The Lost Lesson of Star Trek V: What We Don’t Share

As the world’s preeminent Star Trek V scholar, I find it incumbent upon myself to elucidate the subtler points of the film. I’ve pondered a lot, as have others, about the critique of pop psychology self-help trends as embodied by Sybok. I’ve projected whether we can see a thread running between The Voyage Home and The Final Frontier that’s often ignored. I’ve even wondered if Sybok could have helped characters in other series avoid their tragedies.

Yes, I like Star Trek V. I love it in all its cheesy, imperfect glory. It was a strange road to get there.

However, one point I’ve pondered recently is the scene on the Enterprise where Sybok divulges the inner trauma (so he thinks) of Spock and McCoy. Kirk, of course, refuses to play along but there are a couple of things wrapped up in this scene that seem especially relevant.

I’m going to table the fact that Sybok exposes the inner thoughts and fears of Spock and Bones without their consent. I’m sure that one is rich enough to explore on its own.

What I’m focused on today, though, is a key moment in the scene where Sybok tells Kirk that what he’s seen is a part of who his friends are, and asks if he knew that. Kirk replies that he didn’t.

There’s a sadness to Kirk, as he realizes there are aspects to his friends that they never shared with him. They hid parts of themselves from even him, who’d been their friend and captain for literal decades. He’d even saved them from death and madness many times over, and been through the most emotionally trying situations of his life by their side. They’d helped save the planet many times over.

I won’t belabor how right Kirk is that our inner pain is what defines us, for better or worse. We carry these things with us for our lives and they shape us. It doesn’t make them good, and it doesn’t make them less traumatic. But we can’t deny that they happened. We have to accept all parts of ourselves if we’re going to be whole.

But Sybok’s biggest mistake is thinking that friends – or even family – have some sort of obligation to share all of these things without restriction. He seems to believe that the bond of our relationships obligates us to air out every aspect of our past.

But he’s wrong.

Even the most intimate of relationships, marriage, does not mean there are things we won’t carry in our hearts that we just don’t want to share. I would be surprised to think each person has shared absolutely everything with someone, whether it’s because they thought it unimportant or it was simply something they didn’t want to share.

This is not an endorsement of secrets. Secrets are purposely held and often for selfish reasons.

This is rather a recognition of something that Sybok fails to take into account. People change. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy aren’t the same people they were when these events happened. And these events have nothing to do with why they’re friends.

This doesn’t mean either that people shouldn’t deal with their pain and make peace with it. Of course they should.

The presumption in a true friendship is the understanding that if someone decides to share the thing they carry, the thing that is their secret pain or secret shame, the friend will listen and accept the revelation in context. A true friend will also encourage the steps necessary to heal.

But not sharing it does not lessen or invalidate the friendship. Our friends decide to be our friends based on who we are, not who we were. And if we do decide to share and that friend decides they can’t maintain the friendship in light of that knowledge then that’s their decision, too.

Anyway, it was just another random thought inspired by Star Trek V.

Kirk, Bones, and Spock around the campfire in Star Trek V The Final Frontier | kessel korner
Friends also remain friends after they’ve eaten beans.

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