My goal in reviewing And the Children Shall Lead is to downplay snark, i.e., mocking the episode for being so bad, and instead to emphasize analysis, i.e., how this admittedly bad episode might be salvaged. With False Memories, I went through chronologically, emphasizing all the places clues were planted that never amounted to anything. Here, I find that the best way to analyze the episode is by subject matter. There are several topics or themes raised in the episode, some better than others, and I want to go through them one by one. But to see them in context, it is necessary to first have an outline of the plot and know what happens and in what order. So for this post I will give a simple plot outline, keeping both snark and analysis to a minimum. The script is here.
The Enterprise responds to a distress call from the Federation colony on Triacus. The arrive to find all the colonists dead in an apparent mass suicide by poison. (Note: This was ten years before the mass suicide by poison at Jonestown, so this was not one of Star Trek's annoying attempts to be topical. It was an original). The landing party arrives just in time to see Professor Starnes, the leader of the colony, drop dead. His tricorder contains an incoherent rant about must destroy themselves to escape the enemy within.
But not all the colonists are dead. The children are alive and well. In fact, they are carefree, running and playing, acting just like normal children under ordinary circumstances, oblivious to the fact that their parents are lying dead all around them. There are five children, led by Professor Starnes' 13-year-old son, Tommy. The other four are around seven or eight. One is a blonde, pig-tailed girl named Mary. The other three are boys, one black, one Asian, and one white. We hear their names, but none really make much impression. In fact, the three smaller boys just sort of troop around and never do anything to mark themselves as individuals, with one or two exceptions I will discuss later. (Commercial break).
The Enterprise crew bury the adults and take the children back to the ship with Dr. McCoy. Kirk and Spock remain behind. Spock believes the suicide was induced by an alien intelligence. He gets a strange tricorder reading from a cave and goes in to investigate. Nothing out of the ordinary is visible, but the closer Kirk gets to the source of the reading, the stronger his sense of anxiety, until he is overcome by panic and has to run out. Very out of character!
Returning to the ship, the children are eating ice cream (more on that later) and continuing to act as if it were a perfectly normal occasion. McCoy doesn't know what is the matter, but doesn't want to press them too directly about their parents being dead for fear of harming them. Kirk delicately raises the subject with them. They didn't like Triacus and are resentful of their parents and say they liked it. When Kirk starts saying their parents brought them to Triacus because they loved them and would miss them and asks the children if they miss their parents too. Apparently this is Getting Too Close, because Tommy immediately starts the children running around buzzing, saying "Busy, busy busy" and acting out a swarm of bees. (Come to think of it, while the younger children's behavior would be normal except for their parents being dead, Tommy's behavior really isn't normal considering his age). Mary gets hostile and starts to "sting" Kirk. Kirk dismisses the others and tries to talk to Tommy alone. Tommy admits that his father was upset the last time he saw him, but is generally dismissive of adults, saying they loved the planet and never had time for him. The children seem resentful of adults and any attempt to impose any rules or limitations. Tommy heads for his quarters. Kirk posts a guard on the children,
Apparently posting a guard on the children means stationing him outside their door to see when and where they go and if anyone visits them. Because the guard is not in the room to see them all put their hands into the center and go round in a circle, chanting:
Hail, hail, fire and snow
Call the angel we will go
Far away. Far to see
Friendly Angel come to me.
Their "friendly angel" appears, a shimmering translucent being played by Melvin Belli, a celebrity trial lawyer of the day, but a lousy actor. The Friendly Angel congratulates the children on a job well done and tells them to go to the Federation colony of Marcus XII, although Kirk will prefer a "closer station." There are millions of people on Marcus XII. Nearly a million will follow them. With these they will go on to conquer the universe. He promises them freedom from all adult rules, freedom to play all they want. "And as you believe, so shall you do, so shall you do. As you believe, so shall you do, so shall you do." The children pound the table with their fists. (Commercial break).
When we return Kirk and Spock are on the bridge listening to some "unscientific" portions of Professor Starnes' logs. First, he calmly mentions having feelings of anxiety, and that all the adult colonists are feeling them as well, but the children are unaffected. Later, clearly quite jittery, he says the anxiety is getting worse. Later still, he seems calmer and says that one of the scientists completed his excavation, and that whatever civilization was there before was destroyed in a natural catastrophe, but one of them took refuge in a cave. (The same cave where Kirk had his strange panic attack!) The apprehension is getting worse, as if some unseen force were influencing them. Then Tommy shows up on the bridge and pounds his fist, sans table, to make the transmission cease. Tommy demands to be taken to Marcus XII. Kirk says Marcus XII is "not within our patrol area," and that he intends to take them to a star base instead. Kirk may sense that Tommy has something to do with why they cannot play the log, so he has Spock and McCoy join him in his quarters to view it there.
On the bridge with the Captain absent, Tommy uses is table pounding to make Sulu change course to take them to Marcus XII, but to continue to see the planet on the screen. Chekov also sees the planet. Uhura at first sees that it is missing, but a little table pounding soon makes her see it as well. Mary joins Tommy on the bridge. The black boy has taken over engineering. The other two boys are presumably taking over other parts of the ship, but we do not get to see where.
In the privacy of Kirk's quarters, the trio view the rest of Starnes' log. Starnes is now completely freaking out. He says that he called Star Fleet to request a space ship to be used as a transport without knowing why, under an alien influence. Then he descends into the mad rant we saw at the beginning. Spock mentions that there are also films of family life, fun, games, and picnics with the children. He says that whatever overwhelmed them must have done so with incredible speed or he would have provided the details, like the scientist that he was. Kirk suggests that maybe he was destroyed to silence him. Spock agrees, saying, "Evil does seek to maintain power by suppressing the truth." "Or by misleading the innocent," says McCoy. Dum dum dah! The children! Kirk asks Spock about the lost civilization Starnes mentioned and Spock says that according to legend the planet was home to "a band of marauders who made constant war throughout the system of Epsilon Indi" who were eventually destroyed by their victims but (the legend says), the evil is awaiting a catalyst to set it again into motion and send it marauding across the galaxy. Kirk fears that the children may be the catalyst it is seeking. He also fears that the Enterprise may serve as the transport ship that Starnes was influenced into summoning.
And here I just have to resort to snark, with a little analysis thrown in. Kirk realizes that there haven't been any red shirts killed so far this episode. Clearly this oversight must be corrected! So he summons to red shirts to beam down to the planet they are no longer orbiting and replace the ones apparently on patrol now. Needless to say, when there is something to be investigated and Kirk sends red shirts instead of going himself, it is a sure sign that whatever it is will be instantly fatal. In this case, whatever it is turns out to be beaming into space. (That's fatal, all right!). They don't realize their error until they try to beam up the red shirts on the planet and are unable to lock on. Only then do they realize that they are no longer in orbit. Apparently the point of this scene is reveal to Kirk that they are no longer in orbit. But there are less lethal ways of conveying this information. Like trying to beam up the team on the ground before beaming their replacements into space. Or just hailing them and trying to communication, only to receive no answer. I can only assume the real purpose here is to keep the red shirt body count up to quota.
So, the children have reached a crisis. The Enterprise crew has found out that they are no longer in orbit and are going to attempt to return. So they summon their Friendly Angel for guidance. Except that the summon him on the bridge in the sight of everyone instead of going back to their quarters and summoning him in private. He assures them that being discovered does not mean that they are defeated. "If resistance mounts, call upon their beast. Their beast will serve us well. The fear in each one of them is the beast which will consume him. Remember how it was on Triacus. If they resist, so shall it be on the Enterprise."
And, indeed, they set out to control the crew by bringing up their greatest fears, which they can invoke by pounding their fists, sans table. Sulu doesn't dare change course because he sees the Enterprise traveling through a tunnel of knives that will slice them to pieces if they move. Scotty refuses to change course because he is hysterical about his engines (what is new?) and thinks the ship will blow up if they do. A mirror unaccountably appears at Uhura's station reflecting her beautiful face, but when she goes to call Star Fleet, she sees herself as a hideous old woman and breaking into sobs. Kirk orders the security guards to take his disobedience crew off the bridge, the the children shake their fists and his words come out garbled. The guard just stands there, saying nothing. Kirk's greatest fear is losing command, and he becomes hysterical and treats us to William Shatner hamminess at its worst. Spock takes him off the bridge, where his panic attack continues in the elevator, but eventually he gets a grip on himself. As a latch ditch effort, they send Chekov with two guards to arrest him on supposed orders from Star Fleet. Checkov becomes hysterical at the thought of disobeying an order. Kirk and Spock overpower the trio and head back for the bridge, Kirk's beast now gone.
On the bridge, Tommy is sitting in the captain's chair with Mary standing beside him. The black boy has been sent to engineering and the other two boys to unspecified locations. Kirk throws Tommy out of his chair and demands to see their Friendly Angel. When they refuse, he orders Spock to play back a recording of the chant they used to summon the "Gorgan." No explanation of the name, which has never been mentioned up to this point. Apparently the linking hands in the middle and going in a circle is optional, because the Gorgan (or whatever) appears. Apparently the children can sense his presence because the others also arrive. Kirk tells the Gorgan, "My beast is gone. It lost its power in the light of reality." The Gorgan tells Kirk he and his crew are two "gentle" to be of any uses. "[Y]our 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 plays footage of the children and their parents playing on Triacus. They smile at the memory. Then he plays the dead parents and their gravestones. The children cry. Each surname on a tombstone is shown with the presumed child of the buried parents crying. The Gorgan tries to convince the children of the need to kill their parents and his promises if they will join him. They keep crying. He starts breaking out in hideous sores and disappears saying, "Death to you all. Death to you all." The illusions he was creating cease. McCoy comes onto the bridge, sees the children crying, and says that now they can be helped. The episode ends just as they arrive at Marcus XII.