It’s probably the most enduring line in Star Trek history, a scream of primal rage from the normally in control Kirk. I’ve never seen “Wrath of Khan,” but I know everything about that moment. It painted Khan as a villain of the highest order, a man that can prove to be much more than just a match for Captain Kirk.
So, how did Khan come about? It’s a question that “Space Seed” answers and in all honesty, it’s a strange introduction. While plumbing the galaxy, the Enterprise comes across a floating derelict vessel. After running some initial scans and realizing it’s a ship from the early 1990s, they decide to beam aboard, maybe to see if they can find “Nevermind” on cassette, and to learn a little more about the Eugenics Wars that were a total bummer when I was 4.Kirk, McCoy, Scotty and crewman of the week Marla McGivers beam aboard and find a group of mesh dressed guys and gals in cryogenic sleep. Of course, Kirk decides to start waking people up, with something like no thought put into the repercussions, and after they wake the leader, he quickly goes into cardiac arrest and they beam him aboard the Enterprise.
Khan is healing ridiculously quickly and McCoy is impressed, but after some research, Spock is skeptical. He identifies the ship as the Botany Bay (is that a hint or is it a HINT?) and knows that it is from the 1990s, which interests Kirk. Meanwhile, Khan starts trying to learn the layout and workings of the ship and prepares to kill McCoy for no fucking reason, before meeting with McGivers who is instantly smitten. Kirk is concerned about their relationship, but he doesn’t put a ton of thought into it, inviting Khan to appear at a dinner he is having in the newly unfrozen man’s honor.There are a couple of weird issues going on. Music cues and generally odd acting make Khan into a huge villain from the beginning, which kills a lot of the potential drama in the situation. McGivers gives it up to the dictator really quick too, which I guess is required for an hour long drama, but it feels pretty abrupt. And, of course, McCoy opts to tell no one about almost getting his throat fucking slit by the dictator they just brought on board.
It all proceeds pretty logically and interesting from there. Spock’s interaction with Khan during the dinner is fun to watch in typical fashion and the moment when the super-human breaks is interesting enough. Pretty soon, everyone on board knows Khan is a little more than the mysterious funny-talkin’ guy from good old Earth and is instead, Khan Noonien Singh, a genetically modified human who managed to rule most of Asia during the Eugenic Wars before freezing himself with many other super-humans and fleeing to the galaxy for parts unknown.So, the threat has definitely amped up. Khan recruits McGivers to his side, breaks out of his quarters, makes his way to the transporter room, gets aboard the sleeper ship and wakes up his super-humans for a good old fashioned Enterprise take over. He shuts down the engine, locks up communication and shuts down the air-flow to the bridge, taking everyone but Kirk into an interrogation room and putting the captain into a dangerous decompression chamber. He tries to forcibly recruit the crew but they remain dedicated to the plight of Kirk and the safety of the Enterprise.
Then, things start making less sense.
McGivers, without any real sense of a motivation or dedication to the guy she just started blindly following, rescues Kirk with the help of Spock, and they start to try to retake the ship. Kirk floods the interrogation room with a neuro-toxin and races Khan to the engine room. And, what happens next? Why, it’s a good old round of Kirk smack-down. In typical Star Trek fashion, Kirk brawls with his opponent before beating him down with what appears to be the handle of some sort of computer. Control of the ship is restored and Kirk has a trial for the would-be conqueror.The trial goes the way of “The Menagerie” with Kirk saying “I know you took my ship and all, but why don’t I just drop you off at this abandoned planet and hope that your unbelievable skills will stop you from ever posing a threat to the Federation again.” Khan takes the deal, and McGivers dodges a court martial by opting to go with the super-man. And that’s it. It’s a clean and tidy ending for an episode with huge stakes and an appropriate threat to match.
The big thing to really ask about “Space Seed” is how did Khan become a cinematic villain of the highest order? He’s certainly more than confident. He plays against Kirk well in the dinner scene and the fight he has in the engine room is…no different than every other fight Kirk has had in the engine room. He’s charismatic and is able to lead men effectively, super-human or not. Really, there’s not a lot else. I guess he’s strong. Also, he remembers the ‘90s.
Basically, I just don’t know. Once again, I’m not really in a position to ask the question without having seen “Wrath of Khan,” but there’s nothing really here to grab onto. Khan is a memorable villain in a memorable episode, but he’s no more engaging than, say, Trelane from “The Squire of Gothos” or the Romulans from “Birds of Prey,” or even the Talosians in “The Menagerie.” The plot he sets in motion is about as dynamic and dramatic as every other plot we’ve seen, but it’s done in a way that is interesting and shows the threat he presents. It’s sort of sad to say that Khan works because he is competent and formidable, but that just might be the case. Although we have seen interesting and fun to watch villains before, Khan presents a threat that can match and even overcome Kirk. One on one, Khan can beat him at his own game on his own turf, and more than that, he’s no god. Khan is essentially the Liquid Snake to Kirk’s Solid Snake. He’s tougher, more skilled and probably more experienced. Kirk has to be more than Kirk to defeat him.The framework is there that would make Khan into a formidable villain. For now, he’s the star of a memorable interesting episode. “Space Seed” remains an episode for fans to look back on, but it also stands up well, showing that a significant threat and a formidable plan can (gasp) make an episode interesting.
In the multiple rewritings of this episode, there were enough ‘90s jokes to make me look like a nostalgic millennial navel gazer. That had to be avoided.
I really didn’t understand the benefits of having all the super-humans wear mesh all the time.
“We can be against him and admire him all at the same time.” “Illogical.”
Sulu isn’t in this episode. I also, barely remember to keep track of this.
There’s a weird moment after the bridge runs out of oxygen when Kirk is counting the men for his captain’s log. There are 8 people splayed around the cabin, but Kirk lists maybe five of them. Because Shatner don’t give a shit.
Next up: “A Taste of Armageddon” which featured some really sweet hats in the preview.