‘Star Trek Into Darkness’: The Secret Behind The Mystery Villain

Now that the identity of Benedict Cumberbatch's character is out, why should we care?

Star Trek Into Darkness” is out, and J.J. Abrams’ mystery box is wide open. So what’s inside? The answer made Trekkies squeal and groan in equal measure and confused many of the uninitiated, but now we’re left to wonder what it all meant.

Spoilers on spoilers on spoilers ahead.

When the whole song and dance of rumors and denials was done, Benedict Cumberbatch ended up being Khan, as many, many people (including the MTV News team) had predicted and Abrams himself previously denied. The choice confused some fans, since John Harrison’s true identity didn’t affect the story in a significant way, and even more “Trek” novices had to rely word of Spock Prime (Leonardo Nemoy in another cameo) to believe that this guy wasn’t to be messed with. So how did we get here? Let’s take a trip back through a “Star Trek” wormhole.

Planting The Space Seed
The initial rumors that Khan might make an appearance in a sequel to 2009′s “Star Trek” reboot came right from the source. Writer Roberto Orci, in an interview with Ain’t It Cool News, openly said that “if you’re a ‘Trek’ fan, there’s no way Khan isn’t at the top of the list of things you want to play with.”

That first spark started an avalanche of questioning that continued right up until the release of “Star Trek Into Darkness.” Just a few days after Orci’s AICN interview, MTV News asked Abrams about the possibility of Khan in the sequel. “It’ll be fun to hear what Alex and Bob are thinking about Khan,” Abrams said. “The fun of this timeline is arguing that different stories, with the same characters, could be equally if not more compelling than what’s been told before.” He also hinted that Kirk and Khan simply had to meet in the reboot timeline. “Certain people are destined to cross paths and come together, and Khan is out there … even if he doesn’t have the same issues.”

Stage 2: Denial
It all seemed like a done deal. Orci wanted to redo Khan, the series’ most infamous villain, and in late 2011, Abrams reportedly met with Benicio Del Toro for the role of the villain. Fanboys connected the dots and saw the choice of Spanish-speaking actor as a move to match the original Khan, Ricardo Montalbán, in ethnicity. The speculation only compounded when Del Toro passed and Édgar Ramirez auditioned for the role.

The first outright denial from Abrams came shortly after news of his meetings with Del Toro began to circulate. Latino Review reported that Del Toro would, in fact, be playing Khan, and when Drew McWeeny at HitFix reached out to the director, the response was concise: “Not true.”

The Wrath Renewed
Abrams’ denial to HitFix would become the first note in a symphony of denials, including ones from Benedict Cumberbatch and Simon Pegg, but their attempts to keep a shroud of mystery over the villain, while noble, were in vain. By the time “Star Trek Into Darkness” hit overseas markets, IMDb listed Cumberbatch’s character as Khan and Wikipedia detailed the character’s sequel in the story.

So how are the Montalbán and Cumberbatch Khans related? As opposed to the Shatner-Nimoy timeline where the Enterprise discovers Khan and his crew in cryogenic sleep, Marcus (Peter Weller) purposely thaws the genetic superman as a defensive response to the destruction of the planet Vulcan in “Star Trek.” That change in the timeline stopped Kirk’s natural meeting point with Khan, which originally happened during the television series and led to actual death of Khan’s followers and his wife and set off the events of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”

Thus ends the Cumberbatch-Khan question, but was it all worth it? Should Abrams and company have defended the secret like they did? Were you happy or disappointed with the new take on Khan? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.


Writer/editor for MTV. If it involves cowboys, spies, or hitmen, I'm there. All three would be ideal.