When talking serials some debates just get too hot to handle. Recently, thanks to the miracle of Netflix’s instant streaming app on my XBox 360, I’ve been privy to reliving a modern classic of serials (maybe THE modern classic)—Star Trek.
Initially I began by watching the movie series with the original cast and followed that up by revisiting the series of my youth; Star Trek: The Next Generation. Invariably this jump leads to the comparison of the two captains of the series—and rightfully so—but comparisons of the captains require comparisons of the context of the shows, as well as their cast of characters.
Kirk or Picard?
The question as to whether Kirk or Picard is the better captain is justified because they are so dissimilar. Had Picard been a rehashing of Kirk-style captainship the comparison between the two men would have been impotent on arrival. Due to Kirk’s action oriented and Picard’s diplomatic oriented leadership style the comparison has a philosophical foundation that can be applied to real world political situations; when does one use the sword and when the olive branch? It is difficult to come to a conclusion that is mutually fulfilling for the parties in one camp or the other. Though for a strong argument (that leans towards the camp I am not in) can be found here as expressed by prolific comic book writer Peter David.
A Deeper Look
The series themselves were carefully crafted by Gene Roddenburry to reflect the gamut of human emotion, experience, and ethnicity. At the time of The Original Series (TOS) inception it was quite a novelty to have a character both African-American and female on the bridge, accompanied officers that were Japanese and Russian, serving alongside Scottish, Midwestern and Southern American and half human-half “Vulcan” with a devilish appearance.
In the 1960s having these crew members in the post-World War II , Cold War, Civil Rights embattled America the crew of the Enterprise reflected a forward movement towards peace on Earth, if not in the galaxy. While preaching about the possibility of peace the series dealt with the Cold War directly via the Klingons who were indubitably analogues for the Russians and with Civil Rights; specifically with the episode “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” in which the half-black-half-white people battle with the half-white-half-black people. The original cast movies, with the exception of the first, are a continuous story outlining the end of the galactic “Cold War” and the advent of peace with the Klingons. It is therefore easy to assert that Kirk’s “punch him in the face” style is reflective of his position as a wartime captain.
The Next Generation (TNG) was launched on the momentum of TOS film series and reflects the real world events of the fall of the Soviet Union. The cast is reflective of a true peacetime mission. The TNG cast truly set out to find new life and in doing so, found one of its own. Picard is a thinker while, as David points out, Kirk is a doer. The cast is larger and is more focused on exploring humanity than the original show is on exploring the man. It has often been argued that the Kirk-McCoy-Spock dynamic is reflective of the ego, superego, and id and, largely, I believe that this assertion holds water. The dynamic of Captain, First/Science Officer, and Chief Physician in TOS really represents the burning questions revolving around how a man makes his decisions—with especial regard to Kirk balking regulation for the greater good. TOS is more about character interaction and race relations, policy and philosophy, and above all character growth. While development did occur with TOS the pathways are remarkably broader in TNG.
In TOS Spock is Science Officer and XO—his half human side is subdued in favor of his logical and cool, calculated Vulcan heritage; barring the occasional seeping of human emotion Spock towed the line as the classic Greek stoic. The complexity of Spock is broken in different directions for TNG for further exploration. Data is logical yet strives to be and understand humans—the stoic who wishes to be emotional. Warf is a battle brilliant tactician, steeped in the culture of his heritage but tempered with the culture of his rearing (a Klingon raised by humans). Riker is a brilliant tactician as well but is a markedly different XO (NUMBER ONE!) in his jovial, gregarious, and lighthearted style—he may be the embodiment and spirit of Spock’s humorous observations. All these characters in TNG along with the rest of the crew provide for dynamics of exploration of the facets of mankind and humanity and not just the mind of the man.
The battles held in TNG are more about guile than bravado—though there is a time for both—and the quandaries are the manifestation of interpersonal vs. intrapersonal. Therein lies the rub of the Picard vs. Kirk, Kirk vs. Picard debate.
Now some of you may prefer Captain Janeway or Commander Sisko…and someone out there may ever prefer Captain Archer for some reason…so have at it!
Which is your favorite Trek serial? Who’s your favorite captain or character? Why?