18 Questions Rattling Around My Brain After Watching Star Trek: Into Darkness (Which, Despite My Nit-Pickiness, I Enjoyed Quite a Bit)
Warning: Here there be spoilers aplenty. Proceed only if you have seen J.J. Abrams’s latest entry in the Trek franchise.
1. Why did Kirk and McCoy steal that religious scroll thingy from those aliens if they weren’t supposed to interfere with their culture?
At the start of the film, the Enterprise is hiding underwater on a Class M planet while an away team uses a device to stop a volcano from erupting (their readings showed the volcano’s eruption would lead to the end of all life on the planet). While Spock, Uhura, and Sulu handle the volcano, a barely disguised Kirk and McCoy steal a sacred scroll from a primitive tribe of aliens and run through a fuchsia forest with it, spears flying at them from every direction. But… why is that even necessary? It’s established that they needed a distraction to keep the aliens from noticing what the rest of the crew is doing, because allowing pre-spacefaring races to see them would violate Starfleet’s code of non-interference, but… aren’t they already doing that already by saving the species? And wouldn’t an attempt to steal a sacred relic risk cause some other kind of damage to their culture? For instance, what if the aliens decided the neighboring tribe was responsible for the theft and start a holy war? Couldn’t Kirk have found a less intrusive way to attract the aliens’ attention for a little while?
2. Hold up, the Enterprise was hiding underwater?
I’m no expert in designing starships or submarines, in this or any other century. But it seems unlikely to me that a starship would be equipped to function as a submarine, just as it would be unlikely for a submarine to have the means to suddenly rocket into space. Sure, both are designed to keep stuff from leaking in/out, but propulsion and buoyancy would be obvious issues for the non-submarine in this scenario, unless the Enterprise’s designers thoughfully included propellers and ballast tanks in their schematics. Then there’s the question of why anyone would even bother making the Enterprise seaworthy; true, it’s a cool visual watching the ship rise up out of the ocean (the aliens were certainly impressed), but it’s a little far-fetched to believe the ship was designed to be submersible on the off chance a captain might someday want to take it under the sea (though I hear it really is better down where it’s wetter).
3. How did a ship that big get close enough to San Francisco to cause that much damage?
Near the end of the movie, the disabled starship piloted by Khan makes a suicide run for Starfleet headquarters in San Francisco. He falls short of his target, but the momentum of his crash landing takes out a good chunk of the city, leveling several skyscrapers before coming to a halt. In other words, we’re dealing with a terrorist attack on the order of several 9-11s. Now, then: how in the hell did he manage to get close enough to the planet, much less the city, to do that kind of damage? The movie makes it clear we’re in a time when the Federation is ramping up for war with the Klingon empire, so it’s unlikely that Starfleet would not have some kind of defense perimeter surrounding Earth. And even in our primitive present, aircraft don’t get anywhere near certain sensitive targets without a whole lot of people knowing well in advance where they’re going. But in the future, the only warning the people of San Francisco get from a massive starship plummmeting out of the sky is someone on the ground pointing at it when it flies over Alcatraz. Seriously, J.J.: what the hell?
4. On that same note, there’s a major battle between a starship and an unidentified bigger ship on Earth’s doorstep and no one bothers checking it out?
At one point in the film, the Enterprise attempts to outrun an enemy ship by going to warp, but the other ship overtakes it and blasts it out of warp space. I don’t recall the exact number, but I remember one of the nameless crew members yelling to Kirk they ended up about 237,000 kilometers short of their destination — which is a big problem, because they’re now dead in the water and facing down a superior warship with no one nearby to help them. Except… why? To put that number in perspective, the moon’s distance from the Earth varies between 356,400 km to 406,700 km; in cosmic terms, this battle is taking place right smack on Earth’s welcome mat. So wouldn’t it be just slightly possible that someone on Earth — where we invented things like telescopes and radar systems a long time ago — might see what’s happening and wonder what’s going on?
5. Why was a meeting of top Starfleet officials held in such an open location?
Shortly after the first act of terror that opens the movie, Starfleet convenes a meeting of its top admirals and starship captains for a big meeting to discuss how to capture the man responsible. A meeting, we should note, that takes place on the uppermost floor of a San Francisco skyscraper. Behind demonstrably non-bulletproof windows. At a table that offers a spectacular, wide-open view of San Francisco Bay. Do you know the one feature you won’t find in, say, the White House’s Situation Room? Not goddamned windows, that’s for sure.
6. Why did Khan transport himself to the Klingon home planet?
After his attack on Starfleet headquarters, Khan trans-warps his genetically superior ass to Kronos, the Klingon home planet, hiding out in an “uninhabited province” because, as a Starfleet higher-up puts it, it’s the one place he can go where Starfleet can’t get him. Well… no, actually, it isn’t. Let’s put aside the obvious fact there are plenty of planets in the Trek universe that Khan could have escaped to, planets with nowhere near the number of hostiles for him to contend with. Also, Khan, despite being Starfleet’s most-wanted man, had no problem wandering through London or San Francisco with only a trenchcoat as a disguise, so we can assume he’s smart enough to find a way to evade whatever bad-guy tracking sensors exist in the future. So why would he high-tail it all the way to Kronos? The movie explains Khan is doing it because he’s ordered to do so by the evil admiral whom he believes is holding his cryogenically frozen crew hostage… but it seems a bit odd that the ever-logical Spock — or anyone else — would not be at least a little curious about why this guy is on Kronos.
7. Wait, they can fire torpedoes at a planet from within the Neutral Zone?
The Neutral Zone is one of those problematic concepts that doesn’t work too great in a space story — what with space going off infinitely in all directions — but it makes for good drama. The idea is simple: to prevent all-out war, the Federation and the Klingons agreed to designate a section of space between their borders as a no-fly zone; any ship from either side that crosses the zone is committing an act of war. We can also confirm (thanks to the people who keep track of this kind of stuff) that both Earth and Kronos are located far, far away from the Neutral Zone, which only makes sense. So… doesn’t having missiles that can hit a target on Kronos all the way from the Neutral Zone kind of defeat the purpose of having a Neutral Zone? And like the issue with Earth’s defences I raised earlier, wouldn’t someone on Kronos be keeping an eye out for any projectiles heading for their world? And even if these torpedoes had some kind of super-cloaking feature, are we supposed to believe a militaristic empire wouldn’t have regular patrols and manned outposts keeping watch over their side of the Neutral Zone?
8. If they had special suits that could help them survive inside volcanoes and in outer space, when why didn’t they leave a few of them hanging outside the Enterprise’s big radioactive chamber of death?
For real, gang. If the warp core chamber really was that big, then it’s reasonable to assume someone in Engineering would have had to perform some kind of routine maintenance inside the chamber. And even if the whole area was too hot for regular visits, you would think that Scotty, the ultimate contingency guy, would have kept some protective gear handy just in case. So where was it? Why was Kirk left with no choice but to go into a highly radioactive area of the ship with zero protection? At the very least, couldn’t they have jury-rigged something from one of those volcano-diving suits Spock was sporting at the start of the film?
9. What’s to stop Starfleet from using Khan’s blood to make everyone on Earth immortal?
So Kirk dies in that slightly cheesy shout-out to the big death scene in Wrath of Khan and everyone is sad. But wait! McCoy notices a dead Tribble injected with a sample of Khan’s blood (why did McCoy do this odd bit of research earlier in the film? Shut up, that’s why) is alive and kicking. So he places Kirk’s cooling corpse in cryo-storage and tells Spock to bring Khan back alive so they can use his super-blood to resurrect Kirk. That’s great, except… well, McCoy has now discovered the secret to everlasting life. Any time someone dies or suffers a terminal disease (like the little girl at the start of the movie), it’s no big deal: just shoot him or her full of patented Khan juice and everything is right as rain (and Khan won’t object as long as he’s kept in an induced coma). And assuming they figure out a way to synthesize Khan’s blood to save everyone because there’s not enough of his blood to go around, we’ve just conquered the most final frontier you can imagine. Sounds great, you think, but imagine the social, legal, environmental and ethical implications of nobody ever dying ever again. Making doctors and funeral directors obsolete would be the least of our problems if that ever happened.
10. Why did they have to make the evil admiral’s secret starship so big?
The Dreadnought class ship USS Vengeance towers over the Enterprise and bristles with all the major armament you’d expect in an unstoppable warship. Perhaps as a way to explain how a team of three men was able to take the ship simply by storming the bridge, someone explains at one point in the film that the ship was designed to be run by as few crew members as possible. That sort of makes sense — no need bringing more people into your massive secret conspiracy circle than you have to — but that explanation brings in a whole host of questions. Ships are mechanical and need regular maintenance; that means it needs bodies to do the work that’s needed when parts break down. Now imagine Scotty, up on the bridge of this new shop, having to run the entire length of that massive cargo bay to, say, repair an airlock or warp core, or perform some other task where every second counts. If firepower was what the ship was about, then why not make the ship as compact as possible — or even make a fleet of smaller, more maneuverable but just as invincible ships with the resources it took to make that one behemoth?
11. How is it that Khan, brilliant strategist that he is, couldn’t foresee that Spock would send over torpedoes rigged to explode?
Maybe he fell for the line that Vulcans can’t lie. Maybe his arrogance blinded him to the fact Spock was willing to use what mattered most to him (in this case, his desire to reclaim his crew no matter the cost) to gain the advantage. In either case, it doesn’t look good for the brilliant tactician when he beams aboard torpedoes and doesn’t even seem to consider the possibility they might be, you know, actual torpedoes.
12. Are we supposed to believe Admiral Marcus was the only senior Starfleet official involved in a secret project designed to kick-start all-out war with the Klingons?
The film’s final scenes don’t make any mention of any co-conspirators (aside from the members of Marcus’s crew), so we can probably assume he was acting alone when he ordered a secret spacedock’s construction… so that he could build a secret starship… which he staffed in secret with his secret crew members. That’s a lot of secrets for one guy to keep, the equivalent of a present-day army general going rogue and somehow getting a super-special personal aircraft carrier built without anyone else finding out. They may have eliminated money and military budgets in Trek’s utopian future, but you would think someone might notice a few million tonnes of steel, dilithium and whatever else it took to build that ship being towed all the way to Jupiter.
13. How could the seasoned Starfleet admiral not see that maybe thawing out the genetically superior genocidal madman from the past was probably not the best way to ensure the safety of Earth?
I mean, duh. Clearly, someone didn’t see a little film called Demolition Man.
14. Wouldn’t Kirk’s brain tissue, after receiving that much time in a lethal radiation bath, be a little too damaged to be cured by Khan’s magical blood?
And now that I think about it, when it was Spock’s turn in Wrath of Khan to pull off the big death scene, he was shown to be in pretty rough shape, as one would be after absorbing that much lethal radiation. But in this movie, Kirk only looks like he’s suffering a bad case of hay fever. What, were they afraid of spoiling Pine’s good looks with a few skin lesions?
15. Wait a minute. There were 72 other beings in cold storage with the same super-blood as Khan. Why not take a sample from one of them instead of going through the hassle of keeping Khan alive?
It’s possible they wanted to capture Khan on the off chance his was the only blood with magical Wolverine powers, but nobody said anything about him getting a different genetic upgrade from the rest of his crew. In fact, quite the opposite: Khan wanted them revived because they were his crew (or “family”), created like him for the express purpose of conquering and stuff. And Kirk was in cold storage, so it wasn’t as if he was going to get any deader while they retrieved the sample from another frozen super-soldier for testing.
16. So… we’re just going to leave the insane and inhumanly strong terrorist and his superhuman subordinates in a deep freeze, then?
Yeah, I can’t see a downside to that plan at all.
17. How did Khan survive that firefight with the Klingons on their homeworld?
Yes, he’s genetically bred for combat. Yes, he had some impressive guns there. But come on. We’re talking three Klingon ships full of bloodthirsty soldiers, on their home turf, taking on one guy with two guns on an elevated and easy-to-target piece of ground in an area where no one cared about collateral damage. One 21st-century air-to-surface missile and the movie would have been over right then and there. Instead, we get a dude who’s Rambo and John McClane all in one, mowing down the Klingons who are polite enough to come after him one at a time. It’s going to be hard taking those guys seriously as a threat, if the filmmakers decide to bring them back for the next installment.
18. So, they’re still wearing crazy-ass hats in the future, huh?
That’s kind of disappointing. I was looking forward to a future where everyone wears the same silver-colored V-neck jumpsuit, or whatever uniform design humanity decides to adopt just to keep things simple. Instead, it seems we’re always going to be stuck with a few fashion irritants, like those silly military hats that only get worn by officers during fancy occasions, even though no other version of Star Trek has ever showed our heroes wearing any kind of hat for work-related reasons. Well, except for Guinan, but I don’t think she counts.