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an analysis written by Donna S. Frelick
originally published in Antares 3, April 1999

Captain James T. Kirk stands in the eye of a storm of fan controversy regarding nearly every aspect of his character and behavior. Kirk’s fans defend him as a fearless, intuitive leader; Kirk’s detractors counter that he is an impulsive maverick with more blind luck than strategic skill. Fans praise him as a decisive man of action; critics excoriate him as a hyperactive, phaser-toting space cowboy. Those who love him see him as a staunch defender of truth, justice and the Federation way; those who hate him see him as the biggest threat to the Prime Directive since Garth of Izar.

Battling fans reserve their lowest insults and highest levels of vitriol over a question that has little to do with Kirk’s courage, intelligence or command brilliance. Instead the question that will bring nearly any group of randomly selected Star Trek fans to blows has more to do with libido than leadership: is James T. Kirk a sensitive, caring, virile man who happens to be attractive to (and attracted by) the opposite sex, or is the captain of the Enterprise the most outrageous dog of all time and space?

In an effort to add fresh fuel to this controversy and forestall any eventuality that fans may grow tired of endlessly ruminating on the matter, this author has painstakingly analyzed all 79 original episodes of Star Trek, plus the first seven feature films, searching for clues to the mystery of Kirk-as-lover. The research has spanned more than thirty years and involved more hours of staring at a small, squarish cube of plastic and electronic components than any sane person should readily admit to. The long hours of hard work—not to mention the gallons of beer and tons of snack foods!—yielded impressive results. And once this author got over that killer headache, she formulated a theory that should serve as argument fodder for many conventions to come.

For those fans who revel in Star Trek trivia (and who among us is immune?), there are twenty-nine episodes and four feature films in which Jim Kirk can be said to have an interaction of a flirtatious, romantic or sexual nature, or in which past liaisons are key to the story. Twenty-five of these interactions involve a physical action onscreen, such as a kiss or full-body embrace. A moderately prurient viewer could reasonably argue that these on-screen encounters lead to the bedroom (or captain’s cabin or a storage closet on Deck Nine) in six instances, while the same can be assumed of five past relationships referred to in the canon. The case can be made that Kirk scores in "Bread and Circuses," "Elaan of Troyius," "The Mark of Gideon," "The Paradise Syndrome," "Shore Leave" and "Wink of an Eye." The evidence in incontrovertible in "The Paradise Syndrome" and "Wink of an Eye." A reasonable assumption can be made that he scored in past relationships in "Where No Man Has Gone Before," "Court Martial," "The Deadly Years," "Turnabout Intruder" and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Six interactions involve reunions with lovers from Kirk’s past. Seventeen are initiated by others for reasons of their own, and/or happen while Kirk is somehow not in full control of his...uh...faculties. In only four on-screen cases do we observe Kirk to fall in love of his own volition, though it is debatable whether the actions of a Kirok with amnesia count.

In Service to the Federation

On the surface, the evidence might seem to present a good case for Kirk as DOG OF THE UNIVERSE. However, further analysis reveals a greater purpose behind many of Kirk’s dalliances. Like a male Mata Hari, Kirk often uses his sexuality to gain information or advantage in a threatening situation.

In the clearest examples of this style, Kirk has no other motive for initiating "romance" than gaining advantage in the conflict. In "By Any Other Name," he employs the thin excuse of an "apology" to confuse the Kelvan Kelinda. In "Catspaw," he attempts to seduce the alien Sylvia to learn the secret of the transponder. He sets up an escape attempt by playing along with the more pleasant incarnation of the shapeshifter in Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country (leading McCoy to demand, "What is it with you, anyway?" Obviously the doctor does not fully appreciate Kirk’s skill at sexual espionage.).

Kirk makes similar practical use of the android Andrea in "What are Little Girls Made of’?" and the unhinged Orion Marta in "Whom Gods Destroy." When he subdues the murderous Vanna who attacks him in bed in "The Cloudminders," his ultimate goal is recovering the missing zenite consignment, though he so clearly enjoys having the troglodyte leader at his mercy that an undiscerning viewer might find it hard to determine his motives. It is equally difficult to determine exactly what Kirk is after when he charms Mea 3 in "A Taste of Armageddon"—societal revolt, perhaps? But then, he doesn’t institute a full-court press in that episode, either. The captain appears to be suffering from a lack of focus, or maybe he’s just saving himself for the big argument with Anan 7.

Things get more complicated when Kirk starts off seducing the "enemy", but later begins to care for her, as in "The Gamesters of Triskelion," "Mirror, Mirror" and, to a lesser extent, "Conscience of the King." Not that he allows his feelings to interfere with his duty, mind you, but at least he does apologize to Shahna for punching her in the jaw after kissing her.

There are also instances in which the good captain enjoys his work so much that he almost forgets he has an ulterior motive, as in "Wink of an Eye," "Is There in Truth No Beauty?" and Star Trek: The Voyage Home. Yeah, well, seduction in the service of espionage is a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it. Still, when Kirk turns that withering charm on a thirteen-year-old girl in "Miri," I think we can safely say he’s gone too far.

The Roots of the Reputation

Even the most rabid Kirk fans will agree the captain has a reputation as a spacefaring Don Juan. Indeed, there are a number of episodes in which he appears to romance the woman just tor the fun of it, or meets up with a woman from his past with whom he’s had a similar "fling". Casual interests from the past show up in "Court Martial," "Shore Leave," and "Dagger of the Mind," though the extent of Kirk’s involvement in each of the cases varies greatly. And we can infer from the dialogue between Kirk and McCoy in "Wolf in the Fold" that the captain is no stranger to the hunt for female companionship on friendly planets.

The Don Juan in Kirk has no trouble accepting the "loan" of the proconsul’s slave Drusilla in "Bread and Circuses," although he does make a token protest. His concern there, however, seems to be that his "performance" not be used for anyone else’s entertainment or advantage. Kirk may be a hound, but evidently he is not an exhibitionist (which, we can suppose, also explains his slight embarrassment at serving as body double for Sargon in the final scene of "Return to Tomorrow").

Still, Kirk’s Don Juan does have a dark side, as we learn in "The Enemy Within." The evil Kirk doesn’t even bother with the niceties of seduction; his attack on Rand is attempted rape, plain and simple, in an episode that somehow failed to offend NBC censors. (I don’t know why—it offends me plenty!) So much for romance.

A note should be made here about the famous "interracial kiss" in "Plato’s Stepchildren." The Platonians certainly know how to push the right buttons! How clever of them to guess that Kirk’s dark Don Juan harbors a secret desire for Lieutenant Uhura. But as we have said before, the captain doesn’t like to put on a show. The real question is: just how much would Kirk have resisted the urge to kiss Uhura had no one been watching?

Kirk in Love

Perhaps a word of explanation is necessary for the final category of Kirkian eros. For those too young or too sophisticated to be: aware, Dobie Gillis was a character in a television show of the same name in the early 1960’s. Dobie, played by actor Dwayne Hickman (isn’t it sad how we remember these details?), was a teenager cursed with an overactive sense of romance. He fell desperately in love with a different girl every week and invariably failed to attract the least bit of interest from the girl. Thus he pined ...

Now, Jim Kirk seldom has a problem attracting the interest of the woman in question, but consider the outcomes of the instances in which we actually see him fall in love. In "The City on the Edge of Forever," he must ensure that his beloved dies as scheduled or millions will die who did not die before. In "The Paradise Syndrome," his pregnant wife is stoned to death on his behalf. In "The Mark of Gideon," he does manage to save Odona from the deadly disease he gives her, but she follows her duty to stay behind with her people when he leaves her planet. In "Requiem for Methuselah," the object of his affection isn’t even Human (and suffers a fatal program glitch as a result of Kirk’s insistence that she use her developing free will to run off with him).

"Elaan of Troyius" and "A Private Little War" must be seen as special cases, since biochemical reactions are responsible for Kirk’s fall in both instances. However, he does fall genuinely in love with Elaan as a result of contact with her tears and suffers just as genuinely when she follows her duty to go through with a political marriage. In contrast, his attraction to the witchy-woman Nona is a case of good, old-fashioned drug-induced lust. As the Swinging Medallions once put it: "It’s a good thing for [Kirk] they don’t bottle that stuff."

Our captain fared little better in love as a young man, judging by the past lovers we see in "The Deadly Years" (career conflict led to breakup); "Turnabout Intruder" (she didn’t want her own career—she wanted his); Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (career conflict led to breakup despite the birth of a son); and Star Trek: Generations (career conflict...well, you get the picture). Nothing is known of the fate of the "little lab tech" that Kirk almost married, as referred to in "Where No Man Has Gone Before", unless it is assumed, as Orion Press does, that she is Carol Marcus (see Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan).

Poor Captain Kirk’s past gives the phrase "unlucky in love" a whole new meaning. It is hardly surprising that he chooses to use his sexuality to turn the tables as Mata Hari, or to engage in a little uncomplicated fun as Don Juan, rather than risk falling in love with the women he meets. It’s certainly less painful for him, and the women might actually stand a chance of surviving the encounter.

In fact, the final body count yields the most intriguing data of all: Of the thirteen women Kirk charms as Mata Hari, eight survive (several of whom could even be said to have benefitted from his attention) and five die. Of these, the more Kirk enjoys the interaction, the more likely the woman is to survive or thrive.

Of the ten women Kirk loves, five survive (without him, with various degrees of wistful regret), four die, one goes insane. If carrying on a love affair with Jim Kirk was a disease, it would have a fifty percent mortality rate.

On the other hand, of the seven entities Kirk (or some part of him) romances just for the fun of it, all seven survive and only two can be said to have suffered from the encounter. We have no information on how these women rated their experiences, but at least they are all alive to tell the tale.

We will leave the detailed analysis to Mister Spock, but a quick, subjective glance at these statistics leads this author to but one conclusion: James T. Kirk has been the butt of far too much criticism as an intergalactic Don Juan. On the contrary, it is much better for all involved when the captain allows this aspect of his character free rein. Star Trek writers please note: Apart from those seductions which are strictly in the line of duty, Kirk should confine himself to interactions of a Don Juan nature. Real love is obviously far too risky.

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