Kirk Your Enthusiasm (23)

By: Matt Glaser
August 29, 2012

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


Kirk’s ghost | “The Tholian Web” | Star Trek: The Original Series | Season 3, Episode 9 | November 1968

Around twelve minutes into “The Tholian Web,” there is a moment of introspection and quiet helplessness that grips James T. Kirk. The camera slowly pans and zooms out as he stands almost motionless on the bridge of a spectral ship he was meant to rescue, several bodies tangled up with one another on the deck around him. His glittered spacesuit evokes memories of textbook circulatory system diagrams. He is alone.

Framed by a wider shot now, Kirk shifts a furrowed gaze to look at nothing in particular — a deceased crewmember at his feet, something off-camera to the left. The ship around him is fading away, but he says nothing into his communicator as the Enterprise crew struggles vainly to beam him back to safety. The soundtrack during these moments goes perfectly and purposefully silent, and we are silent ourselves for a moment, barely breathing, left to draw our own bleak conclusions as the captain dissolves into some new infinity.

The Enterprise crew falls victim to a gathering madness, and at random they attack each other with psychotic rage. Kirk’s ghost appears thrice, visibly attempting to speak but making no sound on this plane of reality, drawing religious reactions from his crew but ultimately written off as febrile hallucinations caused by some unseen contagion. It is a weakness in the fabric of space, reports a glum Dr. McCoy. Our minds are being torn apart by the weakness that surrounds us.

Perhaps this is the state of things as we know it: a collective faith in ourselves cast aside by a space made of weak stuff, a universe bereft of real leadership.

But I think we know better, here in Star Trek’s distant past. Our universe never had a Kirk (he hasn’t been born yet), and as we watch the dissolution of order and logic onboard the now Kirk-less Enterprise we are reminded of just how powerful the absence of the man is; even Spock seems a bit worried. A leader in his mold is hard to come by, but the harsh reality is that a universe with nary a Kirk is in serious trouble.

It is a hopeless thing to stare at the ghosts of great men, as we so often do, and expect them to lead. Perhaps it is better to admit that it is not the fault of the space surrounding us, but our own weakness that drives us mad.


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. The fault lies in our spaces and ourselves, eh? True; silence is the strongest expression in Shatner’s vocabulary, after all, and in Kirk’s — urging you to fill in and follow along as he deliberately utters and gives meaningful pause. The truly good fathers want you to leap the void.

  2. The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is Kirk?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him — you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying Kirk? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Kirks, too, decompose. Kirk is dead. Kirk remains dead. And we have killed him.”

  3. Great essay. The trick is (perhaps) to try to maintain collective faith in ourselves *despite any weaknesses of outer or inner space? We must believe in our inner James T. Kirk! He may be a ghost, or lost in transporter limbo between broadcast and reality, he may be weirdly encased in ancient suits of metaphor – but he is trying to speak. We. need. to just. Listen!

  4. Poetry, Peggy. Symbol-slam. Preamble to a three-century resurrection note. State of the Universe speech. It’s non-regulation, but it makes me happy.

  5. The ghosts of great men. . . . This series is certainly hitting the highlights. Is to envision a Trekian universe, without a Kirk, to approach the brink of madness and despair, as Matt suggests? I recall the claustrophobic feel of the remorselessly spooling-out Tholian web, the horror of suffocation in the aparational Kirk, and the utter alien-ness of the Tholian Commander.

    But not even the silence of interspace/interphase could stop Kirk’s quirky emoting (“He beckons!”). The sense of loss is palpable among the crew (and viewer) and Kirk himself seems trapped in a silent scream, a Marley’s lamentation, having lost the power to interfere for good in human matters.

    At the close, Spock’s and McCoy’s sheepish fib about not viewing “Kirk’s Last Tape” begs the question, why were ye fearful, o ye of little faith? Little faith in themselves, in the absence of Kirk. Called to their better selves through Kirk’s message, they ultimately do him proud (as he expected) and indeed rescue him. But even there, Kirk is the unifying field, his faith in Spock and in McCoy as individuals, his choosing of them as his friends and confidants are all the recommendation either finally needs for the other.

  6. Kirk knows that his duties as an archetype require him to be a composite, and Spock and McCoy are the best components a guy could ask for. Kirk as “unifying field” counter to the Tholians’ simple binding grid, brilliant, Esoth. The contrast of watching vigilantly in “Arena” (essay’d today elsewhere) and standing by helplessly (or maybe with a different kind of power) in this ep is instructive…

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