After passing out, the bridge crew awakens in the briefing room, a captive audience for Khan. All, that is, except for Kirk, who is being held in the medical decompression chamber as it, well, decompresses. The crew refuses to join Khan and are forced to watch Kirk gasp for breath until the picture is suddenly lost.
Khan, however, is satisfied that the captain is dead and selects Spock as the next victim. McGivers, having excused herself from the briefing room, sedates Kirk’s guard and releases him from the chamber. Upon arriving in sickbay, Spock knocks out his own guard and the two set about reclaiming the ship by flooding it with knockout gas. Khan manages to make it to engineering, where he cuts off the vents and rigs the engines to overload. Kirk rushes to stop him and just barely comes out on top in a fistfight with Khan, who boasts of having “five times [his] strength”.
Later, after securing the ship and rounding up the other augments, Kirk holds a formal hearing where he drops all charges against Khan and his people. Rather than send them to a Federation penal colony, he offers to deposit them on Ceti Alpha V, an uninhabited world that he compares to Australia’s Botany Bay colony in its early days. Khan accepts, referencing ‘Paradise Lost’. Now it’s McGivers turn. Kirk gives her the choice of accompanying Khan or staying aboard to face a court martial. She chooses to go, and as the two are lead out, Spock remarks on how interesting it would be to return to Ceti Alpha V one day, to learn “what crop had sprung from the seed [we] planted today…”
Do I have to say it? ‘Space Seed’ is good. It’s very good. It’s a classic. And while it’s standing in the fan consciousness no doubt benefits from its close association with ‘Wrath of Khan’, it’s an episode that I imagine would be well-remembered even if that movie had never been made. But that being the case, what is it that makes the episode work so well?
I’ve always found things like the Eugenics Wars and the Post Atomic Horror to be among the more intriguing periods of the franchise’s future history, in part because they’ve been left largely unexplored (and not unreasonably so – I don’t remember any genetic supermen seizing power in 1992, after all). In fact, it’s largely because of episodes like this that I’m as much of a sucker for those sorts of stories as I am. And part and parcel of that intriguing future history is Khan himself.
It’s not just the idea of Khan or what he represents that’s compelling. It’s the realization of the character. This almost goes without saying, but Ricardo Montalban is unforgettable in the role. I talked about separating ‘Space Seed’ and ‘Wrath of Khan’ earlier, and Montalban’s performance is an interesting way of contrasting the two. He’s fantastic in both, of course, but in ‘Wrath’ he’s a more intense, almost manic figure, whereas his first appearance presents a Khan who is first and foremost charismatic. It’s not exactly a stretch, given that Montalban practically oozes that very trait.