Star Trek

Star Trek

Monday, December 14, 2015

"Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan" (Part II)

"Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan" (Part II)
Original Theatrical Released Date: June 4, 1982
Rating: PG
Stardate: 8130.3

(Majel Barrett voice) Last time on Warp Speed to Nonsense:

Instead of staffing the Enterprise with seasoned officers, Starfleet has elected to fill it with some hella-green cadets. Spock, who is now a captain, is the teacher of said cadets, and Scotty, Uhura, Sulu and Bones are helping him. They set off on a three-week training mission, which of course goes awry right away, and Admiral Kirk takes over as senior officer. What goes awry, exactly? Khan Noonien Singh shows up to fuck up all the shit. He's pissed that Kirk marooned him and his crew some 15 years earlier, on a planet whose ecosystem was decimated shortly thereafter. Khan and his crew were rediscovered by Commander Chekov, now the first officer of Captain Terrell and the starship Reliant. Chekov and Terrell were brainwashed into helping Khan, which is how Khan found out about Project Genesis, a terraforming device currently in the experimental stages. The project is being headed by Dr Carol Marcus and her son, Dr David Marcus. Kirk and Carol used to knock boots, so when she calls him about something going wrong with the project, he's all gung-ho to ride to her rescue. But here comes Khan in the stolen Reliant, and there's a battle between the two ships. A shit-ton of those cadets die bloody, nasty deaths, and the Reliant limps away.

And now, the conclusion...

*******



The Enterprise procedes to Regula I, but once again, Uhura is stymied in her job. We can see that she's actually broadcasting her greeting into an empty lab. Kirk is pacing on the bridge while various cadet lemmings scurry around trying to make repairs without a bunch of their injured or dead comrades. Spock reports that their sensors and scanners are busted, so there's no way to know why Regula I is not answering, and there's also no way to tell if Reliant is in the neighborhood.
Kirk asks him what he thinks of the planetoid that the station orbits.
Spock glances at his information on Regula. "It's a big-ass rock," he shrugs.
Kirk suggests that Reliant might be hiding behind it. Spock answers that it's a possibility. Engineering is called, and Scotty answers, even though he should probably be ugly-crying in a corner somewhere, as a lot of those dead cadets were down in engineering with him. He says they barely have enough power to run the transporters. Given the gnarly accident that happened with those same transporters in the last film, I'm surprised Kirk is willing to risk it. And then I'm surprised that Bones volunteers to go with him.
Based on Kirk telling Saavik that she can quote regulations at him any old day, she stands and quotes General Order 15: "No flag officer shall beam into a hazardous area without armed escort."
"There's no General Order 15," says a surprised Kirk.
"WHY THE FUCK NOT?" Lady Archon screams at the screen. Shit, Starfleet. That's just common sense.
He realizes that she's suggesting that she accompany him for safety's sake, and he agrees... even though she's not security. Sulu smirks behind Saavik.
Actually, this is a training mission. I have no idea if there are security people on board yet. Never mind. Take the little Vulcan chick. I bet she does Klingon Mok'bara exercises and could beat the ass of pretty much anybody they encounter on the station.


In an interesting Spirk moment, Spock is given the conn and tells Kirk in farewell, "Jim -- be careful."
It is then followed by an OT3 moment when Bones replies, "WE will."
Spock cocks an eyebrow.


I really like these away-mission jackets. They're very "early 80's" but still kind of cool-looking. Good job, Costume Department.
Saavik reports "indeterminate life signs" with her tricorder, and they pull phasers. The mood here is good and creepy. The establishing shot of the station showed it as backlit but otherwise fairly dark. They split up and walk apprehensively around the empty station, which is slightly darkened. A pan from the camera slides by a screen in which a soundless Uhura is still trying to hail the station.



Bones is startled by a rat as he's going through a door, and he proceeds to walk backward into the next lab. I think we've all seen enough films at this point to know that backing into a new room is a bad idea. The character in question is going to trip, or be grabbed from behind, or -
OH GOD, IT'S WORSE! FUCK, DUDE! FUCK!



Bones screams for Jim, like you do when you walk into an empty space station and find THAT THE THROATS OF ALL OF THE SCIENTISTS HAVE BEEN SLASHED AND THEIR LIFELESS BODIES HUNG FROM THE SECOND STORY.
They cut the bodies down and Bones suggests that this was done recently.
Saavik directs their attention to some storage container on the other side of the lab, and when it slides open -



Don't be dead, don't be dead, don't be dead
NOT DEAD! YES! I seriously do not know how much more of this shit I can take.
Chekov shakily tells Kirk that Khan did this, explaining about finding the Botany Bay survivors, and the worm-things in their heads, and how they were able to partially fake obedience. Chekov seems far more lucid than Terrell.
Kirk asks Terrell where Carol and the Genesis materials are, and Terrell says the computers had been erased, and none of the scientists would tell Khan a damn thing. So he killed them all and tore the place apart.  He didn't have time to look further because he had to get back in time to blow up the E. He says that Khan marooned the Reliant crew on Ceti Alpha V rather than kill them. Terrell tells Kirk than Khan blames him for Marla's death, and that he's gone completely off his rocker.


The group goes down to the transporter room, where they find it up and running.  Bones says there was no one to turn it off because the scientists who had stayed behind were buying the others time to get the Genesis device off the station. Saavik notes that the coordinates are for deep inside Regula, which is lifeless, and Kirk remembers that the second stage of the Genesis project was to be conducted underground. He calls Spock to ask for a damage report.
"Admiral, if we go by the book, like Lieutenant Saavik, hours could seem like days." He then says maybe they could have things ready in six days, but if they do a rush job, two days might be all they need. No transporters, so Kirk says that if Spock doesn't hear from them in one hour, then they need to take the E to the nearest starbase to report what's happened.
Guess who is eavesdropping?



Kirk decides to beam to wherever the others went. This is where Bones pipes up.
"What if they went nowhere?"
"Then this is your opportunity to get away from it all," quips Kirk.
Yes, please. More dumb jokes like this and kidding around in the face of death. This movie has been heavy enough already.
They beam down into a tunnel filled with equipment, but no people. Kirk and Bones check out what appears to be a giant mechanical dildo. Bones guesses that it's the Genesis device.



Suddenly, people jump out at them, and David attacks Kirk with a knife. David is pretty pissed off that Kirk is there, because remember, he thinks Kirk is out to get them or something. He's all paranoid about Starfleet. Kirk... kind of wins. They're stopped mid-fight when Carol runs in. Kirk looks shocked, and hurries to Carol.
"Is that David?" he asks. Oops.
But now we hear why David is so pissed off: he thinks Kirk killed those other scientists.



Aw crap, now Chekov and Terrell are pulling phaser on the group, and Chekov is apologizing for the shit that's about to go down. Terrell speaks into a wrist band thing, and it turns out that Khan has been listening.



David yells and lunges at Kirk, but as expected, Saavik knocks his ass to the ground, just in the nick of time. Terrell vaporizes some poor scientist schmuck. Then he tells Khan that he can beam up Genesis.
"Kill Kirk first," says Khan.
Terrell struggles for a moment, saying that he wants to obey, but it's really hard to do so, and when khan insists, Terrell uses his teeth to tear the wristband off. Squeaking is heard from the worm-thing, and he shrieks in pain. He turns the phaser on himself.
Poor Terrell. Not that it's terribly relevant anymore, but dude was wearing red.



Chekov screams and falls to the ground. That worm thing crawls out and Kirk fries it with a phaser.
"The fuck?" demands Bones, which the correct thing to say in this case.
Remember, this is wholesome family fun.


Kirk grabs the wristband and screams that Khan must now do his own shitwork. Khan is shocked to hear that Kirk is still alive.
"You've managed to kill just about everyone else, but like a poor marksman, you keep missing the target," Kirk snarls.
You know, if old Kirk had said this on TOS in his typical cocksure way, I would have rolled my eyes. But this is new Kirk, and he is incensed, and this is exactly the taunting that I want him to give Khan. It's satisfying as hell.
And then... Khan gives up. He looks exhausted. He gives the word to his lackey, who beams up the Genesis device.
Kirk panics a bit here. "You have the device, but you wanted to kill me, too. You have to beam down here to do it."
"Naw," says Khan. "It's a better punishment for me to just... leave. I'm going to maroon you here, buried alive on a dead planet."


A little while later, Saavik sits and tries to call the E, but communications are being jammed. An hour has passed, so Bones guesses that they took off to the nearest starbase. Chekov starts to wake up. Carol is still confused as to what is going on, because no one has told her. In her mind, Kirk ordered the Reliant to come get the Genesis device, but maybe not. Then some crazy asshole arrived at the station and started slitting throats while she and a few others beamed inside a rock with her terraforming project. Kirk and some others beamed in a little while later. Her son started a knife fight, a dude committed suicide, the Genesis device was stolen, Kirk screamed a guy's name, and a bloody worm crawled out of another guy's ear. Oh, also, they're probably stuck here for good.



She asks who Khan is, and he replies that it's a long story. David reminds him that they now have all the time in the world, and he in turn asks if there's anything to eat. Carol replies that they have enough food there to last a lifetime, that it's in the Genesis cave. She asks David to show it to Bones and Saavik, and he correctly guesses that he's being sent on a "busy work" errand.
When the others leave, instead of telling her about Khan, Kirk starts an awkward conversation with Carol concerning David being their son. Apparently, she asked him from the get-go not to interfere, and he complied, but he's weirded out that she never told him. She replies that they both had their own paths, and she really wanted David with her, instead of gallivanting around the universe with Kirk. His philandering has finally caught up with him, and because of a lack of communication, he almost got shivved by his own kid.
Kirk looks tired and regretful. He has more depth of character here than he did in TOS, when they would tell us he had depth, and we were supposed to just take their word for it. What's more, Shatner's acting skills have improved. He's staring down a life lived on the edge of his seat, and realizing that that life was not only not sustainable, but that it's left him with a few scars. And I buy it, you guys. Good writing and better acting allow for the character to shine through here.

Carol says she'd like to show him something that will make him feel young again. Is this a euphemism, or ...?
Nope.


In two quick interspersed scenes, we find out that the Reliant has fixed their impulse power and made their way back to the Regula I station. But they cannot find the E.
Back in the Genesis cave, Saavik asks Kirk about the Kobayashi Maru again. He thinks she's asking if this situation is similar - a no-win - but she's really just determined to find out how he solved it. The conversation that follows illustrates nicely how everyone thinks of Kirk. Bones, who admires Kirk, says that Saavik is looking at the only Starfleet cadet that ever beat the no-win scenario. Kirk admits that he reprogrammed the simulator so that it was possible to rescue the ship. Saavik is startled, and David, who does not like Kirk, puts it bluntly: "He cheated."
"I changed the conditions of the test," he says, sugar-coating the situation so it sounds like he did nothing wrong. "I got a commendation for thinking outside the box."
Okay, mixed feelings on this: firstly, I see why they would give him a commendation for thinking outside of the box. Creative, forward thinking is important, especially when heading into the kinds of situations that being on the forefront of space exploration requires. But then, I don't. That test is not to see how well you win. It's to see how well you lose, and in this case, dude lost badly. He lost so badly, that he went back and altered things so that he would definitely win. And that's not going to fly. Imagine his instructors, watching to see how he would react to not being able to rescue that ship in trouble. He does it once, he probably gets angry. He does it a second time, and most likely figures out what the deal is with this simulation. So he does it a third time, and instead of just sucking it up and dealing, he changes the parameters so he can win. That's crap. I bet his instructors were pissed off that he changed the test in the first place, and then completely outraged when Starfleet is like, "No, we're not gonna drum him out. We're gonna give him an award!" So much bullshit.


"I don't like to lose," he adds.
"Then you never faced that situation," Saavik asserts. "You never faced death."
"I don't believe in the no-win scenario," he answers defensively.
That doesn't mean they don't exist, asshat.
He whips out his comm and calls Spock. "It's been two hours. Ready?"
"Yep," says Spock. "We can beam you aboard."
Ohhhh, Kirk. Are you eating an apple in what amounts to a Garden of Eden? Because I've heard that story before, and I'm pretty sure you're going to end up falling hard.


They beam up in the middle of a Kirk-Saavik argument. She can't figure out how this might have worked. Kirk asks her for a specific regulation, and she quotes back that, if communications are being monitored during battle situations, you can't broadcast uncoded messages over the air. It takes her a second, then she looks back at Spock.
"You lied."
"I exaggerated."
In this case, two days meant two hours. They don't have anything below C deck, and limited power, but this is the best they could do with only 120 minutes. An establishing shot shows the E, still in orbit, under Regula, while the station and the Reliant are orbiting above.
They head for the bridge to figure things out. Scotty requests a minimum of "bumps" and Kirk replies "no promises" before the engineer heads back to his department.


Spock informs Kirk that there's a nebula nearby, and Kirk asks about hiding in there.
"That'll be shit on our visual," says Saavik. "We won't have shields or sensors."
"Well, no," says Spock, "but they won't, either."
The E heads off in the direction of the nebula, and before long, the Reliant spots them and follows them in.
Just gonna give you a summary here: two aging men are limping their broken-ass ships into a dangerous area of space so that they can yell at each other through viewscreens and engage in a large-format slap-fight.


Joachim, Khan's second, slows down on approach to the nebula. Khan demands to know why, and Joachim points out that going in after the E is dumb. This guy. This guy has superior intellect, and it shows. He isn't willing to risk everything in order for Khan to be satisfied.
It doesn't work, though. Kirk calls Khan to taunt him. This leaves Khan enraged, and when Joachim yells at him that they have Genesis, and don't need Kirk, Khan shakes him like a rag doll and takes the conn to barrel into the nebula himself.

For some reason, David goes to the bridge, and good Lord, he's got a white sweater tied around his shoulders like some kind of 80's douchebag. Where the fuck did he even get that sweater? He's just standing there like a useless Tommy Hilfiger model.


On the Reliant, Khan is asking for tactical information, and Joachim tells him it's inoperable, because Joachim knew it would be. He tells the conn to raise the shields, and Joachim says again, no go. They exchange a look. Joachim is sick of your shit, Khan.


So now we're all flying blind and defenseless. Not smart. But some great model work mixed with cool special effects here.







Sulu says that phaser targeting is down, and Kirk tells him to take his best guess. He misses, but so does the Reliant's photon torpedo.



Both ships circle back and the E finds itself right in front of the Reliant. The game of chicken ends abruptly when Kirk turns to starboard, and the Reliant has an almost point-blank range on the Enterprise. The Reliant punches more holes in the E with their phasers, and more cadets die bloody deaths.
The E fires back on the Reliant, and manages to hit their bridge dome, which partially collapses. A large piece of debris falls on Joachim, who tells Khan "Yours... is superior," before dying. Khan swears to avenge him. I wonder if he has a list.
"Monday: pick up dry cleaning. Tuesday: lunch with friend. Wednesday: avenge next person on alphabetical list of friends and loved ones who were done wrong."



Bones goes down to engineering, where Scotty is suffering from radiation poisoning.
Chekov stumbles up from sick bay and onto the bridge to offer his services.
Spock tells Kirk that Khan has a tendency to think two-dimensionally, which is a reference to three-dimensional chess, where your attack usually comes from above or below. K irk smiles and orders Sulu to move the ship along the Z-axis, or... go down. This is actually the only time this has been done on Star Trek.
Khan is floating through the nebula, looking for the E on a super-staticky viewscreen. He seems to be mostly alone now. Quite a few of his crew bit the dust when the ceiling of the Reliant collapsed.
Then - surprise, motherfucker!



The E fires its torpedoes, blowing the engines to hell, and completely laying waste to one of the Reliant's warp nacelles. Lots of bloody deaths for the crew of the Botany Bay. The Reliant is now limping lopsided in space, everyone but Khan dead. Kirk tells Uhura to call the ship and tell them that they are about to boarded, and asks for their surrender.
You can guess how pleased Khan is to hear this. He drags his bloody carcass across the bridge to the Genesis computer, quotes so more Moby Dick, and sets the device to go off.


Back on the E, Spock has noticed a new energy signature coming from the reliant, and David actually makes himself useful here by saying that khan has turned on the device. It's going to blow in four minutes, and kill everyone in the vicinity. Kirk asks if it can be turned off.
"No," says David.
Well, that was a crappy plan. You designed what is essentially an incendiary terraforming device, and you didn't bother to build an off switch? That's poor planning, David. Who the hell gave you a doctorate?
Kirk calls Scotty to ask for warp speed, but remember, Scotty is down in engineering being treated for radiation poisoning. he doesn't answer. Uhura says she is also getting no response from Khan. Kirk tells Sulu to limp them away from there at the best possible speed, but you know it's gonna be a crawl.
Spock's mind is clearly racing with information that no one else is piecing together as quickly, and he gets up to leave the bridge and take the Jeffries tubes down to engineering. When he arrives, it's obvious why no one in engineering responded: everyone has radiation sickness. Bones is the only lucid one, though I'm not certain how. He should probably be sick as well, unless he hasn't been long enough to be affected? Spock checks the controls. He gets ready to go into the sealed chamber to make a fix, but Bones stops him, saying that no human can withstand that kind of radiation.
Spock reminds him that he is not fully human. He then fakes out Bones by asking about Scotty. When Bones turns to the engineer, Spock pinches him and takes Scotty's work gloves. He briefly mind-melds with Bones before putting on the gloves and going inside.



Our boys come to shortly after Spock locks himself inside with the equipment. They go to the glass to yell at him to get out, but arguing with a Vulcan is not a wise move, and he continues on with his repairs as though they weren't there.



On the bridge, Saavik tells Kirk that they only have thirty seconds left, and Sulu says they're still too close. David shakes his head when Sulu asks if they're going to make it. A dying Khan quotes more Moby Dick and revenge porn.
Spock completes his repairs and everything comes back online. Kirk shouts a blessing at Scotty, and tells Sulu to warp them the hell out of there.
The Genesis device explodes, destroying the nebula and bathing everything in its radius with terraforming... stuff.
Carol enters the bridge to see everyone awes by the sight of the Genesis explosion, and there's hopeful music, because not only did they get out alright and in time, but now there's new life forming in the universe.



But that's not how this movie ends. Not right there, though I wish it did.
Kirk calls engineering to congratulate Scotty, but instead, Bones tells him to get down there ASAP.
He looks over to see Spock's chair is empty. Crewmen are pushed out of the way in his haste to get to engineering quickly.
When he sees Spock slumped against some equipment in the sealed chamber, he rushes forward, only to be held back by Scotty and Bones.
"You'll flood the whole department with radiation!"
When he insists that Spock will die, Scotty tells him that Spock is as good as dead now. Kirk stops struggling.



His face crumples, just for a fraction of a second, and then he walks forward like an uncertain kid. When he reaches the glass, he turns on the intercom and yells his friend's name. His voice is raw. Spock, leaning against the wall, stands with difficulty, straightens his jacket in stoic Vulcan fashion, and makes his unsteady way to the glass. he hits the glass, as though his eyesight is partially destroyed. One half of his face is pock-marked and peeling from the exposure.
He asks in a raspy voice if the ship is out of danger, and Kirk tells him that it is.



And harking back to that earlier conversation, Spock reminds Kirk that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one. To try to lighten the mood a bit, Spock tells Kirk that he never took the Kobayashi Maru test... until now. He asks what Kirk thinks of his solution. But Kirk is not falling for it, and starts to get upset. Spock slides down the inside of the glass to sit on the floor, and Kirk does the same.



Then he makes the ta'al Vulcan hand gesture against the glass and tells Kirk to Live Long and Prosper. Kirk touches the glass in the same place, but only makes the gesture half-heartedly. He can barely function, watching such a vital part of his life slip away.


Then Spock turns his back to the glass and takes his last breath. Kirk, on the other side, says "No" in this voice that is just heart-breaking. It wants to be screamed in outrage, a "how could this have happened?" kind of denial, but instead, it's spoken in defeat. One last attempt to make the no-win situation end well. How can he not? What else is to be done when you lose someone so close to you? He stares into space, and I run to the corner to sit and ugly-cry.


The next scene is the funeral. Everyone has gathered in the torpedo bay, and they've hollowed out one of the casings so that they might have a "burial at sea."
Kirk gives a brief eulogy, talking about how this death takes place at the same time that new life is appearing in the universe, and that Spock gave his life to save everyone else's.
"Of all the souls I've encountered in my travels, his was the most... human." His voice falters on the word human, and his face crumples for just a moment.
Saavik cries a single tear. Sulu removes the Federation flag from the top of the casing. Scotty plays "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes. 


My brain often just counts things without thinking. When the full cast is shown, I count them. "How many of my friends?" So
when this shot came up, I counted again, and took a look at who was there. One missing. Who was it? Spock, brain. Spock is missing because he is in the casket-casing.
Fuck.

They jettison the torpedo, and the music swells to a full orchestra with a more hopeful feeling as the casing arcs toward the newly-formed Genesis planet and disappears in a flash of light.



Kirk is sitting in his quarters sometime later. He's just staring off into space, because what else can he do? Death leaves such a blank void that you're forced to just... be. After a moment, he picks up his book, but when he tries to put on his glasses, he finds that one of the lenses is broken, and he tosses them, dissatisfied, on the side table. I get it. He tried to do something, anything, and was denied. He doesn't even have his book to take his mind off of things.
David comes in and apologizes for interrupting, but Kirk kicks things into high gear.
"No, it's fine, and I should actually be on the bridge, and I mixed this drink for myself, but didn't drink it, do you want it?"
He doesn't want to have an awkward conversation with his long-lost son when he's still so raw from losing his best friend.
Do something. Fill the moments with things that don't matter so you don't have to think.
David doesn't buy it.
"Saavik was right," he says without preamble. "You've never faced death."
Kirk looks angry, just for the briefest of moments, then he agrees quietly. "Not like this. I've cheated death, then congratulated myself. I know nothing."
"Yeah, but you knew enough to tell Saavik that how we deal with death is just as important as how we treat life," David counters. He assures Kirk that he has some good ideas on how things work, then says that he judged the older man, and apologizes.
He gets up to go, but turns and tells Kirk that he's proud to be his son.
There's an awkward hug that wants to be more, but this is just too new and alien in Kirk's world, and he's clearly overwhelmed to be able to give either issue his full attention.


Kirk's Log 8141.6: "On our way to CA5 to pick up the Reliant crew. I'm introspective about my lost friend."
Kirk is on the bridge with the others, and he and Bones and the Marcuses watch Genesis on the viewscreen as they fly away.



Bones says something poignant that I like:


Kirk quotes Tale of Two Cities here "(It's a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.") about sacrificial death. He looks almost hopeful, and Bones asks how he is feeling.
"Young," he replies.



The camera swings back toward the planet, and down to the surface. There are shots of beautiful, untouched forested areas and plants, and we see the casing resting on the ground among them.




Then the camera returns to orbit, and takes in the vast expanse while Leonard Nimoy, in his deep, gravelly voice, gives the ending voice-over: "Space. The final frontier. These are continuing voyages of the starship Enterprise. Her ongoing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life forms, and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before." And we warp forward into the star field.




The first time I watched this film was a while ago, in preparation for a podcast that asked the question "why is Into Darkness the most terrible Star Trek movie?" I watched it quickly, in a succession of other ST films, and was not terribly impressed. I had several issues with Khan, and some with Saavik, but upon this most recent viewing, I found that I had changed my mind about all of my previous misgivings.
My problems with Khan were two-fold. The first was that I could not for the life of me figure out why they would put him that ridiculous costume that obviously required a prosthetic chest piece. Didn't they know that faking a buff supervillain chest made him very much less scary? This was solved with a bit of research, and finding out that Ricardo Montalban was not wearing a prosthetic. He was, in fact, really, really built. Those muscular arms are not faked, either. Suddenly, I could take him more seriously. It would make sense for Khan to work out all the time, being trapped mostly inside with his crew and nothing to do.
The second thing that bothered me about Khan was the lack of Marla McGivers. Now, the thing that made "Space Seed" unbearable for me was the horribly abusive way that Khan treated Marla, his "woman of choice." I didn't find him scary in the traditional villain sense just by himself, but his treatment of Marla, with its heavy use of red flags, made my skin crawl. So when she didn't show up in this film, I was initially unwilling to accept him as anything terrifying. After all, they had removed the whole reason why this guy was scary in the first place. But why? At that point, I had no time to do any research, so the question remained. This time around, I was able to look things up and found out that Madlyn Rhue would have had difficulty reprising her role with MS, and they had decided to make her death part of Khan's madness. It was effective. Knowing why Rhue was not present allowed me to give more attention to how Khan was portrayed this time, and I found him up to scratch. Excellent, actually. In Space Seed, he and Kirk come off (to me, anyway) as dueling egos. This time around, Kirk is older, wiser in his acknowledgement of knowing very little, and his scenes with Khan were a bit better matched. Kirk has improved with age, while Khan has slowly lost his mind even further than before.

On the set of Wrath of Khan

I also had a real problem with Saavik. Skipping over the part where they let the audience know that Saavik is not fully Vulcan, I felt like the filmmakers had done her a disservice. Letting everyone know that her heritage is mixed allows her to be emotional once in a while and still fall back on her Vulcan roots. We have no idea where or how she was raised, but she seems to embody several Vulcan traits while ignoring others. My list of people who have successfully played Vulcan parts is very short, and Kirstie Alley was not on that list, despite being a big fan of Spock and winning Leonard Nimoy's approval. I just couldn't get beyond the question, "Why is she acting so weird? Is she Vulcan or not?" William Shatner asked the same question during the filming of the funeral scene, where Kirstie Alley cries a single tear. He was told they were going to let her do it, as Spock was her mentor and she was allowed to let her emotions get the best of her.
But learning of her dual heritage makes the question of Saavik acting strangely a bit more palatable. Now my questions go from "why is she acting so un-Vulcan?" to "Why did they fail to mention that?" and "where the hell was she raised?" If your character's actions can be explained through their heritage, then by all means, mention it. The same came about when they cut out details of Ilia's heritage in the last film, and we ended up with no explanation as to why she had an oath of celibacy on file with Starfleet. If it takes two extra seconds to explain a character better, then add in those seconds. Don't make us sit around scratching our heads in confusion. 
So, given that I now know that Saavik is not fully Vulcan, did my opinion of Kirstie Alley's performance change? A bit. Did she make my very short list? No, not quite. While it makes more sense to me now, I am still left with the feeling that I have no idea how a Romulan-Vulcan would act, and the character is kind of all over the place, acting Vulcan one moment, and... non-Vulcan the next. In truth, it's not all Kirstie Alley's fault. I think the writers were at a loss as to how she should act as well.



So what was my verdict of the film overall, the second time around? A thousand times better. First off, because it was better than the first film. Here the pacing is more natural, and the character development less wooden. I think The Motion Picture had too much story to tell to be able to pay attention to character development, not to mention being too busy with showing us how grand massive V'ger was. While Wrath of Khan also rolled several plots into one (the return of Khan, the Genesis project, and the aging of the crew), it did so seamlessly while making the characters more relatable.
There was a subtle shift in this film that started with The Motion Picture, the question of "how do we handle an aging crew, one that is now fifteen years older than when we started?" Certainly, they could not pretend to be the same age, as William Shatner had suggested at an early stage in the process. It would have cheapened the film. By addressing it, they were able to show how the various characters had progressed with their lives, and how they were dealing with it. The ever-tortured Spock returned to his home planet to take up the ultimate form of meditation, and later became an instructor for Starfleet. Scotty also seems to be an instructor. Sulu is on the verge of gaining his own captaincy, Christine is now a full doctor, and Uhura and Chekov are both Commanders.
Here, the focus is on Kirk, but for once, I didn't mind. He struggles with his day-to-day life, not only because he is no longer in the position of making every day an adventure, but because he is no longer at the age where that sort of activity is considered acceptable. His eyesight is going. He is mentoring young cadets. And he probably does paperwork... a lot of paperwork. He has slowed to the point where he is now able to address those things in his life which have not panned out. His gallivanting with every girl in the stars means that he has a kid that he never really knew. His "cowboy diplomacy" has churned out trouble, in the form of a vengeful enemy. An enemy who has also aged. When it comes down to it, Kirk uses his new sense of becoming comfortable with his older self as a way to come up with better solutions to familiar problems. I feel like younger Kirk was very much "shoot first, ask questions later" while this older Kirk is more "keep 'em talking while I formulate a more clever plan."
This was a smart way to engage the character of James Kirk. By adding these issues to him, they've made him more three-dimensional. They aren't denying his Mary Sue-ism from the show; they're saying that it had consequences. Consequences that he must own up to and deal with, and which in turn make him more nuanced.


Let's talk about the part that kills me. Because this film is not about Khan, despite the title. This film is about Kirk letting go of the good ol' days, and about relationships, and about death. Truthfully, I forgot how this films ends when I sat down to rewatch it. Then came the realization, the "oh, God" moment, the twisting of the knife. Kirk must learn to deal with death, and what better way to do so than to kill his best friend, someone he relies upon heavily in life? 
There is something comforting about knowing that loved ones, whether in the same room or across the galaxy, exist and thrive. It did not matter that Kirk and Spock were separated for some time while Spock was on Vulcan. In Kirk's mind, he existed. This is often enough. We, as a species, are sated by the fact that somewhere, someone we care about is going about their lives, even if we are not directly involved. We may miss them enough to communicate, and make the effort to see them, but even when they are away, there is the possibility that we may see them again. Death removes that possibility. There is no longer any hope of another get-together because they are gone and not coming back. They do not exist elsewhere.


Leonard Nimoy had been disappointed with the first Star Trek film, and was not slated to return. Again, they devised another Vulcan to replace him. But he was lured in with the promise of a death scene. This could go one of two ways: the franchise would end with this film, and Nimoy would not be asked to do another film; or, the movies would continue on, but because they had killed off Spock, he would again not be asked to return. News of Spock's death was leaked early in production, and the fans objected heavily. The Vulcan was, and still is, a popular character. It was decided to do the scene with the Kobayashi Maru early in the film to throw fans off the scent. "Oh," they would think, "he didn't actually die. He was faking for the simulation." This, in turn, would make his death at the end all the more poignant. They would not be expecting him to die this time. The set was closed on the days when they filmed the death and funeral scenes. No one knew. It was just as much of a shock to the audience as it was to Kirk.
And so Leonard Nimoy dusted his hands of the whole thing and gave it no more thought, until he saw the finished film, and the scene at the end, where the casing lands on the Genesis planet. "I bet I'm getting a call from Paramount," he thought. And spoilers: the next film is called "The Search for Spock." Outraged fans were placated before movie three was released that "Spock will return." 



So all is well. Kirk experiences what it is like to really, truly deal with death. Spock is gone long enough and in such a way that he is able to go through the grieving process without "cheating death." But then, because this is science fiction, Spock returns. He gets his friend back, and the audience is satisfied that Kirk was able to grow as a character.

Only... the audience is no longer satisfied. On screen, Spock dies and later returns. But here, in the real world, we have no Genesis planet. Leonard Nimoy is gone, and we cannot have him back. Possibilities of reunion specials, car commercials, film cameos, and convention appearances are no more. The tweets signed "LLAP" and "Grandpa" have stopped, as have the pleas for fans to quit smoking, an attempt to lessen the number of people taken by COPD, the same illness that would claim him earlier this year.
This movie is harder to watch now than it was last year. We can still cue up "The Search for Spock" while marathoning Star Trek films, secure in the knowledge that we can see our favorite Vulcan again, but it is ephemera. Fleeting.
We are Kirk.



*******

I don't really feel like talking about tea. Sorry.




"I don't always sit in front of the heater -
wait, yes I do."

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