Category Archives: The Wrath of Khan

The best (and worst) of Trek

Our 18-month mission to … tell you about Star Trek’s most pivotal episodes is (maybe?) over. We haven’t decided yet whether we’ll tackle the rebooted movies or the new series. But one thing’s for sure …

We still have a few things to say about Star Trek.

When we started this blog, we didn’t want it to be a site where we just reviewed every episode. Other sites, like Jammers Reviews, do that well enough. But now, as we close this project, we wanted to identify our 10 favorite episodes in all of Trek, including the movies. Some of these appeared in our Tapestry, others didn’t.

First, some honorable mentions: “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” “Mirror, Mirror”, “The Measure of a Man”“Yesterday’s Enterprise”, “Improbable Cause”/”The Die is Cast”, “The Way of the Warrior”, “Timeless”, “Twilight”, “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” and “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”.

Now, here’s our top 10. Note that this includes a couple of multipart stretches.

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“One day, I’ll make Voyager even worse…”

10. “Star Trek: First Contact” — Easily the best of the TNG movies. It’s gritty, visceral and still optimistic with a good supporting cast while being the only TNG film that feels all that consequential. The flawed Borg Queen concept is a slight ding — and it paved the way to defanging the Borg on Voyager — but it’s still a great film.

9. “Azati Prime”/ “Damage”/ “The Forgotten” — Enterprise’s peak in arguably the most daring, and probably the most morally questionable, stretch of Trek episodes, which worked well in the years immediately following 9/11. It’s not Roddenberry’s Trek, but it’s good TV and as edgy as anything the franchise did.

9. “The Trouble with Tribbles” — Trek’s best comedy and also an episode that shows why TOS endures: the chemistry among the cast members. Kirk dressing down Scotty and others for getting in a fight with Klingons is still a thing of beauty.

7. “In the Pale Moonlight” — The episode where DS9 decided to not even pretend to be like the rest of Star Trek. It’s controversial as it makes Sisko, in effect, a criminal, which was just incredibly daring for 1998 TV. It might have been higher on the list if the scope issues that DS9 struggled with — i.e., a handful of people on the station can change and have no problem with changing the balance of galactic affairs — had been better handled.

6. “The City on the Edge of Forever” — Many fans’ favorite, but not ours. Arguably, it had been built up too much by the time we saw it and wasn’t as original in the 1990s as it was in the 1960s. Still, a great episode with Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley absolutely bringing it.

"Shall we swipe left or right keptin?"
“Shall we swipe left or right, keptin?”

5. “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” — Trek’s best film. Shatner and Nimoy are pitch-perfect and the story is a great mix of action and science fiction. If you haven’t seen it, you’re not really a Trek fan.

4. “The Inner Light” — Simply an amazing episode in which Picard lives an entirely different life as a way for a dying civilization to not be forgotten. The final scene with Picard in his quarters, as he re-acclimates with his real life, is a gut punch in the best way. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t see more consequences in subsequent episodes and that Picard, more or less, is back in regular form the next week.

3.  “The Visitor” — DS9’s finest episode as Sisko is lost and Jake spends the rest of his life trying to find him. We were often critical of Avery Brooks, but he was absolutely great in this episode. As poignant as Trek gets.

2. “Space Seed” — The setup to the second film is incredible to watch. That it was on television in 1967 is amazing, as Khan’s manipulation of Lt. McGivers is very edgy and provocative. Kirk’s decision to let Khan try to build a world rather than putting him in prison is classic TOS, in that it’s morally justifiable and intellectually curious but also a dangerous and questionable call.

Inform Admiral Kanye, this is the best two-parter OF ALL TIME.
“Inform Admiral Kanye, this is the best two-parter OF ALL TIME.”

1. “The Best of Both Worlds” — No surprise here. This two-parter has everything, and set the stage for cliffhangers for the next 25 years. Jonathan Frakes — often marginalized in late TNG — puts in his best performance and the Borg, as an implacable threat, still seem menacing today. Even the scene where Riker chooses his first officer is great. I would go as far as saying it’s a perfect two-parter, except for the somewhat rushed ending. It’s also bolstered by the idea that Picard wasn’t back at his desk the following week. In fact, he struggled with his experiences immediately after he’s rescued and in the following years.

And now, the bottom 10 (after some dishonorable mentions): “The Alternative Factor”, “The Lights of Zetar”, “Haven”, “Dark Page”, “Star Trek: Insurrection”, “Ferengi Love Songs”, “Spirit Folk”, “The Disease”, “Precious Cargo”, “Extinction”.

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10. “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” — The strangest entry in the film franchise. It’s light and jokey at points and heavy and ponderous at others — but it consistently avoids anything approaching subtlety. Co-written by William Shatner, the movie seems intent on lionizing Kirk while painting Spock as weak and evasive (the scene in the brig being the worst example). Worse, the script humiliates Scotty and Uhura.

9. “Course: Oblivion” — One of a handful of episodes that shows exactly what was wrong with Voyager. Instead of using a strong cast and a great concept to write compelling stuff with the REAL Voyager, the creators used those things with a FAKE Voyager. Worse, the fake Voyager should have easily known that it was a fake Voyager, invalidating the whole premise of the episode. And how did the fake Voyager crew build a fake Voyager and survive for like a year outside of the only environment that could support it?

8. “Code of Honor” — Weirdly racist and definitely uninspired. It feels more like third-season TOS than TNG, which sort of makes sense, as it was just the third TNG episode. Still, it’s hard to understand what the creators were thinking.

These are just clips from other BDSM books I've read?!!!?
“These are just clips from other BDSM books I’ve read?!!!?”

7. “Shades of Gray” — The awful Riker flashback episode partly necessitated by a writers’ strike. Yuck.

6. “Profit and Lace” — The worst of DS9’s awful Ferengi episodes. Quark in drag? What drivel. DS9’s obsession with having two Ferengi-centric episodes a year was just ridiculous.

5. “Fascination” — Lwaxana Troi comes to DS9 and everybody — well, at least the main cast and the regular guest stars, minus Sisko — gets horny. WTF, creators?

4. “Threshold” — The most scientifically awful episode in second-generation Trek. It didn’t make the top spot because there’s SOME good work by Robert Duncan-McNeil and it was an attempt at something new and different.

3. “A Night in Sickbay” — Archer as a total huffy asshole, with moronic aliens and a ceremonial apology involving a chainsaw. Oh, and a totally unnecessary sexual fantasy from Archer about T’Pol. The Archer/T’Pol relationship — at least in the prime reality — was professional and friendly, not romantic. Throwing a sex dream from Archer in there really belittled the show.

And, we have a tie for Trek’s worst episode:

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1. “And the Children Shall Lead” — Wow. What an absolute train wreck. The kids are annoying and awful, the villain behind their behavior is horribly acted and conceived and even the editing is bad. While “Spock’s Brain” and “The Way to Eden” are the most infamous episodes of TOS, “And the Children Shall Lead” is BY FAR the worst.

Beverly, you've got nothing on Mrs. Darcy...
“Beverly, you’ve got nothing on Mrs. Darcy…”

1. “Sub Rosa” — Of all the awfulness in TNG’s seventh season — it’s worse than season one, folks, as the creators should have known better after six-plus years of the series — this episode is just cringe-worthy. Crusher was the most neglected of the TNG regulars, and it’s a shame that one of the few episodes to feature her is this hideous mess. She falls in love … with a freaking ghost.

That’s it for Trek Tapestry.

Or is it …

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“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”

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William Shatner, face No. 4.

Kirk, as he turns 50 with a desk job at Starfleet HQ, is feeling old and obsolete. But an inspection cruise on the Enterprise — with a training crew under Captain Spock’s command — is just the trick to break up the monotony. Meanwhile, Chekov is first officer of the U.S.S. Reliant, a ship working to find a planetoid with no life to test the experimental Genesis Device. Designed by one of Jimbo’s old flames, Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch) and Jimbo’s estranged son, David (Merritt Butrick) the device would create “life from lifelessness” on (ideally) a lifeless planetary body. Chekov and Captain Terrell (Paul Winfield) beam down to investigate some anomalous readings on Ceti Alpha VI, a candidate for the experiment, and run into our old buddy Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban) and what’s left of his crazy group of 20th-century genetic superpeople who love to play checkers, apparently. Turns out Chekov and Terrell really beamed down to Ceti Alpha V (d’oh!) where Kirk marooned Khan 15 years earlier (in “Space Seed“), and Ceti Alpha VI, unfortunately, had exploded a while back (double d’oh!), rendering Khan’s Ceti Alpha V a barren wasteland. Khan puts creatures into Chekov and Terrell’s ears to make them more susceptible to suggestion (I would have tried vodka with Chekov, but whatevs) and heads to Space Lab Regula 1, where the the Marcuses are building the Genesis Device. After failing to find Genesis at the station, Khan uses the Reliant to severely cripple the Enterprise, which was drawn there when Carol contacted Kirk for help. Kirk, Bones and sexy Vulcan Lieutenant Saavik (Kirstie Alley) beam to the space station and find Chekov and Terrell, and then beam to a nearby planetoid and find the Marcuses and the Genesis Device. But Chekov and Terrell are still under Khan’s control, and Khan captures the Genesis Device. After fooling Khan into thinking the Enterprise left the landing party behind, Kirk draws the Reliant into a nearby nebula and beats Khan in an epic battle. With nothing left to lose, Khan sets Genesis to detonate, knowing the Enterprise can’t escape its blast on impulse. In the final moments, Spock sacrifices himself — after mind-melding with an unconscious McCoy — and fixes the Enterprise’s warp drive, allowing the ship to escape. In a heartfelt scene near the end of the film, Kirk and Co. put Spock’s body in a torpedo tube and fire it toward the newly created Genesis Planet (created by the explosion) never to be seen again …

khan
“Kirk, my old friend … can you tell me why none of the other genetically engineered superpeople has aged, and why only one of them has any sort of opinion on my crazy-ass obsession? Oh … and it is very cold in space.”

Why it’s important

Well, where to begin?

“The Wrath of Khan” is not only the best of the Trek movies — it’s the most consequential.  “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” centers around Kirk’s renegade actions to return to the Genesis Planet to recover Spock’s body and bring it to Vulcan. His body, reborn by the Genesis effect, is reunited late in the film with his “katra,” which he left in McCoy during the aforementioned mind-meld. “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”, centers around Kirk and Co. returning to Earth to face the music — until they are forced to travel back in time to 20th-century Earth to recover two humpback whales to save the planet from an alien probe in the 23rd century. The success of that mission sends a demoted Kirk and Co. to the Enterprise-A, which replaced the original Enterprise that was destroyed in “The Search for Spock”. It’s on the new ship that the final two TOS movies take place. More on the dominoes when we review the next few films.

In a more real-world sense, “Wrath of Khan” proved that Trek movies could be critically acclaimed, whereas “The Motion Picture” proved that they could make money.

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“No, Admiral. We don’t still have bugs in our bodies to make us more subservient. Why do you ask?”

What doesn’t hold up

“The Wrath of Khan” is a very good movie, but it does have its share of flaws. The biggest is the essential “redo” from “The Motion Picture”. Kirk retaking the Enterprise due to a threat where the untested ship/crew is the only one  in range is a rather annoying trope that also appeared in “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” and “Star Trek: Generations”. But it’s especially pronounced in this movie, because one could watch it and not really even know that the events of “The Motion Picture” happened. It’s quite odd, really. As noted in our previous review, “The Motion Picture” stands out as the quasi-estranged uncle of the film franchise.

There also are a lot of issues with the story’s logic. How did the Reliant not, you know, notice that the Ceti Alpha system consisted of one fewer planet than it had 15 years earlier? Wouldn’t Chekov have been on higher alert being in the system in the first place? “Keptin, ve should awoid Ceti Alpha V … ”

There’s also the issue of Khan’s followers — aside from the one dude (Judson Scott) who talks ALL the time — acting essentially as extras. Would a group of genetic supermen/superwomen have nothing to say to their leader, whose actions are borderline insane? The same thing sort of happened in “Space Seed,” but that made more sense because the other genetic superpeople weren’t awake for much of the episode (and Khan’s actions weren’t nearly as crazy). In this film, Khan is more of a cult leader than a leader of presumably equal genetically engineered humans. Interestingly, we see this again in “Star Trek: Enterprise” when another group of genetically engineered superhumans pops up. Maybe it has something to do with a built-in hierarchy when it comes to the way the superhumans were created?

Lastly, it appears that only Spock, Saavik and Scotty are full-time crewmembers on the Enterprise as this movie begins, as McCoy, Sulu and Uhura seem to be on board because of the inspection (they arrive with Kirk). So, what, exactly are they doing with their lives/careers? And why did they participate in the initial Kobayashi Maru test for Saavik at the beginning of the film — other than to try to trick us, the audience, into thinking it was real?

Final thoughts

OK, OK. I know I’m being pretty hard on what is a very good movie. The acting here is better than in any other Trek film and the plot (as intricate as it is —can you tell writing the summary was a bear?) works extraordinarily well.

What people remember most from “Wrath of Khan” is Spock’s death scene, which was just perfectly handled by Shatner and Nimoy. Montalban brought his A-game as well, and the scenes with Kirk and the Marcuses are really quite effective. Plus, the film has one of Trek’s most original sci-fi concepts in the Genesis Device, which is sort of a linchpin for the film.

Coming next week …

Klingon bastards … you play prominently into our next review. Klingon bastards …