Science Fiction’s 10 Best Second In CommandsWednesday, October 21st, 2009
10. Igor – The funny thing about this character is that…well, it’s a sticky thing to pin down where exactly the name comes from. For now, it seems he falls under the stock character designation “Lab Assistant”. If you’ll remember Dr. Frankenstein’s lab assistant was originally named Fritz. So, while the most likely origin is the character “Ygor” played by Bela Lugosi in a couple of sequels, who was not a lab assistant, but a demented blacksmith, it is entirely possible that the filmgoing population have merely self designated the character such out of confusion. Much like most people refer to Dr. Frankenstein’s monster as “Frankenstein”. Of course, that didn’t stop Mel Brooks from turning Marty Feldman into a scene stealing pervert in Young Frankenstein (and, easily, the best of the lot…”Damn your eyes!” “Too late.”).
9. Johnny Rico – In Starship Troopers, we get to see a young Johnny Rico (Played by Casper Van Dien) move up with meteoric pace through the ranks of the military until he’s heading up his own distinguished unit. Trust me, that’s the only reason he’s so low on the list. He wasn’t a number two for very long, but while he was, he was a great one. Why? He did what he was told! And the bugs got blowed up real, real good! Bearing in mind that under unit leader(and former social studies teacher) Jean Rasczak (Michael Ironside) you don’t really have a choice, as he threatens to shoot anyone who refuses to follow orders. By the end of the film, of course, it’s all Johnny, but you definitely see the influence as he barks out commands he learned under his original Roughneck squad leader. See where being bad at math can lead you?
8. Don West – We’re entering muddy Lost In Space waters here. Who really ran the Jupiter II mission? Was it John Robinson(Zorro! I mean, uh…Guy Williams), the scientist? Was it Dr. Smith, the motormouthed robot hater? Or, was it the military pilot, Major Don West(Mark Goddard)? I tend to think that it was a science mandated mission, putting Dr. Robinson in charge, with Maj. West handling the heavy lifting. Of course, one thing he didn’t have to try so hard at was putting the moves on the eldest Robinson daughter, Judy (Marta Kristen). Soon, all that went away, and he became the major(heh) foil for Dr. Zachary Smith(Jonathan Harris, close friend of Mark Goddard). That didn’t stop him from joining forces with Dr. Robinson and swatting a few aliens around.
7. Chakotay – I’m going to tread lightly here, because unlike most of the other things I’m going to write about in this article, I don’t have a great working knowledge of Star Trek: Voyager. Now, now, before you get all up in arms (ThatCostumeGirl…I’m looking at you) let me just say that it simply wasn’t for me. I wanted it to be, and I gave it a number of seasons to be so, but it just didn’t happen. What I did see, while I was watching, was that first officer Chakotay (no other name given…Played wonderfully by Robert Beltran) would have been a much better captain for Voyager. Granted, he was an ex-terrorist, and almost came to blows with Captain Janeway once or twice. (Come on. Seriously. I can’t have been the only one that wanted to beat her up.) He seemed, though fairly fed up with Starfleet, bound and determined to uphold it’s ideals. Eventually, he becomes captain of his ship, and serves (presumably well) in this capactiy for several years. Not bad for a man with more tattoos on his face than Mike Tyson!
6. Saul Tigh – Why so low, you might ask? Where, here’s a rare example of a number two man who can not, under any circumstances, lead people in his own right. He’s an enforcer, pure and simple. Everyone hates him (except Admiral Adama) onboard the Battlestar Galactica, but everyone follows his orders. He’s excellent at backing up his leader, but can’t run things himself. For awhile, he tried to do so, and the effect was disastrous (though, it was mostly his wife whipsering is his ear about all the power and booze he could now have). He is propped up by Adama, as is the rest of the fleet, and in the end, he will be lead down some dark roads. Originally, the character was one of the reasons I resisted the show. At the end, he was the best reason to tune in and check out what that scary, crazy Saul Tigh(Played to grisled perfection by Michael Hogan) was going to be up to this week.
5. Stilgar – Before Paul Atreides showed up on Arrakis, there was one head honcho in town that proved perhaps it was wise to be afraid of nomadic desert folk. Stilgar was leader of the largest sietch, Sietch Tabr on Arrakis, and with him came an army of the native peoples of Arrakis, Fremen. Fremen are so badass that they are able to hide their numbers from orbit and whip the shit out of an army of elite warriors that the rest of the galaxy is terrified of. After Paul becomes the promised Mahdi, or messiah that the Fremen have been waiting for (yeah, yeah, I know, but this is about Dune and no other subsequent works), Stilgar begins to defer to his power and prescience. Paul’s mother teaches the Fremen to be even deadlier (like a grizzly bear with a machine gun), and they, in turn teach her and her son to be Fremen. As the new head of the galaxy’s most powerful army, Paul routinely looks to Stilgar for advice and support, which he provides in an almost fatherly way. Yeah, stillsuits look kind goofy, but, as played by Everett McGill in the 1984 version of Dune, he’s still quite the badass!
4. William T. Riker – And, this would be where the hatemail starts, I’m certain. Why is Riker (Jonathan Frakes) at number 4? Because there’s just that much more hot second in command action a comin’…that’s why. Riker is the first officer of the USS Enterprise serving under Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). Here’s the thing with these two. Were they to fuse (and, slash writers have tried, time and again) they would form the ultimate badass leader. As it sits now, Picard is one hell of a captain, but he tends to play it safe for the most part. Riker takes calculated risks, and isn’t afraid to shoot someone to get his point across. Never is this illustrated better than in my favorite episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Borg slapfest known as Best of Both Worlds pt 2. Picard is assimilated by the Borg, and they use his by the book knowledge of Starfleet to lay waste to the entire cadre of ships, on their way to wipeout Earth. How can Riker defeat this? The answer is novel, unexpected, and the complete opposite of something his leader would have done. Which is why it, and this pairing work so well.
3. Darth Vader – Whoa, whoa, whoa?! How have I the unmitigated temerity to put Darth Vader(David Prowse with a huge assist by James Earl Jones) on a list of second in commands? Ever since the Dark Lord of the Sith turned up as The Emperor’s house bitch, that’s how! These two assholes together threw over an entire galaxy AND killed a mess of kids to help do it! When we first see Darth Vader, was there any doubt who led the Galactic Empire? Not so fast. There was a clear heirarchy at work here. In Star Wars ep 4: A New Hope, we saw Grand Moff Tarkin(Peter Cushing) call off Vader from choking that one lispy jerk. This is easily illustrated best in Return of the Jedi when Vader tells the construction foreman for the new Death Star that “The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am”, and the guy damn near faints dead away. So, yes, Vader is the scariest Oakland Raider…sorry, Johnny Cash impersonator in the land, but he’s still number two. Although following his example of leadership through force choke has gotten me where I am today.
2. Spock – Here’s an example where the high drama of friendship can lead a leader and second in command to further heights. Kirk (William Shatner – The SHAT!) and Spock (Perennial sex machine Leonard Nimoy) are best friends, no matter how differently they view things. They’ve lain their respective lives on the line for each other several times. Hell, Spock bit it in Wrath of Khan just to keep everyone alive, and help Kirk blast the living shit out of that major grudgeholder KHAAAANN!!! When he said his goodbyes to Kirk, there wasn’t a dry nerd eye in the house. Again, like with the Riker/Picard relationship, they are halves to an awesome whole, and ruin come to anyone who come between Kirk and his ship or Spock and his sense of duty. To his ship or his friends.
1. Zoe Alleyne – When it comes to the one/two punch of a good leader and great second in command, here, we see the best of them all. Zoe (played by Gina”oh man…she’s so hot!”Torres) served with Malcolm Reynolds(Nathan Fillion) in the war for Unification, where, presumably he did something to win her loyalties. It’s a lot like Han and Chewbacca (however, Zoe is a much more desirable package than the ol’ walking wookiee carpet). We’re never really told (canonically) why these two are paired or why Zoe is loyal to Mal and not the other way around, but, it’s there nonetheless. It becomes much more confusing when, in the pilot episode of Firefly, we see that Zoe would, most likely, be the better captain. She backs Mal sometimes to a fault. She knows he’s wrong, but she’s always got his back. In one of the better episodes of the show, War Stories, Mal is captured, and it is Zoe who mounts a successful rescue attempt with Serenity’s ragtag crew against a fortified space station. If you’ve ever seen the episode, was there any doubt about who number one on this list would be, as she calmly strolls through the halls, shooting anything that moves while dodging bullets? And, think about it. Whenever Mal needs muscle he brings Jayne(Adam Baldwin). When he needs a bodyguard, he brings Zoe. That should tell the whole story right there. Now, that’s a second in command I can get behind. Apparently, so can Gina Torres’s husband, Laurence Fishburne. Heh.
Now, let’s get it out of the way now. The reason Chewbacca is not on this list is that it’s hard to be the number two man in a two man team. So, nothing against the proposal, but that’s the reason he’s not on here. I’m sure there will be others. And, frankly, I like finding out about these things, I do! So, let me have it. Uh…well, let me have it in as constructively a way as possible, thanks.