Published Jan 4, 2019
One Trek Mind #44: Star Trek's 10 Biggest Jerks
Even in a utopia like the future United Federation of Planets there's still the occasional person in a position of power whose sole existence
By Jordan Hoffman
Anyone who has ever had to haul their butts into an office five days a week knows that some things are universal – the boss can sometimes be a jerk. Even in a utopia like the future United Federation of Planets there's still the occasional person in a position of power whose sole existence, it seems, is to give you a hard time. In recognition of this unsolvable problem of Terran nature, here's our list of 10 high-ranking Starfleet schmucks.
10 - Fleet Admiral Harry Morrow
Yeah, we know the Genesis Planet is dangerous, but you don't think Captain Kirk can handle it? In Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, Admiral Morrow isn't just guy who nonchalantly tells the crew of the Enterprise that the ship is going to be decommissioned (if you watch it frame by frame you can see the exact moment Scotty's heart breaks,) he later puts the kibosh on Kirk daring to save his best friend and former first officer. Did Morrow not bother to look at the title of the film? It's called THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK!!!
9 – Captain Ronald Tracey
The Prime Directive wasn't created solely to protect emerging populations; it's there to protect members of Starfleet, too. Case in point: the TOS episode “The Omega Glory.” When Captain Tracey led the USS Exeter to Omega IV, exposure to the deadly indigenous virus killed his entire crew. To make matters worse, Captain Tracey spends the rest of his days (safe, and seemingly immortal, upon the planet's surface) prolonging a conflict between the Yangs and Kohms. One could argue there is a warped altruism in Tracey's actions – he thinks he's stumbled upon a Fountain of Youth and hopes to bottle it – but clearly this is a man prone to an egoism unbecoming of a Starfleet captain.
8 – Admiral Alynna Nechayev
Some of you may be shocked that Admiral Nechayev, one of the few sentient beings known to keep Captain Picard up at night with stress-related heartburn, isn't ranked higher on the list. While her no-nonsense manner was quite different from Picard's style, the truth is that he respected her greatly, and not just because he was following Starfleet's chain of command. She had to make hard calls against the Cardassians, the Borg, the Maquis and resettled Native Americas, so a person in that position didn't always have time to be friendly – or receptive to a plate of Bularian canapes.
It's also hard not to have some admiration for a diminutive woman that can leave hardy men like Picard and Riker quaking in their boots. Nevertheless, don't come aboard the Enterprise and think you know what's best for it when you haven't tugged a thousand light years in its captain's tunic. To destroy the Borg using Hugh as genocidal malware is just wrong, and no amount of pips on the collar can change that.
7 – Commander Peter Harkins
We may aspire to be Kirk or Sisko, but let's be honest – zap us to the future and a lot of us would act like Lt. Reginald Barclay. Not that that's a bad thing, as Counselor Troi would be quick to remind us. Barclay did a lot of good during his stint in Starfleet – indeed, one could argue that the valiant survivalists aboard Voyager might never have returned were it not for him. (Admiral Janeway might have still found a way, but that's a complicated issue.)
Barclay's efforts to aid Voyager wasn't limited to thinking up sharp ideas (like using the MIDAS array to create a micro-wormhole). He had to deal with the bureaucracy and office politics of the Pathfinder Project. Its head, Commander Harkins, seems like he was elevated in rank at the Communications Research Center simply to hold back Barclay's creative thinking.
6 – Commander Shelby
While “The Best of Both Worlds” is often remembered as Star Trek's first cliffhanger (and the longest summer in human history, as we waited to find out the fate of the Enterprise and the Borg-ified Picard calling himself Locutus), let's not forget the great, complicated character of Commander Shelby. Not only is she one of the few women resistant to Will Riker's charms, she's positively dismissive of him. Even if he is about to take the captain's seat of the Melbourne (which, duh, he's not) that doesn't mean you can ignore him on away missions or just beam down to potentially dangerous planets whenever you feel like it. Shelby is, of course, an expert on the Borg, and one of the few who can beat Riker at poker, so he's mature enough to see past her jerky exterior and ask her to be his temporary first officer. And with that an entire galaxy of fan fiction was born.
5 – Vice Admiral Leyton
The problem with a lot of the biggest jerks in Starfleet is that, let's face it, some of them have a point. The lines of good and evil got blurred in unprecedented ways during the Dominion War. Codes of conduct and rules of engagement had to be reconsidered, and pragmatism, at times, demanded that the ends would sometimes have to justify the means. Vice Admiral Leyton's attempted coup, however, definitely took things too far.
When good intelligence (from Odo, no less!) suggested that Changelings had infiltrated Starfleet, Leyton suggested new, harsh security measures that were ultimately rejected. In an effort to turn public opinion, he led his elite Red Squad to sabotage the power grid in the hopes of plunging the populace into fear. Luckily Sisko was able to thwart Leyton's plans and later lead the Federation to a victory that would not destroy its own principles.
4 – Admiral Cartwright
The discovery of Admiral Cartwright's leading role in the Khitomer Conspiracy in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is all the more heartbreaking because we remember him trying to keep the Earth together in during the maelstrom of the Whale Probe in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. But there's no underestimating fear. Cartwright and cohorts (including General Chang, Lt. Valeris, a Romulan and even Rene Auberjonois in a Scooby Doo mask) banded together in an effort to thwart peace. Worse still is the idea that it may've, in part, been for personal gain. (Who wants to look for a new job when you are comfortable as a warrior, right?) Luckily, Kirk, Spock, McCoy and two pairs of gravity boots were on hand to keep progress on track.
3 – High Commissioner Ferris
What a sourpuss! Yeah, yeah, it's important to get the much-needed medical supplies to Makus III in time for the transport to the New Paris colonies – but do you have to remind us EVERY FIVE MINUTES?!?! Somewhere out there in the vast emptiness of space is Spock, McCoy and the other poor souls of the shuttlecraft Galileo. Do you really think Kirk is just going to leave them behind? Not once does Ferris look into an alternative solution. Why not order someone from Makus III to come to US, huh? And while Ferris seems like he's paying lip service to Kirk's frustration at losing two valuable members of his crew, you can tell that he loves invoking Title 15 of the Galactic Emergency Procedures and telling Kirk what to do on his own bridge. Ooooh, this guy gets me so angry.
2 – Captain Edward Jellico
Sometimes there's a guy in control who treats you like crap one minute, then seems to be real nice the next. There's a word for this: frustrating. Captain Jellico takes (what we hope is) temporary ownership of the center seat in “Chain of Command” and immediately starts fixing what isn't broken. New shift rotations, changes in engineering and a brusque tone are the most noticeable, before he goes ahead and removes the ready room's fish Livingston and, shock of all shocks, demands Counselor Troi wear a standard (read: less sexy) outfit on the bridge. Whenever someone like Commander La Forge, hardly anyone allergic to a little hard work, voices a concern the response is the same: “Get it done.”
Though we may bristle at his treatment toward our pals, particularly Riker, we're shown that, underneath, he does know what he's doing. The stakes are high against the Cardassians, and his mental games at bargaining table do show that he's not some mad egoist – just someone taking a longer point of view. Captain Jellico isn't a bad captain – he's just not our captain. While his time aboard the Enterprise may have taught us a few things, we're all happy to see him go.
1 – Commander Bruce Maddox
The 24th Century has no cure for smug. Commander Maddox, Associate Chair for Robotics at the Daystrom Technological Institute, wakes up in the morning, stretches, and then commences another day of being a big jerk. He's one of a few who refuses to accept Data as a sentient being, but also has to make a big stink about it. When tasked to look into possibly replicating the Soong-type androids, his solution would, in essence, kill Data, and he has no problem with that.
Luckily, Captain Picard is there ready to defend Data's right to exist in one of the best hours of television ever, “A Measure of a Man.”
I know it is shocking to see a list of bozos like this in an august group such as Starfleet Command, but the truth is that they're out there. And I'm sure I left out some of your candidates. Please let me know who they are in the comments below.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, ScreenCrush and Badass Digest. On his BLOG, Jordan has reviewed all 727 Trek episodes and films, most of the comics and some of the novels.