Star Trek TOS: Kirk Copes with PTSD as Redshirts Die
Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 2, Episode 13
Kirk, Spock, and some redshirts started the episode on Argus X, surveying the place for the tritanium. Smelling a nostalgic odor, Kirk’s senses were piqued as a mysterious smoke filled the air. Things turned grim when the cloud hit the lungs of the redshirts — and killed them.
One man survived, and he was whisked to Enterprise for treatment. McCoy determined all red blood cells were drained from his body, thus requiring a transfusion to survive. In his quest for answers — and probably some semblance of justice — Kirk and more redshirts teleported back to Argus X. More chaos awaited. A cloud killed more men.
This seemed to turn personal for Kirk as his recollection of a disastrous event 11 years ago was similar to the Argus X tragedy.
Incidentally, Kirk became uncharacteristically testy with everyone — not unlike his old-man angst from The Deadly Years, the episode prior. He either was distraught and lashing out due to the deaths on Argus X — unlikely for his personality in the face of adversity — or something supernatural was once again hijacking his mind.
Spock and McCoy caught on to Kirk’s tormented persona and questioned his ability to lead. That spiraled into a conversation on Kirk’s PTSD from the incident 11 years ago, albeit PTSD in Star Trek-speak.
Kirk also battled balancing the lives of his crewmembers versus his tendency to rely on intuition. Meanwhile, the cloud creature set sights on Enterprise, intensifying Kirk’s internal turmoil. The cloud slithered into the vessel’s ventilation system, killing another crewman. McCoy angrily chided Kirk’s score-settling.
The cloud engulfed Spock. Luckily, because of Spock’s biological makeup, he was unaffected. And that event lowered the temperature on ferociousness of the creature. The cloud was repelled by Spock, and it decided to exit the ship.
It was still dangerous, though. Kirk remained steadfast on destroying it so that it would not reproduce. They tracked it down back on Argus X, hoping to obliterate the creature with antimatter. In an act of redemption, Spock took Garrovick, who gaffed earlier in the episode, with him to combat the cloud.
This was a very human episode for Kirk. There was a vibe the cloud was altering his personality. Yet, in reality, Kirk was dealing with PTSD — an obsession — from a traumatic event over a decade before.
The plan worked to blast the cloud with antimatter while Kirk and Garrovick returned to Enterprise safely. Just as Kirk was conducting an exercise in rectifying past transgressions, Garrovick was attempting to make amends for a mistake at the top of the episode. Kirk enabled a younger man reminiscent of himself to get redemption in a matter of days, whereas the captain had to wait 11 painstaking years.
The episode was the portrayal of a hero hellbent on redemption, despite the anguish of the past. Kirk’s methods were unlike him, but he’d be damned if he didn’t right a wrong from yesteryear. Always helps when Spock is the character to provide the fix — Vulcan blood.
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).