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?
POSTS IN THIS SERIES: Justice or vengeance? by DAFNA PLEBAN | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss by MARK KINGWELL | “KHAAAAAN!” by NICK ABADZIS | “No kill I” by STEPHEN BURT | Kirk browbeats NOMAD by GREG ROWLAND | Kirk’s eulogy for Spock by ZACK HANDLEN | The joke is on Kirk by PEGGY NELSON | Kirk vs. Decker by KEVIN CHURCH | Good Kirk vs. Evil Kirk by ENRIQUE RAMIREZ | Captain Camelot by ADAM MCGOVERN | Koon-ut-kal-if-fee by FLOURISH KLINK | Federation exceptionalism by DAVID SMAY | Wizard fight by AMANDA LAPERGOLA | A million things you can’t have by STEVE SCHNEIDER | Debating in a vacuum by JOSHUA GLENN | Klingon diplomacy by KELLY JEAN FITZSIMMONS | “We… the PEOPLE” by TRAV S.D. | Brinksmanship on the brink by MATTHEW BATTLES | Captain Smirk by ANNIE NOCENTI | Sisko meets Kirk by IAN W. HILL | Noninterference policy by GABBY NICASIO | Kirk’s countdown by PETER BEBERGAL | Kirk’s ghost by MATT GLASER | Watching Kirk vs. Gorn by JOE ALTERIO | How Spock wins by ANNALEE NEWITZ
SCIENCE FICTION 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 | Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague, serialized | Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail, serialized | Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt, serialized | H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook, serialized | Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins, serialized | William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, serialized | 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 | Radium Age Science Fiction Poetry | Enter Highbrowism | Bathybius! Primordial ooze in Radium Age sf | War and Peace Games (H.G. Wells’s training manuals for supermen) | J.D. Beresford | Algernon Blackwood | Edgar Rice Burroughs | Karel Čapek | Buster Crabbe | August Derleth | Arthur Conan Doyle | Charlotte Perkins Gilman | Hermann Hesse | Aldous Huxley | Inez Haynes Irwin | Alfred Jarry | Jack Kirby (Radium Age sf’s influence on) | Gaston Leroux | David Lindsay | Jack London | H.P. Lovecraft | A. Merritt | Maureen O’Sullivan | Sax Rohmer | Paul Scheerbart | Upton Sinclair | Clark Ashton Smith | E.E. “Doc” Smith | Olaf Stapledon | John Taine | H.G. Wells | Jack Williamson | Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz | S. Fowler Wright | Philip Gordon Wylie | Yevgeny Zamyatin | AND LOTS MORE
CHECK OUT HILOBOOKS: In 2012-13, HiLobrow is serializing ten overlooked works of science fiction from the genre’s (1904-33) Radium Age; and HiLoBooks is publishing them in paperback! Here are the first six titles: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague (in May, Introduction by Matthew Battles; PURCHASE NOW), Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail and “As Easy as A.B.C.” (in June, Introduction by Matthew De Abaitua and Afterword by Bruce Sterling; PURCHASE NOW), Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt (in August, Introduction by Joshua Glenn and Afterword by Gordon Dahlquist; PURCHASE NOW), H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook (in October, Introduction by James Parker; PURCHASE NOW), Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins (in November, Introduction by Tom Hodgkinson; PURCHASE NOW), and William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land (in April 2013, Afterword by Erik Davis; PURCHASE NOW).