All right, there are plenty of movie analyses out there, but not all of them have covered all the things I want to talk about, and I finally got inspired to get off my ass and write all of this down. The following reviews are my personal thoughts about the first seven Star Trek movies, the ones involving The Original Series characters. I both ramble and analyze my thoughts a lot, but as I hope the rambling and analysis shows, I have thought quite a bit about this stuff; however, they're still my opinions and I realize other people might disagree -- if you do, please just be polite.
A bit of background before I start. Before watching Reboot in theaters, my only exposure to Star Trek was watching one Next Gen episode, plus what I picked up around the internet. That was it. As for TOS, I knew that Kirk was the Captain of the Enterprise and a Space Casanova, Spock was the logical guy with pointed ears, and the two of them originated slash as a phenomenon. I knew that there were Vulcans and Klingons, though I couldn't have told you which was which, and that there was a blonde in love with Spock. Before watching Reboot, that was honestly about all I knew. I don't think I could have even placed McCoy as TOS.
It was actually over a year after I saw it in theaters that I picked up the movie again and fell in love with it. Or rather, obsessed over it. I have no idea what suddenly clicked, or why just then and not before, but something did. I started reading fanfiction, because that's what happens when I get obsessed with something, and I started reading K/S in particular because hey, the original slash pairing. I was not going to pass that up. At that time, though, I had no particular attachment to this pairing over any other. I chose K/S to start reading because of its history, but I might have gone for Kirk/McCoy and/or Spock/Uhura.
I am a completionist, and once I started reading the fic, I couldn't resist going back to the original source. I raised an eyebrow at how little Kirk actually resembled a Space Casanova (though that's a whole 'nother essay I keep meaning to write), but what blew me away was how close to actual text some of the K/S subtext was. This isn't an essay about K/S in TOS and how wonderfully developed it is -- Brittany Diamond's pretty much got that covered -- but once I got to the movies, I just really wanted to talk about them.
I will say before I start that while I do have an English degree, I have not studied film. These reviews come out of my literary-analysis-loving English major soul, so that's the primary focus, and anything that talks about the aspects of these films (and briefly, the TV series) as relates to their media comes from my perspective as audience.
So, without further ado, let's start.
TOS and the Movies
Even after the above paragraph, I want to start by talking a bit about the nature of TV versus movies. TOS is highly episodic, rather that serial, in nature. There is definitely an emotional progression for the three main leads, but it's subtle enough that you could watch the episodes completely out of order and still not get lost.
Something that TOS does still have, though, is themes. Each episode has a contained theme -- some of them Brittany Diamond identifies in her Analyzation/Commentary on TOS, including things like how power requires compassion (Where No Man Has Gone Before), the tragedy of extinction (The Man Trap) and humanity's role in it (Devil in the Dark), and so on. Some of these themes cross episodes, like the encompassing theme of the delicate balance between logic, emotion, and intuition, as embodied by the three leads.
But the thing about these themes is that they have to be simple enough, and overt enough, to fit into 50-minute episodes. There is typically just one plotline, and everything, from the themes to the characters, relates back to that plotline. Lenore Karidian in The Conscience of the King reflects the episode's theme of the dangers of utilitarianism (for those who don't know, utilitarianism is basically about the greater good, and the ends justifying the means) in multiple ways -- she's the daughter of Kodos, who made the utilitarian decision to commit genocide; Kirk tries using her in a very utilitarian way himself; she ends up using him back; killing the Tarsus survivors is the means to the end of keeping her father safe. The romantic connection between Kirk and Lenore isn't a subplot: it's an aspect of the main plot. Same thing with all of Kirk's other romantic connections in the series -- they're aspects of their episodes' main plots.
The movies, on the other hand, have the time to have subplots. What has captured my attention in these movies enough for me to write meta about is the interaction between the main plot, the subplot(s), and the themes, though these reviews are not limited to just plot/subplot/themes -- I have plenty of other things to talk about as well, as you're about to see.
The first six movies can be grouped in various ways. The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock, and The Voyage Home are an obvious group; they happen very close together and are about the same series of events. The other three are less related to each other in terms of story, but thematically, there are ways these movies work together. The Motion Picture I group with TWoK, TSfS, and TVH, while The Undiscovered Country works amazingly well as a thematic sequel to The Final Frontier. I will be discussing these thematic groupings as I go along, but to attempt to keep things somewhat organized, I will primarily discuss each movie in its own section. I also have a few things to say about Generations. I don't really want to discuss Reboot now, though I might do that later.
Note that most of the movies, except for The Voyage Home, I've only seen once. Memory Alpha has been great about keeping the chain of events straight, but please let me know if I make a mistake.
Also note that there will be many times I refer to Kirk and Spock as being married. I do not believe that this is actual canon, or even necessarily that everything that makes me conclude they were married was intended for that purpose. What I do think is that there is enough evidence for that conclusion that it is a valid interpretation of canon at this point. It's not definitive canon, but neither is it definitely not. You don't have to tell me that Kirk and Spock were in all likelihood not married, because I know that. I just like to think they were, and I will discuss all the things that make me think so.
The Motion Picture
This movie tends to be particularly interesting to K/S fans, and I don't want to rehash all the meta that's already out there about it. Still, there are things that I do want to talk about, so please forgive me if I sound a bit redundant.
The overarching theme for this movie is, quite basically, the search for the meaning of life, and finding one's place in the universe. One of the reasons I appreciate this movie so much is that, despite its atrocious pacing, the story and the themes are very tight. Plot and subplots adhere extremely well to this theme -- honestly, I'm quite impressed.
The main plot, which I will call Plot 1, is, of course, V'Ger's journey to Earth and the dangers it represents. The basic plot is redundant in itself, as we've seen it in the episode The Changeling; where Plot 1 differentiates itself from the episode is in the theme. Nomad never attained consciousness and demonstrated no interest in the meaning of life. The basic theme I got from The Changeling was another variation of machines-cannot-replace-people, which is demonstrably different from TMP. Nomad is another version of the M5 computer in The Ultimate Computer. V'Ger is an immensely powerful forerunner to The Next Generation character Data, the android who wants to be human.
The subplots are where my main interest, and most other people's, lie. I will call them Plot 2a, which is Decker and Ilia, and Plot 2b, which is Kirk and Spock. These subplots are different enough to be distinguished, but intertwined enough to be basically on the same level. Plot 1 is the main plot, represented basically as man vs nature, the typical external force presenting a danger that must be resolved, also externally. Plot 2, on the other hand, is the emotional plot, a combination of man vs man and man vs himself. Plot 1 requires external resolution, something in the outside world changing (Decker joins with V'Ger and the Ilia probe, V'Ger stops threatening Earth), while Plot 2 requires internal resolution, the internal world changing (Decker realizes that he wants to be joined to Ilia and V'Ger, Kirk and Spock realize that their answers lie with each other, not logic or the Enterprise).
I ordered the plotlines the way I did for a very specific reason -- they go from the surface to the heart of the movie. Plot 1 is the surface conflict. Plot 2a is the Original Characters whose conflict and resolution are directly related to the surface conflict. They're part of the emotional plot because their conflict carries emotional resonance and they act as a great parallel for Kirk and Spock, but they're still OCs brought solely and specifically in for this movie, and therefore their subplot is closer to the surface.
Plot 2b, on the other hand, is the emotional heart of the movie. For one thing, it's the one involving established characters. An audience, particularly an audience made up of people who watched the show (whether they were big fans or were more casual), is going to care more about established characters than one-offs. They're already invested in this plotline the way they aren't for Plots 1 and 2a, and that investment naturally increases when Kirk and Spock (and McCoy, but I'll talk more about McCoy later) are immediately presented as being estranged and at odds, because that is not the natural state of affairs for these characters. Anyone who has watched the show even casually is going to be able to spot the conflict easily and want it resolved.
Another reason that 2b is the emotional heart of the movie is because it's the most involved plotline of the entire film. V'Ger's plot progression is relatively simple. It's presented initially as a mysterious danger, the characters gradually learn more about it and its goal through the Ilia probe and Spock's mind meld, and Decker resolves the situation. 2a is hardly more complicated. Decker and Ilia have a romantic past, one complicated by being a human/alien pairing, and the romantic tension between them is both resolved by and itself resolves the issue of Plot 1 when Decker, for Ilia's sake, chooses to join with V'Ger.
2b, on the other hand, has several components. Decker and Ilia's emotional storyline is just one storyline; it's not Decker's plot and Ilia's plot and somehow they come together. That is, however, how it is with Kirk and Spock. Kirk's plot involves his promotion, his separation from the Enterprise, and, of course, his separation from Spock. Unlike V'Ger and Spock, his storyline is not overtly about seeking answers, but the subtext of his story is very much about finding his own place in the universe. Meanwhile, Spock is also searching for answers of his own, answers that he initially thinks will lead him away from Kirk. So Kirk and Spock have their own storylines, but those stories are encompassed by the Kirk/Spock plotline of why they're estranged and how they come back together.
There's a third reason that 2b is the emotional heart of the movie, which is that Plot 1 serves 2b, rather than the other way around. 2a, Decker and Ilia, is a catalyst for the resolution of Plot 1, but Plot 1 is a catalyst for the resolution of 2b, Kirk and Spock. Even though the K/S resolution comes before the V'Ger climax, there really is a progression that leaves the K/S resolution standing on its own. V'Ger, by making the Ilia probe, changes Decker/Ilia, and they in turn change V'Ger. At the same time, though, V'Ger also changes Kirk/Spock -- but they don't change it in return. Honestly, they do nothing besides get Decker to V'Ger and give him the tools to make and implement his decision. Kirk and Spock and their resolution stand alone.
The Subplots and the Themes
I already mentioned how the main plot relates to the theme of the meaning of life and finding one's place in the universe, so let's talk about the subplots.
First let's talk about Decker and Ilia. They're Starfleet officers, one human, and one alien (Deltan). What we know about Decker is that he's the son of Commodore Matt Decker from the TOS episode The Doomsday Machine and that he was Kirk's choice to take over the Enterprise. What we know about Ilia is that she's Deltan, under a vow of celibacy, and seems to have something of a romantic past with Decker.
These two characters are almost immediately displaced. Kirk takes over as captain, displacing Decker, and V'Ger takes Ilia and returns her as a probe, displacing her not just from her position, but from her previous life.
The thing about Decker is that he obviously feels more deeply about being out of balance with Ilia than about Kirk taking over his ship. I mean, of course he was angry about Kirk, and justifiably so, because Kirk was a dick and then nearly got them all killed. But that's professional, and he can handle professional. He just goes on with his duties as first officer/science officer, and then just first officer once Spock comes back. His emotional equilibrium is upset more by not knowing where he stands with Ilia, first in the "trying to work with my ex" sense and then because now she's suddenly half Ilia and half V'Ger and he doesn't know what to do with that. Decker's journey in this movie is about figuring out where he wants to be, where he should be, and that's with Ilia, not as captain of the Enterprise. That's the place in the universe he chooses.
Then there's Ilia, who unfortunately does not get any choice in the matter, dammit. But she goes from being comfortably herself, despite some tension with Decker, to fighting between two different yet powerful aspects, her own personality, and the mechanical V'Ger. Ilia peeks out when she calls Decker by his name, and when she wears the headband, and so on. For the most part, though, she is consumed by V'Ger's goal. V'Ger searches for its answer through Ilia, but what little we get of Ilia herself is still trying to find expression. I am least satisfied with Ilia in this movie, because she doesn't get a choice, and we can only guess that she's satisfied enough when Decker makes his choice. We also don't know Ilia well enough before V'Ger to know if this would be the best conclusion for her storyline, the way we can know where Decker finds the most personal satisfaction.
What I end up concluding about Ilia and her thematic place goes back to her representation of V'Ger. V'Ger, through Ilia, has found some meaning in its life, and is finally able to make decisions for itself (beyond its original mission of learn and report back). I'm not sure that Ilia here can really be separated from V'Ger anymore -- which is, of course, part of what makes the Decker/Ilia subplot much more part of the main plot.
The conclusion of the Decker/Ilia-V'Ger storyline is that, at a basic level, human, alien, and mechanical aspects unite to find all involved parties balanced and satisfied. And what made it possible was love -- more specifically, Decker's love for Ilia.
Notice how much of what I said about Decker and Ilia applies to Kirk and Spock? Honestly, I found the parallels between the two to be really rather blatant, which is why I think that together they make up the emotional plotline of this movie. Decker/Ilia is a more overt representation of the journey that Kirk and Spock make, and one that helps lead us to better understand the Kirk/Spock story here.
Let's start with Kirk. Like Decker, we begin with him professionally displaced. He's an admiral now, and despite the honor of the position, it quickly becomes apparent that he's not suited to it personally, no matter how qualified he is for it professionally. As is hammered home repeatedly throughout the movies involving Kirk, what he's meant to be is a starship captain.
What also quickly becomes apparent is that the professional displacement is not the most serious disruption to his equilibrium. He may think that being captain of the Enterprise again will fix his problem, but it most definitely doesn't. He doesn't know the ship anymore, and has to resort to commandeering it from Decker in a really douchey move. He conscripts McCoy in yet another douchey move, but McCoy is not the fix for his problems either. Kirk, whose first, best destiny it is to be a starship captain, is still so out of tune with his ship despite having the captaincy back that he nearly destroys it before Decker countermands his order.
What all of this emphasizes is that Kirk's main displacement, the one that hurts him the most and throws him the most off balance, is not professional, because fixing the professional displacement only highlights the problem. That means the underlying problem is personal, emotional. There doesn't seem to be any problem between Kirk and his bridge crew friends, Sulu, Uhura, and Chekov, and the only conflict with Scotty is about the capabilities of the Enterprise. That leaves of course his closest friends, McCoy and Spock, both of whom he's been estranged from. But like I said before, getting McCoy back doesn't fix anything. The reconciliation is also over much too quickly for the rift between Kirk and McCoy to be an emotional plot point.
That leaves Spock. It's being out of balance with Spock that throws Kirk so much -- a claim validated quickly enough when Spock returns. Kirk doesn't make any more disastrous command decisions, and he seems much more settled. There's still tension between him and Spock, but he seems back in his professional groove with the ship and the crew, and his personal groove with his friendship with McCoy as they once again bond over Spock and how he likes to be difficult.
This indicates that it's Kirk's displacement from Spock, like Decker's with Ilia, that's the main issue for Kirk in this movie. The conclusion of both the main and the emotional plotlines bears this out. We don't know Kirk's professional future at the end of the movie. Kirk may be in command and happily heading "thataway", but he's still officially an admiral, with duties back at headquarters, with the V'Ger crisis only a brief mission. He could be given command of the Enterprise again, but we don't know for sure -- especially as The Wrath of Khan opens with him still an admiral. It's ambiguous.
What's not ambiguous is that the conflict with Spock has been resolved, thanks to the famous sickbay scene. Kirk has found his balance with Spock again, found his place with Spock. That is where he finds the most meaning in his life -- not in the captain's chair.
Spock is also a pretty close match for Ilia, especially once she becomes the Ilia probe. He's the one most visibly displaced, the one we know from the start is searching for answers. We're never told what the questions are, but we can make a guess, based on the sickbay scene. It's Spock's constant quest -- how can he reconcile his Vulcan and human halves? How can he make peace with who he is?
Spock has always represented logic. The Ilia probe reminds the audience of him when she says things like how a game she once enjoyed has no purpose. She's half mechanical, and Spock has constantly been compared to a machine through TOS, and has often taken it as a compliment when he's compared to a computer.
Spock has also always assumed that he'd find his answers in logic, which is why he went to Gol. I don't want to go too in-depth into the retreat to Gol, but I think it's safe to say that it was for emotional, rather than professional reasons. He seemed satisfied with his place on the Enterprise when TOS ended, and we don't know what his options were after the five year mission, but I highly doubt they presented enough of a threat to his equilibrium that he felt kolinahr to be the only answer. Emotions are what throw Spock off balance, and so it would have been emotions that pushed him to Gol. His displacement, like the other main characters in this movie, is emotional.
Spock, in failing to complete kolinahr, finds out that logic is not the answer for him. He can guess alternatives, including emotion, but as always, he doesn’t know what to do with that. He's always taken the benefit of emotions for granted -- he focuses enough on their negative aspects, thanks to his Vulcan upbringing, to want to cast them out, but doesn't understand the benefits enough to know that the cost of losing his emotions wouldn't be worth the benefits. That's what V'Ger teaches him.
The sickbay scene is where he finally truly understands the benefits of emotion, and stops taking them for granted. Kirk and McCoy have told him that often enough, but V'Ger is the one who showed him, as nothing else could. V'Ger is Spock's first encounter with a consciousness of pure logic (Nomad doesn't count, because it didn't have consciousness), and it scares him. It shows him the truth of the ideal to which he'd once aspired. Now that he finally understands what it means to be a creature of pure logic, he knows it's not for him.
This scene is also where Spock finds his place in the universe -- at Kirk's side, as if he's always been there and always will. (Thank you, Edith Keeler.) The personal meaning that he's found for his own life is "this simple feeling" that he shares with Kirk -- and Kirk agrees when he holds Spock's hand and looks incredibly sappy and shares that tiny nod.
That, right there, is both of them finding their true place with each other. Their professional lives are still very important to them, but not the most important, not the thing that goes deepest. The greatest meaning they find in their lives, both of them, is simply feeling the way they do for each other. As I mentioned when discussing Decker and Ilia-V'Ger, it's only when the human, emotional, alien, and logical/mechanical aspects unite that the characters involved find what they're looking for. And, ahem, when viewed through the Decker/Ilia parallel, what made that unity possible in the first place was love, and in particular romantic love.
Guys, this is a coherent movie. It's got its themes, and not only the main plot but the subplots and characters reflecting those themes. The plot and subplots work with and around each other very tightly. If only the pacing weren't complete crap...
I think that's about it for The Motion Picture. Now let's move on to...
The Wrath of Khan
This is typically the Star Trek fans' favorite movie, and for good reason. The pacing is much better than the first movie, it's got an ensemble cast of characters we already know and new characters with connections to the plot and to Kirk. There's a main villain bent on revenge, making the basic main storyline simple enough to understand. There are epic battles in space. And, of course, it's highly, highly emotional when one of the most beloved characters of the franchise dies.
I'm not going to discuss this one the same way that I discussed TMP. What I found most interesting about that movie (apart from the great K/S stuff) was the unity of plot and theme, which therefore entailed a more in-depth discussion of the plot and the themes and how they worked together. The things I most want to talk about have less to do with the plot than with character moments. I am a Kirk girl, and this is a Kirk movie.
The themes and how they relate to the characters is what most intrigues me. Memory Alpha tells me that Nicholas Meyer, who wrote the screenplay, had several themes in mind, including age, vengeance, death, and the tragic flaw of the hero embodied by the Kobayashi Maru.
I'm not too interested in vengeance and death. They're common enough themes, and I'm far more interested in age and Kirk's tragic flaw.
So let's start with age. This movie is Kirk's mid-life crisis. He's stuck at a desk job after years exploring the galaxy, wondering if he has anything valuable left to offer. The movie begins on his birthday, an outward reminder that he's growing old. His birthday present from McCoy is a pair of glasses, because his eyes are beginning to fail him and he's allergic to the only other treatment. Oh, and we also find out that he has a grown son.
The movie also ends with Kirk saying that he feels young. The statement initially made me go wtf?, and I still feel sort of oddly about it, even after thinking and figuring it out a bit.
Kirk saying that he feels young right there is a reply to an earlier moment in the movie when he worries about getting old. I'm pretty sure he's saying that he feels young in experience, particularly as he's staring out at the newborn Genesis planet and has the beginning of a relationship with his son. He sees that there is still plenty of life ahead of him, still plenty of new things for the galaxy to throw at him. His life is not over, even without Spock.
I'm torn about this. On the one hand, I'm glad that he feels somewhat rejuvenated, that he does see a future for himself. Honestly, something I really appreciate this movie for, and Spock's appearances in Next Generation and beyond, is that they show that Kirk and Spock really did have a healthy and beneficial relationship -- whatever codependent tendencies they have are outweighed by the truly beneficial aspects. They don't wither away and die once they lose each other. They take the lessons that the other taught them and continue living and living well, exactly as the other would have wanted. Considering Amok Time, and Spock's response of "I shall do neither" when T'Pau tells him to live long and prosper after the kal'i'fee, it's pretty awesome for Spock to get to a place where he could live long and prosper even after Kirk's true death. That kind of emotional stability, especially as a contrast to how he is earlier in life when confronted with almost the same situation, comes as a result of healthy and beneficial relationships. Kirk and Spock were actually seriously good for each other. Completely awesome.
I feel that the Romeo and Juliet solution is deceptively romantic. It sounds romantic to say that you can't live without this person, that you're willing to die when they do so that you never have to live without them. But the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet wasn't just that they died at the end, or even that it was just a misunderstanding that caused it. The tragedy that I see most there is that it was a waste. They were young and stupid and selfish, because what they could have done was show some strength and live on, with the memory of the other, and, say, found a way to end the feud between their families without more senseless deaths.
It's harder to talk about Kirk after Spock's death because Spock comes back so quickly, but Spock after Kirk's death? It's pretty hard to look at Spock Prime in Reboot and not see how deeply he loved Kirk, how deeply he let Kirk influence him, what with the accepting his emotions and implying things and so on. It's also very apparent that Spock Prime regrets nothing of his life with Kirk, even the pain of living without him, because he sends his younger self to do it all over again. Kirk and Spock love each other enough not to just die for each other, but to live for each other as well. Totally awesome.
So my problem with the line isn't that it's positive. It's more the timing of the thing. It just feels out of place to me for him to be able to be that positive yet. We see how much he grieves in the next movie, though he's very calm and understated about it, even able to give a toast to Spock in his apartment. Kirk has always been able to bounce back from death pretty quickly (as expected, considering the nature of a TV show, and especially a TV show from before they started becoming psychological), but he's already acknowledged in this movie that Spock is different from everyone else, even if they weren't married. (Though of course I think they were.)
I know it's also part of the nature of a movie, especially when they don't know if they're making more. Storylines and themes have to be wrapped up, and Kirk's mid-life crisis was one such theme, and it had to be dealt with. I'm sure it also had to be dealt with in a preferably uplifting manner, considering the movie was sad enough with Spock's death. It just...feels off to me. Rayna the Random Android has Kirk destroyed enough for Spock to make him forget her, while the death of Spock himself makes him feel young? *sigh*
The Kobayashi Maru
The Kobayashi Maru is, for me, one of the more interesting philosophical points to come out of Star Trek. There are multiple sides to the issues it brings up, and all of them are valid in their own way.
We don't get much on the purpose of the test in this movie. Kirk tells Saavik that how one faces death is just as important as how one faces life. In Reboot, Spock says that the purpose is to feel fear and to do one's duty in spite of that fear.
I actually find the simulation itself inherently flawed, for the simple reason that the examinees know that it's a simulation. In The Next Generation, first season I think, there's an episode where Wesley Crusher is trying to get into Starfleet Academy and he's given a psychological test where he has to act in face of a crisis without knowing that the crisis itself is a test. Because of that, he's able to give an honest reaction to honest fear.
The Kobayashi Maru, on the other hand, cannot inspire honest fear. It can come close, I think, given the nature of nerves and adrenaline during exams plus the situation itself, but it inherently presents a safety net. I don't know if the administrators of the test take the effects of that safety net into account, or whether those effects are subtle or dramatic, or if the effects made a big difference in how the examinees think or made little.
That's why I find myself more on Kirk's side, at least during Reboot, and especially if the purpose that Spock explains is supposed to be the true purpose of the test. What he did was highlight the simulation aspect. He wasn't trying to beat the Klingons; he was trying to beat the test, and make a point. Part of the point I saw him make was that the Kobayashi Maru could not be an accurate measure of its stated purpose.
But that's the test in the concrete, as we really saw it. The Kobayashi Maru in the abstract is far less clear-cut, I think.
Because what I think the purpose of the Kobayashi Maru is to see what a potential captain will do when there are no good options. Will they save their own ship but let hundreds of fellow Starfleet personnel die? Will they attempt rescue, but due to the parameters of the test, inevitably fail? How will they react when they find out their efforts are doomed, and they might have just condemned their own ships to death as well? Their initial choices will say a lot about them as a captain, and so will their reactions to the consequences of those choices.
I am still dubious about the answerability of these questions in a known simulation (nor can I figure out a way of making that test blind), but they are still important answers that Starfleet needs to have about its captains. But this is where Kirk's solution comes into play, and it is still controversial.
Kirk's solution is framed, both in TWoK and Reboot, as cheating. But original!Kirk's examiner gave him a commendation for original thinking, while Reboot!Spock brought him up on disciplinary charges. What Reboot!Spock didn't understand, I think, is that he could still evaluate Kirk's response to the test whether or not it was the kind of response he was originally looking for.
There are several important things that Kirk's response tells us. One is, of course, that he doesn't just accept no-win scenarios. I think he would find it offensive to accept death, not just for him but for his crew, and not do everything he possibly could to get them out of that situation, whether or not anyone thinks it could be done. This is in fact something we constantly see him do in the series -- his solution is often unorthodox, like Corbomite, but each solution comes out of his own creativity and his unwillingness to accept defeat, both of which are integral to the process. There are many, many times when we see that if Kirk had accepted the existence of a no-win scenario, he would not have been able to win. Self-fulfilling prophecy, in a way.
So Kirk's solution tells us that he is creative. He is willing to fight to his last breath to help his crew survive. The goals of the Kobayashi Maru aren't compatible with his way of thinking, because they require that he accept the premise of a no-win scenario in the first place, which he isn't willing to do, and that is part of his strength.
On the other hand, I can see where Reboot!Spock's concern is coming from. No one has yet been able to see this Kirk's ability to pull amazing, impossible solutions out of his ass, so what Spock sees is naivete. He sees someone whose determination to beat the no-win scenario is going to have him coming up against challenges that are going to break him and any ship Starfleet might be so stupid as to give him. Spock would be thinking that refusing to accept reality does not bode well for someone who would command a starship.
One of the things that Reboot does is show how Kirk is right about the Kobayashi Maru -- but one of the things that The Wrath of Khan does is show that he isn't always right. TWoK shows that he can't always get away without a sacrifice. Sometimes there really is nothing he can do, even when the stakes are high, and that's something that Kirk needs to face. I saw Reboot first, but now that I've seen TWoK, I find its treatment here much deeper and more compelling.
Especially when you include Spock in the process, because what Spock teaches here is that winning and losing can just be a matter of perspective. His solution to the scenario is sacrificing his own life for the rest of the ship, and he seems perfectly satisfied with it. Spock is not a fatalistic or suicidal character, so his framing of his sacrifice in terms of the Kobayashi Maru, the classic no-win scenario, is just as much a denial of the no-win as Kirk's is. Spock's involves a shift of perspective -- he will die, but everyone else will live. It's obviously a perspective he's gained since knowing Kirk, because Reboot!Spock brings up George Kirk, who did the same thing Spock does in TWoK, as an affirmation of the no-win. The original Spock's salvaging a win out of a bad situation is simple, but still very powerful, and something Kirk can learn from.
Okay, so, there's my interpretation of the Kobayashi Maru itself. Now I want to talk about it as it represents Kirk's 'tragic flaw'. In this next section I will really seriously be putting on my English geek hat, so be prepared for that.
The Tragic Flaw
On Memory Alpha's TWoK page there's a nice little section about the Kobayashi Maru and how the director and writer of the screenplay Nicholas Meyer decided to have made Kirk win by cheating because Kirk needed to have flaws. He goes on to say that all heroes have flaws they have to endure, which is what makes them heroic, and that Kirk is very much like a classical hero in having to confront his flaws, and be forced to endure them and their consequences.
TWoK rather does have the structure of a classical tragedy. Nicholas Meyer even says that one of the goals of Spock's death was catharsis, which in the dramaturgical sense is the emotional purge for the audience that dramatic tragedy allows, leaving the audience more balanced. But the other main classically tragic aspect I saw in this movie is the element of hamartia.
Catharsis and hamartia are both Greek terms, going all the way back to Aristotle's Poetics. Hamartia is not easily defined, but part of it is the concept of the tragic flaw. In criticism, it's often used to describe a character failing that leads to the character's downfall, like how Macbeth's ambition leads to his death, or Othello's pride and jealousy lead to his and Desdemona's. This is not the entire sense of hamartia, though. From my own brief studies of the term, it's not necessarily so much a flaw as human error combined with ignorance. It's an aspect of the character, something that ordinarily might not even be considered a flaw, that the character acts through, but in ignorance of what will result.
Kirk's hamartia in this movie isn't that he cheated. It isn't presented in a positive light in this movie, first in Saavik's initial reaction to the revelation, and at the very end of the movie when Kirk is talking to David and says that he's cheated his way out of death, as well as the way Nicholas Meyer mentioned it, as something that demonstrates one of Kirk's flaws. That Kirk is willing to cheat may be considered a flaw, but it's not a tragic flaw. In fact, the "tragic flaw" in this movie is not normally considered a flaw at all.
What I identify as Kirk's hamartia in this movie is his confidence as a captain. The turning point of the story comes when Khan in the Reliant fires on the Enterprise with its shields down, damaging Engineering so badly that later Spock will have to sacrifice his life to fix it. Spock's death, the tragedy of this movie, can be directly traced back to that moment, and to Kirk's delay in raising the shields, even when Saavik tells him he should.
And that moment is an entirely Captain Kirk moment. Saavik quotes regulations, but Captain Kirk is well known for his...creative interpretation of regulations. He doesn't just blindly obey, and that is one of his main strengths. This is, however, a situation where he should have listened to regulation. The hamartia comes from the fact that it's not his weakness that leads to his downfall, but his strength, and his ignorance of how this can be used against him.
In which I discuss other things of interest in this movie that aren't really part of an overarching category.
The Emotional Heart of the Movie
In TMP, the emotional heart of the movie was a subplot. There are plenty of emotional subplots in this movie, most having to do with Kirk -- his difficulties with aging, dealing with his ex-lover and his son, confronting his own mistakes. But is there anyone who could deny that the emotional heart of this movie is Spock's death?
Spock's death is where all of Kirk's emotional plotlines come together. Kirk is forced to confront what aging ultimately leads to, even if Spock's death is not the result of old age -- and we know that Spock's death is what resolves the aging issue because Kirk feels young in response to it, and to understanding what Spock was trying to teach him through it. Spock's death is a catalyst for Kirk beginning a new relationship with his son. And Spock's death is what makes him confront his mistakes.
But there's also that Spock's death is just plainly the most emotional moment in the movie. Christ, it's sad. Kirk and Spock are in their own little world, for what seems the last time, but they're still separated by the glass. Spock uses the last of his strength to reassure Kirk about his own emotions and his hope for Kirk's future. They mirror each other with the hands against the glass and the way they slump over at the end.
Kirk isn't concerned about being in command right there, even though there are other people around. He's not being strong for his crew there. He's just numb.
Spock's death is just so much a Kirk/Spock moment, from the way the scene is entirely about them to what Spock's death ends up teaching Kirk. Just like the first movie, and like the next two, the Kirk/Spock relationship is the emotional heart of the story. It's very sad right here, but totally awesome in general.
We don't know much about Starfleet's procedure for people killed in the line of duty. (Do we? Does any sort of policy exist somewhere? I've only seen TOS, the movies, and Next Gen through the third season.) The most logical assumption is that they either follow the terms of the will, or they let the family decide. I don't know much about this particular legal procedure (yet -- I'll likely learn more when I start law school), so please let me know if I'm wrong, but these seem to me to be the most likely courses of action.
Either way, it's really interesting that it seems to have been Kirk who made the decision for Spock's body. I mean, I know that The Search for Spock hadn't been planned yet and therefore we didn't know for sure that Spock's body would need to be taken to Vulcan, but a starship has to have a morgue of some sort, some way to transport the bodies who should be taken home. Maybe it's Starfleet's policy that everyone who dies will be either disintegrated/cremated or shot into space, but that seems a pretty cold policy, especially for an organization as human-centric as Starfleet, that knows how humans feel about treatment of the dead. It doesn't seem unreasonable for there to be a morgue of some sort on board.
I bring up this very morbid point because it becomes obvious in the next movie that Sarek wasn't consulted. I assume Spock had a will, because that'd be logical, so either he didn't know about how katra and body shouldn't be separated and left the decision about his remains to Kirk (or said specifically he should be shot into space, but I rather doubt Spock would say that), or he trusted that circumstances would make the course of events obvious (as in, he'd be able to tell Kirk himself that his body should go back to Vulcan). The only family we know Spock has at this point is his parents, so if it was his family's decision what to do with his body, it would be family other than Sarek. Most likely a spouse. And it is Kirk who made the decision.
I can only see Kirk being allowed to make that decision if Spock legally gives him the right. What would give him the right is marriage, the will, or both. Very likely I'm overthinking this, because as I said, TSfS and its plot hadn't been planned yet, and I'm betting the writers for both movies weren't exactly thinking about the legalities involved with dead bodies. So maybe I am overthinking it, but when I try to make this event match up with common sense, this is how it turns out. Kirk had the legal right to decide what to do about Spock's body, and I think the most likely circumstances that would give him that right would be as a spouse.
There are some interesting parallels I noted within the movie and between it and City on the Edge of Forever.
First is that, within the movie, Khan is angry about a lot of things. He's angry that his attempted colony got screwed up, he's angry that Kirk abandoned them and never checked on them -- and he's angry that thanks to all of this, his wife died. So he decides to get revenge on Kirk.
Kirk and Khan are very much counterparts in this movie. They're the protagonist and the antagonist, direct rivals, the nemeses. Khan isn't happy with anyone from the Enterprise, but his main target is Kirk.
So I think it's interesting that Khan's revenge for the death of his wife results in killing Kirk's husband. (And yes, I do believe Kirk and Spock were married at this point. Substitute "closest friend" if you so desire.) That's some great balance there -- though I'm only speaking in terms of the story, because it's still damn sad.
Khan might even actually be satisfied with it. Of course he wanted to kill Kirk, but on the Regula planetoid after he beams up the Genesis device, he says this:
KHAN: I've done far worse than kill you. I've hurt you. And I wish to go on hurting you. I shall leave you, as you left me - as you left her.
He says there that he leaves Kirk abandoned in the center of a dead planet, buried alive. Kirk gets away there, but in the end, Khan does leave Kirk as Kirk left him -- widowed. Poetic justice. Once again the very structure of the story points towards a Kirk/Spock interpretation. I love it when that happens. :D
Then there's some interesting stuff with City on the Edge of Forever. First:
SPOCK: Interesting. Where would you estimate we belong, Miss Keeler?
EDITH: You? At his side, as if you've always been there and always will.
--City on the Edge of Forever
SPOCK: You are my superior officer. You are also my friend. I have been and always shall be yours.
--Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
"Always been there and always will." "Have been and always shall be yours."
Remarkably similar sentiments and phrasing, don't you think? *g* Spock knows where he belongs, finally.
There's one more parallel, which is in the sacrifice of Kirk's loved ones. Kirk's in love with Edith, but he has to sacrifice her to get his proper future back. Kirk loves Spock (of course I also believe they're in love as well, but it's still a given that Kirk loves him), and Spock sacrifices himself to save the ship.
It's sort of a reverse parallel. With Edith, the decision is in Kirk's hands, and he has to sacrifice her. With Spock, the decision is not in Kirk's hands, but Kirk still has to face that sacrifice. Oh, Kirk.
Kirk and Carol Marcus
So, Carol Marcus is one of the three non-crew women Kirk interacts with in all six movies, the others being Gillian Taylor in TVH and Martia in TUC. I'll talk more about Gillian and Martia with their movies, but all three of these women establish how poorly Kirk deserves his Space Casanova reputation in these movies. If these women are trying to make Kirk seem less married to Spock, they fail miserably, and in fact provide more evidence for the opposite conclusion, just by contrasting his behavior with them and his behavior with Spock.
Anyway, Kirk and Carol Marcus. They're old flames, and in fact have a son together, David, but Carol raised David exclusively. In fact, David doesn't even know that Kirk is his father. Carol wanted David raised in her world, not Kirk's.
Anyway, what's interesting about this is that Kirk is not willing to risk or change his career even for his own child. Do I even need to point out that as early as Amok Time, Kirk was willing to risk his career for Spock? XD
So, Kirk and Carol are old flames, and he still clearly cares about her. What I see from them in this movie, though, is that the flame is dead. Look at the body language in shots like this:
That is some very isolating body language on Kirk's part. He's not facing her, and his body's not even angled toward her at all, nor is he even sitting near her.
Despite being the mother of his child, Carol is no more a serious contender for Kirk's affections than was Areel Shaw, Janet Wallace, or Janice Lester when they returned. These movies...really completely suck at establishing Kirk as straight, except in the past before he met Spock. Hah.
Spock's "Human" Soul
This line I'm sort of iffy on. It demonstrates Star Trek's ethnocentrism, which is disappointing in a franchise that is about aliens and humans living together, and is also trying to be progressive. I dislike the idea of "human" being the absolute pinnacle of achievement, as Kirk is implying. I also dislike that it's the hero who expresses this view, especially considering that Kirk is the one character in the entire series to consistently accept Spock as being half-Vulcan and half-human, with neither one a complete description of who he is or should be. It honestly feels strange for Kirk to reduce him to only being human here.
On the other hand, though, Kirk does mean it as the highest compliment. I very much dislike the expression of the compliment, as I think Spock would, but I also think that Spock would appreciate the sentiment behind it.
I think that it doesn't help that there just aren't words in English for an expression of general peace, good will, compassion, sympathy, etc. for all beings regardless of species. I mean, the words we do have for that kind of concept are ones like "humane" and "humanitarian", which are likewise ethnocentric, and understandably so considering we haven't actually met any extra-terrestrial intelligences. It's why Kirk in The Undiscovered Country tells Spock that "Everybody's human." He's trying to express the spirit of a sentiment that he doesn't have better words for, because we don't have better words for it.
In the series, when Kirk pokes fun at Spock by saying he's doing something human, and Spock responds by claiming he's insulted, I see those moments as banter. Not so much with McCoy and Spock, because McCoy tends to have that edge of judgment that Kirk generally doesn't, but Kirk and Spock come across as bantering to me when they do that. I see it that way mostly because I think that Spock really being insulted would be an insult to Kirk and every other human on board. He may be sarcastic and snarky to McCoy and other people who think he's deficient for not being more human, with an edge of real insult in his remarks to them, but I don't think he would act that way to Kirk. Between the two of them, it's more like teasing -- both of them poking fun at the other's attachment to his own species.
So, though I wish Kirk had found a different way to express his regard for Spock during Spock's funeral, I think that Spock would have understood the spirit of his remark.
Kirk and Cheating Death
I've already discussed my view of Kirk "cheating death" with the Kobayashi Maru, but I find his conversation with David at the end to be particularly interesting, in a K/S sense.
DAVID: Lieutenant Saavik was right. You never have faced death.
KIRK: No, not like this. I haven't faced death. I've cheated death, tricked my way out of death, and patted myself on the back for my ingenuity. I know nothing.
Claiming that Kirk has never faced death is...really an extraordinary statement. First of all, Kirk has always deeply felt the loss of every crewmember who died under his command, even the most random redshirt. Watch the S2 episode The Apple, where Kirk mourns over a redshirt and says that the redshirt's father helped him get into Starfleet Academy. Kirk knows these people, and he cares about them, and he hates it when they die. He always does everything he can to preserve his crew.
But okay, they're still the crew. He can't know all of them all that well. Which brings me to friends.
First there's Gary Mitchell. Kirk and Mitchell were good friends at the Academy, close enough that Kirk asked for Mitchell for his first command. But Mitchell dies, Kirk even had to kill him himself -- and that's not facing death? Or some of his other starship commander friends, like Commodore Matt Decker. Kirk thought highly enough of him and his son Will that he advocated for Will Decker getting the Enterprise when Kirk was promoted. But Commodore Decker sacrifices his life to help destroy the doomsday machine, and that's not facing death?
What about people he loves, then? Like Edith Keeler? She's one of the only, if not the only, woman Kirk demonstrates genuine love for. He tells Spock (and the audience) that he's in love with her, and Kirk is an emotional authority. We're meant to believe him when he claims things about emotion, especially love. He also acts like he cares about her, more than he does for the women he seduces under ulterior motives. He also has to let her die. So he loves this woman, and she dies right in front of him, with him partly complicit in her death -- but that's not facing death?
Then there's his family. We don't know anything about his parents in this universe, so they might still be alive or not, but we do know about his brother. Who died. And whose dead body Kirk found himself. Kirk was then forced to helplessly watch his sister-in-law also die in horrible pain. We also know, from the first mention of Sam in What Are Little Girls Made Of, that he had three children -- we only know that Peter survives, so it's very likely that the other two kids also died. So Kirk loses his brother, sister-in-law, and nephews in one fell swoop, but that's still not facing death?
It's very possible the writers of this script just weren't thinking at all about all the people that Kirk has lost, but that's not a good excuse. Kirk's statements still have to make sense in the context of his life.
What we can conclude from this line alone, even before the next movie where Kirk calls Spock his soul, is that Kirk sees Spock as part of himself.
(And a quick note about the "part of himself" thing -- in the season two episode Metamorphosis, Kirk tries to explain romantic love to a particularly alien creature, and he does it by asking, "Is he important to you, more important than anything? Is he…as though he were a part of you?" This is Kirk's personal definition of romantic love. Who does Kirk consider more important than anything? Who does he think of as a part of him?)
Kirk says things like that he's tricked his way out of death, but that's very focused on his experience of his own death. It's a very interesting statement to make in response to someone else's death.
Because that is what the conversation is about -- someone else's death. When they talk about facing death, they mean facing death as a reality, as an inevitability, in all its devastating finality. It makes no sense to be talking about Kirk's own death, because Kirk hasn't faced his own death in this movie any more than he has the rest of his life -- and less so than he did, say, in Amok Time. He didn't know about the neural paralyzer in Amok Time any more than Spock did -- he would have thought, as he was losing consciousness, that he really was going to die. In this movie, he's gotten out of facing his own death once again, and it might have been because of Spock's help -- but he's put his life in other people's hands before, and lived because of what other people have done, even when those other people sacrificed their lives to help save his, like Commodore Decker.
So I guess what it means for Kirk to face death is to lose not just a friend, not just a brother, not just a lover -- but to lose Spock, the man who was all three, his t'hy'la.
And I'm going to shut up about The Wrath of Khan now.
The Search for Spock
This movie is an easy favorite for K/S fans because oh my fucking god they're not even being subtle anymore. Dude. This review will squee over the soulmate stuff, because I can't not, but I'm afraid quite a bit of the discussion will be more English geekery.
The Heroic Journey
If the previous movie was Kirk's chance to be a tragic hero, in this one he gets to be an epic hero. The structure of the story really does work out that way. This is actually extremely appropriate as a sequel to TWoK, as the other half of tragedy. Here are a few quotes from Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which is a critical discussion of the composite hero who appears in cultures across time and all over the world.
The happy ending of the fairy tale, the myth, and the divine comedy of the soul, is to be read, not as a contradiction, but as a transcendence of the universal tragedy of man. [...] Tragedy is the shattering of the forms and of our attachment to the forms; comedy, the wild and careless, inexhaustible joy of life invincible. Thus the two are the terms of a single mythological theme and experience which includes them both and which they bound: the down-going and the up-coming (kathodos and anodos), which together constitute the totality of the revelation that is life, and which the individual must know and love if he is to be purged (katharsis=purgatorio) of the contagion of sin (disobedience to the divine will) and death (identification with the mortal form).
--Joseph Campbell, pg 28
It is the business of mythology proper, and of the fairy tale, to reveal the specific dangers and techniques of the dark interior way from tragedy to comedy.
--Campbell, pg 29
The mythological theme progresses from tragedy to comedy, from the down-going to the up-coming. Tragedy may be the reality of life, because life doesn't have "happy endings"; the only ending is death. However, an intrinsic aspect of mythology is that it is not composed solely of tragedy; the catharsis Aristotle advocates for by means of dramatic tragedy is incomplete without the other half of the human equation. People don't just watch tragedy and feel catharsis and that's all they need from life.
I do know that Spock's death was originally meant to be final; that during the process of TWoK, they hadn't had his resurrection in mind for later. I am, however, not surprised that it happened, and not just because TV is reluctant to kill off their heroes for good. Across human history there have been certain practices to storytelling; plots and character archetypes get used and reused, over and over and over, and Star Trek is part of this storytelling tradition. The decision to make a third Star Trek movie did not require the resurrection of Spock, but it did require an up-coming after the down-going of TWoK. I think the question of what to do with Kirk as a hero did the rest -- including Spock's resurrection, which fits another specific mytheme.
Kirk's Heroic Journey
Campbell identifies the hero's journey at its most basic to be "a separation from the world, a penetration to some source of power, and a life-enhancing return" (35). This pattern is slightly complicated by science fiction as a genre, in that science fiction endeavors to conform to the parameters established by reality -- Spock's bodily resurrection comes about scientifically, as a response to the terraforming energy of the Genesis planet, not through inexplicable fantasy or ineffable divine will. What mythology and fantasy (and even science fantasy, like Star Wars -- George Lucas was very familiar with Joseph Campbell) could do through literal representations, science fiction has to do through metaphorical means.
So my identification of Kirk's heroic journey through Campbell's pattern:
Kirk's separation from the world is from the world of rules and order and Starfleet regulations, the world in which he's lived his entire life, and done well enough there for Admiral Morrow to call him his best officer. The penetration to some source of power is the arrival at the Genesis planet, which was created through a marvel of scientific ingenuity and represents, both literally and metaphorically, the creation of life and rebirth. His life-enhancing return is when he gets back Spock, and, when his journey is completed in the next movie, when he saves Earth and provides them a deeper understanding of environmental impacts, and when he gets to be a captain again. These two movies, The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home, are remarkably consistent with the elements of the heroic journey that Campbell lays out. There are some differences, omissions, and rearranges, but on the whole, Kirk's story beginning in this movie is the story of the hero of myth.
Despite discussing Aristotle and quoting Campbell, I'm not trying to write an academic essay here, so I'm not going to delineate all the specific ways in which TSfS/TVH conform to Campbell's pattern. I'd be happy to if someone asks me, but my original goal with this essay is to review these movies. Sometimes this means being critical of their flaws, but mostly I just want to geek out about what impresses me. And what impresses me about The Search for Spock as a movie and a story is, like the previous two movies, the structure. I think it's really cool to find a classic heroic journey in what would otherwise be an all right science fiction film from the eighties, of great interest mainly only to the Kirk/Spock fans.
I think there's one more thing I want to say about heroic archetypes before I move on to the K/S-specific discussion.
Descent to the Underworld
The mytheme, the essential kernel of myth, that I see in this story is the descent to the underworld, where the hero goes into the underworld to retrieve an object, or a loved one, or wisdom. Odysseus does it in The Odyssey, Hercules does it as one of his trials, Psyche as one of hers. In more modern terms, Luke Skywalker's consultations with the dead Obi-Wan Kenobi could be considered an aspect of this mytheme.
Like I said earlier, though, science fiction like Star Trek has to do this kind of thing metaphorically. Having an actual underworld, that living people can travel to, would be completely out of place in the Star Trek universe as it's already been established. There's no mystical unifying Force here, no Greek gods -- it's all science. Sometimes very dubious science, as Spock's resurrection ultimately is, but it tries to be convincing and plausible in the real world.
But what Kirk basically does in this movie is retrieve Spock from beyond the threshold of death. If he hadn't made that journey, Spock would still be dead. Saavik and David may have kept his body alive on the planet, but it was Kirk who arrived in time to get him back before the planet was destroyed, which would have killed Spock beyond hope of return. Scotty, Sulu, Uhura, and Chekov help, but as Kirk acknowledges in the movie, only he and McCoy really have to do this, and McCoy only because he'll literally go insane if he doesn't. It's still framed very much as Kirk's journey throughout the story.
Kirk and Spock's incorporation into this mytheme isn't romantic in and of itself. Odysseus's journey to the underworld was for knowledge, as was Dante's; the god Dionysus retrieved his human mother Semele, which makes the retrieval of family members a well-established aspect of the mytheme. But one of the most well-known stories of this mytheme is Orpheus and Eurydice, which has been a story told in both its original and in altered forms across the centuries. There's a Middle English narrative poem called Sir Orfeo where the basic story was adapted to fit into contemporary (at the time) England.
So the descent to the underworld mytheme is not inherently romantic, but one of its most common and well-known stories is, and has provided inescapable associations for any hero trying to retrieve someone from beyond the threshold of death. I'm not calling this proof of K/S, but it is definitely something that I find very interesting.
Kirk, Spock, and Christopher Pike
The Star Trek Compendium compares Kirk's decision to flout regulations and go after Spock with Spock's decision to do the same thing for his former captain Christopher Pike in the S1 story The Menagerie.
There are definite parallels -- Kirk and Spock both defy orders to hijack their ship and take it to a forbidden planet out of loyalty for someone else. On the surface, we can't claim that Kirk's actions were romantic and say that Spock's weren't without creating a double standard. Some people may ship Spock/Pike and make no such distinction, but I do see a distinction there, and it's less in their actions than their attitudes.
First of all, Spock's illegal actions in The Menagerie were all about Kirk. They were for Pike, but they were about Kirk, which becomes pretty obvious when we see Spock's reaction to Commodore Mendez's statement that he's finished not just himself, but his captain as well. Spock goes from calm to protesting that Kirk had nothing to do with it. Mendez counters with how a captain is responsible for everything on his ship, but I can't imagine Starfleet would actually want to prosecute Kirk for Spock mutinying when Kirk wasn't even on board at the time. It'd be like Starfleet prosecuting Admiral Morrow because he couldn't keep Kirk in line. Didn't happen.
Spock did his mutiny on his own because he didn't want to drag Kirk down with him. Kirk might very well have agreed about taking Pike to Talos had Spock given him all the relevant information upfront rather than letting it come out through the court martial, especially if Spock made it clear that he was going to do it whether Kirk helped him or not. I mean, I can't say for sure that Kirk would have helped him, because Kirk, for all that he's pretty independent as a captain, doesn't just flout Starfleet orders on a whim. That's not how you get to be the youngest captain and youngest admiral in the history of Starfleet. But I can also see Kirk deciding that he can't let Spock face the death penalty on his own.
What Spock does is take the decision out of Kirk's hands, and protect him from having to make that choice at all, just as he does in the third season episode The Empath. So yes, Spock's actions in this pair of episodes unquestionably demonstrate his loyalty to Captain Pike, but they also continue to demonstrate his regard for Kirk.
Kirk, on the other hand, is completely focused on Spock. He doesn't care what disobeying orders will do to his career, he doesn't care how it might reflect on Admiral Morrow (if it even will, but the parallel to The Menagerie brings this issue up), and while he does care about the rest of his crew, he's more grateful they're willing to sacrifice their careers alongside him than anything else. Kirk's fervent protection of his crew gets a bit suspended when Spock's life is on the line (and not for the first time -- he does the same thing in The Immunity Syndrome), while Spock's protection of his captain is completely in keeping with his character. Though for Kirk, it probably helps that he knows he can't take the Enterprise without at least some help, so it's pragmatic as well as focused on Spock.
There's also the matter of story structure and theme. Just as The Motion Picture is structurally and thematically different from The Changeling, The Search for Spock is structurally and thematically different from The Menagerie. Spock's mutiny is not structured as a heroic journey, with the court martial just one of many obstacles set in his path. Kirk's mutiny, on the other hand, is that heroic journey, with Admiral Morrow and the Excelsior and so on serving as the traditional trials and obstacles.
And last, but certainly not least, Spock does not go around claiming that he's responsible for Pike's soul, as surely as if it were his. Kirk's and Spock's respective actions are different because they do them for different reasons. Spock does it out of loyalty, and while of course that is an aspect of Kirk's feelings for Spock, it's pretty damn obvious that Kirk's reasons go beyond loyalty. Kirk went after Spock out of love. It may be debatable about whether or not it was romantic love, but it's still undeniably love.
Spock's Pon Farr
This is a big WTF?, especially once they dropped the Saavik's pregnancy storyline from TVH. It doesn't seem to serve any point in this movie except to confound us. Spock goes into pon farr like twenty years younger than his first time was in the series, but doesn't go through it again even as he ages. He doesn't even have his katra at the time, though pon farr has previously been established as something that is not only physical, but is also mental. I think I'm just going to say that Genesis and his enhanced aging were screwing with Spock's hormones, and leave it at that.
The K/S Stuff
Finally, huh? There's a lot of great stuff here, but I'm probably not going to mention it unless I can really discuss it. Like, Kirk calling Spock the noblest part of himself is really awesome, but I've already talked about how Kirk thinks of Spock as part of himself, so I don't need to go into that again.
So let's start with Sarek. What I'm struck by in the scene with Sarek is not how Sarek immediately jumps to thinking Kirk is holding Spock's katra. Sarek has already heard that Kirk was the last one with Spock before he died. It's a logical assumption for Sarek to think that Kirk, who is also Spock's friend (whatever else he may be), would hold his katra when he was the last person to be with him. That's not shippy in and of itself.
What I'm struck by in this scene is how comfortable Sarek is with Kirk. He barges in, calls Kirk by his name (his surname, but still his name rather than a title), as Kirk does him, demands a mind meld with him, and shows emotion all over the place. Of course part of it is that his son just died and the katra and body are missing and separated, which is totally enough to stress out any normal human. But Sarek is a Vulcan, and more than that, is a full Vulcan. He's had a lot longer than Spock to perfect his emotional control and without the handicap of being persecuted by both humans and Vulcans for not being fully one or the other. He does say at the end that his logic is uncertain where his son is concerned, but considering that in the end, unlike here, Sarek is not visibly emoting all over the place, I still think that his actions in Kirk's apartment are a little extreme for a Vulcan, unless Sarek knows Kirk very well.
Like the mind meld. Spock may end up being a meld-slut throughout TOS, but way back in Dagger of the Mind, the first episode where he performs a meld, he's reluctant to do it because of how personal and intimate it is. Sarek jumps straight to it. And more than that, it doesn't even add anything to the story beyond tugging heart-strings. Those same heart-strings are tugged, however, when Kirk thinks of the security footage and sees that last conversation again -- which is also when we discover that McCoy has Spock's katra. The mind meld does nothing but confirm that Kirk doesn't have it, but that's redundant when Kirk denies it and so do the security tapes.
The mind meld is emotional, but it's not like the rest of the scene isn't. It shows off that Sarek's emotionally compromised, but the rest of the scene does likewise, as does his admission at the end. Plus, Sarek is a minor supporting character. How essential is it that his emotional compromise gets shoved in our faces? Yeah, it proves he loves his son, but we get that in the rest of his movie appearances (including later this movie) and his Next Gen scenes. So the main thing the mind meld really does, as I see it, is demonstrate how comfortable Kirk and Sarek are with each other. And I think they're pretty damn comfortable, for Sarek to be initiating a mind meld and explicitly showing emotion.
Plus, at the end of the movie, the lead in to one of every K/Sers' favorite lines:
SAREK: But at what cost? Your ship, your son.
KIRK: If I hadn't tried, the cost would have been my soul.
Dude, that's not a logical thing to ask. He wants to know how Kirk feels about what happened, and there's no logical reason to ask that. Even for someone familiar and comfortable with humans, who tries to adapt to their needs (which is not something he was overly concerned with in Journey to Babel, by the way), there's no logical point to the question. Whatever Kirk answers, there's nothing Sarek can really do with it.
Except feel better. This question demonstrates concern and sympathy with Kirk's losses, and Kirk's answer is a reassurance. This exchange is these two guys trying to be emotionally supportive. When one of them is a Vulcan, and a non-Spock Vulcan, that's really rather extraordinary. Sarek's line isn't even an "I grieve with thee," something that stands on its own and doesn't need a response. He's trying to emotionally engage with Kirk.
I think Sarek is really rather fond of his son-in-law, though he'd probably deny it. :D
Okay, so, I don't think that Kirk destroying the Enterprise is romantic in and of itself. I mean, he just really didn't have any other options, not even one that would have saved the Enterprise but condemned Spock. The Klingons knocked out the automation systems, so the Enterprise was dead in space. Given time and assistance, maybe Scotty could have fixed it, but the Klingons were not giving them that time. No matter what he was trying to do about Spock, there was no way Kirk could have saved the Enterprise. I'd read a bunch of K/S fanfic before watching this movie, and the impression I'd gotten from the fic was that Kirk sacrificed the ship for Spock. That's really not what happened, because sacrifice implies a choice, implies knowingly giving something up. Kirk, when he left to get Spock, did sacrifice his career, but he didn't know he was going to have to give up the Enterprise too.
So what I think of the romantic part of the death of the Enterprise isn't that Kirk let it happen. It's that he didn't regret it. It may have been hard for him to watch her blow up, but it is made very clear that he'd rather have Spock than the Enterprise. That's the romance of it.
MORROW: Honestly, I never understood Vulcan mysticism.
KIRK: You don't have to believe. I'm not even sure that I believe. But if there's even a chance that Spock has an eternal soul, then it's my responsibility.
KIRK: As surely as if it were my very own.
This exchange is great for Kirk claiming Spock's soul as his (basically), but there's more to it than even that.
Kirk's line "I'm not even sure that I believe" can be taken two different ways. It's possible that he does believe, but he's being diplomatic with the skeptical superior officer and identifying himself with Morrow, an attempt to establish common ground -- always a good negotiation tactic. But it's also possible that he's telling the truth right there. This is, after all, James Kirk, famous for killing wannabe gods. He never demonstrates much belief in the religious or spiritual. Even any mental bond he and Spock might have shared would not necessarily have been enough to convince him -- telepathy is easy to accept as fact when one has experienced it. It doesn't have to extend to belief in an immortal soul.
Either way, Kirk is taking the chance that Spock has a soul and he can help, and that's enough for him. This is pretty amazing on its own. I mean, at this point he has no idea that Spock's body regenerated and at the end of this journey he'll have the real living Spock back. He steals his ship and sacrifices his career to bring peace to Spock's soul, which he might not even be sure actually exists. I find that really rather extraordinary.
Of course, McCoy is part of the equation as well. But the thing is, going to Genesis was not the only option for him. It was definitely the preferred option, but I'm sure that if he had gone to Vulcan, they would have been able to help him. They probably wouldn't be happy about having Spock's katra without his body, but it was an option. The pressing concern in this conversation, and in the movie as a whole, is Spock's soul, not McCoy's sanity.
The final scene of this movie is the best. Sorry, I don't have anything in-depth I want to say. My thoughts when I watch it typically go like this: "He remembers Jim's name when he remembers nothing else! And that they belong together! Going off into his own little universe with Jim is totally instinct for Spock, if he can do it with no memory and people crowding him and touching him! Jim has the other half of his soul back!" I really just want to cuddle them, but they'd totally ignore me in favor of more eyesex.
I think I'm done with The Search for Spock.
The Voyage Home
This one is actually my favorite, I think. It's fun! I can never take the method of time travel seriously (slingshot around the sun *totally sporfles*) and I frequently subtitle this "Star Trek: Save the Whales" in my head, but there's plenty of crack, enough slash to keep me happy, I always enjoy time travel, I like Gillian Taylor, and the entire crew gets some really good moments. "Nuclear wessels!" *snorts*
Plot and Structure
I'm not going to talk about the main plot and its themes much. I mean, there's a reason I call it Star Trek: Save the Whales. This movie sort of slaps you with the environmental message, slaps you again to make sure you get it, and then a third time just for good measure. If not more. It's not subtle. At all. So I'm going to talk about other stuff.
Like I mentioned in my discussion of TSfS's structure, this movie shows the return part of the hero's journey, and continues to fit Campbell's model rather well.
But this film isn't just the third in a sort of trilogy. The plot and subplot structure echoes TMP more than TWoK and TSfS.
Like TMP, in TVH there's Plot 1, the main plot about the whales, and Plot 2, the emotional plot about Kirk and Spock. Unlike TSfS, where the emotional plot was the main plot, and unlike TWoK, where there were several emotional subplots tying together, TVH has the two distinct plot progressions -- the whales, and Spock. But though the emotional progression is Spock's, and the plotline there can be summarized as Spock finding a way back to himself, I do consider it still a plotline about Kirk and Spock. Kirk is an integral part of Spock's emotional progression, punctuating and emphasizing particular significant moments. Spock changes quite a lot in this movie, but most of those changes are a response to Kirk. Once again, the relationship between Kirk and Spock is the emotional heart of the movie.
I've heard criticism of this movie about people being annoyed that Spock has to come to terms with his emotions again, when we've already seen him do that, particularly in TMP. I think it's a valid criticism, though that doesn't affect my enjoyment of the movie. Spock's journey here is not just an accelerated repeat of what we see throughout TOS and into TMP; the contrast between how he and Kirk handle it here and how they handled it before really says a lot about their relationship between TMP and TWoK. So let's talk about that a bit.
Kirk and Spock
When Kirk is angsting about whether or not they'll be able to get a hold of the whales, and Spock replies that if they don't their mission will be a failure, Kirk's response is very telling.
KIRK: Our mission? Spock, you're talking about the end of every life on Earth. You're half-human. Haven't you got any goddamn feelings about that?
If I'm not mistaken, this is the first time that Kirk gets angry at Spock for not demonstrating feelings since the episode Where No Man Has Gone Before. Which is, you know, the pilot of the entire series. Where Kirk and Spock had only known each other for a few months to a year and were just beginning to be friends.
Everywhere else, Kirk demonstrates remarkable sensitivity towards Spock and his issues with emotions. Very often he demonstrates this sensitivity as a contrast to other people who can't accept Spock's emotional quirks as well as Kirk does, ranging from McCoy (who frequently calls Spock out on emotion) to Scotty (who usually gets along well with Spock, but who in Spectre of the Gun is also disturbed by Spock's perpetual calm) to his own mother (who had the excuse in Journey to Babel of being afraid for her husband's life, but who still wanted Spock to be more demonstrative than he was comfortable with).
So now there's Kirk, getting frustrated with Spock for not showing emotion. This shows a number of things. One of them is that Kirk has gotten used to Spock being a lot more relaxed about emotions. We knew about Spock's relaxation, since it happened in TMP and we saw it in action in TWoK, but this is a way of highlighting it from Kirk's point of view. That's actually really effective, because like I mentioned, Kirk has always been the one who has accepted Spock for who he is, emotional constipation and all. And not just accepted, even, but enjoyed. We often see him, in the series, getting a kick out of Spock's deadpan responses, having a blast teasing him about emotions, and relying on his enduring calm in crisis situations.
Kirk counts on Spock, including the aspect of him that can stay rational and objective during bad or abnormal situations. That is the aspect of Spock that calmly mentioned the possibility of their mission's failure. But Kirk blows up at him, as Kirk rarely does when he's not absolutely frantic and just doesn't have the time to indulge Spock.
Kirk is stressed about the situation with the probe and the whales, of course, but that can't be it. First of all, Kirk performs well under pressure. He's been under stress before, and handled it admirably. Second, this is not currently a time-sensitive situation, unlike when he gets sharp with Spock in The Corbomite Maneuver and The Naked Time. They can spend as long as they need in the past, because their return to their own time is dependent on calculations, not opportunity. George and Gracie are certainly the easiest and most convenient whales, but they are not the only ones. It would have been more difficult for the crew to find a pair of humpbacks in the wild, but I can't imagine that Kirk would have just given up had he lost George and Gracie.
So the situation is stressful, but not excessively so. Certainly not more than Kirk has handled before with aplomb. Kirk's main source of stress in this movie is the situation with Spock, not the whales. Whenever Spock has been on the line, Kirk finds it harder to manage the stress -- see Operation Annihilate, A Private Little War, and The Motion Picture. It's not just emotional stress in general that Kirk finds harder to manage, as evidenced by his relative equanimity when dealing with his brother's death, and the threat of Edith's and McCoy's (see Shore Leave and For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky). Kirk just doesn't handle it well when either Spock's life is in danger, like Operation Annihilate and A Private Little War and the sickbay scene in The Motion Picture, but he also doesn't handle it well when his relationship to Spock is what's in danger, like in TMP pre-sickbay scene.
It's patently not Spock's life in danger that stresses Kirk out here. The threat is to Kirk's relationship with Spock, involving his fear that Spock will never remember what they were to each other before his death. But it's not a stress that any of the rest of Spock's crewmates feel, even McCoy, his closest friend after Kirk. Of course there are moments when Spock and McCoy clash, but that's just part of their friendship, nothing unusual. McCoy is actually very supportive of Spock here, and usually manages to do it constructively. He clearly wants Spock back to his pre-TWoK self, but he's not stressed about getting him there. But more on McCoy later.
This is another thing that just underlines the depth of the bond between Kirk and Spock. Even McCoy, the next closest friend to both of them, exhibits no more than his customary level of stress and gruffness. All of Kirk's most emotional moments have to do with Spock, and Spock's progress back to being the person that Kirk most recently knew and loved. Kirk is just off-balance without Spock loving him back.
I'm not necessarily even using love in a romantic sense there. Spock throughout most of this movie just doesn't exhibit the depth of feeling that he showed for Kirk even in a typical episode, before he grew comfortable with having emotions. He doesn't know when to call Kirk by his first name, when he was doing so on the bridge as early as The Corbomite Maneuver. He goes swimming with the whales without even a word to Kirk, leaving Kirk to be surprised and then badly make something up. And, in the quote I started this discussion with, he's completely impassive about the possible failure of their mission (even using the neutral term rather than saying exactly what it means, as Kirk will), and to Kirk's distress about it. Spock is even less in tune with his emotions, and with Kirk, than he is throughout most of the series, and Kirk very clearly feels that absence.
But the thing is, Kirk's distress does still have an effect on him. Kirk is the one providing incentive for Spock to change here, even if that incentive is only frustration that he's not back to his old self yet. There's not that much time between Kirk yelling about how Spock is half-human and Spock declaring that they have to go after Chekov because it's "the human thing" to do. The only thing having to do with Spock and emotions between those two instances is Kirk being pissy with Scotty and Spock recognizing that he is a man of deep feelings. There's not even McCoy trying to explain Kirk or emotions to Spock. Spock changes completely in response to Kirk -- to Kirk's feelings.
Spock's emotional journey in this movie is not only inspired by Kirk, but the stages he reaches are highlighted by Kirk's reactions. When we first see Spock in this movie, he has an awkward conversation about emotions with his mother, but the last time we saw Amanda and Spock, their conversations were similarly awkward. The real proof of how Spock has changed comes when the crew is about to take off, Kirk has to remind Spock to call him Jim (something Spock never had a problem with doing during the series), and having Spock reply that that would be inappropriate. That exchange right there shows how different Spock is.
Kirk's minor explosion about Spock not showing his feelings highlights the differences in the Kirk/Spock relationship, and I've already talked about those. Spock's decision to do the human thing and rescue Chekov comes as a response to Kirk. And when Spock is making his calculations about going back to their time, and tells Kirk that he will make a guess, Kirk's grin is evidence that Spock is becoming more like the man he was. McCoy may have to explain to Spock why Kirk is grinning, but the exchange underlines Spock's greater comfort with doing human things like making guesses.
Also, my favorite single moment of this movie is like the cutest K/S moment ever. They're back in the twenty-third century and the probe is gone and the whales are happily swimming around the bay, and the entire crew is laughing and gleeful. Everyone else is up on the warbird out of the water, but Kirk is in the water, just holding onto Spock. Eventually they start climbing up the outside ladder, then Kirk sort of pushes Spock in and Spock holds onto him and they both go down, just holding onto each other. It's like, the most adorable and playful thing ever. And this comes after Spock smiles and laughs a lot. I guess even he can get caught up in things, huh? (Well, most likely Nimoy got caught up in things, but still. Adorable.)
Okay, so. One last thing I want to say about the emotional, K/S plotline in this movie. The plotlines and themes aren't quite as coherent and integrated as in TMP, but though The Voyage Home may be Kirk and the crew literally returning home to Earth, and eventually to Earth in their time, the emotional plotline is Spock's voyage home. Which means, just as it did in TMP, standing with Jim, and the two of them being back in balance together, as they should be.
I like Gillian. She's a whale biologist, so she's smart; she's very empathetic, if still a bit human-centric (George and Gracie are not her whales); she doesn't take shit from people, not Bob, not Spock, not Kirk; she's very adaptable; and honestly I was rooting for her to go back to the twenty-third century with them the whole time, so I was pleased she did.
There were a few parts of her character I was sort of iffy on, though. I can sort of see why she ended up going to Kirk after she found out the whales were already gone. She was desperate, and though he could have just been an excellent, if crazy, con man, she didn't really lose anything by taking the chance that he was serious. But on the other hand, Kirk comes off as crazy. It's sort of a big leap to just trust him. I kind of go back and forth on this.
Also, as much as I was rooting for her to go to the future with them, she really has nothing in her life but the whales? No family or friends to wonder where she is, no other work worth doing as much as taking care of those whales? It's sort of incredible, but also very sad. It's something I sort of have to raise my eyebrow and shrug at.
Anyway. Let's talk about Gillian and Kirk.
First of all, oh, Kirk's a real Casanova. So much so that he initially intends Spock to go to dinner with them, despite Gillian's already dubious impression of him, and has an adorable little argument with Spock about whether he actually likes Italian. He wants Spock to be there. Eventually they decide it'll just be Kirk and Gillian, but that doesn't negate the fact that Kirk made no effort to get Gillian alone on a date with him, even wanted Spock there, and displayed much greater chemistry with Spock in one brief argument than the entire dinner with Gillian.
Then there's the dinner itself, which was clearly just another Kirk-flirts-with-ulterior-motives. And he's also clearly out of practice with it, because his flirty smile is awkward and Gillian ain't buying. In the series, Kirk flirts with ulterior motives a lot, and honestly he's just not very subtle. He always works the conversation around to what he wants to know about, and often he's very obvious about it. But the women he's seducing usually go along with it, in scenes that tend to frustrate me because God this show and women, but those scenes are meant to show that Kirk is just that charming and charismatic.
He's charming and charismatic enough for Gillian to trust him when the whales are gone, but that's not her reaction through most of the dinner. The women Kirk seduced in the series were often, you know, seduced. Gillian, on the other hand, has a distinct air of humoring the crazy person. She gives him the information he wants because it's not like it's classified for him to know when the whales are leaving and where they'll be released, but she's...humoring the crazy person. It's really rather great, and refreshing, and also an indication that Kirk is seriously out of practice flirting with women. He's not out of practice flirting with Spock, because we see him do it from TWoK onward, but here he's just really bad at flirting with Gillian. I find it rather hilarious.
Many of the rest of Gillian's scenes then get co-opted to become about Spock. When Kirk first beams her aboard, he's got that cute "Hello Alice, welcome to Wonderland" line, and she gets to understand that no, he's not crazy, he was actually telling her the truth. But that same scene conveys the information about Chekov in the hospital, and ends with Spock advising rescue because it's the human thing to do. Gillian's reaction to the ship is cute, but Chekov the plot point and Spock's emotional progression trump the cute.
The same thing happens when the whales are on board and Kirk and Gillian leave the bridge. When Spock says that he'll make a guess, Kirk moves towards him and away from Gillian. He grins and laughs, in high spirits, before he escorts Gillian out. That was about Spock, not about Gillian.
Then there's Gillian's final scene, which honestly only wraps up her storyline. There's Kirk being sad at saying goodbye and wanting to get her phone number, but I interpret that as Gillian is an awesome person and they've become friends. The scene then shifts into closing out Spock's emotional storyline by having him bond (long overdue) with his father, while Kirk waits off to the side by himself, and then Spock joins Kirk and they walk off together. It's not quite into the sunset, but who's the friend Kirk said goodbye to, and who's the person he left with? Yeah.
Kirk, if this movie and the introduction of Gillian Taylor were trying to make you seem less married to Spock, it was an utter failure. It's more like she's a romantic red herring who gives clues about Kirk's real interest.
I haven't said much about McCoy throughout these reviews, mostly because I wanted to discuss him across all four of the movies, but also because the first four movies were honestly more Kirk/Spock than they were Triumvirate.
McCoy thus far has been far more of a supporting, and supportive, character than a lead. The only thing I can think of him doing, that has nothing to do with Kirk or Spock, is fixing Chekov in TVH. For the most part, though, he's there to support Kirk and Spock.
He actually does it pretty equally -- he largely supports Kirk in TMP and TWoK, and he largely supports Spock in TSfS and TVH. In TMP he acts as Kirk's conscience, while in TWoK he's there with Kirk throughout everything, from Kirk feeling his age in the beginning to meeting Kirk's son to Spock's death. TSfS is where McCoy very literally supports Spock by holding his katra, while in TVH he's often the one to explain emotional reactions to Spock, encouraging Spock to better understand both emotions and Kirk.
I am very fond of McCoy, and I think he's an integral part of the original Star Trek, and I love his friendships with both Kirk and Spock. What I've noticed about his role in these first four movies, however, is part of why I can't really see Kirk/Spock/McCoy as a viable trio -- or, for that matter, Kirk/McCoy or Spock/McCoy without Kirk/Spock. (The other part is that I get possessive of my OTPs and don't like other people coming in. XD) Kirk and Spock are just so focused on each other. McCoy is very good at being a friend to both, but Kirk and Spock...just have their own little world, and not even McCoy gets invited in. Spock's death scene in TWoK? Entirely focused on Kirk and Spock -- the camera doesn't even show McCoy in the picture once Kirk and Spock start talking to each other. The end of TSfS? Also entirely focused on Kirk and Spock -- McCoy held Spock's katra, but Spock doesn't say his name. Even when Spock has remembered Kirk and the entire crew crowds close and are like yay Spock!, Spock's entire attention remains on Kirk. McCoy is part of the crowd, not the little bubble of Kirk-and-Spock.
I have no objections to other people liking Kirk/Spock/McCoy for whatever reason. It's just that when I ship a trio, I prefer it to have more balance. I personally just do not find K/S/M to be fair enough to McCoy, apart from my whole OTP possessiveness, so OT3 is not my preference.
I think I have one last small thing to comment on before I wrap up this movie, so...
It did not come out of complete nowhere in TFF! It's a very subtle moment, but at the very end of this movie, as the Enterprise-A comes into view, Uhura has her hands on Scotty's shoulder and arm. It's not enough to say on its own that Uhura and Scotty are together, but it makes it...slightly less out of left field? :p
The Final Frontier
I'm actually sort of fond of this movie. It's got some absolute stinkers, namely the God-plot and Row Row Row Your Boat, but it's got some great character moments, great Kirk/Spock moments, and great Triumvirate moments, so on the whole I actually sort of like it.
But let's start with the crap this time and get that out of the way.
Before I saw this movie, I read the great Reboot fic Atlas by Angel Baby1, and there's this scene where Kirk is trying to persuade Spock to go camping with him, and he says this:
"Come on, it's not like all we do is sit around camp fires singing Row Row Row Your Boat." He considered his own statement before pulling a disgusted face. "I mean, that'd be irredeemably lame. We could go on to win a pissing contest with God and all anyone would talk about would be the shitty singing. Anyway."
When I first read it I thought that was amusing, but it was only when I reread the fic recently, after having watched TFF, that I got the reference and burst into giggles. But I remembered those lines because they're so true (though I wish the author had used a term other than lame to describe it). William Shatner, what were you thinking? In what universe was that a good idea?
I really don't want to discuss the way Star Trek treats religion, but I will say that I wish Sybok had had a goal other than God-beyond-the-Barrier.
I find the cult unconvincing. I get that Sybok releasing their pain is great, but I would think that the various ambassadors, plus the Enterprise crew, would be strong enough not to fall into cult mentality just because the pain of their burdens has been lightened. It's unsatisfying.
But I want to talk more about the things I do like in this movie.
Unlike the first four movies, this one doesn't have the Kirk/Spock relationship as its emotional heart. There are still some really great K/S moments, but this movie isn't ultimately about them. It's about family. It's about the brothers Spock and Sybok, and Spock and his father, and McCoy and his father, and Kirk claiming Spock and McCoy as his family. It's about how family can hurt us, but they can also heal us. They can be conventional or unconventional. They can be tied by blood or they can be chosen. An exploration of family is at the heart of this movie.
Another overarching theme is the nature of pain. There's the kind of pain that poisons you, and there's the kind of pain that shapes you.
KIRK: Dammit, Bones, you're a doctor. You know that pain and guilt can't be taken away with a wave of a magic wand. They're things we carry with us - the things that make us who we are. If we lost them, we lose ourselves. I don't want my pain taken away. I need my pain.
Sybok's cult demonstrates the dangers of losing pain -- they act like they really have lost themselves, and exist only to do his bidding.
There are dangers in keeping pain, because as Sybok says, it can poison you. But pain is something that shapes us and defines us. As Spock shows, we can learn from our pain. That's a big part of the pain theme in this movie -- the necessity of learning from one's pain and becoming a better, more balanced person for it, as evidenced by Spock.
Sybok and his pain is actually the other side of the equation, and the lesson in action. Sybok, because he wanted to embrace emotions, was rejected by Vulcan. In response, he becomes a messiah, with people hanging on his every word -- now, finally, people will listen to him and his wisdom. But when he meets "God" beyond the Barrier, and "God" morphs into a sinister construct of Sybok's face, Sybok sees that he was acting out of his own pain, which he didn't even realize was poisoning him. He then purges this pain in the same organic process that Spock went through earlier in life -- realization of who he is and why he's done what he's done, and a determination to learn from his mistake. He recognizes his pain and is able to learn from it.
Apart from the disappointment of the cult stuff, there are some good moments for the crew. I love Chekov being "Captain" Chekov and playing his part perfectly. Uhura/Scotty did not have as much build-up as I would have wanted, but I think it's adorable, that they're fairly well-matched, and I have no problem with it. Uhura gets to be a sexy dancer, even in her forties/fifties, and then still a competent officer through the rest of the raid. Sulu gets to be a great pilot with the shuttle. Scotty was perfectly Scotty throughout the whole thing, caring much more about the ship than any pain he might have.
But this was a Triumvirate movie, with the relationships between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy pretty much exactly how I see them, so I was pleased with that.
Kirk, Spock, and McCoy -- and Kirk/Spock and McCoy
We start in Yosemite, with Kirk climbing El Capitan, McCoy a nervous wreck watching him, and Spock flying up on levitation boots to join him. This is interesting for a number of reasons.
First, Kirk asks Spock what he's doing there. This is an indication that they had not decided to spend their shore leave together, which I actually like. Kirk wanted some quality time with his (non-space husband) best friend, McCoy. Healthy romantic relationships include the participants having healthy relationships with other people, rather than being totally codependent. It's good for them to spend time with other people.
Second, Spock crashes the party. I'm sort of torn about this. On one hand, I wish Kirk and McCoy had gotten their quality time. But on the other, McCoy is friend to both of them, so both of them should get the chance to spend time with him.
Also, this is an indication that Spock is much more like his post-TMP self. Remember the episode Shore Leave (of the famous backrub scene), where Spock says that shore leave is for resting and says that it's illogical to use energy during a time of rest? Now he prioritizes spending time with his closest friends over doing the logical thing and resting.
There's a great character moment, which is Kirk climbing El Capitan just because it's there and he likes a challenge. There's also a great flirting moment when Kirk says that he's flattered that of all the points of interest in Yosemite, Spock picks him. It is sort of a hint that Spock is distracting him and should stop that and go find something else to study, but it's a very gentle and flirty sort of hint. And Spock doesn't take it, hah. He'd rather stay there and flirt with Kirk than go see all the cool stuff in Yosemite. Spock the explorer and scientist, the Vulcan, would rather flirt with Kirk than go discover new things.
Guys, this is one reason I like this movie. The fire has not gone out of this relationship -- they still flirt, a lot, both verbally and through body language. Great stuff.
Argument in the Brig
This scene is pretty controversial and I'm sort of torn on it myself. On one hand, I don't like that Kirk got so angry at Spock for not killing Sybok when he knows that Spock doesn't like killing. On the other hand, regardless of their personal relationship, Spock is an officer of Starfleet and he has an obligation to save his ship from hijackers, even to the extent of using lethal force if he has to. Kirk has every right to be angry at Spock, as a captain to a member of his crew, especially since he doesn't know that Spock and Sybok are brothers.
Speaking of that, I can actually buy that Kirk didn't know about Spock and Sybok. Spock may have gotten a lot more relaxed about emotional stuff since TMP, but he is still a Vulcan, from a different culture, and a primarily logical being. Humans may tell each other about our families, including estranged members, but that's humans, and Spock isn't. Sybok has had no bearing on Spock's life since he left. Sybok just never came up. He was never relevant. Why tell Kirk about him when he had nothing to do with anything? Kirk knows that Spock is his parents' only child, so of course it just would never have occurred to him that Spock would have siblings. Plus Kirk is still human and takes it for granted that Spock would tell him something like that. Honestly, I think that argument is about culture clash, which can still happen even for people who have known each other well for twenty years.
The Vulcan princess thing... *snorts* Whatever. I'm dubious about the existence of princesses on Vulcan, but Sarek having a relationship before Amanda makes sense. First, we know childhood bonding is the norm. Second, Spock was born when Sarek was roughly in his sixties, and I don't know how long Sarek and Amanda were married before Spock was born, but I doubt it was thirty-plus years. Sarek would have had to deal with pon farr before Amanda, so of course there was someone who helped him through it, and it's not unreasonable for Sarek to have had a child with that person.
I also think that the existence of Sybok makes sense for Spock personally. Sarek married an emotional human, and we assume that he loves her (he says so explicitly in Reboot, and in TNG episode Sarek). Why, then, would he want to deny her any influence on the son he had with her? Why would he want to deny the aspects of her that found expression in Spock? In refusing to accept Spock's non-Vulcan aspects, he comes off as a huge douche.
Sarek's actions about Spock make more sense with Sybok in the picture. He's still a douche, but an understandable one. If his elder son, who is full Vulcan, can give in to his emotions and run off to become an outlaw, how much easier would it be for Spock, who is half-human, raised by a mother who encourages the expression of emotion? So he tries to make Spock as Vulcan as possible in reaction to Sybok. When Spock chooses Starfleet over the Vulcan Science Academy, to Sarek it must feel like the second time his son has rejected his ways -- and, by extension, him. The estrangement between Spock and Sarek was not logical, but I never thought it was even before I found out about Sybok. I just think it makes more sense on Sarek's part. Like I said, he's still a douche, but an understandable one.
There's also something of interest to me in the beginning of the scene, a distinction between the relationship Kirk and Spock have with each other and the ones they have with McCoy. Kirk has gotten all angry at Spock, and McCoy interjects himself into the discussion to offer to hold Spock down, and Kirk snaps at him to stay out of this. In part, that is the Captain of the Enterprise reacting, where he has the responsibility of dressing down his crew, not his CMO. But Spock has already made this discussion personal. Kirk accused him in the beginning of the argument of betraying every man on the ship, and Spock says, "Worse. I have betrayed you." (Which is a great K/S line. Spock thinks that betraying Kirk is worse than betraying his ship.)
That line changes this discussion from being between captain and crewmember to being between Kirk and Spock. And Kirk thinks that McCoy should stay out of it. Even in a movie where McCoy has a greater role, he's not allowed into the K/S bubble. Of course McCoy is a part of the discussion, particularly once Kirk gets over being hurt and Spock finally gives out information, but when Kirk is feeling emotional in an argument between him and Spock, his instinct is that McCoy isn't part of it. This is a movie where Kirk explicitly acknowledges the three of them as family, but the K/S relationship is just different from the way they interact with McCoy.
It's not just that the three of them are different people and of course have different ways of relating to each other. In the series, which is before they would have started a romantic relationship, Kirk and Spock did still have their little K/S bubble and would forget that other people existed (see the eyesex scene in Miri), but it was a lot easier for them to pop that bubble and let other people, mainly McCoy, in. A lot of the great beginning or end of episode banter sessions have McCoy an equal party to Kirk and Spock's fun with each other (and, um, totally not meaning that in a sexual sense. :p). What I see in this scene, though, is two people in a relationship who don't think that their personal arguments are anyone else's business. It very much comes off as a couple-y thing, with McCoy there as contrast to prove what "just good friends" actually looks like.
Next comes one of my favorite K/S moments in the entire movie. Actually, probably the entire original Star Trek.
The Turboshaft Scene
Kirk is climbing up the turboshaft, while Spock thinks up something more efficient and shows up wearing his levitation boots. It's almost entirely wordless, but here's the sequence of events. I need to see if I can find a clip of this...
1. Spock says, "I believe I found a faster way."
2. He holds out his hands to Kirk.
3. Kirk puts his hand on his chest. Subtext: who, me?
4. Spock lifts his hands a bit to indicate he still has them out. Subtext: of course, you.
5. Kirk inclines his head and starts grinning. Subtext: oh, all right.
6. Close-up of Kirk stepping onto Spock's boots.
7. Kirk grabs Spock for balance, in the process hugging him quite closely.
You know what this looks like to me? Dancing. Spock extends his hands to Kirk, like, May I have this dance? Kirk puts his hand to his chest in a coquettish, Who, me? move. Spock indicates his hands, silently saying, Of course, you. Kirk inclines his head in agreement and grins. Oh, all right. Then a close-up of their feet. This is practically the entire process of a flirty dance invitation and the beginning of the dance. A slow dance, with lots of body contact.
Spock's levitation boots are undeniably a faster way up the turboshaft. But I honestly cannot think of any other way to interpret the way Kirk puts his hand on his chest and inclines his head, other than flirting. Seriously, cannot think of any other possible interpretation.
Oh my god, you guys. It's been twenty years and they still take every possible opportunity to flirt. And in this scene they do it almost entirely without words. I love this ship.
Then we shift to McCoy, who once again presents a contrast. McCoy has already complained about having to climb up the turboshaft, but when Kirk and Spock offer him a lift, he says, "You two go ahead. I'll wait for the next car." In what universe is that not McCoy saying, "Don't you two look cozy together. Don't let me interrupt." Seriously. Of course Kirk refuses to leave McCoy behind and McCoy has to grab on anyway, but wow. This scene. Amazing.
In the very beginning of the movie, we see Sybok in the act of taking someone's pain. This scene makes it clear that it happens entirely in the mind. Right here we don't get the see what the guy's pain is, because, unlike Sybok, we can't see into someone's mind.
How Sybok takes pain does not involve projecting it somehow. Honestly, I don't know how a Vulcan would even begin to project an image directly from someone's mind using only telepathic or empathic powers, so that other people (who he is not touching) could see this image. We are given no indication throughout canon thus far that this is a possibility.
When Sybok uses his empathic ability on McCoy and Spock, the scene is projected visually -- but it's to the audience, not to the room in general. The audience cares more about McCoy and Spock than Sybok's random follower, so we are allowed a glimpse into their minds and their pasts. But do remember that it is still in their minds.
Throughout the scene with McCoy, Kirk and Spock are watching, but what they are watching is most likely McCoy having a freaky cathartic experience, which is enough to hold their attention. They do not speak or move into the scene. Apart from the fact that they are looking in McCoy's direction, there is no indication that they can see what he sees. Considering that this catharsis takes place solely in the mind, as we saw at the beginning of the film, it is most likely that they in fact can't see what McCoy sees. Sybok can, because it's his power that's causing this. McCoy can, because it's his mind. Kirk and Spock can't.
Spock's experience, on the other hand, includes Kirk. Kirk moves with him into the scene and speaks to him about what they both are seeing. They are inside Spock's mind, and Kirk is just naturally there with them, without the intervention of a mind meld or anything visible. The only explanation for this is some kind of mind link between Kirk and Spock.
Spookyfbi has talked about this before, but I was reading that meta and then thinking of further implications.
There are indications in the series that Kirk and Spock have some sort of mind link, like in The Tholian Web. It becomes more explicit in Roddenberry's novelization of The Motion Picture, where Spock hears Kirk's thoughts across sixteen light years and then later Kirk isn't surprised when Spock tells him that. Both of these instances, however, happen before The Wrath of Khan.
This means two possible options for the mind link in TFF. One is that the mental link between Kirk and Spock survived Spock's death. The other is that the link was broken when Spock died, but sometime between the fal-tor-pan and this movie, Kirk and Spock re-established their link. And do remember that there is very little time happening between TSfS and TFF, so most likely if they re-established the link, they did so deliberately.
Guys, both of those options are romantic and slashy as hell, oh my god. I'm leaning towards option two, because I find it kind of difficult to believe that an actual mind link can survive death (yes, Spock's katra was still around, but I think the existence of a physical mind linked to the katra would be at least somewhat necessary), but it's still a possibility. Otherwise -- dude, they want to be linked to each other. I don't suppose they have to actually be married to have chosen to mentally bond with each other, but, um, that's certainly what I believe.
SPOCK: Sybok, you are my brother, but you do not know me. I am not the outcast boy you left behind those many years ago. Since that time I have found myself and my place. I know who I am. And I cannot go with you.
Once again Star Trek talks about where Spock belongs. This time he is literally standing by Kirk's side as he says it. How many times have they found ways to emphasize that Kirk and Spock belong together now?
This scene ends with a great Triumvirate moment. McCoy is initially all set to join Sybok's cult, but unlike the rest of the crew (gah), his loyalty to his friends outweighs his brainwashing/gratitude. Awww. Go McCoy!
Klingons Ruin Everything
Oh yes, the best line in the entire film -- "Please, Captain. Not in front of the Klingons." :D
You know, that's a pretty awkward position if Kirk's just going in for a hug. He's already got his hands on Spock's biceps, so moving them for a hug would be possible, but still awkward. The position of his hands makes much more sense if he's going in for a kiss. Just saying. :p
And hah, I love Spock at the end of this little moment too. Kirk lowers his hands and looks around at the Klingons and then back at Spock, and Spock gives him this little arch, sort of smug, hah-I-teased-Jim look. Very cute.
The final scene of this movie. Because the campfire didn't happen. What campfire? I'm guessing Shatner forgot about Sam Kirk, because there's a brother that Kirk lost and didn't get back. But still. Kirk gets to be sappy about Spock, and Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are family, oh yeah. :D
The Undiscovered Country
This is actually my least favorite of the TOS-era movies. There are moments when I have trouble believing that these characters are really Kirk and Spock, I don't think the writers are using the concept of prejudice correctly, I find it hard to believe that Uhura can't speak better Klingon (it only makes sense for the communications officer to know the language of one of your main enemies), and I go wtf? at the idea of a high-level conspiracy to screw up the peace summit. I mean, you don't have to trust Klingons to try to make peace with them. It seems sort of ridiculous to me that Vulcans and Starfleet captains and admirals would let their distrust of Klingons go so far as to sabotage peace talks. It's not logical and it's not professional. Kirk, ironically, got to be the model of professional, diplomatic behavior. Everyone, Federation and Klingons, knew that he didn't like Klingons, and that he had some very personal and viable reasons for not liking Klingons, but he still did his duty. Reluctantly and snarkily, but he did make an effort. Plus, the Federation conspirators actually worked with the Klingon General Chang...to make sure they would never have to work with Klingons. Um, how does that make sense? I know it's supposed to be part of the irony of the movie, but these are all smart people! They couldn't have missed that they worked with a Klingon so they wouldn't have to work with Klingons. It just seems entirely stupid to me.
That's about all I want to say about plot, though, so let's move on to the stuff that interests me more -- theme and character.
This movie is a thematic sequel to The Final Frontier, more specifically the pain theme. In TFF, Kirk refuses to let go of his pain, claiming that it's what makes him who he is and he needs his pain. There is no quick fix for it.
This movie is about the organic process of letting go of a pain that poisons you, as Kirk's pain about his son is poisoning him. He's been holding tight to his hatred of Klingons, who he had never liked even before TSfS, but this movie shows what that hatred has done to him. "Let them die!" Kirk says to Spock.
Kirk's pain poisoned him, and this movie shows him learning how to let it go. Working with Klingons, and believing there's something in them that he can identify with and sympathize with, is how Kirk manages to let go.
Prejudice is also a theme in this movie, though it's very heavy-handed (not quite as heavy as the environmental message of Star Trek: Save the Whales, but still very obvious) and used strangely.
A prejudice is a preconceived opinion, or an opinion formed without true knowledge or reasoning. Kirk is not prejudiced against Klingons, because he has very valid reasons for feeling the way that he does. If it had only been that his son had been killed by Klingons, I would have been more willing to accept Kirk's attitudes in this movie as prejudice, blaming the many for the actions of a few, and so on. But it wasn't just David. Kirk has never had a positive interaction with a Klingon. Day of the Dove comes sort of close, because Kirk and the Klingons are eventually willing to work together, but that was a dubious truce with a lot of vitriol still going around. Kirk's interactions with Klingons in The Trouble With Tribbles are more neutral than usual, but considering Kirk uncovered a Klingon plot at the end, it's not that like that was a step forward. Klingons have never treated Kirk very well, so he has reason to dislike and distrust them.
As for Spock saying that he was prejudiced by Valeris's accomplishments -- what? So he didn't suspect her immediately, because of her accomplishments. Umm, sounds reasonable to me. Innocent until proven guilty, there's no logic in suspecting someone who does nothing suspicious, etc. I would have found it stranger if Spock had suspected her, because he had no reason to. (The audience does, because she's this random new character given a prominent role; it makes narrative sense for her to be the villain. But Spock, as a character, would not be privy to that line of reasoning.)
I don't really see prejudice in this movie. I see a lot of people who have reason not to like each other who slowly start to overcome their differences. Very big difference from prejudice.
There are four things I really liked about this movie. One is the pain theme, that Kirk is finally learning to let go of his pain. The other things I like are...
Shakespeare! I am a big English geek, and like many of my kind, I am quite fond of Shakespeare. It was great to see him quoted so often, whether or not it was in the original Klingon. *snorts* The reason Shakespeare has endured to even the twenty-first century is because he says relevant things about the human condition. I'm glad to see him enduring even farther.
The crew's loyalty to Kirk is so awesome. Chekov is first officer on the Reliant for awhile in TWoK, and we finally see Sulu get his own command in this movie, but Chekov and Sulu still demonstrate serious loyalty to Kirk even when they aren't his subordinates anymore.
Of course the writers have typically kept the crew together because they're the established characters, the audience already knows them, and it's best not to screw with the dynamic. But inside the universe, it means that all of these characters have constantly passed up better opportunities in order to keep serving under Kirk. Spock is already a captain as of TWoK -- he could have been given his own command at any point, but he follows Kirk everywhere. It makes sense for McCoy and Scotty to be planted where they are -- McCoy has greater attachment to Kirk than to Starfleet, and Scotty's first love is the Enterprise. But Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu didn't have to stay in the same positions they've had on the Enterprise for more than twenty years. Sulu finally does advance his own career in this movie, but he's still unquestionably loyal to Kirk. It's really very heartwarming.
The Klingon Chancellor's Daughter
What was her name, Azetbur? She was awesome. Yay, a strong woman! She leads her people, is not going to give in about the peace talks but is also not going to give in about her father's murder, and accepts that Kirk is innocent when given proof. She's reasonable and intelligent and strong. Go Azetbur!
Okay. Apart from two K/S moments, that's about it for the stuff I actually liked. Now I'll talk about the stuff that made me raise an eyebrow and/or stare incredulously.
Kirk and Martia
Honestly, I think Martia exists because the production team for this movie realized that Kirk hasn't kissed a woman since the sixties and they wanted to make it less incredibly obvious that Kirk is married to Spock.
This one I don't dislike. I don't really like her, but Kirk kisses her for the same reason he kissed most of the other women linked to him during the series -- with ulterior motives. First of all, she's the one who kisses him. He doesn't want to jeopardize his chances of escape by being rude to the person willing to help him, so he can't push her away.
Second, he never took her at face value. He was always waiting for her to show her real motives, and he knew they were not attraction to him. He displays no real attraction to her either.
Third, and something I actually appreciate about Martia -- she's not really a woman! We don't know what she is! She even shifts into Kirk's body. She may have been in a female form when she kissed Kirk, but we can't take it for granted that that's her true gender. Kirk has finally kissed someone who is not necessarily female! I do appreciate that, even if I'd rather see him kiss Spock.
I am dubious that Kirk was so willing to get her killed, though. It doesn't really seem like Kirk to me.
The Kirk/Spock Argument
This argument is very hard for me to watch, for several reasons. It's not entirely unreasonable and out of character, but it has its moments. Let's start with talking about Kirk.
He calls Spock making this decision for him "arrogant presumption". It is pretty arrogant and presumptuous for a subordinate (regardless of his actual rank) to go over his captain's head in volunteering his ship for a mission. Not a good thing in a military organization. But Kirk...usually lets Spock get away with a lot. In The Menagerie, Spock hijacked his ship and Kirk said that he must have had his reasons.
My interpretation of this line is two-fold. The first is that it's arrogant presumption for Spock to make decisions on Kirk's behalf without consulting him. And honestly, regardless of any personal relationship between them, that's true. I'm not married, but if I were, I would get angry at my spouse if they made decisions about me without my input. It would be worse for Kirk, who is so fiercely independent and who fears losing command.
The second aspect of this line is that it was about Klingons. It was arrogant presumption for Spock to go over Kirk's head in making this decision when he knew that it was something Kirk would not have agreed to. So from Kirk's perspective, this is a really shitty thing for Spock to do, especially since Spock knows Kirk so well and would know how he would think of this.
Kirk also tells Spock, "You should have trusted me." I had to really think about this line to understand what Kirk was trying to say there, and I'm still not entirely sure I'm right. My initial reaction, when I first watched this movie, was to think that Kirk was being an ass, accusing Spock of not trusting him when he's the one right there not trusting Spock. Which is true, he really isn't trusting Spock.
The line also sort of came out of nowhere and I had to think about why Kirk is bringing up trust in the first place. The answer that I came up with goes back to the going-over-Kirk's-head thing. Kirk is angry with Spock for not trusting him with his plans, not trusting Kirk to make his own decisions. That's the best I can come up with, and I'm still not sure how well it fits.
Then there's Kirk's "Let them die!" line. Which I still can't quite believe, even as I fanwank it away. I mean, I've already talked about Kirk's pain and how it's poisoning him and he needs to learn to let it go, so obviously this is something that illustrates how much Kirk's pain has poisoned him. Even so, I'm incredulous that Kirk would say something like that. He can be a hothead who jumps to his own conclusions, but he's also a compassionate guy in general. He doesn't like seeing people die for no reason, even when they're his enemies. I find it hard to believe that Kirk would be willing to condemn an entire species to death, no matter how much he dislikes them.
There are things that Kirk is justified being angry about in this scene, but it's still difficult to watch, and not just because I don't like watching arguments.
First of all, I don't think the "Vulcan proverb", "Only Nixon could go to China", ages well. I mean, I get the reference, and the Cold War allegory that the film represents, but it feels off. This might just be personal preference, though.
All right, the rest of this scene. I think that Spock volunteered the Enterprise for the mission for Kirk's sake. I think he saw how Kirk's pain was poisoning him, and decided to do something about it. I can see Kirk, out of stubborn independence, completely denying that there's a problem, which forces Spock to go sneaky in order to solve it. But I do think that Spock's goal here is to make Kirk confront his pain and work through it.
Kirk even proves how necessary Spock's tactics and goal were. Spock had to go sneaky because Kirk would have turned it down if he'd been given the choice. And "Let them die!" makes it clear to Spock that an intervention is needed. Spock will make decisions on Kirk's behalf if he thinks it's for Kirk's own good. Which would be infuriating to Kirk, of course, but I don't think it's out of character.
The Mind Meld with Valeris
Oh my god, this scene. Kirk tells Spock to mind-rape his Vulcan protégé, and Spock does it.
And no one says anything! Kirk and Spock don't even go through the motions of regretting that it has to come to this, or whatever. Nope. They just do it and it's done and that's that. For the good of the Federation.
Jesus Christ. I've puzzled through it to have it make some semblance of sense, but I still think it's out of character on both their parts, especially Spock. But anyway.
So, Kirk is easy enough to explain. There's time-sensitive information that Valeris knows and is not willing to say, so he has to get it out of her somehow. The mind meld is the easiest and quickest way to do so. I seriously don't like this moment, but I can understand it.
Plus, Kirk is emotionally compromised throughout the whole movie, which is the only way I can explain things like "Let them die!" or engineering Martia's death. The Valeris scene is yet another of his strange moral failings in this movie.
Spock is harder. In the previous movie, he would rather let the Enterprise get hijacked than kill his brother, even at Kirk's order. But here he's willing to mind-rape his protégé? Any possible justifications for that leaves a nasty aftertaste in my mouth, so I'm going to make it clear right now that I am trying to explore Spock's possible reasons for doing this, and trying not to justify them, because I honestly think this is unjustifiable. I wish they had found some other way of getting the information.
I think the main thing to keep in mind with Spock is that Valeris's actions led directly to Kirk nearly getting killed. Spock does not deal well with the idea of Kirk in danger. In The Man Trap and Devil in the Dark, he'd rather endangered species go extinct than Kirk get killed. Spock could probably forgive anything, except what hurts Kirk. He's willing to treat her with disregard because of what she did to Kirk.
I sort of wonder if this is a downside to Spock being more comfortable with his emotions. The relaxation of his strict Vulcan control makes him more willing to relax his ethical standards as well. Reboot!Spock seems to think so, at the revelation that Spock Prime is willing to practice deception. In Reboot, it's framed as a good thing. In this movie, Spock's ethical violation is not framed as anything at all, except necessary.
I mean, it's not the first time that Spock has mind melded without permission. He did the same thing at the end of Requiem for Methuselah, in a scene I also dislike, but he does it in response to McCoy claiming he'll never understand what love can drive a man to do. I do find it squicky that Spock's tampering with Kirk's memories is framed as an act of love, but that entire episode is about how love makes people do questionable things. I don't think Spock's tampering is meant to be shown as a good thing.
There are plenty of times when Spock melds (and I mean a full meld, not whatever Jedi-mind-trick suggestibility thing he can do) with something that hasn't given him permission, but apart from Requiem for Methuselah, the only instances I can think of are cases where there's no communication even possible without the meld, like with the Horta and the whales. There was just no other way to communicate with them.
There is just one instance I can think of in the entire show and movies that comes close to what Spock does in this scene. One instance where Spock melds with a sentient being who is able to communicate with him by other means, and who doesn't want the meld (looking terrified when it happens), and Spock disregards his wishes and melds with him anyway. That would be Mirror!Spock, with McCoy.
But no, in this movie there's nothing wrong with Spock mind-raping a woman and an officer on the bridge. It's for the good of the Federation.
I don't know if "it's the most logical and expedient thing to do" suffices as an explanation either, even for Spock. I mean, we know from Journey to Babel that Sarek at least, despite the ethical precept against killing/violence, would be able to kill if that were the logical thing to do. Vulcans are capable of prioritizing logic about moral imperatives.
But I don't think that this is necessarily the rule among Vulcans. Spock was unable to kill his brother, even though there was logical reason to do so and his failure created a lot of difficulties. As I mentioned way at the beginning of this entire essay, Kodos in The Conscience of the King was a highly utilitarian figure -- keeping the idea of "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" in mind, Kodos's actions were actually rather logical. Even the eugenics side, because it's logical to have the survivors be people who already have a genetic edge on the population. Yet Spock disapproves of Kodos on moral grounds.
Vulcans have the potential to be amoral people concerned only with logic, but that's not entirely what we see, particularly from Spock, who is after all the focus of this discussion. Spock, though he does prefer to make his decisions through logic, is also a supremely moral person throughout the series and movies.
So there are two main things that leave a bad taste in my mouth about this scene. One is the ethical violation on the part of Spock (and Kirk), while the other is the way that it's framed. Like I said, there are no consequences, and no one things anything of it except that it's necessary. That's not how we think of Mirror!Spock's mind-rape of McCoy -- maybe it was necessary in the context of the episode for Mirror!Spock to gain that information, but we're not exactly meant to laud him for how he got that information. But in this movie, no one cares that Spock, a sympathetic and beloved character, mind-rapes someone. I hate that the movie has no issue with it.
I am just...very much not pleased with how this scene was handled.
All right, let's end this movie with the K/S stuff. Might as well go out on a good note.
What Chekov Saw
So...what purpose does this scene serve, in the narrative sense? We don't know what Kirk and Spock are talking about, apart from Spock saying that something is possible.
Honestly, having them go off on their own and then showing them standing so close together that they could be kissing has no real narrative purpose. Having them go off together on their own would be enough to indicate they're making a plan to catch Valeris. Though these two have known each other for nearly thirty years, so we don't even need to see them in the process of making a plan to know they'll have made a plan. We can just assume that, therefore this scene is not really necessary.
It's just cute. Look, Kirk and Spock are standing so close they could be kissing? Personal space, what's that?
Kirk and Spock Make Up
This scene can easily be paraphrased as:
Spock: You were right, I was wrong.
Kirk: No, you were right and I was wrong.
Spock: No, I was wrong! You could have been killed.
Kirk: I wasn't, so don't beat yourself up about it. Let's just say we were both partly right and partly wrong.
It plays very like a couple who is tired of arguing and each party wants to claim all the blame for themselves. Quite cute. I don't really have anything else to say about this, though.
Yeah, I'm not too impressed with this movie. There were some scattered good moments, but not many of them, and they were short. But lucky me, now I get to talk about Generations, which was worse.
I'd heard a lot about this movie before I saw it, and therefore my expectations were extremely low. For the most part the movie actually exceeded them, to my surprise -- at least while I was watching. Once I started thinking about what had actually happened, I saw that there's too much that doesn't hold up, plot-wise as well as character-wise. The scenes in the Nexus weren't much help.
The Enterprise-B scenes weren't too bad. Kirk was recognizably Kirk, and though I did not get a good impression of Captain Harriman, the rest was mostly all right. There was some good dramatic tension, especially leading up to the revelation that Kirk was where the hull breach was.
I do have to wonder, though, why Kirk retired in the first place. Yeah, the Enterprise-A was decommissioned, but that means that he's done with Starfleet as a whole now? What was he intending to do for the rest of his life?
(Though hey, didn't Spock retire at this time as well? If so, what a coincidence! Except not. Spock spent his career after meeting Kirk following Kirk around, so now Kirk returns the favor. Kirk's retirement makes the most sense in response to Spock's retirement, except for Kirk's line about being lonely. But that line about loneliness is the sole and complete setup for his life in the Nexus, so of course the writers had to shoehorn it in there.)
At this point I've just started season four of The Next Generation, but I was engaged enough with the TNG aspects of the story. Picard did sound like something of a douche when he seemed to care more about the end of his family name than that his brother and nephew are dead, but I hope I can just blame that on bad writing not getting the point across very well.
The themes were fairly consistent in this movie. I wasn't exactly pleased with how those themes were dealt with -- loneliness, family, what makes people happy -- but they were still consistent. But I think this movie would have done far, far better if it had been purely TNG, because trying to make Kirk fit just didn't work.
There are plenty of things that are wrong with the movie itself. For instance, Data's emotion chip serves no purpose apart from comic relief, which I find disappointing considering Data is my favorite TNG character.
This movie also commits the cardinal sin of having a plot that requires the characters be stupid, which is not something I tend to forgive a story for. Some of the very stupid decisions the characters made include:
• Making Troi drive the ship when Riker alone is a much better pilot.
• I don't understand why Soran took Geordi in the first place.
• Having the characters completely forget about modulating shield frequencies during the Klingon attack, even though modulating their shields is something they've done many times across the series and it would be the most logical response to the attack.
• I have to wonder why no one was suspicious when the Klingons were willing to exchange Geordi for Picard going down to the planet to talk to Soran. They exchanged their hostage for a hostage who wasn't even going to be where they could keep an eye on him. The audience knows why they were willing to do that -- they wanted Geordi back on the ship so they could see through his VISOR -- but that should have been a deal that made no sense to the Enterprise. But no one seems to have even seriously checked Geordi out to make sure that, say, no one had bugged his VISOR.
• Having Picard determined to stop Soran on Veridian III, even though the Nexus can take him to any time and any place and therefore it would be a lot easier for Picard to stop him when he first shows up. Except that would have been a lot safer and the writers couldn't have killed off Kirk. *eyeroll*
I am not a fan of rampant plot-required stupidity. I am also not a fan of people being out of character, which leads me to the Nexus.
I first watched this movie when I'd only been a couple seasons into TNG. At that point, I'd been just as angry about Picard as I was about Kirk, because from the episodes I'd seen, it looked like Picard was not a family man and he wasn't inclined to be domestic and the Nexus trying to give him this random wife and kids set off my non-traditional-lifestyles-are-okay-too RAGE and most of my review of this movie was taken up with a rant about how people don't have to be domestic to be happy.
That rant does still apply to Kirk, but while I haven't finished TNG yet, I have watched far enough, and discussed enough with my best friend (who is a huge TNG and Picard fan), to have a better understanding of Picard and the Nexus.
Again, I have not actually watched this far myself, so correct me if I'm wrong, but I gather that Picard's view of family is something that has changed over the course of the series. Initially he was career-driven, not a family man, not inclined to be domestic, etc. But I've heard about several episodes that happen later that begin to shift his views on this. Enough to make him at least somewhat wistful and regretful that he turned down opportunities for a family of his own in favor of his career.
Picard's experience of the Nexus, I think, comes from the road not taken. The deaths of his brother and nephew earlier in the movie focus Picard's attention on the issue of family, and whether or not he should have had children, and the Nexus took this regret and wistfulness and created a happy fantasy of a happy family.
In light of this, it's unsurprising that he realized so quickly that what he was seeing wasn't real. The Nexus made up the family, apart from the nephew, out of whole cloth, so there was nothing for Picard to anchor himself to and try to accept it. There wasn't enough real there to even begin to hold him.
I am still frustrated that the Nexus created domestic fantasies for both Picard and Kirk, even given questions about the road not taken. What is unquestionable about both men is that they are happy in command of their starships, that the bridge of their ships is where they thrive. Given Picard's life and personality, I think what the Nexus could have done to give him his greatest happiness was to have a family join him on the Enterprise, so that he could have the best of both worlds. But that didn't happen -- it was just straight domestic fantasy. I find it more understandable now than I did when I first watched the movie, but I do still find it frustrating.
Kirk's characterization, on the other hand, has no such excuse. He was practically unrecognizable, even given the idea that the Nexus operates on wondering about the road not taken. (Which is not the impression I got of its purpose, by the way -- the movie only talks about happiness.) Picard manages to figure out within minutes that what he's seeing isn't real, but Kirk can't believe it until Picard comes to nag at him? Kirk? Existing happily in the Nexus? When he's chosen a life of meaning and struggle over mindless happiness how many times in the series? The Kirk from This Side of Paradise and Who Mourns for Adonais? would be horrified to see himself in this movie.
So, this is how I'm choosing to think of the Nexus -- it is the Matrix. This random energy ribbon/pocket universe needs the energy of all the people inside it in order to travel the galaxy. In order to keep them ignorant and complacent, it tries to create a world where they'll be happy and not try to leave. Guinan gets to be Morpheus.
Furthermore, the Nexus is incapable of creating real people in all their complexity, which is why it can't possibly create Spock and McCoy for Kirk, the two people he loves most in the world. The Nexus is also reluctant to create anything that the people inside it would really care about, in case they would become unsatisfied with the copies and would want the real thing. So Kirk and Picard aren't allowed to be on the Enterprise, and are stuck with the Nexus creating feelings in them for people who have either never existed or were only minor presences in their lives. Nothing that would make them emotional enough to leave and want to find the real thing.
This is the only way the Nexus makes sense in my mind. Seriously.
Also, this is how Generations ends:
I first started these reviews because I saw a lot of differences between the structure of these movies and the structure of Reboot (though I didn't end up talking about Reboot -- another time, maybe), and that discussion just kept building up in my head. The bulk of this essay sort of exploded from me in a week, though I've been tweaking it since I finished. And whatever I thought of the movies themselves (*coughundiscoveredcountryandgenerationscough*), something I do appreciate all of these movies for is that there is a lot about them to analyze and discuss. I'm glad I finally got my thoughts on paper (so to speak) and out of my head.
Thank you to T'Keyla for looking this over and reassuring me that I actually make sense. All screencaps come from trekcore.com. Quotes from The Wrath of Khan script come from here. Quotes from The Final Frontier script come from here. All other quotes come from seeing clips of those scenes enough to memorize them. :p Discussion of hamartia/the tragic flaw comes from Aristotle's Poetics and what I remember of my drama class on tragedy, and discussion of the heroic journey comes from Joseph Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces.
And finally, thank you to all of you who read this thing that is long enough to be a master's thesis (25,000 words!) on the first seven Star Trek movies. :D