So the Star Trek: Into Darkness "Is he or isn't he?" shenanigans continued this past Sunday with the premiere of the film's Super Bowl commercial, and the latest nod from J.J. "Star Wars" Abrams and company that they at least want fans to be anticipating some connection to "Space Seed" and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan villain Khan Noonien Singh.
In case you missed it (and if you're a Newsarama reader, that's highly unlikely), the Super Bowl commercial featured imprisoned villain Benedict Cumberbatch telling Chris Pine's Captain Kirk, “I am better.”
“At what?” replies Kirk.
“Everything,” answers the villain.
Now, along with the persistent rumors since the beginning of production, the fact that Alice Eve's character has been officially identified as Star Trek II's Dr. Carol Marcus, plus the iconic Spock-Kirk finger-touch from the full trailer, this short exchange may be the strongest indication yet fans should be thinking Khan.
For one, it purposely puts any self-respecting Trekker in mind of Khan's character-defining genetic-superiority complex, including this line of dialogue delivered to Kirk in the original Space Seed, in which Ricardo Montalbán's Khan just-so-happened to also be wearing a Star Fleet uniform at the time:“Captain, although your abilities intrigue me, you are quite honestly inferior. Mentally, physically. “
It's like déjà vu all over again.
And perhaps a little less obvious is that these telling seven words of dialogue should finally put to bed the theory — mostly propagated by cast member Karl Urban's infamous "leak" — that the villain is Gary Mitchell from the original series' "Where No Man Has Gone Before" episode.
Forgetting the fact that no self-respecting, modern big screen villain should have a name that sounds like some guy you went to high school with, Mitchell, a helmsman on the Enterprise, gained godlike telepathic and telekinetic powers. His extraordinary, no-longer-human abilities were apparent and Kirk immediately recognized Mitchell as a threat. In context, if Cumberbatch's villain was a rebooted version of Mitchell, Kirk somewhat smugly asking his friend and former crewmember what he's better at makes little contextual sense.
The answer to that question would be obvious.
Despite Khan's genetic enhancement, the heart of the Kirk-Khan dynamic was Kirk's belief he could out-strategize his foe and use his elevated sense of self against him …
“Khan, I'm laughing at the ‘superior intellect'.”
However, elimating Mitchell from the equation and solely focusing on Khan leaves something of a dilemna — why would the marketing machine of Into Darkess slyly but specifically point fans in Khan's direction? The genie has clearly and intentionally been let out of the bottle. If Abrams pulls the rug out from under moviegoers and the villain is revealed to be utterly unrelated to Khan, there will be a letdown, even for fans indifferent to it being Khan. The anticipation will have overshadowed the reality, whatever it is.
And then there is the matter of Abram's "mystery box" — the director/storyteller's self-described manner of withholding key information that makes a story more intriguing and compelling. Or as Abrams puts it: “The intentional withholding of information is much more engaging.”
If Cumberbatch is indeed Khan, then wouldn't he be breaking his own rule by leaving such an obvious trail of dilithium breadcrumbs? Why would he turn his own mystery box into a mystery open box? And why, then, all the ambiguity and misdirection in the first place?
Is it possible Abrams can have his Khan and his mystery box too?
We're going to throw three words at you to try on for size, and we won't assume the self-importance to qualify this pure conjecture as a spoiler warning…
Son of Khan.
Or maybe more accurately, “Khan Legacy.”Having Cumberbatch play some form of a descendent of Khan as opposed to Khan himself kills a few mystery box birds with one stone. First of all it would make sense of why the villain, looking and speaking like the Brit Cumberbatch is, doesn't look or speak like the Mexican Ricardo Montalbán was. All of the new Trek characters were cast to look and sound somewhat like their original series counterparts.
Secondly, it could explain the villain's presence on the Enterprise, his Starfleet uniform and his current "official" name of John Harrison.
Take this theory out for a walk… what if a child of Khan, perhaps one he did not know about, survived the Eugenics war, but went or was put into hiding when Khan and 80 or so of his fellow genetic supermen warlord froze and shot themselves into space in the SS Botany Bay?
And maybe now a grandson, or great-grandson, growing up in hiding or his heritage a secret, formulates a plan to track down and revive his legendary ancestor and greatest of his genetically superior kind. Wouldn't he need a starship to accomplish that task, and wouldn't one way to go about that would be to join Starfleet, gain their trust and advance to a high-ranking position on a starship?
As yours truly argued now nearly four years ago, J.J. Abrams' reboot of Star Trek clearly hinges on the concept of destiny. The inclusion of Leonard Nimoy as Spock and the altering of the timeline, only to see Kirk, Spock, Scotty, et al find their way together anyway, makes it apparent that their paths are intertwined, and that they're together to serve a higher purpose. Revisiting what's universally regarded as their greatest adventure became essentially inevitable when Abram's tied the original series and the reboot together with the Spock-thread.
So Into Darkness's mystery box twist could be a wholly original take on the franchise's greatest villain, while offering up another intriguing possibility.
Consider for a moment Into Darkness as, now somewhat ironically, the Empire Strikes Back moment of the reboot — the climax being equal parts defeat and victory.
What if Into Darkness concludes with someone actually finding and/or reviving Khan, and perhaps him learning his descendent was defeated and killed by the crew of the Enterprise?
Now you've got yourselves a trilogy…