Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Star Trek: And the Children Shall Lead

Episode: "And the Children Shall Lead"
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 3, Episode 4
Original Air Date: October 11, 1968
via Memory Alpha
As I have written previously, I feel one of Star Trek's greatest weaknesses is stories about children.  In this week's episode, "And the Children Shall Lead," our heroes respond to a distress call on planet Triacus.  All of the adult members of the scientific expedition there are either dead or nearly so.  The surviving children, however, are downright giddy, playing merrily, completely indifferent to their lost parents.  When the kids come aboard the Enterprise, we learn of their mysterious powers.  They are under the control of an apparition called Gorgan.  In time, it is revealed that Gorgan manipulated them first into destroying their own parents and now into hijacking the ship to a larger settlement.

From the beginning, the relationship between the crew and the children is awkward.  To a point, this is appropriate to the story but the acting suffers, too.  The episode has other narrative flaws.  Gorgan advises the children to win the ship by exerting their influence over the crew whereas to me, it would have made a lot more sense to get to the captain first, before he realized what was happening.  Faulty strategic thinking often stifles the bad guys in these stories.

*****
via Memory Alpha
Melvin Belli (Gorgan) had easily the most unusual career path of any actor I've featured in my Star Trek series.  Born July 29, 1907 in Sonora, California, Belli was not a professional actor at all.  He was a trial lawyer and an extremely successful one at that.  Early in his career, he built his reputation as a personal injury and consumer rights attorney.  But fame and fortune came from representing celebrities such as Erroll Flynn, Chuck Berry, Muhammed Ali and the Rolling Stones among many others.  In his highest profile case of all, he served as Jack Ruby's defense attorney for the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald.

Belli was quite a colorful character in his own right.  When he'd win a court case, he'd raise a Jolly Roger flag and fire a cannon atop his office building in San Francisco.  Married six times in total, his fifth divorce was especially bizarre.  He accused his ex-wife of having an affair with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and of throwing one of Belli's dogs off the Golden Gate Bridge.  Belli died in 1996 of pancreatic cancer.

16 comments:

  1. "Hail, hail, fire and snow..." Yeah, this was a weird one. I first saw this probably when I was around the age of those child actors. Despite the awkward acting, the ending (when they essentially woke up to what had transpired) was kind of chilling. Reminded me of that episode of the Brady Bunch when Bobby dreamed that Jesse James killed his family. Being campy and over the top doesn't necessarily take the sting out of it for young viewers.

    FYI, I'd pay good money to see Robert Downey Jr. don a fat-suit to do the Melvin Belli biopic. :-)

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    1. Brady Bunch reference - somewhere, my sister is smiling.

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  2. Interesting post for sure. The Jolly Roger flag and cannon is great stuff. But really...six marriages? Hmmmm

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    1. Yeah, I'm guessing the guy had some relationship issues.

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  3. I remember being frightened and uneasy about this episode. Belli was superb in being creepy, and after reading this mini-bio, that makes perfect sense. Being his friend may have been a dangerous thing.

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    1. And being his wife was clearly no picnic, either!

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  4. Why didn't I know about that guy? Fired a cannon in the city? Bizarre.

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  5. I thought it unlikely at the time that a planetary survey party would get the jumps so bad they'd poison themselves when a harmless, mild sedative would do. But then I'd never been terrorized by Melvin Belli, who incidentally did a great job in this episode. Everybody got a kick out of it.

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    1. He did do a great job. It's no surprise that a good trial lawyer could make for a passable actor.

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  6. The story about Belli is much more interesting that what I remember about this episode. When people are truly wacky, they're wacky all the time. Intelligent...but wacky.

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    1. I agree. Belli's story is better than the episode's story.

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  7. I love the clip you selected of the children.

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  8. I think a lot of shows suffer when children come on the set. Not all of course. But I think it is difficult to have a child actor. They are not predictable and there are many factors in play.

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    1. You definitely need good writing to make it work. Modern Family is a fine example of what is possible.

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