I very much want you to say that title ten times fast.
We’ve spent the last several days with a series examining Sybok and his quest to heal the pain of other fictional characters. I hope it’s been a learning experience!
I mean, I’m sure that you at least learned that my pal Craig wasn’t joking when he said I know how to commit to a bit. In time, the line between the bit and me blurs.
But it’s time to end the Sybok Series for now, as much for my sake as yours, and I wanted to offer a brief coda to reflect on the shortcomings exposed in Sybok.
I don’t mean to say that they’re shortcomings of the construction of the character. I mean the shortcomings that make him all the more sympathetic and tragic.
The Deepest Flaws in Sybok’s Character
I’m not going to be flowery with my analysis of Sybok. I’m just going to lay it out here point by point.
Sybok is selfish.
With an amazing intellect and special gift to help others confront their own fears and pain, he does not set out just to help people. He helps people so that he can get what he wants.
How much more beautiful would it be if Sybok helped J’onn – and the countless others he recruited – for no other reason but to help them? These are people in pain,
Instead, Sybok uses his power to win followers so that he can build, for lack of a better word, a cult. His helping others is about what he gets out of it, in turn. He subverts their freedom to his cause.
Sybok is manipulative.
Naturally, his manipulation of people is in line with his selfishness. A selfless person gives without thought of reward. A giving person wants nothing in return.
Sybok uses his gifts to bend the will of others to his perspective. He knows that he cannot win their minds, so he turns their hearts. And like all manipulative people, he frames it in the idea of caring.
He knows that vulnerable people will want to serve him. He uses their vulnerability to give them the illusion of choice, when he is really converting their longing into his desire.
Sybok is naive.
How else can you describe someone with such a short-sighted view of life to think that it can be free of pain and fear? Pain and fear motivate us. They drive us to learn. They are the fire that burns away our limitations to replace them with resolve.
Instead of quoting Kirk’s retort once again from Star Trek V, about how pain defines us, let’s look instead at a key moment for Kirk in the big-budget TV episode released to theaters called Star Trek: Generations.
Kirk is happy in the Nexus, a place beyond life and death, until he leaps a ravine on horseback. He is not afraid. The lack of fear is not right. There is no barrier for him to push through, no obstacle he cannot overcome. It is Heaven without the satisfaction promised of a spiritual realm.
Sybok comes up short in all these ways.
Even Sybok Realized This
These observations of Sybok are true until he realizes all the ways they’ve limited him. He confesses to Spock that it’s his hubris, his folly, that has allowed him to be fooled by the being-who-isn’t-God.
His realization and his redemption are what make his character sympathetic and tragic. We forgive Sybok because, as a passionate Vulcan he is ultimately…human.
We’ll return to more scenarios and observations about Sybok encountering other fictional characters in the future. I’m just taking a break for now. But I will return, because it’s just too much fun.
But remember, if you want to be like Sybok, then help people. Just do it because you want to help, not for what you get out of it. Not for likes, not for followers, not for attention.
Do it because it’s the right thing to do.