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Moby Dick

Scene By Scene: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – Pt X – ‘Sauce for the Goose’

As voted for on Twitter by followers, I will be analysing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan scene by scene in this multi-part exploration of Nicholas Meyer’s 1982 sequel…

What is the sequence in The Wrath of Khan that you most remember? Kirk’s bellow of KHAAAAAAANNNN!!!! in frustrated rage. The surprise attack on the Enterprise by the Reliant. What about the moment Chekov realises he is in the “Botany Bay… Botany Bay??!”? All of these are possibilities. Chances are, however, you’re imagining that fantastic last act.

Once Kirk, Bones, Saavik and the Marcus’s are back on the Enterprise, their ruse with Spock having duped Khan and the Reliant into believing their repair time is much longer than in reality, Nicholas Meyer plunges straight into the thrill ride of the so-called Battle of the Mutara Nebula, the gaseous cloud nearby the Regula moon where the Enterprise runs on empty, running low on power, as the Reliant closes in for the kill. It is one of the most exciting, well-staged and powerful action sequences in science-fiction cinema, the culmination of a psychological and theological conflict between Kirk and Khan, between Heaven and Hell, between virtuous Starfleet and a rebel force incompatible with Federation ideals. If the original Reliant ambush, as we previously discussed, draws from the World War 2 submarine thriller, the Battle of the Mutara Nebula entirely drinks from that well.

In any other film, it would be a battle that culminates with rousing victory, with Kirk vindicated and re-energised by the noble defeat in combat of his intractable, vengeful, psychotic enemy, but The Wrath of Khan understands for Kirk to reborn, he must face death.

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Scene By Scene: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – Pt VI – ”Round Perdition’s Flames’

As voted for on Twitter by followers, I will be analysing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan scene by scene in this multi-part exploration of Nicholas Meyer’s 1982 sequel…

If we understand Nicholas Meyer’s approach to the Star Trek universe as exploring the naval tradition in space, of transposing 18th or 19th century nautical literature to an imagined star-sailing future, then The Wrath of Khan at the end of its first act lays these credentials fully on the table.

Before the inevitable first confrontation between James T. Kirk and Khan Noonien Singh, prepared for by one and unexpected by the other, Meyer presents the villain of the piece with a choice. It is not too late to change his fate. Khan’s chief lieutenant, the younger genetically engineered Botany Bay crewman Joachim, suggests they have the means at their disposal to start a new life. “We have a ship and the means to go where we will”; in the naval sense, they are commanders of their own destiny. They have received a second chance at life, after exile from Earth and being marooned by Kirk and the Enterprise crew by the end of Space Seed. “You have proved your superior intellect, and defeated the plans of Admiral Kirk. You do not need to defeat him again”. Joachim in this sense is, quite literally, the Devil’s advocate. He believes that destiny does not drive Khan in the way the man imagines, even if his people would never abandon him or mutiny.

Meyer here, nevertheless, fully establishes Khan as a twisted version of Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab from his classic 19th century novel Moby Dick. Kirk is his white whale, his obsession. It has gone beyond any sense of reason, any consideration for anything or anyone outside of his fixation. Kirk is Khan’s destiny. “He tasks me… He tasks me and I shall have him. I’ll chase him round the moons of Nibia and round the Antares maelstrom and round perdition’s flames before I give him up…” This is, of course, a direct lift and alteration of Ahab’s famous declaration from Moby Dick about the titular whale. “I’ll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition’s flames before I give him up…” Ahab says this to Starbuck, and Joachim very much fits that template – the loyal second in command who may question his Captain but would never challenge him.

If Kirk’s destiny is to find a purpose like Ahab did his whale, Khan’s manifest destiny, and his Luciferian escape from the depths of Hell, sends him deeper and deeper into the realm of insanity.