Episode: Space Seed – Season 1, Episode 22 (1967)
Director: Marc Daniels
Teleplay: Gene L. Coon and Carey Wilbur
Story: Carey Wilbur
Kirk accidentally revives one of the premier war criminals of twentieth century Earth, the fabulous Khan Noonian Singh (national treasure Ricardo Montalban). Over the course of a record five costume changes, Khan tries to conquer humanity all over again, all while spawning the best Star Trek movie ever shot.
At first, Kirk can be forgiven for thinking he’s only got a defrosted asshole on his hands. Khan deports himself like a Nietzschean Superman, but so does every douchebag in the bars of South Florida. It isn’t until Khan’s Master Class in Straight Pimp’n (re: ship’s historian Lt. Marla McGivers [Madlyn Rhue]) that the truth is revealed: Khan is that Khan, brutal leader of the augmented beings that fomented Earth’s mid-90s Eugenics War. McGivers stops sliding off her chair long enough to help him awaken his super-cronies and hijack the ship.
But Khan needs some command codes, and he thinks torturing Kirk in a decompression chamber will cause an old salt-like Montgomery Scott cave in. No dice, and after McGivers has a last minute change of heart and frees our captain, things get resolved with the inevitable brawl. Khan has genetically embiggened super strength, but when Kirk comes up with some kind of space-age caulking gun it’s case closed. At the hearing, when he gives McGivers the choice between court martial and accompanying Khan into exile on Ceti Alpha V, she does a poor job of not looking greasy and enraptured at the prospect.
Okay, I get it. Khan is sexual aggression and physical power incarnate, because it plays into the anxieties of the Star Trek audience. This is the kind of super-villain a sci-fi geek fears way down in his guts. But even when he has control of the Enterprise, no one takes Khan seriously. A born follower like McCoy laughs the guy off, and Khan has a knife to his throat. Khan Noonian Singh is supposedly built for conquest, for perfection. He has all the best lines, he has those smoky eyes, he clearly wants to be in charge – yet Khan is almost laughably ineffective.
I mean, look at Barack Obama. Say what you want about the guy, but did he punch his way to the presidency? Lyndon Johnson ran the senate like an underage girlfriend while keeping his literal pecker down in his own pocket. Even evil rulers deploy a little acumen and cunning in the accumulation of their power – first by exploiting the institutions already in place to build a base. They change societies to suit their purposes. For Khan to be a convincing threat, he should keep the fisticuffs under wraps. That’s a special occasion thing.
No, the Khan we should fear would play it like this:
Star Base 12? Of course, take me to your leaders! I have so much to learn about this wonderful age – its technology, its politics, its economy. I am like a child among gods. Please introduce me to the citizens of your Federation, the more the better. I and my people are at your service.
And then plan. And wait.
 Interesting side note: the character went through numerous iterations and name changes. Roddenberry chose the name “Noonien” because he knew a Chinese guy with that name, so close enough? I am in no way making this up.