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.

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