SNW's version of Kirk is a genuinely insightful take on the character

There is something undeniably weird about the new Kirk that we’re seeing in Strange New Worlds. He doesn’t yet “feel” intuitively like Kirk to me, especially in the rom-com episode. But I do think his writing and, to a lesser extent, his performance show that the writers are thinking deeply about the character and what people have been missing about him. In a sense, SNW may be trying to counteract the phenomenon of Kirk drift, where pop culture stereotypes about the character’s impulsive, womanizing ways makes it impossible to understand the person we actually see on screen.

What the first season finale shows us is a Kirk who is by the book, yet decisive and sure of himself. He does not disobey Pike, but he is not afraid to tell him he’s wrong – not based on gut feelings, but based on a sound tactical analysis that proves to be right. Compared to Picard, Kirk – especially the movie Kirk – may seem brash and prone to violate the rules, but TOS consistently shows us a captain who respects authority but is willing to push it up to the very limit to protect his crew and achieve his goals. It’s interesting that the episode picks up on this aspect of the character as the one that creates an instant bond with Spock. It’s not his emotional nature or his instincts or whatever else, it’s his respectful yet firm leadership style – a sharp contrast to Pike’s tendency to leave his subordinates to their own devices.

In the romcom episode, the message is a little garbled by the fact that this is an alternate timeline Kirk, but I think it highlights the fact that (a) Kirk is not a compulsive womanizer by any means and (b) Kirk bonds sincerely with women who feel isolated by leadership or other burdens – not in a predatory way, but in an empathetic way. In contrast to Chris Pine’s layabout troublemaker who is constantly getting laid (at least in the first film), the Kirk from TOS is basically a lonely nerd. A charismatic one, to be sure, but still a lonely nerd. Even well into his second command, he’s haunted by the guy who bullied him at the Academy! He is, if anything, sexually thwarted by his sense of duty and his “marriage” to the ship. Hence when he meets a woman with a similar predicament, they are drawn to each other. Everyone has a type! It’s just a sad coincidence that he wound up meeting someone of his type virtually every episode in season 3.

I don’t think it’s perfectly executed, at least in the pairing with La’an, but I do like that they’re trying to refresh our perspective on the character and that they’re doing it in a way that reminds us of all the traits from TOS that the pop culture parody of “Captain Kirk” leaves out. But what do you think?

RebukeZero,

I would love for Kirk’s image to be rehabilitated. Way too many people who have never interacted with TOS directly basing everything they know about Kirk off Futurama’s Zap Brannigan and other parodies or the depiction in the Abrams movies. Any take with more nuance is welcome.

blaine,
CeruleanRuin,

The Abrams chapters are action movies, so of course they’re not giving a rounded depiction of Kirk, anymore than the TNG movies were a fair depiction of Picard.

theinspectorst,
theinspectorst avatar

I think it was Matt Groening who characterised Zap Brannigan as 'what if William Shatner, not James T Kirk, was captain of the Enterprise?'

A lot of people miss that he's at least as much a Shatner parody as a Kirk parody.

theothersparrow,

I really feel like any feeling of divergence is the result of Kirk’s image in popular culture; Steve Shives did a segment on Kirk as we remember him and how accurate that memory is to the actual depiction in TOS, and over time certain traits were magnified in the mainstream.

Wesley’s Kirk feels honest–that is to say he resembles Shatner’s Kirk, through Wesley’s performance.

davi,

i’m really enjoying how kirk and data have been updated to modern sensibilities.

kirk is no longer the womanizer and leading man from the impression that casual viewers got from him (despite it being off from his actual character), but he still charms and the physical version of data is no longer the wooden automaton that the middle aged back in the 80’s expected androids to be and is simply the human he had always aspired to be now.

NVariable, (edited )

When a character endures for 60 years, as Kirk has, it’s going to need an update. I’m not knocking Chris Pine, but I think what he was given to work with was shallow.

Kirk had a lot of layers to him, but he was also developed in the 60s cultural context. Hugh Hefner was a sexual freedom icon. The culture up until then was incredibly puritanical. Kirk being so lascivious and women loving him for it was liberating.

Now, we’re much more in touch with reality. Men in positions of power being sexually suggestive with women they employ is deplorable. We live in a different world now.

To endure as an icon, Kirk has to change. Nice to see more thoughtful writers get a chance to bring the character to this generation. I sincerely hope that decades from now new writers will adapt Kirk to make him outgrow our archaic and comparatively barbarous values.

FormerGameDev,

Not exactly what you’re getting at here, but the first scene in the last episode, where we see Kirk on the UEF Enterprise, as La’An enters the bridge, and he turns to her, and talks, that is absolutely channeling TOS Kirk in virtually every aspect.

And then, outside of that, In both of the episodes we’ve seen him in, we’ve explored aspects of Kirk that are both the same as the Kirk we know, as well as very different from the Kirk that we know.

NuPNuA,

I was convinced by Wesley in the recent epmore than the Balance of Terror Alt-take last year.

He’s far more TOS than Film era or pop culture memory Kirk, just a little bit younger and cheekier than we knew him (maybe this was due to him being removed from the ship and command meaning he could ease up a bit with Laan).

erbazzone,

Sorry if I’m just maybe brutal but I still think and at this point I will ever think that it’s one of the worst recast I’ve seen. Pike is more Kirk than Kirk. As I’ve read somewhere SNW Pike is like Kirk and SNW Kirk is like Pike.

Electricorchestra,

I haven’t watched this week’s episode yet. I was watching last week and something just always gives me a slight off feeling about SNW’s Kirk. I think the actor is doing an amazing job and everything but I couldn’t put my finger on it until I realized he’s 2023 attractive. Shatner had the big barrel chest, and the sort of swagger that’s of the era. The new actor fights in with our modern time period in a way Shatner never could and I think that’s why I find it off.

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