Tag Archives: Starfleet

Let’s Talk About First Officers

This month’s Star Trek post is a collaboration with fellow contributor Rose B. Fischer. We’ve seen a lot of misinformation floating around about Starfleet’s first officers, so we’re here to spread some knowledge!

Space operas like Star Trek are drawn from westerns, swashbucklers, and naval/maritime epics. So the captain is a combination of tropes from those genres. Usually, it’s one part maverick, one part wandering hero, and one part charismatic leader. Star Trek adds a heavy dose of diplomat, since Starfleet is committed to peaceful exploration rather than conquest, intractable optimism and strong humanistic values. Those are Star Trek‘s defining characteristics and the captain is the show’s mouthpiece, so it makes sense that the character would also be the embodiment of the Federation’s mores. The captain’s first love is the ship, and every relationship is either built around or overshadowed by the siren song of space.

Headshots of Kirk and Picard.

The first officer shares the captain’s love of space, and is a composite of the same tropes as the captain. The first officer is supposed to be qualified to command to ship in the event that the captain is unfit for duty, and has the potential to be captain in their own right, so the two characters will have a lot of similarities in terms of skills sets, moral composition, and affinity for space. They’re meant to be complementary opposites, so their personalities and skills will usually mesh well and benefit the crew as a whole.

The captain’s personality informs the shipwide culture while the first officer’s function is usually to provide balance by meeting the needs of the ship and crew where the captain is less proficient. In TOS, Spock’s knowledge of science and ability to process information are assets to Kirk when the Enterprise encounters new life forms. His adherence to Vulcan logic makes him more apt to advise drastic action when the lives of the crew are at stake, while Kirk’s reluctance to engage in violence usually means the ship gets drawn further and further into trouble. In the end, it’s almost always a scientific edge that helps the crew out of hot water, and a lot of the solutions are facilitated by a combination of Spock’s knowledge and Kirk’s stubborn ingenuity.

"Insufficient facts always invite danger." -Spock

“Insufficient facts always invite danger.” -Spock

I see a lot of TNG critics (and fans) saying that Picard and Riker amount to nothing but a role reversed version of Kirk and Spock. I don’t think that’s the case at all. Riker was meant to be the more physically active of the pair, leading away teams and generally being in the position of the young, handsome hero, but his role is pretty different from both Kirk and Spock. Aside from leading away teams and a tendency to romance alien women, Riker is about as similar to Captain Kirk as I am to a sponge. He’s often shown managing crew assignments, is more approachable, and has a more casual way of interacting with subordinates than Kirk does. His job is as much to relate to the Enterprise crew and manage day to day operations as it is to lead away missions. Captain Picard has the crew’s respect as a leader, but it’s often clear that Picard himself isn’t comfortable with personal interactions where Riker excels. The TOS crew may not have always understood or related to Spock, but unlike Picard, Spock was not shown to be reluctant or uncomfortable with the crew. He related to them on his own terms, as a Vulcan.

"Maybe if we felt any loss as keenly as we felt the death of one close to us, human history would be a lot less bloody." -Riker

“Maybe if we felt any loss as keenly as we felt the death of one close to us, human history would be a lot less bloody.” -Riker

The contrast between Spock and Riker especially stood out to me (Hannah) in my grand rewatch, because it’s such a distinct change. They’re very different characters — like Spock and Data are very different, despite constant comparisons — but they also show the transition between TOS and TNG. TOS was more conceptual, and there was less interest in showing a spaceship’s daily operations. Spock’s job as first officer was essentially to advise Kirk. He was technically second in command, but most of the time they were off on the same missions anyway. His role as science officer was much more important, and correlated to his role as the intellectual part of the Kirk-Spock-McCoy soul-mind-heart trio.

When TNG came along, narrative styles were changing, and the show was more interested in daily life. I love the more stylized TOS characters, but this step toward more-realistic ones is a huge factor in why Star Trek has had such longevity. Riker balances Picard’s skills, but he also seems to have a distinct function on the ship as first officer. He doesn’t have an additional role like science officer or anything else. The most obvious thing is that he leads away missions instead of the captain and first officer both endangering themselves, and he advises Picard as needed, but especially in the first season, the captain and first officer almost function like two departments of the ship. They’re advisory to each other, with the captain in charge of decisions, but the first officer in charge of personnel and planning. It makes the ship seem bigger, and gives them both something to do in these stories that include logistics as well as moral dilemmas.

Still of Ferengi and Captain Picard from "The Battle."

“The Battle” is a great episode for captains and first officers.

Most episodes understandably focus on ideas and characters over explaining the finer details of how Starfleet works, but it’s really super impressive how well they balance those story roles with ship functions as the show progresses. Plus the role of first officer is about to get even more interesting, since the main protagonist of Star Trek: Discovery is going to be the first officer. But no matter which show, keep an eye out next time you watch, and let us know what you think!

4 Reasons Kirk is the Best Captain

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.


“The Corbomite Maneuver”


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.


“The Conscience of the King”


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.


“Plato’s Stepchildren”


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!