Beneath our society, a war has been raging. Two factions have drawn an invisible line and stand on either side, defending their honor — nay, the honor of the leaders their philosophy is based upon. It is a debate so fierce that the very mention of it will turn the most rational adult into an angry, spewing wreck, and every level-headed nerd into, well, an angry nerd.
And those are the worst kinds of nerd.
I’m talking about a debate that has plagued the civility of our world for more than two decades: Who is the best captain of the USS Enterprise?
I assure you this is not a topic I approach lightly. The last time I was caught in this I was an innocent bystander, trapped in the slobbering, gibbering ravings of angry nerds — I consider myself lucky to have escaped unscathed. Also, my car. I half expected to find my car covered with “PICARD RULES” and “KIRK IS AWESOME” in shaving cream. But I was lucky. I lived to fight another day.
Today is that day. Today I will compare James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard and determine who reigns as definitive captain of the starship Enterprise.
Note:The first episode of the original Star Trek featured Captain Pike, so we watched the second episode, which had Kirk. Also, since Encounter at Far Point was actually two episodes, I wanted to keep it fair and give Kirk the same amount of face time. You know, because Kirk is an attention whore and would demand equal viewing had he been told of this discrepancy. So I also watched episode 3 of the original Star Trek (Charlie X).
While The Editor and I watched these shows, we commented on the strengths and weaknesses of each Enterprise Captain.
The argument against using only the first two episodes is that the characters continue to develop through the entire series, so it might be unfair to base it on a small, early snapshot. However, this is the fairest way. Though everyone in both series continues to change and develop over time, these beginning episodes reveal what lies at each character’s core. Also, many years have passed since I have watched a Star Trek episode (original or otherwise) so I went into this without any preconceived notions of who would reign supreme. All I could recall was that the two captains were entirely different, but nothing more.
Let’s get into it.
As much as anyone would like to deny it, appearance plays a significant role in the way people identify leaders. Studies have proven that when voters have no information on candidates, they vote for the more attractive person. Researchers aren’t entirely sure why this is, we only know that it is. So we have to talk about it.
Kirk is generally known as a ladies’ man, even to people who haven’t watched a lot of the original Star Trek series. We don’t see a lot of his sexual prowess in the first two episodes, though the support for attractiveness is there, especially in all of his close-up shots: when the camera gets up close and personal, the mood lighting comes on and it’s Ridiculous Bedroom Eyes Time – even when he’s talking about a disgusting biological ailment and/or death.
I guess you could say Kirk has muscles. Times have changed and the definition of a hunky physique has changed, too, but back then I suppose you could call him “built”. Or “substantial”. Yeah, let’s call him substantial.
His mannerisms have flair: he employs a cool tricorder flip move and, when there is drama to be had, he flits around, then stops abruptly and holds bizarre poses. Possibly he’s playing Red Light-Green Light in his head. My favorite part about Kirk is that he crawls around in the dirt, performing silly fighting maneuvers. This behavior adds to his ruggedness.
And is it just me, or do none of his shirts fit?
Yep, he’s bald and he’s British. Good work, Sherlock.
Picard’s first appearance is as a black silhouette, Alfred Hitchcock-like. Then he emerges and is revealed as a short bald dude. I wouldn’t say that was a letdown; it was more of a surprise because immediately he is very un-Kirk-like. Though he was voted as “TV’s Sexiest Man” in 1992, I have to say that Picard’s attractiveness isn’t made by his physical appearance. It’s made by his persona. Don’t get me wrong, Picard isn’t unattractive. But he doesn’t fit the characteristics that typically make mainstream folks get hot over. And I may not even have brought all this up if not for the fact that on this version of the Enterprise, the captain’s chair sits between two others – where they seat Beardy McVirile and Bubbly McBreasticles, two people who are clearly put there to increase the sexy quota on that ship. This, to me, makes Picard’s physical attractiveness a question – or even a farce. If they had sat him between two regular people, I wonder if it would have been noticed. If they had sat him between Wharf and a gorgon, he’d be considered George Clooney in comparison.
And is it just me, or is Picard’s head shaped like an Alien head? I’m not saying this is a bad thing. Alien is bad ass. You are no match for Alien.
I declare their appearances a stalemate. Kirk scores with the chicks, but Picard has a sweet, Alienesque cranium.
Without a terrific crew, captains would be flying solo, doing it all themselves. Great leaders are people who rely on their crew’s expertise, utilize their crew to the fullest, and inspire. This is where we get into substantially different territory on our captains.
What’s different between the two series openers is that with the original Star Trek series, Kirk’s been captain for a little bit and he’s already established a relationship with his staff. Picard is new to the ship and he’s picking up a couple of new senior staff members. Kirk has already established his expectations. He yells at McCoy at one point, rebuking him for putting his emotions over logic and duty. He constantly relies on his senior staff for opinions and facts, which he pieces together in order to solve a mystery. And why wouldn’t he? He has Spock. You’d have to be a real moron to disregard Spock…
More on that in a minute.
…is Kirk’s opposite. He’s introduced as a man of great intelligence who prefers to verbal combat over a physical one. In fact, in the first two episodes he is prone to long, rambling know-it-all statements.
He’s smart and knows a lot of facts. We get it.
But I also found him to be a contradiction. He gets pissy a lot and doesn’t like anyone stealing his thunder. Every staff member around him is apparently an idiot who needs to be corrected, from the lowly yeoman to the chief security officer. And correct them he does, in his long-winded way. Funnily enough, the only person on the ship who dares to be correct in Picard’s presence is a kid. And when it happens, Picard turns into a raging jerk and exiles the kid from his presence.
Apparently Picard doesn’t like it when someone steals his thunder. The only time I did see Picard attempt to rely on someone wasn’t really relying at all. After his new first officer (William Riker, AKA Beardy McVirile) comes on board, Picard orders him to connect the two halves of the ship together. You know, stick the big thing inside the little hole.
I don’t consider that as asking Beardy to be useful. It was more like Picard wanted Beardy to prove he wasn’t a waste of space on his ship.
I can’t give Picard points for utilizing his crew, unless it’s because he wants practice at being smarter than someone. Sorry, Picard fans. Kirk comes out way ahead when it comes to utilizing and inspiring his crew.
Okay, so we’re at Kirk 1, Picard 0, but we haven’t even gotten to the most important issue: what are they like in action? The methodology of each captain in a dangerous situation can make or break their mission, as well as save lives.
Simply put, Kirk is a mover and a shaker. Sure, he hates mysteries. He says they give him a bellyache. But when danger abounds, well, screw danger. He rushes headfirst into a threat like a scantily-clad blonde in a horror flick. The safety of his crew is of utmost importance, so that’s probably why he prefers to do the dirty work himself. When it’s time to act, he and random, unnamed, red-shirted crew members protect everyone else.
But is it really that hard? Kirk generally only fights dumb enemies. He was first up against an alien woman who sucks salt from your body. His second combatant was against an incredibly annoying (albeit powerful) kid.
Since Kirk dislikes mysteries, it’s probably for the best that the enemies are so stupid. If he encounters anything smarter than a box of rocks, he might be screwed — if it weren’t for Spock.
Unfortunately, Kirk has some quirks that compromise the Spock factor. I could (and probably should) have included this little tidbit when I talked about utility and inspiration of crew, but I decided to wait and mention it here: Kirk hangs up on Spock. At least, that’s what it looks like. When he’s on the planet and Spock is on the ship explaining something important, Kirk seems to cut him off and close the conversation a little too soon. It’s amazing Kirk survived as long as he had. Of all the people in the universe you’d want to listen to when you’re faced with danger, it’s Spock. Probably a bad idea to cut Spock off before he gets to the good part. You know, like how to stop something that’s trying to kill you.
As I said earlier, Picard is Kirk’s opposite. He’s a deep thinker. When the crew is in mortal danger, his strategy is to send all of the pretty people into danger while he stays on the ship. And why not? There’s air conditioning. Granted, if he was using that time on board to actually think a way out of the mess he’s in, I wouldn’t mention this. However, in the episode I watched, Picard sent his crew into danger, then used that time to wander down to the sick bay and stare at Beverly Crusher’s breasts.
Now, most straight men and gay women probably find this a perfectly acceptable usage of time but I fail to see how breasts will rescue anyone from mortal peril. Okay, breasts are great. I get it. But they aren’t magical.
No. They really aren’t.
I got the impression that Picard really wasn’t too concerned about the predicament they were in, which was pretty serious — a powerful, all-knowing being was putting Picard on trial for all of humanity. If Picard couldn’t redeem the entire human race from past to present, everybody was screwed.
And I’m not talking about Bev Crusher’s breasts.
Picard’s lack of focus on the immediate danger made him flippant and uncaring. At one point he flatly states that he would be willing to destroy his ship to beat “Q”, the all-powerful, all-knowing being who is calling the human race to account. Notice what I am saying — the point wasn’t that he wanted to “save everyone”. It’s that Picard would destroy the Enterprise to win.
We’re back to throwing tantrums when someone one-ups his ginormous brain.
Based on the episodes I watched, Kirk comes out as the clear winner in his methodology. Despite hanging up on Spock, Kirk personally gets more done. Plus, I feel that Kirk’s motives are more genuine. He cares about his crew while Picard just doesn’t like it when someone steals this thunder. Maybe he’s smarter than Kirk. But he throws too many stupid tantrums. Maybe I should give him more credit. After all, he does sit next to Bubbly McBreasticles, who is the most annoying senior officer in the history of science fiction and would also drive me into a rabid fit. McBreasticles is an empath. While that sounds really neat, all she does is sit around and report the obvious.
If Picard were a man of action, he would blast her out of the airlock. Or have someone beam her to another planet. Too bad he’s a thinker. He could ask Beardy to do it, but it only makes sense for the two beautiful people on the ship to have some sort of sexual tension. No way is Beardy going to jettison his opportunity for some bedroom action.
But I digress. Though mental intellect would be a key driver to outstanding performance, emotional intelligence reigns. Kirk simply shows more. Picard needs to get out of his head. The score is Kirk 2, Picard 0. Kirk is the winner.
Verdict: Kirk captain is best captain.