disappointment, it is coconut and vanilla, "both white."  She says that was an unpleasant surprise and offers to let him choose is "pleasant surprise."  He picks chocolate wobble and pistachio, so she hands him the chocolate wobble and pistachio card.  Then he adds peach, so she hands him the chocolate wobble pistachio and peach card!  And it isn't as if she had a huge catalog of cards; she had a number that she could reasonable hold in her hands.  And by an extraordinary coincidence, they included four children's favorite flavors, chocolate wobble and pistachio and chocolate wobble pistachio and peach!  I shouldn't dwell on this, really.  It doesn't go to the core premise here.  It could easily be remedied by having her push a few buttons.  But it annoys me, somehow.

Nonetheless, this scene is the only time we really get to see any of the children as themselves, instead of as tools of the Gorgan.  (It is also really the only time we see anything at all of any child other than Tommy or Mary).  It ain't much, but we learn a little more about the small white boy (apparently named Stevie).  We learn his favorite flavor of ice cream -- chocolate wobble, pistachio and peach. Unsurprisingly, it takes a large bowl to accommodate all that.  It seems most likely that his parents do not normally indulge his taste for chocolate wobble, pistachio and peach ice cream, let alone in such large quantities!  This is actually hinted at when he hesitates at grabbing any card at all, and then first asks only for chocolate wobble and pistachio, only adding the peaches as an afterthought.  Most likely his parents limit him to chocolate wobble and pistachio and he has never dared ask for peach, knowing that the answer would be no.  Showing all the others grab the cards while Stevie is left out, and the boys crowd in ahead of Mary also hints somewhat at the pecking order among the children. Add one or two more such incidents and work them into the conversation with the Gorgan and you may actually start to get a sense of how he turned the children against their parents.

All of which can make another point.  One piece of evidence that Stevie's parents do not indulge his taste in ice cream is that he is not morbidly obese.  And given the quantity and combination of ice cream he uses, I am surprised that he doesn't get a stomach ache!  Children may resent the restrictions their parents place on them, but often the restrictions are there for a good reason.  The best parents in the world still have to impose unpopular rules and make unpopular decisions sometimes.  Children resent these restrictions, even if they are absolutely necessary and in the children's best interests.  The Next Generation episode Imaginary Friend  explores this aspect by having an alien being see the Enterprise from the perspective of a child -- an unusually naive and free-spirited child.  She concludes that humans are so cruel and arbitrary that they should be destroyed.  Picard persuades her to spare them by explaining the necessity of such rules.

Still, it is an idealization to assume that adults always get it right.  Parents have adult responsibilities that keep them from giving children the attention children want.  Sometime legitimate and essential adult responsibilities sometimes to result in children being overlooked.  The best parents in the world still make mistakes sometimes.  And not all parents are the best in the world.  Sometimes parents get too caught up in their own problems and neglect their children or lash at at them unjustifiably.  Some families are flat-out dysfunctional.

The movies I mentioned acknowledge as much.  The villains do not only play on children's resentment of legitimate authority, they work on the parents' real failings. The Hand that Rocks the Cradle is the mildest example.  It deals with a happy marriage and good parents, nonetheless facing the disruptions that are inevitable when a new baby joins the family.  The others paint a darker picture.  Hook shows a grown-up Peter Pan neglecting his children for work and unable to deal with children's natural playfulness.  Cape Fear shows a seriously dysfunctional marriage and a teenage daughter acting out.  The villain is easily able to appeal to her simply by being forbidden and a form of defiance. Or consider the first season episode Miri.  All the parents are missing because of a disease that greatly slows the aging process in children, but causes them to go insane and die when they hit puberty.  Children do not cry for their parents because (1) their parents died 300 years earlier, and (2) before dying, they went mad and leave the children in terror of "grups," "burning, yelling, hurting."

The same dynamic can be at work here.  Even if we assume that the parents on Triacus were all good parents and the families all happy and healthy families, let's not forget that the parents, like the ones in Miri, were experiencing growing anxiety, moving from vague uneasiness to serious tension to a descent into madness.  It seems a reasonable assumption that this caused their parenting skills to deteriorate.  Growing edginess might lead parents to snap at their children for no good reason.  At first it would not be too common or severe, and they would apologize afterward.  But as the anxiety grew worse and worse so (we may assume) did the quality of parents' interaction with their children.  As they descended into madness, presumably the parents ignored their children altogether and reacted in wild, irrational ways if the the children approached them.  This would give the Gorgan ample (and justified) resentment to work on.  And consider the diabolical nature of what is happening here.  The Gorgan is provoking anxiety in the adults that cause their parenting skills to deteriorate and then plays on the resentment this breeds in the children to alienate them further.

Of course, there would have to be some indication of this in the program.  Besides showing a few normal childish resentments of grownup rules and restrictions (like Stevie and his ice cream), show the children start to warm up to the Enterprise crew and be relieved that they are not wild and irrational like their parents.  We actually see a few hints of this as well, particularly when the black boy knocks over their flag (placed over the parents' graves) and politely apologizes, or, on the Enterprise, Captain Kirk asks the children if he can join them and Mary politely says, "Please do." All of this suggests that they really are not bad children underneath, just being manipulated.  Instead of the vague, generic complaints about their parents, how about some specific complaints about their erratic behavior?  What about a little reluctance with the "Friendly Angel," saying that these "grups" are nice, not crazy like their parents.  And as the Gorgan starts to take ahold of them, the children start to see the Enterprise crew as being crazy, just like their own parent.

Finally, the way Tommy disrupts the conversation when Kirk seems to be Getting Too Close is theoretically well done, but needs further explanation.  It would require Tommy to have some special tie with the Gorgan and be responsible for keeping the younger kids in line, in a way that is never shown in the episode.

In short, a villain turning children against their parents is certainly doable, but it was not done at all plausibly in this episode.  I believe this element could be salvaged, but only with a lot of work and change.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

And the Children Shall Lead: The Legend

Next, the part of the episode that could be made to work, but would need significant tweeking.  The legend of Triacus.  Here is the legend, as Spock recounts it:
According to the legend, Triacus was 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 by those they had preyed upon. . . . [L]ike so many legends, this one too has a frightening ending. It warns that the evil is awaiting a catalyst to set it again into motion and send it marauding across the galaxy.
Seriously, that's the legend?  It must be the most generic legend ever invented!  Granted, it is harder when you are making up a legend out of whole cloth than when you are dealing with one known to the audience, or even not commonly known, but existing in some other culture.  But come on, it takes only a minimum of inventiveness to flesh it out with a few details.  Give me King Tut's curse on anyone who disturbs his tomb, the Flying Dutchman doomed never to come into port, a caretaker isolated in a snow-bound hotel who goes mad and axes his wife and children to death, something -- anything -- to bring the legend to life.  Hell, look at Masks from Next Generation.  Sure it was a godawful episode, incoherent and completely unsatisfying, but at least the authors knew how to invent a mythos and give it the feel of an actual mythos.

To break it down, the legend consists of three parts:

  1. Triacus was home to a band of marauders who made constant war throughout the system of Epsilon Indi.
  2. The marauders were eventually destroyed by their own victims.
  3. But if the right catalyst comes along, they will be revived and resume marauding.
Of these three parts, the first is by far the most important.  "Made constant warfare throughout the system of Epsilon Indi" is a decent start toward individual details, but it needs more.  Who were these marauders?  How many of them were there?  (A "band" implies considerably less than a whole species).  What form did their depredations take?  Did the have any signature crime?  These details are important.  If properly recreated, they give the creepy sense of the legend coming to life, although of course they should not start out so obvious as to be apparent even to TV characters.

And the legend should be introduced as early on as possible.  Instead of a colony on Triacus, what about an archaeological expedition studying the ruins of an ancient and fallen civilization.  Judging from the logs and the crew's comments about the colonists, that is probably what the colony was anyhow.  So, the Enterprise is responding to distress calls from the archaeological expedition on Triacus.  In fact, their incoherent ranting is quite disturbing.  Spock briefs them, explaining the legend of the "band of marauders," properly fleshed out to give them some life, who were defeated by their former victims but await a catalyst to be revived.  Then we beam down to find the mass suicide and the children running and playing as if nothing had happened.

The second part of the legend, how the marauders were defeated, does not have to be detailed as much when Spock recounts the legend.  Instead, we should find archaeological evidence of their last stand.  (And, of course, Kirk and Spock will discuss what they see to explain it to the audience).  My guess would be there are signs of a fierce battle, a desperate last stand until suddenly all resistance ceased for no apparent reason and the attackers fled shortly afterward.  The cave will give off strange tricorder readings and cause Kirk the acute panic attack just as we saw in the episode.  And when we hear the log (later on), the professor will indeed mention that just before all resistance ceased (not when the civilization was wiped out in a natural disaster) one of the race took refuge in a cave. But he will not be able to explain why the marauders were so suddenly defeated or why their foes then fled.  And in the cave will be some sort of inexplicable device that Spock's tricorder cannot make any kind of sense out of but that causes uncontrollable anxiety in any human who approaches it.

As for the catalyst that will revive the evil, that obviously has to be left vague, for two reasons.  One is that the people who started the legend did not know what the catalyst was or how the evil marauders would be revived.  And second, of course, is that we, the audience, will see it play out in an unexpected way.  

And the obvious answer is that the marauder race found a way to transfer their life energy into whatever it is they see in the cave.  That explains why all resistance ended so abruptly -- once one of them reached the device, he was able to transfer all the others into it.  It would explain why the victors abruptly fled -- they recognized what was happening and feared the marauders escaping.  It would also explain why they have no power in the material realm but must operate by mind controlling others -- they have no bodies but are disembodied life entities. It will also explain why the wanted to go to Marcus XII even though, as the episode makes clear, there are nearer destinations.  To the extent there is any explanation in the episode, it appears to be that Marcus XII is the nearest planet with a large enough population to provide an army to conquer the Universe. But this version offers a more plausible explanation.  Marcus XII is the source of some special Applied Phlebotinum that will allow them to release the life force of all the marauders and unleash them.  (Either in bodily or in ghostly form.  It is probably not necessary to be specific there, just that recognition that releasing the marauders will be a Very Bad Thing).

Still unexplained here is what the Gorgan is.  Is he one life energy that escaped confinement but has no material power and therefore cannot free the others?  The concentrated energy of their thoughts, projected beyond their container?  A computer program set to take over the next people who arrive and free them?  Doubtless there are other possibilities as well.  But some sort of explanation is called for, beyond that he is "evil" awaiting a catalyst to resume marauding.

And then there is the question of how he exercises his mind control.  That is really central to the episode, and will be reserved for the next post(s).

Monday, May 9, 2016

And the Children Shall Lead: The Log

All right, let's start with the part of And the Children Shall Lead that works, the Apocalyptic Log.  Apocalyptic logs are a staple of fiction because they work.  The heroes find someone who went before dead, leaving behind a record of what happened.  It is creepy to read, sending shivers down your spine.  And then exactly the same thing starts happening to our heroes.  Star Trek has used this technique on other occasions, including many excellent episodes.

In this case, our heroes respond to a distress call and arrive to find a mass suicide.  We briefly see the incoherent ranting of the final log entry.  "Must destroy ourselves! Alien upon us. The enemy from within. The enemy!"  Later, Spock plays the disturbing portions of the log, and they are a fine example of the descent into madness.  I should mention here two nits some people pick with the log. One is that the final star date is actually after Kirk and the Enterprise crew arrive to find everybody dead!  Well, okay, everyone knows star date is a godawful mess to begin with.  This little glitch could be solved by editing a few words and does not go to the core of the premise, so I do not consider it a big deal.  The other is that the log, which he presumably recorded into his tricorder somehow shows Starnes from in front, holding his tricorder.  That it strange but, again, it could have been fixed simply by showing a closeup shot.  It does not affect the basic premise.

In the first disturbing entry, Starnes, though calm and in control, remarks that he is having some strange feelings of anxiety, and all the other colonists have them too, except the children.  The next entry shows him with an acute case of the jitters, saying the anxiety is getting worse.  The next one starts out calmer, as he says that Professor Wilkins finished his excavation today and found that an earlier civilization was destroyed in a natural catastrophe, but one of them took refuge in the cave. This is significant because earlier on Spock got some strange readings from the cave and when Kirk when in he got an anxiety attack so bad that he most uncharacteristically panicked and ran out.  The log continues to say that all of them are becoming more apprehensive, as if some unseen force were influencing them.  At this point Tommy disrupts the transmission, so Kirk and Spock withdraw to watch the rest of the log in Kirk's quarters, with McCoy.

I am not quite clear whether what we see in Kirk's quarters is intended as a different log entry or a continuation of the last one.  Certainly his jitters are much worse than when the log was disrupted. The last time he was calm at first, and only beginning to get nervous at the end.  Now he goes from acute jitters to complete meltdown. This is the final entry that we saw the tail end of at the beginning;
I'm being influenced to do things that do not make sense. I even went so far as to call Starfleet Command to request a spaceship to be used as a transport. It was only when I couldn't tell them what I wanted to transport that I began to realize that my mind was being directed. I decided to send a dispatch to Starfleet, warning them. God forgive us. Must destroy ourselves! Alien upon us. The enemy from within. The enemy!
 Spock says that he never completed the entry and the dispatch was never sent, that whatever overwhelmed him must have done so at incredible speed or he would have provided details of the experience.  Um, isn't that what he was doing in the earlier logs?  But I will agree that his degeneration at the end does, indeed, start accelerating and gains momentum very quickly.  But I would like to know whether his complete breakdown happened almost at once after the expedition disturbed something in the cave, or whether there was a delay.  Nor is it entirely clear whether the distress call mentioned at the beginning is the same as the transport ship he requested and realized was a mistake.  I supposed it doesn't really matter; either way the evil power is looking for a ship to get off the planet.

Other than that detail (well, and the two little nits that are easily corrected), I like the log.  It works quite well.  So well, in fact, that I would leave the log almost unchanged and modify the episode to fit it.  For one thing (as I will discuss more in the next post), we should hear a lot more about that cave and what they found.  It appears to contain the secret of the planet.  Yet the whole cave angle goes nowhere and apparently seemed so pointless that it was actually cut in syndication.  The other is that the symptoms on the log work a lot better than the ones on the Enterprise.  The log describes a classic descent into madness.  First they are uneasy.  Then it gets worse.  They try to distract themselves with work, but the sense of apprehension continues to grow.  They start doing strange things without understanding why and begin to suspect that they are being controlled by an external force.  And then complete breakdown and mass suicide.

That is not what happens on the Enterprise.  Instead, they simply change course to Marcus XII without being aware of it, and without any strange psychological symptoms.*  Some notice they are off course and others do not.  But they all behave more or less normally until they realize the ship is off course and the Gorgan appears right in front of them.  Then the children awake their "beast" and the all break down entirely, though without any suicidal tendencies.  What should happen is that after the children beam up, the crew should start feeling strangely tense and anxious.  At first they may just attribute it to seeing some disturbing sights.  But the anxiety keeps getting worse.  Maybe people even start doing strange things for no discernible reason.  And then they view the log and see that this is exactly what happened to the colonists on Triacus right before they went mad and committed mass suicide. . . . .

*Well, except the big fight the guys in engineering put up when Scotty tried to take over and return them to the planet.