Kirk Your Enthusiasm (21)

By: Gabby Nicasio
August 27, 2012

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

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Noninterference policy | “Mirror, Mirror” | Star Trek: The Original Series | Season 2, Episode 4 | October 1967

Early on in the episode “Mirror, Mirror,” Kirk and an away team are beamed up during an ion storm, whose interference causes them to switch places with their counterparts from an alternate universe — in which, we immediately notice, Enterprise uniforms are accessorized with glinting medals, everyone is visibly armed, salutes are neo-fascistic, and Spock has a beard. What’s worse, it soon becomes clear (when Spock orders a phaser barrage on the pacifist planet below, and when he demands the use of the transporter operator’s “agonizer”) that this alternate Enterprise is operating under a moral code that we might best describe as foreign.

Kirk could countermand Spock’s order to bombard the Halkan planet; and at minimum, he could intervene in Ensign Kyle’s torture-by-agonizer at Spock’s hands. Yet he offers no objections. He stands by, mutely, and the away team follows his lead. Was this cowardice? Certainly not — but his inaction could be explained as a canny stratagem on Kirk’s part. Thrust into an unpredictable situation, Kirk might have merely wanted to let matters play out for a while, until he had an opportunity to assess the situation and make a plan of action. Still, he didn’t know what the agonizer would do to Kyle; and he could have intervened without blowing his cover. Right?

He doesn’t intervene, though — and I’d argue that the true reason for his inaction is foreshadowed in the preceding scene, back on the Halkan planet’s surface. The planetary council has deemed it unethical to allow the Federation to mine its dilithium. As the away team is about to beam aboard the Enterprise, the lead planetary negotiator observes that Kirk and the Federation possess the power to take the dilithium by force. “But we won’t,” Kirk tells him. “Consider that.” Kirk’s non-interference policy respects the Halkans’ pacifistic moral code, despite the fact that it thwarts the Federation’s wishes; moments later, aboard the alternate Enterprise, his non-interference policy respects the ruthless, neo-fascistic moral code of the alternate universe’s barbarian empire — for the moment, anyway.

Non-interference — when applied equally to every context — is perhaps the most frustrating aspect of enlightened, liberal morality. No wonder we cheer Kirk on whenever he is illiberal. I, for one, do not envy him his command.

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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. I see this episode more as insinuation than non-interference — our-Kirk is trying to *persuade* the Halkans by acknowledging their point and reminding them of the Federation’s powers, more than abiding by their decision, and onboard the mirror-Enterprise he does delay beard-Spock’s destruction order — significantly, by commuting it to a 12-hour ultimatum, and later working on beard-Spock to overthrow the “Empire” that mirrors Starfleet in this nightmare world. It seems Kirk believed in interfering every time, albeit, in the way America’s leaders believed our country was good to enough to accomplish in those days, not by winning every battle but in many major cases, by winning people over.

  2. I always wondered if a series set in the Spock-Beard Universe would have worked? It certainly was an exciting place to visit. Of course, the bad Kirk was an ill-tempered, sneaky, mass murderer, but they could have run a long way with a show with the good Kirk marooned in the bad universe. The relationships in the Spock-Beard universe, not just in the chain of command, but between the men and women, are more vibrant and fun, and if the women were subject to harassment and possession, they somehow seemed less ornamental and more alive.

    The Prime Directive certainly went out the window in this one. Is it a logical inference, that, since Kirk feels free to disregard non-interference in the wrong-way universe, that back in the clean-shaven universe the Prime Directive might ultimately operate to serve the Federation’s interests, and not merely be an aspect of a highly moral order? Kirk’s unwillingness to serve the Spock-Beard Empire liberates him from the strictures of the non-interference and he turns the Tantalus field over to Beard-Spock. Of course, Kirk, refusing to play by any set of rules, was equally willing to disregard “Standard Imperial Procedure” (the alternate-universe corollary to the Prime Directive). Besides, in this episode, it was not another civilization, but the Federation/Empire itself, that was the subject of the “interference”. But the departing Kirk certainly puts his thumb on another universe’s scales with the express intent of changing the course of that universe’s history.

    This is another episode that has strong elements and commentary on Nazi Germany. In that regard, Kirk’s parting exchange with Beard-Spock, about the ultimate unsustainability of an order founded on terror, allows that such an Empire is doomed within a few centuries, to fall by revolt and internal collapse. The original Earth-based model barely lasted a decade, despite its thousand-year ambitions. Spock and Beard-Spock are both strangely, sort of alright, with the mass-murdering Kirk, and it is a telling commentary that good Kirk, in the end, must appeal to Beard-Spock’s self interest, as it seems that logic, standing on its own, would not lead to a rejection of the Empire’s savage methods, without it being a long-term losing play. In this, Kirk is also paralleling Earth’s Nazi-era history, as the prospect of Germany’s losing the war moved conspirators against Hitler much more than any moral revulsion over his tactics. In the Spock-Beard Universe, Beard-Spock’s logic and Kirk’s adaptability and creativity might equally be subjugated to a depraved order, given the right conditions if it had a chance of prevailing over the long haul. Despite Star Trek’s penchant for going all Jimmie Stewart at times, there were hidden, non-pollyannish depths to it.

  3. And Kirk is strategically shaving down the *kinds* of Kirks that can be — burnishing his transdimensional reputation while polishing his own soul. In other threads we’ve talked about the constancy of Kirk in all possible worlds, but illuminatingly in this episode Kirk compliments beard-Spock on being a man of integrity in any universe, while plotting with that same Spock for his own counterpart-Kirk’s ouster (and presumable murder). On one level he’s reasserting his command, even across continuums, by directing every Spock to do his bidding…but he’s mainly seizing back command of himself, which is the bravery his swaggering style (perhaps strategically) distracts us from.

  4. [Alternate-timeline do-over: if that last one became a cognitive tongue-twister of who-did-what and in whose universe, try this more precisely qualified and scrupulously hyphenated version…this time even I may get it:]
    And our-Kirk is strategically shaving down the *kinds* of Kirks that can be — burnishing his transdimensional reputation while polishing his own soul. In other threads we’ve talked about the constancy of Kirk in all possible worlds, but illuminatingly in this episode our-Kirk compliments beard-Spock on being a man of integrity in any universe, while plotting with that same Spock for his own counterpart-Kirk’s ouster (and presumable murder). On one level he’s reasserting his command, even across continuums, by directing every Spock to do his bidding…but he’s mainly seizing back command of himself and his moral self-image, which is the bravery his swaggering style (perhaps strategically) distracts us from.

  5. I see this episode as more institution than insinuation, as my old eyes first read it, Adam.

    Poor Mr Kyle. I always liked my flaxen-haired countryman, even though getting agonised was probably his biggest claim to fame….but wait….and the relevance has only just occurred to me thanks to Gabby’s fantastic piece….Mr Kyle (elevated to Commander in his brief Wrath of Kahn cameo) is sporting a goatee! Stockholm Syndrome in Space!

  6. The institutions that last are the flexible ones, I’m sure. As to Mr. Kyle’s latter-day goatee, I never noticed before, and you’ve made me realize it’s not just *identification* with his agonizers — more than the landing party got switched in that transporter mishap; he is the mirror-mole!!

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