In which I spend a lot of time talking about obvious parallels, I ruin the mystery, and I spend a lot of time talking about obvious parallels.
Here it is. The last of the Original Series. I’m not counting the Animated Series, though those are still good for filler between movies, but this is… kind of bittersweet, I suppose. What will I complain about when I don’t have McCoy’s irrationality to harp on?
When last we left our heroes, they had blown up god with a torpedo and some assistance from a Klingon scout ship, and Kirk, having saved the Klingon counselor to “The Planet of Galactic Peace” must surely be helping along the ultimate peace process between the Klingon Empire and the Federation. I should also mention that this movie came out in 1991, which is a widely-aggreed-upon date of the end of the Cold War. I mention this because the Klingons have always been a proxy for how the US and Russia got along in the era – poorly, and by fighting proxy wars. With a certain amount of foreknowledge from having watched this movie about a dozen times, I can confidently predict some of those themes will come into play. And since I’m feeling too sick to drink heavily, I’ll probably lapse into that more than I’ll be making dick jokes. You have been warned.
We open with Captain Sulu running the Excelsior and drinking tea when a massive explosion throws the ship for a loop. Like, crewmen getting tossed out of their bunks a loop. A subspace shockwave originating from Praxis, a Klingon moon that handles most of their energy production. It’s worth pointing out that the Chernobyl disaster occurred five years prior to this movie, and though it’s hard to point at events in history and say ‘this definitively caused that,’ the Chernobyl disaster was definitely a key factor in the dissolution of the USSR.
So Sulu sends a communication to Klingon high command asking if they need help. Despite the whole moon having exploded and sent a shockwave across the Neutral Zone, the Klingons are not asking for help. Cut to a Federation conference room, a highly classified briefing chaired by the Commander in Chief, stating that the Klingon Empire is going to dissolve in 50 years, due to the Praxis incident and overspending on military expenses. Spock, the presenter, mentions disarmament and peace, with some predictable dissent. Like one admiral saying that if the Federation gave them safe haven, they would become ‘the alien trash of the galaxy.’
Kirk gets a chance to speak up, and supports that viewpoint on the grounds that the Klingons are untrustworthy and treacherous. This puts him in direct opposition with Spock, who thinks things through and points out that if the Federation doesn’t make peace, the Klingons will probably try a military solution. And Kirk appears to be assigned to the task of making peace. Seems like a grand idea. Kirk and the Enterprise will be an escort that hostile elements of the Klingon government will be hesitant to attack, which offers them the best chance of getting Chancellor Gorkon to Earth safely, to begin the peace process.
Kirk and Spock get a moment alone, and Kirk allows his raw hatred of all things Klingon to show. “They’re animals.” “Let them die.” This is a harsh Kirk, particularly after the events of Star Trek V. Yet one more reason I’ve decided that movie isn’t canon. In light of that, Kirk’s last significant interaction with Klingons had them murdering his son to get access to a terraforming device. A device that they could only think of as a weapon, the savages. With his crew ready to stand down in three months, Kirk is at the end of his career (again) and set in his ways. He’s spent a lifetime fighting Klingon aggression and it’s taken its toll.
Kirk and the chief executive staff make it to the bridge and are greeted by a Vulcan helmsman, Valeris, who is the first Vulcan to graduate at the top of her class. This is surprising. Vulcans are by nature pretty good at mental discipline, and we know that Spock can calculate time travel vectors in his head. So obviously he didn’t have trouble with the science and math portion of his studies. What’s left? Ambition, intuition, leadership? Many qualities that Spock has suppressed in himself, if you’ll recall. That Saavik must also have suppressed. That every other Vulcan to graduate from the Academy prior to Valeris must have suppressed. Either that, or she’s the first one not to run afoul of anti-Vulcan predjudice. We are beginning to see a grittier Starfleet, after all.
There’s a cute moment where we get to see Kirk flouting regulations by using real impulse power within the spacedock, and for a moment we get a view of his old ‘master of my own fate’ boyish charm, before we go right back to him muttering about how much he hates Klingons, particularly ever since they killed David. He’s also holding the entire species responsible for that event. Valeris shows up and simpers a bit, before going to Spock and simpering at him as well. They have a brief discussion about endings.
This is Important. Everything about this movie so far has been about endings. Even the title, which reference I will assume my readers all get but if not then read your goddamn Hamlet. Spock speaks to this young hotshot Lieutennant about the end of his career as a Starfleet officer, and her ascension in his place. Even as he wears what look suspiciously like mourning robes.
Say what you will about Klingons, you can’t deny they’re the most metal of species. Gorkon is using an enormous tusk of some probably terrifying animal as a cane, and his chief of staff is wearing an eyepatch that’s actually riveted to his face. He greets Kirk with a warrior’s greeting, which is probably intended to be flattering but Kirk is not really in the mood. And the two security guards on detail immediately start in on the casual racism.
At dinner, Gorkon offers a toast to The Undiscovered Country. Nobody seems very plussed until he decides that he means ‘the future’ instead of… you know… death. The beloved crew are trying very hard to be polite, but this entire scene is an amazing series of faux pas after faux pas that culminates in Kirk calling Chang out for quoting Hitler. Gorkon is the most understanding in pointing out that the old guard are the last people to accept a new peace. Meanwhile, Chang relentlessly quotes Shakespeare. Like a boss. As the Klingons beam back aboard their own ship, Kirk and his crew relax again into their casual racism again, with only Spock willing to point out how badly the crew screwed up as well.
Kirk is super drunk, but Spock finds a reason to call him to the bridge – a radiation surge coming from the Enterprise… right before a torpedo comes out straight at the Klingon ship and disables it with extreme predjudice, even going so far as to take out the gravity. This actually tells us something, because this is the first time we’ve ever seen artificial gravity turn off, even on the most severely disabled of Federation ships. We can infer that the Klingons use a completely different system. In the crux of the emergency, we’re getting a lot of clues very fast.
The Enterprise torpedo bay is, according to inventory, still fully loaded. A pair of suited figures beam aboard the Klingon ship using a Klingon transporter effect, but in what looks like Starfleet equipment. Gorkon, floating around his conference room, calls out for someone to find Chang. The two figures make directly for Gorkon and murder him without any wasted motion. The figures beam out, again with a Klingon effect. Only after all this does the Enterprise register having fired. Kirk, understanding the magnitude of the situation, surrenders, and he and McCoy beam over to do what they can to help. At which point Chang, who wasn’t there, describes the magnetic boots the assailants were wearing. I apologize if this ruins the mystery.
McCoy tries desperately to save Gorkon, but with diplomacy as it is between the two nations, McCoy doesn’t actually know what Klingon anatomy looks like, and just goes for Cardiac compression. He gets Gorkon’s heart beating just long enough for some final words, imploring peace. Chang arrests them once Gorkon breathes his last.
A murder mystery begins. Spock, now in command of the Enterprise, initiates an investigation, while back at Federation headquarters the president, after much convincing, realizes that he can’t actually flout interstellar law when even Sarek is against him. They call the Enterprise back, but in the best traditions of Kirk’s command style, the Enterprise is experiencing ‘technical malfunctions’ and a vicious rash of the Blue ‘Flu.
Gorkon’s daughter, Azetbur, takes over the chancellorship, and still favors peace, but refuses to extradite Kirk and McCoy, so that they can stand trial in the Klingon justice system. Chang gets to tell his side of the story, and the Klingon defense attorney, named Worf and played by Michael Dorn, gets shut down pretty hard when he tries to raise reasonable doubt. Chang goes off on McCoy where it hurts most – his medical competence. He hits Kirk where it hurts most – his son. He has an excerpt from Kirk’s personal log, somehow. Under the theory that Kirk is responsible for the actions of his crew, he and McCoy are sentenced, not to death, but to life in prison in Siberia. I mean Rura Penthe and the dilithium mines.
OH NOES! WHAT GON’ HAPPEN?