Even with the reveal of the villain’s name in Star Trek Into Darkness, the speculation continues, with some even growing openly frustrated. Today TrekMovie contributor and Star Trek history expert John Tenuto takes a look at all the talk along with a look at Trek history, and comes to his own conclusion. Read his detailed case below (with possible spoilers).
Who Is John Harrison?
Making predictions is a dangerous game because if you are right, people think you are a know it all when perhaps you just got lucky, and if you are wrong, then you have a difficult time speaking with assuredness about the next topic. However, it is too fun not to chime in on the “who is John Harrison” debate occurring with fellow fans, and I will make my prediction as to who I think Benedict Cumberbatch’s “John Harrison” really is in Star Trek Into Darkness.
Along with my wife and fellow sociology professor Maria Jose, I have been fortunate to have been researching the making of “Space Seed” and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan using library collections of original scripts, photos, memos, and the like for the last five years. We have collected and studied nearly 2000 photos and 5000 different papers. Our admiration for the creativity and talent of everyone who on the original episode and TWOK, especially writer/director Nicholas Meyer, worked with time constraints and budgetary limitation to create thoughtful entertainment is boundless.
While doing this research, we have come to know Khan, from his earliest days as Harold Ericsson in Carey Wilber and Gene Coon’s “Space Seed” drafts during the autumn of 1966, to his reintroduction in Wrath of Khan.
Star Trek II director Nicholas Meyer and Ricardo Montalban – one of the many rare photos we have uncovered in our research
And while these experiences give us no more authority to speak to who John Harrison is than any other fan, many who know Star Trek history better than us or actually worked on the shows, I am willing to proffer a guess considering all the clues and hints, presuming you allow me the ability to later say, “Sorry, I guessed wrong. You were right, it was someone else.” I am asking for a big window of error here because it is speculation, although I as I hope to demonstrate, an informed conjecture.
The guess: John Harrison is really Khan Noonien Singh.
They say “John Harrison” – I think “Khan”
Why I think John Harrison is Khan
While I don’t have any inside information from the Star Trek Into Darkness production, there are a number of reasons I have been lead to this conclusion.
1) John Harrison is obviously super-powered – just like Khan
Why would the STID team create a new character when there is a very famous (perhaps the most famous) villain in Khan who has the same abilities? This would open the creators to the inevitable criticism and comparison to Khan when they could just have used Khan in the first place.
Could it be Gary Mitchell, the next logical super powered choice? (as discussed on TrekMovie last week) Unlikely. Roberto Orci has confirmed to TrekMovie.com that the IDW comics are canon. The first two issues of the ongoing IDW Star Trek comics were inaugurated with the entire story of Gary Mitchell. Is it possible that the creators of a huge budget Hollywood film would allow their main baddie to be introduced in the pages of a monthly comic, especially a team of filmmakers known for their secrecy? Possibly, but those kind of reveals are usually reserved for specified prequel comics, of which issues 1 and 2 were not. And, why tell Mitchell’s entire story and then have to resurrect him for the film, leaving film audiences who do not read the comics out of the loop?
Could it be Robert April, the original Captain of the Enterprise in the prime universe (as postulated by at HitFix). A creative and out of the box idea that sounds like great fun, however, it is one that I doubt. Robert April wouldn’t be the first captain of the Enterprise in the new universe, at least not of the Enterprise we see in ST09. Pike clearly identifies it as the ship’s first real mission to save Vulcan, so he is the first. What would make April a good choice is precisely why he is probably not the bad guy: he would be a good villain if he had been the first captain of the Enterprise gone bad. But he isn’t the first captain. And, where did a normal human get those super powers?
I don’t think we will see April (or Mitchell) next May
2) A Khan by any other name
Some argue that the character is named John Harrison, not Khan, so it can’t be Khan (TrekMovie has reported that this name is used in the film and it isn’t just a marketing placeholder). And of course, there is indeed a character named Harrison in who appears in “Space Seed” and several other episodes of TOS. But, he is a regular crewman and perhaps his name was chosen for John Harrison as an homage, but I think it unlikely that the John Harrison of Star Trek Into Darkness is meant to be an obscure background character. There is too much riding on the film to do something that the majority of the audience just won’t get.
This leads to the spreading speculation that the name John Harrison is like Henri Ducard in Batman Begins (Liam Neeson’s character who late in the film was revealed to be the villain Ra’s al Gul). The same trick was used again in The Dark Knight Rises with Marion Cotillard’s character Miranda Tate (who in the film reveals herself to be Talia al Ghul). It is well known that JJ Abrams has used Nolan’s Batman series as a model for his reboot of Star Trek, which is even evident in the recently revealed poster for Into Darkness. It has also been established that Khan likes to mess with names. In “Space Seed” he reveals only his first name to hide his identity from Kirk and company. Maybe John Harrison is doing the same thing here as Ducard does.
Also, I cannot rid myself of this feeling when I first learned of the name “John Harrison.” John is pretty close to Khan. Plus, in the original versions of the “Space Seed” scripts, one of the names for Khan was Harold Ericsson (sometimes Ericksen, sometimes Ericcson). Harold Ericsson…Har/son…Harrison. Hmmm….that kind of naming convention is a usual practice in the world of Star Wars, which is also a franchise admired by the filmmakers of STID.
Also of note is the new interview where Cumberbatch appears to be denying he plays Khan, but I find it interesting that his denial phrasing doesn’t actually use the name Khan but says “not that other name.”
Is JJ playing Nolan’s Name Con (Khan) Game
3) The clothes make the Khan
John Harrison appears to be a member of Starfleet, and Khan wasn’t. This seems to be the big thing that is still fueling the Gary Mitchell theorists (and the few Garth of Izar proponents). However, maybe John Harrison/Khan actually is a member of Starfleet in this universe. Or maybe, like Khan in “Space Seed,” he is just wearing a Starfleet shirt because that is all that is available after they unfreeze him in Into Darkness. Plus, in Star Trek II, Khan demonstrates a fondness for wearing Starfleet items, from the red coat he sports on the USS Reliant to the trophy Starfleet emblem around his chain. Maybe the STID outfit is a trophy costume he is wearing to provoke Kirk. Speaking of costumes, that collar that John Harrison sports in the trailer is awfully similar to the design of Khan’s collar in Wrath of Khan. Other characters may wear a similar jacket in the film, but that seems too much on the proverbial nose
Collars cant be coincidence
4) If Marcus, then Khan
It is also unlikely that in a Gary Mitchell or original villain John Harrison film, there would be both Carol Marcus and the hand gesture moment from the trailer. Why mix that all together? And TrekMovie.com reported that the new trailer has a cargo bay with tubes with windows. Sounds like the Botany Bay to me; the “family” that Harrison speaks about (in the trailer) could be his wife, or it could be his fellow augments, or both. Maybe in STID Kirk accidently affects Khan’s wife somehow, who in this universe does not have to be Marla McGivers, and Khan seeks his vengeance. Oh, and speaking of the word “Vengeance” that was one of the tested titles for the film being and is featured in the trailer so prevalently, that also happened to be one of the original titles of TWOK, The Vengeance of Khan.
And while some fans have believed that the blonde lab technician that Gary spoke about in the original “Where No Man Has Gone Before” episode was the inspiration for Carol Marcus and hence she could be in a Gary Mitchell movie…maybe. Yes. But, I have never thought that the retro conning of that was convincing…Gary could just as much be talking about other of Kirk’s romantic interests from TOS. Besides, would the strong and intelligent Carol Marcus have allowed herself to be a pawn in any game by Gary Mitchell?
Welcome Back Carol
5) Follow the money – to Khan
Thinking of Hollywood patterns, it is common to introduce the hero in the first film, accomplished in Star Trek 2009, and the best known bad guy in the second film. Again looking at the Nolan example, he used the Joker for his second Batman film. The Next Generation films also did this with The Borg. And of course the original Star Trek cast films followed this pattern. The best known single bad guy in Star Trek history is Khan. I would guess Khan is worth millions in marketing potential and additional revenue at the box office.
I am also thinking of previous comments by producers and creators of the new Star Trek films: that there was talk of adding the Botany Bay in space to “the after the credits sequence” of ST09 and that the bad guy was a canon character. So clearly Khan was the default position for the team. Despite Mr. Orci’s cute reply in a recent TrekMovie.com interview that he said he lied once about the film, he is too honest and respects fans too much to actually lie. Obfuscate, divert, yes. Lie, however? I don’t believe it. That makes me think John Harrison is not a new character. And if he is not a new character, Khan makes the most sense dramatically and from business wise.
Is this Trek’s ship of gold?
6) The Khan ethnicity factor isn’t a factor
One of the more popular argument against Harrison being Khan is that Cumberbatch is neither Hispanic like Ricardo Montalban, nor Indian like the character. I would reject this ethnicity based argument for several reasons.
Yes, according to the rules established by ST09, everything before Nero’s interference should be the same in the new universe as the prime. So, Jonathan Archer existed and had all the adventures we know of in Enterprise, etc. Khan should look like and have the voice of Montalban according to those rules as he is from the 1990s.
But there are several problems with that rule when butted against the reality of making films like this.
First, there is absolutely no way to duplicate Ricardo Montalban as a person or an actor. Khan was remarkable in large measure because of his performance, in addition to the writing and direction that created the character. I think Abrams and company are wise to avoid casting a Montalban imitator in the future if Cumberbatch is not Khan and Khan is going to be in the third movie instead of STID.
Second, we as an audience have already accepted ethnic and physical differences in the actors playing iconic roles. Chris Pine does not exactly look like William Shatner at the same age, nor do most of the other characters (except perhaps Karl Urban who is amazingly similar to DeForest Kelley). Additionally, George Takei and John Cho do not share the same ethnic heritage, yet there has been an acceptance of Cho as Sulu.
And ultimately, Star Trek fans are progressive thinkers, embracing diversity, and we know that no actor should be limited in the roles they play by their ethnicity, only by their talent. I think Ricardo Montalban would agree with that sentiment.
Does skin color trump talent?
Please do not take this argument to mean that I want it be Khan. I just think if we believe the argument that John Harrison is a pseudonym, then Khan is the best contender. For all these reasons, if John Harrison is not an original character, then I believe him to be Khan. I could be wrong, but I khan’t help thinking I am right.