//\\ 15-Minute Federation //\\ presents . . . Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan — Chapter 2: Chekov’s Terrarium (Or: Lt. Saavik’s Deviated Septum)

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00:15:01 – 00:30:00

During the mission to Homeus Depotus VI, Commander Spork pricked his finger on a thorn of a rose bush in the planet’s garden center.

It was one of those flowers that proliferate in the Trek Universe, and Dr. “Ribcage” Macklemore says the thorn prick will either kill Spork or else take over his mind and force him to smile.

The good doctor and his assistant, Nurse Transept, both wear worried expressions as they stand over Spork’s bed in Sickbay. They keep looking at the monitor mounted on the wall above the bed, but the flatscreen is tuned to the Weather Channel. It appears that Commander Spork has a tropical storm developing somewhere in his Atlantic Ocean.

That can’t be good, even for a Vulcan.

Nurse Transept, who is not-so-secretly in love with Spork, puts an Elmo Band-Aid on his pricked finger, and then another on one of his ears because his point keeps falling off.

When Captain James C. Firewater makes a sarcastic remark about the ear, Macklemore says, angrily, “Dammit, Jim! I’m a doctor, not a makeup artist!”

Welcome to Chapter 2 of The Wrath of Khan Edition of the 15-Minute Federation, where our crack team of Trekologists are dissecting, examining, discussing and Martinizing the second movie of the thirteen Trek movies produced, as of this week, fifteen minutes at a time.

When we last hit our pause button, Commander Pavel Chekov and Captain Clark Terrell, of the USS Reliant, had beamed down to what they believe to be Ceti Alpha VI. They are searching for life signs in the middle of a sandstorm. For the planet to be suitable for the Genesis project, the brainchild of the Doctors Marcus, Carol and her son David, it must be completely devoid of life.

Unfortunately, the tricorder verifies life signs. As Chekov and Captain Terrell make their way through the sandstorm in their nifty EVA suits that never seemed to exist in the original series (remember that one episode where the landing party was wearing suits made from plastic shower curtains?), the two men come across shelters of some type. Terrell comments that the objects look like cargo carriers.

There are signs of habitation inside the structures. A seemingly empty terrarium is in the shot. You’ve heard of Chekhov’s Gun. This is Chekov’s Terrarium.

After Chekov sees the SS Botany Bay markings on the carrier, he says, “Oh no. We’ve got to get out of here.”

Too late.

Our intrepid Starfleet officers run into a motley gang of cloaked and masked figures. The leader of this menacing group removes his gloves and then his mask, revealing the strong masculine face of Ricardo Montalban.

Chekov says, “Khan!”

We will accept that Chekov recognizes Khan Noonien Singh. The dude is infamous, after all, one of the human augments who tried to take over all of Earth way back in the day. In the mid-1990s, during the Eugenics Wars. You remember those, I’m sure.

What’s more difficult to accept is that Khan claims to know Chekov. Any Trekologist worth their salt knows that Pavel Chekov wasn’t in Season 1 of TOS, which is when the fantastic episode “Space Seed,” which introduced Khan, appeared. Chekov made his debut in Season 2, after the producers decided they needed a mop-topped young man in the Paul McCartney/Davy Jones mold to appeal to younger viewers. We could whistle past this one minor quibble and just assume that Chekov was somewhere on board the USS Enterprise during the first season. He just hadn’t been promoted to the navigator’s position on the bridge yet. And, as a genetically engineered Homo Superior, Khan would never forget a face or name. The meeting of the two just occurred off-camera. Riiiight.

Khan goes on to fill in the viewer on some necessary exposition. Ricardo Montalban is never boring, even when delivering what essentially amounts to a monologue. Khan and his group of human augments were marooned on Ceti Alpha V fifteen years ago by Captain James T. Kirk. Ceti Alpha V was a Garden-of-Eden planet, a lush, fertile environment that a group of supermen and -women should have had no trouble taming. Unfortunately, the sixth planet in the system—that would be Ceti Alpha VI, where Chekov and Terrell thought they were beaming down—exploded about six months after Khan’s team was marooned. The orbits of the planets shifted and Ceti Alpha V became this cruel dustbowl planet we now see.

Incidentally, when Captain Terrell refers to Kirk as “Admiral Kirk,” Khan’s eyes seem to light up. He uses Kirk’s new title often as he goes on, investing the word Admiral with a tremendous amount of contempt. That’s some serious acting there, folks. Montalban takes command of the screen whenever he appears, just as he did in “Space Seed.” You can’t learn that kind of charisma.

Kirk never bothered to check on the progress of Khan’s people. When Khan realizes that Chekov didn’t expect to find them on the planet, he wants to know why the two Starfleet officers are there. He lifts Chekov into the air, effortlessly, with one hand. Of course, Pavel still won’t spill the beans.

No matter. Khan has other tools at his disposal.

Here’s where Chekov’s Terrarium comes into play. It contains indigenous creatures known as Ceti eels (which alone would have made the planet unsuitable for Project: Genesis. Just sayin’). After the planet went to hell, these creatures were responsible for killing many of Khan’s people, including his beloved wife, Marla McGivers (who, let’s be honest, kinda deserved it after betraying the Enterprise crew). As Khan pulls baby eels from the carapace of its mother, he’s still in full-on Exposition mode. He says the creatures wrap themselves around their host’s cerebral cortex, which makes the host quite open to suggestion.

As Khan puts the eels into the ears of Chekov and Captain Terrell, he asks them again why they are there. And, perhaps more importantly, where is James T. Kirk?

As the eel babies are crawling into the ears of our Starfleet officers, the scene wisely cuts away. This is dramatic and effective.

But, before we move on, let’s discuss a couple of salient points here. After serving as a one-man jury, judge and executioner, Kirk stranded Khan’s group of genetically engineered superheroes (and the Enterprise‘s historian) on Ceti Alpha V, and then never bothered to check on their welfare. Well…we can understand that the galaxy is a pretty big place, and Kirk was always a busy guy. Still, it seems like someone from Starfleet should have at least kept tabs on this group of dangerous criminals, just in case they somehow managed to escape its gravity well and began to wreak havoc on the galaxy. But, let’s table that for the moment.

The other thing that bothers us, from an in-universe perspective, is that no one on the USS Reliant notices that the Ceti Alpha system is missing one of its planets. Sure, they’re focused on their current mission. We understand that. But, they knew it was supposed to have six planets, because they thought they were landing on Ceti Alpha VI. This seems like a big miss for the on-board computers, which would have also noticed the altered orbits.

As long as we’re on a roll here, why was Captain Terrell so uninformed about Khan Noonien Singh when he finally revealed himself? We know why, here in the real world. Terrell had to be ignorant so that Chekov could explain who Khan was to Terrell, which also served to fill in the movie audience. But, if we accept that Chekov was familiar with Khan, and actually met him fifteen years ago (which he really didn’t), then it seems like the topic would have come up in conversation as they entered the Ceti Alpha system.

Captain,” Chekov might have said, “I’ve been in this system before. In fact, James T. Kirk abandoned a group of augments on Ceti Alpha V, along with the ship’s historian, after they attempted to take over the Enterprise. They were led by Khan Noonien Singh, one of the tyrants in the Eugenics War in the 1990s. You remember him from your history classes, I’m sure. I wonder how they’re doing these days?”

If we have time,” Captain Terrell might have responded, “we’ll drop in and check on them. It seems like something a principled Starfleet crew should do, even though our current mission must take precedence. We’re going down to Ceti Alpha VI, so we’re not too far away. Hmm. Computers are detecting only five planets in orbit. Must be a glitch.”

An aside: even when we first watched this movie, the baby Ceti eel scene reminded us of an early ’70s episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery called “The Caterpillar,” even though it was about earwigs that munched their way through their victims’ brains. Look it up. It was one of the few good episodes in the series.

We cut to another shuttle docking scene as Admiral Kirk arrives for his official inspection of the Enterprise. The music swells importantly. Kirk inspects the engine room, then running lights begin coming on and Lt. Saavik, played by the young and trim Kirstie Alley, pilots the starship out of space dock. These types of scenes usually seem to go on longer than necessary (re: Star Trek: The Motion Picture), but this one is well-edited.

For some reason, the consensus here is that Kirstie Alley was snorting a lot of cocaine during this time. We’re not sure if this alleged knowledge is based on comments she herself has made, or from rumors that surrounded the production and her replacement by Robin Curtis in the next movie. In either case, if we’re wrong, apologies to Ms. Alley. If we’re correct: hey, we all did things in the ’80s we’re not exactly proud of. In any case, she was very young, slim and bright-eyed.

This is where this chapter comes to a close. This was a tight fifteen minutes that continues to propel the story. Khan is going to find out about Project: Genesis, which Dr. David Marcus already told us could easily be weaponized. Plus, he’s going to drag Kirk into the story in his quest for revenge. Probably by using the mind-controlled Chekov and Captain Terrell. The story goals and interpersonal relationships between the main characters has been expertly set up. Beautiful.

Until next time . . . The Kobayashi Maru is Fixed, and Solyent Green is People, at the 15-Minute Federation . . .Live Long and Prosper.

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