Hell hath no fury like a captain chasing a white whale. In an episode reminiscent of the vendetta plot from “The Doomsday Machine”, and the body harvesting of “The Man Trap”, Kirk’s old foe is a deeply personal weapon of mass destruction. Upon finding his surveying party attacked and drained of their hemoglobin, Kirk suspects it could be the same gaseous entity that attacked his ship eleven years prior. What follows is a fixation fueled by guilt, vengeance, and an inability to reconcile with the past.
It seemed out of character for Kirk to be so driven by emotion at the expense of his ability to function as a captain. When it becomes clear how traumatized Kirk was by his previous encounter with the creature, his behavior is viewed as a result of the anguish he harbors from his past. Present events are interpreted through the lens of previous events, which is why Kirk sees his own failings in the ensign who hesitated to fire the phaser. The creature seems to be intelligent, but its nature is not further developed in this episode. Instead, the guilt which tormented Kirk for eleven years is the real monster, resulting in an obsession with the creature which symbolized Kirks previous inadequacy.
Defeating the creature was not the solution. Instead, Kirk needed to conquer himself. When Spock informs him that there was no way he could have succeeded eleven years ago, and the death of his fellow crewmembers was not his fault, Kirk lets go of his insecurity. Only when he learns the truth about his past does the wound heal and the monster inside of him is defeated.
This TV ending is an idealistic resolution unrealistic for many PTSD sufferers. Kirk was lucky enough to not only have a second chance to face the object of his past torment, but he was also granted a single piece of information that alleviated all guilt. Most PTSD patients are not so lucky, as it is a complex disorder with underlying circumstances as diverse as the patients who endure it. Living with a traumatic past sometimes feels like a battle against the self. Kirk’s battle with the creature is more of a metaphor for facing the monsters within ourselves with openness and bravery.