Decker's demotion -- unprofessionally handled?

Discussion in 'Star Trek Movies I-X' started by KelisThePoet, Nov 3, 2016.

  1. KelisThePoet

    KelisThePoet Commander Red Shirt

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    So, I recently re-watched The Motion Picture, and something bothered me that hadn't before.

    When Kirk arrives on the Enterprise bridge for the first time, all his buddies (and at least one of Decker's buddies) know that he's taking command, but Decker is in Engineering and hasn't been told. Whatever the fictional excuse for his ignorance, the dramatic reason is clearly for a tense scene where Kirk himself has to break the news to an unsuspecting Decker. But it seems to me like a casually unprofessional way for Starfleet to handle a change of command. The commanding officer isn't the first one privately informed, before any of his subordinates?

    Or is there some reasonable excuse I'm missing for the whole bridge crew to know what's become of Decker's command before he does?
     
  2. TonyLeung82

    TonyLeung82 Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    This is the prerogative of the Admiral.
    Or Shatner otherwise...
     
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  3. 2takesfrakes

    2takesfrakes Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Decker knows the redesigned ship like no other, which is why Kirk retains him, in the first place. He might've told his First Officer, whomever that was, to make sure he wasn't interrupted (unless it was an emergency) as he cracked the whip on engineering to get their shit together. The implication definitely seems to be that Decker was too busy for anything else ...
     
  4. Paradise City

    Paradise City Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    It's discourteous to Decker, clumsily handled and perhaps unwise. But unprofessional? No -- it's well within the jurisdiction of an Admiral I should think.
     
  5. arch101

    arch101 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Decker's demotion never should have even happened. Admiral Kirk could have been placed in charge of the mission, with Captain Decker running the ship.
    I think Roddenberry just wanted Kirk to be "Captain Kirk" again.
     
  6. Nyotarules

    Nyotarules Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    To me it makes Kirk seem petulant, 'I want the Enterprise back', even McCoy implied his actions were dodgy.
     
  7. StarCruiser

    StarCruiser Captain Captain

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    It wasn't a demotion...

    It's merely a formality - when another senior officer takes temporary command of a ship, and the official CO is still on it, they are "demoted" (in brevet form) to Commander instead of Captain.

    His actual rank didn't really change.

    It's basically the same thing as a brevet (temporary) promotion to Commodore (or any temporary rank).
     
  8. KelisThePoet

    KelisThePoet Commander Red Shirt

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    True. The more technical term than "demotion" would be "loss of command" (for the mission). But neither a demotion nor a loss of command is something that should be handled so indiscreetly, I say.

    If he was too busy to be reached, Kirk and Starfleet should have held off on telling others until they could reach him--unless he insubordinately ignored them when summoned to wherever he takes the 23rd-century equivalent of a phone call from headquarters, or unless he was holed up in Engineering for days and days and it was practically impossible to keep the news from others, but I didn't see evidence for either of those options.

    If being discourteous, clumsy and unwise is within not only the jurisdiction but the definition of professional standards for Starfleet admirals, then they need a new set of professional standards. On a related point, is everyone sure it was Kirk that spilled the beans? I don't think so, because in the scene on the bridge, he doesn't know that Decker doesn't know. So I take it someone else at headquarters was responsible for how to forward the information and to whom, and it was that pencil pushing pinhead who screwed up.
     
  9. Paradise City

    Paradise City Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Being discourteous is not the definition of the professional standards of being a Starfleet Admiral obviously, lol. An officer may have cause to give someone a dressing down for example. An officer has some latitude in this area realistically and one sees that with the different temperaments of different commanders in the various militaries today and in history. So Kirk's conduct is unfortunate but it wouldn't be something that would draw the attention of Kirk's superiors.

    But I won't shoot down your general point. Kirk in important ways is traumatised with the boredom of being a desk Admiral and the early seeds of his later insubordination and general unmanageability are evident. Personal tragedies of course are the catalyst for his later insubordinations but he's restless for command and so takes the big chair himself when it wasn't really optimum for him to do so.
     
  10. dswynne1

    dswynne1 Commander Red Shirt

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    I never understood the need to demote Decker, if Kirk was in charge of the mission. Still, in my head, Kirk would have only been promoted to Commodore, with Decker as First Officer. Everything else in TMP would have unfolded as is.
     
  11. Ithekro

    Ithekro Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    From what I recall, Starfleet's orders about the change in command arrived about the same time Kirk entered the Bridge. Up to that point only Scott knew because he was traveling with Kirk. Uhura was extremely busy and likely had just getting the orders, thus there had not been time to inform Captain Decker prior to Admiral Kirk's arrival on the bridge.

    By the late 1970s Commodore had gone out of use in the US Navy and Kirk being an Admiral might reflect that change. In Gene's 1970s Trek there might not be any Commodores anymore, just Admirals (like the present day Navy).
     
  12. J.T.B.

    J.T.B. Rear Admiral Premium Member

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    Yes, the whole thing was stupid. There were dramatic reasons behind it, but it really doesn't hold up to much scrutiny.

    Anything that is handled in a way that it negatively impacts the command could be considered unprofessional. Allowing the news of the change of command to be distributed among the crew before the "outgoing" CO is informed is, really, appalling. Immediate assumption could be that Decker had done something wrong. It should have been done more like this:

    1. A superior officer who is not Kirk informs Decker privately of the decision and the reasons.
    2. Kirk and Decker meet in private and make arrangements. Preferably they bring the department heads in and brief them; presumably there was also an assigned XO who was also affected.
    3. The entire crew is informed of the change.
    Of course, there was an emergency and so on, but all the meetings could have been done in minutes.

    Interestingly, in another Robert Wise movie with a displaced ship's captain, Run Silent, Run Deep, the "bumped" captain was informed personally by the squadron commander in a scene more like the one when Kirk tells Decker in engineering. He then goes to the "new" captain's house to discuss it in person (and more dramatically).

    Exactly, just like in the very next movie.

    Additionally, it's very hard to believe that a commissioned rank can simply be taken away without some kind of judicial procedure. If the Federation President, Council or whatever commissions officers, why would Kirk or Nogura be able to override that in a matter of minutes? Doesn't make sense.

    "Grade reduction" is the same as "demotion" in rank, even though temporary. But that isn't how things are done, in real life or in Star Trek, as seen in the later movies. Officers command others of the same grade all the time, everyone knows who is senior and it doesn't cause any problems.

    That's not what a brevet promotion was, it was an honorary increase in rank title given as an award, without any increase in authority.

    Of course there weren't commodores in the US Navy in the 1960s, either, but TOS had them.
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2016
  13. KelisThePoet

    KelisThePoet Commander Red Shirt

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    First, there was no cause to give Decker a dressing down. Second, even in cases where it's warranted to give a subordinate a public dressing down, I do not agree that anything goes. Telling an officer who made a mistake that he put the ship in danger, in front of the whole bridge, is probably acceptable. Insulting the officer's family is not. Just two hypotheticals, but my point is that even in a Starfleet chain of command, the standard should not be anything goes. And while courtesy may not mean the same thing in Starfleet it means at a country club, there ought to be some standards of courtesy, decency and respect.

    My problem's not so much with Kirk taking command as the way it was handled. And again, I don't blame Kirk, because he's not the one who handled it that way. In fact, he's the one who tried to use a bit of discretion and sensitivity in Engineering to clean up the mess he unwittingly stepped into.

    If Uhura just got the orders, why didn't she keep them to herself until she could deliver them to Decker, rather than tell all her friends on the bridge. I really hate the idea that the culprit in all this mess was a gossipy Uhura, because that's a terrible, sterotyped thing to do to such an important character who's portrayed as a consummate professional elsewhere in the franchise. But I admit, the scene in this movie leaves the impression that Uhura might have been the one to talk.
     
  14. Ithekro

    Ithekro Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I don't see it as gossipy, but more the order came in, Kirk stepped onto the bridge and she confirmed the orders to her new Captain. No time to do anything else.
     
  15. Mr. Laser Beam

    Mr. Laser Beam Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    After the demotion, Decker's uniform had the rank stripes of a Commander. For what that's worth.

    I don't know if he wore Captain's stripes before the big demotion scene, though.

    During the scene at Epsilon 9, we hear a 'Commodore Probert' being hailed over subspace, so that rank does still exist when TMP takes place.
     
  16. J.T.B.

    J.T.B. Rear Admiral Premium Member

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    He did.
     
  17. KelisThePoet

    KelisThePoet Commander Red Shirt

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    I was under the impression that the bridge crew all knew before Kirk stepped onto the bridge. I make room for the possibility I completely misinterpreted the scene. It wouldn't be the first time something like that has happened to me.
     
  18. KelisThePoet

    KelisThePoet Commander Red Shirt

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    Okay, here's the relevant dialogue:

    UHURA: I'll get somebody down there just as soon as I can. Captain! Starfleet just signaled your transfer-of-command orders, sir.
    SULU: Captain!
    KIRK: I appreciate your welcome. I wish the circumstances were less critical. Epsilon Nine is monitoring the intruder. Keep a channel open.
    UHURA: Aye sir.
    KIRK: Where's Captain Decker?
    SULU: He's in engineering, sir. He doesn't know.

    So when Uhura says, "Starfleet just signaled your transfer-of-command orders," it may be the first time she says it and the means by which the bridge crew learned of the command change. Or she (or someone else) may have already told the bridge crew, and now she's confirming to Kirk that she received the order, because he's just arrived on the scene. To me, the clue that the bridge crew already knows is Sulu's line about Decker, "He doesn't know." Why would Sulu think Kirk might expect Decker to know if nobody knew until about five seconds earlier? It sounds like Sulu thinks the order has gone out long enough ago that Kirk might reasonably expect everyone (on the senior staff, at least) to be aware of it and that, in fact, everyone is aware except Decker. It's not entirely clear Sulu's line must be interpreted that way, but does it really feel natural to say without prompt, "He doesn't know," about something you just learned yourself five seconds ago?
     
  19. The Grim Ghost

    The Grim Ghost Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Starfleet judged Kirk to be the better person to command the mission. With the exception of the extremely odd worm hole scene it looks as if they were correct. Also dramatically Proto-Riker was a very boring character.
     
  20. Balok's Decoy

    Balok's Decoy Captain Captain

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    Precisely. The writers were well aware that Kirk's actions were impolitic and self-serving. McCoy doesn't simply imply it -- there's a scene (can't find the exact line right now) where he confronts Kirk about his motives.

    Kirk also invoked the "reserve activation clause" to pull McCoy out of retirement against his will. Kirk was miserable as an Admiral and needed this voyage and his specific crew. It's definitely selfish, but Kirk is not a perfect human being.