Sunday, February 23, 2014

“Confessions of a King”: The Enterprise Experiment # 3

Commander Kor is not happy. He sits soliloquizing on the bridge of his battlecruiser reflecting on his humiliating defeat the the hands of the Organians and the Federation three years ago, a defeat which brought shame and dishonour upon his house. Decoding a message from Starfleet Command about a rich Dilithium deposit and mysterious and ancient archaeological ruins discovered on Loren 5, Kor sees this as the perfect opportunity to test the resolve of the Organians and the Federation both and moves to launch a full-scale invasion of the mining colony.

</As if the brutal fistfight between Captain Kirk and a Klingon on the cover of this month's Star Trek: Year Four-The Enterprise Incident wasn't a tip-off, the Klingons are back because of course the Klingons are back. In particular Kor, and in particular the pacifism debates from “Errand of Mercy” and “Day of the Dove”. But even so, what little we see of Kor in this issue is indicative of a minor, yet significant, reconstruction effort Fontana seems to have pulled. He's behaviour is naturally very much more in keeping with the post-“Heart of Glory” or “A Matter of Honor” Klingons (or I suppose it'd be more accurate to say post-“Blood Oath” as Kor himself was featured so prominently in that one) rather than the Original Series Klingons, though do recall “Day of the Dove” proper had laid a lot of this groundwork already. But what's more interesting to me is Kor's desire to test the resolve of the Organians and the Federation:/>

Of all the Klingon characters to bring back from the Original Series, Kor seems like the best choice for the story Fontana seems to want to tell. “The Enterprise Experiment” is very much going down the road of problematizing Star Trek's fixation, or perceived fixation, on valour and militarism, and that sort of critique takes us right back to “Errand of Mercy”. From the perspective of the Organians, who will likely go on to play extremely significant roles in the resolution of this story, Kirk and Kor were effectively representing the same viewpoints. Unlike as was the case with both Romulan Commanders though, we're *not* meant to feel sympathetic to the captains in “Errand of Mercy”: These were not ordinary people who were victims of time and circumstance, these were people who committed reprehensible acts in the name of their respective empires and forced a third party to intervene and put an end to their warlike predilections. Bringing Kor back here is in fact significant, and reinforces the positive light the Romulan Commander was cast in last time.

</This is very much the kind of thing warriors do to people they consider equals, or people who they wish to see if they can consider equals. Kor is issuing a warrior's challenge to Kirk (he hasn't met Kirk yet in the story, but we all know that's who he's thinking of) and the Organians to see if they can earn the right to be called worthy adversaries. The problem is, of course, that Kor has an entire empire at his behest and is willing to plunge the galaxy into open warfare for his displays of honour, camaraderie and bravado. And of course Kirk and Kor are equals of a sort-They both have an undying loyalty to their ship and their crew, as we saw in “The Time Trap” and this theme reoccurs here as we cut from Kor's ruminating to Kirk's conflicted emotions about Carol and David. When McCoy urges him to take some extra time to gather his thoughts, Kirk responds that “men like us don't have families”, right before he admits to us via a (lengthy) internal monologue that the Enterprise is his family./>

After this, we cut back to the Enterprise's side of the story. As the ship finishes being repaired from the events of last issue, Kirk and McCoy are having a discussion about Kirk's preoccupation of late. McCoy urges Kirk to take some time off to gather himself, but Kirk brushes him off and we don't have a lot of time to worry about this as the word gets out about Kor's attack on Loren 5 and the conspicuous absence of the Organians. Arriving in the Lorenian system just in time to witness the destruction of a monitoring station, the Enterprise moves to the planet itself, where they discover one of the lead miners, Sanderson, under attack from a Klingon patrol presumably in search of something they discovered beneath the planet's surface. Even as the galaxy races towards war, however, Kirk's thoughts still turn to the self-doubt speaking to Carol and David, as he begins to wonder if he's chosen the right path in life.

</Invoking “The Time Trap” raises an interesting point, however. In that story, it was very obvious that, in spite of their shared bull-headedness, the Enterprise crew remained redeemable while that of the Klothos wasn't, as Kor attempted to sabotage and destroy the Enterprise even after it was revealed they would be forced to work together to escape Elysia. This gave at least an indication that the Enterprise crew was capable of growth and realised the importance of peace as an ideal, which made them better than the Klingons, who perhaps weren't quite at that point yet. Here, though, Fontana no longer seems sure that's the case: Spock correctly points out that the development of an advanced cloaking device is straightforwardly an act of aggression on the part of the Federation, and that this essentially makes them, in the eyes of the Klingons and the Romulans, the greatest threat in the galaxy. Kirk protests that the experiment was meant to be a deterrent, to which McCoy bluntly responds that this particular assumption very obviously “hasn't panned out”./>

Kirk also worries that a potential galactic war would bring about the one thing he fears the most: That Starfleet's mission will stop being about exploration and become purely a military endeavour. This is somewhat ironic, considering that Captain Kirk as a character was very obviously created to be a soldier from the beginning and the actual Original Series took great care to point this out on a number of occasions. Certainly by the end of the show's run that had begun to change, perhaps as an indication that Kirk had indeed grown more worldly and wise through his travels, but implying this is something he holds as a fundamental truth is a bit of clever sleight-of-hand: It may well be now, but it certainly wasn't always the case. What's more revealing, and very much in keeping with how Kirk actually acted on the show, is his fear at losing control and the power to shape his own destiny, underlying his concerns about the war, the Organians and Carol and David.

</As much as this ties into, clarifies and expands upon themes Fontana tried to work with in the Original Series, this does seem somewhat strange coming in the wake of the Animated Series and it's tough to read this kind of juxtaposition as anything other than Fontana changing her tune somewhat on the value of Star Trek. Even Kirk expresses concern here that Starfleet may cease to be service built around exploration and diplomacy and become a full-on military wing of the Federation, even as he himself is partially responsible for pushing it in that direction. If neither the Organians nor James Kirk can stop the galaxy's march to war, where does that leave the values and ideals they're supposed to stand in for? Between capitulating to the fanwank id complex of Nerd Culture and digging up Star Trek's dirty past in a series designed to revive and celebrate it, it almost seems as if Fontana is trying to close down the franchise for good. But Star Trek: Year Four was never about reviving Star Trek, was it? No, it was about bringing Star Trek to an end, and now that at least makes a kind of sense. I only wish there had been another way./>

To Be Continued...


  1. Hi Josh - Just catching up on reading all your recent posts. Have been supporting my partner through a family bereavement. But really look forwards to reading you again and responding. many thanks for your writing.

  2. Thanks for the support, and sorry to hear about your loss: Certainly my blog is a lower priority then something like that.

  3. Yeah man thanks. It is good though to have quality reading like yours though that is always engaging. Thanks again - really want to reiterate my support for the good work you are doing in bringing depth and meaning into the world of Star Trek analysis.