In the season 1 finale, “A Quality of Mercy,” we’re introduced to an alternate timeline Kirk set seven years ahead, after Captain Pike (Anson Mount) accidentally diverges the timelines by saving a young recruit that’s supposed to die in Pike’s future. The Kirk we meet is a bit of a wild card compared to most Starfleet officers, but he’s not the loose cannon that pop culture later made him out to be. Instead, he offers thoughtful consideration in helping Captain Pike figure out how to save everyone from the Romulans and even comes up with a brilliant and potentially self-sacrificing strategy to change the odds. He never feels like a caricature or parody of the character, but much like Ethan Peck’s Spock, feels like a unique interpretation that holds true to the original.
In an interview with /Film, co-showrunner Henry Alonso Myers explained that they worked carefully to balance reverence and originality:
“It’s funny, I remember having recent conversation with one of the actors who was playing the commander, the Romulan commander, and also with watching casting all the rest of our legacy characters from TOS is… You don’t want them to do an imitation. I mean, that’s actually the thing that people don’t realize about Ethan’s performance is, it’s not an imitation. He’s using parts of [Leonard] Nimoy’s original performance, but he’s very much embodying and making it his own, and an actor needs to be able to do that, because that’s what’s going to feel natural for them.And so, it was really important for us to have a Kirk that was very much the character that we knew, but he wasn’t coming in and doing a version of Shatner. You know what I mean? No one wants to see that, we have Shatner, we have the good version already, you know what I mean? We’re not a show that’s trying to make fun of Shatner because we’re all fans, so Paul wants to be his own person. You know what I mean? That was one of the great things about how he approached it.”
Wesley very much embodies a version of Kirk that maintains the character’s charm and hint of chaos while also remembering that he’s a Starfleet officer who believes in his duty and career. There’s a great balance to the performance that makes this Kirk feel real, and not like some larger-than-life hero.