Mindy Newell: Filling The Captain’s Chair
I was riveted from the moment I planted my butt in the seat. All the major actors have made their iconic characters their own – Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, John Cho, and Anton Yelchin all turn in stand-out performances – and the script is full of the quips, banter, arguments, and heart-to-hearts that have made the interactions and relationships between the Enterprise crew a cultural treasure.
But Star Trek: Into Darkness also disappointed me.
I suppose that from Paramount’s view – after all, Paramount had to green-light the storyline – it was smart to pick a villain out of the Star Trek archives who would be familiar to both the “Trekker” and a wider audience; but all in all, I think that this particular villain was just too easy to choose.
Yep, that’s right. The rumors were true. The villain of Star Trek: Into Darkness is…
RED ALERT!!!! SHIELDS UP!! SPOILERS AHEAD!!!
Khan Noonian Singh.
*sigh* I so wanted it to be Gary Mitchell.
But it’s Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!
Or… is it?
If you’ve already seen the movie and walked out thinking “we wuz robbed!” because there was no need to retell what was one of the most brilliant Trek stories ever, no need to reboot the movie that was really responsible for reenergizing Star Trek, you’ve missed the real villain of Into Darkness, for Abrams pulled a magnificent MacGuffin on all of us by twisting The Wrath Of Khan into something else, a trek into an “undiscovered country” – the ego of James Tiberius Kirk.
The opening scenario is not just a teaser; it’s the hinge on which the whole plot rests. You’ve seen it in ads and websites – Jim and Bones running for their lives through a red-leafed forest and jumping off a cliff into the ocean, and Spock somewhere where there’s lots of molten lava.
Returning to Earth, instead of being ballyhooed and decorated, we discover that Jim has botched a benign observation mission of an alien primitive society, totally disregarding Starfleet’s Prime Directive (“As the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Star Fleet personnel may interfere with the normal and healthy development of alien life and culture. Such interference includes introducing superior knowledge, strength, or technology to a world whose society is incapable of handling such advantages wisely. Star Fleet personnel may not violate this Prime Directive, even to save their lives and/or their ship, unless they are acting to right an earlier violation or an accidental contamination of said culture. This directive takes precedence over any and all other considerations, and carries with it the highest moral obligation”) by (1) allowing Spock to stop a mega-volcano from erupting; and (2) revealing the Enterprise, in the course of saving Spock’s life, to the natives, who then start to worship Enterprise as some kind of “Chariot of the Gods.”
Admiral Christopher Pike tells Jim “You don’t respect the chair because you’re not ready for it, and that Starfleet had decided that Jim is to be removed from the captain’s seat and sent back to the academy.
Jim is drowning his sorrow and shame in a bar (where else?) when Pike shows up. Pike has been returned command of the Enterprise and talked Starfleet into allowing him to have Jim as his First Officer because Pike still believes in him. Jim accepts.
After a Section 31 installation is blown to bits in London (Section 31 is the Star Trek equivalent of the CIA – and it’s a cool callout to Deep Space Nine, in which Section 31 was established), Pike and Jim, along with other available starship captains and first officers, are called to a meeting at Starfleet Command, where it is revealed that the perpetrator is a former Starfleet operative named John Harrison. A gunship (which looks like a 23rd century version of a Black Hawk helicopter), strafes the meeting, killing most of the Starfleet officers, including Christopher Pike (I didn’t want him to die). Jim not only survives the attack, but also brings down the gunship – flown by Harrison, who escapes.
Jim wants to avenge Pike’s death, and challenges Admiral Alexander Marcus (yeah, he’s Carol’s father, no duh) to reinstate him as the captain of the Enterprise, with the rest of his senior officers joining him. Marcus agrees, and orders the Enterprise to hunt down and kill Harrison, who has fled to Kronos, home to the Klingon civilization. To do this Marcus supplies the Enterprise with 72 (pay attention to that number, boys and girls) prototype photon torpedoes, which can pinpoint Harrison’s exact location on the Klingon home world, though firing on Kronos could, and probably will, start a war between the Federation and Starfleet.
Jim, hungry for payback for the death of his quasi-father (Pike) could give a shit about starting a war. All he wants is Harrison’s proverbial head on the proverbial platter. His bridge officers object to the mission; in fact, Scotty is so strongly against it he resigns from Starfleet, saying, “This is clearly a military operation. Is that what we are now? ‘Cause I thought we were explorers.” Jim promotes Chekhov to replace Scotty; though the young Ensign is not ready for the position, Jim in his bloodlust cannot see this.
And that’s the magnificent twist that Abrams pulls in rebooting TWOK. The journey Star Trek: Into Darkness isn’t really about Khan, or terrorism, or the militarization of Starfleet. It’s really the journey of James Tiberius Kirk into manhood and the right to sit in the captain’s chair.
Because, you see, Jim Kirk really is still the cocky young kid who stole and drove his uncle’s antique C2 Corvette over a cliff, even if he did defeat Nero and save Earth from that red stuff. Jim Kirk has gotten where he is, as Pike told him after he’s “crashed” the observation mission (just as he crashed his father’s car) by his “audacity, by his being in the right place at the right time, by just “plain old dumb luck and having me behind you.”
Jim’s mission, you see, is to see beyond himself, to grow up. We’ve all been on that particular mission, and let’s face it, there are times when it isn’t a very pleasant trip; it can be a journey Into Darkness, when you have to come to terms not being the king of your universe; that you are, in fact, quite expendable.
When Jim tells Spock “you are way, way better at commanding a starship,” you know he has made a giant leap forward into maturity. He has gone through the darkness, and he has accepted that, of all his command staff, he is the one who has gotten there because, well, he’s just been the guy who has been in the right place at the right time.
I won’t spoil the climax for you. Let me just say that when Jim sits in the captain’s chair in the final moments, and orders the ship to embark on Starfleet’s first five-year mission to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before, Jim Kirk has become, truly, Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, NCC-1701.
THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil
FRIDAY: Martha Thomases