Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is filled with memorable scenes. But what is the best one of the bunch? For me, it’s not the Kobayashi Maru test, nor is it Khan’s surprise attack, Kirk’s discovery of the wondrous Genesis cave, the Mutara Nebula space battle, or even Spock’s death. No, for me there is no scene in the entire movie better than the one that takes place in Spock’s quarters between Kirk and Spock. At this point in the movie, Khan has set his sinister plan in motion, but there is still a feeling of quiet dread as Kirk is reluctant to take decisive action in response. He needs that one extra push from his best friend to finally make his move.
Let’s take a look at this two-minute scene and then dissect what makes it my favorite in the film.
Isn’t it just amazing? Okay, on with the breakdown.
We see how much Kirk has changed from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In that film, he was willing to toss Commander Decker out of his way in order to command the Enterprise once more after he spent years away from the captain’s chair. Decker rightly points out that Kirk is using an emergency situation to wrest control of his old ship from its rightful captain, even though doing so puts the entire crew at risk. But Kirk doesn’t care about any of that.
In Star Trek II, Kirk is presented with another emergency situation where he has a plausible excuse to take command of the Enterprise. Spock even invites him to, but what does he say? No. He actually declines the offer a second time. Why? Because Spock is his friend, and his loyalty to Spock is more important to him than his own personal aggrandizement. Kirk has grown and matured since his last adventure on the Enterprise. Now he’s a bit more thoughtful about stepping on people’s toes and he doesn’t want to come across as pompous or rude. In order to get Kirk to acquiesce, Spock finally has to tell Kirk that he’s not going to bruise Spock’s ego by assuming command of the Enterprise. It leads to a wonderful moment where Kirk smiles with gratitude and reverence for his friend’s gracious gesture.
With the decision made, Kirk walks away from Spock and jokingly asks if Spock was about to remind him that logic alone dictates his actions. Spock responds perfectly, “I would not remind you of that which you know so well.” These are two men who understand each other so completely that they don’t need to explain their motivations to each other. They have a rich history together that is summed up beautifully in these two short lines.
Spock then follows in McCoy’s footsteps from earlier in the film when he tells Kirk, “If I may be so bold, it was a mistake for you to accept promotion. Commanding a starship is your first, best destiny. Anything else is a waste of material.” Accepting the praise as a lashing, Kirk declares, “I wouldn’t have presumed to debate you.” And the ever-humble Spock lifts his eyebrow and says, “That is wise.”
This is my favorite part of the whole exchange. Kirk turns to Spock suddenly with a face that is filled with love and understanding. He acknowledges Spock’s superior intellect while Spock acknowledges Kirk’s superior ability to lead men into battle. And it’s perfect because they’re doing those two things at the same time. Kirk doesn’t want to debate Spock’s judgment of Kirk as a great leader, and Spock tells him that that’s a wise decision because he would lose the argument – and thus win it!
And that leads us to the famous axiom from Spock, “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Kirk helpfully adds, “Or the one,” referring to Spock’s sacrifice to allow him to shine.
This line gets reprised at Spock’s death, as well as at key moments in the next two films. It gets repeated word for word as Spock is dying except that this time it is Spock who gets to emphasize the fact that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of “the one,” signifying the much larger sacrifice he is now making on Kirk’s behalf.
At the end of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Kirk tries to explain to a revitalized Spock that the good of the one was more important than the good of the many, but Spock is still too dazed to let it sink in.
It’s not until several months later at the beginning of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home when Spock’s human mother is able to repeat the line to Spock and allow it sink in just how illogical (and thoughtful) his friends can be.
Spock puts his seal of approval on Kirk’s actions at the end of the scene. He stands up and approaches his friend to show that he considers Kirk his equal, and then he sums up their conversation, “You are my superior officer. You are also my friend. I have been, and always shall be, yours.” Spock will follow Kirk and stick with him through thick or thin. He knows his role is to be a support to a great man, and he finds comfort in that fact. This scene showcases their friendship perfectly, and it sets up the many sacrifices that will be made to honor that friendship, which is stronger than death.
This is why I love this scene more than any other in Star Trek II and perhaps in any Star Trek film. From the music to the acting to the dialogue to the direction, it’s all perfect. I just love it!
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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Really enjoyed this! It’s always great to read something about Star Trek, by someone who clearly loves it and understands it.
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If I may be so bold, I am saying right now. ST:TWK deserved to win several Oscars including best picture and several for acting. If acting is about creating a perfect illusion that the audience believes you are who you pretend to be then this picture and the actors were perfect. This scene set the standard that all Star Trek incarnations would have to follow. So great and both Nimoy and Shatner were never better.
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You may absolutely be so bold! Star Trek II set the standard for all other films in the series to live up to. And this scene is the emotional core of the original film series because so much of the series revolves around Kirk and Spock and the choices they make to help each other.
Great scene, love the James Horner score as well.
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