Star Trek TOS: Evil Kirk Is Actually Needed for Leadership


Star Trek — The Original Series

Season 1, Episode 6

The Enemy Within

The handy transporter malfunctioned for crew members as they returned from an exploration of a planet named Alfa 177, creating a second version of returnees. At first, it’s tempting to believe that the “second version” of Kirk was, in fact, an evil clone. Contrarily, the body double is Kirk — just the side of him that is dastardly and far less righteous than normal. 

Right off the bat, Star Trek told us that evil people are drunkards — or that drunkards are evil — because the first thing on Kirk’s to-do list: Guzzle brandy. So far, the writers adore linking alcohol with deviant behavior. And perhaps that is not inaccurate.

Kirk swilled the hard liquor and decided it was time to rape Janice. Wow. She fought him off, clawing his face, which would serve as the distinguishing factor between good Kirk and bad Kirk. For the attempted rape, the viewer should be mortified but perhaps 1960s culture wasn’t quite there yet to handle the fallout of such assaults. 

Unrelated — the episode served as a conduit to showcase William Shatner’s acting range. Good Kirk was his typical leaderly self whereas bad Kirk was deviant and testy. While bad Kirk was despicable, it was entertaining to watch his departure from the heroic version of himself. 

When bad Kirk started his vile deeds, it seemed Star Trek was finally tackling good vs. evil

We should’ve known better.

Bad Kirk was indeed terrible, but his true core was the dark side of good Kirk. Therefore, Kirk was battling himself. Whooda thunk it on Kirk possessing rape thoughts buried in his psyche?

Nevertheless, The Enemy Within was a tale about leadership. Strip away the nasty character traits from Kirk and Enterprise should have the optimal edition of its captain at the helm, right? No, not by a longshot.

Kirk is an effective leader because of his character defects. The negative side of his persona was his own personal sounding board. Should I get aggressive with Janice and pin her to the floor? Good Kirk would say, “Well, absolutely not. That’s immoral and illegal.” 

Those angel-and-devil-on-shoulder situations create a good leader. That is — a leader can not be decisive and successful without first weighing the grimy parts of himself. Left to a person’s sole device of righteousness and goodness, a leader is not effective because consequences are not foreseen. 

One must be a little rotten in order to lead.

Carving away personal canker only enables clarity and growth, both hallmarks of decision-making — especially in a leadership capacity. 

Spock was eager to chime in on the topic because of his biological duality. That was a high note as the Vulcan seemed to wrestle with his genetic makeup more than he led on in the first handful of episodes.

And, of course, Kirk even wrestled with empathy for the gross side of himself. Unlike the Western genre of the era, evil is never plainly evil in Star Trek — at least not yet. 

Themes: Leadership, Evil Serves a Purpose

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. His odyssey with Star Trek starts from beginning to finish, watching ‘The Original Series,’ all the way to the present day. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).