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It’s hard to believe that we’re now only five months away from the opening of J.J. Abrams’ much-anticipated Star Trek Into Darkness and we still don’t have any solid idea who the villain is. The two biggest contenders for the top secret role being played by Benedict Cumberbatch have been Khan and the powerful psychic Gary Mitchell from the Original Series episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” Earlier this week saw the release of the first official synopsis for Star Trek Into Darkness, and while it still didn’t reveal the villain, it did give us some more information. At the time, I outlined my reasons why I’m convinced Cumberbatch isn’t playing Khan, might be playing Gary Mitchell, and very well could be playing somebody else entirely. However…
A clever reader over on our Facebook page pointed out something I had completely forgotten about. The first two issues of IDW’s ongoing Star Trek comic, which is set in the “Abrams universe,” were an adaptation of “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” I went back and reread the first two episodes to refresh my memory. If you recall the original episode, Gary Mitchell doesn’t make it out alive, and while there are some changes in the “new” story presented in the comic, Gary meets pretty much the same fate. So…does that mean that Gary Mitchell is off the table for the Into Darkness villain?
Despite being in a “secondary” medium as compared to the films, they are supervised by Trek co-writer Roberto Orci, and he has explicitly said that they are canon. Just as in the original episode, Mitchell is phasered by Kirk, and he is then given a “space burial” like Spock got back in the day. There you have it, he’s dead and gone, so he can’t be in Into Darkness. However…
This is Star Trek. Dead doesn’t always mean “permanently.” It’s worth noting the differences between the comic and original episode. In “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” Mitchell isn’t the only one who gets a psychic upgrade thanks to the mysterious energy barrier at the edge of our galaxy. Dr. Elizabeth Dehner also gains powers, and for a while seems to be sharing in the downward moral spiral Mitchell’s powers are creating in him. During the final confrontation, she attacks Mitchell, distracting him long enough for Kirk to fire at some rocks above Mitchell, crushing and killing him.
In the comics, Dr. Dehner is not on board. She is said to have withdrawn her request for a transfer to the Enterprise after learning McCoy is on board. The two were apparently an item at some point, and it wasn’t a friendly breakup. So, since there’s no Dehner, Kirk is instead saved by Spock, courtesy of a surprise neck pinch on Mitchell (we’ll just set aside the logic of a sneak attack on a psychic…). Kirk then shoots Mitchell with his phaser, killing him.
Were the changes just for the sake of making the new timeline different, or was there a bigger narrative chess game at work here? After all, it originally took hundreds of pounds of falling rock to kill Mitchell. How certain can we be that a phaser can finish him off? Could they have been setting up some sort of loophole to bring him back to life in Into Darkness after all? He certainly fits some of the descriptions from the synopsis: a Starfleet member and someone who gives Kirk “a personal score to settle.”
It still seems like a long shot. I think it’s unlikely that they would introduce and then kill off Mitchell in the canon comic series if they intended to use him in the sequel. If nothing else, it would make for a weird situation where they’d have to recount his backstory in the movie for the majority of people who didn’t read the comic.
So I don’t think he’s Khan, and it looks like they have (theoretically) ruled out Mitchell…so that only leaves option three, “somebody else.” So far most people have been limiting their speculations to Original Series villains…but that may be a mistake. In part one of the July interview where Orci declared the IDW comics and the upcoming Star Trek videogame as canon, he just says that Cumberbatch’s character is canon…he doesn’t actually say he belongs to the canon of the Original Series. Could he be playing a character from one of the later spinoffs?
One thing is certain about all of this. I now have a headache.