Well friends, I’m finally exiting the original-series portion of my epic Star Trek rewatch. What better way to mark the occasion than a post on the great Captain James T. Kirk? If I’m still blogging by the time I get through the rest of the shows, then the other captains will get their turn in the spotlight too. But I’ve gotta say, Kirk is pretty darn awesome, and I struggled to find a format for this post that wasn’t a recap of every episode ever. I’ve got four reasons/categories, with three or four episode examples under each one.
Charisma & Leadership
I’ve gotta mention the Kobayashi Maru. An exercise meant to represent a no-win scenario has, thanks to Kirk, come to signify refusal to accept the conditions and parameters provided. This can mean cocky smarminess, as in Star Trek: Into Darkness, or it can mean the best kind of stubbornness, idealism. A good example from the original series is “Operation: Annihilate,” when he insists there must be a way to kill the infestation but save the civilians.
There’s daily activity too. “Balance of Terror” is one long case study of Kirk as military captain, and it shows him both taking advice and rejecting it, as a commander should. And, before the movies came along, you see him dealing with Romulan, Klingon, and other alien captains as equals despite being on opposite sides.
And another obvious one, “The Corbomite Maneuver,” with Kirk and Balok bluffing each other like pros. His repeated attempts to negotiate, and his speech to the Enterprise, are all perfectly done too. But this episode is especially important because it shows how Kirk deals with problems from his crew. Bailey is basically the most annoying character in the show, but Kirk handles him calmly and patiently, refuses to condone bigotry on the bridge, and relieves Bailey of duty without further comment when Bailey is clearly unable to handle his job. This is entirely typical — another example is “Space Seed,” when he deals with Lt. McGivers’ egregious away-team mistakes swiftly, but with firmness appropriate to the mistake and no more.
In “What Are Little Girls Made Of,” he asks Spock to beam down “two security men” — and when they arrive, he knows their names.
A paraphrase of events in “The Man Trap”:
Bones- *expresses curiosity at Nancy’s varying appearance*
Kirk- *snaps at Bones and storms out*
Kirk- *walks back in one scene later* I’m sorry Bones, you were totally right, let’s head down there and ask some questions!”
Kirk snaps-and-apologies happen a handful of times, but at no time are the snaps any more than what one might expect from a captain being bothered at a high-pressure moment, and they’re never personal. It’s the apologies which, although warranted, are out of the ordinary for a captain and a sign of respect for his crew. “Elaan of Troyius,” while problematic on several levels, give us a nice insight into Kirk’s approach: “Courtesy is for everyone.”
In “The Conscience of the King,” Kirk thanks a cocktail waiter, and I think we all know that how one treats waiters indicates how one behaves the rest of the time.
Kirk uses his manly wiles to get of scrapes. That’s fair. But even then he treats the lady in question like a person. Under normal circumstances, he treats every crewmember like a professional and that’s that. My favorite moment is in “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” when 1960s pilot John Christopher expresses confusion about a woman being on the Enterprise. “A woman??” he asks. “A crewman,” says Kirk patiently. And if the situation allows him to reason with someone, male or female, he’ll do everything he can to create a peaceful, rational solution to a problem.
In “Charlie X,” when Charlie is harassing Yeoman Rand, she goes to Kirk to intercede and he does. He initially thought Charlie’s crush was cute, but when he hears how it’s going, he steps in and makes a clear statement that Charlie has to consider his crush’s needs, that it’s not going to happen with Rand, and that everyone struggles and things can’t always be the way you want. He doesn’t minimize Rand’s concerns, he doesn’t say “boys will be boys,” he listens and intervenes because Charlie’s being inappropriate.
There are any number of interactions showing Kirk’s opinion about bigotry in general, but these are often in Spock’s defense, so I wanted to find something that couldn’t be chalked up to friendship. There’s a lovely moment in “Plato’s Stepchildren” where they’re talking about telekinesis and Kirk describes the Federation:
Alexander: As far as I know it just comes to you sometime after you’re born. They say I’m a throwback, and I am, and so are you. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.
Kirk: Don’t worry about it. We’re happy without it.
Alexander: You know, I believe you are. Listen, where you come from, are there a lot of people without the power and my size?
Kirk: Alexander, where I come from, size, shape, or colour makes no difference, and nobody has the power.
Of course Kirk can create a rudimentary gun-cannon thing out of bamboo and rocks in “Arena,” he’s the captain! And he’s a nerd. I don’t know where people got the idea he was a big goof in his Academy days, because it wasn’t from the original series. His academy buddies make fun of him for being an overachiever — “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” “Shore Leave” — and he’s constantly recognizing public figures or old-fashioned machines from his studies.
“The Naked Time” and other episodes show Kirk can flick the necessary switch on anyone’s station at any time, when they’re distracted by alien parasites and whatnot, and in “Court Martial,” he fixes the engine sabotage right there and then by himself.
In summary, Captain Kirk is awesome, and I honestly don’t know where all the stereotypes about him being dumb/sexist/reckless/generally a goof came from, because he wasn’t like that. However, if you have another favorite captain, feel free to make your case in the comments!