Thoughts on the Odd-Numbered Treks

We watched all the TOS movies again because IV was in theaters for a Fathom Event, and it worked out that I had more thoughts about the much maligned odd-numbered ones than the much-celebrated even-numbered ones.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

“Jim… [grasps his hand] this simple feeling is so far beyond V’ger’s comprehension.”

Gene Roddenberry had a really good idea that for the most part functioned best when Roddenberry himself had as little control over it as possible.

As a lifelong Star Trek fan, this was something of a surprising revelation to me. I grew up during the “golden age” of Trek (when the later TOS movies were still being made and both TNG/DS9 were airing, and continuing into when the TNG movies were being made and DS9/Voyager were both airing). Back then if you were interested enough in Star Trek to have picked up any details about how the sausage was made, you were almost certainly getting a sort of mythologized version where Roddenberry had this brilliant idea and had to fight tooth and nail against a hostile studio to get it made. Just a wholesome underdog story. And all of it started and ended with Gene Roddenberry having an idea.

I talk quite a bit about the real story of Star Trek in another review, and I’m not going to get into all of the detail I got into with that one, but I felt the topic worth revisiting because this is the only Star Trek movie over which Gene Roddenberry exerted quite a bit of influence. And while I give that a moment to sink in, I’ll add that he was famously “kicked upstairs” (removed from any practical impact beyond his name being on it and collecting a check) for the other movies because he was constantly disrupting the production because he was obsessed with getting a writing credit, and his responsibilities as producer were largely handled by other people who hadn’t signed on for this.

So, now that I’ve given you time to absorb the fact that this was the only Star Trek movie that Roddenberry had any practical influence over, I think it’s time to come out swinging with this: kicking Roddenberry out of “his” franchise absolutely saved Star Trek. And Star Trek was at its best without its creator.

I mean, just look at The Motion Picture compared to the rest of the TOS movies. It’s very interested in impressing you with the scale of its effects. It’s largely devoid of emotion and characterization. In perhaps oversimplified terms it’s… not Star Trek. And given much less limited resources (and exceeding even the much loftier budget he was given here), this is the movie Gene Roddenberry wanted to make. And if we had gotten more movies driven by Roddenberry, we would’ve gotten more of… this. It’s enough to make you wonder if everything that made Star Trek great except the very centralmost ideas were forced on Roddenberry either by circumstance or by collaborators.

But it’s still true that Gene Roddenberry had an idea. Because good things can come from bad people. Roddenberry is hardly the only example of this in the franchise’s storied history. You need look no further than TOS’s leading man for another example. William Shatner was made to be Gene Roddenberry’s onscreen avatar. You wanna talk about politicking and being obsessed with one’s own position in a franchise? Shatner famously was such a gloryhound that the rest of the cast just hated working with him. He stole lines and undermined costars and was jealous of Leonard Nimoy to the point of paranoia. He seemed like just the biggest asshole in the world even before he started calling people SJWs and cucks on social media.

By the way, Leonard Nimoy is an extremely good boy, just in case you’re worried that it’s assholes all the way down. And there are so many other wonderful people who worked on these shows. Nichelle Nichols. George Takei. Patrick Stewart. There are so many amazing people in this franchise, I promise!

But I said all this about Roddenberry and Shatner for a very important reason. Because if there’s one thing I take away from all this, it’s that good things can come from bad people. I hate William Shatner, but I love me some James T. Kirk. Every new thing I learn about Roddenberry makes him somehow sink even lower in my estimation, but Star Trek is incredible. It changed my life, and I think the world, for the better. And I know I’m not exactly on an island with that opinion.

“Spock, this ‘child’ is about to wipe out every living thing on Earth. Now, what do you suggest we do? Spank it?”

It’s pretty obvious in TOS that Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are a triad, right? Spock is the dom, McCoy is the bratty sub who pushes his buttons with reckless abandon, and Kirk is a more charming/sweet-talking bratty switch who tops with basically everyone but Spock, which is part of what makes their relationship so special. Plus Spock mostly lets him adorably pretend to be in charge to keep up appearances what with him being Captain and all.

If any of this sounds far-fetched I will ask you to do two things:

1. Watch basically any two or three random episodes of TOS.
2. Remember that Kirk/Spock shippers literally invented both shipping and slash.

I trust that we’re all now on the same page, so we can continue.

So, at the beginning of TMP, our polycule is scattered! Kirk has recently been promoted to Admiral which doesn’t give him nearly as much space to be bratty as when he was Captain. (Get it??? Space??? That wasn’t even intentional.) It doesn’t suit him and it shows. McCoy is off being a space hippie apparently. And Spock is undergoing a Vulcan ritual that is meant to purge all emotion and help them achieve a state of perfect logic.

Quick important sidebar here. So, Spock is literally about to complete the ritual when he senses V’ger, and the high priestess declares that something is calling out to “his human blood.” Something I only recently learned is that Spock apparently mouths “Jim” when this happens!!! So that’s pretty gay.

Meanwhile, back on the Enterprise, Kirk has dragged McCoy back onto the crew kicking and screaming. His presence is comforting (“Damn it, Bones, I need you… badly.”), but without their dom everything is still a mess. Especially the Enterprise itself, which is failing them as it almost never did in TOS.

Spock arrives just in time and struts aboard in a blatant “daddy’s home” moment. Poor Mr. Chekov is stunned as he asks, “Permission to come aboard?” with an air of casual authority that belies the request, and can only meekly answer, “Granted, sir, gran…ted…” as he blows past him, clearly in charge. And within hours of Spock’s return the Enterprise is back up and running.

Dude’s gotta be thinking, “For Surak’s sake, can these hopeless bottoms do anything without me?”

The conversation between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy in Kirk’s quarters pretty much seals it for this reading being the obviously correct one. We get McCoy being catty about Spock’s absence, clearly having missed him more than he’s willing to let on, and Kirk emphatically cutting him off with, “Bones, we need him. I need him.” But on top of that we get the most blatant establishment of dominance we’ve ever seen in this relationship.

Kirk, presumably still in Pretending To Be In Charge mode from the bridge ushers his boyfriends into his quarters and tells them both to sit down. McCoy does so, Spock remains standing. Kirk starts to sit down, visibly hesitates for a moment, then awkwardly sits down, leaving Spock as the only one standing. They then launch into their conversation, and at one point Kirk repeats, “Sit down,” and Spock regards him coolly while remaining standing. They go on with the conversation for a bit longer, and Kirk finally breaks down and says, “Will you… please… sit down!”

Spock finally sits down. He made him say please. The message is clear. Remember that you’re not in charge behind closed doors, Jim.

This is just the most obvious example, but really every interaction they have in this movie supports or at least doesn’t oppose this reading. I will die on this kinky hill. (Hopefully it’ll be a kinky death.)

(C-Rank)

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

“I choose the danger.”

I’ve always liked this one a bit better than most fans, where writing off the odd-numbered movies is something of a meme. (And tbh, that’s kind of super fair with the TOS movies other than this one.) The Search for Spock forms a sort of loose trilogy with Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home which is pretty easily the best stretch of TOS movies.

The scene where they steal the Enterprise is one of my favorite of the entire series, and would be enough on its own to make this movie worth seeing. And we get to see Uhura bully some nerd and literally shove him into a locker!! I was SUPER gay for this part, ngl.

Speaking of me being gay, even with battle damage the Enterprise is still an absolutely gorgeous ship, and they took plenty of opportunities to show this off before blowing her up. Yes, I just highly implied that I’m gay for a starship, leave me alone. (… definitely don’t shove me in a locker like Uhura did with Mr. Adventure~)

Christopher Lloyd playing a Klingon is a lot of fun, even though I have literally no idea why he had to kill his girlfriend for seeing the Genesis information when he was gonna show two of his officers later. Shrug.

And, of course, I’m delighted that Kirk and McCoy got to save their dom, and that all of their friends helped.

(B-Rank)

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

“I lost a brother once… lucky for me I got him back.”
“I thought you said men like us don’t have families.”
“I was wrong.”

Honestly? I think this single interaction might be worth the rest of Star Trek V. And I know that’s a hell of a lot to answer for, but… yeah. Maybe it’s enough to make it a net gain. Maybe.

(C-Rank)


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