If asked to come up with a list of reckless, questionable actions committed by Captain James T. Kirk, any Star Trek fan would be able to rattle off a whole bunch of them with little effort. Kirk was an explorer in the true sense, often flying by the seat of his pants as he led the way through the new frontier. He believed in the Prime Directive, in Starfleet and the Federation, but his fiercer loyalty was to his crew and his inner sense of right and wrong, whether or not it was written into regulations.
He saved his ship, several planets, entire species, and Earth many times, but along the way, he did a lot of head-scratching things that no captain on a more recent Star Trek series could get away with. Honestly, that's what made the show, and Kirk, so much fun: he had a wild card streak that drove him, and he took us along for the ride. We put some Chris Pine in there as he embodies the Kirk spirit nicely, but it's the original who really went over the top: William Shatner's James T. Kirk was as much of a legend for his great choices as he was for his ridiculous ones. Hence, a close-up look at 17 WTF Things James T. Kirk Has Done.
17 Watched Carol Marcus Undress
Admittedly, when Carol Marcus first asked Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) to turn around, she didn't tell him why. And also admittedly, she'd just finished acknowledging that he had "a reputation," which she knew because she was a friend of Christine Chapel's. Caught with his figurative (but not literal, unlike Marcus) pants down, he asked how Chapel was, making it clear that (a) he'd had some sort of fling with her; and (b) he didn't remember her.
With all that, Marcus shouldn't have been surprised that telling him to turn around wasn't all that effective. He got curious. He peeked. When he saw that she was undressing, he kept peeking. Do not forget, he was her Captain, so as weirdly inappropriate as it was for her to randomly change clothes in front of him, it was even more inappropriate for him--her boss!--to keep staring at her once he realized that's what she was doing. A minor infraction, though, given the circumstances.
16 Made Himself a Test Subject For a Psychiatric Experiment
Kirk and Doctor Helen Noel beam down the Tantalus Penal Colony. Its Director, Dr. Tristan Adams, tells them that the "neural neutralizer" is not very effective but they still use it occasionally, and a suspicious Kirk decides to investigate. He and Noel sneak back to the room alone later, and he puts himself in her clearly untrustworthy care; she's already made a number of snap judgments about how any worries about Dr. Adams are completely unfounded; she even chided her captain for doubting it. In case anyone still respected her professional judgment, she proves them wrong by putting a romantic fantasy scenario starring herself in Kirk's head as part of the experiment. (I'm not sure I agree with you 100% on your psychiatric work there, Dr. Noel.)
But the bottom line here is that starship captains shouldn't be volunteering for psychiatric experiments in the first place! When Adams discovers them messing with his equipment, he tortures Kirk, risking permanent brain damage or neural neutralizer-induced psychosis. Noel redeems herself and helps save the day, but yeesh.
15 Had Sex With an Alien, Risking Inter-Species Pregnancy
In "Wink of an Eye," Krk is accelerated by Deela, the queen of the Scalosians. Scalosian males are infertile, so Scalosian women find alien men, speed them up so they can live with them, and make babies, because their race is dying.
In a scene that slipped past the NBC censors back in 1968, we see a post-coital Kirk putting his boots back on while Deela brushes her hair. Due to the whole Scalosian crisis, we know she wasn't using birth control, and due to Kirk being Kirk, we know he wasn't either.
Maybe Kirk and Deela's baby grew up to be a conqueror. Maybe it was a lonely mutant. Maybe it created an evil empire of Scalosians who wreaked havoc throughout their quadrant of the galaxy. Who knows?
And why on earth didn't he tell her that Spock had an antidote to the acceleration process? Maybe it would have worked on the Scalosians and solved their whole problem. Wtf?
14 Had the Most Boring Fantasy Vacation Ever
So we've established that Kirk had a way with women. But part of his history, too, is that he was a nerd at Starfleet Academy, which might explain why he dated Ruth. We meet in her "Shore Leave," where the crew's thoughts become reality, and when he reminisces about his youth, Ruth shows up. No disrespect to the actress, but Ruth the character looks like a child's doll: glowing skin, an over-the-top hairdo, soft voice, and not much personality to speak of. Her entire function is to swoon over Kirk and tell him she'll be waiting for him whenever he wants. Zzzzz.
They finally meet the caretaker of the "Shore Leave" planet, who tells them that the whole crew can vacation there and live out any fantasies they choose. Kirk, who could do anything he likes, anywhere he wants, opts to hang out with boring doll-like Ruth for the rest of his time off. Why not just take a nap instead? It seems just as fun.
13 Pissed Off "God"
"What does God need with a starship?"
A renegade Vulcan named Sybok (who turns out to be Spock's half-brother) steals the Enterprise in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and takes it across the Great Barrier at the center of the galaxy to meet God in Paradise. Sounds like a good idea, right?
They get there and hear a booming voice, then see a giant face in the sky that looks more or less like a traditional white Judeo-Christian version of God; an old man with a beard. He's big, he's in the sky, he's powerful, and Sybok is having a lovely conversation with him until Kirk interrupts to ask why God would need a starship. God gets mad, shoots beams from his eyes, attacks Kirk and everything goes south from there.
Okay, Kirk was right in the end: this wasn't God, made even more clear when "God" starts threatening to make the puny beings die horribly unless Sybok delivers the Enterprise to him. Still, challenging God two minutes after meeting him is awfully reckless.
12 Cheated on a Test -- And Made It Really Obvious
All Star Trek fans know that the Kobayashi Maru is an unfair test. It's your basic no-win scenario, a simulation in which you try to rescue the crew of the Kobayashi Maru while under fire from Klingon ships. In the J.J. Abrams 2009 movie Star Trek, the test is programmed by Spock, with the purpose of getting cadets to "experience fear in the face of certain death." Kirk, one of Spock's least favorite people at the time, inserts a subroutine to lower the shields of the Klingon ships, so he can destroy each one with a single photon torpedo.
The problem is, he's so cocky about it that he makes it screamingly obvious from the beginning. He's annoyingly casual. "That's okay," he says when he's told the Klingons have locked weapons on them. "Don't worry about it." He grins, gloats, and then chows down on an apple.
Dude! If you're going to cheat on a test, you should be less obvious. The only thing that saved him from major disciplinary action was Vulcan getting attacked during his hearing.
11 Didn't Tell Anyone Else He Knew They Weren't Really "Marooned For All Eternity"
So there's a history of apple-eating and the Kobiyashi Maru! In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Kirk is telling Saavik about how he cheated on the test and got a commendation for original thinking, all while he chows down on an apple grown on the Genesis planet.
While he's eating that apple, by the way, he has Saavik, McCoy, Chekov, Carol Marcus and David Marcus all thinking that they have been marooned forever by Khan, "buried alive" in the "center of a dead planet," as an act of vengeance towards Kirk. Only Kirk knows that his message to the Enterprise before all this went down was coded, and that the ship is coming back for them shortly. We get why he used the code on his communicator, since Khan was listening to everything, but once that's done, he just goes on allowing everyone else in his party to believe that the Enterprise has long since departed and isn't coming back, even though he knows they are, just for the drama of the big reveal. Not nice, Captain.
10 Created the Khan Problem in the First Place
Let's talk about why Khan got loose in the first place: yep, it was all James Kirk's fault. After he rescued Khan from his broken suspended animation chamber and took him aboard the Enterprise, he let him read a whole lot of technical manuals. Khan, being a brilliant tyrant and all, used that knowledge to take over the ship. Then, when Kirk got the ship back, he dropped all the charges against him and let him take his people to live on on a planet in the Ceti Alpha star system.
Just to reiterate: Khan was a genetically superior tyrant, and a ruthless dictator on Earth. He almost killed the entire bridge crew, then tried to kill Kirk, then threatened to blow up the ship. At no point did he show any sense of regret or mercy. So what does Kirk do? Send him and all of his people to an uninhabited planet, because what could possibly happen?
9 Took Scotty To A Bordello To Cure His "Total Resentment Towards Women"
Okay, perhaps bordello is a strong word. They're on Argelius II, described as a "completely hedonistic society," because Scotty is recovering from an injury that was--get ready!--caused by A WOMAN. (Gasp!) They watch Kara belly dance and she joins them at their table, invited by Kirk on behalf of Scotty. Other men lounge around on pillows, being fed and flattered by Argelian women. After Scotty and Kara go for a walk together, Kirk grins. "My work is never done," he tells McCoy. "My work, Jim," McCoy responds. "This is prescription stuff." He goes on to explain that Scotty has been experiencing "total resentment towards women" since the accident, but Kirk's ingenious solution is going to fix everything.
Isn't that a terrific idea? A man has psychological damage that makes him resent women, but he serves on a starship with lots of them, so take him to a bordello! Then he can see women as sexual objects there to amuse him, and he'll get well again. Good plan.
8 Threatened To Spank a Planetary Leader
Elaan, the Dohlman of Elaas, was a nasty, petty, selfish, arrogant person. No argument there! She throws and breaks things when she doesn't think her quarters are fancy enough, insists that "courtesy is not for inferiors," then stabs the ambassador who's there to help teach her the ways of the planet she's going to. So yeah, Elaan is a class A nightmare.
While the ambassador recovers, Kirk takes over as her teacher, and you can't blame him for being aggressive; she's earned every bit of it. "You enjoy the privileges and prerogatives of being a Dohlman," he tells her, "then be worthy of them. If you don't want the obligations that go along with the title, then give it up." Still reasonable. But she makes him so mad that on his next visit, he forgets that she's a Dohlman, the leader of one planet getting married to help rule another, and tells her, "If I touch you again, Your Glory, it'll be to administer an ancient Earth custom called a spanking, a form of punishment administered to spoiled brats."
7 Every Single Thing in "The Mark of Gideon"
Hard to know where to begin. Is it when Kirk finds himself on a depopulated Enterprise, and assumes that everyone else has disappeared in just a few seconds? (When it happens to Spock, he figures it out in a heartbeat, and quickly contacts the real ship.) Is it when he tells Odona, who he just met, that they have enough food and power to stay there alone indefinitely? Is it finding out Odona lied to him about losing her memory and was part of a plan to make him want to stay on Gideon forever, and forgiving her instantly? It must be because they'd been making out earlier during the we-have-enough-food-for-years discussion.
He's in good company, because the whole plan is a giant mess too. If the planet's so crowded, how did they find space for a giant, life-size, empty Enterprise that they'd only need for a day? Why wouldn't some of their people just leave? Why didn't Kirk bring charges against them for kidnapping him, stealing his blood, and threatening to keep him prisoner forever? There are so many wtfs in this one that Kirk's wtfs almost pale in comparison.
6 Dressed the Ilia Probe In A Shortie Robe and High Heels
One of the elements that spiced up Star Trek: The Motion Picture was actress Persis Khambatta, who shaved her head for the role of Ilia, the sexy Deltan navigator. Early on the story, Ilia is taken by an entity named V'ger. She soon reappears in the form of a probe that looks exactly like Ilia, and first appears--where else?--in Ilia's sonic shower in her quarters.
The men rush over to see what's what, and quickly realize she's naked, so Kirk, natural leader, springs to action. He punches up some buttons on the panel by the shower. Next thing you know, Ilia's walking around in a shortie robe and transparent high heels ... for the rest of the movie. Plenty of opportunities along the way to put her in something else, maybe after her medical exam? Everyone stares when she/it trots by in those heels, legs exposed just shy of soft porn-level--nah, that's not distracting. Nothing to see here.
5 Revealed The Enterprise to a Extremely Primitive Culture
Remember the Prime Directive? The most sacred of all Starfleet orders that prohibits interference in the natural development of societies?
At the beginning of Star Trek: Into Darkness, the Enterprise is trying to save the planet Nibiru from an erupting volcano. After leading a huge number of Nibirans on a chase, Kirk (Chris Pine) and McCoy (Karl Urban) jump into the ocean, where they swim down to the Enterprise hidden there. With the Nibirans still watching, Kirk orders the Enterprise out of the ocean to go save Spock, who's in the volcano trying to detonate a cold fusion device. The Nibirans watch as a giant vessel emerges from the waters, then flies away, and immediately start drawing pictures of their new god--the Enterprise--in the soil.
The Prime Directive was specifically created to avoid this exact situation, wasn't it? And yes, Kirk then lies about it on a report, describing the visit to Niberu as "uneventful." In further wtf territory, he forgets that Spock is also filing a report, and will tell the truth. D'oh.
4 Started a Guerrilla War Against The Klingons After Being Repeatedly Asked Not To
Kirk and Spock beam down to Organia to warn its people that the Klingons are coming. The Organians seem to be living in a primitive society, welcome them warmly, and offer their hospitality. As for Kirk's help, they say thanks but no thanks. When the Klingons arrive, Kirk warns them again that they're in danger, and again, they say no thanks.
Over and over, they say no thanks, don't help us, don't start a fight, everything is fine. Kirk gets progressively more irritated and starts trouble with the Klingons, starting with a munitions explosion to get their attention. The Organians keep telling him to stop, and he just keeps doing it, maligning them the whole time for being so annoyingly passive.
In the end, the Organians finally get fed up and stop the nonsense, making all technology too hot to touch, and forcing both parties to sign a peace treaty. And Kirk is furious! At least he got embarrassed about it later.
3 Gave Eminiar VII Back "The Horrors of War"
"The haggis is in the fire for sure," said Scotty in this one, nailing it perfectly.
Eminiar and Vendikar were fighting a computer-simulated war for hundreds of years, using computers to identify targets and having "killed" victims report to disintegration stations. After being ordered to take a landing party down by a bossy diplomat, Kirk is told that the Enterprise has been hit, and the leader of Eminiar insists that the crew report for disintegration.
So what does Kirk do? First he starts destroying the disintegration stations, and then he destroys the computers that fight the war. Yes, he's protecting his ship and his crew from being killed in a giant video game, but he changes the fate of two planets without giving it a second thought.
"Death, destruction, disease, horror. That's what war is all about, Anan. That's what makes it a thing to be avoided." he says, after possibly triggering interplanetary Armageddon on what was essentially a hunch.
2 Destroyed An Entire Culture And Told The Natives to Make Babies With No Further Insight ... Then Left
Remember "The Apple?"
On Gamma Trianguli VI, the people live simple lives. They're in perfect health, they don't age, they have plenty of food, and no natural enemies. They feed Vaal--a giant serpent head that sticks out of a cliff--and he takes care of their needs. Spock and McCoy argue about their society: are they in paradise, or are they stagnating? Are they living a life that works for them, or blindly servicing a machine? When Vaal kills a few members of the landing party and threatens the Enterprise, Kirk votes stagnation and decides to take action.
He destroys Vaal, then tells the frightened natives they'll be just fine. "That's what we call freedom. You'll like it. A lot." (He falls just short of calling it "tremendous.") And when they ask him what children are, he looks at a couple who've been kissing and says, "Just go on the way you're going. You'll find out." Why tell them about sex, pregnancy, childhood, or how to take care of babies when they can just figure it out? See ya!
1 Took Over an Entire Planet and Demanded A Cut of Their Profits
That's the percentage Kirk asks for, after he takes over Sigma Iotia Two, installs his leader of choice, and then names the Federation's "cut." Before that, he explains to the Iotians that the Federation doesn't want to get connected to such a small-time operation, which is why he's not going to stay and run things, but he puts one guy in charge, makes another guy his lieutenant, and basically dismisses the rest. Then he promises to come back once a year to pick up his profits.
Of course, that was after he kidnapped all the different bosses of different territories (in this society based on Chicago mobs of the 1930s), and then had Scotty stun everyone within a one-block radius to scare the bosses into obeying him. Later, on the Enterprise, he explains to Spock that the forty percent will be "put into the planetary treasury and used to guide the Iotians into a more ethical system. Despite themselves," he adds, "they'll be forced to accept conventional responsibilities." Interesting theory based on nothing, as they didn't seem to be demonstrating any sense of responsibility so far. He's pretty cavalier about it too, but the head of a planet can do whatever he likes, especially the head of a gangster planet.
And the only more wtf thing than that? McCoy accidentally leaves his communicator on the planet. Of gangsters.
The newest series in the franchise, Star Trek: Discovery, premieres later this year.