Kirk loves his ship and crew, and Spock just wants to kill!
On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek, Where No Man Has Gone Before. He will examine the leadership approaches of Captain Kirk and Spock.
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Welcome, everyone, and thank you, Pat, for the intro. I want to thank you all for listening to this podcast, it means the world to me that you’re checking it out. If you like what you hear, please, share with a friend. On this episode we round out the first episodes or pilot episodes of the Star Trek series we’ll be reviewing as we join The Original Series as they go Where No Man Has Gone Before.
I’m going to do my best to not call out some of the things in this episode that don’t necessarily line up with future Star Trek. They were still figuring things out and the concepts of continuity or canon didn’t really exist yet. What I do want to say right away, though, is that if you have not checked out the remastered version of this episode lately, do it now! Go ahead, pause the podcast; I’ll wait while you go watch. Ok, now that you have all watched this, what a gorgeous episode! There was nothing on TV that looked this good in 1966! I dare you to show me otherwise!
We start off with a Captain’s Log. A recorded distress call from an earth ship lost over 2 centuries ago. Kirk and Spock playing 3D chess. They start to teach us that Spock doesn’t quote, unquote have emotions and that he is partly human. Kirk surprises Spock by an unexpected chess move. <<Chess clip>>Even this early in the series they are building their relationship! In the transporter room, they bring aboard an old-style ship recorder. It activates on the pad and Kirk calls for the alert as he and Spock head to the bridge.
This early in the episode, and I know I said I would try not to do this, but it’s pretty cool to see the ideas for things that will come later. They have the division logos on the delta shield; they are the correct shapes, but not on the correct divisions yet. The sweater tops use different colors to show the different divisions; close to what we’ll see later in the series, but not quite right. I really enjoy dissecting the various uniforms on Star Trek, so this is pretty cool stuff!
Kirk and Spock get to the bridge where we meet Lt. Commander Gary Mitchell. Spock begins analyzing the data from the ship recorder from the USS Valiant as they approach the edge of the Galaxy. Kirk calls for all the department heads for a quick touch-base. This is where we meet Dr. Dehner, a psychiatrist. Who, apparently, had a change in career when she was promoted as Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan for a film that came out a few years after this episode…you may have heard of it <<INSERT MASH SOUNDCLIP>> We also meet Dr Piper, the Chief Medical Officer, Mr Scott with Engineering and Mr Sulu with astrosciences. Classy moves from Mitchell here <<quote Mitchell>> Spock explains the Valiant encountered an unknown force and that they started frantically researching ESP. Dehner states that she has tested fairly high on “ESPer” tests before. The Valiant ordered the ship destroyed to protect it from whatever had been threatening it. Kirk immediately seeks input from the department heads before ordering the Enterprise towards the potential threat. Two points in this series of exchanges. First, Kirk not only listens intently to Spock, but actively seeks input from others. Asking the various department heads for their input shows he is interested in the bigger picture, not just the world as he knows it. This is the advantage of fostering a team for decision making, specifically, a diverse team. People with different education, different specialities and different experiences will see things differently from you. Their input is always valuable. It may not always be actionable, though, which leads us to the second thing: Kirk makes a decision. He doesn’t crawl down rabbit holes looking to answer questions that aren’t relevant; he doesn’t analyze the situation to death; analysis paralysis as it has been called. He gets the relevant input, makes a decision and puts it into action. This second point is one I think many people and many leadership teams can benefit from.
They approach the threat - beautiful graphics here - it’s confusing their sensors and readings. Once they make contact with it, the bridge lights p, a terminal explodes. Then Dehner and Mitchell go down! Kirk calls for a helmsman to take Mitchell’s spot as he pulls another incredible move! He gets out of the captain’s chair and takes over the helm controls! Spock sees this and immediately jumps in to take the controls so Kirk can get back to his station. Ok, a lot to get into here! Let me share an inadvertent leadership lesson I learned when I was 17-years old, trust me, it relates to this scene! When I was in high school, I washed dishes at a buffet restaurant (for those of you listening to this in a post-COVID-19 world, a buffet was a magical place where various foods were served; you would walk around to pick out what you wanted and then eat as much of it as you wanted! At a buffet, you could pile your plate with fried chicken, pizza, nachos, cheesecake, coleslaw and whatever else…and then go back for more!! Ah, those were the days….. Ok, back to the story: It was Thanksgiving. You can imagine how busy we were; the line nearly wrapped our building! In the dishroom, we had a fancy conveyer belt dishwasher and a pot sink. Scrubbing pots was the worst possible job in the whole restaurant. I mean, it was gross. So, I start getting backed up and it’s impacting the kitchen. Our General Manager, an incredible human being named Jason walked back and saw my nightmare. I fully expected him to pull someone off of another job to hopefully help me out. But, he didn’t. … Instead, he took off his suit jacket, rolled up his sleeves and started scrubbing pots with me. Here’s the big boss, they guy that calls all the shots, doing to dirtiest job possible. Kirk does the same thing here. And, like Jason, does it without hesitation. The understanding that every job is critical and that no one is “too good” for any job goes MILES in fostering a positive and empowering culture. Then Spock gets involved! Spock, who is actively reviewing the records of the only other ship to have encountered this threat, doesn’t even pause before taking the controls from Kirk. He understands that the ship needs it’s captain, specifically, it needs someone to coordinate all of the varied efforts to keep the ship safe and to make the necessary decisions to do so. Great stuff here, and the fact it all happens in the space of about 4 seconds just hammers home the great leadership the Enterprise enjoys.
As they get through the ordeal, Dr Dehner wakes up, carefully. Kirk helps Mitchell up but his eyes are all messed up! Covered in silver! They had the actors wear the early style contact lenses, I think they were called scleral lenses. They actually put foil between the layers of the lens to give it that look. Ouch!! He makes his way to sickbay. Spock reviews the records of Mitchell and Dehner; he has questions about why they were affected the way they were, and finds they both have high scores on their Starfleet ESP tests.
Star Trek is now, and always has been, committed to demonstrating diversity in action. There’s no mention of this in-show, it’s just business as usual, as communication officer Alden is working to repair damaged bridge terminals. Sounds pretty routine, right? Well, Alden is played by Lloyd Hanes who went on to be a regular on the series Room 222. Oh yeah, and he’s a black man! In 1966, a black man on a television show just working alongside his co-workers. No mention of race, just a dude doing his job. Super cool. The ante is, of course, upped when Uhura ultimately takes his place and now we have woman of color doing the same thing! Star Trek continued and continues to demonstrate diversity as we, as a society, understand more about people and what makes them so amazing.
Kirk visits Mitchell in sickbay. Some fun back and forth with them establishing their friendship and that Mitchell is feeling just fine. They, apparently, had a memorable time on Deneb IV, which we mentioned in the 2nd episode of the Starfleet Leadership Academy when the TNG crew was there during Encounter at Farpoint. Mitchell’s telepathy, or ESP, was critical in their mission there. We learn that when Kirk was a lieutenant he was an instructor at Starfleet Academy, and pretty tough one too! Mitchell tells a fun story about ow he set Kirk up with a girl, without Kirk knowing he was behind it! Kirk says he almost married the girl…hmmm, wonder if that could have been Carol Marcus?? Anyway, He’s been reading to pass the time, even reading some of that “long-haired stuff.” Isn’t everything ultimately just a product if its time?? The playful banter takes a turn as Kirk goes to leave. Mitchell’s voice is suddenly powerful and he warns, “be good to me.” After Kirk leaves, we see a short sequence of Mitchell reading at an inhuman speed. Spock is watching him on a video screen on the bridge as Kirk orders a 24 hour watch on sick bay and orders every possible range of examinations and tests. As makes this order, Mitchell stares intently, straight into the camera as if staring straight at Kirk.
Dr Piper is running the ordered tests on Mitchell and says he looks to be perfect. He leaves, leaving Mitchell with Dehner. Dehner makes a powerful statement about being a woman professional in response to Mitchell calling her a walking freezer unit. As they talk, Mitchell realizes he can make the medical readout say whatever he wants them to. He spikes them and follows that with a flatline, all at will. He’s just discovering his powers but also realizes they are in their infancy. Dehner tests his memory and he recites a page given to him at random from one of the books he devoured earlier. He reminds her that she was also affected earlier, but she claims that she feels no ill effects whatsoever.
Kelso, the ship’s navigator drops in to see how Mitchell is doing. Mitchell jumps down his throat when asking about the ship’s repairs. He’s convinced Kelso missed a critical detail on the impulse engine packs. One that if truly missed, could disable or destroy the ship! Kelso checks it out and report to the senior officers that Mitchell was correct. There was no way Mitchell could have known, but he did. Spock seems to have been waiting for this opportunity. He posits that Mitchell is mutating and is a danger. Dehner begins to argue but Kirk cuts her off. He states that it is his job to listen to the details, good or bad for the good of the ship. The officers share examples of odd occurrences around the ship attributed to Mitchell. Kirk calls Dehner out for not reporting this earlier. An unexpected response from her as she defends her and Mitchell’s actions stating that the mutations could create a new and better kind of human being. Kirk pauses to consider this and continues asking the senior officers for their input. More of what we saw earlier in the episode. Kirk knows he has to make a huge decision. To make things even more complicated, he has to make a huge decision that will impact his ship and crew, but will also personally affect his long-time friend, Gary Mitchell. He concludes the meeting by stating there will be no discussion of any of this with the crew.
Some may question that decision. As leaders we are often told, and rightly so, that transparency is important. I believe, and Kirk demonstrates here, that he also believes there is a difference between transparency and sausage-making. You’ve heard the saying, “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” Basically, the details of how a thing came to be are not always relevant or helpful upon sharing. In sausage making, there are a lot of things sent though the grinder, and often even more that are NOT sent through. Imagine this: you’re making some sausage. You toss meat and spices into the grinder, encase it and it’s good to go! What no one but you knows is that you considered putting some leftover, rotten beef in there, a cold pizza, and part of a snickers bar. They were lying around, and you thought about it, in fact, you even started to open the snickers bar, but they never went through the grinder or into the sausage. Is there any reason to share that you considered those things? Absolutely not! All you will do is gross people out, make them less likely to eat your sausage and likely cause them to lose respect for you as a cook. In this case, when Kirk gives the order to not discuss this, he is acknowledging that nothing they discussed has been finalized nor does it need to be shared at this point; they’ve basically looked at all the ingredients for the sausage, ruled out the rotten beef and are still considering the snickers bar. They will share details when the time is right and when they know which details need to be shared. In this case, the details escalate quickly as Spock pleads his case that Mitchell needs to be killed, as soon as possible. He suggests a nearby planet that can be used to recharge the engines and that Mitchell could be stranded at as it’s an unmanned outpost.
Spock here plays a solid advisor. Oftentimes a leader needs to hear someone say the thing they don’t want to hear, but that they likely know.
Kirk sends the Enterprise to Delta Vega. He puts together a crew, led by Kelso, to gather supplies to recharge the engines. Spock, Dehner and Kirk plan on taking Mitchell down to the planet to maroon him. They head into sickbay to get him where we see he’s developed telekinesis. Kirk, in a master-move asks Mitchell what he would do if their roles were reversed. Mitchell agrees with Spock, that he would kill him…while he still could. As if to put the final point on it, Mitchell shocks Kirk using his mind! He then talks about his plans to use a planet, that he could become godlike; as he carries on, Kirk attacks him and Dehner injects him with something that knocks him out. They beam down to the planet, along with Dr. Piper.
Mitchell begins to wake up as they carry him off; Dehner and Kirk look across the barren wasteland which leads to one of Kirk’s best lines ever <<No one here but us chickens>>
Kirk and Kelso talk about the possibility of using fuel cells in the outpost as a bomb to blow the whole place up, remotely, if needed. As they discuss this, Spock comes to get Kirk as Mitchell is waking up in his cell. Mitchell appeals to Kirk with memories that the two of them shared from missions in the past. It escalates, and Mitchell tries to escape the cell; the shock of the force field bring his eyes back to normal for just a second. He tells them that he just keeps getting stronger.
Back in the outpost, Spock continues to encourage Kirk to kill Mitchell. He even has a phaser rifle beamed down! Kirk, trusting his crew and the their input asks Spock why he disagrees with a trained psychiatrist. Spock recites the mathematics of it and that with his powers continuing to grow, Mitchell will be unstoppable before they can do anything about it. Kelso reports that he’s set the bomb up successfully. Kirk tells him that if Mitchell escapes, and Kelso feels it necessary, to detonate the bomb.
With the engines nearly regenerated, the away teams begin returning to the ship. Dehner states she will be staying behind with Mitchell, who’s hair is beginning to gray at the temples. While discussing him, Mitchell uses his powers to strangle Kelso, in the other end of the outpost, with wires! Mitchell, with his booming voice, tells Kirk that his chance to kill him has passed. He then shocks Kirk and Spock to incapacitate them, drops the force field and reveals to Dr Dehner that her eyes are now silvered over as well! Some time later, Dr Piper catches up with Kirk and Spock to revive them. Kirk immediately heads off in the direction Mitchell and Dehner left the outpost. Before he goes, though, he gives a time limit to the doctor letting him know that if he’s not in contact by then to head to the nearest Earth base and recommend bombardment of the planet’s surface. Dr Piper begins to protest but Kirk cuts him off stating it’s an order. It is a reality that sometimes, as a leader, you just have to tell people what to do. I see this as an absolute last resort; a life or death sort of situation, which Kirk believes this to be. When you find yourself in a position of just having to tell people what to do it either means the situation is so critical and so dire there simply isn’t time for debate - and you had better be ready to accept the consequences - or everything has fallen apart and people simply aren’t following your lead. In that case, you have a lot more work in front of you as you need to repair your leadership position.
Mitchell and Dehner are wandering the wastes. Mitchell demonstrates his power as he creates an oasis out of nothing. He then begins preaching to Dehner about their godhood and how, once her powers have grown, they can do anything. Kirk isn’t far behind and he’s armed with the phase rifle (good thinking, Spock!). Mitchell feels his presence and sends Dehner after him as she begins to be able to see him in her mind too. He says he wants her to see just how unimportant “they” are.
Kirk appeals to Dehner to help him, tries to convincer her that Mitchell is dangerous. Dehner sees herself and Mitchell as evolved human beings. She warns Kirk he should leave now. Kirk debates her, says that our frailties are what make us great. He addresses her as a psychiatrist and leans on her professionalism. This gives her pause enough that Kirk sees Mitchell approaching! He fires the phaser rifle at him, and it doesn’t affect him at all. Pretty iconic moment as Mitchell threatens Kirk’s death: he conjures up a dug burial plot and a headstone that reads “James R. Kirk.” Now, if you’ve watched much Star Trek, you know his name is James Tiberius Kirk. There are a few theories as to why the headstone read R - the truth being, simply, at the time they wrote this and made the props, someone just picked a letter. There are some good theories out there, and a few explanations in non-canon novels. My favorite is from Michael Jan Friedman’s series where it’s explained as an inside joke between Kirk and Mitchell and that Mitchell didn’t actually know Kirk’s actual middle name.
Dehner steps in and starts pleading with Mitchell to stop, but he continues the attacks. Kirk starts to drive the wedge between the two of them, convincing Dehner that it’s a matter of time until Mitchell turns on her too. She hears him! And fights back! They start trading psychic shocks back and forth! As he weakens, Gary’s eyes turn back to normal and Kirk goes on the offensive! Now this is the Star Trek fighting we all know and love! A few seconds in and Kirk’s shirt is ripped. He grabs a rock to smash Gary’s head, but he pauses, giving enough time for the silver to come back into his eyes. Now, with superhuman strength, Mitchell lifts a boulder to hurl at Kirk, but Kirk judos his way through the throw sending them both barreling into the burial plot. Kirk leaps out, grabs the phaser rifles and causes an avalanche of rocks and debris to to fall on top of Mitchell, crushing and burying him. He checks in on Dr. Dehner, who is weakened from her battle with Mitchell. She collapses and dies as Kirk calls the Enterprise for a beam out.
The episode ends with a bandaged Kirk on the bridge. He is listing Dehner and Mitchell as killed in the line of duty. He wants them remembered that way. He acknowledges they didn’t ask for what happened to them. It takes courage and strong leadership to recognize what is and isn’t the choice of a person, or what is or isn’t under their control. A person should only be held accountable for that which they can control.
In what will become a staple in the ending of Original Series episodes, Spock comes to Kirk’s chair to reflect on what happened. He shares that he too felt for Mitchell and Dr Dehner, so Kirk, of course, responds that he believes there may be hope yet for Spock.
What a great episode! I was a little apprehensive heading into this one. I remembered it as kind of corny and slow. The reality, is that much of this episode would fare well on modern TV! It had some shortcomings, but they were mostly products of their time. The fascination with ESP, a thing that that we don’t really discuss, at least not in those terms, at all anymore; and the general characterization of women - which will be a normal thing in the original series. Kudos to them for generally making Elizabeth Dehner a strong, independent professional, but even with her, there were some pretty rough moments, specifically between her and Mitchell. Some of Kirk and Mitchell’s back and forth was very low-brow, quote locker-room unquote style talk. Other than that, though, this is a well told story of two good friends being violently torn apart by things outside their control. It introduces some solid, sci fi elements and really set the stage for the Star Trek universe we know today. The characters were well developed; I even felt a sting of loss when Kelso was murdered. All of the characters that last into the run of TOS evolve and change through the series, but don’t deviate too much from what we see here; Sulu’s assignment to astrosciences is even sort of backed up in future episodes when we learn of his botany hobby and his ability to act as either navigator or helmsman.
TOS was my first Star Trek. I grew up watching reruns in syndication with my Mom. In fact, one of my most cherished things to do with my Mom was watch Star Trek. This episode is a great kickoff and preview of what is to come with this legendary series. I mean, had I been one of the millions of people that tuned in on the 22nd of September 1966 to see this, I’d have been hooked! And, yes, I know this was the 3rd episode to air of the Original Series, but for the Starfleet Leadership Academy, I wanted to start with the pilot episode or the first episode of each of the series.
Kirk and Spock. It doesn’t get a lot bigger than this duo. One of the top selling pieces of merchandise for every presidential election is promoting the Kirk/Spock ticket! When most of us think of these two, we think of the fully developed pair we saw in the Star Trek movies, or we think of the entirety of their relationship. I tend to think of the heartbreaking ending to the Wrath of Khan. But if that ideation of them is the gourmet meal we all remember so fondly, in this episode, we get the home-cooked version that was made by your teenagers. That is to say, all the ingredients are there; they just aren’t quite the same. And that’s ok! Really, it’s a good thing. That means these characters grow as people and, for our purposes as leaders.
Spock plays an important part in this episode but doesn’t do a lot to flex his leadership muscles. What he did do, and we talked about it during the episode, was offer alternatives to Kirk, specifically, the alternatives that Kirk wouldn’t have wanted to hear nor acknowledge. When you are directly supporting someone, this is one of the things they desperately need. When we have ideas, it’s very tempting to put blinders on and dive straight towards your end goal. Chances are, though, there are things you haven’t even considered yet. Maybe things you would never have thought of given your experience and understanding, or maybe just things you didn’t give fair attention to. Having a team around you, especially one you trust, can counter that. On one hand, they may offer considerations that still lead you to follow your original course of action, but now you’re doing so having considered more aspects of it. Or, their input and questions could cause to change course. Either way, you will have a more complete view and understanding of your decision.
Now, Kirk. I’m looking forward to every opportunity to reflect on Kirk’s leadership style. In the past 20 or 30 years, the zeitgeist has painted a picture of James Kirk that just doesn’t hold up to any level of scrutiny. What we see in Kirk in Where No Man Has Gone Before is very much an ideal leader, especially for what was known in the paradigm of the mid-1960’s. From this episode, I want to highlight two things with him. The first is one we covered, in detail, earlier. When Gary Mitchell went down, he did not miss a beat in stepping up to fill his station. His operationalized understanding that no one person is more important than anyone else is inspiring. It’s an added bonus that he actually knew how to do the job - or maybe that’s why Spock was so quick to take his place.
Second, it is clear in this episode, through both his words and his actions, that his number one priority is the safety of the Enterprise and the crew as a whole. In this episode, his close friend and former student, Gary Mitchell becomes a supreme threat to the Enterprise, and, arguably, the entire galaxy. Despite his personal feelings, his every decision is guided by ensuring the the ship’s safety. In fact, he even orders Dr. Piper to leave the planet, with him on it, if he is unable to neutralize Mitchell and Dehner. This makes for good, high drama television, but how does this translate to you and your leadership journey? Well…very uncomfortably, to be honest. Let me paint a scenario for you that might be a lot more commonplace than we like to think. You have a co-worker, let’s say they are a peer. You’ve worked together for quite awhile and you consider them to be a friend; a work friend, at least. You’re visiting with each other at the end of a work day and you ask them about the job they were holding interviews for that day. They tell you about this great candidate but then mentions they would never hire them because of their race and their gender identity. Then they make a few inappropriate jokes and change the subject. This peer of yours, this friend, has just put your company in jeopardy and has demonstrated they are not fit for their role! What do you do? Well, Jim Kirk would deal with this person, likely hire the best candidate and be sure his friend was never put in a position to cause harm like that again! That’s what it looks like when you put the mission ahead of yourself.
On top of that great stuff, he is consistently seeking input from others and, with that input, makes actionable decisions.
So, what are your thoughts? What lessons did you learn? What did I miss? You can catch me across social media @jefftakin, reach out and use the hashtag SFLA, for Starfleet Leadership Academy, to keep the discussion going! And, hey, if you like what you’ve heard on the podcast, tell a friend!
A little housekeeping on how we proceed from here. At the time of this recording, there are 5 completed live action Star Trek series: TOS, TNG, DS9, Voyager and Enterprise plus Discovery and Picard. Section 31, Lower Decks and Strange New Worlds have been announced, but nothing has been produced yet. My intention is to include all of the episodes from the completed 5 and Discovery. I want to give you what you want, though, so if you want me to include Picard or even The Animated Series, let me know on social media.
I’ve put all of the episodes from the 6 series I’m including into a spreadsheet. At the end of each episode, I’ll run a random selector macro to tell me which episode we’ll be looking at next. So, let’s check and see what we’re watching next time: And it’s Strange New World from the first season of Enterprise!
Until then, Ex Astris Scientia! We’ll see you next time!