Kirk Your Enthusiasm (16)

By: Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons
August 20, 2012

Sixteenth in a series of posts, each one analyzing a single Captain Kirk scene from the Star Trek canon.

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Klingon diplomacy | Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country | December 1991

I have a motto, “Nothing good comes from blue drinks.” So it’s fitting that the tumultuous journey towards peace between the Klingon Empire and the Federation is toasted with illegal Romulan Ale – seeing that the night results in a torpedo attack and Kirk being framed for the assassination of a Klingon Chancellor. Before the bloodshed, the joy of the Klingon dinner scene aboard the Enterprise rests not only in the racial tension between the Klingons and the Enterprise crew, but comes from watching Kirk, man of action, struggle against his baser impulses to maintain the diplomatic role forced upon him.

At dinner, Chancellor Gorkon toasts to “the undiscovered country, the future” quoting Hamlet (Act 3, Scene 1 — as Spock notes). He speaks of a new era of peace, but for me — a teenage Next Generation fan who worked her way backwards to the original series — Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was a bridge between the two series and my first theatrical Star Trek experience. “You see, the guy who played Worf is going to be in the film playing his own grandfather, Colonel Worf, father to Mogh, killed during the Romulan attack on Khitomer,” I rattled this off in one breath to my father as he drove me to the movie.

The Klingon dinner scene is riddled with moments as delightfully awkward as my teenage self. Klingon warriors fumbling with napkin rings, spouting Shakespeare, and slurping blue squid while the Enterprise crew plasters diplomatic smiles on — and at the center of it all is Kirk. His distrustful eyes surveying the room, his hand in a pensive, chin-scratching position as he struggles to keep his mouth shut. Seated next to Kirk is the duplicitous General Chang, a Klingon so tough his eyepatch is screwed directly into his head. “Directly into his skull!” I exclaimed to my dad, who was probably wondering why I couldn’t be more into MTV and boys like my older sister.

As the dinner conversation heats up, Chang verbally challenges Kirk, but Spock quickly defuses the situation by putting peaceful words in Kirk’s mouth. When Kirk speaks up, Chang rudely talks right over him and, again, Kirk is silenced. As the debate turns to the Klingons’ fear that this alliance will destroy their culture, Chang also quotes Hamlet: “To be or not to be, that is the question which preoccupies our people.” However, when Kirk attributes Chang’s words, “We need breathing room,” to a 1938 Hitler speech, he lands a verbal deathblow from which the screw-patched Klingon cannot recover. Kirk punctuates his punch with a cool sip of blue ale. Even in words, Kirk shows himself to be a man of action. He also shows his prejudice against the Klingons and his journey to overcome that bias will prove every bit as tumultuous as the dramatic events surrounding the peace talks. Kirk’s final cruise as the Captain of the Enterprise was my first, and that makes me biased, but it’s one of his best.

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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

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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

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What do you think?

  1. This is my favorite Star Trek time-travel adventure — with grownup and teen Kelly Jean teaming up to track how much these sci-fi parables are reality to us, while onscreen in the 23rd century a Kirk more at odds with himself than in any transporter-malfunctioned or mirror-universe physical split encounters uncertainty in the very fabric of the franchise he’s been living. This essay is also a prime directive for a dinner-party done right — opening with a joke (blue booze, har, just like the tributes are served on the way to slaughter in the Hunger Games flick), and sharply reading all at the table (the essence of Kirk’s mental acrobatics and verbal judo, even in a stationary scene, is brilliant, and “screw-patched” is both the badass close reading Chang was born for and the late-breaking lead entry for Adjective of 2012). Kelly Jean, you already share most of James Kirk’s initials, and captain my captain, this piece crosses the T.

  2. Very well written. The Undiscovered Country a suitable name for the legions of fans who discovered the original Star Trek through there love for the Next Generation. This scene would be like the the Navy Seals having dinner with Al Qaeda. Hailing frequencies closed.

  3. “The Undiscovered Country” is a terrific, evocative title for the film which was a satisfying conclusion to TOS which happened also to coincide with Roddenberry’s life (who died shortly before the film was released. I also liked the device of the tense, diplomatic soirée, where the belligerence is barely submerged beneath a competitive layer of verbal oneupmanship. If Kirk could be deft, he chaffed under the restraints and niceties. Although the references in Meyer’s “The Undiscovered Country” may have been more directly to the machinations around the fall of the Berlin Wall, to a fan of the entirety of TOS, it feels more like WWII-era gamesmanship between the US and USSR (George C. Scott toasting his Russian counterpart in “Patton” comes to mind). Roddenberry flew many bombing missions during WWII, so it isn’t really surprising that there are many references to WWII and to that era’s diplomacy throughout the series.

    It’s also gratifying to watch an actor of Plummer’s caliber unapologetically mixing it up with the rest of the cast, and their holding their own, in turn. And if you’re chewing up the scenery behind that much cool-looking make-up, why not the Bard?

  4. Shakespeare tastes much better with the original Gak-sauce, Esoth :-). And yeah, guys like Roddenberry, and Jack Kirby, and my dad, were the surviving believers from a conflict that convinced them that the only point to having a fight is in the hope of ending fighting. They all saw final peace pushed indefinitely into the future — but some of them tried to show us how that future might look

  5. Visualize galactic peace and picture a period at the end of that last sentence — cut-and-paste errors, however, will still be with us three centuries from now.

  6. Kelly’s Proustian take (am bluffing, as have never read it, but I always figured the clue was in the title) is like warm toast on a snowy day.

    Perhaps we should explore the idea of writing autobiographies that describe who we were when seeing each Star Trek movie. They were real landmarks, and serve as useful past-synchronic grab bags. It’s like rembering the moment you heard John Lennon was shot, except it’s not tragic and there are seven consecutive Memory Parcels…

  7. I love the idea of a geek tome of Star Trek “where were you when…” stories, Greg.

    Reading Esoth’s comment I had a visceral recall of the day I learned Gene Roddenberry had died. I had forgotten it was so close to Star Trek VI.

  8. Greg, I too was awed to see this slice of Trek — always meant by its creators as a marker of its viewers’ world’s parallel history and as often turning out to be the mirror of our geeky personal obstacles and aspirations — turned into a life story by a memoirist extraordinaire (everybody click here: http://www.servinghousejournal.com/FitzsimmonsEye.aspx
    and here: http://www.liarsleaguenyc.com/blog/2012/07/hundreds-of-tiny-people-by-kelly-jean-fitzsimmons.html ).

    The only problem with where-was-I-when with Trek movies is that my mind was pretty much in Federation space (or on New Genesis, or at Avengers Mansion) all the time, while between movies and series my body moped around Mid-Atlantic suburbia like John Carter back at the mansion shuffling through his Dejah Thoris bubblegum cards. So no points in time come to mind, but alternate time*lines*, sure — plotting the quickest course out of the Reagan era in artschool while Roddenberry and Fontana returned with TNG to give me a “my” Star Trek; or marking time in deepest Nixon/Ford by measuring where my heroes had gotten to — Spock respected on Broadway in Equus, Kirk marooned in bad TV (Barbary Coast! Butter commercials!) — as we made our way through our shared, surely temporary exile on Earth…

  9. I see what you did there, Adam. You’ve introduced vicious self-serving factionalism into the project, with your Subjective and
    Arbitrary Trek Chunk Rendering, rather than the Kelly Way, enforced by the Diachronic Discipline of the Movie Release Schedule.

    Stop messing with the concept, you Bourgeois Melkotian Desilusionist.

  10. We don’t have nearly enough vicious personal attacks on Hilobrow, do we?

    Anyone who digress with me is a Gorn Demi-Waitress.

  11. While this form of film-as-literature criticism is not a familiar genre to me, I do see Kelly Jean’s critical eye and commentary that goes far past the autobiographical element of this piece. I do not think one has to be a Star Trek fan to see the pop-cultural significance of James T. Kirk. He is more than just a manifestation of Roddenberry’s hope for humanity – though I am not the one to expound further. Kelly Jean is the proper voice for this one indeed.

  12. Actually, Greg, when I ran it through my Universal Translator it wasn’t that bad. So yeah, sweeping movements vs. significant moments — can I help it if, between the two of us, only KJ had a life? :-)

  13. Also Greg, Gorn I may be, but towering over you in your disgrace at typing “disagrees” as “digress,” I’m not…going to correct you…TODAY! (And I know that line’s really from “A Taste of Armageddon,” not “Arena” — but I *do* digress, all the time, and will join you whenever you want…)

  14. Ha KJ, how many of us really spend time with our dads? It occurs to me that dweebs like us probably had more quality bonding with the old man(s) than those who (gasp) went outside and threw a ball around. That tires ’em out quickly, but a weekend-long convention’s a commitment. Anyway Lisa, phenoms like Trek were the year zero of interactive media, with fans in a conversation with creators…so even more than most art, the show is completed in the reception of its viewers, and yeah KJ, your life story is part of The Real Series…

  15. New topic: One thing that always disappointed me about Trek VI was that, once we see the head of Starfleet, the job seems to have gone to Commodore Some-White-Guy, when I always thought it would be cool for them to redeem Number One from the TOS pilot and show that *she* had become queen of the worlds (I took it okay when Gene Roddenberry died, but Majel Barrett I’m still adjusting to). But I just realized: at least the character can get a second chance in the do-over universe of the Abrams flicks! Let’s start a campaign!

  16. I want to toast with forbidden blue ale! What a great series and what fabulous fans. Enthusiastically Kirked.

  17. “Guess who’s coming to dinner?” This is in the top ten best dinner party scenes ever. It also has one of my favorite lines in all of ST canon, in which you hear echoes of every change-averse person who has lived (uncomfortably) through a sociopolitical upheaval:

    “If there is to be a brave new world, our generation is going to have the hardest time living in it.” — Gorkon, to Kirk

  18. Fa reals Delphi — just last Friday I was quoting that in an Israel/Palestine discussion over falafel. A civil discussion to begin with; two of us had grown up on Star Trek, and I can’t believe that’s a coincidence…

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