Mekaela and I have been binging Brooklyn Nine-Nine pretty much nonstop (seriously, it’s INSANE how fast we’ve gone through four seasons), so Star Trek has kinda fallen by the wayside lately. Recently, however, we did watch one episode that I’ve been looking forward to checking out since we started this TOS-watch.
Buckle up, kids: it’s the KHAN EPISODE.
There will be SPOILERS for this episode and probably the Star Trek franchise in general. You’ve been warned.
WHAT GOES DOWN, BASICALLY
The Enterprise comes across the Botany Bay, a derelict space ship from the 1990’s–you know, back when the Eugenics War (AKA, Earth’s third and last world war) took place. I’m sure you remember it: 1992-1996, right between Step by Step and Daria. Anyway, there are faint life signs on the Botany Bay, so Kirk leads an away team over to investigate. Unhappily along for the ride is Lt. Marla McGivers, ship’s historian, amateur painter, and crushing blow to my feminist spirit.
The away team finds roughly 70 or so people sleeping in suspended animation. The commander himself is so damn handsome that McGivers can’t focus on anything but his hot body. This commander, of course, is Khan Noonien Singh, who our heroes wake up when they discover that his pod is malfunctioning. They bring him back to the Enterprise, where we eventually discover that not only is Khan a genetically enhanced “super man,” he was the last (and best) of the Earth tyrants to be overthrown. Naturally, Khan wakes all of his sleeping comrades and takes over the ship with the help of McGivers, who has been so quickly seduced by his old school negging and alpha man prowess that she’s sacrificed her career, betrayed her whole crew, and–oh yeah–committed treason, just to help out some dude she’s known for approximately ten minutes.
McGivers can’t quite watch Khan murder anyone, though–presumably, due to her weak, womanly heart–so she rescues Kirk before he can be executed. Then our captain fights our villain in a manly brawl–naturally–and pulls off an extremely unlikely defeat. Afterwards, Kirk decides that he’ll maroon Khan and his people on Ceti Alpha V, rather than putting them in a reorientation center. (Apparently, that would be a waste?) And rather than face a court martial, McGivers decides to go with him, which Khan is surprisingly chill with; he just quotes some Milton and saunters off.
At least, until 1982. Khan’s decidedly less chill then.
Before I say anything else, let me say this: Ricardo Montalban is fantastic as Khan.
In fact, I like him here considerably more than I remember liking him in the second film. (Pipe down, Trekkies, I don’t think he’s bad in Wrath of Khan, just . . . like . . . he’s a bit campy, right? I mean, that movie’s got some serious camp. Most heartbreaking scene of all time, absolutely, but also? CAMP.) Here, Montalban is charismatic as hell. I wish he wasn’t playing a Sikh man, but you know. At least Khan’s not being played by a white dude yet? (Oh, Into Darkness, how you have failed us in so many ways.) Anyway, Montalban has a ton of presence here, and I can absolutely see why Nicholas Meyer tapped him to return as a villain on the big screen.
It’s not just that Lt. Marla McGivers is the kind of female character that only a dude would write. It’s not just that she apparently falls madly in love with Khan before he’s even opened his mouth, or how she becomes even more irresistibly attracted to him once he insults her appearance, creepily changing her hair to suit his own preferences rather than her comfort. It’s not even the scene where Khan a) angrily pushes McGivers away after she rejects his embrace, b) insists she ask his permission to stay in the room, and c) painfully squeezes her hand so hard that she’s forced to her knees, all while demanding, “Open your heart to me. Will you open your heart?” It absolutely is all those things, but it’s also this: we’ve already done this sexist bullshit story.
Take away the eugenics, add a little psychic wonder, and we’re basically back to “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” Consider this: Dr. Elizabeth Denner falls for Evil Asshole Gary Mitchell. Why? Who knows? That’s how fast it happens. Her passionate love for him (and her belief that he’s become a superior being, the next step in evolution) keeps her from acting even remotely professional. She quickly decides to abandon her career (and, presumably, family and friends) so that she can remain on a deserted planet with this guy for the rest of her life. Shit, she even does the same heel-face turn when Mitchell tries to kill Kirk. (Because we can betray our captains, no problem, but surely *gasp* not KILL them.) And yeah, there are differences here: McGiver’s facing a court martial, Denner isn’t; Denner dies at the end, McGivers doesn’t–at least, not until the 15-year interim between this episode and Wrath of Khan, that is.
Still, in the immortal words of Jed Bartlett: “It’s the same old crap all over again.” And with each and every episode, that’s becoming more and more disheartening. Don’t get me wrong: I wasn’t under any illusions that a TV show made by men in the 60’s was going to conform to my ideals of feminism today, like, I expected shit like this. I just didn’t expect so much of it.
Here’s my question after watching this episode: have men been freaking out about the death of masculinity since, like, the beginning of time? Like, I assumed that whole “men aren’t allowed to act like Real Men anymore because of PC culture grumble grumble” was a modern day invention, but that’s basically Khan’s whole deal in a nutshell, right? Considering he’s the bad guy, you’d think “Space Seed” would be a celebration of this futuristic “we try and treat people with respect and, also, not commit genocide” world, but honestly, I’m not so sure. Obviously, the speed with which McGivers falls in love with Khan is patently ridiculous, but I wonder if it doesn’t also speak to some male anxiety–and common false perception–that all women are irresistibly attracted to assholes, and if they wanna get a lady, they better start channeling their Inner Caveman right quick.
Bones is an absolutely badass in this episode. When Khan wakes up and holds a knife to his throat, does Bones freak out? Hell, no. He’s just all, “Well, either choke me or cut my throat; make up your mind.” Also? “It would be most effective if you cut the carotid artery just under the left ear.” It’s pretty great. Bones is definitely my MVP in this episode. (Probably because Sulu isn’t even in it.)
Sulu Watch: Let’s just assume he’s practicing more bare-chested fencing in his quarters. Also, some light botany.
Bones does back Khan up unnecessarily, though, like, I’m all for doctors advocating on their patients’ behalf, but seriously, if you’re up for reading tech manuals that are 200-years ahead of your time, you’re up for answering a few questions like “where are you from” and “did you happen to commit any genocides in your day?”
Also, possibly we should stop giving strangers blueprints for how to complete hostile takeovers?
Honestly, I’m pretty surprised Khan lets McGivers go with them, considering her betrayal is why their mutiny fails in the first place. More importantly, absolutely nothing happens in this episode which convinces me that Khan would become mad with vengeance years down the road. Like, he honestly seems pretty cool with getting dumped on a hunk of shitty space rock. You know, cause, it’s his shitty space rock. And as far as avenging his lady love McGivers, goes . . .
HA! I’m supposed to think Khan gives a shit about McGivers? Yeah, no. I don’t buy that bullshit for a second.
It’s been a few years since I’ve last seen Wrath of Khan, but one of the things I specifically remember about it is the film’s Battle of the Books: Kirk’s A Tale of Two Cities versus Khan’s Moby Dick. So, I was pleased to see Khan make a John Milton reference, not because I’m particularly pro-Milton (I read Paradise Lost once, six years ago, and remember almost nothing about it), but because I was excited to see that Kirk and Khan’s literary feud had even more literary references in its origin.
I’m mildly surprised that there are women among Khan’s small army of genetically modified warriors. I’d be more pumped about it if I didn’t highly suspect that the ladies were mostly around for breeding purposes.
I’m still waiting for Uhura to have plot-relevant things to do; in this episode, she’s mostly just around to get slapped by one of Khan’s soldiers. OTOH, she does have a pretty great “how dare you touch me, you ASSHOLE” look on her face after he does so. Which I found pretty fulfilling, even if she does have to immediately duck her head in horror when Khan (incorrectly) announces that Kirk is dead. Uhura also gets a tiny moment of background greatness when she watches Spock and Bones bicker back and forth, obviously amused.
I love the scene where Spock’s discomfited by Kirk, Bones, and Scotty’s admiration of Khan, though I’m trying to decide if I find it IC or OOC. On one hand, Spock definitely strikes me as a Dude of Principle, and I really enjoy his quietly astonished “gentlemen” when the other guys begin seemingly praising a genocidal dictator. On the other hand, it also seems to me that the logical guy would be the one to admire a dude’s strengths even as he stands against him; it’s the emotional people, you’d think, who’d be unwilling to see anything exemplary in a man so totally evil.
First Time We’ve Seen: Well, Khan, obviously. But more importantly, Bones doesn’t like transporters! Finally! I have been waiting for this cranky old man’s space phobias!
FASHION REPORT: When it comes to Khan cosplay, almost everyone focuses on his costumes from the movie, but there are some delightful gems in this episode, too. Like his hypersleep suit, which appears to be some kind of gold bondage gear covered by equally gold netting that’s reminiscent of Aquaman. His hospital gown, of sorts, is actually a light blue jumpsuit that stops short at the knees; it also has a deep, deep V that ends at his waist. His fancy dinner outfit, meanwhile, is a gold patterned robe with another deep V; his hair tie, you’ll be relieved to know, is also a matching gold. I’m obsessed with all of this.
Kirk records commendations for his bridge officers before he passes out and loses control of his ship. That’s nice. He’s a considerate boss, sometimes.
There’s a lot of outstanding dialogue in this episode. All of Bones’s “call me Dr. Badass” lines, obviously. I rather like when Spock’s all, “I’m surprised to see you, Captain, though pleased,” when Kirk turns out to be alive. I’m also a big fan of this exchange:
“Care to join the landing party, Doctor?”
“Well, if you’re actually giving me a choice–”
Still, I think Line of the Episode will have to go to a different exchange between Bones and Kirk. Because it’s both amusing and gloriously cheesy, all at the same time:
LINE OF THE EPISODE
“Oh, no, I’m good, but not that good. There’s something inside this man that refuses to accept death.”