Don't Look Away - The Case for Tarsus
July 8, 2019 by Diane E. Van Hook
Every day, I hear more and more networks and production companies talking about this show or that getting rebooted. As a lifelong nerd, there more than a few shows that I wished had more time on the air but had gotten screwed over by the network because they didn’t understand or care about the show. *Cough* Firefly *cough*. As far as the new Star Trek movies goes, so far the only I’m hearing about anywhere close to production is the one helmed by Tarantino and I’m dubious about his take. If the production studios are going to continue trying to resurrect everything that made them money and they still want to focus on Kirk for the movies, then this story allows for it while taking into account Chris Pine’s role in future movies. To be fair, most of my knowledge of the events of this story come from the episode “The Conscience of the King” and fan theories. I haven’t read the tie-in or comic books, but I’m aware of who possibly ended up on the planet in question in the alternate timeline.
In the first season of the original Star Trek series, we learn about the massacre of Tarsus IV that took place twenty years prior. Tarsus IV, an Earth colony with a population of about 8,000, was struck by a devastating fungus. Agriculture destroyed, rations running out and a supply ship that would arrive too late. Kodos, the governor of the colony decides that in order to save the colony by determining through an unspecified eugenics standard, who will live and who will die. Thus earning him the name of Kodos the Executioner.
The supply ship due to the planet arrives earlier than scheduled but too late to stop the genocide of 4,000 men, women, and children. By the time his body is found in the aftermath, Kodos is burned beyond recognition and no positive identification is made. Only nine people alive can identify Kodos and one happens to be our intrepid captain of the Enterprise. I won’t go over what happens in the rest of the episode as I want to focus on this part of the plot.
Nothing of Tarsus IV is depicted in the canon episode and again, I haven’t read any of the books. The time frame of events is left vague between when the fungus hits and the discovery of the governor's “body”. No mention is made of why Kirk was present on the planet. The only things we really know are: he was a teenager at the time, he memorized Kodos’ announcement, and he knows some of the others who’ve seen Kodos.
Now, we could have a mirror story, where the present mission is similar to Tarsus IV and we flip back and forth between them. Or we could have the entire movie dedicated to the decline of the colony. This would be something I’d want Robert Rodriguez, Taiki Waititi, or Kenneth Branagh to direct. (If I wanted gore and disease and people exploding, then I’d look to Tarantino). I want to watch the peeled back layers of this onion to gut punch me in the worst way and make me cry at the beauty. In the new Alternate Universe movies, we know Kirk was a juvenile delinquent and frequently in trouble. In a society that probably avoids incarceration, especially minors, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for courts to have reform for troubled youths like community service. And you can’t get more troubled than an adolescent genius James T. Kirk with PTSD. I’d feel like the alternate Kirk would end up on Tarsus IV as some sort of rehab.
We could also answer a lot of questions with this script: how did Jim end up on Tarsus; where’s his family during this time; what’s the timeline of events between the fungus and the arrival of the supply ship; and what was his experiences during all this and if he was among the “worthy”. Other questions remain as well, but they can be answered by building the world and creating the characters. Whomever ended up writing the script, I’d hope they’d reach out to former refugees or survivors of genocide as consultants or are amongst the writers themselves. This isn’t an easy topic or an easy story, but it is one that needs to be talked about, confronted and brought into the light.
As unlikely as my idea is to be picked, it isn’t outside the vein of storytelling that these networks keep going back to. Going back to the tried and true fictions that made bank for them is obvious from a business sense. Except for the fact that they miss so many other story possibilities when they only focus on the stuff they know. They need to stop trying to do over “the good ol’ days”. Nostalgia can only take them so far, and those that come to them for entertainment will only see the same things as before. The audience will see a familiar story, and if they like it enough are willing to relive it. But others in the face of the familiar turn away and dismiss it, continuing on to look for something new, something they haven’t seen before. You can only make new the old so much. My advice: boldly go where no one has gone before.
By Jack Anderson
on 2019-07-18 03:11:45 ET
Excellent post. I actually saw that episode you are referring to for the first time a couple of months ago. You motivated me to continue my complete watch of Star Trek.