The Shuttle Pod Crew Examines The Truths And Myths About James T. Kirk

Brian, Kayla, Matt, and the co-host of TrekMovie’s All Access Star Trek podcast, Laurie Ulster, talk about the life of Captain James T. Kirk and try to separate myth from reality. Was he an arrogant, rule-breaking womanizer who never looked before he leaped as pop culture says? The answers we came up with may surprise you. We also look at the newest iteration of the character, played by Paul Wesley on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, and our hopes for how Kirk will be portrayed in the show’s upcoming second season.

Like what you hear? Please leave us a review on iTunes/Apple Podcasts.


Links related to our discussion:

Laurie’s article on – In Defense of Captain Kirk

Lady Geek Girl & Friends – James T. Kirk Is Actually a Feminist

Video essay by Steve Shives – Is Captain Kirk Actually a Womanizer?

Also recommended: Star Trek DC Comics Annual #2 from 1991 shows the young “deadly serious” cadet Kirk at the academy. Click here to preview a page from the comic. This comic is an example of how Kirk wasn’t yet considered the “frat boy” he would slowly become in the zeitgeist over the next couple of decades.

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Hey Shuttle Pod Crew, cool article — thanks!

Hey, is that the Academy Awards comedic sketch bastardization of Captain Kirk photo? If so, that’s not a canon representation of Kirk.

Uh do you think I’d choose that for our image? no way, it’s not even canonical. He also looks quite a bit worse in that sketch.

That’s Shatner from Generations. So from left to right, we have the earliest Kirk seen (from a promotional photo from “Where No Man Has Gone Before”), then the background B&W image is one of the classic promo photos taken just as TOS went to series, and finally on the right is older Kirk in GEN.

OK, thanks. That’s not the best looking photo of Shatner-Kirk, so that’s why I was thinking it might be from that sketch.

It’s hard to find good torso pics (to match the left side) believe it or not. That’s the best I could find, and as you noticed it’s a pretty average looking on-set promo photograph from GEN.

Got it! Thanks

Nah, as I noted in my comment, great job!

Yeah. You could attend any convention and get a better uniform than the one Shatner wore in that skit :(

I’m hard of hearing, so I never listen to podcasts. I wish I could hear this one, though. The myth of Kirk is so very different from the real Kirk, and it burns me up.

I write TOS fan fiction (under another name), and I have an essay for TOS fan-fiction writers called “Mistakes to Avoid When Writing TOS.” Number 6 on that list says this:

We often see Kirk kissing some woman he just met five minutes ago, which proves that he’s a total sex maniac, right? Um, no. :-)

Kirk does appreciate women, but most of Kirk’s seductions are intended to accomplish a mission-related goal, such as to distract the woman, to secure her help, to gain more information about the situation, to stall for time, and so on. For example, he kisses Andrea in “What Are Little Girls Made Of” to try to confuse her and to gain her loyalty. He flirts with Miri in the episode of the same name in order to soothe her fears and to get her on their side. He kisses Sylvia in “Catspaw” to try to get information out of her. He kisses Marlena in “Mirror, Mirror” partly to maintain his cover and partly to gain her as an ally. Kelinda in “By Any Other Name,” Shahana in “Gamesters of Triskelion” … the list of women Kirk seduces in order to further non-sexual ends goes on and on. It’s clear that Kirk’s charm is a weapon as potent as his phaser. ;-) But using his charisma for instrumental purposes is very different from being totally driven by his sexuality.

And much of the time, Kirk doesn’t even have a choice. Sylvia didn’t him much choice. Deela in “Wink of an Eye” gave him NO choice, and Helen Noel was forced on him by Dr. Adams in “Dagger of the Mind.” Nona used a drug to seduce Kirk against his will in “A Private Little War,” and Elaan used her magic tears to seduce him against his will in “Elaan of Troyius.” Sargon and Thalassa use the bodies of Kirk and Ann Mulhall to make out in “Return to Tomorrow,” but Kirk isn’t kissing anybody.

The number of women Kirk kisses both willingly and for non-mission-related goals is actually very small: 

In Season 1, there’s Areel Shaw in “Court Martial,” Ruth in “Shore Leave,” and Edith Keeler in “The City on the Edge of Forever.” (I’m excluding Janice Rand in “Enemy Within” because that was Evil Kirk, and Kirk makes it clear in “The Naked Time” that the whole Kirk can’t or won’t get involved with his yeoman.)  Andrea, Helen Noel, Miri, and Lenore Karidian were all mission-related.

In Season 2, there are NO women that Kirk kisses willingly for non-mission-related ends. Sylvia, Marlena, Shahana, and Kelinda are ALL mission-related, and Nona gave him a date-rape drug to make him kiss her against his will. (Janet Wallace pursues Kirk in “The Deadly Years,” but he fends her off.)

In Season 3, there’s Miramanee in “The Paradise Syndrome” (though since Kirk had amnesia then, it’s not clear how much this should count), and there’s Rayna in “Requiem for Methuselah.” He does try to make time with Miranda Jones in “Is There in Truth No Beauty,” but she wasn’t having any. :-) Elaan, Deela, Marta, and Odona were all mission-related, and Vanna and Janice Lester were attackers.

So that’s … five women in three years — one of which was an amusement-park android and one of which Kirk got involved with when he’d lost his memory — which I think isn’t actually all that much for a thirty-four-year-old man. But then, starship captains are very busy folks. ;-)

Oh man, I wish you could hear this podcast. If we were able to produce transcripts, would that be of interest to you? It’s something we have looked into a bit.

And to your excellent points on Kirk: yes! This is precisely what we discuss on the pod. It’s amazing how the zeitgeist ideal of Kirk is so different from the actual character.

Corylea and Kayla,

There are multiple apps (available for PC, Mac, iOS and Android) that will transcribe any audio you are listing to to text in real time. They are not 100% accurate, but they are pretty close.

Thanks, One Lion; I’ll have to check into that!

Within Adobe, Premiere Pro also a new text generator which should work well with audio files. .

I don’t have Adobe Premiere Pro, but thanks for the tip!

Yes, transcripts would definitely be of interest to me! I like reading your articles; I just can’t hear well enough for podcasts to be of any use.

I blame the movies for the “impulsive hothead” part of Kirk’s erroneous reputation, since stealing the Enterprise tends to stick in people’s minds. :-) But there isn’t a lot of his using his charm on women in the movies, so I can’t blame the movies for his “womanizing” reputation. But it’s really weird how Kirk’s image is so different from his actuality.

I think part of it is Shatner’s performance, actually. Kirk-as-written is a mature and thoughtful man, but Shatner’s swagger gave him an aura that the actual script did not. Not that I want to rag on Shatner; I thought he did an amazing job as Kirk … and I say that as someone whose favorite character has always been Spock.

Hey Kayla! My name is Jon and I’m a court stenographer, and I’ve mentioned multiple times on trekmovie that I’d love to offer transcript production service for your podcasts. For one thing, I really love the podcast and it would give me a reason to stay on top of them, and also it would allow people like Corylea to participate! I believe you should have my email as a prerequisite for posting, so please feel free to reach out to me if this is something you’d like to pursue. I’m sure we could work out an arrangement that fits your budget and needs. And I would truly love doing it! 😊

Great assessment and very well written.

Thank you!

I remember you and I having this conversation quite a while back and yeah we so totally agree. The writers were smart enough to always give it depth and not just make it into some raunchy roll in the hay for no purpose. And you so eloquently put it Kirk always did what he did with purpose, and even then that was even only in the few instances where he had control. Heck IMHO the only reason the plot lines even had to follow the leading man gets the beautiful woman trope in the first place is because it was the 1960’s and Roddenberry could only get away with so much and still get a show on TV

Yikes! When I saw that fantastic article picture montage I thought the Shat had died or something. Maybe my brain’s just in a morbid place tonight. Point is … nice work there on the article banner!

Thankfully not! Sure seems like Shatner will just will keep going and going…

I honestly thought the same thing and am so relieved that isn’t the case

its the kelvin version of kirk who is the arrogant rule breaker and it cost him his ship in ‘beyond’ as well huge loss of ‘red shirts’ and other crew

Yet Prime Kirk broke the rules and it cost him the E in Trek III. Plus in Trek II Prime Kirk ignored the rules on approaching Starfleet vessels that weren’t communicating, and it cost many lives, including Red Shirts. And this is not even mentioning the gross error in both judgment, and in proper follow-up, by leaving Khan and his crew on Seti Alpha 5 in Space Seed. And I’m not even getting into the six times he outright violated the Prime Directive.


Yeah but Starfleet knew all that and gave him back the Enterprise in Trek IV.

kelvin got a ship sooner despite losing his ship.
a board of inquiry should have happened to assess his performance against the swarm

starfleet bureaucracy stopped kirk from doing what was necessary to get back spock.
if he had been allowed a ship earlier then he may have also been able to save the crew of the grissom and engage kruge without further loss of life or the loss of the enterprise

I think the writers and producers did Paul Wesley a disservice having this be our first meeting with him as Kirk. My head canon is that not becoming the captain of the Enterprise, not meeting Spock and Bones, changed him in more ways than we know. Thus the Kirk we don´t recognise in the episode. The same way Ortegas was a completely different character. Given how Wesley speaks about Kirk I have hopes that we see a character who is more recognisable.

And like a lot of things the Kelvin films did, I choose to just ignore their portrayal of Kirk.

I think the writers and producers did Paul Wesley a disservice having this be our first meeting with him as Kirk.

I agree. I tend to think he’ll be more like the Kirk we expect in season 2. Hopefully!

Thanks for a great conversation, guys! One aspect that I don’t think was mentioned was the term “cowboy diplomacy” that canonically contributed to the image of Kirk as an impulsive rule-breaker. I can recall Janeway using the phrase in looking back on the Kirk era (don’t ask me which episode[s]) and also in a conversation between Kirk and Spock in one of the TOS movies, probably VI.

Ah yes we forgot about that. The thing is, that still doesn’t mean he’s an impulsive rule breaker. It means he had to improvise, and use his best judgement, and sure, he stretched the letter of the law on things like the Prime Directive, when it was hard to contact Starfleet HQ. The “cowboy diplomacy” thing comes from people a century later basically judging him by their standards, where SF Command is typically easily contacted, thanks to increased subspace coms, and increased expansion of Starfleet/Federation in the galaxy, etc.

Kirk never said “cowboy diplomacy” about himself, that’s a TNG-era term. I assume you’re thinking of the conversation Kirk has with Spock in TUC where he says: “You’re a great one for logic. I’m a great one for rushing in where angels fear to tread. We’re both extremists. Reality is probably somewhere in between us.”

What Picard does in Insurrection qualifies as “cowboy diplomacy”, imo.

Thanks, Matt. I don’t know if you’ll see this now, but my memory about Spock saying something about “cowboy diplomacy “ wasn’t to Kirk as I thought but to Picard in Unification 2. Picard says something like, “we don’t go in for cowboy diplomacy anymore “ to which Spock replies, “Cowboy diplomacy?” So we have two later captains characterising TOS doings in that derogatory way. Fwiw.

I remember when Janeway talked about Kirk and his tactics, she also talked about how the times were so different and that’s what was required at the time.. she spoke of him and his choices with admiration!

Thanks, Laurie. I vaguely remember that my reaction at the time was she was looking back on the earlier time as quaint and blessedly unfettered. But that is a subjective recollection. I wish someone could identify the Voyager episode. Anyway, my only point was that both Picard and Janeway used the phrase in reference to the Kirk-Spock era, which could be a factor in the reputational image of JTK.

It was “Flashback.”

JANEWAY: It was a very different time, Mister Kim. Captain Sulu, Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy. They all belonged to a different breed of Starfleet officer. Imagine the era they lived in. The Alpha Quadrant still largely unexplored. Humanity on verge of war with Klingons. Romulans hiding behind every nebula. Even the technology we take for granted was still in its early stages. No plasma weapons, no multiphasic shields. Their ships were half as fast.

KIM: No replicators, no holodecks. You know, ever since I took Starfleet history at the academy, I always wondered what it would be like to live in those days.

JANEWAY: Space must have seemed a whole lot bigger back then. It’s not surprising they had to bend the rules a little. They were a little slower to invoke the Prime Directive, and a little quicker to pull their phasers. Of course, the whole bunch of them would be booted out of Starfleet today. But I have to admit, I would have loved to ride shotgun at least once with a group of officers like that.

Rick Berman believing that Kirk could be boiled down to “a woman in one hand and a phaser in the other” and Bryan Fuller calling Kirk “a pig” (this was either on a YouTube interview or Inglorious Treksperts) certainly didn’t help, either.

Quintessential Kirk? That viewer’s choice Top 10 that aired on the 25th anniversary of Trek was a perfect introduction to Kirk for me, a TNG-only kid fan at that point.
10) Balance of Terror 9) A Piece of the Action 8) The Menagerie, Part I 7) The Menagerie, Part II 6) Space Seed 5) Amok Time 4) The Doomsday Machine 3) Mirror, Mirror 2) City on the Edge of Forever 1) The Trouble with Tribbles

Yeah that’s a good list, I forgot about the 25th Anniversary Viewer’s Choice Marathon, I loved it as a young ‘un and had the VHS recorder going for the entire length of it. I wore that tape out.