Boldly Going: “Space Seed”

“Space Seed” is one of the better known Star Trek episodes as it introduced the villain Khan, a genetically enhanced human played by Ricardo Montalban. He reprised his role 15 years later for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The episode premiered in February 1967, well into Star Trek’s  first season. The Enterprise comes across a derelict Earth ship that appears to be from the 1990s. But there’s no record of the SS Botany Bay. Doctor McCoy reports a steady slow heartbeat of four beats per minute. Kirk leads an away mission to check the ship out, taking the doctor, Engineer Scott, and the historian, Lieutenant Marla McGivers.

Aboard the Botany Bay, Kirk and the away team discover it’s a sleeper ship. When Scotty turns on the lights, one of the suspended animation units begins to power up. Doctor McCoy reports the heartbeat increasing. But a circuit shorts out, disrupting the revival. Kirk smashes the glass and beams the occupant to sickbay. Lt. McGivers is already smitten with him, remarking how magnificent he looked.

Lt. McGivers, Captain Kirk, Doctor McCoy, Scotty

Back aboard the Enterprise, the mystery occupant revives really quickly, especially considering he was in suspended animation for over two hundred years. Lt. McGivers comes to check in him and gets chewed out by Captain Kirk for her unprofessional behavior on the away mission. Soon after the mystery man awakens. He only gives his name as Khan and doesn’t fully answer Captain Kirk’s questions about the sleeper ship’s mission. But he does ask to study the technical manuals and schematics of the ship to “catch up.”

Lt. McGivers returns to ask some questions of her own. Immediately Khan deflects and asks about her hair instead. He tells her she should put it down so it’s more attractive and even leads her to a mirror. Once he is released from sickbay, he stops by Lt. McGivers’ quarters. Khan discovers her paintings of Napoleon, Alexander the Great and other conquerors. She even already started one of Khan. He kisses her.

Lt. McGivers and Khan in sickbay

The captain hosts a banquet to welcome Khan to the 23rd century. Almost immediately Spock asks for details. At first he describes the flight from Earth as a search for adventure. But he’s goaded into revealing his true identity. Khan is one of the dictators who wanted to unite Humanity under his rule during the Eugenics Wars. After the dinner, Lt. McGivers finds Khan in his quarters where he admits his intentions to take control of the Enterprise and demands her help. At first she hesitates, but quickly gives in when he  pressures her.

Khan’s plan isn’t discovered by the crew until after he sneaks back to the Botany Bay to revive his compatriots and takes the Enterprise by force.  He cuts off the life support to the bridge, incapacitating Kirk, Spock, Uhura and the rest of the bridge crew. The captain has enough air to record one last captain’s log before passing out. When the crew awaken they discover Khan has locked Kirk in the decompression chamber. He forces them to watch as he suffocates their captain.

Kirk and Khan duke it out in engineering

At the last moment, Lt. McGivers incapacitates the guard and frees Kirk. He floods the ship with knockout gas, but Khan escapes to engineering. The captain tracks him down and discovers Khan set an overload in motion. They fight, with Khan’s superior strength allowing him to throw Kirk around engineering like a rag doll. Kirk only wins by beating him with a club. At the last minute the captain is able to stop the overload and save the ship. As punishment, he decides to exile Khan and his crew on Ceti Alpha V. He gives Lt. McGivers the option of court martial for treason or going into exile with Khan. Despite all that has happened, she chooses Khan.

This episode bothered me more than I remembered. All of the interactions between Khan and Lt. McGivers were creepy. I know Khan was supposed to be magnetic, but it seems Lt. McGivers’ character folds way too quickly. I don’t believe her claim that her fascination with Khan is purely professional. Meanwhile, Uhura doesn’t have much in this episode, save for a memorable confrontation as Khan is suffocating Kirk in the decompression chamber. She even  gets slapped by one of Khan’s crew for her insubordination. This feels more like Star Trek than the last episode I covered, but Sulu is missing.


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