In which a Vulcan swears, Kirk is Old now, and a plot is far more quickly forthcoming.
Welcome to the first nod to continuity in Star Trek. You might recall Khan from “Space Seed.” We last left him on Ceti Alpha V with Lieutenant McGivers. From the title, I have reason to believe he’s somewhat wrathful. Let’s find out just how much so.
With Willard Decker transubstantiated into a cloud of dust, the Enterprise ended The Motion Picture without an official captain. Add to that Spock resigning his commission, McCoy retiring (well, Kirk drafted him as a Reservist in TMP, but surely he’d have been allowed to go back to his medallion-wearing sex cult after he helped save the Earth (even if he didn’t actually do very much other than examine the Deltan-shaped probegirl (nested parenthesis, woo!))), right?
We open with a title card: “IN THE 23rd CENTURY…” Kierstie Allie is in command in the Beta Hydra system, near the Klingon Neutral Zone, when a distress call comes in from the Kobiyashi Maru. It also seems somewhat suspicious that Sulu, Spock, and Uhura are all taking orders from this young upstart Vulcan we’ve never heard of, who swears. She goes in to rescue the Maru, Klingons show up, and consoles start exploding and killing the entire bridge crew, everyone we know and love. Looks like Saavik completely failed, losing her ship and all hands. Ooh, Spock is a captain now.
Amusingly (if you’ve seen Into Darkness, which if you’re following this blog I have to assume you have) it’s Kirk, Admiral, giving the speech about how no-win situations are a possibility any time you’re on a ship, rather than Spock, Graduate Student. And here Saavik is the one stolidly insisting that she doesn’t believe in them. On the plus side, it looks like Kirk has finally accepted, if not exactly come to terms with, his leadership role as an Admiral. “Gallavanting around the galaxy is a game for the young,” apparently. Also, we know that Kirk’s solution to the KM test was ‘unique’ and had the virtue of never having been tried before.
Now that Kirk doesn’t live on a military vessel, he’s got a lot more furniture. It’s never actually been a part of his character in TOS that he liked antiques, and yet Spock states it as something matter-of fact, and his bedroom is covered in clocks and astrolabes, and likes a good illegal Romulan Ale now and again. Speaking of which… Kirk is feeling melancholy on his birthday, an antique himself, and Bones tells him to just get back his command.
Meanwhile, Chekov has made his way up to First Officer of the Reliant, which is on its way to Ceti Alpha VI in relation to “Project Genesis,” to test the project on lifeless planet. Carole Marcus is very clear about how they have to be crystal clear that the planet is lifeless. Her son is very worried that the project could have military potential, so Chekov and his captain beam down to make sure the anomalous reading is nothing living. Sadly, what they find is a bunch of formerly-sapacefaring shipping containers, several tins of sardines, a game of checkers, and a terrarium. And an old seatbelt.
Looks like the captain has missed his check-in time, so whoever he left in charge of the ship decides that the best course of action, when your captain is stranded on an uninhabitable planet and possibly trapped under a rock somewhere without his communicator, is to ‘give him more time.’ What happened to Starfleet training? No, that’s not fair. Starfleet Security has never been competent. It does, at least, give Khan a dramatic reveal from his homemade hab suit. What’s really odd, though, is that Chekov wasn’t in “Space Seed” for Khan to recognize him, unless he personally reviewed every crewmember. Chekov certainly wasn’t bridge crew at the time.
By the way, for everyone who was pissed off that Benedict Cumberbatch was tapped to play Khan, let’s not forget that Ricardo Montalban wasn’t northern Indian either. Just saying.
Anyway, apparently shortly after they were exiled to Ceti Alpha V, the sixth planet exploded, shifted the orbit of V, and ruined the ecosystem, and Khan is pissed because nobody ever came to check up on him to make sure his crumpets were toasted. The orbital mechanics of that, and how the Reliant managed to mistake the planets… just no. But Montalban still does a pretty baller job of being an hyper-intelligent augment driven mad by time and loneliness and, dare I say it, wrath.
Ah, the infamous Ceti Alpha worm, whose larvae can kill a genetically engineered augment by burrowing into the ear, causing suggestibility, madness, and death by wrapping themselves around the brain. I’m looking at you, K.A. Applegate and all of your ghostwriters. So the thing about this movie is that it actually starts fairly quickly, but there’s much less new groundbreaking stuff to talk about.
Kirk, Sulu, Uhura, and the whole crew are giving an inspection of the Enterprise, which is now full of trainees. Spock evidently doesn’t rate the dangerous missions in an aging hull that’s seen more action than most of the rest of the fleet combined. I guess they’re trying to rectify those training gaps I mentioned earlier. It also appears Spock has taken something of a shine to Saavik, allowing her to nearly insult Kirk in Vulcan. Presumably she’s one of the few Vulcans actually serving in the fleet at the time, or possibly just the most decorated. Just as presumably, he was something of a role model for her as the first Vulcan in the fleet. As it’s a training flight, nobody really cares where they’re actually going: Spock offers to let Kirk pick, and when Kirk declines he passes it off to Sulu.
Meanwhile, Chekov is back on the Enterprise, feeling weird and suggestable, and ordering the Genesis project transferred tot he Enterprise on the authority of Kirk. Khan, ever the chessmaster, orders this so that Carol Marcus and her team will try to confirm the order with Kirk, who will, it is expected, jump on the nearest ship and speed straight over so that Khan can open his head and piss down his skull. That’s the plan, anyway. Star Treks III through VI will star Khan’s increasingly successful gambits to take over the Federation, the Alpha Quadrant, the Galaxy, and then the local supercluster. Those Kelvins from “By Any Other Name” better watch the hell out.
The call comes in, fuzzy and faint, and is just enough for Kirk to get the word but not tell Marcus that he didn’t give the order. Somehow the transmission was jammed even though the Reliant isn’t even there yet. In more interesting, character-related news, Spock has confirmed that while he’s fine teaching Starship operations on a training flight, he either has more respect for Kirk’s abilities than his own or an astounding lack of ego when it comes to who gets to run his ship. Without getting to fan-fictiony, Spock is definitely not the alpha in this relationship. Kirk keeps trying to soothe Spock’s ego and Spock has to kind of petulantly remind him that he’s thinking like a human. The way Kirk strides onto the bridge afterwards is like he’s once again at home in his own skin.
As a rather nice contrast to everyone falling into line, Khan’s crew are wondering why he’s bothering to challenge Kirk, and Khan quotes Moby Dick at them, because even in a revenge-based action flick, Star Trek is still classy. Moby Dick is a popular book for revenge-bent starship commanders. And with the situation at hand, Kirk is going to let McCoy and Spock in on Genesis. A retinal scan is required to access the data, which from an infosec perspective is problematic. Even in the future, they haven’t learned yet that biometrics are good usernames and terrible passwords. So you, my readers, just take that to heart. Your fingerprint or retina scan is fine as a username, but your password should still be something that nobody can just chop off or scoop out with a melon baller.
The Genesis project is an abiogenesis device which has had two successful tests. The third test is supposed to be powered enough to cover the surface of a moon which, even if it’s not a self-sustaining chain reaction, is powerful enough that David Marcus is absolutely right to be paranoid about letting a major space power get their hands on it. Outside of being an instant terraforming guncapable of solving all the population problems of the Federation. It is worth emphasizing this. The Federation may be a universally first-world society at this point, and it may not be, but it’s enlightened enough to be planning ahead for a potential Malthusian crisis. Scarcity is still a very real specter in this society. McCoy is also worried that it could be evil.
So the Enterprise and the Reliant meet up, and thus the fight begins. Khan is broadcastingf static, Kirk has shields down. Khan waits until they’re passing way too close for any two ships in space to need to pass before opening fire. And when they do, it screws the Enteprise warp car right up the jacksie. At least now we know why the engineers all wear that white suit – it has an emergency respirator built in. As far as why the respirator TUBES would be arrayed on a wall and not built into the suit, that’s just another example of poor Starfleet procedures. If that’s not a space-OSHA violation, then what’s the point of space-OSHA, I ask you.
Khan hails them and starts gloating, agreeing to only kill Kirk if he hands over all Genesis data. Otherwise, the whole crew gets it. Kirk starts scheming, because he’s Kirk and when he’s in command of a starship he doesn’t believe in no-win scenarios. But what’s really funny about this is that Kirk is now acting. Shatner is acting as Kirk acting for Khan. This will come up later. For now, Kirk, as an admiral, has the knowledge and authority to remotely take command of the Reliant in certain, key ways. If memory serves, this will come up again in TNG “Peak Performance.”
Time for an aside. Occasionally, we see shields depicted as bubbles of energy. This display shows them as skin protection. It could simply be a display, but something about that strikes me as odd. Surely it wouldn’t be difficult to have an accurate display? There’s something odd going on here.
With the shields down, Kirk opens fire and now the Reliant is as badly damaged as the Enterprise. Both ships disengage to nurse their wounds, and the Enterprise limps back to the space station Regula I to secure the Genesis device. Kirk, McCoy, and Saavik beam over and promptly split up for the horror sequence, so that McCoy can bump into the corpses that have been strung up all over the station. He left Chekov alive, though, for some reason. Probably to screw with Kirk. Or possibly as a trojan horse. But if they can be believed (which they can’t, there’s no reason to suspect the worm is no longer in Chekov’s head) Carol escaped with the Genesis device.
Spock calls up Kirk and gives repair estimates in the most transparent cipher possible. The only way Khan could possibly fall for this as he listens in is by not believing they could be so stupid as to transmit the cipher along with the message. Kirk leaves some final orders along the lines of ‘if we die, go home’ and beams down to wherever the science team went, which appears to be the a storage cave on the planet. They get immediately attacked by the scientists, at which point Kirk punches the bejeezus out of his own son. Chekov and his captain reveal their traitorhood. Fortunately. their suggestability doesn’t appear to be that deep. Captain Tyrell vaporizes himself rather than follow Khan’s order and Chekov’s cognitive dissonance gives his brainworm an aneurysm. Kirk and Khan trade more taunts back and forth, and this is where Kirk sells it.
This is Kirk, who is not an actor but is nevertheless a very good bluffer, pretending to be helpless, hopeless, and unprepared for what Khan has meted out upon him. This is William Shatner portraying that. This is the cinematographer believing that repeating this infamous scream as we zoom out over an airless void would not be misrepresented as the hammiest moment in all of cinema. The shout is shorter than you think it is. The musical sting just screws with you.
TO BE CONTINUED…