Saturday, March 12, 2016

Strange New World Just Ahead, or: How to Make a Vulcan Feel at Home (Part 13 of 15)

13. Twilight of the Pop Phenomenon Gods

Everybody knows Star Trek.

 --DeForest Kelley

I haven't been able to find the exact quote on the Internet, but I seem to remember reading somewhere that when plans were announced for a new Star Trek TV series that would be subtitled The Next Generation, Leonard Nimoy publicly denounced the move, implying that it was a cynical attempt by Paramount Studios to further cash in on the beloved science fiction franchise. Well, of course it was! As was the Saturday morning animated series. And the paperback novels and comic books. And if Nimoy had really been honest with himself, the feature films, two of which he directed. For that matter, back in the 1960s when Gene Roddenberry brought the idea for a science fiction TV series to Lucille Ball, or more likely the person Ball hired to run Desilu on a day-to-day basis (before Paramount got into the act), that person probably thought to themselves that maybe it could be another Lost in Space, which at the time was doing reasonably well in the ratings. Maybe it could sell a few toys (which in fact it did.) That's just the nature of pop culture, mass media, mass entertainment, whatever you want to call it. It exists to make money. At least that's how the owners of the means of production--the television networks, movie studios, record companies, comic book publishers, etc--view it. The creative people that they hire--"hacks", I believe, is the proper term--are there to make sure it does make money. But every so often--and this is part of what fascinates me about pop culture--a hack decides to approach a product to be marketed not as a product to be marketed but as art meant to elevate. No one knows exactly why this happens. Did the hack have a nervous breakdown? Was the hack struck by lightening on the way to Damascus? Hard to say, but it happens. This is especially true of Star Trek, which seems to have a mesmerizing effect on any hack that gets too close to it. So it came to pass that a hack named Roddenberry and a hack named Gene L. Coon and a hack named Harve Bennett all took turns assuming the role of creative visionary, crossing their fingers that the suits wouldn't mind terribly much. After all, if the Medicis supported Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci...OK, so it's Hollywood and not medieval Florence, but I hear both places have similar climates. Anyway, the suits at Paramount picked a guy named Rick Berman to get the new Trek show off the ground. As was arguably the case with Roddenberry, Coon, and Bennett, there was really nothing particularly visionary about Berman's resume. He had started out making industrial films, segued into documentaries, became a producer for PBS, and then jumped from public to commercial television, from education to entertainment, from highbrow to lowbrow, and, naturally, from a lower tax bracket to a higher one. And he became a suit himself, Vice-President of Something-or-Other at Paramount Television (formerly Desilu Productions.) One conspiracy theory goes that he took a demotion of sorts to keep an eye on Executive Producer Roddenberry, who by 1987 saw himself as the Dali Lama of the entertainment industry. Whatever his motives, or those of the studio he worked for, Berman seems to have caught the same art-for-art's-sake bug as all the other hacks that booked a flight on the starship Enterprise. After a slow (sometimes literally slow) start, Star Trek: The Next Generation became one of the classiest, most well-written,  most well-produced science fiction shows in the history of the medium, one that earned a following all its own. Well-acted, too, with a cast that included Michael Dorn as the proud Klingon Worf, Brent Spiner as the amiable android Data, and, best of all, the Shakespearean-trained Patrick Stewart as the no-nonsense Starfleet captain Jean-Luc Picard. Stories differ, with everyone wanting to take credit, but Berman is said to have pushed to have Stewart, a well-regarded but at the time largely unknown British actor, cast as the lead in the new version. So, Berman, you done good. That said, I have to admit that I've never quite accepted or related to TNG as a continuation of the original '60s show. A point I've tried to stress throughout these series of posts is that for me personally, it's the characters, and the actors that bring those characters to life, that make Star Trek Star Trek. I like The Next Generation, but it has different characters played by different actors, so I've just always seen it as fundamentally different. 

Except on the rare occasion that a cast member from the original series guest-starred on the new one. It actually happened in the very first TNG episode, titled "Encounter at Fairpoint", originally early in the series premier's second hour (early in Part II if you watch it in reruns.) The medical facilities of the newest starship--it's the 24th century now--to be called U.S.S. Enterprise undergoes an inspection by a 137-year-old Admiral whose name is never actually uttered, but the actor playing the Admiral is DeForest Kelley, under a mountain of makeup. True to form he bitches about the transporter--which in his old age he now refuses to use--and compares Data unfavorably to a Vulcan. Five seasons later in an episode titled "Relics", the Enterprise comes across a 75-year-old ship that's crashed into a Dyson sphere (kind of a sci-fi greenhouse built around a star), apparently killing everybody aboard, until Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Worf, and Lieutenant La Forge (LeVar Burton) investigate and find the transporter has been jerry-rigged to keep a life-form's molecules indefinitely scrambled. They unscrambled the said molecules and find it's none other than Scotty (James Doohan), looking much like he did back in the 23rd century. A passenger rather than a crewman on the ill-fated starship, he and one other person survived the crash. Unfortunately, the other person didn't survive the 75-year molecule scramble. But Scotty did and he's eager to see all the technological advances that has occurred in his absence, which gets him in the way and on the nerves of the latest Enterprise's latest Chief Engineering Officer, the usually easygoing La Forge. Nevertheless, he redeems himself in the end by helping to dislodge the Enterprise, itself trapped in the sphere. Another character from the original show to make the transition to the new was the computer. Or rather, the voice of the computer, Majel Barrett Roddenberry. Her other character, Nurse Chapel, never appeared on the new show, but the actress does pop up several times as Lwaxana, the flamboyant mother of telepathic therapist Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis). The Vulcan ambassador Sarek (Mark Lenard) who appeared just once in the original series, then in three of the feature films, is seen twice on The Next Generation, and dies in his second outing "Reunification: Part I". It's at the very end that Sarek's son makes an appearance, and then goes on the dominate " Reunification: Part II". That would be Spock, played, of course, by the aforementioned Leonard Nimoy.

Here's what happens. Spock is now an ambassador himself, but has gone missing. Starfleet intelligence has traced him to the Vulcan's black sheep of the family, the offshoot warmongering planet Romulus. Has Spock defected? That's what Captain Picard is charged with finding out. First he goes and talks to Sarek, who's on his deathbed (wouldn't you be after 200 years?) Even though he and his son are once again estranged from each other, Sarek at least knows that Spock is communicating with a Romulan Senator named Pardek. (A senator? Does that mean Romulus is a republic?) Picard and Data go to a building on Romulus where Spock was last seen. Before they go in, Senator Pardek shows up with a bunch of soldiers and take the two Starfleet officers to an underground cavern, where they meet Spock. That's Part I. In Part II, Spock informs them he's on a secret diplomatic mission, one that he has apparently undertaken on his own. He's working with an underground Romulan movement (literally so) that has adopted a non-aggressive, non-emotive pro-logic philosophy and wants to reunite with the planet that started it all, Vulcan. Picard calls it "cowboy diplomacy", much to Spock's puzzlement, and also informs him his father has died. Spock takes that well enough, but refuses to leave Romulus. Picard thinks the peace movement is all part of a Romulan ruse to reunite with Vulcan through violent warfare, and thus turn it into a fascist state (albeit one with senators.) Picard turns out to be half-right. Not about the movement itself but Pardek's role in it, which involves a hologram of phony Spock telling the Vulcan people that the Romulans have seen the light and want to be friends (at least as close to friendship you can have once you've ditched your emotions.) The Romulans are now all set to invade in some stolen Vulcan spacecraft. Things get a little confusing with starships being blown out of the sky, and holograms on top of holograms, but the Romulans in the end are defeated. Despite being bamboozled, Spock elects to stay behind with the peace movement (and, though no one knew it at the time, sets the stage for J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot.) Before Picard leaves, however, Spock mind-melds with him, and discovers from an earlier mind-meld that the Enterprise captain had with Sarek (from an earlier episode) that his father loved him after all.

My favorite part of "Reunification" is not the intrigue, skullduggery, and pyrotechnics, as entertaining as all that may be, but this simple exchange between Spock and Data:

SPOCK: He intrigues me, this Picard.
DATA: In what manner, sir?
SPOCK: Remarkably analytical and dispassionate, for a human. I understand why my father chose to mind-meld with him. There's almost a Vulcan quality to the man.
DATA: Interesting. I have not considered that. And Captain Picard has been a role model in my quest to be more human.
SPOCK: More human?
DATA: Yes, Ambassador.
SPOCK: Fascinating. You have an efficient intellect, superior physical skills, and no emotional impediments. There are Vulcans who aspire all their lives to achieve what you've been given by design.
DATA: You are half-human.
DATA: Yet you have chosen a Vulcan way of life.
SPOCK: I have.
DATA: In effect, you have abandoned what I have sought all my life [...] Ambassador Spock, may I ask a personal question?
SPOCK: Please.
DATA: As you examine your life, do you find you have missed your humanity?
SPOCK: I have no regrets.
DATA: No regrets. That is a human expression.
SPOCK: Yes. Fascinating.

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Assuming they have grass on Vulcan.  Or, for that matter, fences.

The above appeared on the screen at the very beginnings of Parts I and II of "Reunification". The Star Trek creator had died a few weeks earlier.

Roddenberry would still have been alive when "Reunification" was being filmed, but probably had little input as he was very ill from a series of strokes he had suffered over the years. I can't find any evidence that he had any contact at all with Leonard Nimoy during the filming. Roddenberry might have been surprised Nimoy was even doing it. In the past, whenever asked whether he ever would guest star on The Next Generation, Nimoy replied he'd only do it for a million dollars, which would have been rather steep for a TV show, even one that at the time was the highest rated in syndication. Yet when Nimoy finally did appear on TNG, he worked for scale, i.e. the lowest amount demanded by the Screen Actors Guild. What changed his mind? 1991 was the 25th anniversary of Star Trek first going on the air, and Paramount execs wanted to capitalize on that, but not with producer Harve Bennett, for whom they blamed for the failure of the most recent motion picture in the series, The Final Frontier. Nor did they, nor fans who somehow found out about it, want to use Bennett's idea of showing the Enterprise crew, played by younger actors, back when they were students at Starfleet Academy (the aforementioned Abrams did like that idea, but lets not get ahead of ourselves.) With Bennett gone, the execs turned to Nimoy for help, and he became Executive Producer for the new film. Nimoy went to Nicholas Meyer, who had directed and co-wrote The Wrath of Khan, and had also worked on the screenplay of The Voyage Home, with an idea straight out of CNN. The United States and the Soviet Union had signed an agreement that didn't just limit nuclear arms, but now actually reduced them. The latter nation was on the verge of becoming a democracy, and, potentially making it more American than ever, possibly a capitalistic one at that. Glasnost (Russian: "openness") and perestroika (Russian: "restructuring") were now everyday words in both countries. Glasnost and perestroika (translated, of course) caught on in all the Soviet satellites, too, most notably East Germany, and in East Germany, most notably Berlin, where a wall separating the eastern half of the city from the western half (run by West Germany but wholly located in the East) came down in November of 1989. A year later, there was but a single Germany again. The Star Trek franchise, meanwhile, remained divided, but Nimoy, despite his earlier dismissal of The Next Generation, couldn't resist sneaking a peak, and saw that a Klingon now served on the U.S.S. Enterprise! How had that happened? Here now was a chance to explain how, potentially uniting the two Treks, all the while reflecting nonfictional world events. It couldn't miss! Meyer agreed, wrote a script, and signed on to direct it. And that's how Nimoy ended up on TNG. He was promoting the new movie, coming soon to theaters everywhere, by having Spock tell Picard:

 "It was I who committed Captain Kirk to that peace mission, and I who had to bear the responsibility for the consequences to him and to his crew."

And just what was that peace mission and the consequences thereof? Read on.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) We open with Captain Hikaru Sulu. That's right, the former Enterprise helmsman got a promotion three years earlier and now has a starship of his own, the U. S. S. Excelsior. A couple of thoughts here. This is the first feature film since The Motion Picture to indicate that a substantive amount of time has passed since the last Star Trek adventure. The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock, The Voyage Home, and The Final Frontier may have been made over a period of seven years, but as each of the latter three begins very soon after the previous one ends, in Trek time it would have been more like seven weeks! Obviously, it was a very stressful time in their lives, and they deserved the three-year respite (unless there were life-and-death adventures we just don't know about.) The other thing is, I'm very happy Sulu got his own command, but what about Scotty, who in this film is still Chief Engineer of the Enterprise? Remember all those episodes where he was left in charge of the starship while Kirk and Spock were away? He did an OK job, didn't he? And what about Spock? Why is he still on the Enterprise? It might be voluntary, as the man just refuses to leave Kirk's side.  Well, we're wasting time with these unanswerable questions. Lets get back to Sulu and the Excelsior. He's enjoying a cup of coffee when there's suddenly a huge explosion. The Klingon moon Praxis has exploded, sending faster-than-the-speed-of-light shock waves throughout this particular section of the galaxy. Excelsior Communications Officer Janice Rand (another promotion, but this one far more understandable--that woman's been ignored far too long) radios the appropriate Klingon with an offer of assistance, and is rebuffed. The Klingons can handle this little problem themselves, thank you very much. Except it turns out they can't. As is revealed at a Starfleet Command meeting in San Francisco, the exploding moon, the site of a key, and apparently very combustible, Klingon energy production facility, has, among other things, knocked out the homeworld's ozone layer. The Klingons have only fifty years left, unless they spend a lot of money fixing the problem, money currently being spent on their military. To that end, they want to hold peace negotiations with the Federation. Technically, they're already at peace with the Federation, but it's a Cold War-type of peace, which is still costly. Most of those present at the Sam Francisco meeting believe the Klingons are sincere, and that the peace offer is worth pursuing. Admiral Cartwright (Brock Peters) believes otherwise, and says so. Captain James T. Kirk also believes otherwise, and says so, too. So imagine his surprise when Spock volunteers him and the Enterprise to accompany the Klingon delegation to the peace conference! Once the two of them are alone, the following edgy exchange takes place:

SPOCK: There's an old Vulcan proverb, "Only Nixon could go to China."
KIRK: How could you vouch for [volunteer] me? That's an arrogant presumption.
SPOCK: My father requested that I open negotia--
KIRK: I know your father's the Vulcan Ambassador, for heaven's sake, but you know how I feel about this. They're animals!
SPOCK: Jim, this is a historic opportunity here.
KIRK: Don't believe them! Don't trust them!
SPOCK: They're dying.
KIRK: Let them die!

Egads! What's got into Kirk? Well, if you'll remember, in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Kirk's grown son David was fatally stabbed in the chest by a Klingon, and now the father want's nothing to do with the alien race (though he is seen partying with his hated foes toward the end of The Final Frontier, and that film took place much closer to the time of his son's slaying.) Nevertheless, Kirk has his orders, and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise reluctantly leaves Earth's solar system to rendezvous with the Klingon bird-of-prey battle cruiser  Kronos One. Speaking of that crew, there's a new member this time around, Valeris (Kim Cattrall, future Sex and the City player) who graduated at the top of her class at Starfleet, and, judging by her bob hairstyle, may harbor a secret desire to be a 1920s flapper. Spock is very impressed with Valeris--her having graduated at the top of her class and not her hairstyle--and tells her he'll recommend she replace him as First Officer once he retires, which will be as soon as this mission is over with. Enterprise meets up with Kronos One, and the Klingon delegation beams aboard. The delegates include Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner), his daughter Azetbur (Rosanna DeSoto), and one-eyed General Chang (Christopher Plummer) who greets Kirk as "one warrior to another". Later that evening (assuming they have "evening" in outer space) the Klingons and the mostly-human members of the Enterprise join in a grand feast. Gorkon makes a toast:

GORKON: (holding up his glass) The undiscovered country--the future!
ALL: The undiscovered country!
SPOCK: Hamlet, act three, scene one.
GORKON: You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.

See? Even the future has a future. Unfortunately, that toast turns out to be the high point of the evening. Things soon deteriorate, with both the Klingons and the Enterprise members exchanging digs with one another. Not personal insults, you understand, just cultural ones. Kirk later blames all the bad manners on the Romulan ale served that night. Bad manners will get steadily worse, as well as steadily mysterious, as the night wears on. The Klingons return to their own spacecraft, only to have it fired upon by the Enterprise! At least that's what the starship's own computers are reporting. The photon torpedo knocks out the artificial gravity on the Kronos One, causing the stunned Klingons to float helplessly about the ship. At this point, two men in closed helmets and Starfleet uniforms beam aboard. As they're wearing gravity boots, they themselves aren't floating, allowing them to walk around the place firing at every Klingon they see, causing one poor chap to lose his arm (interestingly, no one is out-and-out disintegrated, as phasers have been known to do in the past.) Back at the Enterprise Kirk does a surprising thing, until you realize he's hopelessly trying to avoid an interplanetary incident--he has Uhura contact the Kronos One with notice of his surrender. Before he and McCoy beam aboard the Klingon ship to find out just what went wrong, Spock slaps a small, black patch on Kirk's back, and there's not even any holes in his uniform! The first Klingon Kirk and McCoy run into once they've materialized aboard the Kronos One is an  aide-de-camp named Kerla, who greets them with an "Are you crazy?!"  Kirk assures, or tries to assure him, that he only wants to help. Kerla reluctantly takes him and McCoy to the grievously wounded Gorkon. As the Kronos One medical team has also succumbed to the massacre, it's up to McCoy to save the dying Chancellor. Unfortunately, the Enterprise doc knows nothing about Klingon physiognomy, and Gorkin dies, his last words to Kirk, "Don't let it end this way!" General Chang is determined to let it end that way, and orders Kirk and McCoy to be placed under arrest. A short time later, in Paris, in France, on Earth, the President of the Federation--well, let's stop right there and take a closer look at this so-called Federation.

The flag of the United Federation of Planets, first seen draped over Spock's coffin in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. As for the organization it represents, that was first mentioned in the February 1967 episode "A Taste of Armageddon", about three-quarters of the way through season one of the original TV version of Trek, though the more simple term "Federation" is mentioned a few times before that. Now, compare the flag to that of the...

...United Nations. Similar, huh? Can we assume then that the Federation is modeled after the UN? Maybe, maybe not.

As the scene opens, the Klingon and Romulan ambassadors (John Schuck and Darryl Henriques) are present in the President's office. That right there makes it a bit different. Neither the Klingons nor the Romulans are members of the Federation, whereas just about every nation in the world is a member of the United Nation. Indeed, it never seems to occur to a nation-state NOT to be a member of the United Nations. Actually, and I had to look this up, there are currently three self-proclaimed nation-states that are not members of that august world body: Kosovo, Taiwan (which also self-proclaims itself China), and Vatican City. Of those three, only Vatican City is intentionally not a member of the United Nations. The other two would very much like to be, but the UN won't let them, as a few members object to their presence. Nevertheless, Kosovo, Taiwan, and the Vatican are hardly "empires" in competition with the Federation, as is said to be the case where the Klingons and Romulans are concerned. Yet interplanetary law is said to have been broken, meaning that the Federation is not the sole arbiter of galactic right-or-wrong, unlike the UN, which is in regards to international law. And that's not the only thing that makes the Federation different from the United Nations.

Both the Klingon and Romulan Abassadors believe Kirk has to be tried on the Klingon homeworld (Kling? No, in this movie we find out it's Cronos, the same name as the ship I mentioned earlier), in accordance to the aforementioned interplanetary law. Vulcan ambassador Sarek (Mark Lenard) reluctantly agrees, even though he's the one who urged son Spock to get the Enterprise involved in the whole affair in the first place. Gee, thanks Dad! After the diplomats leave, several representatives of Stafleet, including Admiral Cartwright and Colonel West (René Auberjonois, the governor's aide on Benson, soon-to-play Odo on the Trek spinoff Deep Space Nine) strut into the President's office with plans to rescue Kirk and McCoy, and if the Klingons resist, "Then Mr. President, we can clean their chronometers!" This is not a scenario you would expect to see in the office of the Secretary-General. The United Nations has peacekeeping forces in various countries, but they're not too adept at cleaning anybody's chronometers. The UN certainly has no standing military, which seems to be the Federation's relationship to Starfleet (first mentioned in the 1967 episode "Court Martial" on Ground Hog's Day, 1967--just a coincidence, McCoy doesn't see his shadow or anything--three weeks before "A Taste of Armageddon".) Despite the Paris location, everything that happens in this scene seems straight out of the Oval Office. So is the Federation really the United States of the Milky Way? That might be going a bit too far. It's possible that the Federation is like NATO, a collection of independent and supposedly equal sovereign entities, though most of those sovereign entities really have no other choice but to follow the lead of the superpower member, in real life, the United States, on Star Trek, Earth. The President depicted here (Kurtwood Smith, the grumpy father on That's '70s Show) appears to be an alien and, like a NATO Secretary-General from somewhere other than the USA, wouldn't necessarily be left in charge of a superpower's arsenal. Maybe his grandparents came here from off the boat, er, flying saucer. Of course, as this is all fiction, the Federation really has no obligation to be based on any existing real-life international organization, and can be something uniquely its own. But the United Nations-like flag does open the door to such nitpicking, a door I have freely and eagerly walked through.

The Federation President shuts the door on Kirk and McCoy after the new Klingon Chancellor, Gorkon's daughter Azetbur, inform him the peace talks are still on as long as there's no rescue attempt. So the Enterprise captain and the doctor both stand trial. It looks like it might be a kangaroo court. Not so much because anybody's habeas corpus is being denied, but that all the courtroom spectators (or jurors) are jumping up and down like kangaroos (OK, that joke should be jumped up and down on.) The prosecuting attorney is General Chang. The defense attorney is one Colonel Worf, played by Michael Dorn, who also played a Klingon named Worf on The Next Generation, and, later, Deep Space Nine. Presumably, the two are related. More importantly, for purposes of extending the franchise, it establishes a more solid relationship between the two Trek entities, as up to that point the creative teams of each had occasionally been at odds with each other. The Klingons are certainly at odds with Kirk and McCoy. Guilty as charged! Nevertheless, Worf manages to get them life in prison as opposed to the death penalty. The two are sent to do hard labor on the Rura Penthe asteroid (named after a Siberian penal colony in War and Peace.) Meanwhile, back on the Enterprise, Spock had seen Worf on TV (or something like TV) theorize during the trial that someone or someones may have slipped aboard the Klingon ship wearing gravity boots. Find those boots and you might find the real killers. A search is conducted aboard the Enterprise, turning this part of the movie into a detective story. (A genre director and co-screenwriter Meyer knew well, having penned several best-selling, albeit non-canonical, Sherlock Holmes novels. Not only that, but in The Undiscovered Country, Meyer seems to have made Holmes a part of the Star Trek canon with a line that comes directly from Arthur Conan Doyle himself--"An ancestor of mine maintained that when you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."--implying that Spock is a descendent of the great consulting detective, presumably on his mother's side.) The boots are found, but one pair don't fit the webbed feet of the crew member whose quarters they were found in.  As for the One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich part of the movie, Kirk gets into a fight with a blue-faced inmate the size of a vending machine. Kirk wins, of course. Things brighten up further when he meets Martia (Iman), a beautiful female prisoner. She's not always beautiful, however. When the three try to make their escape to the prison planet's snowy surface, she turns into a hairy behemoth, in order to sneak onto an all-male work crew, much to Kirk and McCoy's surprise. Turns out Martia's a shapeshifter, a creature heretofore thought by Kirk to be mythical (he must have forgotten he once met one in the original series episode "Whom Gods Destroy" which also took place on a prison planet.) Once they are on the surface, Martia conveniently finds some warm clothes, as well as a flare gun to make a fire. Kirk now realizes what she's up to. She led him and McCoy into a trap so they'll both be shot trying to escape, thus earning her a full pardon. Kirk and Martia start fighting, but before they do, she turns herself into a duplicate of Kirk! The commandant and the guards show up but shoot and kill the wrong Kirk. Shapeshifting isn't as safe as it looks. Realizing his mistake, the commandant is about to kill the real Kirk but decides there's no harm in telling him who's behind the frame-up. Kirk doesn't find out as the patch Spock slapped on his back way back when (that apparently went undetected by the various Klingons that had him in their custody) has now been activated. It acts as a tracking device for starships. A pissed-off Kirk and a largely confused McCoy are beamed back aboard the Enterprise. Spock tells Kirk about the boots and his additional theory that the Klingons have a bird-of-prey that can fire torpedoes even when invisible and thus responsible for the one that hit Chancellor Gorkin's ship. The plot thickens once two crewmen are found dead, the same two crewmen guarding the transporter room when the assassins beamed aboard the Kronos One to commit their bit of mayhem.  Apparently they were killed to keep them from talking. Kirk decides it's about time he set a trap and announces over the intercom that the two men weren't killed but just injured, and as soon as they're feeling better will name names. That night Valeris sneaks into the sick bay with phaser in hand to finish them off, and find Kirk and Spock there instead. Spock, angry at himself for letting his pro-Vulcan bias blind him to the fact that the mastermind behind the Gorkin's assassination was working along side him the whole time, mind-melds with Valeris against her will, and finds that renegade Klingons and Starfleet members had conspired, and are still conspiring, to derail the peace process. Valeris doesn't know where the secret summit is being held but Captain Sulu--remember him?--fortunately does know and the starships Enterprise and Excelsior race to the planet Khitomer before it's too late. General Chang's bird-of-prey is there to meet them. After an exciting space battle--BAM! BOOM! POW! BANG-BANG! KAPOW! KABOOM! RAT-A-TAT-TAT! THUD! KERPLUNK! SLAM! ZAP! CRUNCH! SIZZLE!--a Shakespearean-quoting Chang is defeated (his last words: "To be or not to be.") But the day is not saved yet. Kirk, Spock, and just about everyone else beam into the peace conference, shoot those who were about to shoot, thus saving the Federation President and the Azetbur's lives. Then, in a scene right out of Scoopy Do, Where Are You? our heroes begin unmasking the living and dead--well, I guess unmasking the dead isn't really out of Scoopy Do--and discover the other conspiracy members: Admiral Cartwright, Colonel West, and Romulan Ambassador Nanclus. After all the proper arrests are made, the summit goes on as planned. As for Kirk and co, once they're back aboard their ship, they find a message waiting for them. They are to return to Earth, their beloved Enterprise--their second beloved Enterprise, actually--is going to be decommissioned. Spock's response:

SPOCK: If I were human, I believe my response would be, "Go to Hell."

Kirk does a double-take 

SPOCK: (somewhat apologetically) ...If I were human.

That's the most you're going to get out of that guy. Of course, Spock's not human. Not 100%, anyway. And, be honest, do you really want him to be?

OK, so much for the synopsis. Now for the critical evaluation.

The acting. Of the non-regular cast members, I was most impressed with Kim Catrall. The film doesn't make it easy for her character, as her character originally was supposed to be another character, Saavik of The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock (and, very briefly, The Voyage Home.) This explains why everybody on the Enterprise instantly takes to Valeris, and why she seems to instantly take to them. Because as Saavik, they're all familiar with her. Except she's Valeris, so they're in fact meeting her for the first time. Got all that? Why didn't they just have Saavik as Saavik? Gene Roddenberry. The one perk he still retained as Executive Consultant was that he was allowed to read the screenplay and give his opinion. His opinion could be ignored, but there was always the fear he could take his complaints to a sci-fi fanzine like Starlog or Cinefantastique  where some Star Trek fans who still held him in high regard might read them (indeed, there are Trekkies or Trekkers who believe only the original Trek episodes written by Roddenberry himself--11 in all--are "canonical", meaning they actually happened, and all others are spurious.) Roddenberry's complaint this time was that Saavak was now one of the bad guys. Meyer's response: "I created Saavik. She was not Gene's. If he doesn't like what I plan on doing with her, maybe he should give back the money he's made off my films. Maybe then I'll care what he has to say." Whether he created Saavik or not, and whether he spent the money he made on someone else's creation or not, Roddenberry did have a point. Saavik bonds with the Enterprise crew in the first two films her character appears, and thus it would seem odd that she should frame that crew's captain for murder. Nevertheless, Meyer would have had Saavik do that anyway, except that the first actress to play her, Kirstie Alley, now ensconced on Cheers, wasn't interested in reviving the character, and he didn't think much of the second film's replacement, Robin Curtis. Rather than have a third actress play Savaak, thus turning her into a female version of Felix Leiter, Mayer created a whole new character. So Catrall basically ended up playing this new Vulcan Valeris as exceedingly outgoing, whether that was logical or not, so as to gain immediate acceptance from the Enterprise crew. Actually, it was logical, as, being part of a conspiracy, she needed to earn their trust. But it's when Valeris' role in the plan is found out that Catrall does her best acting. Watch that tear slide down her face not from grief but in futile defiance of Spock's mind-meld.

As for the other non-regular cast members, I quite like David Warner (who had earlier played Jack the Ripper in 1978's Time After Time, another movie written and directed by Meyer) as Chancellor Gorkin. He's seen much too briefly, but then that's what sometimes happens when you're targeted for assassination. I also liked the woman who played his daughter Azetbur, Rosanna DeSoto, caught as her character was between revenge for father and making sure that same father's dream of peace was fulfilled. I don't know that there was much acting involved, but Iman was certainly one of the more striking aliens I've seen in a Star Trek movie. As for Christopher Plummer's General Chang, while he may not make anyone forget Laurence Olivier or Ralph Richardson (or, for that matter, Patrick Stewart) it's a hoot watching him quote the Bard as a great space battle wages around him (Doctor McCoy begs to differ: "Can't someone shut that guy up?")

Now on to the original cast. Let's start with George Takei. As I said earlier, the character he portrays, Sulu, is no longer assigned to the starship Enterprise, but I think this has actually resulted in more screen time for Takei! He's the very first character we see in this movie, sipping on what I presume is coffee, and is seen at critical junctures all throughout the thing. His ship is the first to detect the explosion of the Klingon moon. He provides cover for the Enterprise after Spock fails to return to Earth as he's been ordered to. His ship takes part in the battle raging high above the planet Khitomir. And Sulu beams down into the peace conference to help out his old commanding officer Kirk. Sulu's boyishness has finally dissipated. It only took six feature films. Can't say the same for Walter Koenig's Chekov, but what can you expect? He's still serving under Kirk. Nichelle Nichol's Uhura has a cold warrior mentality here, the character's earlier coquettishness finally dissipated. Which doesn't stop her from showing a bit of leg throughout this film (at the actress's own insistence; she thought Uhura was more a skirt person.) James Doohan's Scotty is good for a few laughs. Deforest Kelley's McCoy is good for twice as many laughs. Once again he gets most of the film's funniest lines (though not the funniest line; more about that in a bit.) Leonard Nimoy as Spock is once again the conscience of the starship Enterprise, his character exhibiting the utmost dignity in the face of boorish adversity, much like Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird. Except Peck was that film's protagonist. Unlike in earlier outings, even when he was technically a supporting player, Nimoy simply doesn't carry this movie this time around, nor does he try to. So the Best Actor award instead goes to...

...William Shatner. Spock may be the conscience of this film, but much of The Undiscovered Country is about Kirk trying to reclaim his own conscience, and trying to reconcile that conscience with his own fears, passions, and desires. This harkens back to the TV series, where Shatner's slow burn acting style (frequently mocked, but I like it anyway) illuminated James T. Kirk's conflicted sense of duty. This was a man who always wanted to do what was right, but right by who, or what? Starfleet? Spock? McCoy? God? Himself? "Four hundred people...They'll die because I couldn't see a warning sign. I had to follow orders, always orders," Kirk agonizes in "The Apple". Kirk both blames McCoy for and then absolves McCoy of Spock's blindness in "Operation: Annihilate!" Kirk is torn between old friend Gary Mitchell and the safety of the Enterprise in "Where No Man Has Gone Before." Kirk is torn between a war criminal and the war criminal's daughter in "Conscience of the King". Kirk is torn between Edith Keeler and an Allied victory in World War II in "The City on the Edge of Forever". Kirk is torn between Captain Tracey and the Comms, and then is further torn between the Comms and the Yangs in "The Omega Glory". Kirk is torn between Gary Seven and the United States' 20th century superpower status in "Assignment: Earth". Kirk is torn between his life-threatening injury and Sarek's life-threatening injury in "Journey to Babel". Kirk is torn between saving Spock's life and letting Spock kill him in "Amok Time". Kirk is torn between Spock and making sure Spock stands trial for kidnapping an extraordinarily disabled Captain Pike in "The Menagerie". Kirk's about to plead mercy for Spock when he realizes the court-martial has all been a charade, then bitches at the Vulcan for not following procedure, after which he somewhat resignedly lets him do what he wants anyway. Even during what might appear to be a happy ending, Kirk sometimes seems unsure he's done the right thing. After defeating the Greek god Apollo in "Who Mourns for Adonis", Kirk frets. "Would it have hurt us, I wonder, just to have gathered a few laurel leaves?" Kirk can't just resist escaping a wholly hostile alternative universe with his neck intact without first advising an alternative universe Spock about how that alternative universe could be improved in "Mirror, Mirror". When some aliens takes the title character in "Charlie X" off his hands, Kirk balks despite all the havoc--such as erasing a young woman's face and turning another into a lizard--the unruly teenager caused. Kirk feels too inadequate compared to the Organians to take any solace that a war's been averted at the end of "An Errand of Mercy". Kirk's not sure whether giving the Hill People flintlock weapons is a good idea or "serpents in the Garden of Eden" at the end of "A Private Little War". It's only after Kirk decides not to kill the Gorn or Wyatt Earp does he find that his acts of mercy are indeed guaranteeing happy endings in "Arena" and "Spectre of the Gun". It's only after Kirk decides not to vaporize the Horta that he finds out his act of mercy guarantees a happy ending in "Devil in the Dark". Kirk doesn't even know for sure if his act of mercy toward Khan Noonien Singh will result in a happy ending or not in "Space Seed" (turns out it doesn't) but feels he owes it to the man anyway, despite almost dying at his hands! I doubt any starship captain ever tortured himself over the many-headed monster called Morality to the degree this guy did. That's why I had to balk a bit when a more easygoing version of Kirk emerged in the movies. A James T. Kirk without teeth clenched is a James T. Kirk in desperate need of dentures.

The tortured soul and easygoing rogue are reconciled to a significant degree in The Undiscovered Country. The trial is a pivotal moment in that regard. It's a cocky Kirk that enters the Klingon courtroom. That's not to say he thinks he's going to get off. He probably figures it's just a show trial but nevertheless feels it will give him a chance to speak truth to Klingon power. Instead, it's Klingon power that ends up speaking truth to him. As his scathing criticisms of that particular ethnicity that he entered into his own Captain's log on the eve of a major peace conference are read back to him, Kirk's cockiness quickly melts away and he actually seems a bit flustered. By blaming an entire race of people for his son's death, Kirk may have inadvertently provided the rope at his own lynching. Chastened by the experience, he spends the rest of the movie engaged in some serious soul searching (while at the same time breaking out of prison, fighting a space battle, saving the day, etc.)

Now, don't take this to mean that being in Kirk's presence throughout this film is nothing less than heavy-duty dramatic gravitas. There are moments of lightness, too. In fact, despite McCoy getting the laughing hyena's share of funny lines, with Scotty and possibly Chekov a distant second, the movie's most hilarious moment belongs solely to Kirk. Before I tell you what that is, a bit of background.

James Kirk didn't write the above book, but he most certainly could have. The one thing that the TV Kirk and the movies Kirk do have in common is his way with the ladies. In the vernacular of the era in which Star Trek first appeared, Kirk scored, and he scored a lot. Originally Janice Rand (Grace Lee Whitney) was intended to be his main love interest. She appears in seven episodes of the original series. In "The Cobermite Maneuver", the first of those seven to be filmed, Kirk seems more annoyed with than attracted to Rand (KIRK: When I find the headquarters genius that assigned me a female yeoman. MCCOY: What's the matter, Jim? Don't you trust yourself? KIRK: I already have a female to worry about. Her name's the Enterprise.) In "The Man Trap", the first of those seven to actually go on the air, Rand seems more interested in Sulu. The title character in "Charlie X" has a crush on Rand, but when she demurs, and then later slaps him, the lovesick teen disintegrates her, which surely upsets Kirk and he's pleased when she later rematerializes, but that merely signifies concern for his crew and not necessarily affection. "The Naked Time"--now we're getting somewhere! An affliction that causes its victims to act out their deepest desires has Kirk fighting his own deep desire to cop a feel at his "beautiful yeoman", Rand. In "The Enemy Within" a malfunctioning transporter splits Kirk into two, one of whom tries to rape Rand! In a much more genteel vein, Kirk and Rand reach out to each other during a Romulan attack in "Balance of Terror". In "Mira", Rand admits to Kirk that she always hoped he would notice her shapely legs but not now that they're covered with unsightly blotches (don't worry, they clear up.) "The Conscience of the King", was the last we saw of Rand for a while. Why did she disappear from the series? Explanations vary. One is that the part of McCoy was beefed up, meaning DeForest Kelley got an increase in salary, and the extra money needed for the tightly-budgeted show had to come from somewhere, and that somewhere was Whitney's paycheck. It also freed up the Kirk character to  romance a different scantily clad guest star each week. Whatever the reason, Rand wasn't seen again until Star Trek: The Motion Picture, where Kirk consoles her after a transporter she was operating melts two unfortunate passengers. In The Search for Spock, a brown-rather-than-blond-haired Grace Lee Whitney watches the return of the Enterprise through a window in the Spacedock cafeteria. Is it Rand? She's merely listed in the screenplay as "Woman in Cafeteria". There's a Commander Rand at Starfleet headquarters reporting to a superior about the possible end of the world in The Voyage Home. And, as I said earlier, Rand is serving along side Sulu on the Excelsior in The Undiscovered Country. She might still be carrying a torch for Kirk as she's seen shedding a tear during his televised trial.

Once Rand was out of the way, James Kirk truly had a hard time keeping his Starfleet-issued trousers zipped. Actually, this happened even before Rand left when she walks in on Kirk and a Shakespearean actor's daughter in "The Conscience of the King". Kirk is very possessive of a different blond female yoeman in "The Squire of Gothos" and demands she gives back some gloves given to her from some God-like Lothario. Kirk dallies with both versions of Marlena Moreau in "Mirror Mirror".  Kirk falls in love with the unwittingly world-historical Edith Keeler in "The City on the Edge of Forever." Kirk falls in love with an Indian maiden in "The Paradise Syndrome". Kirk both successfully fights and woos the green-haired Shanna in "The Gamesters of Triskelion". Kirk's wooing of Kelinda makes her fellow Alpha Centaurian jealous in "By Any Other Name". Kirk's wooing of Rayna makes Flint jealous in "Requiem for Methuselah". A Roman consul lets Kirk avail himself of a slave girl the night before an important gladiator match in "Breads and Circuses".  Even though Miranda only has eyes for the theoretically homely Kollos--well, she's blind so whatever senses she makes up for eyes--Kirk offers her a rose anyway in "Is There No Truth in Beauty?". Kirk passes along a deadly virus to an uncomplaining Odena in "The Mark of Gideon".  Kirk doesn't romance anybody but is quite into ogling belly dancers in "Wolf in the Fold". Old flames show up. Areel Shaw prosecutes him for murder in "Court-Matial" but, after he beats the rap, the two share a kiss to show there's no hard feelings (unless there's hard feelings of a different kind!) An elderly Kirk pours out his heart to Dr. Janet Wallace, who still retains a certain fondness for him, despite his many wrinkles, in "The Desperate Years". Dr Janet Lester so misses Kirk's body she inhabits it in "Turnabout Intruder." An old flame, Carol Marcus, pops up in the movies, as Kirk reunites with his long-lost son (his only long-lost child?) in The Wrath of Khan. Also in the movies, Kirk charms Gillian Taylor out of a couple of humpback whales in The Voyage Home.

Now, before all you bluenoses out there get too upset, please remember that during Star Trek's original run there was a sexual revolution going on, and TV looked for ways to exploit it the best way it could without running afoul of the Standards and Practices department. And Kirk was hardly the only '60s TV hero having fun. James West had his way with the ladies in The Wild, Wild West, as did Amos Burke in Burke's Law, Kelly Robertson in I Spy, and the Cartwright boys in Bonanza. Even Uncle Bill left Buffy and Jody to Mr. French as he stepped out for the night in Family Affair. Also, James Kirk was a bachelor, nobody wanted anybody to get the wrong idea, as inconceivable that sexual mores might change in the next 300 years might be. At any rate, Kirk did receive a comeuppance of sorts for all his tomcatting in The Undiscovered Country. It happens right after Martia shapeshifts herself into a replica of Kirk.

KIRK: I can't believe I kissed you!
KIRK: Must have been your lifelong ambition.

As Tom Petty once sang, the waiting is the hardest part.

The direction. Nicholas Meyer's vision of Star Trek was an exceedingly dark one. I don't mean it was macabre or gloomy or scary. I mean it was literally dark. Everything's very dimly lit. Spock's quarters, the Starfleet briefing room, the Klingon courtroom, Christian Slater's uncredited cameo, even the bridge of the Enterprise could stand to use a few more light bulbs. It's as if in the 23rd century everyone went back to using whale oil. Actually, I like the look. It gives what was touted at the time as the final go-around for the original Trek cast a kind of twilight beauty, reminding me a bit of the faded glory of the wonderful old theater where the Band gave their final performance in Martin Scorsese's 1978 concert film The Last Waltz. I half-expected Spock to pick up his Vulcan harp and play "The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down"

The screenplay by Nicholas Meyer and Denny Martin Finn may just be the best thing about this very good film. However, before I examine its virtues, allow me to dwell on what I consider a flaw. Wouldn't it have been a lot more interesting if Kirk, McCoy, AND Spock had been sent to that prison planet rather than just Kirk and McCoy? Scotty could have stayed behind and handled the Enterprise, as he did in all those TV episodes. Meyer did something similar in The Wrath of Khan when only Kirk and McCoy go to the Project Genesis-cave while leaving Spock behind. Before writing these screenplays, didn't Meyer even take a look at the original television series and observe the fantastic way Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley play off each other? If he did he apparently wasn't impressed. It's not that Mayer favored only two of the actors, and had no use for the third. I guess he just saw these characters differently than I did. In his movies whenever Kirk and McCoy get together they're like a couple of little boys, whereas Spock is the adult who lets them know  that playtime is over by beaming them out of whatever sandbox they happen to be in.

OK, now that I got that off my chest, let's discuss what this screenplay, and thus the film, is all about. As I told you earlier, The Undiscovered Country was inspired by the biggest news event of the late 1980s-early 1990s, the resolution of the Cold War. But those of us who were around back then saw it all play out on our television sets. Did we really need to see it again in a movie, except that this time the politicians all wear weird makeup? What more could this film tell us that CNN didn't? To answer that and other questions, we'll have to take a closer look at those rascals, the Klingons.

The Federation-Klingon conflict wasn't really as central to 1960s TV show as memory insists. Of the 79 episodes filmed, the Klingons appear or otherwise play a part in just seven. That's four more than their nearest competitors in mayhem-making, the Romulans, though the latter got there first, making their debut 12 episodes before the Klingons. So why, then, didn't the Romulans get as much airtime throughout the series run? Money. Romulans looked like Vulcans, to whom they were related. Klingons, on the other hand, had somewhat swarthy complexions, bushy eyebrows, and some eye liner to make them look vaguely oriental. Of course, Romulans and Vulcans look vagely oriental, too (in "The City on the Edge of Forever" Kirk tries to explain away Spock's appearance to a 1930s cop by saying he's a Chinese man who once got his head stuck in a mechanical rice-picker) but fitting a bunch of bad guys with pointy ears was more expensive than pasting on bushy eyebrows.

The Klingons make their debut in "Errand of Mercy", late in Star Trek's first season. They appear three times in the second season. "Friday's Child" has the Klingons trying to coax an unaligned planet into joining their empire as Kirk, Spock, and McCoy run around the countryside with a pregnant woman. "The Trouble with Tribbles" has many of the title creatures succumbing to a cargo hold of grain poisoned by a Klingon saboteur. The Klingons instigates an arms race amongst a bunch of cavemen in "A Private Little War". The Klingon appear or otherwise play a part three more times in the third and final season. The Klingons join forces with Kirk to laugh off some alien troublemakers in "Day of the Dove". You don't see the Klingons themselves but their warship in "Elaan of Troyius". Klingon Founding Father Kahless is one of the baddies conjured up by the rock-like Excalbians in "The Savage Curtain". Now on to the feature films. The Klingons seen early on in Star Trek: The Motion Picture look a little different. They now have backbones that begin at the bridges of their noses. You can't call these guys spineless! They skip the Wrath of Khan but show up for The Search for Spock where they kill a bunch of people including Kirk's son. They've never been more brutal, before or since. However, the Klingon ambassador seen at the beginning of The Voyage Home seems to regard Kirk as the brutal one! Kirk and the Klingons put their differences aside and fend off an angry God, boozing it up together afterwards in The Final Frontier. And the next time they're seen again is in the film we're discussing, The Undiscovered Country.

Of the seven original Trek shows involving Klingons, the first, "Errand of Mercy", written by Gene L. Coon, is easily the best. Relations between the Federation and the Klingon Empire have broken down, and war is imminent. In a plot device that will be used a few more times in the life of the series, Kirk has to secure a planet called Oragania that's strategically located near the Klingon space border (I've never know a planet located near the Klingon space border that wasn't.) Kirk feels he is doing the Organians a favor by claiming their planet for the Federation, hence the episode's title. When he and Spock beam down to the medieval-looking planet, the human-looking leaders of the planet's government want nothing to do with them. Kirk argues with them about this for a bit, until he finds out a Klingon fleet has entered the star system. Kirk orders the outnumbered Enterprise to skedaddle, stranding him and Spock on the planet. Despite not wanting Kirk and Spock's help, the Organians decide that, what with Klingon soldiers beaming down and what not, Kirk and Spock could use their help, and disguise the former up as one of their own, and the latter as small-time trader so as to escape detection. They're detected, anyway, mainly due to Kirk's grimace, so strikingly different from Organians dopey smiles. However, Kor, the newly-installed Klingon governor, doesn't suspect Kirk is a starfleet officer, just that he's brighter than all the rest and makes him a liaison to the government. Spock, meanwhile, is taken away and subjected to a "mind-sifter" to see if he's as harmless as he claims. And he is indeed deemed harmless, as the Vulcan psyche, unbeknownst to the Klingon, is resistant to such devices. Free to go, Kirk and Spock now wander about the village committing acts of sabotage, such as blowing up munition dumps. Back in the Organian town hall, the heads of government, or whatever they are, complain to Kirk and Spock vigorously about their guerrilla tactics. Kor has the place bugged, and now knows who's behind all the sabotage. He enters the room, and orders one of his minions to take Kirk and Spock out to be killed. At this point, the Organian head of government known as Ayelborne--likely the most important head of government as he does most of the talking--informs Kor that these aren't two disgruntled natives of the planet that he's about to execute, but James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock. Kor's heard of Kirk and is deeply impressed, and it's hinted that the Enterprise captain has some sort of reputation as a war hero (these hints continue throughout the course of the TV series and the '80s feature films, but we never learn exactly what war it was.) Kor has Spock locked up somewhere, and then proceeds to both flatter and threaten Kirk, eventually giving him a 12 hour deadline to cough up details about Starfleet battle plans. Kirk is then thrown in the same cell as Spock but both are easily rescued by Ayelborne, despite there being ten Klingon guards on the outside. Kirk is less grateful then completely baffled by Ayelbourne's and the Organians behavior.

KIRK: Is that all you can do, smile?
AYELBORNE: You are free, Captain.
KIRK: I want to know how I'm free and why.
SPOCK: Indeed, there are several questions I would like to ask as well. 
KIRK: This idiotic placidity of yours. Your refusal to do anything to protect yourselves.
AYELBORNE: We have already answered that question. To us, violence is unthinkable.

This conversation is interrupted by Kor's voice booming over a loudspeaker. The two Federations spies have escaped and two hundred Organians have been killed in retaliation. If they're not returned within two hours, two hundred more will be killed, and so on and so forth. All the idiotically placid Ayelborne can do upon hearing this news is smile. Wanting nothing more to do with these cowards, Kirk and Spock successfully raid the Klingon headquarters--that they're able to do that may be every bit as baffling as the Organians placidity, but, after all, this is Kirk and Spock we're talking about here--and hold Kor hostage. Kor actually finds Kirk's daring deed quite a refreshing change of pace, especially after killing hundreds upon hundreds of smiling Organians, whom he disparagingly refers to as "sheep". Besides, Kor tells Kirk, a fleet of Federation ships, one of which is the Enterprise, has now arrived. There will be a great battle to determine the fate of the galaxy for the next 1000 years. Or so Kor thinks. Some Klingon troops burst into the room intent on rescuing Kor but before they can do so, Ayelborne and his sidekick Claymore show up. Kirk, Spock, and the Klingons all drop their now burning hot weapons. Aboard the Enterprise, all the controls have similarly heated up, causing various crew members to jump back in pain. The Organians inform Kirk and Kor that this scene is taking place on every warship and in every war room on both sides of the conflict, and will continue to do so until a peace agreement is reached. Kirk and Kor are outraged that their little war (of which they themselves have involved the Organians) should be interfered with as such:

KIRK: Even if you have some power that we don't understand, you have no right to dictate to our Federation.
KOR: Or our Empire!
KIRK: How to handle interstellar relations!

They also offer up excuses:

KOR: You've tried to hem us in, cut off vital supplies, strangle our trade! You've been asking for war!
KIRK:You're the ones who issued the ultimatum to withdraw from disputed areas!

One final excuse:

KIRK: We have the right--
AYELBORNE: To wage war, Captain? To kill millions of innocent people? To destroy life on a planetary scale? Is that what you're defending?
KIRK (chastened a bit): Well, no one wants war. But there are proper channels. People have the right to handle their own affairs. Eventually, we would have--
AYELBORNE: Oh, eventually you will have peace, but only after millions of people have died. It is true that in the future, you and the Klingons will become fast friends. You will work together.

Before Kirk and Kor can dispute that, the two Organians reveal their true selves:

 SPOCK: Fascinating! Pure energy. Pure thought. Totally incorporeal. Not life as we know it at all. [...regarding the Organians earlier conventional appearance] Created so that visitors such as ourselves could have conventional points of reference. [...] We have seen it with out own eyes. I should say the Organians are as far above us on the evolutionary scale as we are above the amoeba.

And with that, the Organian Peace Treaty between the Federation and the Klingon Empire comes into being.

Now, I'd like to go back and examine a bit of dialogue from earlier in the episode.

KOR: You of the Federation, you are much like us.
KIRK: We're nothing like you. We're a democratic body.
KOR: Come now. I'm not referring to minor ideological differences. I mean that we are similar as a species. Here we are on a planet of sheep. Two tigers, predators, hunters, killers, and it is precisely that which makes us great. And there is a universe to be taken.

As much as I admire Gene L. Coon as a writer, Kor's reply to Kirk rings false. That is, it rings false if the Federation-Klingon conflict is supposed to mirror the U.S.-U.S.S.R conflict. No Soviet official would have pooh-poohed ideology as easily as Kor does. Not if he wanted to stay a Soviet official. The Cold War was nothing if not about ideology. Well, I suppose you could make the case that geography played a role. In 1835 Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America that the world would some day be divided  between the Untied States and Russia. He based this prediction on the fact that both countries occupied huge, resource-rich land masses Tocqueville turned out to be right, so maybe there's something to it. It's just that I don't remember anybody saying during the Cold War "Better dead than a geographer!" At least geography wasn't in the forefront of anybody's consciousnesses the way ideology was. The Soviets, whom it's been said referred to one another as "comrade" instead of "dude" or "bro", took their ideology very seriously, and in return the United States and the rest of the West took very seriously their taking their ideology very seriously. The ideology I'm talking about, of course, is communism.

 49 years before Star Trek first went on the air.

But what was this communism? When I was in elementary school the teacher basically told us that under communism people were slaves whereas in America people were "free". But free to do what? Well, if pressed, the teacher might say we here in the U.S. were free to criticize those in power (unless the person in power happened to be the teacher herself, in which case you got sent to the principal's office.) She also mentioned that under communism, people were sent to a very cold place called Siberia where they received some kind of punishment (presumably this punishment was even more severe than getting spanked by the principal, which hadn't quite been phased out in the late '60s and early '70s.) Once I was in high school, the teacher there elaborated a bit more about communism. As in, oh, by the way, there's an economic aspect to it, but it's bad economics, people have to stand in breadlines, there's crowded apartments with communal bathrooms, you can't grow up to be president of General Motors, etc. I never went to college, but it's my understanding that the professors (as the teachers were now called) sometimes took a more nuanced, more evenhanded approach toward communism (a nuanced approach that got some of them fired from their college jobs during the 1950s.)

Please don't mistake my lightly irreverent tone as an endorsement of communism. I would not want to live under such a system, and am glad certain ancestors of mine got out of Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary while the getting out was good. While I do believe Karl Marx meant well--he was an economic theorist who laid the intellectual groundwork for world revolution but most of the time preferred to let others do the actual agitating, never governed anything, not his native Germany and certainly not Russia which he never visited, and died in London without ever having met Vladimir Lenin, who was just a kid of 13--and don't much like inequality myself, the effort needed to bring about a classless society requires such a strict discipline that it inevitably seems to invite totalitarianism. At least that's how it's worked out so far. And if you do manage to successfully beat the economic disparity out of the system, what you always seem to be left with is an equal society where everybody shares the poverty and not much else. Again, that's how it's worked out so far. Or rather, that's how it's not worked out so far.

OK, so I, and presumably you, too, prefer "dude" and "bro" to "comrade". But what to do about a country like Russia back in the day (or Cuba today) where there are people who do have to live under communism? Countries with different histories, different sets of experiences, than the United States? Do you just take them over and free the people? Actually, those questions were never asked because according to my teachers, Russia (and maybe China, too) wanted to take us over, and for that reason we needed a wall of nuclear weapons to protect us. They had such weapons, too, but those obviously weren't meant to protect them from us. We weren't going to attack them. It's worth noting that the United States and the Russia were in fact technically at peace with each other during those years. We had embassies and consulates in their country, and they in ours. We both sat on the same United Nations Security Council. But it was a nervous, hair trigger-alert peace. To have True Peace, something would have to give on the ideological front.

And that's exactly what happened. Russia abandoned communism, the Cold War ended, and True Peace was realized. At least that's the story we've been telling ourselves these past 25 years. (Yes, it's been that long. True Peace is now old enough to purchase alcohol.) Was it truly wise to set the peace bar so high for what was, after all, a nuclear-armed state? Well, you can't argue with success (we've been telling ourselves that for the past 25 years, too.)

Now that we've established that the 20th century Cold War was fueled at least in part by ideology, what about the 23rd century Cold War on Star Trek? Just what was the Klingon ideology?

Are the Klingons communists? Despite their being widely seen as stand-ins for the Russians, I would say no. Klingons dress too gaudily.

And they're certainly not Chinese communists.

(Meanwhile, in the movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Captain Kirk remarks that people in the 20th century are "still using money" implying that's no longer the case in the 23rd. Could it be, then, that it's the Federation that's communist?)

Are Klingons fascists? It's possible. They're very militaristic, a key characteristic of fascism. The problem there is that most of the Klingons we see in both the TV series and in the movies are members of the military, and militaries tend to be, well, militaristic. Even if the actual countries in which they serve are democracies, a military always functions, unto itself, as a dictatorship, what with the constant saluting, standing at attention, yes, sirs, no, sirs, and strict codes of conduct.  And as the members of such organizations collect medals and, in one country I know of, stars, they can end up looking pretty gaudy, too. See how that might skew our image of Klingons? Imagine if all some alien from outer space knew about the United States of America was George C. Scott's opening monologue in the 1970 film Patton:

"I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor, dumb bastard die for his country. Men, all this stuff you've heard about America not wanting to fight, wanting to stay out of the war, is a lot of horse dung. Americans, traditionally, love to fight. All real Americans love the sting of battle. When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooters, the fastest runners, big league ball players, the toughest boxers. Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. I wouldn't give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed. That's why Americans have never lost and will never lose a war, because the very thought of losing is hateful to Americans. Now, an army is a team. It lives, eats, sleeps, fights as a team. This individuality stuff is a bunch of crap. The bilious bastards who wrote that stuff about individuality for The Saturday Evening Post don't know anything more about real battle than they do about fornicating. Now, we have the finest food and equipment, the best spirit, and the best men in the world. You know, by God I, I actually pity those poor bastards we're going up against, by God, I do. We're not just going to shoot the bastards; we're going to cut out their living guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks. We're going to murder those lousy Hun bastards by the bushel. Now, some of you boys, I know, are wondering whether or not you'll chicken out under fire. Don't worry about it. I can assure you that you will all do your duty. The Nazis are the enemy. Wade into them. Spill their blood. Shoot them in the belly. When you put your hand into a bunch of goo that a moment before was your best friend's face, you'll know what to do. Now there's another thing I want you to remember: I don't want to get any messages saying that we are holding our position. We're not holding anything. Let the Hun do that. We are advancing constantly and we're not interested in holding onto anything except the enemy. We're going to hold onto him by the nose and we're going to kick him in the ass. We're going to kick the hell out of him all the time and we're going to go through him like crap through a goose. Now, there's one thing that you men will be able to say when you get back home. And you may thank God for it. Thirty years from now when you’re sitting around your fireside with your grandson on your knee, and he asks you: 'What did you do in the great World War II?' You won't have to say, "Well, I shoveled shit in Louisiana." Alright, now, you sons-of-bitches, you know how I feel. Oh... I will be proud to lead you wonderful guys into battle anytime, anywhere. That's all"

Why, that alien would think the U.S. was fascist, which of course it's not (at least not until after the upcoming election.) Either that, or George C. Scott was a Klingon. The helmet is to protect the spine.

On the other hand, maybe the reason we never see any Klingon civilians is because there are no Klingon civilians. For that matter, maybe there are no good Klingons, either.

Now we come to the true Klingon ideology, the only Klingon ideology: Pop Villainism. The Klingons are the bad guys, the black hats, the evildoers, the scoundrels, the malefactors, the miscreants, the blackguards, the rascals, the rapscallions, the wretches, the bullies, the brutes, the thugs, the ruffians, the goons, the minions, the mashers, the juvenile delinquents, the teen gang members, the Warriors, the motorcycle gang members, the Hell's Angels, the punks, the gangsters, the mobsters, the racketeers, the loan sharks, the henchmen, the hit men, the paid assassins, the muscle, the creeps, the fiends, the dope pushers, the maniacs, the weirdos, the psychopaths, the lunatics, the madmen, the mad scientists, the diabolical minds at work, the enemy spies, the saboteurs, the white slavers, the robbers, the robber barons, the outlaws, the varmints, the cattle rustlers, the fugitives from justice, the corrupt Southern sheriffs, the mountain men you might run into on a canoe trip, the savages, the redskins, the cannibals, the headhunters, the headshrinkers, the pirates, the Thuggees,  the evil godmothers, the grave robbers, the body snatchers, the ghosts, the goblins, the ghouls, the evil spirits, the screaming banshees, the trolls, the gremlins, the gargoyles, the ogres, the Blue Meanies, the Visitors, the Cylons, and the invaders from Mars. The Klingon Empire is SPECTRE, SMERSH, THRUSH, KAOS, the DVX, Hydra, Arkham Asylum, LexCorp, the Mob, the Mafia, the Syndicate, Murder Inc, La Cosa Nostra, the Corleone Family, the Organization, the Underworld, the Combination, the dope ring, the other side of the tracks, the bad part of town, Hell's Kitchen, Skid Row, Macon County, Bad Rock, Harper Valley PTA, the Illuminati, the alien conspiracy, the planet Mongo, the Gargoyle Gang, the dark side of the Force, the Temple of Doom, Latveria, Danger Island, the Island of Lost Souls, Skull Island, the House of Wax, Twin Peaks, the netherworld, the old dark house, the haunted house, the Amityville Horror, the Little Shop of Horrors, Hill House, the Evil Dead, Midwich, Stepford, Jerusalem's Lot, Castle Rock, Hamunaptra, the zombie apocalypse, the living dead, the occult, that which is not of this world, and the Universal Pictures version of Transylvania. A Klingon is Fu Manchu, Dr. Moriarty, Dr. No, Dr. Moreau, Dr. Phibes, Dr. Loveless, Dr Caligari, Butch Cavendish, Black Bart, Calvera, Lex Luther, Dr. Doom, Dr. Silvana, the Joker, the Green Goblin, Magneto, the Red Skull, JR Ewing, Alexis Carrington, Angela Channing, Amanda Woodward, Boss Hogg, the Godfather, Scarface, Little Ceasar, Cody Jarrett, Tony Soprano, Mr. Potter, Mr. Big, Noah Cross, the Kingpin, Captain Quinlan, Jaws, Blofield, Goldfinger, Slob, Sigfried, the Smoking Cigarette Man, Captain Hook, Bluebeard, Mr. Hyde, Norman Bates, Leatherface, Jason, Hannibal Lecter, Rhoda Penmark, Freddy Krueger, the Blair Witch, Dr. Frankenstien, Dr. Frankenstein's monster, Igor, Dr. Pretorius, Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Gill Monster, Imhotep, Kharis, Audrey II, the Wicked Witch of the West, the Big Bad Wolf, Sauron, Smaug, Darth Vader, Darth Sidious, Count Drooker, Jabba the Hut, Lord Voldemort, Severus Snape, the Jabberwock, the Black Knight, Mordred, Morgan le Fay, Cardinal Richelieu, the Sheriff of Nottingham, the butler who did it, and anyone with a top hat and twirling mustache who threatens to tie the comely young woman to the railroad tracks and and/or marry her unless the young woman's mother pays the mortgage on time.

In short, a Klingon is a plot device, the evil that good must triumph, the wrong that must be righted, the immorality which must be vanquished so as to restore order in a moral universe, and, perhaps most important of all, the stick that the Hero can measure his own heroism against, because how else can we determine Good unless we have its opposite Evil? (I mean, other than acts of kindness, humanitarian deeds, doing unto others, etc.) It's nothing personal with the villain. (Unless it is something personal, like revenge or unrequited love, but whatever the personal reason, it always seems more of a feeble excuse to cause the mischief that the mischief-maker was going to cause anyway. Remember, Freddy Krueger was already a murderer when he decided to seek his revenge on the Elm Street neighbors who burnt him alive.) The villain merely has a job to do, so please don't hate him for it. Well, I guess you should hate him for it (boo! hiss!) but just don't hate him for having to hate him for it. Anyway, that's pretty much the function Klingons served through three television seasons and five feature films. Worf had a heart of gold on The Next Generation, but that show was 75 years removed from Captain Kirk and gang. Not that there was really anything wrong or unfair about portraying the 23rd century Klingons in such an extreme manner. After all, they're merely a ficticious race of people, or monsters if you will, and it's not like the Klingon Anti-Defamation League is going to picket the next Star Trek movie.

Unless the person writing and directing the movie does the picketing himself. And in The Undiscovered Country, Nicholas Meyer does just that, except instead of holding a sign he sheds some light on the Star Trek stock villains. Oh, sure, they still sneer and snarl and growl and grimace, but now there are hints that there may be more to them than that.

For starters, we learn the Klingon emperor doesn't actually refer to himself as an emperor but as chancellor. That's a small-r republican term, similar to "president" or "prime minister". Now, that doesn't necessarily make the Klingon home world a democracy. Police states all over the world use such titles when referring to their leaders. No dictator has ever called himself a dictator. "Police state" and "dictator" are terms used by outsiders. Still, that no dictator wants to be called a dictator or his police state a police state is the tribute that totalitarianism pays to democracy. Also in the Klingons favor is that David Warner's makeup is said to have been modeled on the visage of Abraham Lincoln. You know, the guy who said "government of the people, by the people, and for the people."  Warner's character also a suffers a similar fate as Lincoln.

Another mitigating factor in the Klingons favor is their choice of entertainment. You might expect such nasty brutes to be into demolition derbies, bare-knuckled brawling, cockfighting, and dwarf tossing. Instead, it would seem they're into Shakespeare. Both the Chancellor Gorkin and his traitorous aide de camp Chang quote the Bard in this film. If that's all they know of Earth culture, they probably beamed aboard the Enterprise expecting Captain Kirk to speak in iambic pentameter and were a bit let down to find him using 20th century colloquialisms instead (more about how these future folks talk in a later installment.) If nothing else, I'll bet the Klingons have won all the English Lit teachers over.

However, there's one mitigating factor that looms above all others. After the massacre on the Kronos One, a Klingon general suggests to the late Gorkon's daughter and newly installed chancellor, Azetbur,  that they hit back and hit back hard. ("Remember Kronos One!" Nobody actually says that but could you blame them if they did?) Azetbur's reply: "War is obsolete, as we are in danger of becoming." You heard the lady. It's not that she's right and the Klingon general is wrong, but that there's an acknowledgement of choice, of free will. Warfare is not encoded in the Klingon DNA. It's an option, and there's another option as well: peace.

In the original series episode "Errand of Mercy", Kor does acknowledge, after much macho posturing and babble about the glory of war, that the Klingons may have more practical concerns ("You've tried to hem us in, cut off vital supplies, strangle our trade!") Well, during the state dinner that takes place aboard the Enterprise in The Undiscovered Country, we see that there's enough practical, as well as impractical, concerns to go around:

CHANG: Tell me, Captain, would you be willing to give up Starfleet?
SPOCK: I believe the Captain feels that Starfleet's mission has always been one of peace.
KIRK: Far be it from me to dispute my first officer. Starfleet has always been--
CHANG: Come now, Captain, there's no need to mince words. In space, all warriors are cold warriors.
UHURA: Er, General, are you fond of Shakes--
CHEKOV: We do believe all planets have a sovereign claim to inalienable human rights.
AZETBUR: Inalien...If only you could hear yourselves. "Human rights" Why, the very name is racist. The Federation is no more than a "homo sapiens only" club.
CHANG: Present company excepted, of course.
KERLA: In any case, we know where this is leading. The annihilation of our culture.
MCCOY: That's not true!
CHANG: "To be or not to be?" That is the question which preoccupies our people, Captain Kirk. We need breathing room.
KIRK: Earth. Hitler. 1938.
CHANG: I beg your pardon?
GORKON (a bit dismayed): Well, I can see we have a long way to go.

I've never been to any White House state dinners, but I wouldn't be surprised if such a conversation once, or maybe many times, took place during the Cold War, especially if the libations served had been especially liberating.  The Russians had their grievances. John F. Kennedy might have thoroughly convinced himself that the Bay of Pigs operation was no more than a humanitarian undertaking, but to the Soviets it was an act of naked aggression. They responded by putting missiles in Cuba, only a short distance from Florida, as about a short a distance as the missiles we already had in Italy and Turkey were from the then-Soviet border. I'm not saying that they we right and we were wrong. More like, both sides may have been right, or, just as likely, both sides may have been wrong. Certainly both sides needed to sit at a table and talk things out. As that bleeding-heart liberal peacenik Winston Churchill once said, to jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war. Ironically, in The Undiscovered Country, the jaw-jawing is not solely confined to the doves. McCoy ponders "The Klingons and the Federation members conspiring together" to derail the peace process. Well, that's cooperation, isn't it?  

OK, then, so The Undiscovered Country illustrates the difficulties involved in ending the Cold War. Nevertheless, the Cold War did end, and ended quite some time ago. Does the film still have something to say to us, lo these many years later?  I believe it does. More than ever, in fact.

Just listen to some of the language that is tossed about. "The alien trash of the galaxy.""They're animals" "Did you see the way they ate? Terrible table manners!""They don't place the same value of life as we do.""They all look alike""What about that smell?""Guess who's coming to dinner?" This is not language, at least not all of it, that one normally associates with the Cold War. "They all look alike" and "What about that smell?", in particular, are not statements that were commonly made in reference to Russians. It is how some white people used to (and maybe still do) characterize African-Americans. As for "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?", that was the name of a popular 1960s movie about an interracial relationship. And what of David Warner's Gorkin character's resemblance to Abraham Lincoln? It seems a bit pointless where the Cold War is concerned. Lincoln died nearly a century before the Cuban Missile Crises. But if we're talking race relations, then there is a point. With his Emancipation Proclamation and 13th Amendment to the Constitution, it can be argued Lincoln contributed a little something to the cause of civil rights.

So, if The Undiscovered Country is really about race, then what's the point of a Cold War analogy? The United States was then, and, for the time being, still is, a majority Caucasian country. As is Russia. In fact, the Caucasus Mountains, from which the race takes its name (before DNA proved there was no such thing as race) serves as Russia's southwestern border. True, but pigmentation notwithstanding, Russians were different. They still are different, communist or not. As are all skin colors, religions, genders, sexual orientations, nationalities, and cultures. Different from us, whatever "us" you happen to identify with. Philosophers have a term for it: the Other. For a crew member of the Enterprise, a Klingon was the Other. For an American, a Russian was the Other. For a Caucasian (including Russian Caucasians) an African-American was the Other. For a Christian (including Russian and African-American Christians) a Jew was the Other. For males (including Russian, African-American, and Jewish males) a female was the Other. For heterosexuals (including Russian, African-American, Jewish, and female heterosexuals) a homosexual was the Other. And so on and so forth. As you can see, Otherness can be multiplied, compounded. Was James Baldwin a gay black, or a black gay? If you're a straight white (or a white straight), it all depends which one gave you the most nightmares. You might think the attraction that exists between a male and a female might negate any possible nightmares, unless one rapes or otherwise subjugates the Other. The nightmare can take the form of a cold war. Or a hot war. Or oppression, suppression, and repression. Subject the Other to enough of that, and you may end up with an insurrection (or a civil rights movement.) You can demonize the Other. You can turn the Other into a slave. Or, just as likely, you can demonize the Other because you want to turn him or her into a slave (or a second-class citizen.) If you can't enslave, defeat, diminish, marginalize, ostracize, impoverish, take advantage of, or do anything of much consequence to the Other, you can still build a garrison state that restricts the freedoms of all the non-Others on your side of the hill. That should teach those Others a lesson! The Other can send us scurrying in a hundred different directions, but rarely forward. "Are you afraid of the future?" Kirk asks out loud while pondering one in which the Federation and the Klingons live together in peace and harmony. "Some people are afraid of what might happen. I was terrified." Kirk, an explorer by trade, now realizes he has to get over his fear or he's not boldly going anywhere.

Prejudice was a recurring theme in the original Star Trek TV series. In fact, it may have been the recurring theme. Most notably in the character of Dr. McCoy, always giving Spock grief about his green blood and pointy ears. (Ironically, McCoy is one of the more moderate voices in The Undiscovered Country. The guy must have mellowed over the years) But the episodes "The Cloud Minders", "Balance of Terror", "The Cobermite Maneuver", "The Galileo Seven", "A Private Little War", "Mudd's Women", "Devil in the Dark", "Arena", "Metamorphosis", "Journey to Babel", "Bread and Circuses", "Patterns of Force", "The Omega Glory", "Turnabout Intruder" "Is There No Truth in Beauty" "The Enterprise Incident", and "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" also detail prejudice in one form or another. Given that history, it's a bit surprising to note that two Star Trek veterans raised objections about the prejudice portrayed in The Undiscovered Country.

Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) refused to say two lines that she considered racist. One was "Would you let your daughter marry one?" and "Guess who's coming to dinner?" She apparently didn't see the irony of a black woman saying such things about Klingons. Or maybe she did but felt irony and racism didn't mix. The daughter line was removed from the script altogether, whereas the one about dinner was given to Walter Koenig, who played Chekov, a Caucasian Russian.

The other veteran was Gene Roddenberry, who, according to Nimoy and Shatner, even tried to sue to keep the film from being released but died before a brief could be filed. Roddenberry didn't object to the depiction of prejudice per se. It was just who was doing the prejudicing that bothered him. In his later years, Roddenberry had made a mostly successful attempt to reinvent and re-brand himself as a counterculture philosopher. I suspect, though, that this reinvention masked a more basic love of  institutional discipline. By 1991, he had come to see Starfleet as a New Age version of the Los Angeles Police Department, where he was employed for seven years, most of that time spent doing PR work. It was all right to depict future prejudice, but not among Starfleet officers. Only the Others could be bigots! Sorry, Gene, but that's taking the easy way out. More than anything else it's the self-flattering, self-delusional notions of self-perfection that provides the most fertile soil for prejudice. As Starfleet officer Kirk himself notes, "I was used to hating Klingons. It never even occurred to me to take Gorkon at his word." To be fair, Roddenberry may have simply hoped for a better world by the 23rd century, one free of prejudice. That it might not be was his own particular fear for the future.

If Spock was the Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird, then through much of The Undiscovered Country, James Kirk is the Go Set a Watchman Atticus. But Kirk evolves, so much so that prior to the film's exciting climax, he and Spock have almost switched places (or Harper Lee novels):

SPOCK: But Captain, we both know that I am not human.
KIRK: Do you want to know something? Everybody's human.
SPOCK: I find that remark...insulting.

Don't be insulted, Spock. I think what Kirk means is that we're all sentient beings, even if we don't use that sentience as often as we should.

(Which reminds me, if we ever do come across intelligent life on other planets, we're going to have to come up with a replacement for the word "humanity". Maybe sentientity?)

Some of you may have balked at my earlier equating skin color, gender, and sexual orientation with culture and religion. After all, the first three are there from birth, while the latter two are learned behaviors. Here in the West, feminists and LGBTQ activists have labored mightily, with some degree of success, to get their culture to unlearn some its more discriminatory and repressive behavior, only to look on in dismay as that same discrimination and repression is magnified a hundred times over in that part of the world known as the Middle East. To what extent should Muslims be allowed into the Aggrieved Others Club? It's like granting free speech to someone who doesn't believe in free speech. A perplexing paradox, multiculturally speaking. Could be, though, that we just don't know them well enough (do Muslims like Shakespeare?) After the attacks on September, 11, 2001, the experts, pundits, and politicians told us the attacks happened because the attackers disapproved of our culture (though the attackers themselves never said that) and our only recourse was to invade their countries and change their cultures, before they could come back here and change ours. Nearly a decade and a half later, after all the blood that's been shed, and the money that's been spent, they still have their learned behavior, and we still have ours. It might as well be skin color.

Now, there's no reason the Other can't be bad. Back in the 1940s, we here in the U.S. would have considered Nazi Germany the Other, and that place set whole new records in badness (records that hopefully will never be broken.) But there's a wrinkle that may have you saying, there but for God-knows-what goes I. The Nazis were more than sentient beings. Unlike the Klingons and the Romulans, they sprung from the very same genome as the rest of us. Adolf Hitler may have been the most evil human who ever lived, but he was still just that, human. The Jews were humans, too, but Hitler said that they were the Other, and the ones who were bad. In the 1930s, many notable, much-admired Americans, including a young aviator who flew across the Atlantic alone, Charles Lindbergh, applauded Hitler for saying such things (though not the subsequent lethality.) Lindbergh later did a patriotic about-face and did his part for the war effort, but the damage was done, his reputation forever tarnished. Be careful who you demonize. You just might end up demonizing yourself.

OK, so The Undiscovered Country says that prejudice is bad. Do we really need a science-fiction movie that takes place in the far future to make that point? Isn't there any movies, plays, books or TV shows that takes place in the real world and much closer to our own era that says the same thing? Sure there are.  Home of the Brave. Gentleman's Agreement. The Invisible Man (Ellison, not Wells.) All in the Family. Go Tell It on a Mountain. Giovanni's Room. Do the Right Thing. A Raisin in the Sun. Other Voices, Other Rooms. The Boy with the Green Hair. Pinky. Glee. The Color Purple. Reflections of a Golden Eye. Modern Family. Angels in America. Native Son. The City and the Pillar. Imitation of Life. Showboat. South Pacific. The aforementioned To Kill a Mockingbird. Many, many others. Prejudice is such a weighty topic, it can easily encompass literary fiction, science fiction, nonfiction, and Twitter. Many of the titles I mentioned go much further, and much deeper, than Star Trek in their depictions of prejudice, as you might expect when using real life Others instead of their made-up alien stand-ins. (Speaking of real life Others, or, if you will, real life sentient beings, or, if you will, real life human beings, as of this writing there are two who have yet to book passage on the starship Enterprise: gays and Jews. This, um, oversight probably has more to do with the studio footing the bill than the creative teams who put the various Trek movies and TV shows together, several of whom have been either gay or Jewish themselves. David Gerrold, who wrote the famous "The Trouble with Tribbles" episode, was both. And gays and Jews have worked in front of the camera as well. George Takei is the former and Leonard Nimoy was the latter. Just not their characters. Or anybody's characters, making Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations a little less infinite.) Still, science-fiction has some advantages that more realistic fiction doesn't. The first advantage is that social commentary graced with spaceships and aliens can be damn entertaining. The second advantage is that you can depict a fictional race of beings, such as the Klingons, in the most egregious terms, thus affording the audience the opportunity to indulge a bigoted attitude toward the race while still thinking of themselves as otherwise tolerant, only to have the pedestal vaporized right out from under that same audience by revealing the fictional race to be less egregious than previously thought, a neat trick The Undiscovered Country pulls off well. The third and final advantage is that nominally anti-prejudice fiction which takes place in a more recent era can get caught up in present-day biases that don't quite get the same attention as racism or xenophobia. Take All in the Family. A very funny show. A television classic. If it was on right now, I'd watch it. But there was always something a little bit unfair, a little bit prejudicial, about depicting an undereducated, uncouth, lower-middle class laborer as the face of bigotry, as if no college-educated person in a three-piece suit had ever uttered the N-word. It's not that Archie Bunker-types don't exist. I've met quite a few. But racism and other types of bigotry have been and are still too far entrenched in our society to pretend that these kind of attitudes are strictly confined to a sort of person that is really pretty powerless, and growing more powerless by the day (Archie may yet become an Other himself.) The Undiscovered Country is a reminder that the best of us, the starfleet officers, the James T. Kirks, the Charles A. Lindberghs, can harbor such feelings.

So, Nicholas Meyer, you done good (even if I wish there had been more scenes with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy as a trio.) You figured out what Star Trek, at it's very best, could be all about. I just found out Meyer has joined the staff of yet another Trek series, due out in the fall. That certainly bodes well for the future, fictional and otherwise.


Toward the very end of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, when Chekov asks what course to set, Kirk replies, "Second star to the right, and straight on 'til morning." A variation of this line, "Second to the right, and straight on 'til morning" appears in James Barrie's 1904 play Peter Pan (the "star" part was added by Disney in their 1953 animated version.) Peter was famously a boy who never grew up. The original Trek cast, however, had long since grown up, and maybe even grown old (DeForest Kelley was now 71.) It was assumed by all that this would be their last voyage on the starship Enterprise, and made clear in the movie itself: "Captain's log, U.S.S. Enterprise, stardate 9529.1. This is the final cruise of the starship Enterprise under my [Kirk's] command. This ship and her history [actually, that's only one other film, The Final Frontier, though I bet we're supposed to take it to also mean the Enterprise from the original TV series, the one that later auto-self-destructed in The Search for Spock) will shortly become the care of another crew. To them and their posterity we will commit our future. They will continue the voyages we have begun and journey to all the undiscovered countries, boldly going where no man, where no one, has gone before," after which the cast members signatures appear on after the other on screen. Executive Producer Nimoy and Director-Writer Meyer clearly meant this film to be a summing up of Star Trek. Meanwhile, the execs at Paramount had their own sums to contend with: the box office receipts, which were very good indeed. So good that the studio began to have second thoughts about showing the original cast the door. Couldn't they squeeze just one more movie out of them? True, the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew were waiting for their turn on the big screen, as were many of that show's fans. No problem. Just combine the two. A changing of the guard.

Except some of that guard didn't feel like returning to Buckingham Palace just to go through the motions. Or, as Robbie Robertson explained when asked why he wasn't rejoining the reformed Band " "I mean, we made a movie about it [The Last Waltz] and an album about it. I just felt funny saying, `Just kidding!'" DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, and George Takei must not have been in a kidding mood, either, because they all turned the new Trek film down. The Next Generation scribes may not have understood the original characters, either. As Leonard Nimoy said after he read and then turned down the screenplay:

"There was no Spock role in that script... there were five or six lines attributed to Spock [...] but it had nothing to do with Spock... I said to [producer and co-writer] Rick Berman 'You could distribute these lines to any one of the other characters and it wouldn't make any difference.' And that is exactly what he did. There was no Spock function in the script. I have always tried to make a contribution to these movies. There was no contribution to be made in that movie."

That just left William Shatner, James Doohan, and Walter Koenig (if you don't count Majel Barrett, who returned not as Nurse Christine Chapel but as the voice of the computer.) Shatner was asked if he had any trepidations about working with Next Generation lead Patrick Stewart:

"I was a lot more worried about working with Walter Koenig and Jimmy Doohan, two men who have made it clear on any number of occasions that my name is generally near the top of their shit lists." 

Yikes! What's that all about? It would seem William Shatner is not all that popular with this Star Trek castmates. James Doohan wrote about Shatner "I just don't like the man" According to Nichelle Nichols: "Shatner made it plain to anyone on the set that he was the big picture and the rest of us no more important than props." Walter Koenig called Shatner a "camera hog". George Takei has said about Shatner, "It’s difficult working with someone who is not a team player." In 2006, Takei came out as gay. When he got married two years later to his longtime partner, he invited all the surviving Trek cast members--except Shatner. And in his own book Star Trek Memories, Shatner writes quite honestly (though it may very well have been preemptive damage control) about how he asked each of his former castmates for some amusing anecdotes, and instead got a warp stream of invective. This enmity towards Shatner didn't really come to light until the late 1980s, picked up steam in the 1990s, and is still the subject of gossip to this very day. Yet you'd be hardpressed to find evidence of this dislike in the 1970s and the early 1980s, when Trek fans assumed they were all just one big happy family. Since most of the cast members for a while made their own living appearing at Trek conventions, it behooved them not to disabuse the fans of those assumptions. So what changed?

I can't prove it, but I think it may have had something to do with the time in 1986 that Shatner hosted Saturday Night Live. One skit has Shatner doing Q and A at a Star Trek convention. Nerdy fans ask him ridiculously specific questions ("what was the code you punched into the computer?") until he cracks and yells at them to "get a life!" and that their enthusiasm for all things Trek is "a colossal waste of time." This may have been all done for laughs, but the skit seems to have expressed Shatner's true feelings:

"I didn't want anything to do with a group of obsessives who paid to get together to talk incessantly about a TV show that had been cancelled."

Despite its popularity, or maybe because of it, a backlash did form against Star Trek, as much against the fans as the show itself. The SNL skit aptly sums it up. Trek fans were geeks who never wanted to grow up, Peter Pans with slide rules. It made the fans themselves defensive, with some calling themselves "Trekkers" so as not to be confused with what they considered the more immature--what we now call cosplaying--"Trekkies". Whatever they called themselves, or what others called them, many Trek fans were livid about the SNL sketch, and as one myself--I personally prefer the term "Star Trek fan"--I don't blame them! Get a life? Trekkies and Trekkers aren't job descriptions. Fan participation was a hobby, a pastime. Leisure. Why, exactly, is attending Trek conventions and engaging in cosplay more of a waste of leisure time than bowling, golf, playing cards, gardening, woodworking, going for drives through the country, or getting falling-down drunk? Anyway, I suspect the cast members took note of Shatner's fall from grace, and realized that they now could be honest about their feelings toward him with no repercussions. Still, that doesn't explain why they disliked Shatner in the first place.

I've seen Shatner on numerous talk shows over the years, and he basically comes across as likable. Still, I can't help but notice a certain swagger (which I suspect Nicholas Meyer and Harve Bennett took note of when reinventing the character of Kirk for The Wrath of Khan.) In the dictionary, "swagger" is defined as "to walk or behave in a very confident and typically arrogant or aggressive way." In recent years, the young have taken to calling it simply "swag". It's not always a bad thing. Over the years, such movie stars as Douglas Fairbanks, James Cagney, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds, Jack Nicholson, John Travolta and Vin Diesel have all projected swag, and they're very entertaining to watch. Unfortunately, that drunk at the end of the bar drowning out Patsy Cline on the jukebox may also have swag, and he's not so entertaining to watch, and certainly can't compete with Cline's vocals. The husband or boyfriend who mentally abuses you may have swag. Or the boss who constantly reminds you of your expandability. Or the cop who clocks you going 42 in a 35 and can't just write the ticket but feels he has to get all Dirty Harry about it. Or the star of a TV show who wants to be the center of attention, as Koenig put it, a camera hog, at the expense of all the other actors.

Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley have been far less critical of Shatner. Of course, they're the two actors who spent the most time working with him, and perhaps saw a more likable side to his personality denied the others. Nimoy has said there was some problems early on, when his fan mail began to exceed Shatner's, but basically they got along with each other, and even maintained a loose off-screen friendship. As for Kelley, Shatner is said to have generally not objected to the expansion of the Dr. McCoy role as the series progressed, nor the inclusion of his name in the opening credits (Shatner must have recognized the value of a Kirk-Spock-McCoy combo, for of all the feature film directors, he made the most use of it in The Final Frontier.) Still, Kelley's promotion would have cost Shatner some lines. Could Shatner maybe have held his tongue about Nimoy and Kelley, and instead took it out on the rest of the cast?

You have to remember that the original Star Trek was NOT an ensemble piece. It was at first about two, and later, three, guys who explored space together. The rest of the cast were mere functionaries, their characters not all that well-defined. Sometimes, you didn't even see them. I said before that Scotty was usually left in charge of the Enterprise in Kirk's and Spock's absence. Yet there are a few episodes where Sulu's in command because Scotty is absent himself. Except in one of those episodes, the aforementioned "Errand of Mercy", Scotty's not absent because he's on the Organian planet with Kirk and Spock. Scotty is absent because he's...absent. Sulu himself is absent from many second season episodes because George Takei was off filming The Green Berets with that ol' swaggerer himself, John Wayne. Sulu's absence is never explained. Meanwhile, there's a new guy aboard the bridge of the Enterprise, the Russian navigator Chekov. But Sulu is never introduced to him. They act like they already know each other. For that matter, the rest of Enterprise crew don't take much notice of Chekov's sudden appearance. He's just there one day, and that's that.

(Takei admitted in his autobiography that he at first felt threatened by Walter Koenig's hiring, though the two became fast friends. I haven't done a line count, but I think the addition of Chekov may have actually increased Sulu's visibility, as the two occasionally served as a Greek chorus, talking among themselves about the events unfolding around them.)

I don't mean to suggest that the second-tier actors were jealous of Shatner (though Shatner has said just that.) They were all professionals, and knew they were supporting characters. But if Shatner was needlessly REMINDING them they were just supporting characters, as they all claimed he did, well, that could be annoying, green-eyed monster or not. Besides, if they were going to be jealous of anybody, you'd think it'd be DeForest Kelley, who eventually got an increase in pay and his name moved from the show's closing credits to its beginning. But the soft-spoken Kelley--much different from his TV character--was well-liked by the cast. He may have got more camera time, but it's how he acted when the camera was turned off that seemed to matter.

Also factor in that through much of its original run, Star Trek was on the brink of cancellation, as hard as that is to believe now. A failing business is not conducive to good employee morale. Then, after only three years, the show was cancelled. Anyone who's ever suddenly had to leave a job that they never really liked to begin with know the mixed feelings that entails. On the one hand, you don't have to go back there again. On the other hand, there is what paid the bills. The Star Trek cast did have a hard time paying the bills (not that that's unusual for actors.) Only Shatner and Nimoy worked steadily. Eventually, they went back to variations of there. First, the conventions, then animated series, and finally the extremely successful feature films. A fantastic epilogue, but one that didn't quite make up for the main story. When Shatner came around and asked them to share some warm memories of the show, they found they didn't have any, so they vented...

Or, maybe Shatner was the dick they said he was. I don't know. I never had to work with the man. What's important to me is now how he was in real life (since I--ha, ha--never see him in real life) but how he played his character, and what was in store for that character.

And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I'll say it clear
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain

I've lived a life that's full
I've traveled each and every highway
But more, much more than this
I did it my way

--Frank Sinatra (with a little help from Paul Anka and Claude François)

James Kirk and aging. It only comes up once during the original TV series. In the none-too-subtly titled episode "The Deadly Years", strange radiation turns Kirk into a senile old coot. Whether this episode was meant to be a comedy or not--I actually can't make up my mind--Shatner is clearly playing it for laughs. And he gets them. It's a riot listening to him grumble and groan and grouse and just be plain ornery. You half-expect him to yell at some young whippersnapper for stepping on his lawn, except there's no lawn on the Enterprise. At one point he mutters, "I admit I'm getting a little grey, but radiation will do that to you." Eventually, he gets his youth back (as do Spock, McCoy, and Scotty.) Kirk quips, "Well, gentlemen, all and all, an experience we'll remember in our own age...Which won't be for some while, I hope." In the end, this episode has really nothing particularly profound to say about the aging process, other than even James Kirk can't avoid it. Well, he can avoid it, but I don't want to get ahead of myself.

In Star Trek: the Motion Picture, Shatner is good as a man going through a midlife crises. However, he's overshadowed by Nimoy, who's great as a man going through an identity crises. Kirk's problems with middle-age is a major theme of The Wrath of Khan, but, as I said in an earlier installment, that theme is subverted a bit by also having Kirk play the swashbuckler. He tells Carol Wallace that he's feeling "old...worn out" but then a few minutes later, pulls out his communicator and triumphantly announces "I don't like to lose!" The mid-life issues are basically ignored in The Search for Spock, The Voyage Home, and The Final Frontier. The Undiscovered Country ends with the prospect of Kirk facing retirement. Not that something like that should stop him from taking command of the Enterprise one final time.

Star Trek: Generations (1994) Captain Kirk (ret.), Scotty, and Chekov (not sure if they're ret. or not) have been invited to the maiden voyage of yet another starship Enterprise. Kirk is introduced to Demora Sulu, the daughter of his onetime helmsman, and wonders out loud when that helmsman had time to raise a family (Star Trek dating is tricky, but since she's looks to be about 25, she was conceivably born right after that five year journey.) Commanding this new Enterprise is Captain John Herriman, and he seems to be a bit of a doofus. It's supposed to be a routine trip around the solar system, when a distress signal a received from two ships carrying a bunch of El-Aurian refugees. Seems they're about to be engulfed by some sort of energy ribbon. Harriman is reluctant to intervene, but is browbeaten into action by Kirk. We soon learn, however, the reason for Harriman's reluctance. As seems so often the case with a new or refurbished Enterprise (The Motion Picture, The Final Frontier) half the parts are either missing or not working right! Of course, that's never stopped Kirk in the past. He, Scotty, and Chekov basically take command of the Enterprise, with Harriman's resigned acquiescence. The two ships can't be saved, but some of the refugees, including a woman The Next Generation fans will recognize as Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg), and a white-haired man who protests being rescued (Malcom McDowal). It now looks like they all need rescuing, for the new Enterprise itself is now trapped in the energy ribbon. Somehow, fixing a deflector control dish will make everything OK. Kirk goes to the part of the ship the dish is located and fixes it. Does that make everything OK? Yes and no. The Enterprise escapes from the ribbon, but not before taking a piece of the hull with Kirk along with it.

Jump ahead 78 years. Except it instead looks to be several hundred years earlier. We see an 18th or 19th century sailing ship with The Next Generation crew dressed up in period naval uniforms. Worf has just got a promotion, and as part of the ceremony, the Klingon has to walk the plank. As he does, Commander Riker orders the plank removed. It disintegrates before our eyes, and Worf plunges into the water. Everyone has a good laugh except for Worf himself and the android Data, who doesn't get the joke. Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) tells Data to get in the spirit of things. He attempts to by pushing Crusher overboard, much to everybody's horror. The sailing ship disappears and we see the gang is actually in the 24th century Enterprise's Holodeck. (Though some good stories have arose from it over the years, I must say that holodeck always seemed a little bit too much like plain old magic to me. Yes, I know hologram technology exists in the real world, but nothing like this. Worf and Crusher have actually gotten wet.) Back on the bridge of the Enterprise, but still dressed like a naval officer from centuries past (the one thing that holodeck can't seem to do is change people's clothes) Picard reads a private transmission that immediately puts him in an irritable mood, even more so than normal. Before we can find out what happened, a distress call is received from an orbiting observatory in the Amargosa star system. A team beams down to the observatory, now in shambles with everyone dead save one, the white-haired El-Aurian gent we saw earlier, whose name we now learn is Dr. Tolian Soran. He's taken back to the Enterprise, again much to his objection. This guy just doesn't like getting rescued. Soran asks Picard to be allowed to return to the station, but the Enterprise captain tells him not until the investigation is complete (all signs point to a Romulan attack.) Soran pleads his case:  "time is the fire in which we burn and right now, my time is running out. We leave so many things unfinished in our lives... I'm sure you understand." Surprisingly, Picard does understand. Soran is allowed to return to the observatory. Data and engineer La Forge are also slated to visit the observatory, but first things first. Data still can't understand why it was all right for Worf to be dropped into the water, but not Dr. Cusher (I'm not too clear on that myself.) To help understand and relate to the humans around him, Data opts for a solution unavailable to Spock. He has an emotion chip inserted into his electronic brain. The android's subsequent hurricane-force mood swings thus becomes a running gag. Data and La Forge proceed to the observatory. Meanwhile, Picard is alone in his cabin looking through a photo album (the creative team behind this futuristic saga apparently couldn't envision smart phones.) Counselor Troi comes in hoping to find out what's the matter. Picard breaks down in tears and tells her that his brother and nephew have perished in a fire. There talk is interrupted by a flash outside the window. Going back in time a few minutes, we learn the source of that flash. At the observatory, Data, finally getting and giggling at every joke he's ever heard, and La Forge discover a powerful explosive called trilithium. Before they can do anything but gasp in wonder, Soran shows up and knocks La Forge out. Data is too scared to do anything. A Klingon Bird-of-Prey operated by the evil Dura sisters (remember now, don't judge the entire race by a couple of bad girls) beam La Forge and Soran out of there, but only after the latter launches a trilithium missile into the Armagosam sun, causing it to implode. The Enterprise beams Data to safety before the observatory is destroyed by a shock wave.

Wanting to know more about Soran, and what possibly he could be up to, Picard goes to the only other El-Aurian he knows, the Enterprise bartender Guinan (perhaps named after Texas Guinan, a once-famous Prohibition-era actress-turned-speakeasy owner.) She tells him Soran is obsessed with reentering the "Nexus", the energy ribbon they were both rescued from back in the 23rd century. It's actually another dimension that allows anyone who enters it to relive their past, not how it actually played out but the way they wish it to be. Data, using his thinking cap chip for a change, theorizes that Soran has decided that he can't be sure of flying into the Nexus without his ship or himself breaking up in the process, so has decided instead to blow up a star in the immediate neighborhood, Veridian III, which will enlarge the Nexus or something. Unfortunately, it will also destroy a heavily populated planet in the process.

Catching up to the Bird-of-Prey in the Veridian system, Picard contacts the Dura sisters--they stole the trilithium from the Romulans--and offers himself in exchange for La Forge, but only after he's first transported to Soran's location. Soran, who has promised the Duras sisters that he'll help them use the trilithium to take over the Klingon Empire, must not mind, as the deal goes through. La Forge is returned to the Enterprise, but, unbeknownst to him, the visor that keeps the otherwise blind engineer from bumping into the furniture has been technofiddled with by Soran. The Dura sisters can now see what La Forge can see (if only he could see) and discover a way to penetrate the Enterprise's shields, which they do to devastating effect. The disk-like part of the Enterprise separates from the rest of the starship, but before, or just as (I may have to watch this again to get my timeline straight) it does, Commander Riker with the help of La Forge, gets in one final, lucky blow that destroys the Bird-of-Prey. The Enterprise disk crash lands on the Veridian planet. On another part of the planet, Picard has beamed down onto the same mountain top as Soran, but can't get to him as the scientist is inside a force field, from which he plans to launch the trilithium solar bomb. As Soren putters away at the controls, Picard walks around the force field, throwing rocks at it , hoping to find an opening. He finds one, and sneaks through. He and Soren tussle, but the latter manages to launch his projectile. The Nexus engulfs them both. Picard finds himself in what appears to be a Victorian household, with a wife and a brood of kids, including his deceased nephew, who's now his very alive son! He also runs into Guinan. Or a version of Guinan from her time in the Nexus. The other Guinan had warned him about the seductive nature of the Nexus, but it takes Picard only about a minute to decide that he doesn't want to stay. He's told he can check out anytime he wants, but he can never leave. No, wait, that's Hotel California. He's actually told that he can go back in time and stop Soran, but he's going to need some help. Guinan leads him to Captain Kirk, who's just arrived, or think he's just arrived (timelessness can be confusing.) Picard introduces himself to Kirk, whom he regards as a historical figure. Picard explains his predicament, and asks Kirk for help. But Kirk wants to stay where he is and doing what he's doing, chopping wood outside an old flame's house. This flame must have burned more brightly than all his other ones because he plans on asking her hand in marriage. When Picard objects, Kirk shoots back:

"I don't need you to lecture me! I was out saving the galaxy when your grandfather was in diapers. Besides which, I think this galaxy owes me on. I was like you once. So blinded by duty and obligations I couldn't see anything past this uniform. And in the end, what did it get me? An empty house. Not this time."

Kirk doesn't mean it. After he jumps over a ravine with his horse--the old flame apparently forgotten about--he decides he doesn't want a life where the outcome is always assured. He wants to make a difference, and the Nexus won't let him. So he and Picard leave, and go back to the mountain, right before Soran is about to launch his missile. They easily overpower Soren and throw him off a cliff, though the scientist manages to grab onto a rope that's hanging from, um, the cliff itself I think. Soran proves to be quite adept with his one free hand. He both vaporizes a bridge plus cloaks--basically turns invisible--the rocket launcher. He does drop the cloaking device on what's left of the bridge. Kirk seizes it, and uncloaks the launcher. The rest of the bridge falls down the mountain taking Kirk along with it. Soran meanwhile gets the drop on Picard and orders him away from the launcher. Picard complies, and scrambles down the mountain. It's too late for Soran to do anything, though. Picard has locked the missile in place. It explodes on itself and Soran (given trilithium can blow up a star, you'd think it would do more damage then it does here, but I'm not a 24th century explosives expert, so what do I know?) Picard reaches Kirk, who is dying but has no regrets. His last words:

"It was fun."

Picard buries the fun-loving Kirk, and then goes off to find his friends. They're all in a surprisingly good mood considering the Enterprise was just destroyed. But maybe that's because they survived the destruction with nary a scratch. Even Data's pet cat still has all its fur.

The acting. Malcolm McDowell is an old hand at playing villains, as anyone who's seen A Clockwork Orange can attest ("I'm singing in the rain, just singing in the rain...") He seems more determined than out-and-out evil here. The Nexus was the ultimate high for him, and like any junkie, he'll do anything to get that fix again, even destroy a populated planet. (Well, let's hope your average meth or heroin addict wouldn't quite resort to that. To paraphrase the recently deceased Nancy Reagan, just say no to genocide.) The whole Nexus plot reminds me a bit of "The Cage" and "The Menagerie", the original Star Trek pilot and the truncated episode it became. Both ask, what price illusion?

A longtime Star Trek fan, Whoopie Goldberg asked The Next Generation producers about a recurring role on the new show. Since she was more or less a movie star at the time, it was quite a coup for the syndicated series. A coup I don't think was ever fully appreciated. Goldberg's considerable dramatic and comedic skills always seemed a bit wasted to me on TNG, though I don't think I've seen all the episodes in which she appeared. In this film, she actually plays two Guinans, the one on the Enterprise and the "echo" in the Nexus. She's better at the latter, and is genuinely, but still agreeably, eerie as Picard's phantasmic guide to a new dimension.

Far less agreeable for me is Brent Spiner's Data. I normally like that character, but the moment the normally inquisitive, wistful android is inserted with that emotion chip, he becomes Red Skelton as every character in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World as they might have behaved were they in a Fast and Furious movie. Couldn't this character, um, experimentation waited until the next film--or maybe four or five films down the road? A lot of original Star Trek fans who had never given The Next Generation a chance but would have come out to see this movie due to Shatner could have been won over in part by having Data act like Data. But then, maybe the change occurred because the producers thought it might win them over. More about that in a bit.

Patrick Stewart is his old reliable self as Picard, but I do have a problem with that one scene with Marina Sirtis (Troi) where he blubbers like a baby. It's not that the normally stoic Picard can't have a sensitive side, and we can't see him shed a tear. It just comes on much too abruptly, so that it doesn't seem like Picard at all. And would he really allow himself to break down in front of a subordinate, even one who happened to be a mind-reading shrink? Yes, I know he just lost his brother and his nephew, but the scene reveals that part of what he's upset about is that the Picard line now ends with him. Unfortunate, to be sure, but it doesn't quite rise to the level of grief.

Shatner and Stewart make a pretty good team. Too bad, like the Picard line, that teaming has to end with this movie. Maybe the producers could go into the Nexus and sign them to a sequel. If this were the TV Kirk, I wonder if we would notice much difference between the two characters, other then that the original Enterprise captain might pop a vein in anger first. But the feature film Kirk is a much more folksy fellow, and the contrast is much more amusing. After the overly formal Picard calls him "sir" a few times, a puzzled Kirk replies, "Just call me Jim." 

All and all, a very odd movie. Producer Rick Berman, director David Carson, writers Brannon Bragg, and Ronald D. Moore were all veterans of The Next Generation TV series, yet the parts of the film that focuses exclusively on the 24th century characters isn't nearly as strong as the 23rd century opening, which is right out of the Harve Bennett-Nicholas Meyer playbook. The Las Vegas look of the Enterprise. Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov as aging misfits. The slightly cynical humor, including an irreverent attitude toward Starfleet (whenever Kirk asks why the new Enterprise is missing this vital feature or that, Harriman replies, "Next Tuesday.") And, of course, the ending can't help but be attention-getting. It's the middle that's muddled. Though the Data-and-the-emotion chip subplot doesn't advance the main storyline beyond much more than a light-minute, I wonder if it's not there to serve another purpose, to prove a Next Generation feature film can be every bit a rollicking good time as the Trek movies that proceeded it, and the original TV show that spawned them. You might not think such proof would be needed, but the two television series  have always had a slightly different tone, different mood, about them. The first Star Trek was part-Arthur C. Clarke/Frank Herbert and part Flash Gordon/John Carter of Mars. It was intelligent, but that intelligence was strung with multicolored Christmas lights. Or, as Rod Serling once said, it was "more carnival-like." Serling meant that disparagingly, but for me personally, it's what put the fun in profundity. The Next Generation, by contrast, was 100% Arthur C. Clarke/Frank Herbert. Not that it also couldn't be fun, but first you had to finish your homework. As Picard buried Kirk, I imagined him saying to himself, "I must hide all evidence of the pulp!"

Star Trek: Generations did very well at the box office, paving the way for a few more movies with Picard and co. (By the way, if you think I was a bit too hard on The Next Generation crew in the above review, let me state that I think they redeem themselves nicely in the follow-up film First Contact, one of the best of the Trek movies, original cast or not.)

As for James Kirk's demise, I can't honestly say I was all that affected by it. Not that I wanted it to happen, it's just that after all the hairbreadth escapes, I didn't quite buy it (since it's now been 22 years since William Shatner last played Kirk, maybe I really should have bought it.) Truth be told, I never bought Spock's death, either, but the other characters bought it, and I in turn could buy into their grief. Picard doesn't know Kirk well enough to grieve over his death. He's more like the Vice-President attending a foreign dignitary's funeral.

 In a sense, though, James Kirk doesn't stay dead. Unlike The Search for Spock, however, this resurrection will be a bit different.

 The Grim Reaper has never been more forgiving.

NEXT: Out with the Old, In with the New...with One Notable Exception