Kirk Your Enthusiasm (18)

By: Matthew Battles
August 22, 2012

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


Brinksmanship on the brink | “The City on the Edge of Forever” | Star Trek: The Original Series | Season 1, Episode 28 | April 1967

The situation is not unfamiliar to veterans of Enterprise landing parties: existence hangs in the balance. A drug-crazed McCoy has leapt through a time portal into humankind’s barbaric past (the early twentieth century, to be precise), where he has disarranged some hinge of history, marooning the away team in an alternative future in which there is no Enterprise, no Earth.

Kirk had already indicated a cavalierly curiosity about time travel: “Strangely compelling, isn’t it,” he has mused — “to step through there, and lose oneself in another world?” applying to metaphysical precariousness the same kind of sybaritic sangfroid he might give to an Orion slave girl’s decolletage. But when moments later McCoy makes his desperate leap, Kirk’s bemusement is tempered to mettle. He knows that the only way to darn the fabric of time is to follow Bones into the past and stay his hand. He and Spock will go, of course, leaping into an alternate universe in which World War II might never happen and Joan Collins might become a serious actor. And in the moment before leaping into the beyond, placing a possibly unbridgeable gap between himself and the only universe he has ever known, he turns to address Uhura, Scotty, and a brace of hapless reds: “When you think you’ve waited long enough,” he intones gravely, “each of you will have to try it. Even if you fail, at least you’ll be alive-in-some–past — world” — applying that Kirkian verbal staccato deaccelarando that empathizes and anesthetizes, commands and soothes.

Later, back in the past, Kirk will allow a woman he has fallen in love with to step before an onrushing truck, keeping her winning, peace-loving ways from interrupting the flow of time. It’s not Kirk’s tragic abnegation that haunts, however, so much as his tempered command at the brink, his enterprising grace, mingling insouciance and existential dread. The captain brings his crew back from the edge of forever, of course, depriving the multiverse of an infinite series of Kirks. Or perhaps he does proliferate, fracturing on transit through the time gate into a radiating probability tree of certitude and sang-froid. A comforting thought: Kirk as the cosmological constant, distributed in space-time, cool competence knitting together the cosmic foam.


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. Inspired anatomizing of the psychic purpose in Kirk’s cadences; you’ve given me a greater understanding of Shatner’s motives and means (and Laurie Anderson’s) — it takes a poet to hear what’s here. Some of my favorite Kirk Your Enthusiasm phrases included, especially the “radiating probability tree” — just the other day I was reflecting how, notwithstanding Shatner’s kvetch at not being cameo’d in it, the JJ Abrams Trek movie conveys that reassuring sense that, Avalon-like, every era will have its Kirk…

  2. Yes, Albion & the return of the king! Kirk certainly exemplifies a whole suite of kingly archetypes.

  3. I never before thought of a particular purpose for Kirk’s signature, much-mocked, halting, discordant cadence! It struck me as an exaggerated case of being distracted by the sound of your own voice.

    But perhaps it’s all this time-travel business. I saw a presentation once, I forgot the topic, about how everything in the physical universe has a speed limit, sound-waves, light, tactile sensations, even thought — it’s all whizzing from whichever of our sensory receptacles receives the stimuli and then shooting up the pathways to the brain, rattling around up there being synchronized into what we perceive as the present. But on a nano-scale, all of this takes time and by the time all of these different-paced stimuli are synced and replayed for us, we are actually, continually living in the recent past. It’s already happened. Maybe Kirk is evolved enough where he is putting things together more consciously and quickly than we mere, a-step-slow mortals. Like Kirk has his own Omega 13 device (if it is not blasphemous to make such a reference).

    And you have provided an explanation for the inspired casting for JJ Abrams’ Trek movie! Not a groaner in any of the choices! I am least comfortable with the incarnation of the new neo-Spock, as it’s hard to conceive of the young Spock as more impulsive than the old, as that was a work-in-progress throughout the voyages, earned through experience and repeated exposure to Kirk, McCoy, etc. Even Spock Prime seemed changed when sharing screen space with his younger self. It was wicked smart of Abrams to reverse fields with his Kirk by introducing him as a much more comic character, who built toward melodrama. The Kirks are ultimately reconciled with each comfortably comic and histrionic, and all is right with the universe, at least until the sequel.

  4. Throwing punches and leaping neurons, you may be right about Kirk’s physical thinking, Esoth. As to the personality arcs in the Abrams flick, I think each character was swinging acrobatically along the branches of that probability tree to what they know is their core — each from a legitimately divergent root.

  5. great piece! I am yet again soothed by Trek wisdom– it’s not an epic fail as long as one of your multiplicity survives.

  6. Or as long as one Kirk takes on the burden of all the rest of our sins, Annie — like in Trek V when he declines the Vulcan prophet’s removal of his driving pain, or Trek: Generations when he leaves his own parallel-timeline paradise to go fight and die nobly. It takes a true messiah to accept that somewhere, someone is making it through, and that someone very likely isn’t you.

  7. The post on the edge of forever. Kirk’s temptation to jump and lose himself? A kind of temporal Thanatos impulse without death. Maybe.

  8. I think the honeytrap here is for the viewers. This “time” (haha) Kirk is *really in love, we’re meant to believe she’s completely different from all the other soft-focus succubi. That’s because the viewers’ emotional buy-in is needed for the underlying IRL Vietnam-era political point: pacifists cause war, or worse (a Nazi-controlled aftermath). A just peace is only winnable through war.

    Setting the ep in the depression also gives reverse-justification to the Red round-up that destroyed the Old Left, just as the New Left was looking back in nostalgia upon its ideals (and its membership); and remixing its raconteurs in the 60s folk revival.

  9. An attentive and depressing analysis, Peggy, which didn’t compute to my childhood mind since it was dissonant with everything Trek was supposed to be about — a cleancut vindication of hippie ideals, at least implicitly in its vision of an achievable utopia, at least in what we were willing to read into it (only when I hit the adolescent age of the hippies themselves would I start to read *out* the colonial and conflict-affirmative implications that are more really there). Of course in context of its era this ep is not entirely out of tune, just a strange variation — WW2 was, for most of us suburban counterculturalists and many of the real thing, the war to which the overseas one we were then currently in was measured unfavorably; a lot of us were fine with the idea of killing fascists in the 1940s and fighting their perceived heirs in the streets on the way to our own just peace-and-love. As someone who was barely 10 when the 1960s officially ended with the Ford-era slumber of ’74, any actual fight was a mere abstraction to me, but it was a pervading presence in all the assassinations and riots piping in along with Trek reruns on the TV, and my older brother’s counting-down draft number, and everyone’s general edgy mood…so another reason I overlooked the anti-peace subtext of this episode was that, regardless of the particulars, it was clear that Edith Keeler couldn’t last, because peace like that belonged to an unreachable past and a future that, for us at least, might only ever be televised.

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