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