This is a very bad episode, almost unwatchable in spots. But knowing that worse are on the way makes some of this forgiveable. And watching this bad episode is actually instructive. There is definitely a solid premise here that is so mangled it's almost unrecognizable. Mostly the execution of the script must be blamed.
Start with the fact that the bad guy is utterly unmotivated. Who is this being and what are his attributes/powers? What does he want? Why has he recruited the children? Why did he need to kill the adults? How did he do it? How did he recruit the children? How does he keep them under his control? Why does he want to go to a specific planet? Without motivation, a bad guy's actions have no teeth. Without coherent powers, a bad guy isn't really even scary.
A meager attempt to explain some of this is given in Spock's recitation of the "legend" of the planet. Since when do starfleet officers traffic in planetary legends? And even so, the legend itself offers no real answers to any of the motivation questions. The tricorder found on the planet offers a very vague sense that something is wrong, but nothing specific enough to help us out. In fact, I love the part where Spock says to Kirk, "There is another portion, Captain, which I believe you'll find particularly interesting." But the entry which follows is neither interesting nor explanative. It's as if the writer was hoping that by providing enough ingredients, the viewer could create the soup himself. That's very lazy and un-Trek. Alternately, this could be one of those cases where it was so clear to the writer, possibly because of script drafts which have come and gone, that he felt like it was sufficiently explained. This is a dangerous trap which can only be avoided by stepping back and asking the question, "If I knew nothing about this story, would I be able to get it?"
Gorgon (whose name Kirk luckily guesses -- another sign that earlier script drafts hold the key) comes across more than once as an evangelical-style leader, motivating his followers to an unstated cause which appears to be simply the acquisition of more followers. He speaks in absolute terms ("As you believe, so shall you do."), seems to hold revival-style meetings to motivate the children, responds to ritualized chants, is characterized by our heroes as preying on the weak, and is dressed unsubtley in a modified clerical robe. When properly exposed he is seen as evil. Barely hidden inside this episode is an attempted stinging critique of the evangelical religious movement. Not only is this uncharacteristic of Trek (which only half a season ago tacitly endorsed Christianity in "Bread and Circuses"), but the ideas are so poorly wrapped that they may as well not be there.
I don't want to fault the premise too much. After all, Trek writers were encouraged to have something to say. And agree or disagree, the evangelical movement seems fair game for sci-fi treatment. But this script is so sloppy, so unfocused, so filled with gigantic holes that it has no affect other than to make the viewer want to turn away.
The children make unlikely catalysts for the action. For one thing, they're just plain too cute. Ferdin particularly, who was so well known for cute-as-a-bug roles, cannot overcome this image and be viewed as evil. They only manage some sense of menace once they start shaking their fists. But this gets way overused, and the scenes demonstrating their control over the ship are painfully extended. The knife optical and Uhura's make-up must have cost a relative fortune, so they are given far too much screen time. And is Spock susceptible or not? Where's McCoy with a hypo spray when you need him? Is it possible for someone like Kirk to simply shake off the mind control?
In the middle of it all are two nice bits of craft. The children are seen to eat ice cream on a new Enterprise set which looks like a large recreation area. This is most welcome, although I do not believe it was ever seen again. Seeing these types of spaces every once in a while (even if they are just redresses of existing sets) is what keeps us believing we are on a big ship in deep space. Additionally, a fine musical score tries to salvage some dignity for the proceedings, but really has no chance of doing so.
In the midst of the train-wreck of this episode is another example of the condescension so prevalent in the third season. After the children trick Sulu into leaving orbit, and we know that what Sulu sees on the screen is not real, the child repeats to us in words what the images have just told us (Tommy: "He sees Triacus on the screen." Mary: "He THINKS he sees it."). This is inexcusable, and reason enough to deeply hate this episode.
Rating: Bottom (6)