[NOTE: This post discusses MAJOR SPOILERS for Star Trek: Discovery Season 1, as well as minor spoilers for the start of Season 2.]
Now that Star Trek: Discovery has cast its Mr. Spock, our thoughts turn naturally to his future BFF. Whether by coincidence or design, Discovery's timeframe matches up with major unexplored periods in the lives of the franchise’s two biggest figures. Although we’re getting a glimpse into Spock's development, James T. Kirk's got his own story to tell, all about dealing with tragedy. We think Discovery offers a fine venue for seeing it told.
From Navigator To Instructor
Season 2 of Discovery picks up in the year 2257, when (as per Memory Alpha) Lieutenant Kirk is a navigator aboard the USS Farragut. (Remember, this is Prime Timeline Kirk, not Chris Pine's Kelvinverse version.) As we know from the Original Series episode "Obsession" (written by Art Wallace, originally broadcast December 15, 1967), the Farragut bore witness to one of Kirk’s greatest failures -- at least in his own mind. Because Kirk froze up while trying to destroy a destructive cloud creature with the ship's phasers, he considered himself responsible for the creature killing over 200 of his shipmates. Not long afterwards, he became a Starfleet Academy instructor, so serious that his best friend Gary Mitchell described him as "a stack of books with legs."
When Gary said that all the way back in the series' second-ever episode ("Where No Man Has Gone Before," produced in 1965 and written by Samuel A. Peeples), it laid the foundation for two sides of Kirk: the rule-bending adventurer and the duty-bound career officer. For eleven years afterwards -- until he learned the truth about the creature -- Kirk blamed himself for the Farragut tragedy.
Accordingly, in Discovery's timeframe, Kirk's survivor’s guilt would still be very fresh. Since Season 2 promises to show Spock's growth from excitable junior officer into inscrutable font of knowledge, it can certainly do the same for an emotionally-wounded Kirk. Put simply, the rueful lieutenant might just want some combination of atonement and escape when (perhaps) he's sent to serve aboard Discovery.
A Tale Of Two Starships?
As it happens, the Discovery has its share of damaged crewmen, led by science officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and engineer Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp). Practically the whole first season dealt with Burnham's losses, from her Shenzhou captain and crew to a doomed romance with Ash Tyler and of course her actions at the Battle of the Binary Stars. Stamets also lost friends and colleagues aboard the USS Glenn, his significant other was murdered, and he sacrificed his body to make Discovery's spore drive go.
For that matter, the entire Discovery crew had to accept the fact that their captain tricked them into carrying out his malevolent agenda; and they've recently returned from a nightmarish parallel universe filled with evil versions of themselves.
We’d like to see a post-Farragut Lieutenant Kirk come into this mix, although it would probably be in a still-hypothetical Season 3. Maybe he's on his way to the Academy; maybe he's already teaching and interacting with Discovery temporarily; or maybe he's still in emotional limbo and unsure of his future. Regardless, we doubt his arc would end with the familiar Kirk swagger. After all, "Obsession" tells us that Kirk didn't really recover from his Farragut experience. Instead, he learned how to bury it until triggered by the cloud creature's return. (At that point, "Obsession" revealed that Kirk wasn't to blame, since phasers wouldn't have killed the creature anyway.)
Therefore, Discovery viewers would probably see a lot of the serious, rule-conscious Kirk, although it would be hard to resist showing flashes of the swashbuckler who doesn't like to lose. Those latter traits might have to wait until after any Discovery arc, when Kirk finally trades in the Academy for the front lines. Besides, we doubt Discovery would have an Academy-based storyline; except for something involving Ensign Tilly, in which case we are totally down for a Kirk-Tilly team-up. Additionally, since Lieutenant Kirk would be more of a role-player than a leader, that's a side of the character we would like to see.
Pros And Cons (Not KHAANS!)
All that said, there are valid reasons for not bringing Lieutenant Kirk into the Discovery fold. First and foremost, Discovery's own characters clearly have plenty of stories in them. Moreover, Discovery's inaugural episode established franchise favorite Sarek not just as a recurring cast member, but as Burnham's foster father. Along the same lines, Season 2 will feature once-and-future Enterprise Captain Christopher Pike, plus significant appearances by his ship and crew. Thus, it may be overkill to have Burnham interact with Kirk when she's already been connected to Spock, Pike and the Enterprise.
In fact, while Prime Kirk's pre-command days remain officially nebulous, there may be no greater showcase for Melancholy Kirk than the midlife-crisis subplot of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The Kelvinverse movies also sought to put their Kirk through similar emotional paces, albeit under radically different circumstances of triumph, tragedy and redemption. Closer to home, the 1991 DC graphic novel Star Trek: Debt of Honor featured a post-Farragut flashback.
Nevertheless, we think Star Trek: Discovery should take the opportunity to delve into the backstory of Starfleet’s greatest captain. While Discovery should tell its own stories, we think it can use Kirk to help with some of them. His tour doesn’t have to be for a whole season, although if it happens it may be the most Kirk we get for a while. Taken together, it's enough for us to recommend that the good lieutenant board Discovery.
Do you think Star Trek: Discovery should meet up with young Jim Kirk? Let us know in the comments!