“He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.”
If you haven’t seen the original Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan… Then… I mean… Yeah. Do not judge lest ye be judged… Yes, I went biblical. But apropos. There is an epic quality to this 1980s gem of a movie. And even though the movie is dated, Montalban’s performance, prosthetic chest and all, is Shakespearean gully at it’s best.
The lines. The lines are ICE COLD WATER (even in the midst of some bad acting = Chekov’s “Sir, it was Khan!” My bro and I still chuckle at that one.)
Of course, there is Kirk belting out the “KHAAAAN!!!” scream to the vacuum of outer space. (But slo-mo Shatner’s face before he delivered that line. And check out how Montalban breathes out “Buried Alive….” It’s as if he is exhaling esoteric ether–that ish that make yo’ soul burn slow…)
But this here… This here is my favorite scene…
The best lines to me involve Khan’s initial convo with Chekov. When Terrell makes the passing remark that he’s never met Admiral Kirk, Montalban perfectly contorts his face in wrathful incredulity and questions, “Admiral?” Then whispers, “Admiral? Admiral?“
Dude went straight Iverson.
Khan went straight Iverson. “Practice? Practice?!?! Admiral? Admiral?!?!? Not a captain?!?! Admiral?!? Y’all just gone let dude leave me, my wife, and community on a planet that goes to hell and promote him to Admiral?!?! I’m supposed to be the pinnacle of humankind and y’all gone promote space cowboy to Admiral? Not a captain? Man, look. We talking about Admiral. We talking about Admiral here. Not the dude… not the dude that run a ship, but the dude who runs a fleet….”
And like Iverson, Khan has THE ANSWER to his rhetorical question. Wrath.
But no line to me is as telling, chilling, and subversive as Khan’s rage-filled declaration to an indignant Chekov: “THIS IS CETI ALPHA FIVE!!!”
Man, listen. I know what folk will say about this movie and how the mainstream Trekkies/nerds will approach this scene. But I’m a nerd whose ancestors hail from the underside of modernity. And viewed from that lens, Khan’s rage at Chekov was more than a plot device to set up the hatred that Khan had for Kirk. Khan’s outburst is also not simply an indictment about the space cowboyism of Kirk. And it’s not just a line in a great scene that ends with Khan putting space worms in helmets–much to the chagrin of Chekov and Terrell.
(And you could tell that [Paul Winfield’s] Terrell was done. Brothers been taking L’s in mainstream sci-fi for years. And don’t get me started on Worf and LaForge… or the king of all brothas taking an “L,” Mike from Lost. My commentary on that is coming by the way.)
Chekov’s words prior to Khan’s declaration are important. When Khan narrates his story of how he and his crew were abandoned by Kirk, Chekov shoots back, “You lie! On Ceti Alpha 5, there was life, a fair chance!” From the perspective of the marginalized, Khan’s impassioned retort gives us a glimpse into the reality of the underside.
“There was life. A fair chance,” says Chekov. These are the incomplete yarns of the master class, conquistador. This is the telling of American history that silences the histories of indigenous tribes. This is constitutional escapism. That “all men” really meant “every human being.” This is a place of life and fair chances. But here, in the midst of the ghetto, in forgotten rural dead zones, in reservations, and in the land and rivers and seas… The Chekovs of the world look at Khan, the remainder of his crew, and the desolation of the surroundings and declare “life and fair chance.”
Khan says, no life and justice here. Just death and injustice. This is CETI ALPHA 5!!!! The pain, the han of Khan is palpable. What is worse than telling your own story of struggle and misery, and Kirk’s underling has the audacity to tell you your story is a lie? How many mainstream pundits seek to narrate the stories of the underside from their own lens? Domination is not simply the act of physical oppression. It is also the silencing of stories, memories, and alternate cosmovisions.
And everybody talking about the good ole days.. Ain’t that right Gladys…?
They say, “This is not America.” They say, “Make America great again.” They say, “we are perfecting a union.” They say, “this is the greatest country on earth.” But some say, “This is CETI ALPHA 5!” And Admiral Kirk didn’t care enough to check on our progress. Kirk wasn’t really concerned about us because his life in space wasn’t about people like us in the first place. And maybe some of what you said is true, but we are nothing more than a nice little tale in a larger narrative concerning the adventures of the true heroes. That reality is bad enough and you’ve already done that. But, dang it, what you NOT GONE DO is tell my genetically enhanced self and community that this ain’t CETI ALPHA 5!!!
In that moment, Khan–refracted through the lens of oppression, lament, and rage–strikes close to Langston Hughes’ Harlem (Dream Deferred) or Maya Angelou’s Caged Bird. In that moment, a random science fiction flick gives us the opportunity to think beyond the movie itself… And we see the nightmare and hear the fearful trill from other side of the bars… Or cargo bays…
Or let the children tell us…
These weird insights would not be possible without one of my biggest heroes and supporters, my eldest brother, Mike. Our conversations often weave religion, sports, politics, and movies/television together in interesting ways. One of the things that helps me write this blog is picturing our conversations. And for that, I’m thankful.
“I know what he blames me for!!!”
Faith, hope and love…
© 2016 M. J. Sales