Thursday, September 19, 2013

the Khan/McCoy question from "Star Trek Into Darkness"

Much online verbiage has been devoted to nitpicking the flaws of "Star Trek Into Darkness," a movie that does, I admit, have plenty of plot holes. Happily, there's one lacuna that, as it turns out, isn't as nettlesome as it first appears.

The complaint goes like this: why did Khan's blood have to be used to save Kirk? Spock could have killed Khan, and there would still have been 72 perfectly healthy Khanlings from whom McCoy could have drawn blood.

I found myself nodding at this complaint at first: it made sense, and I agreed that the movie hadn't answered that question satisfactorily. But then, last night, I re-watched "Star Trek Into Darkness," and I realized that the problem was, in fact, a non-problem. Why?

Because the movie actually makes a big deal about how 23rd-century science isn't equipped to handle 20th-century cryotech. About an hour into the film, Drs. McCoy and Marcus have discovered that Khan's photon torpedoes are serving as hiding places for Khan's 72 crew/family members. McCoy tells Kirk that, were he to try to crack open a cryo-tube "without the proper sequencing," it could kill the tube's occupant. By the end of the film, McCoy and Marcus have figured out how to remove the cryo-tubes from the torpedoes, but they still haven't learned how to thaw the corpiscles.*

If there's any inconsistency at all regarding these cryo-tubes, it's that McCoy has apparently learned enough about the technology to re-insert Khan into one (an extra, seventy-third tube not previously mentioned in the film?). How he managed to figure that out, without also figuring out the thawing procedure, will forever remain a mystery.

In any event, the Trek-nerd accusation that McCoy could have saved Kirk by using another superman's blood reveals itself to be a non-problem: McCoy needed Khan, specifically, because he didn't know how to thaw out any of the other Khanlings.**

*Sorry—that's Larry Niven's term for someone in cryogenic suspension. Also: while it's true that McCoy did, in fact, remove one of Khan's men from a cryo-tube so that he could freeze Kirk, he kept the guy in suspended animation, not daring to "thaw" him further.

**It could be objected that Admiral Marcus had successfully thawed out Khan, so the technology for thawing corpsicles did exist. But Marcus had the awesome power of the secretive Section 31 behind him; the Enterprise had no access to whatever wizardry was practiced in that place, and since Section 31 was mostly destroyed in a blast at the beginning of the movie, well after Khan had been awakened, it's doubtful that the thawing technology survived. The Enterprise was on its own.