Is Kirk a Well-Defined Character?

Discussion in 'Star Trek - Original Series' started by ZapBrannigan, Mar 25, 2013.

  1. ZapBrannigan

    ZapBrannigan Commodore Commodore

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    I have trouble figuring out who Kirk is sometimes. I'm not writing a story, but if I were I'd have to think hard about what Kirk is all about.

    The other characters are pretty easy to define:

    Spock was based on clearly stated traits, being logical and unemotional, and then Nimoy added some schtick (neck pinch, mind meld, hand salute). If you're writing STAR TREK, you know who Spock is.

    McCoy is a slightly-Southern country doctor, has some old-fashioned sentiments and gripes that serve to highlight the futuristic trappings, and he also comes in as Spock's comic foil, harboring opposite personality traits.

    Scotty and Chekov are heavily accented speakers and sometimes quite excitable. Scotty can fix anything and he drinks; Chekov thinks Russia is the greatest and he's still in need of lessons from his superiors. If Scotty tries to defend a girl, a powerful entity sends him flying (Who Mourns, Changeling, Zetar). Chekov doesn't do much better when the gloves come off (Tribbles, Spectre).

    Sulu and Uhura get some traits started, in Man Trap and Tribbles, respectively. It doesn't really go anywhere for them, but they play such functionary roles that it doesn't matter much.

    But Kirk? Apart from always having the best wild hunches and the best luck with longshot strategies, who is he? He seems to be defined by what he does in a given episode rather than a fixed personality.

    Who is this guy, as a fictional character? When the movies got started, it seemed that Shatner had changed, and Kirk along with him. And Chris Pine of course is nothing like either of Shatner's Kirks. The character seems very open to interpretation.
     
  2. plynch

    plynch Commodore Commodore

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    Archetype of a whole, centered human. He sits at the center of a circle with fourness to it (the stairs around the bridge) with animus (Spock, rationality, on one side) and anima (passion, caring, McCoy) on t'other.

    But yeah, specifics change from early S1 (nuanced, more military in bearing, but more self-doubt) to later in the show, not real introspective, the shat-kicking, Shana-kissing hero with yes, good instincts at command.
     
  3. Metryq

    Metryq Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Kirk is Everyman with a "devil" (Spock) and an "angel" (McCoy) each giving him counsel. That's a wide open formula for writing any story.
     
  4. mos6507

    mos6507 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Kirk's portrayal definitely has shifted all over the place. I think the more serious Kirk is how the writers wanted him, and the more whimsical Kirk is more of Shatner's influence. The best image of him, IMHO, is what you see in Khan, who is someone who is generally by-the-book but not cold.
     
  5. DalekJim

    DalekJim Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    All the characters in TOS are pretty inconsistent early on but by S2 I'd say Kirk, Spock and McCoy are very well-defined characters.
     
  6. 1001001

    1001001 I Like the Beats and Shouting Moderator

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    I was going to use Ego, relative to the Superego and Id, but it's all the same thing...

    :lol:

    :beer:
     
  7. Doug Otte

    Doug Otte Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    I agree w/ all the above. I'm wondering if the hero character is also left slightly vague to allow the audience to empathize. They can fill in their own traits when viewing the hero.

    Strangely, I never empathized w/ Kirk as much as w/ Spock, and others I've talked to had the same experience.
     
  8. plynch

    plynch Commodore Commodore

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    It was due to having many, many writers write for that character.

    Spock is sympathetic as an outsider, with which role many of us can empathize.
     
  9. Timewalker

    Timewalker Cat-lovin', Star Trekkin' Time Lady Premium Member

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    There are some excellent essays in the Best of Trek books on writing Star Trek characters.

    For me, it's also a matter of "I'm not 100% sure of what Kirk IS, but I can tell when somebody writes him how he ISN'T."
     
  10. mach7

    mach7 Commander Red Shirt

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    I think Kirk in the 1st and 2nd season is very well defined. He is the classic human hero leader. A strong, ethical, decisive and impartial(mostly) man who is outwardly confident with a well controlled sense of self questioning.

    In season 3 I feel the writing for Kirk (and the rest) was not up to the first 2 and I think we saw more of Shatner's personality to compensate.

    For those who have read the Patrick O'Brien Aubrey/Maturin books, I think Jack Aubrey and James Kirk are almost the same character.

    BTW
    I asked my wife, a very casual TOS watcher, to describe Kirk in 3 words.

    She chose Cool, Confident, and Horny.
     
  11. ZapBrannigan

    ZapBrannigan Commodore Commodore

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    "Why not all three?"
    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2013
  12. golddragon71

    golddragon71 Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    The thing about kirk is you almost have to go by how he's described from outside sources
    Gary Mitchell recalled that Kirk at Starfleet Academy was a "stack of Books with legs...In his class you either think!...or SINK!!!" (Not the image Chris Pine instills at all so far imho)

    Also the Shatner Kirk is classically read. He knows Milton (recognizes Khan's reference to Paradise Lost without any specific quotes)Pine's Kirk is no illiterate but his character does not strike one that has spent a great deal reading

    Finally, Kirk Prime was a student of great commanders (not just Starfleet either)
    He studied the work of Garth of Izar (His hero) General koor of the Klingon Empire, John Gill, etc...
     
  13. plynch

    plynch Commodore Commodore

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    Thinking about Kirk (and the gang) is making me wistful. I was a 70s Star Trek kid, and these were my heroes who really did a pretty good job of teaching a person how to be. Hm.

    It seems protagonists are more complicated/angsty now. Maybe I'm wrong. I don't watch a lot of pop culture.
     
  14. Dale Sams

    Dale Sams Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Given:

    The events of Conscience of the King
    He doesn't seem too broken up over his brother's death
    *No* mention of parents until ST 11
    Says he lost a brother once, then slyly says he meant Spock (ST:V)

    I always thought of Kirk as being a self-made man with no real parental figures. Extremely driven.
     
  15. scotpens

    scotpens Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Exqueeze me?

    "The Conscience of the King":

    Begins on Stardate 2817.6.
    Production date: Late September 1966.
    Original broadcast date: Dec 8, 1966.

    "Operation: Annihilate":

    Begins on Stardate 3287.2.
    Production date: Mid-February 1967.
    Original broadcast date: April 13,1967.

    Whichever way you figure it, the events of "Operation: Annihilate"-- the episode in which Kirk's brother Sam was killed -- take place after "Conscience of the King." The only other Trek TOS episode in which Kirk's brother is mentioned is "What are Little Girls Made Of?"

    TMOST has a long, detailed description of Kirk's character and personality, but I don't have a scanner available at the moment.
     
  16. Dale Sams

    Dale Sams Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    The events of Conscience of the King are completly seperate from Sam's death.
     
  17. scotpens

    scotpens Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Sorry, I misunderstood your post. When I read:
    My mind eliminated a colon and inserted a comma, creating a single sentence: "Given the events of Conscience of the King, he doesn't seem too broken up over his brother's death." Which makes no sense.

    I realize that's not what you meant. Chalk it up to my professional proofreader's eye, or a brain fart. :shrug:
     
  18. ZapBrannigan

    ZapBrannigan Commodore Commodore

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    I misread it, too. For total clarity, I would have used a dash or asterisk to act as bullet points in front of each list item.

    That's how I roll. :devil:
     
  19. Admiral Buzzkill

    Admiral Buzzkill Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Kirk in TOS was a character defined somewhat by the writing but largely by Shatner's performance. Spock, OTOH, was created to a greater extent by the writers - we (and Nimoy) were told a great deal explicitly about his culture, relations with family and other Vulcans, his philosophy and approach to life, even the details of his sexuality.

    This is why some TOS fans are uncomfortable with the version of Kirk that appeared in the TOS-based movies - stuff like his cheating on tests, etc - because at that point the screenwriters looked at the character's history, formed conclusions about what made him interesting/appealing and started writing him more specifically in terms of motivation and behavior.

    Finally with ST 5 we get Shatner telling the writers what to do and the thing goes entirely to Hell. :lol:
     
  20. scotpens

    scotpens Vice Admiral Admiral

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    FWIW, here's a condensed version of the description of Captain Kirk from The Making of Star Trek:

    (A couple of short paragraphs follow describing Kirk's relationships with Spock and McCoy.)