Second in a series of posts, each one analyzing a single Captain Kirk scene from the Star Trek canon.
Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “The Gamesters of Triskelion” | Star Trek: The Original Series | Season 2, Episode 16 | January 1968
Yes, there are other scenes where Captain Kirk gets lucky with an alien babe in Mod Sixties styling. Shahna the drill thrall is not even among the comeliest of Kirk’s intergalactic eye-candy cabaret. For me, it is a toss-up between Deela, the accelerated Scalosian queen in “Wink of an Eye,” who wears a slitty dress from shoulder to ankle held together with a little belt, and the android Andrea in “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” who sports the always-practical backless jumpsuit. I also retain an unsettling interspecies longing for the human version of Gary Seven’s cat-familiar, Isis, in “Assignment Earth.”
And sure, there are lots of scenes where Kirk’s well-muscled physique is exposed to view, whether through torn tunic or amid sick-bay fistfight. Here his manly hairless chest is laid bare by being forced into some kind of SF-S/M drag, with an invisible-fence obedience collar that looks like a decorative choker sported on bottoms-up night. Everyone else is dressed like extras in a Lady Gaga video.
And true, there are many episodes that combine goofy dialogue with attempts at guile in order for clever Kirk to exit sticky situation / prison cell / standoff with numerically superior foes. The interaction here is less spirited than the invented-card-game baffling of Bella Oxmix’s gangsters in “A Piece of the Action,” and not as comprehensive as the Nazi role-playing in “Patterns of Force.”
But this is still the best TOS episode of all time. Bringing so many iconic elements together, even in imperfect versions, creates a perfect storm of TOS joy. In addition to green-haired pin-up, bared torso, and boffo escape scheme, there are the following essential elements: sudden unexplained abduction; awkward Chekhov-accent comedy; pointlessly contrived combat whose rules aren’t followed anyway; aliens who lack basic understanding of basic Earth concepts; enforced ignorance and punishment devices for maintaining it; disembodied aliens who make mortals their playthings; and moral lesson about human weakness, hence superiority, transposed onto said aliens.
The perfection begins with a little beat in Shahna’s dialogue. “What is… beautiful?” she asks when Kirk tells her he’s “never seen a top sergeant who looks like you.” There is a trenchant philosophical moment when the only definition he can offer is her own reflection in a ration tray: “Beautiful.” Later, deploring her acceptance of thralldom, Kirk calls love “the most important thing on Earth, especially to a man and a woman.” Game on! When Shahna, growing ever more curious. is punished by master thrall Galt (sly Ayn Rand allusion?) Kirk demands that he get the shocks instead. She is dumbfounded.
“It’s the custom of my people to help one another when we’re in trouble,” Kirk tells her. Then he kisses her. Of course, why not? “And this. Is this also helping?” shy Shahna wants to know. “You could call it that,” says Kirk, all wry charm. “Please, help me once again.” Again, why not? “I did not know it could be like this between people. Is it always so in the place you come from?”
Alas, no; and not for Kirk and Shahna either. The next time she visits his cell, she is disturbed. “You have made me feel strangely,” she tells Kirk. So he kisses her again — and then punches her lights out to make his escape.
There is a final confrontation between the two when Kirk gambles for his freedom in combat, the disembodied Providers of the space prison having shown themselves to be in thrall to the betting-addiction monster known to Homer Simpson as Gamblor. There are knives held to throats and other phallic action. But Shahna understands now, both the kiss and the deception.
“I would like to go to those lights with you,” Shahna tells Kirk. “Take me?” He can’t, because some things you have to learn yourself, and a kiss is just the beginning. May I help you?
2012: KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (Captain Kirk scenes): Dafna Pleban: Justice or vengeance? | Mark Kingwell : Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | Nick Abadzis: “KHAAAAAN!” | Stephen Burt: “No kill I” | Greg Rowland: Kirk browbeats NOMAD | Zack Handlen: Kirk’s eulogy for Spock| Peggy Nelson: The joke is on Kirk | Kevin Church: Kirk vs. Decker | Enrique Ramirez: Good Kirk vs. Evil Kirk | Adam McGovern: Captain Camelot | Flourish Klink: Koon-ut-kal-if-fee | David Smay: Federation exceptionalism | Amanda LaPergola: Wizard fight | Steve Schneider: A million things you can’t have | Joshua Glenn: Debating in a vacuum | Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons: Klingon diplomacy | Trav S.D.: “We… the PEOPLE” | Matthew Battles: Brinksmanship on the brink | Annie Nocenti: Captain Smirk | Ian W. Hill: Sisko meets Kirk | Gabby Nicasio: Noninterference policy | Peter Bebergal: Kirk’s countdown | Matt Glaser: Kirk’s ghost | Joe Alterio: Watching Kirk vs. Gorn | Annalee Newitz: How Spock wins
ALSO ON HILOBROW Peggy Nelson on William Shatner as HiLo Hero | Greg Rowland on Leonard Nimoy as HiLo Hero | Peggy Nelson on William Shatner in Incubus | Matthew Battles on enlarging the Trek fanfic canon | Radium Age Supermen | Radium Age Robots | Radium Age Apocalypses | Radium Age Telepaths | Radium Age Eco-Catastrophes | Radium Age Cover Art (1) | SF’s Best Year Ever: 1912
2014: KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (typefaces): Matthew Battles on ALDINE ITALIC | Adam McGovern on DATA 70 | Sherri Wasserman on TORONTO SUBWAY | Sarah Werner on JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | Douglas Wolk on TODD KLONE | Mark Kingwell on GILL SANS | Joe Alterio on AKZIDENZ-GROTESK | Suzanne Fischer on CALIFORNIA BRAILLE | Gary Panter on SHE’S NOT THERE | Deb Chachra on FAUX DEVANAGARI | Peggy Nelson on FUTURA | Tom Nealon on JENSON’S ROMAN | Rob Walker on SAVANNAH SIGN | Tony Leone on TRADE GOTHIC BOLD CONDENSED NO. 20 | Chika Azuma on KUMON WORKSHEET | Chris Spurgeon on ELECTRONIC DISPLAY | Amanda French on DIPLOMA REGULAR | Steve Price on SCREAM QUEEN | Alissa Walker on CHICAGO | Helene Silverman on CHINESE SHIPPING BOX | Tim Spencer on SHATTER | Jessamyn West on COMIC SANS | Whitney Trettien on WILKINS’S REAL CHARACTER | Cintra Wilson on HERMÈS vs. HOTDOG | Jacob Covey on GOTHAM.
2013: HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (old-school hip hop tracks): Luc Sante on “Spoonin’ Rap” | Dallas Penn on “Rapper’s Delight” | Werner Von Wallenrod on “Rappin’ Blow” | DJ Frane on “The Incredible Fulk” | Paul Devlin on “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | Phil Dyess-Nugent on “That’s the Joint” | Adam McGovern on “Freedom” | David Abrams on “Rapture” | Andrew Hultkrans on “The New Rap Language” | Tim Carmody on “Jazzy Sensation (Bronx Version)” | Drew Huge on “Can I Get a Soul Clap” | Oliver Wang on “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” | Douglas Wolk on “Making Cash Money” | Adrienne Crew on “The Message” | Dart Adams on “Pak Jam” | Alex Belth on “Buffalo Gals” | Joshua Glenn on “Ya Mama” | Phil Freeman on “No Sell Out” | Nate Patrin on “Death Mix Live, Pt. 2” | Brian Berger on “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” | Cosmo Baker on “Here We Go (Live at the Funhouse)” | Colleen Werthmann on “Rockit” | Roy Christopher on “The Coldest Rap” | Dan Reines on “The Dream Team is in the House” | Franklin Bruno on The Lockers.
2011: KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (Jack Kirby panels): Douglas Rushkoff on THE ETERNALS | John Hilgart on BLACK MAGIC | Gary Panter on DEMON | Dan Nadel on OMAC | Deb Chachra on CAPTAIN AMERICA | Mark Frauenfelder on KAMANDI | Jason Grote on MACHINE MAN | Ben Greenman on SANDMAN | Annie Nocenti on THE X-MEN | Greg Rowland on THE FANTASTIC FOUR | Joshua Glenn on TALES TO ASTONISH | Lynn Peril on YOUNG LOVE | Jim Shepard on STRANGE TALES | David Smay on MISTER MIRACLE | Joe Alterio on BLACK PANTHER | Sean Howe on THOR | Mark Newgarden on JIMMY OLSEN | Dean Haspiel on DEVIL DINOSAUR | Matthew Specktor on THE AVENGERS | Terese Svoboda on TALES OF SUSPENSE | Matthew Wells on THE NEW GODS | Toni Schlesinger on REAL CLUE | Josh Kramer on THE FOREVER PEOPLE | Glen David Gold on JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY | Douglas Wolk on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY | MORE EXEGETICAL COMMENTARIES: Joshua Glenn on Kirby’s Radium Age Sci-Fi Influences | Chris Lanier on Kirby vs. Kubrick | Scott Edelman recalls when the FF walked among us | Adam McGovern is haunted by a panel from THE NEW GODS | Matt Seneca studies the sensuality of Kirby’s women | Btoom! Rob Steibel settles the Jack Kirby vs. Stan Lee question | Galactus Lives! Rob Steibel analyzes a single Kirby panel in six posts | Danny Fingeroth figgers out The Thing | Adam McGovern on four decades (so far) of Kirby’s “Fourth World” mythos | Jack Kirby: Anti-Fascist Pipe Smoker