The Mystery of the STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS Villain

The Mystery of the STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS Villain

J.J. Abrams is notorious for keeping everything he works on tightly under wraps, and the upcoming Star Trek Into Darkness is no exception. But is it possible that we already know more about the identity of the mysterious 'John Harrison' than we think...?

I am going to warn here for SPOILERS. By the nature of this article, if I am correct in any of my musings I will be giving spoilers for the film. So consider yourself warned of the possibility.

If I have learned anything from being a Star Trek fan in the lead-up to a new J.J. Abrams film, it’s that to get any real information you have to first keep your mind blown wide open, and secondly be prepared to wade through shoulder-deep layers of contradicting rumours, misdirection, and outright lies from the higher-ups.

There’s no insider information in this article; I’m working with the same data that we all have access to. This is months’ worth of me writing down my thoughts on each article a load of sites released as they went, and eventually put into this format. Some fans write fanfiction, some do fanart; I analyze.

I’m not terribly concerned with the plot, but the question of who the villain is has turned out to be extremely engaging. I will only look at the options of Khan or Gary Mitchell since the other possibilities are not as prominent. I’m not saying that the villain will be one of these two characters, but they are the only ones I’m going to make a case for and against. So please enjoy as I attempt to look into this from a logical standpoint, trying as best I can not to be influenced by who people (particularly anonymous sources) have said the villain is or is not – they are all wildly contradicting each other so it is a certainty that some of them are lying. As Collider puts it:

“When it comes to Star Trek Into Darkness, the policy is to avoid the truth about the plot. When asked about the plot, play coy. If playing coy doesn’t work, obfuscate. And if obfuscation doesn’t work, then I imagine outright lying is on the table.”

I aim to search for truth buried in logic and in what makes sense, without depending on the honesty of the people close to the film’s insanely secretive production.

My intention is not to ruin the mystique and mystery, but to solve a puzzle we’ve been given. If that is not what you want to read, turn back now.

Seriously, if you don’t want to know who the villain is… I would recommend you don’t read this. Don’t get cross about being spoiled if you do! Please consider this your fair warning.

Image from Screen Rant


    1. Khan Noonien Singh – An overview
    2. Khan is Denied – The cast says no… right?
    3. Khan Casting – Convoluted and confusing
    4. Does Khan Fit – What do we know about the villain?
    5. Gary Mitchell – An overview
    6. Mitchell is Denied (Or is He?) – Who said it isn’t Mitchell?
    7. Mitchell in the Synopsis – Clues straight from the horse’s mouth
    8. Mitchell in the Comics – A wrench in the works?
    9. Why So Secretive? – ‘Gary who?’
    10. The Smokescreen – Blinded by Khanness
    11. Carol Marcus – Don’t get too excited just yet
    12. Does Mitchell Fit? – What has been said about the villain?
    13. John Harrison – Who the heck…
    14. Precedent – This is looking familiar
    15. Where is Weller? – And other villainous things
    16. Solid Evidence – Is there any?
    17. The One Lie – It all hinges on this
    18. Summary – Short and sweet
    19. Conclusion


An overview

On Khan as a villain, Screen Rant puts my feelings rather eloquently:

“Khan has always been a long shot to appear in J.J. Abram’s sequel; his reboot went out of its way to change the classic Star Trek mythology and even included a short monologue from young Spock (Zachary Quinto) about how the fate of the Enterprise’s crew was now, essentially, up in the air. To repeat history and have Khan appear in the second of the new Star Trek movies would seem like an odd move on Abram’s part.”

Khan was originally resuscitated by the crew of the Enterprise in the original series episode Space Seed. Assuming he is the villain, a different ship would probably have had to have woken him up, since the Enterprise hasn’t yet (at least, to the best of our knowledge). We then have four paths for the storyline to take (whether or not the Enterprise was the ship to find him):

    1. Assuming he did exactly what he did in Space Seed, Khan would be marooned on Ceti Alpha V as he originally was, for his attempted coup.

    2. Or, if this leniency was not granted, he would be imprisoned by the Federation for his attempted coup against the ship that woke him up, as well as his war crimes from World War III (the Eugenics Wars).

    3. Assuming he does not do exactly what he did in Space Seed gives us the third option that he was peacefully brought back to the Federation. This assumes that nobody ever recognized him, or worked out who he really was – which the crew of the Enterprise did relatively sharpish in the original episode, partly because he was a prominent historical figure they were all quite familiar with.

    (The reason this assumption has to be made is that for him to be a member of Starfleet (which the plot synopsis and possibly the trailers have stated that he is), he would need Federation citizenship, which would presumably require some form of identity check. Which would mean that the idea that at no point anyone ever recognized him… seems unlikely. Basically, as expresses it: “Unless J.J. Abrams has decided once and for all to obliterate Star Trek canon, Khan Noonien Singh was never a Starfleet officer.” Simple as that.)

    4. There is the option that his coup from Space Seed was successful this time around and that he successfully captured whatever ship found and resuscitated him, but that would make him an outlaw, and mean that he couldn’t be a member of Starfleet, which is one of the few things about the villain that have been established. (Unless the studio is literally lying to us about every single aspect they can about the film, in which case… what’s the point?)

As you can see, each of these four options does not logically result in Khan being a member of Starfleet – “an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization” [emphasis mine]. If we can assume that that piece of information is not a just a bald-faced lie on Paramount’s part, it doesn’t look at all likely that Cumberbatch is playing Khan.

And those options all assume that if the Enterprise doesn’t find Khan, someone else will, when really, considering the size of space, the chances of another ship coming across the S.S. Botany Bay are slim (particularly considering the fact that the Enterprise was on a deep-space mission a decade into the reboot timeline’s future).

Moreover, in the first trailer, Cumberbatch’s voiceover states that he is back for his ‘vengeance’. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Khan had a legitimate bone to pick because, thanks to Kirk, his wife was killed and he was marooned on a totally inhospitable planet for decades. That is a powerful motive. What revenge motivation does Cumberbatch’s potential Khan have? I understand that he might want to conquer the Federation (he seemed pretty eager to do so in Space Seed), but the trailer specifically states that the villain’s motivation is ‘vengeance’. Not only that, but that he has ‘returned’ to carry out this revenge – which implies that he was once in the Federation, left it, and is coming back. That doesn’t square with Khan’s story at all.

A spoilerific article from confidently asserts that Khan is indeed the villain in Into Darkness, being played by Cumberbatch. Ain’t It Cool News has also confidently stated that Cumberbatch is playing Khan. Since various sourced have ‘confirmed’ that Khan both is and is not the villain, we must take such assurances with a pound of salt.

And in the face of such surety, I believe we as the audience have two options:

    i. Believe it, and have faith in the actors and production staff to produce a totally fresh version of the character, and not do a play-by-play rehash of Space Seed and The Wrath of Khan.

    ii. Not believe it, and remain healthily suspicious of all information being released on the film. Abrams is a master at messing with fans’ expectations. As I said before, there are high-up sources claiming it both ways – Khan and not-Khan – so both options are still open, no matter how confidently some rumours are propagated.

I for one will be exceptionally disappointed in Abrams if he just remakes the extremely well-known episode Space Seed or the most loved and known movie of the original Star Trek incarnation, The Wrath of Khan, after having said:

“The universe that Roddenberry created was so vast. And so it’s hard to say there’s one particular thing that stands out as what the sequel must be. Which is on the one hand, a great opportunity. On the other hand it’s the greatest challenge – where do you go? What do you focus on? But I’m incredibly excited about the prospects.”

And also disappointed in screenwriter Alex Kurtzman, who said:

“With a franchise rebirth, the first movie has to be about origin. But with a second, you have the opportunity to explore incredibly exciting things. We’ll be ambitious about what we’ll do.”

With all ‘the prospects’ available, how ‘ambitious’ is reusing a villain that has already been reused once in Star Trek’s history? agrees:

“When you do something as significant as blowing up Vulcan, then that will dramatically alter events in the new timeline. If the resulting changes are not dramatic, then I have to ask, what is the point? You have an entire new universe with which to play. Why re-imagine a story already told?”

Part of what made The Wrath of Khan so excellent was that it took an interesting villain from the original series who was not used to his full advantage due to the constraints of the show, and used that character to his full potential. Star Trek has already done this with Khan – it would be beyond pointless to overwrite that. More logical would be to copy that template and take a different, interesting, under-realised villain from the original series and make something epic out of them. Additionally, it would just be safer to make a big deal out of another minor character than to risk screwing up a really famous one.

Speaking to The Geek Files, screenwriter Roberto Orci claimed that they “would never do a remake”, and co-writer Alex Kurtzman said of the villain:

“You have to start with what is the right story. And that if you can say “That’s a story that Khan fits into”, that’s how you get to that. Not deciding on a menu list of items and then seeing if you can’t string them all together.”

Which leads us to ask if Khan is even really the right story to be telling at this point in the reboot universe?


The cast says no… right?

The convinced Khan rumours are of course tempered by the cast’s denials that Khan is the villain:

    i. Simon Pegg was quoted saying: “[Benedict Cumberbatch’s character is] not just another disgruntled alien. … It’s not Khan. That’s a myth. Everyone’s saying it is, but it’s not.”

It is difficult to misconstrue this quote by Pegg, as he is extremely blunt about it and leaves no room for interpretation.

    ii. Karl Urban let slip on Cumberbatch: “He’s awesome, he’s a great addition, and I think his Gary Mitchell is going to be exemplary.”

While not exactly a blatant denial of Khan, Urban’s statement is one of surety that the villain is a character other than Khan which, by default, denies Khan as the villain.

    iii. Benedict Cumberbatch himself says of his role: “I’ll tell you this, it’s iconic and it’s exciting. I’m bored of denying that it’s Khan now, because people keep saying it.”

This statement is possible to interpret differently, as although Cumberbatch says that he is constantly denying that the villain is Khan, he does not say that this is because it is not true. He simply says that he keeps denying it because people keep saying it.

    iv. Cumberbatch also stated with regards to Khan: “I play a character called John and not that other name.”

This last quote is rather interesting in the unusual way it is phrased: there is an implication in there that Cumberbatch is playing a character who goes by the name of ‘John’ and not ‘Khan’ – that is not to say that the character is not Khan, but just that he is not going by that name. It seems curious to play with the concept of the names, rather than the character. This could just be the actor trying not to sound repetitive, but is still interesting to note.

But remember: “I play a character called John and not that other name” does not equal “I don’t play Khan”, nor does it mean “I play Khan”. It’s another suspiciously vague answer from this cast and crew.

Image from Screen Rant

In an interview with Access Hollywood, Zachary Quinto flubbed his words and ended up name-dropping ‘Khan’ into the interview. (1:09 in the third video.) Now, while I do understand how people are getting so excited about Quinto’s slip-up, it doesn’t really give us that much information to go on. If he had been discussing the Into Darkness villain and accidently said ‘Khan’, then that would have been cause for some serious speculation. As it is, he was talking about Nero, and it was therefore just a slip of the tongue – not of his thought process. He could not have accidently thought of Khan rather than Nero, so he did just mess up the name. Considering the amount of discussion on Khan at the moment, it’s not surprising that he has Khan on the brain. Again, I restate that I am not dismissing this slip – it does look pretty bad – but am simply pointing out that it is not as big a deal as some are claiming.

Since I agree that this ‘slip-up’ has big connotations, I’m going to have a look at what is said before, around, and after it, to see if it gets worse or better in terms of Quinto spoiling the villain. Here is the full transcript of the answers he and Pine gave to the interviewer’s question.

How does Benedict’s character, ‘John’, how does he challenge Kirk to earn his place in the captain’s chair, with this movie?

Chris Pine: Well, in the first film our antagonist, our bad guy, was played by Eric Bana, Nero, and Nero was kind of a brute physical force; he was bent on destruction. You saw that in Eric’s portrayal. And Benedict is a much kind of colder, cleaner bad guy. He’s just as formidable in terms of his physical presence, but really his primary weapon is his ability to manipulate and his ability to use psychological warfare on the crew. And Kirk’s battle in this, really, is from a man who was so confident, overly confident in the first film, here’s a man who in the first fifteen minutes or so is brought to his knees and has to face his own vulnerability and his own feelings of self-doubt about whether or not he’s actually capable of leading his crew into battle.

Zachary Quinto: And Khan uni– um, uh… Nero unified the crew in a way that we were all fighting against that brutality, and I think Harrison really comes in with something that fragments us. He’s insidious in a way, he kind of gets into the psychology and the dynamic of the crew in a way that we really have to fight in our own ways. We all have a different relationship to it and it affects our relationships to one another, because there is doubt and uncertainty and it’s really interesting that way, I think, what the dynamic is.

At a basic level, this exchange is about how the challenge that the Into Darkness villain poses is different from the one that Nero posed in the first movie. Pine begins that idea with his answer and Quinto then picks it up. Pine established the format of ‘this is what Nero did, now this is what Harrison does’, which is copied by Quinto. If you look at the latter’s comment without the slip-up, he would have said:

“And Nero unified the crew in a way that we were all fighting against that brutality and I think Harrison really comes in with something that fragments us.”

That comment makes perfect sense in light of what Pine had just said and what Quinto continues to say after his mistake – him mentioning the Into Darkness villain, whether it is Khan or not, would just have made no sense in the context of the interview. Yes, he said ‘Khan’, but he was not talking about the new film’s villain, but the old one’s; it was a mistake. And as I mentioned before, with all this ‘Khan’ speculation going around, it is not surprising that the name was on the tip of his tongue.

And even if he was thinking of the character of Khan rather than simply coming out with the wrong name for Eric Bana’s character, his comment still need not be spoiling the Into Darkness villain. It is still on the other side of the comparison (old villain did this/new villain does this) that he and Pine are making. If it had not been a slip-up, he would have said, altering the quote to make sense (seeing as Khan was not the villain in Star Trek):

“And Khan unified the crew in a way that [they] were all fighting against that brutality, and I think Harrison really comes in with something that fragments [them].”

That could still have made sense, if he were talking about The Wrath of Khan (see section 17 for more about the similarities between Nero and Khan). It’s still contrasting what came before with what is coming now.

Even just watching Quinto’s face during his mistake – yes, I am aware that he is an actor –, he doesn’t look surprised, worried, or as though he’s messed up at all. His entire expression and body language is simply that of knowing that what he said was the wrong word and of searching in his mind (and kind of asking Pine) for the name he was actually looking for. He doesn’t look flustered and doesn’t lose his train of thought. If he actually had just let slip that the villain was Khan, I’d be willing to bet there’d be some sort of horrified reaction on his part, or Pine’s. After an initial startled sort of ‘wait, what?’ reaction to Quinto naming Khan, Pine looks pretty nonplussed. It may be an exceptional poker face, but again I imagine if Quinto’s mistake had been that serious, he would have had some visible reaction – there is nothing.

Image from Screen Rant


Convoluted and confusing

Before I begin with casting discussions, I want to quickly establish something about the script. and Variety reported in March 2009 that the Star Trek sequel script was confirmed as a possibility and that it was in “‘embryonic’ stage”. July 2009 saw The Geek Files reporting the sequel script as “probably halfway done”, according to Zoë Saldana.

(That article also mentioned the tantalizing fact that “the writers, meanwhile, unveiled their own interesting nugget at Comic-Con, hinting that their next story may span two films, which could mean … a cliffhanger ending for Star Trek 2.” After all the hype surrounding this one I think fans might actually become rabid if Into Darkness ends on a cliffhanger à la Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. But I digress.)

In November 2010, Hero Complex reported that the writers had ‘broken the story’, but later in the same month Abrams said that there was no script yet. Orci suggested in February 2011 that the script should be finished by March that year, but it was not. But pre-production had already been started based on the story though there was no script. It wasn’t until April 2011 that the script was confirmed to be complete. It was in November 2011 that Benicio Del Toro was first in talks to play the villain in the movie, and they fell through in December. Édgar Ramiréz and Jordi Mollà were considered immediately afterwards. Alice Eve was cast in late November and Peter Weller less than a week later in early December; Cumberbatch’s audition was around Christmastime, and Noel Clarke’s casting was announced early January 2012 along with Nazneen Contractor’s. Cumberbatch’s casting was announced one day after Clarke’s. Filming was begun immediately afterwards, reported on January 16th.

My question here is this: when did they know what the role was that they were casting for? The script was finished in April 2011, the film went into pre-production some time before then, and they didn’t start casting until November 2011. What were they doing May-October 2011? They knew who the villain was; why such a casting delay? One can only assume they were carefully examining potential actors and only began to approach them in late 2011/early 2012. But certainly for the main villain, they knew what they were looking for from April 2011. They had plenty of time to seek out prospective actors and get that all sorted out, and the only role we heard them having any trouble with was the one that Del Toro was to play. How could they have no issues with any of the other roles, yet mess that one up – but still have their villain within a day of announcing all the other members of the new cast?

With that in mind, now onto the idea that Benicio Del Toro was in talks to play Khan in Into Darkness. There are two options, here:

Option 1:
Del Toro was indeed in talks to play Khan. Screen Rant has this to say about his part negotiations:

“Del Toro’s reps couldn’t come to terms of a monetary figure with Paramount to star as Star Trek 2′s villain so he’s now out. What’s more interesting is that the deal reportedly fell apart last Wednesday, two days before our friends at Latino Review dropped the news that Khan would be the film’s villain – news that HitFix heard from Abrams is “not true”. Perhaps it was only “not true” because Abrams knew Del Toro was out, not explicitly denying that Khan is the villain of the film.”

So while he is now out, it’s not impossible that Khan was indeed the character he was set to play. I rather agree with this view of things because otherwise it was Abrams openly admitting that the villain was not Khan, which seems unlikely.

Which would mean that Cumberbatch is now playing Khan. Physically, this is a horrible miscasting, but if you take Khan solely as a genius warlord, it could work. Just, you know, ignore the fact that he was Indian, and a genetically engineered super-soldier. Cumberbatch’s character may have displayed superhuman physical ability in the announcement trailer, yes, but just look at Cumberbatch. Mr. Universe he is not. Could this be Khan for a new era, where mankind has learned to depend less on physical prowess and more on our intelligence? If so, Cumberbatch is an excellent casting choice (British/ Sherlock… take your pick), and could indeed be playing “a brainier version of Khan”. It’s a bit of a backhand to the original Khan character, though, and risky, in terms of the fans’ reactions.

Cumberbatch has given some fuel for speculation on the physicality of his role:

“Though the character’s identity remains concealed, whomever Cumberbatch is playing requires no small amount of physical preparation. The actor said he’s been “working out nonstop,” indicating that his part in “Star Trek 2” is a very physical one.”

In an interview with Cumberbatch says that he “went up about three suit sizes”, and “used Tom [Hardy]’s trainer Patrick [‘P-Nut’ Monroe] for Star Trek.” He adds: “I enjoyed the fights and the stunts, there’s lots of that and it really is proper action movie territory.” This doesn’t necessarily mean much though, because even Zachary Quinto has said that he’s needed to get in good shape to play Spock – arguably the most cerebral character in the franchise.

Image from Screen Rant

Option 2:
Del Toro was not in talks to play Khan. In December 2011, HitFix asked J.J. Abrams whether or not Del Toro would be playing Khan, and Abrams denied it. (We can’t really trust him not to lie, but he did outright deny it, albeit within a suspicious timeline (mentioned in Option 1).)

However, Badass Digest has also ‘confirmed’ that Khan is not the villain, getting the information from “an informant placed close to the production of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek 2”:

“Khan will not be the villain. You would think this would go without saying, but people keep speculating.”

But if Khan was never an option, what’s up with Del Toro?

Either way, it’s a pretty huge leap from Del Toro, to Édgar Ramiréz and Jordi Mollà, and potentially Demián Bichir (who are all Hispanic (Puerto Rican, Venezuelan, Spanish and Mexican, respectively), like the original Khan’s Ricardo Montalbán, (Mexican)), to Benedict Cumberbatch, who is very British (and definitely looks it). As Cinema Blend dryly puts it: “Cumberbatch, talented as he may be, isn’t going to pass as an Indian character.”

Image from Montálban Fans

The fact is, Khan as a character is Indian. That will not have changed, because if it had, the character is no longer Khan Noonien Singh. In the 1960s people would have been willing to overlook the fact that the Indian baddie was actually Mexican, but today you couldn’t get away with that. And at least Ricardo Montalbán was a ‘person of colour’: they made some effort to cast somebody who was not ‘white’ in the role. Nowadays there should be a concerted effort to find an Indian actor to play the role of the Indian Khan. How lazy and blindingly inaccurate would the casting of Cumberbatch as Khan the Indian warlord be? Excruciatingly. And how insulting to all the Indian actors of the world who weren’t, apparently, even approached to play an Indian villain? mentions the idea of duplication in casting Khan:

“First, there is absolutely no way to duplicate Ricardo Montalban as a person or an actor. … Abrams and company are wise to avoid casting a Montalban imitator.”

True, but there’s no way to duplicate Shatner, Nimoy, Kelley, Nichols, Doohan, Takei or Koenig either. The reboot casting is not about imitation – it is about rebooting. A younger, but closely related version of the original actor. By the reboot casting logic, Khan should be played by a tall, broad Hispanic man with tanned skin and longish black hair. Not... Cumberbatch. That’s a vast leap from the precedent they’ve set with their casting. The four Hispanics contemplated would fit into that physical description (with some hair dye), but Cumberbatch is laughably disparate.

As far as the core cast is concerned, Chris Pine is a toned white man with gold hair, like Shatner was in the original series. Zachary Quinto is a slender white man with dark hair, brown eyes and a curiously similar nose and mouth to Nimoy circa the 1960s. Karl Urban is often praised for being about as close to a young DeForest Kelley as you could probably get bar cloning, in mannerisms as well as appearance. They made the effort to dye Simon Pegg’s hair Scotty-brown. The new film shows Kirk with the classic sideburns and golden forehead curl, much closer to Shatner’s original look. And so on. Racially and visually, the core cast is a very close approximation of the original actors, with perhaps the exception of Anton Yelchin as Chekov, who appeared to be chosen more for his Russian heritage and high intelligence. On the Star Trek DVD special features, the producers do mention that they contacted George Takei (Japanese) to ask if it was alright that they cast the Korean John Cho in the role of Sulu, and he said that that was fine because the character of Sulu was meant to represent Asians, not one particular country.

Image from The Realm Cast

My point is, the studio has already wordlessly proven that appearance and race are important considerations to them in casting. Allow me to step things up a little to clarify them: if Khan had originally been black, would Cumberbatch have been equally as accepted as that character? Or is it just because Hispanics are visually rather close to Caucasians that the substitution is acceptable? I think it would actually be rather insulting if Khan had been African in the original episode rather than Indian and was then cast as a white guy in the new movie. That looks pretty racist. So why is it acceptable to play it fast and loose with racial boundaries when the original actor was ‘just Hispanic’? Particularly, as I’ve already mentioned, since we’ve seen no sign of any such playing with any of the other cast members. You would think that in Star Trek, whose fans certainly “are progressive thinkers, embracing diversity”, there would be more of a push to get at least a Hispanic actor into the cast rather than yet another white person? Sulu and Uhura are feeling a little left-out in the ‘ethnically diverse’ aspect of it all. Why pass up the chance to cast another ethnicity in the film when the opportunity Khan presents is so appealing? They should really have been looking to cast an actor who was actually Indian (revolutionary!). Benedict Cumberbatch is exceptionally talented – but the implication that that is the only reason he got the part despite his blatant physical dissimilarity to Khan is actually pretty insulting to the talent of every Hispanic and Indian actor on the planet.

Therefore, the chasm between the appearances of the first four actors who were considered and the actor they finally cast suggests that they were not all auditioning for the same role. It’s possible that the entire ‘Del Toro/Ramiréz/Mollà/Bichir’ angle was cooked up to throw fans towards Khan assumptions. I wouldn’t put it past J.J. and the gang at this point.

The switch too was pretty weird – it only took a month for the studio to get from Ramiréz, their ‘top choice’, to Cumberbatch. Did the character specifications change that much in a month’s time, or was there more than one role at stake, here? And Giant Freakin’ Robot points this out:

“Whatever or whoever the villain ends up being, Cumberbatch is kind of a steal for Abrams and Co. He’s a hot commodity at the moment in the UK, having been nominated for his third BAFTA and named the actor of the year by British GQ Magazine in 2011.”

Did they really nab this acclaimed actor at the last minute, within a month’s time? As puts it: “From the time [he] got the part to [his] first day on set there were just a few weeks”. And all this scrambling for a role he is on paper completely unsuited for? In the same article, Giant Freakin’ Robot jokes:

“Except while del Toro would have been able to pull off Khan, Cumberbatch (though incredibly talented) as perhaps the whitest most British person on the planet has no business playing an Indian man.”

… It’s fishy.

So, when Abrams was questioned by Collider about this weird casting, he was his usual carefully evasive self:

Did you have to do away with the character that you were going to cast [Del Toro] as?

ABRAMS: We haven’t made any changes because of casting.

Check out the careful skirting of the question. This aids my theory that the Del Toro/Ramiréz/Mollà/Bichir thing was misdirection: could you really substitute Cumberbatch for any of those actors? So he must be a different character, right? Which, according to Abrams, was the plan all along. This supports the idea that ‘Khan’ was never really a role they were looking to fill, because it’s either that or they really did think that Cumberbatch was an acceptable substitute for Del Toro and the others. (!)

Besides having the greatest name ever, what caused you to cast Benedict Cumberbatch?

ABRAMS: We just were looking for someone with the most awesome name in history. That was the casting call. We asked for someone with the most awesome name in history, ever, and Benedict Cumberbatch showed up, so we were like, “You’re cast!”

What was it that made him your villain?

ABRAMS: Who said he’s our villain?

What made you want to cast him?

ABRAMS: He’s a genius. Honestly, he’s just an incredible actor. If you’ve seen his work in Sherlock, he’s just got incredible skills. He’s an amazing stage actor. He did amazing work (on stage) in Frankenstein. He’s brilliant. You try to cast people who are great. We got lucky.

Did you look at a lot of people for that role?


‘Sure’? What kind of non-evasive answer is ‘sure’? (Hint: it’s not.)

So, we don’t get a serious answer about why they swapped from the Hispanic Party to Pasty British Man. His acting talents (and awesome name) are not in question, but neither are they really relevant here – the other three men are surely talented actors too, so there must be a different reason they were rejected in Cumberbatch’s favour when Del Toro bowed out, talent completely aside.

And then Abrams implies that no, they didn’t actually look at a lot of people for that role. ‘Sure’, not ‘yes’. ‘Sure’ is not an answer: it could mean ‘yes’ or ‘no’ equally. It implies that the interviewer can believe that if they wish, but is another evasion. Abrams did not want to answer that question. Hmm. Did they have Cumberbatch in mind the whole time, then?

Was he an immediate choice?

ABRAMS: I just loved his work and thought that he was perfect for what we needed. We were just very lucky.

Look at that. Another deflection. And, again, they were ‘lucky’ to get him. Notice that Abrams does not address the notion of ‘immediacy’ the interviewer poses. While the interviewer was perhaps thinking in terms of ‘oh no we lost Del Toro and the Hispanic Gang, who are we going to cast now? Oh! Benedict!’, Abrams’s answer implies more of a process looking at Cumberbatch’s qualifications, determinedly going after this man for the role, and being lucky that he was interested in taking it. Was this because Abrams was already so invested in the idea of him playing that role? But how can I know that Abrams wanted Cumberbatch specifically for the part and all but hunted him down for it?

Because Abrams said so:

“One day, Damon Lindelof texted me and said, ‘You should check out Sherlock’. And I watched Sherlock, and was completely blown away, there was this absolute undeniable feeling about it. Certainly it was important to hear the words come out of this actor’s mouth, and so we got Benedict the pages and he sent an iPhone-taped audition to us, but it was almost a little bit of a formality.”

This throws more kindling onto the funeral pyre of the idea that the Hispanic Gang and Cumberbatch were auditioning for the same part. How could you think Cumberbatch was ‘perfect’ for the villain’s role and then audition four actors so totally different from what you considered to be perfect? That makes no sense – unless they were thinking of different roles. Variety stated that Del Toro was ‘Abrams’ choice to play the villain’, but here Abrams called Cumberbatch ‘perfect for what [he] needed’, so I ask again: how could you think Del Toro and Cumberbatch were perfect – or even just suited – to the same role?

Image from Collider

Or, as I mentioned, the Hispanic Quartet may have been being used as misdirection towards Khan. Doesn’t it look a little… deliberate? To go for four such ethnically (and physically) similar men, the part for whom would have been (and was) blindingly obvious to anyone even vaguely aware of Khan’s existence? Particularly when your final choice is someone so completely different? By auditioning these men, you are able to insinuate that the villain is Khan without ever having to say a word – that frees you from having to lie, and enables you to fan the flames of that rumour and trick people from the start into ignoring the basic facts before them. Screen Rant gives me an example of how people could fall into this trap:

“Reports that Khan Noonien Singh will be the villain in the latest Trek movie began circulating just before Del Toro’s departure… [This] batch of actors said to be front-runners to replace Del Toro, however, will probably only add fuel to the fire (re: Khan’s appearance in the film). … The news that Abrams continues to look solely at actors with similar ancestry does nothing to rebuke suggestions that we will get to see an alternate-timeline Khan in the new Star Trek movie.”

There is also the fact that Benicio Del Toro is a very well-known actor – while Ramiréz, Mollà and Bichir, their talent aside, are relative unknowns in Hollywood. This makes it even more likely that they were sought out for their ethnicity rather than necessarily their qualifications – and the actor chosen in their stead, Cumberbatch, is becoming a household name, putting his ‘fame score’ much closer to Del Toro’s. It would have made sense for Abrams to go from Del Toro – a famous, brilliant Latin actor – to the lower-key Ramiréz, Mollà and Bichir if he were indeed looking for the Hispanic. (I do not know enough about the latter three to comment on their acting ability.) It does not then follow that Abrams chose to ignore that target ethnicity which was apparently vital to the part, and once again aim at fame and exceptional talent. It would have made some sense to go from Del Toro to Cumberbatch if the role’s ethnicity doesn’t matter, because then you’re still hitting a certain level on the ‘food chain’. But to have that middle stage of three lower-standing-but-ethnic-matches messes with the logic here.

Even their ages are all over the place – the mean age of Del Toro (45), Ramiréz (35), Mollà (44) and Bichir (49) is 43. Discounting the considerably younger Ramiréz their mean is 46. When Space Seed was filmed, Montalbán was 47. The mean age of all five actors is 44, and again discounting the wildcard Ramiréz gives a mean of 46 again. Cumberbatch is 36 years old. He could quite easily be considered a decade too young to play Khan.

Back to the point I made at the beginning of this section about the timing of the script and casting, you can now add in the fact that Damon Lindelof saw fit to recommend Benedict Cumberbatch to J.J. Abrams just a few weeks after they had been looking at the Hispanic Four (perhaps sooner. Perhaps much sooner). Whatever they were looking for in Del Toro, they had not found it again in two other Hispanic actors (Bichir was not auditioned due to a prior commitment) and in the seven months that the script had been finished – and found it instantly and in total agreement between at least two of the movie’s top production staff a few weeks before shooting? That’s convenient.

Image from Screen Rant

Also note that we didn’t really hear any news about any options being considered for the roles now filled by Alice Eve, Peter Weller, Joseph Gatt, Noel Clarke, or Nazneen Contractor – surely each role had more than one person in line for it? In contrast, we heard about the ‘Del Toro’ role in painstaking detail. Del Toro was not ever even offered the role and the media was all over the story. Could it be that the studio was putting the idea that the villain was Khan out there – and making very, very sure that we ‘knew’ that that was what they were auditioning for? Making very sure that we got the picture? Again, it seems so deliberate.

Screen Rant also points out that, regarding the announcement of RoboCop actor Peter Weller’s casting in the film coming at the same time as the news of Del Toro’s drop-out did: “The timing of the Weller news is convenient, almost serving as a cushion for the Del Toro news.” There is implied deliberation here on the studio’s part – perhaps putting the idea of Khan firmly in fans’ heads before subtly taking it away and beginning to cast the real antagonists. (Weller is indicated as being “a sidekick to Del Toro’s villain character”, or, considering the decided lack of Del Toro, the sidekick to the main villain (i.e. Cumberbatch).)

Even within the same article announcing the possibility of Del Toro playing Khan, there are glaring casting errors. The article states that Alice Eve “will be playing an entirely new character”, followed by the assertion that “Benicio Del Toro will actually be playing the long-rumored Khan”. But of course it was recently announced that Alice Eve will not, in fact be playing a new character, but a rather well-known character called Dr. Carol Marcus – Kirk’s old flame (and the mother of his son, David) as introduced in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. All of the article’s confident assertions are therefore fair game to be refuted.

After all of this then, either they were casting for a Hispanic Khan, or they wanted us to think they were without outright stating it. Considering the Brit who they did end up casting, which option makes more logical sense?

This is a bit of a small point to end on in comparison to ones that have gone before, but Abrams said of Benicio Del Toro: “I would love to work with him. I’ve wanted to work with him for years, and this felt like a good opportunity.”

“He also praised del Toro for his versatility as an actor who can play any character “except for Uhura”.”

Firstly, there is an implication in Abrams’s first statement that he wanted Del Toro in the film, whether or not he was perhaps ‘perfect’ for the role, which solves the mystery of how he could have thought Del Toro and Cumberbatch would be ‘perfect’ for the same role. Secondly, Del Toro could very well have been playing Khan – but there is no reason that to begin with he was not set to play a different character. Abrams just said he could have done so. It may be that all the Hispanic actors considered after Del Toro were being used for the trick I postulated, but he wasn’t originally. Alternatively, their calls to audition were inspired by Del Toro, but though they were similar in terms of ethnicity (and, I presume, other factors), they were not what Abrams was originally looking for in Del Toro. Or, more interestingly, people jumping to the conclusion that Del Toro was playing Khan put the idea in Abrams’s mind to feed that rumor by looking at more Hispanic actors. (This might mean that earlier when he said that Del Toro was not going to play Khan, he may actually have been denying Khan as the villain.)

Enter Cumberbatch, with his “very powerfuliPhone audition. For the villain to be Khan, Cumberbatch’s audition would have had to have been something almost unbelievably spectacular to overcome the prior specification that the character be Latino at the very least, like everyone else who had gone for the part. And as TheCosmicVoyager on Tumblr notes, he’d have to be really exceptionally good at the part since:

“There would be controversy about recasting a popular PoC [person of colour] character with a white person, especially when it makes no sense in-universe.”

Not to mention all the other reasons against Khan, which I will begin to detail now.


What do we know about the villain? brings up the potential financial benefit of using Khan as the villain:

“I would guess Khan is worth millions in marketing potential and additional revenue at the box office.”

This implies that more people would go see this film if they knew it was a remake of a film they’d all already seen, rather than a fresh new Star Trek with a badass new villain. Also, if this is Abrams’s plan, he is epically failing – nobody knows for sure that the villain is Khan. If he was hoping to make money off of the name, why is he keeping the name under wraps and aliases? In fact, just by having everyone think that the villain is Khan allows him to draw interest and viewers into the film, even if Khan is not actually in it.

In the comments section on a Comic Book Movie article, a commenter called Rowsdower pointed out that Star Trek XI has pretty much already done the Khan storyline:

“Khan: I loved my family, now I want VENGEANCE! Then turn people into zombies. Big spaceship confrontation.

Nero: I loved my family, now I want VENGEANCE! (also used bugs that crawl into your head and affect the mind) Big spaceship confrontation.”

It’s obviously not an exact copy and doesn’t feature the iconic villain himself, but the plot of Star Trek – ignoring the formation of the alternate reality and the establishing of the main characters – is pretty similar to The Wrath of Khan. Just substitute Nero for Khan and Spock for Kirk (expanded upon in section 16). So, in a small way, Khan’s tale has already been told in the reboot except for the events surrounding his revival, which (as I discussed in section 1) are probably not the same as in Space Seed and wouldn’t involve the Enterprise if they happen at all.

Image from Screen Rant

One opinion I’ve noticed and remain baffled by is that Cumberbatch’s trailer voiceover, when in the Japanese extended version and the second trailer he says ‘is there anything you would not do for your family?’, refers to his family: that is, the villain’s family. I really do not understand where this idea came from. In the synopsis, it says:

“Sacrifices must be made for the only family Kirk has left: his crew.”

Have people missed that part? It not only strongly implies that it will be Kirk making a sacrifice, but actually calls the crew of the Enterprise his family – and added to The Wrath of Khan glass-touching image, it has been heavily implied that Kirk will have to sacrifice himself (or come close) to save his crew, his family. It has already been established that the villain will be testing the crew, and Kirk especially. Screenwriter Alex Kurtzman stated:

“The key is designing a bad guy that puts your heroes to the test in a way that feels different than what came before.”

On the captain and crew, Karl Urban said:

“All the characters are put to the test. We are that much more confident with characters and each other. In the first movie Kirk earns his captaincy. In this movie he has to own it.”

And on Kirk, Chris Pine said that thanks to the villain:

“[Kirk is] brought to his knees and has to face his own vulnerability and his own feelings of self-doubt about whether or not he is capable of leading his crew in the battle.”

I include this here because if the villain is talking about his own family, then that could make sense if the villain is Khan because Khan did come with a whole hoard of beloved accomplices. If the villain is not talking about his own family, it could be either Khan or Mitchell. And it really does not look likely that the villain is talking about his own family. This is not a strike against Khan, but it does knock away one argument for him.

What about Khan being super-powered? Firstly, I want to draw a line between ‘super-powered’ and ‘augmented human’. Memory Alpha describes him as one of the “augments produced by the program [who] possessed physical strength and analytical capabilities considerably superior to ordinary Humans”, as well as “incredible recuperative powers”. This is how Khan’s defeat is described:

“Khan's superior strength nearly won him the battle, but Kirk used a broken piece of equipment piping to defeat him.”

Khan and his posse from Space Seed and The Wrath of Khan were genetically engineered to be superior to humans mentally and physically. So what superhuman abilities did Khan display? Well, he showed some unusual strength, prying open a locked Enterprise door. He healed very quickly in sickbay. … And I’m at a loss beyond that. Presumably he would have been able to run very quickly and have enormous stamina, but these qualities were not displayed. His fellow augments and presumably him as well were not immune to neural gas. And was he impervious to the Vulcan nerve pinch? There’s no way to know for certain since one was never attempted on him, but one of his augments was taken down that way by Spock in Space Seed, implying that Khan would fare equally poorly against the Vulcan commander.

Image from Entertainment +

But leaked set footage shows a fight between the Into Darkness villain and Spock in which the villain not only doesn’t succumb to a nerve pinch, but pries Spock’s hand off of him and then beats the Vulcan quite soundly. There is also the matter of the epic jump performed by the villain as shown in the announcement trailer which, despite the fact that I’ve looked at it as closely as I can to decide whether the jump could in fact be made by a normal human, is definitely superhuman. Khan could perhaps have the muscular strength to jump that high, but there also seems to be something supernatural in there. Watch the clip, and see if you agree with me that he doesn’t just appear to be jumping, but actually defying gravity to some degree. Additionally, there is no ‘coil’ before the jump – he doesn’t bend his knees and gather the power to jump, just sort of arcs up from a standing position, with his legs flailing in the air from the moment he leaves the structure – humans don’t do that. On your upwards motion after a big jump, your legs are extended from pushing you off of the ground; they do not start to flail until you level out or begin to descend. The villain’s are flailing almost the whole time, implying that he didn’t actually jump. (Mitchell, may I point out here, is telekinetic.) Well, I might be seeing this wrong (the beginning of his jump clip is a fraction of a second long), so go look at the trailer for yourself: do you see what I see?

Image from Screen Rant

Cumberbatch has said of his character:

“He is very ruthless… he is not a clearly good or evil character. He is a villain but the actions he takes have intent and reason. He is a complicated character not to be judged by white-or-black, or good-or-evil.”

Does that sound like Khan to you? Khan was always pretty villainous in his actions. Go watch Space Seed if you’re sceptical – he’s given some more human motivation in The Wrath of Khan, but he is always pretty black-and-white. His original reign on Earth was said to be peaceful, if tyrannical, so that is perhaps an angle from which we can see Khan in shades of grey – in Space Seed Khan calls the tyrants “an attempt to unify humanity”, and Kirk and Spock needle him into shouting, “We offered the world order!”, so he obviously believed that his rule was for the good of mankind.

Cumberbatch also stated:

“[John Harrison is] someone who’s a fearsome warrior and he’s an expert in hand-to-hand combat and weaponry, as well as being a psychological terrorist — he’s a great manipulator of minds to perform his intentions and do his bidding. But he has a cause; however violent and destructive the effects of his actions are, the reasons and intentions behind them are pretty noble, so hopefully at some stage in the story you’ll have a sympathy for him, which should be unexpected but should be genuine. He’s fighting for something he believes in, as strong as those who are defending Starfleet and the Enterprise itself.”

Most of that would square with Khan, except for the idea of his ‘noble’ cause. Again, unless Abrams alters the character more than the reboot timeline would really allow, I would not call Khan’s aspirations of galactic domination ‘noble’. Notice that the actor does not say that his character thinks that his own actions are noble, but that he – Cumberbatch – thinks that those motivations are noble ones, that this is him speaking without the bias of the character. In the original episode, Kirk, McCoy and Scotty all admitted to admiring Khan as a man, his qualities and attributes, but not his ambitions or methods – not exactly what Cumberbatch says we will feel about his character. He says we will “have sympathy” for his “noble cause”, not for his personal brilliance, but the original crew liked Khan himself while disapproving of his ideals – much to Spock’s consternation.

Is dictatorship a ‘noble’ cause? (Khan claimed that “one man would have ruled eventually” over Earth when he came from; have no doubts that he planned to be that dictator.)

And another Cumberbatch quote:

“I play… an extraordinary character… somebody who is not your two-dimensional cookie cutter villain. He’s got an extraordinary purpose, and I hope that at one point or other in the film you might even sympathize with the reasons he’s doing what he’s doing — not necessarily the means and the destruction he causes. But it was a great ride, not just because he’s the bad guy and the antagonist but also because he has a purpose and it’s hard not to see his point of view at certain points.”

While Khan was indeed an extraordinary character, I would hesitate to class his purposes either in Space Seed or The Wrath of Khan as extraordinary. In the former he wanted to rule the galaxy for no real reason, and in the latter he wanted obsessively to kill James T. Kirk. Assuming that if Cumberbatch is playing Khan and that he and Kirk have never interacted, we would have to presume that his purpose is galactic conquest – which does not exactly ring with Cumberbatch’s previous statement that the audience might sympathize with his plans and see his point of view. There is always the option for Abrams to flesh out the character and his motivations, but for the most part Khan does not fit too well into this description of the Into Darkness villain.

With regard to the villain, Chris Pine said:

“Benedict is a much colder, cleaner bad guy. His primary weapon is the ability to manipulate and his ability to use psychological warfare on the crew.”

This is perhaps a matter of opinion, but I would not describe the character of Khan as ‘cold’ or ‘clean’. He may have been ruthless and efficient, but there was always a fire within him that was part of what made him so attractive (to the characters as a person and to the audience as a villain). He was polite and devious, but also passionate, affable, and affectionate with his compatriots. Only because I agree with its truthfulness, I add a quote from Wikipedia:

“In “Space Seed”, Khan is presented as having several positive characteristics: he is gracious, smiling, fearless, and generous. He is not threatened by the success of others, and encourages their self-esteem.”

Is this the description of Pine’s ‘colder’ villain?

Khan was exceptionally manipulative of Marla McGivers in Space Seed, though his coup failed in the end because she changed her mind. Not that effective a weapon, then. And besides that, while Khan did use ‘psychological’ (emotionally abusive) methods on McGivers and even the bridge crew while trying to gain an ally by torturing Kirk, it was not exactly ‘warfare’. Even in The Wrath of Khan there was little in the way of Khan’s ‘psychological warfare’ or ‘the ability to manipulate’ people – the Ceti eels notwithstanding. He was more of a proponent of brute force when it came down to the wire – he was a brilliant tactician and intelligent schemer, but his schemes were not carried out through psychological manipulation. It would be difficult to form the argument that “the ability to manipulate and his ability to use psychological warfare on the crew” was his “primary weapon”.

However, Alice Eve and Cumberbatch also called his character “incredibly intelligent”, “very smart, very quick, very physical: he’s a warrior”, which clearly sounds very much like Khan, but are not qualities exclusive to that character.

But perhaps more poignantly than all of this: how much can you change the character of Khan before he is no longer Khan? Is he still the same character if he is not Indian? Not buff? Does Cumberbatch really work as Khan? Even considering the reboot’s altered timeline, the changes began in 2233; hundreds of years after Khan’s time (1996) – he would not have been altered at all. He was in cryostasis through all the changes Nero brought to the reboot universe – he would not be that different, if different at all. By the nature of the new timeline they have carefully and knowingly created for the reboot, any character that the reboot universe uses will either need to be from the time period that was affected by Nero, allowing for differences and alterations in their interpretation and execution, or they would be an exact replica of their original series counterpart.

So either Cumberbatch is not playing Khan, because if he were the character would be very, very different from the original incarnation, or… there really is no other option, here. He must playing a different character.

In section 3 I mentioned the respective ages of all the actors put forward to play ‘Khan’ in this film as well as that of Ricardo Montalbán when the original Space Seed was filmed, and concluded that Cumberbatch was approximately ten years too young to play Khan. Remember that Khan – if awakened at this point in the reboot – will have been in cryo-sleep at the age of approximately 47 (Montalbán’s age) since 1996. When he is woken up, no matter what year that is from 2233 onwards, he will be almost 50 years old. Cumberbatch is 36.

You can claim ‘Abrams-version’ all you want, but they made a point with the first movie not to overwrite the original series and everything that came after it, meaning that their only excuse to change and alter the characters is the influence of Nero on the timeline. If Nero didn’t affect it, it would not be affected. While the circumstances surrounding Khan’s resuscitation may have been altered, Khan as a character would not be affected by Nero.

Image from JoBlo

And if you really think about it, the idea of ‘Abrams-version’ Khan is really quite insulting to the production crew. Most of the arguments about Khan in the reboot universe assume that Abrams and &Co. do not understand the basic rules of their own alternate timeline – which is possible, but I’m sure we’d all rather hope or assume that they do. I refer to the idea that they could be doing a completely different take on Khan. I’ve only just discussed the implausibility of this idea of wildly altering Khan, but here is an example of an argument people are making: HitFix speculates that Khan could be revamped in Into Darkness in the same way that the Joker was revamped from Tim Burton’s version to Christopher Nolan’s.

To begin with, Abrams may be pulling inspiration from Nolan’s Batman trilogy, but he’s never said that outright – Damon Lindelof mentioned it, not Abrams – and he’s not making the ‘Star Trek version’ of Batman. There’s no reason to postulate that Khan will be the villain simply because he is “the closest Trek gets to Batman’s Joker”. And really, is Khan the Joker to Kirk’s Batman? Batman has been around for three-quarters of a century, and the Joker has been his antagonist almost all that time. The Joker is Batman’s nemesis because he has been taunting him throughout his career. Khan was seen – and defeated – by Kirk twice in his life. They do not have the same connection. Khan certainly wasn’t as big a deal after Space Seed as he is now – why can’t Abrams take another villain-of-the-week from the original show and make him into an icon like the original movies did with Khan?

And moreover, this Khan reboot thing is not even remotely the same issue as the Joker reboot. Nolan’s Batman and Joker were not just rebooted characters, but stemmed from the whole Batman/DC universe being rebooted. The split-off point causing differences between these iterations and the previous ones came before both characters, which actually explains why Heath Ledger’s Joker was so different from Jack Nicholson’s, in the same way Christian Bale’s Batman was from Michael Keaton’s. The two of them were rebooted along with everything else. And even besides this simple logic, there is the idea that Batman and the Joker have been redone dozens of times already in DC canon, meaning that yet another reboot would not be unwelcome nor considered strange or unoriginal. This addresses Examiner’s idea:

“Well one could argue in favor of revisiting the character, just as Nolan had with the Joker for The Dark Knight.”

It’s not the same thing, since the Joker has been done so many different times to match his Batman. That wasn’t a revisit: it was yet another take on the Joker (and Batman).

The reboot, as I mentioned before, went to great pains to let us know that it was exactly the same as the prime universe right up to 2233, when Nero arrived from the prime universe and messed with things to create an alternate reality. Already this is markedly different from the Nolan Batman/Joker metaphor. In the reboot universe, Khan was not affected by Nero, and so he would not be different in personality, physical appearance or aspiration from the prime Khan. To do otherwise with the character given the regulations of the alternate universe would be like putting Nolan’s Joker into Burton’s Batman. It breaks internally established rules of the particular universe in which the characters are appearing.

I emphatically argue that there is no logical way to alter Khan in the reboot as drastically as he would need to be altered to fit into the descriptions we have of the Into Darkness villain. The only way this would be possible would be if Abrams and the writers did not understand the rules they made up for their own reboot at all, in which case I could only sigh in defeat.

Abrams did have this to say of the alternate timeline:

“ The notion that when this one character, Nero, arrives in his ship, that basically the timeline is altered at that moment, so everything forward is essentially an alternative timeline.”

The “everything forward” part gives me hope that Abrams and the screenwriters will understand that Khan would quite literally be a carbon copy of his prime universe self were he to appear in the new franchise. Which – considering all reports – Cumberbatch’s character is not.


An overview

A quick summary of Mitchell, from Screen Rant:

“Gary Mitchell appeared in the original Star Trek TV series, in an episode titled Where No Man Has Gone Before. It is the third episode in the original series … the Enterprise experiences a strange phenomenon that transforms two crew members – one being Kirk’s longtime friend from the academy, Gary Mitchell – into beings of immense psychic ability. These new powers quickly corrupt Mitchell, who proclaims himself a god; when Kirk and Spock try to strand the power-crazed crewman on a remote planet, it results in a confrontation that claims lives, and forces Kirk to kill his old friend to save the universe.”

I mentioned before that it would be a much wiser option to follow the template that The Wrath of Khan employed, that of revamping an under-realised villain from the original series, rather than simply redo that iconic film. Gary Mitchell was a ‘godlike’ villain who was eventually defeated in an extremely anticlimactic manner (I will discuss this later). This makes him an ideal candidate for the reboot to take a look at.

Image from Memory Alpha


Who said it wasn’t Mitchell?

In summer 2012, screenwriter Roberto Orci was asked to name some characters not appearing in Into Darkness, and gave these five: “Gary Mitchell, Charlie X, Ruk, Janice Rand, and The Borg”. It’s a bit of an eclectic selection, ranging from the ‘duh’ exclusion of the Borg to the rather random exclusion of Janice Rand and the extremely random exclusion of Ruk, a minor character from an obscure original series episode. The only two characters named that could provoke any real interest are Mitchell and Charlie X. Orci is well known for messing around with his interview responses, so this information is not to be fully trusted. Combining that with Karl Urban letting the name ‘Gary Mitchell’ slip during an interview, as I mentioned earlier, should – at the very least – balance out Orci’s denial.

When Urban was confronted about his ‘slip-up’, he had this to say:

“Ah yes, you know, I received a few phone calls over that one. I really – what was the legal term that was explained to me? ‘Not at liberty to discuss “Star Trek.”…. But (with an animated tone) I will say this: This weekend, there will be a Comic-Con exclusive – sneak peek footage of ‘Star Trek’.”

So he just told us that he got in trouble for mentioning Mitchell, and then avoided clarifying or refuting what he had said. The author of the article then commented on this dodge of a response:

“You’ll notice that he brought up the Star Trek 2 ”sneak peak” directly after I asked him if Benedict Cumberbatch is indeed playing Gary Mitchell in the film. As such, I suspect the hoax was created to draw attention away from any discussion about Trek’s villain and to cast a cloud over the legitimacy of whatever Urban may have (inadvertently or not) revealed.”

Furthermore, Roberto Orci himself said this:

“Introducing a new villain in the sequel is tempting because we now have this incredible new sandbox to play in. … The trick is not to do something that’s been seen before just because you think it will be a short cut to likeability.”

If that doesn’t sound like an attack on using Khan as the villain I don’t know what would – he’s implying that they’re going to do something nobody’s seen before, and not taking a ‘short cut to likeability’, by reusing a well-known character. Two more strikes against Khan, and two more points for Mitchell – Mitchell has not been seen other than in one relatively unknown original series episode, and is by no means a well-known character. The general public would likely know of Khan and the Klingons, but it’s extremely doubtful many would have any idea who Gary Mitchell was.

However, Orci has also on multiple occasions almost-nearly stated that Mitchell is not the villain – and also that he would not lie about it, which causes us something of a problem because we think he’s already lying and now may be lying about lying. (More on Orci and his possible lies in section 17). This is what he had to say: A couple of weeks ago you were on a radio show and you confirmed that Benedict Cumberbatch is not playing Gary Mitchell in the sequel. Then last week Karl Urban says he is playing Gary Mitchell. Both can’t be true.

Roberto Orci: All I can say is that when I did that radio interview I had just been doing 22 hours of press. I had just got off a flight from New Zealand… Nice callback, but are you sticking with your original comment and it isn’t Gary Mitchell.

Roberto Orci: I would say that I never lie. While Karl tests all those hypo spray props on himself. [laughs]

Notice first the evasion in his initial answer, then when the interviewer insists that he answer the question, Orci says that he ‘would’ say he never lies. He did not actually say that he never lies, and that he didn’t lie about Mitchell. He then needlessly adds on another deflection, this time by trying to make Karl Urban – the man who first outed Mitchell as a possibility – sound crazy, drugged and/or generally disreputable. (Not in a malicious way, but in a more subtle, tricksy, almost subconscious manner.)

So not only did he not actually confirm that Mitchell is not the villain, he also did not stick to his statement that Mitchell is not the villain, and he tried to make it seem like there was no way Urban was correct about Mitchell being the villain. This is very suspicious, Mr. Orci. I’ll admit he fooled me for a moment here too, until I actually picked apart what he had said. Is this just a trick to keep Mitchell in the running as Khan’s biggest rival for villain likelihood, or did the interviewer actually hit a nerve?


Clues straight from the horse’s mouth

Let’s now take a closer look at the first synopsis Paramount has released. Here it is in full with its snippets of information on the villain, underscoring added by me:

“In Summer 2013, pioneering director J.J. Abrams will deliver an explosive action thriller that takes ‘Star Trek Into Darkness.’

When the crew of the Enterprise is called back home, they find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization has detonated the fleet and everything it stands for, leaving our world in a state of crisis.

With a personal score to settle, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction. As our heroes are propelled into an epic chess game of life and death, love will be challenged, friendships will be torn apart, and sacrifices must be made for the only family Kirk has left: his crew.”

    1. ‘Back home’.
    The villain, whoever it is, is on Earth at the beginning of the story. This is confirmed by the 9 minute preview, which shows Cumberbatch in the first few minutes interacting with a family in a London hospital. (Note that the teaser poster shows Cumberbatch overlooking the London skyline from a decimated structure.) We could also assume that this attack mentioned in the synopsis is what results in both the Enterprise being recalled to Earth, and the funeral at which Kirk speaks.

    2. ‘Unstoppable force of terror’.
    In the original series episode Where No Man Has Gone Before, Mitchell is given god-like psychic powers by an unknown entity. There is deliberate emphasis placed on Mitchell seeing himself as a god, and Kirk pretty much admitting that it’s a fitting description. This makes a good argument for the ‘unstoppable’ aspect. Mitchell’s goal in the show was to rule (‘use’) a/the world (he’s a little hazy on details), which would count him as a terrorist – especially seeing as if they use him in this film, I’d imagine they would solidify his aspirations, and almost certainly augment them. Mitchell is defeated in the original episode with assistance from Dr. Dehner (discussed later), but is in the end simply sealed into a grave by Kirk which, given his powers, seemed like an ending stunted by the show’s constraints. In the new film, Mitchell could become far more formidable. Khan, on the other hand, was only human, and very easy to kill if necessary. He was by no means ‘unstoppable’. The crew of the Enterprise stopped him. Twice.

    3. ‘From within their own organization’.
    Gary Mitchell is among the few original series villains/antagonists to come from a Starfleet background. Mitchell went to the Academy with Kirk, and later served under him on the Enterprise as helmsman. Cumberbatch calls his character a ‘home-grown terrorist’, just reaffirming that he comes from within the Federation, probably within Starfleet.

    The reboot timeframe is a little uncertain here – was Mitchell ever on the Enterprise? Did he gain his godlike powers while stationed with Kirk, or was it with another ship? Did Kirk or another captain successfully maroon him and that is the vengeance he wants to have?

    (An obvious question at this point would be how long exactly has it been since the end of Star Trek? Screen Rant, commenting on the 9 minute preview, has this to say:

    “The introduction indicates that the film does not pick up directly after the end of the first film – instead it shows that the starship Enterprise is already into its mission, and that the crew has been working together for a while.”

    And has confirmed that this movie takes place “a little over a year after (most of) the events of the 2009 Star Trek movie”. That gives time for the Mitchell back story to have happened – it’s all still rather sketchy though.)

    4. ‘Detonated the fleet and everything it stands for’.
    Whoever he is, he has the physical might to destroy Starfleet (or, if taking ‘fleet’ literally, perhaps just the ships. That might be the destruction and ship-crashing-into-the-water scenes we see in the first trailer after ‘shall we begin?’. If so, between him and Nero they must be pretty hard-pressed for starships right now), as well as the political/social might to destroy idealism and codes of honour. That is, unless Starfleet stands for Federation safety, in which case the destruction of the ships would probably be enough to destroy that concept of security, or even just a cataclysmic attack on Starfleet HQ would shake people’s confidence in Starfleet’s protection.

    Image from Screen Rant

    5. ‘War-zone world’.
    It has been confirmed that Klingons and the Klingon homeworld Qo’noS appear in the trailer, and therefore it’s likely that this will be the warzone world to which Kirk chases the villain. Kirk, Uhura, Spock and the villain are all seen at that location in the trailer.

    6. ‘One man weapon of mass destruction’.
    Like no other Star Trek villain barring perhaps Q (… if you could count him as a man), this description encapsulates Mitchell. He is one of few villains to operate alone, and he has tremendous destructive ability (as discussed in point 2). Even Khan cannot fit this description – everything he accomplished in Space Seed and The Wrath of Khan depended on the assistance of his crowd of henchmen. Khan may be a weapon of mass destruction, but not to Mitchell’s degree and certainly not on his own. He was always more of a tactician, strategist and commander in his appearances than a soldier.

    7. ‘Epic chess game of life and death’.
    This snippet points to Khan, since the highlight of The Wrath of Khan was the space battle of strategy at the end. Mitchell was not one for strategy – which is what chess implies – in his episode, relying more on brute force and clairvoyance. That is not to say that they cannot change this aspect of him for the film, to give the cast a bigger challenge, but this is the one piece of the synopsis that doesn’t really point to Mitchell.

    8. ‘Friendships will be torn apart’.
    Perhaps an obvious question to ask at that would be, “Which friendships?” Ones on the Enterprise? Definitely. As Zachary Quinto put it:

    “Harrison really comes in with something that fragments [the crew]. He’s insidious in a way, he kind of gets into the psychology and the dynamic of the crew in a way that we really have to fight in our own ways. We all have a different relationship to it and it affects our relationships to one another, because there is doubt and uncertainty and it’s really interesting that way, I think, what the dynamic is.”

    But this could also refer to the friendship between Kirk and Mitchell. Or, if you take it literally, to Kirk and Spock being separated as implied by the glass-touching scene in the trailer.

Clevver Movies sees Mitchell in the synopsis as well. And though they have vacillated wildly between Khan and Mitchell, Screen Rant had this reaction to the synopsis:

“… the bad guy is, and I quote, “a one man weapon of mass destruction.” Now, who might that remind you of? Does it start with a “G” and end with an “ary Mitchell”? … A godlike, psychic-powered Gary Mitchell – who happened to be a Starfleet lieutenant commander – sounds an awful lot like a one man weapon of mass destruction “from within [Starfleet]” to me.”


A wrench in the works?

Another problem with the villain being Mitchell is that he has already appeared in the spin-off comics from the first film, and been dispatched. Apparently, according to Orci, these comics are canon, so it’s possible that Mitchell has already been done and dusted. I haven’t read the comics, so I can’t really make any further observations, except that I really don’t think Mitchell’s appearance in the comics is enough to definitively state that he can’t be the villain in Into Darkness: I’m not sure how they’ve tied the comics into the movies. For all we know, the movie is a continuation of that comic arc – how did it end? Did it end with Mitchell being killed, or neutralised? As I said, I don’t know how that issue ended. But even in the original episode, it is possible that Mitchell survived (he was entombed in a rockslide, not visibly seen to die), so who is to say he didn’t survive the comics? And that he is now back to get revenge on Kirk for first trying to maroon him and then ‘killing’ him?

Image from TrekMovie offers a little more information on comics Mitchell:

“Yes, they killed him off in the end, but the guy has god-like powers. He may not be dead in that torpedo casing.”

And after all that pondering, I came across yet another interview with Orci by, in which it appears that Orci confirms Gary Mitchell not to be an option for the movie based on the fact that he has already been dealt with in the comics. What a blow! But here is the interview snippet: The difference with previous Trek is that you guys are overseeing all of [the expanded universe content]. These rules aren’t written in stone from my perspective and I think a lot of fans would like to hear you say, “yes these are all the adventures of Kirk, Spock and the gang and it is all canon and all ties together into a single universe.” Again, with the caveat that you reserve the right to contradict any of it in a future movie and that would trump. That’s my pitch to you.

Roberto Orci: OK, based on that then … I hereby declare anything that we oversee to be canon.

The article then continues on to freak out a little bit over what this means for the movie and the author’s sources that said that Mitchell was the villain and the comics being written a long time ago “but presumably at a time when Orci and Kurtzman knew that Mitchell wouldn’t be their villain”.

But they seem to have tragically misread the interview. The question the interviewer asked was useful, but only to a point. Let’s take a look at it more closely:

The difference with previous Trek is that you guys are overseeing all of [the expanded universe content]. These rules aren’t written in stone from my perspective and I think a lot of fans would like to hear you say, “yes these are all the adventures of Kirk, Spock and the gang and it is all canon and all ties together into a single universe.”

All’s well here. They’re asking Orci to state explicitly that the expanded universe content, including the comics, is canon. That they are real adventures of this Kirk, this Spock, and this Enterprise. Which Orci then does.

But the interesting part is the last bit of the question:

Again, with the caveat that you reserve the right to contradict any of it in a future movie and that would trump. That’s my pitch to you.

It’s after this caveat that Orci answers. So, basically, yes Mitchell has appeared in the comics, but if they want to use him in the movies, that overwrites the comic storyline. The comics are canon only until the movies prove them wrong. Mitchell is therefore still in the running, despite having been dealt with in the comics.

But if he was used in the comics, and if the movie is a continuation of that story, isn’t that unfair to people who haven’t read the comics? Well, I have two answers for that question:

    1. Do you really need to have seen the villain get his powers to make his story worth telling? Is the origin story really necessary, or is it enough just to see his actions? Movies often show the origins of the hero, but don’t always show those of the villain. If the villain is a super-powered Mitchell who has become a terrorist, is his terrorism and need for revenge against Kirk undermined by the fact that we didn’t see him get those powers or the origin of that need for revenge? (Ignoring the completely plausible option of covering these things during the movie in dialogue or ongoing flashbacks, particularly at the end which would leave the villain to be a mystery for most of the film – watch The Dark Knight Rises or Skyfall for excellent examples of this format – meaning that you don’t remake the comic but show the audience relevant information from it as it comes up.)

    Or, to put it in different terms: would someone who has never seen Space Seed be able to enjoy and understand The Wrath of Khan?

    2. In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, J.J. Abrams said the following:

    “This is a movie that we’ve made not just for Star Trek fans, this is a movie that we’ve made for fans of movies. If you’re a Star Trek fan I think you’ll be really happy, cause there are a lot of things for you in it, but the movie really is… you don’t need to have seen anything; our other film or the TV show.”

    If you do not have to have seen the first movie or the original series to enjoy this one, you wouldn’t know anything about any of the characters, least of all the villain. As such, whoever the villain is must be able to stand on their own, without any backstory at all, no matter what that backstory is – because he and all the characters have been designed that way. Abrams confirmed in another interview that Star Trek Into Darkness ‘works on its own’, and is ‘its own thing’. Producer Bryan Burk agreed: “It’s also much easier to enter [than Star Trek], so if people happen to have not seen the last film they can jump right in and not have a problem following it.”

So even if you’ve not read the comics and seen how the story of Mitchell began, your experience and enjoyment of the movie would not be compromised – Abrams has explicitly stated that he has designed it to be that way.

But there is even more evidence that the comics will be reflected in the movie. In an interview with, Roberto Orci and Mike Johnson – the writer of the first comic issue Where No Man Has Gone Beforesome intriguing details are given about the role the comics will play. Johnson said:

“The first few issues of the series are adaptations of TOS episodes, as the “new” crew encounters some of the same threats the original crew did, but with differences that reflect things like Kirk being a younger captain and Spock losing his homeworld. As we get closer to the next movie, the stories will begin to foreshadow the events of the movie, such as possibly introducing new characters we will see onscreen… pun very much intended.”

And then there was this exchange:

More specifically, the very first title re-imagined “Where No Man Has Gone Before. ” Without spoiling too much for anyone who’s not read it yet, in what ways does it re-imagine the second pilot?

Johnson: Most importantly, it reflects the fact that Bones and Chekov were not yet a part of the crew in the original episode. Also the fact that in this new timeline Kirk is younger than Gary Mitchell, not a more experienced officer.

The first quote blatantly informs us that not only do the comics come after the first movie, but that the second movie comes after the comics: they are linked and affect each other. Continuation is implied. And then the interviewer asks directly about the first issue, which deals with Gary Mitchell’s story, and Johnson says the only real differences are that the entire core cast is featured, and that Mitchell is older and more experienced now compared to his prime universe counterpart. (More on this in section 12.)

Johnson also said:

“It’s fantastic to have Bob’s input, because he can steer us clear of story elements that might conflict with what’s coming up in the next movie, and we can lay in subtle clues to what’s coming up so that once you see the new movie you can go back and see how it evolved in the comics….Bob and I have discussed the major beats of the next movie, which is a great help in laying clues in the comic.”

Note that it was not “Bob can steer us clear of story elements that might double up with what’s coming up in the next movie”, but ones that might “conflict”. Having already stated that the comics and the movie will feed in together, as long as there is continuation and not reusing of storylines, Johnson has not argued against Mitchell at all – and has given cause to suspect him further.

Johnson further added in the first issue:

“One of the great things about working with Bob [Orci] is that we are able to use the ongoing series to very subtly lay in clues to the next movie. There might even be a tiny hint of a subplot in the first issue.”

“There might even be” could either imply that there is or is not “a tiny hint of a [movie] subplot”, or that the hint may or may not be “tiny” or “a subplot” rather than a full-blown plot point. Why mention this at all if there was nothing in the first issue – Where No Man Has Gone Before – that linked to the movie at all? Therefore this comment only really makes sense in terms of the second option I gave.

“The stories will begin to foreshadow the events of the movie, such as possibly introducing new characters we will see onscreen … in this new timeline Kirk is younger than Gary Mitchell, not a more experienced officer … and we can lay in subtle clues to what’s coming up…”. The last clause almost explicitly states that whatever happens in the movie – not necessarily just characters, but storylines and events – has already been started by the comics…

… Khan has not been in the comics. Mitchell opened them.


‘Gary who?’

In another article discussing the new photo from the trailer showing Cumberbatch imprisoned and presumably speaking with Kirk and Spock, Screen Rant asks a question I find a little odd:

“The Gary Mitchell character has come under a lot of scrutiny … but he’s not the most recognizable member of the Star Trek rogues gallery – meaning, why would Paramount go to such great lengths to hide the identity of a character that only regular Trekkies would remember?”

And says:

“This villain could be Khan. Annnnd I’m pretty sure it is, as he’s a legit enough villain to warrant this level of secrecy. … They have no reason to make up a fake name for Gary Mitchell, since hardly anyone knows who that is, unless they’re huge fans of the series.”

Well, as for the question of why they bother to keep Mitchell a secret, how about the fact that Abrams keeps absolutely everything close to his chest? If he won’t tell us the names of more minor, non-canon characters like those being played by Noel Clarke and Nazneen Contractor, why would he not be intensely invested in keeping the villain a secret – well-known or not? Khan being Khan and therefore ‘legit’ is not the only reason to keep the villain’s identity secret.

There is also such a thing as ‘research’, so even if only Trekkies would know about Mitchell to begin with, there is nothing to say that if they announced that name the entire internet-going world would know everything there is to know about him within ten minutes of the announcement.

And Variety offers us another interesting point of view:

“Sources say Eve’s character is new to the “Star Trek” universe, unlike del Toro, who insiders believe will be playing someone familiar to Trekkies.”

Perhaps this is going too deeply into this quote, but these ‘sources’ specify that the villain will be recognizable to Trekkies – while Khan would be recognizable to almost anybody, Star Trek fan or no.

Roberto Orci put it this way:

“[We will keep the villain a secret] For as long as we can because of our belief that one of the fun things about Star Trek that distinguishes it from other franchises is that the story turns. It isn’t just the spectacle of Star Trek, not just the explosions and the battles, it is the plot. That is why we are so protective of plot and character with this particular franchise.”

This implies that knowing the identity of the villain would spoil the plot of the movie – therefore the plot of the movie involves us finding out who the villain is? (See sections 14 and 15.) This is also proof beyond just statements that may be untrue that the villain is a canon character: if he weren’t, giving us his name would not spoil the plot at all.

Why then keep Mitchell a secret? I’ve already pointed out (and will do so further) that if the villain is Mitchell he will be very altered from his prime universe counterpart to fit into what has been said about him – which is possible, because he is from a time that would have been affected by Nero’s interference. Why keep him a secret if he’s so different? It wouldn’t spoil the plot – unless a big portion of the plot is about discovering who he is (which, as I will show you later… it is), in which case you’d need to keep this character a secret even though he’s obscure and nobody but Trekkies has ever heard of him because if you don’t, you have spoiled the plot.

That’s why they’d want to be so secretive about Mitchell.

Image from Screen Rant


Blinded by Khanness

Now, one big reason for people to think that Khan is the villain is yet another reason I think it is less likely. That reason is the sheer volume of Khan-inspired imagery and echoes in the trailers and preview.

For example, reports from people who have seen the preview have commented that the music in a chase scene is highly reminiscent of James Horner’s original composition for The Wrath of Khan’s space battle. Then there is the inclusion of Carol Marcus in the cast list (a character who first appeared in The Wrath of Khan), the lava planet scenes from the trailer/preview and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Cumberbatch’s collar resembling Khan’s, Spock using the ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few’ line in the preview, and the iconic glass-touching scene between Kirk and Spock echoed in the trailers from The Wrath of Khan.

The lava scene is now known to have nothing to do with Khan or the Genesis device. Cumberbatch is shown in the 9 minute preview wearing a shirt whose collar resembles Gary Mitchell’s as much as the collar of Cumberbatch’s coat in the trailer resembles Khan’s. And as for the musical cues apparently taken from the original score of The Wrath of Khan, composer Michael Giacchino has a firm rebuttal:

“And, despite some people suggesting he borrowed a James Horner piece from Wrath of Khan in the prologue score, “Sadly, that had absolutely nothing to do with it,” said the composer. “You’re just writing and whatever sounds fun for me.”“

So even these ‘clear’ homages, call-backs and echoes of Khan seen in the trailer and in the preview – on which many people are basing their conclusions that he is the villain – are at the very least unrelated and at the worst actively misleading.

Of the glass-touching scene, MTV has commented:

“It’s a clear reference [to The Wrath of Khan], which seems like a curious choice for the first teaser, since everyone and their mother is assuming that Cumberbatch is playing some alternate universe version of Khan.”

Do you see how I can think that this is beginning to look a little suspiciously heavy on the Khan homages? It is not outside the realm of possibility that Abrams is well aware that people would expect Khan as a villain in this film, and is pumping out all sorts of things to corroborate that theory, thereby putting up an effective smokescreen to hide what is really going on. If fans are all over themselves with the Khan references, they might prematurely decide that he must therefore be the villain and not realise how little actual information we have been given to suggest that he is the villain.

Producer Bryan Burk gives further reason to suspect that this is a deliberate ploy:

When did the idea of bringing back the character Khan first surface with this movie?

Burk: I keep reading online that we’re bringing back Khan, which is awesome.

That is an interesting way of putting it. Why is it ‘awesome’ that people think that the villain is Khan? If the villain were Khan and that was supposed to be a secret, surely it would be a bad thing that everyone knew that, not ‘awesome’. So then it must be awesome that people still think it’s Khan… which means their ‘evil plan’ is working.

Slashfilm offers the director’s perspective on that glass-touching scene included in the extended trailer:

“Speaking with director J.J. Abrams, he explained that the Japanese trailer is different because Star Trek isn’t as popular internationally as it is here. … He said some foreign audiences are more interested in emotions than action. Hence the inclusion of that shot. However, he admitted it’s obviously an homage. It just wasn’t specifically included at this moment to screw with people. It just worked out that way.”

That could be true, but even if their original intention was not to “screw with people”, Abrams must have known that it would. He cannot be surprised by the effect this has had. And I will not believe that this was the only shot in the entire film that they could find to give some emotional resonance to the trailer – they deliberately picked this shot, knowing full-well what conclusions would be drawn from it.

It’s something of a massive leap of logic to say that the inclusion of the glass-touching scene in the trailer means that the villain is Khan. Think about it: is it really logical at all? By nature the conclusion is based in conjecture.

And even worse, this conclusion ignores all the emotional resonance of the scene and the fact that it would be an excellent way to show the progression of Kirk and Spock’s relationship. What if we look at the hand-touching scene not as a scene from The Wrath of Khan, but as an iconic moment both in Star Trek as a whole, and in Kirk and Spock’s relationship? This movie shows the crew growing into the characters we knew in the show, and using that scene is a good way to show how far Kirk and Spock have come from their antagonistic relationship in the first movie. In the preview, Kirk is shown realizing that Spock would be willing to leave Kirk to die if he were in a certain untenable situation (I don’t want to spoil you too much!), with Spock quoting his famous line: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” So at the beginning of the film we see Kirk judging Spock for being willing to make such a sacrifice – what if, by the climax of the movie, Kirk has come to see that Spock was right in his logic, and Spock is seeing Kirk’s emotional perspective just in time for Kirk to leave to potentially get killed defeating the villain and saving his crew (‘the many’), and that that is what we are witnessing in the glass-touching scene?

Image from Screen Rant

Do you see how much more there is to this iconic scene than just ‘it was in The Wrath of Khan therefore the villain is Khan’. But this is what people are jumping to conclude. Nerdist gives an example:

“The owner of the mystery hand is none other than Captain James T. Kirk! … This would seem to lend further credence to the theory that Benedict Cumberbatch is Khan.”

Does it really? There’s no other reason that scene could have been included in the film other than to echo The Wrath of Khan and give us a blindingly obvious clue to a mystery that Abrams does not want solved?

Do you see how easily people are falling into the trap concealed by what I rather like to refer to as the ‘Smokescreen of Khanness’?

People also assume this scene means that Spock may be killed:

“This is an obvious homage to the “death of Spock” scene in Wrath of Khan — and it’s probably a misdirection. It seems unlikely that they’re going to kill off Spock so soon in the series — although it would get people talking.”

While if anyone is going to die it is looking increasingly more likely that it will be Kirk. (See section 4, on sacrifice.)

And look at Nerdist’s reaction to Alice Eve’s role:

“During our time at Bad Robot, we learned that Alice Eve is none other than Dr. Carol Marcus, the molecular biologist/blonde bombshell from Wrath of Khan … If this immediately raised your eyebrows, then good. It should, because it lends way more credence to the theory that Benedict Cumberbatch is none other than Benedict KHANberbatch.”

What, really? Does it? What is your reasoning? They don’t even explain their thinking here, leaving it at that. How does it follow that the villain must be Khan because an old flame of Kirk’s (whom he would have known at about this time whether the events in The Wrath of Khan had ever occurred or not) happened to be first introduced in Khan’s feature film? But Abrams must know that these are the conclusions people would jump to – I’ll admit it’s easy to, if not logical. (I will discuss Marcus more in section 11.)

But they do it with everything. In the new trailer, there is a shot of some large canisters that could be anything from warheads to coffins, and people have decided that they are cryogenic chambers for Khan and his compatriots. (Just look at the URL of the image I’ve linked!) While I do understand that if you already believe the villain is Khan that the visual could be construed in that manner, coming from a more neutral perspective I simply see coffins from the “shocking act of terror from within their own organization”. I looked up Starfleet funerals and got this:

“Officers in Starfleet often decided to have a traditional Earth “burial at sea”, changed for starships to a burial in space. The deceased was put in a photon torpedo casing, with the flag of the Federation … draped across it. … The torpedo casket was then launched or beamed into open space. … Civilians were known, according to their wishes, to receive a similar burial, except they were placed inside a different kind of container and beamed into space.”

For those not in space, it seemed to be a regular burial, but it’s the word ‘container’ that is interesting here – as opposed to ‘casket’ or ‘coffin’. Even Starfleet officers didn’t get a casket – they were placed into torpedo casings. It is very possible that what we see in that screencap from the trailer are the ‘containers’ for the bodies of those who died in the attack that lead to Kirk and the Enterprise being recalled to Earth to attend the funeral. (Not to mention the fact that I’ve already shown that anything to do with Khan would be unchanged in this timeline, so why would Khan and his augments be in metal tubes in a warehouse somewhere?)

Image from Screen Rant

Badass Digest postulates that this image is the ‘key’ to solving the mystery of the villain: if so, why was it put in the trailer? If Abrams doesn’t want us to know that Khan is the villain, why so many clues? I’m going to add this one as another particle in the Smokescreen of Khanness.

“But look closely - what kind of coffin has a window in it? And why do those windows seem to have a frost on them?”

‘Open-casket funeral’ is a thing. Maybe this is their version. And perhaps when the body is horrifically burned (like those from a terrorist attack would likely be) maybe they fog up the window (‘frosted glass’ explains the “frost”) to spare people from seeing it.

But this is just another example of people finding Khan clues wherever they can (probably ones planted by Abrams and Co.), whether or not it makes sense and whether or not there are other options. Not to pick on Nerdist, but they are displaying my point quite clearly, as they carry their own internal double standards. Look at this quote:

“Alice Eve’s resemblance to Elizabeth Dehner (played by Sally Kellerman), a Starfleet psychiatrist and friend of Kirk’s and Mitchell’s who was instrumental in stopping Mitchell’s reign of terror, seemed like a bit of a red herring.”

The logical fallacy here astounds me. The article claims that the visual homage of The Wrath of Khan glass-touching scene and the appearance of a certain character “lends way more credence to the theory that Benedict Cumberbatch is none other than Benedict KHANberbatch”. But it then turns around and says that a potential visual clue to the villain being Gary Mitchell (namely Alice Eve’s hairstyle emulating that of Dr. Elizabeth Dehner), which is not unlike The Wrath of Khan glass-touching visual clue, “seems like a bit of a red herring”.

… What? Why does it have to be a red herring? Can’t it be Abrams saying that the character may in fact be Marcus, but that she is still linked to Mitchell through the shared appearance with Dehner? Why does it have to be a red herring? Why can’t it be a clue? Since the article has already established that visuals like the glass-touching scene “lend further credence to the theory that Benedict Cumberbatch is Khan”, why can’t the visual of Dehner lend further credence to the theory that Benedict Cumberbatch is Mitchell? Neither constitutes solid evidence, do they?

The article further states:

“Except that we now know that Eve is Carol Marcus, which pokes the Mitchell theory full of holes.”

How is the Mitchell theory now poked full of holes if Eve is playing Marcus? Mitchell was a theory before we saw images of Eve in character and noticed the similarity in appearance between her and Dehner. Who she is really playing does not poke any holes in the Mitchell theory; it merely removes one piece of potential evidence.

Do you see how people are being blinded to their own logical hypocrisy by the Smokescreen of Khanness? These journalists are not stupid people; they are simply being tricked into a sort of Swiss-cheese logic, replete with holes.

(I will reiterate here that Nerdist is not the only group or individual doing this, and that I am simply using them as an example. I am not trying to target them.)

In terms of my idea that this Smokescreen was an actual plan on the part of the studio, it explains why people are so unwilling to confirm or deny Khan while they are willing to debunk other rumours. Everyone was on the same page. (Except Simon Pegg.)

Image from Screen Rant


Don’t get too excited just yet…

Carol Marcus herself may be a red herring. I quite like this one – people are flapping around about Khan because Alice Eve is playing Carol Marcus and Carol Marcus was introduced in The Wrath of Khan and Carol Marcus and Khan.

“If Marcus, then Khan.”

If Dehner, then Mitchell. If Alice Eve had turned out to be playing Dr. Elizabeth Dehner, would we have been able to throw all of the other Khan reasoning out the window and join Team Mitchell? There is a double standard in the logic, here. Alice Eve’s character is not a certainty of anything, either way.

But here’s the thing: Carol Marcus wasn’t necessarily first introduced in The Wrath of Khan – she was likely referred to in none other than the original series episode Where No Man Has Gone Before, during a conversation between Kirk and Gary Mitchell.

Here is a transcript of their conversation:

Mitchell: Hey man, I remember you back at the academy. A stack of books with legs. The first thing I ever heard from an upperclassman was, ‘watch out for Lieutenant Kirk! In his class you either think, or sink’.
Kirk: [laughs] I wasn’t that bad, was I?
Mitchell: If I hadn’t aimed that little blonde lab technician at you –
Kirk: You what? You – you planned that?
Mitchell: Well, you wanted me to think, didn’t you? I outlined a whole campaign for her.
Kirk: I almost married her!

We cannot be certain that Marcus was the woman Mitchell referred to, but the other options are Janet Wallace (whom Kirk dated at almost the exact same time as Marcus) or an unknown woman. It’s plausible, if not definite. raises an interesting issue:

“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?”

As the author says, the idea that Carol Marcus was the woman Mitchell referred to is a definite ‘maybe’. And I really love the point that Marcus would not have allowed Mitchell to manipulate her – but remember that Mitchell was speaking with his own bias, and that during the scene in which he mentioned the ‘little blonde lab technician’, he was trying to scare Kirk. He may have been exaggerating, or even lying.

With both Marcus and Wallace, Memory Alpha gives their reasons for splitting up to be career-focused. But while Kirk and Wallace simply “called it off in favor of their respective careers”, it is more complicated with Marcus:

“During the late 2250s or early 2260s, Carol became involved with a young Starfleet officer named James T. Kirk, and in 2261 she gave birth to their son, David. However, she felt that they had no basis for a lasting relationship, with Kirk traveling around the universe while she worked in a lab, so she asked that Kirk leave her alone to raise the boy.”

With both women, their respective careers would have gotten in the way, but only with Marcus was there the incentive of the child for Kirk to marry her despite the apparently obvious disparity between their career aspirations – hers on land, his in space. The mention that “she felt that they had no basis for a lasting relationship” implies that a lasting relationship (i.e. marriage) was considered. The phrasing also implies that it was while turning down this idea of marriage that she asked Kirk to leave her to raise the boy alone. This makes it seem very likely that if the ‘little blonde lab technician’ was a named character, it was Marcus. Also note the fact that she didn’t want Kirk to be “traveling around the universe while she worked in a lab” – further linking her to Mitchell, who called the blonde a ‘lab technician’.

So what does that mean if the woman Mitchell referred to was Carol Marcus? It means that Mitchell is the one who set her up with Kirk, which means that even if Alice Eve is not playing Dr. Dehner, there is still a link between her and Gary Mitchell – a link that went back to roughly this time period as well, whereas the events in Where No Man Has Gone Before with Dr. Dehner took place about a decade into the future. This does of course all hinge on the unconfirmed fact that Marcus is the woman Mitchell referred to, but is nevertheless compelling enough for me to suggest that we not all get too excited about Khan just because Alice Eve is said to play a woman who appeared in Khan’s movie.

Image from Screen Rant

This is once again assuming that Alice Eve is playing Carol Marcus and that this is not another falsehood. A reason not to believe it is that the original Carol Marcus was a civilian scientist and rather opposed to Starfleet – her son, David, hated Starfleet – and so it seems out of character for her to now be a member, holding the rank of lieutenant. But – alternate realities. A reason for it to be her is that in the first trailer she and Kirk are seen exchanging A Look. The Look could be being misconstrued, but it is added into the trailer, and Chris Pine gave it further weight in an interview by saying that there was ‘flirting’, though no time in the fast-paced film for actual romance. Neither Dr. Dehner nor the other blonde, female sciences/medical officer from the original series, Christine Chapel, would exchange a look like that with Kirk, but for Carol Marcus it makes sense.

Screen Rant has implied that Marcus’s presence in the film means that Project Genesis – her life’s work from The Wrath of Khan – might make an appearance. And that Cumberbatch as Khan could try to use it to save the daughter of Noel Clarke, as he hinted that he could do in the 9 minute preview. First of all, if Cumberbatch is Mitchell, he could probably heal the girl himself. (The real question is, what is the villain’s interest in this girl, or gaining a debt from her family? The father is a member of Starfleet.) Secondly, the Genesis device is not completed for at least another 20 years. And thirdly, the device is aimed towards the regeneration of planets, not people. Screen Rant tries to get around it by invoking the ‘Abrams-version’ card, but that would mean a huge shift from what Marcus set out to do, accomplished, was interested in… and would be a completely different device. Without the Genesis device, Carol Marcus and Khan have no ties.

In The Wrath of Khan, Marcus served two purposes: she was the inventor of the Genesis device which Khan later wanted to steal, and she was the mother of Kirk’s child. Note: she was not a love interest, since she and Kirk did not set about to rekindle their romance. Assuming that this is Marcus and Kirk’s first meeting in Into Darkness, she will not be the mother of his child, and she has been confirmed as little more than a passing fancy rather than a love interest for Kirk. Her role is therefore purely scientific – and Chris Pine has confirmed that her scientific knowledge (as a molecular biologist) will be necessary in defeating Cumberbatch’s villain.

Now, who would you more require a molecular biologist to defeat – a super-soldier created through genetic engineering who can easily be injured but heals quickly, or a human who was mutated by an unknown energy field and is physically now impervious to energy blasts?

Alternatively: a villain who Kirk originally defeated with a broken piece of piping, or a villain who Kirk eventually defeated only with the help of a super-powered character who does not appear in this movie?

This all assumes Marcus’s focus is molecular biology. In a recent interview, Alice Eve stated otherwise; that her character was a “weapons expert”. That is really no help at all in terms of Khan/Mitchell, but an interesting twist. It may be that her specialty combines molecular biology with weaponry – biological weaponry – but that isn’t necessarily the case. Eve says that her character possesses a PhD, which could be in weapon design of some kind but is perhaps more likely to be in a scientific discipline, and is “a doctor”, which implies the biological angle unless that simply refers to the character’s doctorate.


What do we know about the villain?

As I quoted before from Badass Digest:

“1) Khan will not be the villain. … In fact, my source says that the film won’t be focused on a traditional ‘villain’ type at all. … 2) The story will focus on a classic Trek character. And when I say classic, I mean a character who appeared in season one of the original series, when Gene Roddenberry was in charge.”

The source then adds:

“Think along the lines of Harry Mudd or Trelane or Gary Mitchell or the Talosians or the Horta. Actually it’s one of those that I named.”

Depending on whether or not we believe that source, this is pretty telling information. A reason not to believe it is that it is just another in a long line of anonymous ‘sources’, with yet another opinion on the villain. A reason to believe it is that this source said way back in October 2010 that Into Darkness “won’t be focused on a traditional ‘villain’ type at all”, which I didn’t take that much note of until recently when Benedict Cumberbatch has taken to assuring us that it will not be a traditional, or ‘cookie-cutter’ villain with a black-and-white moral stance or even villain status. This source was out with that information way before anyone was officially saying it.

The article then runs through these options, putting them in order of likelihood counting down from the Horta, to Harry Mudd, the Talosians, Trelane (the Squire of Gothos), and finally Gary Mitchell. The author gives a reason being that “Gary Mitchell is a character who presents a deeply personal struggle for Kirk while not being a traditional bad guy”, and wonders what would happen “if the Klingons think Mitchell is a new Federation superweapon and come to destroy him?”

And if we do believe the source, I highly, highly doubt that Cumberbatch is playing a Horta – a sentient, silicon-based throw rug. Mudd was a fat, jovial scam artist, Trelane an all-powerful, immature jokester, and the Talosians a visibly alien race who were keeping humans as exhibits. Do any of those descriptions fit in with the trailer shots, preview scene, or established character niche of Cumberbatch?

As I’ve mentioned before, in the trailers, there is a shot of Cumberbatch on what we now know is Qo’noS, the Klingon homeworld, executing a very high jump. It’s not entirely clear whether he is performing an enormous leap over the structure visible, or jumping off of it (I believe the latter) – either way it implies superhuman physical ability. This at first suggests Khan, but don’t count Mitchell out either: though the focus in Where No Man Has Gone Before lies on his psychic ability, he was also psychokinetic (moving things with your mind) and had super-strength (he is seen lifting a large rock, evidently intending to crush Kirk with it). Either of these facets of his character could explain a superhuman jump just like the one seen in the trailer.

Image from Trek Mate

But is there anything from the trailers/preview that points directly to Mitchell like there is pointing to Khan? I’ve noticed one in the promotional material; there may be more (I’ve not seen the preview). It’s that screenshot of Cumberbatch in the brig, with Kirk and Spock standing outside it. In Where No Man Has Gone Before, Mitchell was contained in a similar cell when it became clear how dangerous he was becoming. He eventually became powerful enough to bust himself out of it, but it did contain him for a while. Kirk and Spock are both present during that scene, which is enough to put that screenshot in ‘homage’ territory. Two can play at this game, Khan. Mitchell just has less to work with!

Cumberbatch has recently stated in an interview more or less explicitly that his villain has an issue with Starfleet. He has already classed the villain’s motives as political as well as personal, and then had this to say:

“I think the grey moral areas are sort of exacerbated by the metaphor of Starfleet being a superpower, being a force for the greater good. And what Harrison brings into the world is the alternate argument of the underdog and what he’s fighting for.”

Whoever the villain is clearly has an understanding of why Starfleet is not such a good thing – personal experience, by the sounds of it – and wants to point that out, or take the organization down. The ‘disgruntled Starfleet officer’ angle works far better than Khan in this way. Why would Khan attack Starfleet because he doesn’t agree with its operations? He hasn’t/would have barely experienced them were he to show up in Into Darkness.

Now let’s look again at Cumberbatch’s earlier statement:

“I play… an extraordinary character… somebody who is not your two-dimensional cookie cutter villain. He’s got an extraordinary purpose, and I hope that at one point or other in the film you might even sympathize with the reasons he’s doing what he’s doing — not necessarily the means and the destruction he causes. But it was a great ride, not just because he’s the bad guy and the antagonist but also because he has a purpose and it’s hard not to see his point of view at certain points.”

Like Khan, Mitchell’s purpose was galactic conquest, but his motivations were very different. While Khan wanted to conquer through military might and with the goal of power, Mitchell gained exceptional insight and ability through the Enterprise’s experience at the edge of the galaxy and became convinced that humanity required him as a ruler. Additionally, he wished to be lauded and even prayed to as a god. There are deeper issues here than with Khan; bigger and wider motivations with which it is entirely possible that the audience might sympathise.

Can you better sympathise with a convicted war criminal who is thirsty for power, or an everyman who gains enormous power and feels almost obliged to save people from their own inadequacy? Mitchell really thought his rule was the better option, like Khan did. Most would agree that it would be better to be ruled by a superior being – who would want to be ruled by an inferior? – which fits into Cumberbatch’s idea that not only would it be easy to see Mitchell’s perspective, but actually “hard not to see his point of view”.

Cumberbatch has stated that Harrison’s motivation is to do with showing the darker side of Starfleet, which would indeed be a ‘noble’ and ‘extraordinary’ cause. It is also a cause Khan would not have. But Mitchell – who was abandoned to die if not actually attempted to be murdered by Starfleet operatives – might.

The actor later somewhat rephrased this previous quote and gave some more fodder for speculation:

“[John Harrison is] someone who’s a fearsome warrior and he’s an expert in hand-to-hand combat and weaponry, as well as being a psychological terrorist — he’s a great manipulator of minds to perform his intentions and do his bidding. But he has a cause; however violent and destructive the effects of his actions are, the reasons and intentions behind them are pretty noble, so hopefully at some stage in the story you’ll have a sympathy for him, which should be unexpected but should be genuine. He’s fighting for something he believes in, as strong as those who are defending Starfleet and the Enterprise itself.”

Unlike with Khan, there is not a great deal in that description to hint at Mitchell being the villain. But – also unlike with Khan – there is nothing in this description that could be used as proof against Mitchell. Since – once more, unlike Khan – Mitchell would be a character from the time period affected by Nero, it stands to reason that Abrams and Co. could wildly change his background and easily get away with it. We have no reason to say that this reboot Mitchell did not have a very different upbringing from the prime universe Mitchell, and that he could therefore be “a fearsome warrior”, an “expert in hand-to-hand combat and weaponry”, with a “pretty noble” cause.

There is a clue for Mitchell in that quote though – Cumberbatch states that his villain is “a psychological terrorist — he’s a great manipulator of minds to perform his intentions and do his bidding”. This either implies astounding charisma and deviousness, or that the villain can actually psychically manipulate people’s minds to “do his bidding”. The way Cumberbatch phrases it makes it sound more like programming of people than actual convincing, making the latter option more likely. Later on he phrased this quality of Harrison’s slightly differently, and further reinforces the idea of possible psychic manipulation:

“He’s a phenomenal one-man weapon of mass destruction, both at close-hand combat and with weaponry and also psychological warfare, he can get you to do his bidding. Even when he’s not seemingly in a position to have any kind of power or control.”

I hope I need not explain at this point that Mitchell had psychic abilities, and Khan did not.

With regard to the villain’s psychological terrorism, Chris Pine said:

“Benedict is a much colder, cleaner bad guy. His primary weapon is the ability to manipulate and his ability to use psychological warfare on the crew.”

I’ve already discussed this quote as it pertains to Khan and his (lack of) “psychological warfare”, so what about Mitchell? Gary Mitchell was a rather chatty, humorous, teasing man in Where No Man Has Gone Before – that is, until he gained his powers. At which point he became a cold, arrogant, ruthless god-wannabe. You need to watch the episode to get a good impression of this change and result. But I would definitely class the ‘super-powered’ Mitchell as “cold” and “clean”.

There was not much evidence for Mitchell’s “ability to manipulate and his ability to use psychological warfare”. He did manipulate Dehner, but it is lightly implied that she was more susceptible to him because she was affected by the same incident as Mitchell. Mitchell was shown to be telepathic, but didn’t use this ability to manipulate anybody. However, I must go back to the idea that there is a wide scope for augmentation of the Mitchell character in the reboot universe, and that his abilities could be expanded. Or not even expanded, just put to real use – Mitchell only had his powers for a couple of days before he was defeated in the original episode, which makes it plausible that given more time, he would actually have used his abilities for psychological terrorism. The episode mentions that his powers were growing exponentially (which pessimistically assumed they would not reach a limit) – a Mitchell who had possessed his powers for longer than a few days would be fully capable of manipulation and psychological warfare.

Image from Screen Rant

As far as Mitchell’s timing is concerned, remember that the reboot Kirk was delayed in attending Starfleet Academy. The prime Kirk joined in 2250, at the age of 17, while the reboot Kirk did not join until 2255, when he was 22. As such, since the Academy course lasted 4 years, in the prime universe Kirk would have graduated in 2254, and the reboot Kirk (who took an accelerated 3 year course) would have graduated in 2258. Gary Mitchell was a first-year when prime Kirk was teaching, which at the earliest would have been the latter half of 2254 and the latest 2264, when he became captain of the Enterprise. Therefore the 4 year overlap in which Kirk and Mitchell became friends at the Academy in the prime universe would have been anything from 2254-2258 to 2260-2264. Since Mitchell would graduate with the rank of ensign and had attained the rank of lieutenant commander by 2265, it seems more likely to have been an earlier 4 year period than a later one that he was at the Academy, giving him time to advance through the ranks.

For reference, Kirk went from ensign in 2250 to lieutenant junior grade and then lieutenant by 2255, and then in the next 9 years rose from lieutenant to lieutenant commander, to commander, to captain. This was called ‘a rapid rise through the ranks’, obviously implying that it usually takes more than a decade to get from lieutenant to captain. Basically, it took Kirk more than 5 years to gain the rank of lieutenant from his entrance to the Academy, and roughly another 3 to get to lieutenant commander (assuming even periods between promotions). We can therefore assume at least the same of Mitchell, meaning that for him to be a lieutenant commander in 2265, he would have needed to have graduated from the Academy earlier than 2262. That puts his year of entrance at 2258, but likely earlier because we know that Kirk rose through the ranks faster than is normal. That puts Mitchell’s year of entrance between 2254 (which we’ve already established is the earliest he would have been there in the prime universe) and 2258, but probably earlier rather than later in this time bracket.

If we can assume that reboot Mitchell joined the Academy at the same time as his prime counterpart, in all likelihood in 2254, 2255, 2256 or perhaps 2257, there is an extremely high chance that he and reboot Kirk were there at the exact same time. Since we can’t know the exact year Mitchell joined, it cannot be certain, but it also cannot be argued that Kirk and Mitchell could not possibly have formed the friendship in the reboot universe that they did in the prime one. If Mitchell joined in 2254, he would have had a three year overlap with Kirk and graduated the same year. If Mitchell joined in 2255 he would have had a three year overlap with Kirk and graduated the year after. If Mitchell joined in 2256 he would have had a two-year overlap with Kirk and graduated two years after.

Since it has now been established that Into Darkness takes place one year after Star Trek, therefore one year after Kirk graduated, Mitchell would have had to have joined in 2254 or 2255 in order to be a member of Starfleet in Into Darkness as the synopsis suggests. Which means that he would have spent three years at the Academy with Kirk. They could indeed have become friends during that time.

Image from Screen Rant

In section 8 I briefly mentioned a quote from Mike Johnson, the writer of the first issue of tie-in comics, Where No Man Has Gone Before, which is obviously a rehash of the original Mitchell episode of the same name. In it, Johnson mentioned that reboot Mitchell is older and more experienced than Kirk. This means that if some of my above assumptions about Mitchell’s reboot timeline are incorrect, it is possible (or even certain) that Mitchell did not in fact attend the Academy at the same time as Kirk, since he is older and more experienced (therefore having graduated earlier than Kirk). That does not rule out the possibility that he and Kirk met in a teacher/student context – that was how it was in the original series, only with Kirk as the professor and Mitchell as the student. There is no reason that this model could not be reversed for Into Darkness and Kirk and Mitchell became friends that way.

This also solves a timing issue in that if Mitchell had attended the Academy at the same time in the reboot universe as the prime one, and did not get his powers while stationed aboard the Enterprise, there would not be more than a year between him graduating the Academy and becoming a ‘terrorist’ in Into Darkness. If Mitchell is more experienced than Kirk in this universe, he would have graduated and gone out into space earlier than he did in the prime universe – giving him more time to get his powers and become a villain.

Cumberbatch offers us another link between this villain and Mitchell through his relationship with Kirk. He told MTV:

“He’s not a cookie-cutter villain, there’s no two-dimensional obstacle he presents purely and simply by the fact that he’s, you know, opposing our hero. He’s got a more interesting relationship with Kirk than that. And with Spock in a way; he very much plays them off against each other.”

This was corroborated by a later Cumberbatch quote:

“[Harrison] creates a lot of shadow play between Kirk and Spock.”

This does not sound at all like Khan, and enormously like Mitchell. Kirk’s relationship with Khan was simply that they were intelligent enemies pitted against each other, which is what Cumberbatch says his villain’s relationship with Kirk is not. Since Mitchell had been Kirk’s friend, there is that “more interesting relationship with Kirk”. Additionally, Where No Man Has Gone Before was the first episode of the original series in which we see Kirk and Spock butt heads – Spock arguing the logic of killing Mitchell while they still could, and Kirk getting upset with him for being so cold about it.

As Screen Rant phrases it:

““Where No Man Has Gone Before” provided a juicy conflict between Kirk’s human empathy and Spock’s cold Vulcan logic, and was the first episode to delve into the fact that Spock is a half-breed being who secretly feels the emotion he pretends to be above.”

Mitchell as a villain accomplished that strain between Kirk and Spock that Cumberbatch has mentioned here, in a way that Khan never did. Khan really brought Kirk and Spock closer together personally and as a command team, especially in The Wrath of Khan, but also in the original Space Seed. For example, the original series episode showcased Spock’s loyalty to Kirk, as well as showing the command pair tag-team Khan into a confession, and the pair’s joking, teasing relationship. Mitchell succeeded where Khan did not, in pitting them against each other; just like Cumberbatch has said.

On 11th December 2012, a J.J. Abrams interview with gave us some more information on Cumberbatch’s villain:

“The whole thing, not just his backstory, but his agenda, his plan, his secret, all that is what, for me at least, makes him such a frightening and cool villain… Also, the real villains — when they’re not just two-dimensional, angry vengeful types — don’t see themselves as the bad guy. They are the good guy and have complete rationale and motivation. So true to form, the character that Benedict plays has an absolute sense of right and wrong, and he’s on the right side.”

Certainly at first glance this comment makes a pretty good case for Khan – the inclusion of a ‘backstory’, an ‘agenda’, a ‘plan’, it’s all reminiscent of Khan from Star Trek II. That being said, a lot of this comment is impressively generic in nature – of course the villain has a back story, an agenda, of course he has a plan. The ‘secret’ part is interesting, but also very generic.

Did Khan see himself as the bad guy? Probably not, but would Mitchell? One thing about Mitchell was that he considered himself a god, with almost an obligation to rule people. Khan of course was out to kill Kirk for marooning him on Ceti Alpha V and inadvertently killing his wife – would the person taking revenge consider it to be morally correct? With the trailers touting Cumberbatch’s villain, no matter who it is, seeking his ‘vengeance’, perhaps it doesn’t matter either way.

Also relevant here is the fact that in Where No Man Has Gone Before, Dr. Elizabeth Dehner – who gets the same abilities as Mitchell, only to a lesser degree – is very sympathetic towards Mitchell, eventually joining him and abandoning the Enterprise’s captain and crew. Kirk tries to reason with her about Mitchell’s instability but she doesn’t comment; however, at the end of the confrontation between Kirk and Mitchell she sees reason and attacks Mitchell with her psychic ability, weakening him enough for Kirk to eventually dispatch him. She later dies, whether from taxation or Mitchell’s counterattack on her, but before she does she says this to Kirk:

“I’m sorry. You can’t know what it’s like to be almost a god.”

At this point, her eyes are no longer the silver that the episode used to denote their psychic ability, meaning that she is ‘back to normal’. Her saying this now implies that while experiencing that enormous power, you go through changes in standpoint and morality. While under the power’s influence, Dehner barely saw any need to side with Kirk – she did tell Mitchell to stop taunting Kirk with his death at one point though, showing that she still had some grasp on her morality, or humanity. Perhaps then level of ability correlates with moral code, because Dehner was not as powerful as Mitchell, and Mitchell himself had this to say about it:

“Morals are for men, not gods.”

Earlier on, when Kirk was trying to reason with Dehner, she said:

“What [Mitchell]’s doing is right. For him and me.”

Taking all of this into account, I do in fact believe it is reasonable to say that from Mitchell’s standpoint there is nothing wrong with his actions, whatever they are and for whatever purpose. Since he believes himself to be a god he also likely considers himself to be superior and infallible.

While we are discussing Dr. Dehner; as I’ve mentioned, in Where No Man Has Gone Before, Gary Mitchell is only finally defeated with Dehner’s help. Firstly, we do not know for certain that a Dr. Dehner has not been cast and kept spectacularly under wraps, but assuming she has not, it is possible for Mitchell to be defeated this time by the crew of the Enterprise working as a team – in the original episode Kirk went in alone. Therefore there is hope for his defeat even if Dehner is not a character in this film. In fact, if she is not in this film that is an even better argument for Mitchell – it would mean that Abrams is not remaking Where No Man Has Gone Before, and that the audience will have no idea how Mitchell’s defeat will come about.

This is all perhaps going a little too deeply into Abrams’s comment – I think the core implication there is just that the villain is well-written, well-rounded, and not one of the “two-dimensional, angry vengeful types”.

Image from Screen Rant

But on the topic of that ‘secret’ of the villain’s that Abrams referred to – is it possible that ‘John Harrison’’s secret is that he is actually Gary Mitchell? Cumberbatch has called his character a ‘terrorist’, which is a line of work in which a secret identity would be exceptionally useful. There is a scene in the trailer in which Kirk and Uhura are sprawled on the floor, looking up in horror at Cumberbatch’s villain as he points a weapon at them. Earlier in the trailer we saw the villain do a flying leap and beat up a Klingon while wearing a hood to conceal his face. The planet they are on has already been identified as Qo’noS, the Klingon homeworld, and almost certainly the ‘warzone world’ referred to in the synopsis as the location to which Kirk hunts the villain.

Also consider the question which in answering Abrams gave the mention of the villain’s secret:

MTV: Fair enough, but will the mystery of Cumberbatch’s character and finding out who he really is be part of the story line or is he a set person with a set agenda from the get-go?

Abrams: The whole thing, not just his backstory, but his agenda, his plan, his secret, all that is what, for me at least, makes him such a frightening and cool villain.

The question is basically asking if we’ll know everything about the villain from the start, or if there will be revelations along the way – and Abrams responds by commenting on the villain’s past, plot, and secret. Implying that these things will be revelations during the course of the film. This also ties into the idea that we do not have to have read the comics featuring Mitchell to understand him here, because there will be exposition that may even be of more interest to people who are not already familiar with Mitchell’s story. (See section 8.)

Add all this together, and is it not possible that you get a terrorist called John Harrison attacking Starfleet, and then being chased by a vengeful Kirk back to Qo’noS, where he finally reveals his true identity and turns out to be Kirk’s old friend, Gary Mitchell? Thereby resulting in Kirk having to decide between sparing the friend he remembers and capturing the terrorist he has become? Watch the first trailer again at 0:22-0:23, and look at Kirk’s face – does the expression suggest shock and horrified, disbelieving recognition? You could imagine the next word coming out of his mouth being: “Gary!?”

Image from Screen Rant

Though the funeral shown at the beginning of the announcement trailer may be for Kirk’s mother, brother, or part of a memorial of the Narada incident and the massive losses Starfleet suffered, there is also the possibility that it was for Mitchell, since that would allow the writers to establish an emotional tie between him and Kirk (Kirk delivers a speech at this funeral) without having to show their friendship, and would exacerbate Kirk’s shock at seeing Mitchell alive on Qo’noS if that is the case. We can be pretty sure that trailer scene is a funeral thanks to the ‘missing man’ airplane formation that flies overhead, suggesting the funeral of a member of Starfleet.


‘Who the heck…’

The aforementioned still of Cumberbatch imprisoned with Kirk and Spock looking on came with a confusing caption identifying his character as being one John Harrison.

Since Cumberbatch is known to be playing a canon character, this either means that ‘Harrison’ is an alias his character is going by, or he is playing one of two canon characters named Harrison:

    1. Harrison was a technician (first class) aboard the USS Enterprise, who appeared in over a dozen original series episodes, including Space Seed, in which he is recommended for a commendation by Captain Kirk.

    2. William B. Harrison, the flight officer aboard the USS Beagle, who in the original series episode Bread and Circuses was forced to compete in Roman-style gladiatorial games and was killed by the fighting champion (Claudius Marcus).

    3. (There was also a Captain Harris of the USS Excalibur, who was killed in the original series episode The Ultimate Computer.)

None of these men really seem like villain material, but I would enjoy being pleasantly surprised by Abrams here. I think the alias idea is more likely, though. I discussed in section 9 that the identity of the villain is part of the plot of the movie – the only way this would be possible would be for him to be operating under an alias for most of it. The second two names aren’t really matches, and for the first one… why would you use that character and not just make up a new one. How weird, and random. Not impossible, it just would seem like a really odd choice.

And then we fall back into the never-ending mire of Khan/not-Khan information. Harrison is mentioned by name twice in the original series, once in the episode The Naked Time, and then in Space Seed, giving him that link to Khan. So this can go into that debate of ‘is all the Khan imagery and homage to tell us that the villain is Khan or to distract us from the fact that the villain is not Khan?’

The idea that ‘John Harrison’ may be an alias is another point against Khan, because if he were Khan and decided to create a false identity, there is still the issue of him being recognized when he goes anywhere near anyone who’s been educated about the Eugenics Wars. (Unless he has undergone massive reconstructive surgery.) Mitchell, on the other hand, would slip into an alternate identity with much more ease.

‘Harrison’ is a good surname to choose because it’s obscure but traceable to canon, meaning that they can have people believing that the character is John Harrison and nobody else, have him be someone else entirely, but still remain able to claim that he is a canon character under the ‘Harrison’ name.

And ‘John’ is just the most basic, generic name you could come up with. It is and has been one of the most common if not the most common name in the English language for hundreds of years. These two aspects combined strongly suggest alias. If they were using Harrison the Enterprise technician, who was not given a first name in the original series, is ‘John’ really the best they could come up with? The name does not exactly strike terror into our hearts, nor is it original or interesting in any way. This makes me think that there must be something else going on behind the name ‘John Harrison’.

I am not the only one who is thinking this way. On the topic, Badass Digest notes:

“John Harrison Suratt was one of the conspirators who was involved in the plot to kill Abraham Lincoln. … Could this fake name be taken in reference to this historical figure? Screenwriter Roberto Orci is a HUGE conspiracy nut, so it makes some sense.”

Since the villain is known to be a terrorist, the link to this man’s name becomes more likely to be deliberate, and adds further evidence to the alias theory. highlights another interpretation of the name:

“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.”

(Wikipedia adds (without a quoted source) that “the first draft of the script introduced the character as John Ericssen”, but since I can’t find a source for this I’m unsure of whether or not it ‘counts’.)

Further on the Khan side of things, a commenter called Derf1701 posted on a Nerdist article:

“There is a Sci Fi author named M. John Harrison. In a series of short stories called “Viriconium Nights”, there is one story entitled…”

“The Lamia and Lord Cromis” — tegeus-Cromis, a dwarf, and a man named Dissolution Kahn travel to a poisonous bog to destroy a dangerous Lamia.”

The commenter continues on to define ‘dissolution’, with the most interesting definitions being “the undoing or breaking of a bond, tie, union, partnership, etc.” And “the breaking up of an assembly or organization; dismissal; dispersal.” Obviously, there is a link between these definitions and the terrorist villain of Into Darkness, and between the ‘Kahn’ of the novel and the ‘Khan’ of Star Trek.

And on the Mitchell side, as Kimlorbane and Jknapier point out on Tumblr, in the 18th century one John Harrison invented a device called a marine chronometer.

“Today John Harrison is remembered as the man who came up with the first reliable way of establishing longitude at sea.”

In other words, he invented a navigational device for sailors. In Where No Man Has Gone Before, Gary Mitchell was the Enterprise’s helmsman, and was also qualified as a navigator. This puts a link between Mitchell and the name or alias ‘John Harrison’.

If you Google ‘John Harrison’, these two latter men and our unidentified Star Trek villain are the most popular hits. There is no real way to choose between the Khan reference and the Mitchell reference except for randomly selecting one. The Khan reference is more blatant and more obscure, but the Mitchell link is more subtle and slightly more well-known (as well as the name being an exact match rather near-exact).

One has to wonder if Abrams really went this deeply into it. How did they select a name that has ties to both character options? It’s ingenious, as well as infuriating, and I find myself unable to make a call between the two references as to which is the more helpful or revealing. This is when you have to start wondering if Abrams would have known people would get this deep into the pseudonym and is giving those people a clue, or knew they would go that deeply and is using this as further diversion… then you really need to stop thinking about it.


This is looking familiar

Crave Online draws an interesting parallel between all of this and the casting of The Dark Knight Rises:

“This strikes us as eerily similar to the news reports claiming that Marion Cotillard would be playing an all-new character named ‘Miranda Tate’ in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. And we all know how that turned out, don’t we?”

In case you don’t know (no spoilers), she turned out to be a relatively well-known character from the Batman mythology, whose identity would have significantly detracted from the movie had it been known from the outset. The same thing was done for Batman Begins, with Liam Neeson being cast as ‘Henri Ducard’, which turned out to be a fake name under almost identical circumstances to the revelation of Cotillard’s character in The Dark Knight Rises.

Keeping their real names sequestered until the end of the film allowed for two pretty killer plot twists. It stands to reason that Abrams will attempt the same thing with Into Darkness’s villain: the situations are very similar. (Do not read if you don’t want to be spoiled for The Dark Knight Rises, but if you do already know, check out the disbelieving comments on that article!) While Khan is a more distinct and well-known character, Mitchell is not and would be further obscured by his reboot reimagining – meaning that if Abrams is using the Batman Begins/Dark Knight Rises model, it would work far better with Mitchell. I’d imagine it would be far more difficult to hide Khan from movie-watchers (who are already going to be hyper-aware of any reason to suspect that it is Khan) than a much lesser-known Mitchell, allowing for a much more interesting plot twist at the end.

In an interview with, screenwriter Alex Kurtzman further corroborated this theory:

“We went back and we talked a lot about things that made us want to make the first movie in the first place as fans. And what do we feel was successful for the fans. A lot of that had to do with honouring the history — honouring the show. But we also want to come up with a way to make the stories feel fresh and unpredictable. So without revealing too much, we applied the same thinking to Harrison.”

Or: they wanted to have a canon character, but didn’t want prior knowledge of that character to spoil the freshness and unpredictability of the movie. What better way to prevent that than to do exactly what Christopher Nolan did with his two Batman films – look how brilliantly it worked. Twice.

It also came to my attention that another character from The Dark Knight Rises might offer an insight here – Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a character called John Blake, but that isn’t his real name. His real name is significantly more awesome. (Look it up if you don’t know and want to.) This just helps to prove my earlier point that ‘John’ is a pretty good ‘fake-out’ name, and has precedent in a film franchise that Into Darkness has already been compared to.


And other villainous things

Late 2011 showed most of the casting occurring for the movie, and at the time, there was “only one additional significant role yet to be cast: “another villain” who is subservient to the character that Del Toro [was] being considered for”. This role was eventually filled by either RoboCop and Star Trek: Enterprise actor Peter Weller, or, more likely, Thor actor Joseph Gatt, “providing the muscle” as “GAT-5000, a human (or, at least, human-looking) individual with a surgical implant in the top of his head”. But while we know who/what Gatt is playing, we have not heard from Weller since he was cast.

For all we know about him at this point, Weller could be playing a sort of Emperor character to Cumberbatch’s Darth Vader (if you pardon the Star Wars metaphor) – an overlord-type villain overseeing the events and actions of his subordinate. Weller was said to play “another villain, someone who’s older and more of a supporting character to del Toro” obviously before Del Toro was out of the film. Weller’s agent added: “it’s a substantial role and … Peter is playing a C.E.O.”. This role could therefore be that of an accomplice or partner of Harrison’s rather than an overseer. We have literally heard nothing of Weller since he was cast – except for one interview in which Cumberbatch briefly mentioned that he enjoyed working with him – so why keep him such a secret if his revelation will not have a substantial effect on the plot? His casting was given the same importance as Eve’s, Del Toro’s and Cumberbatch’s; but then he vanished.

A postulated villain besides Khan and Mitchell has been Robert April, who was the first captain of the Enterprise in the original series. It’s possible that Weller is playing April and Cumberbatch is playing Khan or Mitchell (or someone else). One such theory was posted by a commenter called Smike on a article, comment #8, and can be thus summarized: ‘Commodore Robert April (Peter Weller) is supervising a project in London creating Khan-based augment supersoldiers which Dr. Carol Marcus is a part of. Local children such as Noel Clarke’s daughter are affected by protomatter or radiation used. Starfleet tries to shut the project down but April’s creation – John Harrison – runs amok, attacking Starfleet HQ and then the Klingons.’

This argument is a little patchy, especially towards the end where it devolves almost-certainly into falsehoods, but for the most part there is solidity in it. One argument I can make for it is that, according to Memory Alpha:

“The geneticist Arik Soong believed Augments like Khan could be created without exhibiting his more vicious instincts. … His descendant, Noonian Soong … continued the effort with … B-4, Lore and ultimately, Data.”

It is canon that scientists create androids like the famous Data through experiments with human betterment, particularly using Khan as a template. Perhaps Joseph Gatt’s character is one of these creations and John Harrison is another. My main argument against this is that using this theory, Cumberbatch would be playing a new character, not a canon one as has been established (see section 18). Unless Mitchell or another known member of Starfleet was being used as one of these experiments.

The most convincing ‘April’ speculation I’ve seen was on HitFix. I’ll skip quickly through the main points addressed in the article:

“In [April’s] episode of the animated show… a mysterious illness hits the crew and starts aging them in reverse, Commodore April and his wife … were the ones to save the day … April is revealed to be … from … England … Cumberbatch offers to help a family whose daughter is hospitalized in the London Children’s Hospital … the daughter … appears to be prematurely aging. In the trailer… Cumberbatch … swats a dude using … what the crew on the film called “The Big Gun.” … we were standing in a room that had been specially set up for today’s event … there was a big book of production art that was open. … there was a concept design sketch for that gun … called “April’s Gatling Gun.”“

That is obviously a heavily cut version of what is said (so you should probably go read it in full), but it’s another interestingly solid theory. The author mentions at the end of his article that this book could either have been left out deliberately to confuse people, or could have been mistakenly left there. (Or it could have been there as a clue for people willing to look for it.) Since the author said earlier in the article that they (the press) were “standing in a room that had been specially set up for today’s event”, it seems unlikely that the book was left there by accident. Which means it is either a deliberate clue or yet another misdirection.

I don’t know why the author thinks the daughter is prematurely aging, and having not seen the preview I cannot comment further – but if he is wrong about that, then the first half of his argument falls apart somewhat. said only that “the child is losing her hair”, which implies everything from stress to radiation poisoning. In a shot from the second trailer, one can see the backs of two men who may be Cumberbatch and Noel Clarke (speculated in a comment on by MV84, #25) implying that Harrison has ‘recruited’ (read: manipulated) the sick child’s Starfleet father into working with him, which would mean that the child’s illness has nothing to do with the villains aside from being used to rope her father onto their side. Whatever the father does is more important than what is wrong with the child. This idea is bolstered by the fact that in the second trailer Clarke’s character is seen crying while dropping (‘discarding’?) what appears to be his Starfleet Academy ring into a glass. Because he knows he is a traitor and is filled with guilt?

Images from TrekMovie

The April argument is aided somewhat by the fact that the ‘John Harrison’ I mentioned earlier who invented the marine chronometer was a clock-maker by trade and is remembered for that as much as for inventing the navigational device – April’s character is defined by his status as the Enterprise’s first captain (which he wasn’t in the reboot) and for coming up with a de-aging process, therefore a rather tentative ‘time’ link. I think the April theory is pretty sound, and more importantly it offers a plausible explanation for Weller’s character. What it doesn’t explain is why Weller is being kept such a secret, unless he too is to be a ‘big reveal’ at the end. This hopes to some degree that we will all forget that he has been cast in the film. The ‘April’ idea also might conflict with Weller’s character being called a ‘C.E.O.’.

The ‘April’s Gatling Gun’ strongly implies that April is a character, but not necessarily that he is played by Cumberbatch. For one thing, Cumberbatch is far too young, while Weller is at the correct sort of age for that character.

A different theory put forward by a Comic Book Movie user is actually quite intriguing, if falling under a lot (but not all) of the same pitfalls as my arguments against Khan:

“If we go with the idea that the Enterprise could still encounter many of the same situations that they did the first time around … couldn’t the Enterprise STILL encounter the space vessel S.S. Botany Bay … But instead of reawakening Khan as Kirk and company had done so in the original timeline, they instead awaken…oh, say, John Harrison?”

It’s a very interesting idea, and it’s hard to tell whether or not you could count the John Harrison in this scenario as a canon character or not. Physically, it still fails in the same ways that Khan does, but since it would be a character we didn’t know, all of the actors’ descriptions of his personality and ambitions could be accurate – except for the fact that he, like Khan, would not have been in Starfleet and probably doesn’t have a motive for revenge against Kirk or any of Starfleet, really.

And while I’m on alternative villain options, another villain postulated for Into Darkness has been Gary Seven, from the original series episode Assignment: Earth. This makes sense because the character is impervious to the Vulcan nerve pinch as seen in behind-the-scenes footage of Cumberbatch and Spock, but I’d be absolutely willing to rule him out because his story involves time travel – it would be insane for Abrams to use time travel as a pivotal plot device in two consecutive films.


Is there any?

If you put aside for a moment the irritating waves of ‘it is Khan! / it isn’t Khan! / it’s Mitchell! / it’s not Mitchell!’ flying around, and ignore the fanatical speculation, what evidence is there really that the villain is Khan? The synopsis points to Mitchell (or at the very least not to Khan), any sort of logic points away from rehashing the most loved Star Trek film of all time, and the casting of Cumberbatch really points away from Khan. As puts it: “Unless Khan is being retconned as a pasty Englishman, we’d bet against that being the identity of Cumberbatch’s villain.”

So really, apart from the untrustworthy information given by the studio, how much hard evidence is there that the villain is Khan? Are we all just caught up in an information trap, being fed enough clues to think the villain could be Khan to cover up the lack of solid evidence? Just look at the synopsis! Apart from the widespread Star Trek metaphor of chess, where is Khan in that synopsis?

Image from Screen Rant

Abrams is blinding us with Khanness, throwing us off the trail, and most people are buying into it. This is not to say that the villain is definitely not Khan, but either way I believe he is being manipulated and used as a shield, playing on audience’s expectations.

And on the subject of the Smokescreen of Khanness – that is, my theory that the studios are pumping out Khan-related imagery in order to trick people into thinking the villain may be Khan while in reality these things are nothing more than callbacks and homages to the most popular film in the franchise – may I please point out all of the things from Star Trek that are shades of The Wrath of Khan? These are just the ones I could think of off the top of my head and from things I’ve read in the past – there are likely to be more.

The Wrath of Khan / Star Trek XI:

    1. Khan uses mind-controlling Ceti eels / Nero uses brain-tapping Centaurian slugs

    2. A huge part of Khan’s motivation was his dead wife / A huge part of Nero’s motivation was his dead wife

    3. Khan held Kirk responsible for his woes and hunted him down (even though it wasn’t really his fault) / Nero held Spock responsible for his woes and hunted him down (even though it wasn’t really his fault)

    4. Khan abandoned Kirk on a dead planet to make him suffer the same pain Khan felt at his abandonment on the dead planet Ceti Alpha V / Nero destroyed Spock’s home planet of Vulcan to make Spock suffer the same pain Nero felt at the destruction of his home planet of Romulus

    5. Kirk talks about cheating on the Kobayashi Maru test on his third try / We see Kirk cheat on the Kobayashi Maru test on his third try

    6. Kirk eats an apple in the Genesis cave while he talks about cheating on the Kobayashi Maru / Kirk eats an apple while cheating on the Kobayashi Maru

    7. An obsessed and furious Khan is tricked into following Kirk into the Mutara nebula where he is defeated by an explosion caused by his own stolen technology / An obsessed and furious Nero is tricked into following Spock into uninhabited space where he is defeated by an explosion caused by his own stolen technology

    8. And, as a bonus, a link to Mitchell: Delta Vega was the planet Mitchell was marooned/defeated on / Delta Vega was the planet Kirk was marooned on

Images from A Fistful of Soundtracks and Memory Alpha

My point is this: visual echoes and mirrored plot points mean nothing. They do not give us any information on the villain. They are there to please Trekkies and as a nod to previous films – The Wrath of Khan being the most loved and well-known of all these films. If the trailer for Star Trek 2009 had shown some or all of these things, would you too have suspected the villain to be Khan? Yes, I will state the obvious: if so, you would have been wrong. Because mirrored aspects like Carol Marcus, the glass-touching scene, Cumberbatch’s attire, lava planets and the like mean nothing.


It all hinges on this

Only two people have mentioned Mitchell: Karl Urban, who stated outright that that was the villain, and Orci who has dodged the question several times and once roundaboutly stated that he was not the villain. But as Orci himself points out to, he has lied once: So you said that Cumberbatch plays a canon character, but now we see he is playing a guy named John Harrison, so no conflict?

Roberto Orci: Well I did say on your site that I lied once [see comment 67].

That comment is small, but clear:

67. boborci – July 14, 2012
correction. i lied once.

Now remember that Roberto Orci himself said that that comment was him, so there’s no way to argue that that was some random person trying to mess with us. That comment was on the article that ran this interview: I will name a guest actor in the sequel and you will say if they are playing a new character you created or one from the original Star Trek canon. … OK and the big one, Benedict Cumberbatch.

Roberto Orci: Canon.

That is the comment that Orci implies he was addressing, because this would mean that Cumberbatch was not in fact a canon character and therefore that there is no conflict with him being canon and the non-canon ‘John Harrison’. But does it make sense? Allow me to rephrase his alleged comment:

    “Benedict Cumberbatch is playing a canon character. … Correction, I lied once.”

… What? That makes no sense. The same article, however, also featured this exchange: Nice callback, but are you sticking with your original comment and it isn’t Gary Mitchell.

Roberto Orci: I would say that I never lie. While Karl tests all those hypo spray props on himself [laughs]

Let’s try my rephrasing technique on that statement:

    “I would say that I never lie. … Correction, I lied once.”

… Well, that makes a lot more sense.

This means that – for one thing, Cumberbatch is almost 100% certainly playing a canon character.

For another, if this one lie Orci told is the one where he said Gary Mitchell is not the villain, then the theory that John Harrison and Gary Mitchell are the same person still stands. Remember that he only explicitly stated that one time that Mitchell was not the villain, and all other times it was brought up he dodged answering it.

When asked the same question, Alex Kurtzman went to ridiculous lengths to avoid answering it:

TrekMovie: A few months back Bob told me that Benedict Cumberbatch’s character would be from Star Trek’s canon. Today we find out that he is named John Harrison. So are both of those things still true?

Alex Kurtzman: Well without revealing too much what I can tell you is that in the same spirit as “can the Enterprise be under water? What does that mean? How are we going to justify this? How are we going to explain it?” We went back and we talked a lot about things that made us want to make the first movie in the first place as fans. And what do we feel was successful for the fans. A lot of that had to do with honoring the history — honoring the show. But we also want to come up with a way to make the stories feel fresh and unpredictable. So without revealing too much, we applied the same thinking to Harrison.

… Did you follow that? I didn’t. That was absurdly deflective. They applied the thinking to Harrison that they wanted to honour the original show but not copy it exactly? (If I translated that correctly.) Alright, so does that not sound like they have taken a canon character and done him up differently? Yep. But… that doesn’t really answer’s question, does it? But the closest it comes to answering the question would be a ‘yes’, because Kurtzman pretty much said Cumberbatch’s character was canon, and we already know he’s definitely called John Harrison.

In everything I’ve read, only Simon Pegg has ever transparently stated that the villain is not Khan. One statement from Orci that Mitchell is not the villain and Khan and Mitchell are on even footing. One statement that Mitchell is not the villain, and the whole Mitchell argument begins to fall apart – unless that one small comment was the one lie Orci’s told us.

There is also the confirmation that Mitchell is the villain from Karl Urban:

“[Cumberbatch]’s awesome, he’s a great addition, and I think his Gary Mitchell is going to be exemplary.”

In light of this, I must pose a question that would be extremely hard to answer. We know that after saying that, Urban got in trouble:

“I received a few phone calls over that one. I really – what was the legal term that was explained to me?”

And at the time Screen Rant was rather eager and said of the Mitchell idea:

“If Karl Urban really did slip up, and Gary Mitchell is indeed the villain we are to see in the sequel, it would be an unexpected – but in this writer’s opinion, very welcome – twist by Abrams, Kurtzman, Orci and Lindelof. Mitchell’s story has enough parallels to the Khan storyline of the original series and original sequel film – a villain tied to Kirk’s past, with notions of being a superior being, able to challenge the Enterprise crew on many levels – but will still be fresh enough to offer a Star Trek movie we truly haven’t seen before.”

So, at the time that Urban dropped the name ‘Mitchell’, it was completely unexpected. This was in July 2012. Then in November Paramount released the official synopsis, to which Screen Rant had this reaction:

“Second, the bad guy is, and I quote, “a one man weapon of mass destruction.” Now, who might that remind you of? Does it start with a “G” and end with an “ary Mitchell”? … A godlike, psychic-powered Gary Mitchell – who happened to be a Starfleet lieutenant commander – sounds an awful lot like a one man weapon of mass destruction “from within [Starfleet]” to me. … Previously, Karl Urban (Dr. Bones McCoy in Star Trek Into Darkness) let slip that Benedict Cumberbatch was indeed playing Mitchell.”

The writer admits that they had Urban’s slip-up in mind when reading this synopsis.

So here is my question: if Urban had never mentioned Gary Mitchell, would he have ever come up as a potential villain, or at least the runner-up to Khan in popular opinion?

If Urban had never mentioned Gary Mitchell, would the studio have successfully managed to keep him out of wide speculation?

Because if Urban had never mentioned Gary Mitchell, the only mention we would have of him would be Orci’s denial that he was in the film – a denial that, as I have just spent the whole section showing, is probably a lie.

In which case the score in terms of who has been definitively denied as being the villain, and the scores for explicit statements of who the villain is (excepting anonymous and nebulous ‘sources’) go, thanks to Simon Pegg and Karl Urban:

    Khan: 1
    Mitchell: 0

    Khan: 0
    Mitchell: 1

Image from Screen Rant


Short and sweet

The point of me looking at all these articles and giving my commentary was to allow myself – and you, reader – to look at the evidence for and against Khan and Mitchell without paying too much attention to who the actors, crew, and ‘highly placed sources’ of the reporters say the villain is or is not. I’ve looked from a simply logical perspective, and in terms of cast and crew’s descriptions of the villain that are exceptionally unlikely to be lies.

This has been a long article, I know, so here I will summarise my main points to be more easily considered.

    1. There is no real option for Khan to become a member of Starfleet; which the villain is said to be

    2. What would reboot Khan’s motive for ‘vengeance’ be?

    3. Physically, Cumberbatch is nothing like Khan, and cannot play an Indian character.

    4. It’s possible that the studio pretended to hire for Khan to put the idea in people’s minds.

    5. Khan did not exhibit the kinds of physical abilities the character of John Harrison has in leaked footage and the trailers.

    6. The descriptions of Harrison and the casting of Cumberbatch would mean a Khan very, very different from the prime universe Khan – which is made impossible by the rules of the alternate timeline.

    7. There is a lot of evidence agreed to be for Mitchell in the synopsis, and almost none for Khan.

    8. Mitchell’s comics appearance does not take him out of the running as the villain.

    9. The revelation of who the villain is is part of the plot of the film, which explains why he is being kept such a secret whether he is a well-known or unknown character.

    10. All the ‘Khan’ imagery effectively distracts people like a light show or a smokescreen, preventing them from looking more deeply into what information has been given, and making them twist all information they can into Khan clues – this may have been the plan.

    11. Carol Marcus is not by default evidence for Khan – she probably has a tie to Mitchell, and would have come into Kirk’s life at this point in time whether Khan had happened or not.

    12. Since Mitchell’s life would have been affected by Nero, unlike Khan his story could have been altered enough for him to fit into the information given about Harrison.

    13. Mitchell fulfils the requirement for a complicated relationship with Kirk, which Khan doesn’t.

    14. Mitchell fulfilled the requirement that he tear Kirk and Spock apart, which Khan didn’t.

    15. ‘John Harrison’ is almost certainly an alias.

    16. Mitchell would slip more easily into an alias than Khan because Khan would be too physically recognizable.

    17. ‘Fake naming’ characters has a precedent in Nolan’s Batman trilogy. The point was to keep the character a secret until the end of the movie – which would be a lot harder to do with a distinctive and well-known Khan than a rather unknown and drastically altered Mitchell.

    18. The ‘Khan’ imagery is hardly a certain clue for Khan being the villain, since it also appeared in the first Star Trek movie


My conclusion is that I don’t really want to make one. This article is just supposed to be me talking through my thoughts on the matter. I’m very aware that Abrams is a master sneak and could be manipulative beyond what even I can suspect of him. And I’m not even saying it’s definitely one of these two characters; I’d be happy to be surprised by a different or insanely obscure character popping up in front of us in May.

Part of my reluctance to form an opinion is the fact that though my gut says it’s not Khan for so many reasons, there are a few scattered pieces of proof for Khan that make me question my conviction. Perhaps I too am falling into the Smokescreen of Khanness trap. Even so, it’s difficult for me not to state that the evidence for Mitchell and against Khan is extremely compelling.

And although I really don’t want to call anybody a liar, unfortunately someone is lying. If the villain is Khan, Simon Pegg is a liar – “It’s not Khan”, and Karl Urban is a liar – “ [Cumberbatch’s] Gary Mitchell is going to be exemplary”. And if it is Mitchell, only Orci is a liar (quoted Gary Mitchell as someone not in the movie) – and he has admitted to lying one time. Everyone else has been question dodging and giving vague, unclear answers (Cumberbatch: “I’m bored of denying that it’s Khan now, because people keep saying it”, “I play a character called John and not that other name (Khan)”).

Image from Screen Rant

I hope that in reading this you have come to see that almost every scrap of evidence for the villain being Khan comes from imagery, homage to past films, music echoes, editing trickery, and casting that fell through very quickly – not hard evidence. Khan is also denied or evaded by the cast and crew every time he is brought up, while Mitchell has only been discussed by Urban (who explicitly stated that he was the villain) and Orci (who was probably lying when stating that Mitchell was not the villain).

I hesitate to say that there is no non-circumstantial evidence pointing to Khan simply because that is such a sweeping statement, but almost all solid evidence released points to Mitchell – final casting, details from the synopsis, as well as some circumstantial evidence too such as the screenshot of Cumberbatch in the brig.

You may have also noticed that most of my points on Khan are refuting why he can be the villain, and most of my points on Mitchell are refuting why he cannot be the villain. Even just that is telling – there are reasons that Khan could not be Cumberbatch’s character, and there are reasons Mitchell could be.

At the very least, I just want you as a reader to now be extremely discerning about everything that comes out about this film, and be aware of the ‘Smokescreen of Khanness’ that the studio is pumping out. Don’t be fooled by it: pay attention to real, hard evidence. The smokescreen is, to me, like a video put out several years ago by Transport for London. (Go watch it now. … The white team is Khan, the black team is the trailers happening the background: Mitchell could be the ‘other’.)

My point was really made right at the start of this. The official synopsis says that:

“…an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization has detonated the fleet…”

Even from that then, we know that the villain is from Starfleet. Which Khan is not. And practically every piece of Khan evidence after that has been totally circumstantial. Hinted at, but never proven.

Abrams and Co. are masters at deflecting our attention. Be alert to it!

Let me put it this way: if Khan is the villain, and they do not want us to know who the villain is, they are doing a spectacularly poor job of keeping his identity under wraps.

And if they knew that the general public would think the villain could be Khan, what better way to cover up the truth than by feeding that false rumour and using it as a cover-up? And if I was correct about the possible casting of Del Toro and the other three Hispanic actors, not only is the studio taking advantage of this false rumour: but they actually started it.

It’s a brilliant strategy. I tip my hat to Abrams, for knowing the populace’s psychology so well and manipulating it so beautifully. Thank you, Mr. Abrams, for the challenge; but your tricks do not hold up under intensive scrutiny.

So if I had to pick one? Team Mitchell.

(I need to disclaim that this article was finished on 18th December 2012, and so any information being released after that time will not have been taken into account. I had to cut it off somewhere, it’s already stupidly long.)
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