Kirk Your Enthusiasm (4)

By: Stephanie Burt
August 2, 2012

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


“No kill I” | “Devil in the Dark” | Star Trek: The Original Series | Season 1, Episode 25 | March 1967

The first Star Trek depicted an empire whose representatives sounded and acted American and tried hard to act benign, with Captain James Tiberius Kirk as its symbolic, charismatic agent in charge. Episodes about aliens and other “natives” were almost always reformist; they portrayed the conversion of old-fashioned outlooks, where “natives” are disregarded or enslaved, into better ones where aliens got respect.

That transformation is one subject of “Devil in the Dark,” in which the unseen monster killing off Janus VI’s miners turns out to be the silicon-based horta, defending her mineral eggs; she not only deserves protection, but invites it, carving “No Kill I” in acid on stone. By the end, miners and horta have moved from a mutually destructive plot — we kill it, or it kills us — to a modus vivendi.

KIRK: Well, Spock, I’m going to have to ask you to get in touch with the Horta again. Tell her our proposition. She and her children can do all the tunneling they want. Our people will remove the minerals, and each side will leave the other alone.

That’s an extraction industry that hurts nobody, at least until minerals run out (we are told they are superabundant); it rests not only on explicit contract, but on the leverage each side keeps — if the human miners damage the eggs, the Horta can just start to kill them again.

It’s a shift from absent-mindedly genocidal extractive institutions to mutual respect and hands-off cooperation: and it’s a shift that historically, in real life, has proven very, very hard to make, both because “natives” rarely have such leverage, and because hatred, let loose, becomes hard to tamp down (cf. Frantz Fanon).

KIRK: The Horta is intelligent, peaceful, mild. She had no objection to sharing this planet with you, till you broke into her nursery and started destroying her eggs. Then she fought back in the only way she knew how, as any mother would fight when her children are in danger.

But what about the miners: agents of empire, armed victims, outpost people? Aren’t they angry too? They are, and it’s Kirk — who admits to that anger — who knows how to deal with them. It’s Kirk, who first realizes that he need not shoot the Horta, who stops the miners:

KIRK: Don’t fire! First man that fires is dead.

VANDERBERG: That thing has killed fifty of my men.

KIRK: You’ve killed thousands of her children.

Captain Kirk has to be as big and loud and dramatic as possible, sharing the miners’ tense energy but not their impulsiveness, in order to get the miners to hear what Spock says, to bring them to the point of accepting a mutually beneficial deal. How many real public figures, in the colonies or in the metropole, have been able to speak to the army, to the commanders of extractive institutions, to the leaders of outpost peoples, and get them to change, even at the point of a gun?


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

What do you think?

  1. Acknowledging pain while getting people to see that it’s shared by their adversaries, would that be so hard? Of course it would also involve getting people to see that their adversaries are also people. And identification is currency with leaders more shortsighted than Kirk was modeled to be (ones who stay on top through the acclimation of the mob, not advance their society with the consent of the whole public). Everything I know, Star Trek tried to teach me, and this, Stephen, is a damn good listen.

  2. I was always curious as to what precisely, other than survival, was the benefit to the Hortas, in their rapprochement with the minors? This was 1967 and the Snail Darter would not become widely known for a few years yet, but no consideration seems to have been given for having the miners find their pergium somewhere else so that the Hortas habitat might be preserved. I suppose so sturdy a silicon-based life might be impervious to industrial wastes, but the creature’s intelligence suggested there was such a thing as quality of life for a Horta, beyond survival.

    “The Devil in the Dark” was first season TOS, but they were already confident and/or daring and ambitious enough to move toward other genres, as the episode has it’s who-dunnit aspects. I always liked the gruff casting of veteran actor Ken Lynch, who was at-home in an industrial setting as he was out-of-place in a trippy space opera. It is a nice touch that doing the right thing has a financial kicker for the miners, as they are spared the expense of having to do all that tunneling themselves.

    And the resolution of the obscured moral dilemma in “The Devil in the Dark” became one of my favorite Trekian tropes. Who better than Kirk to turn a personal epiphany into an impassioned plea and denouement of this week’s planetary peril? But before he could rise to the occasion, Kirk had to first cover the moral terrain on his own and on foot. There is this dynamic within him of being at the outset the predictable determined and decisive commander of events and men, which is then quieted by the surprising development of the Horta’s sentience. And then a pensive Kirk swells, not with what the actor’s ungenerous critics might see as self-aggrandizement, but with the merit and substance of the ideas and principles as they are revealed to him. In this way the preachiness of TOS is softened because Kirk is sharing his self-discovery rather than simply lecturing. To my eyes and to my tastes, Kirk pulled this off more convincingly every other week, than all of the hundreds of millions in dollars and effects propping up Sully in “Avatar”.

  3. New life and new civilized-ness is being found in these threads — a superbly charitable and perceptive validation of Shatner’s emotive style, Esoth, framing it as making an intellectual process tangible. And how ’bout a pop-political free association: “Horta Hears a Who”? It never occurred to me.

  4. Really interesting thread, following a ‘fascinating’ piece. TOS politics are tricky dishes.

    But I think there’s a benefit for Ma Horta in keeping the
    Federation around — they’re one of the least worst imperialist industrialists. If the Federation abandoned the site then less liberal interstellar interests might have attempted to weigh in..

    Perhaps this was said off screen — as it’s not an unfamiliar imperialist self-justification. Some of the British Empire’s territories were maintained, partially, by hegemonic notion that you were better off with Queen Victoria than with the French. Or certainly the Belgians.

  5. Unfortunately, I was unable to read this analysis due to the spelling error with KHAN. KHAN means sovereign or ruler, a fitting name for Khan Noonien Singh. Kahn is the German word for a small boat.

    The dichotomy is too jarring for me to continue. Please emend.

  6. Fixed! Thanks, everyone who pointed out the error. As series editor, all blame accrues to me.

  7. Couldn’t Kirk’s biblical word-quake just cause the laws of identity themself to waver as the callout dissipates through archetype-space? And anyway I can’t go on if you’re gonna claim that Montalban isn’t a fellow Jew. (Btw why aren’t we reading this beneath the Kahn post? See what I did there…)

  8. The imperialist card is rendered razor-edged given the US war in Vietnam at that time, with the Horta representing the dehumanization of the enemy that is the left hand of conflict. But maybe even more, as Esoth points out, it can be read as a fable for the environment – what if the Horta’s tunneling consumed the minerals the miners wanted to extract? What if there was no shared strategy for growth possible? What if there were Hortas in every pergium mine? Would the miners just do without, or would the larger culture make a shift from extraction to sustainability? So far, we haven’t…

Comments are closed.