Spectre Of The Gun: a fascinating episode which offers us insight into the peculiar subconscious of Captain Kirk. One thing that is particularly noteworthy about this episode is that Kirk's party is thrown (by powerful telepaths) into a situation that is patterned after something from Kirk's mind: in this case, the events surrounding the famous "Gunfight at the OK corral".
Anyone who knows Kirk well knows he is a history buff, and he has a particular love of the Victorian era, for reasons never explained. [NOTE: For example, Spock gave Kirk a novel by a Victorian-era author (Dickens) as a birthday present. In Savage Curtain we learn that one of Kirk's favorite personal heroes is President Lincoln. Kirk likes to call Dr. McCoy "Bones" short for "sawbones", which in fact is Civil-war slang for a battlefield surgeon. Kirk at one point quotes a JOHN MASEFIELD (1878-1967) poem, "Sea Fever". There are many other clues about Kirk's (if you will) era-preference, such as his anachronistic "Dipping little girls curls in inkwells..." witticism at the end of Squire Of Gothos.] Well, here's more evidence of this pattern of his. In the United States of America, the Victorian era is most famously the time of the gun-slingin', bronco-breakin', cattle-rustlin', gold-rushin' culture of the "Wild West".
The Victorian era, especially in the USA, was a time of terrific social upheaval, destruction, and progress. It was both a very civilized era, and a horribly cruel and savage one. For example, just as the rights of the slaves were being disputed and established, the rights of the native tribes were being stomped into dust. It was a paradoxical time - both the best and worst of times - and I believe that something about that era resonates within Jim Kirk. [NOTE: as an artistic device, it's a convenient, shorthand way to clue us in about the nature of Kirk's character... and his inner conflicts.]
Captain James T. Kirk is often put into situations where his mission is clear, but the way to accomplish his mission is totally unclear, and he is forced to be creative. The results are usually interesting and are even sometimes wildly amusing. Kirk takes us by surprise: the answer that he arrives at is not always the obvious one. He doesn't often do what we expect him to do, and the reason for this is that, like the famous Victorian era, he is a mess of conflicting impulses. In some ways he's bestial, in some ways he's sublime, and when he's at his best he's apparently a successful mixture of both... like in this episode.
It's significant to note that Kirk has been properly ordered by Starfleet Command to establish some kind of relationship with the Melcotians "at all costs". The reasons for this are not spelled out, but nobody seems to think that the reasons are trivial. Kirk and Spock take the Melcotians warning very seriously, but they take their orders even more seriously. Nobody really questions whether going forward to meet the rejecting Melcotians is a good idea - although they do recognize that they are unwelcome, and that there may be trouble.
Kirk identifies himself to the Melcotians as a representative of the United Federation of Planets. It's solidly well established that Kirk is here on official business, and is NOT interfering with unwilling people as if he's just a nosy yahoo. This is similar to the beginning of A Taste Of Armageddon: another instance of Kirk dutifully obeying his properly issued orders to establish diplomatic relations with people who clearly don't want any.
As in The Apple, Kirk realizes at one point that if he had disobeyed his orders, he could have saved a life or two, and he agonizes over it. Kirk seems, on this (as on many other occasions) to have reason to regret the fact that he's such a good soldier. But he gets over it. Kirk's intelligent, he's emotionally deep, and he is also rather eccentric. We have seen many times that Kirk is by no means a simple, uncomplicated fellow. But he's not mentally or emotionally unstable. He can harbor conflicting desires and emotions without getting confused or falling apart, like any mature person with a stable ego can.
In any case, there is no evidence in this episode of the existence of the mythical "rebel-Kirk".
There's also absolutely no evidence of the mythical "playboy-Kirk". There's a chase-worthy skirt in this episode, but does he chase her? HELL, NO. As a matter of fact, Kirk has nothing whatever to do with the pretty-girl-du-jour in this episode... as per usual. He in fact has better things to do, and as a matter of fact, he'd rather do them with Spock... as per usual. It's too perfect that that's AOK with Spock, as usual.
Long story short, Kirk goes to great lengths to avoid a big showdown with the local phantasms, and is aided most, at the end, by Spock, who convinces each member of Kirk's party that the bullets (and the harm they might do) are unreal. Spock accomplishes this by performing a Vulcan mind-meld on our guys.
After the shoot-out (which Kirk bent over backwards to try to avoid), Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scott are still standing (apparently safe). Hooray, the mind-meld worked!
Kirk suddenly erupts. He was a model of self-control through the whole hairy episode, but once the crisis had peaked and passed, he suddenly rushed forward, seized one of the Earps, and punched him a couple of times, knocking him down on the ground. Kirk aims his phantom six-gun at his phantom antagonist's head, and is obviously strongly tempted to blow a phantom hole through the guy's phantom brains... but he stops himself. He recognizes that there is no more fight left in the guy, and/or that he himself is being silly, and he steps back and calms himself.
The landing party suddenly magically finds itself back on board the Enterprise. The Melcotians telepathically tell Kirk that they are favorably impressed with him for not killing. They then extend an invitation to establish relations, and Kirk's mission is therefore successful.
It's emphasized in this episode that the success was not that Kirk and the guys were utterly harmless and non-violent, but that they are capable of successfully controlling their violent impulses.
In this episode...
1) Kirk does dutifully obey his orders.
2) Kirk doesn't show *any* interest in *any* females.
3) Kirk is generally and specifically non-violent.
The closer I study Kirk, the more obvious it becomes to me that none of the above is unusual.
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