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The Enterprise has been called to the planet Triacus, where a scientific/archaeological team is investigating the ruins of a long-dead civilization. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and some redshirts beam down to investigate. They find all of the dozen adults in the research team dead in the middle of the camp. However, the half-dozen children brought along on the expedition are in fine condition, running and playing with absolutely no concerns about their parents.
The leader of the expedition has a tricorder with a message he recorded warning about an enemy that was there. McCoy finds evidence that all the adults took poison to kill themselves. Clearly something strange is going on, but the first order of business is to bury the dead. During the funeral service, the children can't stand still and run off to play, apparently unaware that it's their parents that have died.
McCoy believes the children are suffering from several shock that has essentially given them amnesia about recent events; he thinks it could be dangerous to question the children about their parents' deaths. Kirk sends McCoy back to the ship with the children. Spock gets an odd sensor reading from a cave, so he and Kirk check it out. Almost immediately, Kirk gets an overwhelming feeling of anxiety; even he realizes it's irrational and strange, but he can't stay in the cave. When they are back outside, Kirk brushes off the incident - maybe because it was a little embarrassing.
Kirk leaves a couple of redshirts on the planet, and he and Spock return to the ship. Kirk is determined to question the children obliquely and heads to the arboretum, where the children are having ice cream. When he talks to the children, he carefully talks around the fact that their parents are dead. The children do not miss their parents at all. They feel like they were ignored by their parents on Triacus, because their parents were always busy, busy, busy working. Their play in this scene is given a feeling of menace, giving us more of a clue that the children are the key to the mystery.
In the children's quarters, we see them do a nursery rhyme chant, and an image of a being is conjured up; it has the appearance of a fat man. The man praises the children's work so far and tells them that they need to control key people on the ship in order to set the ship on course for Marcus 12, a planet with millions of inhabitants. We're not sure what the being's goals are, since he's couching all his propaganda in simple terms for the children.
On the bridge, Spock is playing back key log entries from the research team for Kirk. The leader of the team talks about feeling like an unseen presence was there and that they are feeling more anxious and paranoid - his constantly shifting eyes and his demeanor certainly convey that feeling. The oldest boy, Tommy, comes to the bridge, does a few hand gestures (that look kind of obscene, frankly), and the log playback is disrupted. Oblivious, Kirk gives Tommy permission to stay on the bridge, then he and Spock leave to watch the rest of the logs. Tommy uses his mysterious power to control Sulu, Chekov, and Uhura and have them change the Enterprise's course to leave orbit and head toward Marcus 12.
In Kirk's quarters, he and Spock watch the rest of the log entry. The team leader talks about the "enemy from within" and that they have to destroy themselves, presumably to keep the enemy from winning. Despite McCoy's misgivings, Kirk is determined to question the children more closely.
But first, he goes to oversee the change in the guards on the planet. The replacements and beamed down, and then when the attempt is made to beam up the two guards on the planet, he and Spock discover they are no longer in orbit. The two guards just beamed down were beamed into space. It seems unbelievable for this kind of accident to happen. Isn't there some kind of checklist that is done every time the transporter is used to verify the validity of the beam-down coordinates? For that matter, it seems like the writer is purposely forgetting the existence of communicators - one might expect a routine check-in before the guards are beamed up, just so they're ready, if nothing else.
Kirk storms to the bridge and finds the children doing their chant again to summon the being. The being praises them again and tells them they are invincible. He tells them to use their powers to call up the "beast" in any crewmember that tries to go against them. The being disappears, and Kirk orders a change in course. However, Sulu and Chekov are still convinced that they are in orbit around the planet. When Kirk seems to be making headway in convincing Sulu to change course anyway, Tommy calls up Sulu's "beast": apparently Sulu's deepest fear is that he'll cause the Enterprise's destruction by an incorrect maneuver. This is represented in Sulu's view as the Enterprise flying through daggers is space - a change in course will destroy them. This is a pretty silly visual.
Kirk orders Uhura to send a message to Starfleet, describing their situation. Tommy calls up Uhura's greatest fear: seeing her own death as an old woman. I suppose seeing one's own death would be a horrible and scary thing, but since Uhura is a woman, this of course is represented as her seeing herself being old and ugly. She is so stricken by this vision that she can't do anything. Why is there a mirror on her console, anyway?
Kirk orders Spock to send the message, but Tommy prevents Spock from being able to reach the console. Just as Tommy calls up Kirk's greatest fear, Spock comes to his sense and realizes they need to get away from the children. He drags Kirk into the turbolift, where Kirk has a breakdown caused by his fear of losing command. Shatner plays Kirk way to over-the-top here, and with the dreadful nature of the rest of the episode, it's just awful. However, he pulls himself together, and he and Spock head for auxiliary control.
In auxiliary control, Scotty is under the control of one of the children. He refuses to allow a change in course, because they might somehow get forever lost in space. Kirk and Spock give up on this attempt, but back out in the corridor, they are confronted by Chekov and two security guards. Chekov claims that Starfleet has ordered Kirk's arrest. Kirk tries to talk sense into Chekov, but he and Spock end up fighting with and overpowering them.
Kirk decides on a plan to get rid of the being's control over the children. He and Spock go back to the bridge and use a recording of the children's chant to call the image of the being. Kirk and the being debate inanely about good versus evil, with the being's main point seemingly that good people are too gentle to succeed. Quite a winning argument.
Kirk tells the children the being is a liar and he's not actually helping them. He shows the children videos of them playing happily with their parents on Triacus. Then the view switches abruptly to scenes of the parents lying dead, and then their graves. This is successful in shocking the children into realizing that their parents are dead and that working with the being has not been a good thing for them. The being slowly loses his pleasant appearance, and then fades away.
Everyone who was under the children's control returns to normal, and McCoy is happy to see the children beginning to grieve.
This was a dreadful episode. The plot seems pretty pointless, and the execution is poor. First we get hyperactive, annoying children, and then we get crying, annoying children. I really don't understand how the being made the children so oblivious to their parents' deaths.
The events on the planet don't make a lot of sense. If the adults are worried about allowing some kind of evil to spread, why don't they kill the children along with themselves? Otherwise, how do they know the evil won't be able to spread through the children? Also, do they expect the children to survive alone? Why doesn't the alien being brainwash some of the adults into helping him? They would be much more effective allies.
Kirk is extraordinarily ineffective in countering the children and their powers. Sure, at first, they seem to be ordinary children. Even so, Kirk seems to be the first to realize they might be involved somehow. But much later in the episode, he seems incredulous when Spock suggests that the children could be spreading the evil. He's very inconsistent.
Why doesn't Kirk or Spock think of stunning the children with a phaser? Catch them by surprise and zap them! Sure, you wouldn't normally want to subject children to even that level of violence, but given the situation it seems like the perfect solution. I feel like the writer of this episode was being purposely ignorant of this option.
We don't really have any idea what the evil being wanted, besides some kind of conquest. Why? And why could the being leave Triacus with the children, but not by himself?
TOS has spent a lot of time showing how outward appearances can be deceiving, and that "monsters" aren't necessarily bad. And then in this episode, they show the being becoming ugly once he's found out to be evil. Sigh.
The episode dragged on and on, with way too much time spent on the various "beasts" of the crew and the children pumping their fists. I'm not going to make this review go on any longer.