Kids are fucking scary. Their hands are always sticky, they put things in their mouths that they pick up on the floor, and they can be cruel cruel little bastards. Fiction has mined children well to symbolize just about whatever they want, from innocence, to youth to corruptible sheep.
However, there’s always been a sense of children secretly just wanting to murder you, and I mostly blame Steven King for that. A baby stalks a house, slitting people’s tendons in “Pet Sematary.” Psychics and ghost children encounter unimaginable horror in “The Shining.” A little girl and her possessed doll deal death in “Chinga,” in one of “The X-Files” worst episodes (I am contractually obligated to make as many “X-Files” references as possible in these blogs).
But the granddaddy of them all is “Children of the Corn,” where a group of children massacre a town and a group of unfortunate passerby’s to give sacrifice to the dark god in the cornfield. Isaac, the charismatic leader of the cult punishes those who enter the town, and even turns on his own cult when his god demands it.
“Children of the Corn” falls into the violent side of the “children running society” sub-genre of fiction, and today’s episode “Miri” borrows as much from it as it does the genre’s biggest and most prestigious contributor, “Lord of the Flies.”
The Enterprise gets a distress call from a planet that appears exactly like Earth, and when Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Rand (why?) beam down, they discover that the planet appears to be a destroyed Earth, which resembles the 1960s if the 1960s resembled the “Leave it to Beaver” set. The crew quickly comes in contact with a man/child with a debilitating infection who attacks them and promptly dies. The town is empty, but the group eventually discovers the thirteen year old, Miri, who tells them about the society of children and the death of the adults in the town.
Much of this episode is devoted to children being really antagonistic. Spock and a security detail are attacked by children throwing rocks from buildings, who run away before the half-Vulcan can get a good look at them. The children steal the landing party’s communicators, sabotage their plans, and attack Kirk when he tries to talk to their leaders. To make matters worse, the children are led by Jahn, an older child who wants to protect the children and be as fucking annoying as possible.
This is always the problem with television episodes and movies that try to establish children as an antagonist or threat. It’s generally hard to buy into kids being scary. Most of them are pretty terrible actors, given difficult dialogue and forced to deal with more established and generally intimidating characters. This is the problem with Jahn. He is supposed to be a military leader (check out his “Warriors” style jacket), but his dialogue sounds forced and terrible when he is explaining the stakes to the younger children. He’s giving it his all, but he doesn’t have the chops to pull off a legitimate threat, and the script doesn’t do him any favors.
The only child actor who really works is, unsurprisingly, Miri. She is legitimately smitten with Kirk, in the way that any pre-teen girl would be, and she still has some of that aw-shucks charm that makes her work as sort of a gopher for the landing party. She even manages to sell being a traitor to Kirk when she thinks that he is in love with Rand.
The threat in the episode turns out to really work as well. Disease is one of the go-to threats for just about any sci-fi show because it just works. Disease can be anything that it needs to be, can have a harsh time frame, and can bring out the worst in people. All the scenes where McCoy and Kirk get more and more impatient with each other really work out well, and although the audience knows that the crew is going to make it out alive, the situation looks pretty grim and the stakes are really high. Plus, the show manages to make a pretty good analogy to puberty and growing up that would shame some modern day television writers.
Which makes the parts with Jahn’s society even harder to watch. If the writers had just wanted the children to be as abrasive and hard to convince as possible, then they vastly succeeded. They don’t want to hear what Kirk has to say at the climax of the episode, and they don’t plan on listening, but this would have really been the time for them to do something about their situation. At least Jahn and some of the older children would have recognized the danger they were in as they ran out of food and were slowly contracting the disease.
Ultimately, everything wraps up nicely. McCoy is safe, the disease is cured, Kirk continues to not look at Rand’s non-disease ridden legs, and the kids will soon be receiving tutors and health professionals, which might be the first mention of some sort of governing body that I have heard of.
One thing that really needs mentioned before this all wraps up though, is the relationship between Kirk and Miri. I can see where people, particularly today, would see their relationship as moving pretty close to Chris Hanson asking about your plans for the evening territory, but it is simpler and more complex than that. It’s pretty obvious, as well as being clearly stated that Miri loves Kirk. She has more than a crush, and is smitten by him. At first, Kirk is just being nice, trying to comfort the distressed girl and keep his crew safe, but the relationship does take some weird turns. He touches her cheeks a lot with one hand, which I think is the universally recognized form of getting ready to engage in romantic activity, and the way he makes her sharpen pencils is kind of bizarre. Kirk is definitely taking advantage of her, but I wouldn’t say there is much of a sense of returning feelings on his part.
The reason these scenes come off as creepy or weird then is just because Shatner doesn’t have the acting chops to pull them off. He does hammy and over the top really well, but when he needs to play a character that can communicate an inner motive while manipulating a person with more overt actions, he flops around, unable to walk and chew at the same time.
There’s really good stuff going on in “Miri,” but the myriad problems hold it back. Children as a threat is a smart move, but for a variety of reasons, it isn’t as effective as it could be, but the landing party’s mounting frustration and paranoia is great fun to watch. Ultimately, it ends up being a mostly average episode that I’m just ok with.
Once again, Scotty and Sulu are both missing, and I really miss Sulu. Uhura is also, oddly enough, missing, her place being replaced by the guy who replaced Sulu in “What are Little Girls Made Of?” Really though, it’s nice to see a landing team that’s not just Kirk and a totally inconsequential character.
This was, I think, the second mention of Vulcans having green blood. The more you know…
“Whatever happens, I can’t go back on the ship, and I want to go back on the ship, Captain.”
Shatner gets to engage in some “ACTING!” in this one, mostly by just yelling at children a lot. For example,
“No blah, blah, blah!”
“No, I don’t feel alright! None of us feel alright! Don’t you see what’s going on!?!”
“Look at it, it’s in you!”
I really hate, and “Star Trek” is really bad about this, when someone says “we have X days left.” I understand that it works for disease incubation times and things like that, but most of the time, it is a totally inconsequential number that the episode will mostly ignore anyway. Just ignore the time, and let it all play out.
Next Up: “Dagger of the Mind” which I’m really hoping for some trippy mind control/brain attack or something.