These four Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan moments still flummox, 40 years on.
The 40th anniversary year of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is in its home stretch. But before the chronometer runs out on it completely, I wanted to revisit some mysteries about this movie.
No, one of them is not the oft-asked question of how Khan and Chekov recognize each other in Star Trek II when Walter Koenig wasn’t even in “Space Seed.” Obviously, the Enterprise crew filled Chekov in at some point; and Khan used his library computer access while in sickbay to skim all Starfleet personnel files, and pulled Chekov’s name out of his genetically enhanced memory 15 years later. No worries!
I’m talking about some other, smaller inconsistencies, incongruities, and imponderables that never fail to niggle at me when I watch Star Trek II. They can’t be answered by turning to sch “non-canonical” but highly respected sources as Vonda N. McIntyre’s gold-standard setting novelization. They can’t even be answered by checking out the deleted scenes (such as the ones in the film’s product reel, preserved thanks to Howard Weinstein and available via Peter Wolchak’s Collecting Trek site.
No, these are questions where the curious must boldly go out on their own limbs, relying on nothing but their own imaginations, intuitions, and love of Star Trek lore. These are the kind of “Star Trek mysteries” Leslie Thompson used to “solve” for Walter Irwin and G.B. Love’s Trek fanzine—petty, perplexing puzzles to which we’ll likely never get satisfactory onscreen answers, leaving us to fill our “head canons” with (to paraphrase Dr. Carol Marcus) whatever answers we see fit to deposit in them.
In Star Trek II, how do Kirk and Spock know when their code starts and stops?
The friend with whom I saw the recent Fathom Events 40th anniversary Star Trek II screening found the coded conversation Kirk and Spock have about “hours” and “days” confusing. “Now, how did Kirk know Spock was speaking in code?” he asked.
I was more than happy to remind him that Spock prefaced the exchange by saying, “Admiral, if we go ‘by the book,’ like Lieutenant Saavik, hours could seem like days.” Clearly, Spock’s words are the “key” to the conversation that follows—an audio clue Kirk will catch, but the eavesdropping Khan will not.
But clearing up my friend’s confusion led me to experience some of my own. If the “by the book” line—apart from being a great excuse to give us a magnificent reaction shot from Kirstie Alley—is the signal that the coded conversation is starting, what is the signal that it’s over? Kirk tells Spock to get the Enterprise to safety if Spock doesn’t hear from them in two hours. But I thought “hours” now seemed like “days?”
Only later did I remember Spock repeats the phrase “by the book” after giving Kirk the damage report. Hearing it for the second time, Kirk must know he should revert from coded talk to plain speech.
But would Kirk and Spock want Khan hearing the Enterprise would leave the landing party behind after two hours? And how does Kirk let Spock know the plan is actually to beam them back aboard, “right on schedule,” in two hours?
The ground rules for Kirk and Spock’s coded conversation aren’t as apparent to us in the audience as they could be. Then again, if they were evident to us, think how evident they’d be to a villain with a “superior intellect”—so maybe it’s for the best.