DECKER: I'm sorry.
ILIA: That you left Delta Four? Or that you didn't even say goodbye?
DECKER: If I had seen you again, would you have been able to say it?
Wowza. If their longing glances during their first meeting didn't tip you off, then this should make it clear that Ilia and Decker used to be an item. It's also clear that both of them still have some residual feelings.
[Ilia is seemingly disintegrated by V'Ger.]
DECKER: This is how I define unwarranted!
Decker is a lot more of a nebbish than the always-courageous Kirk, so Ilia's death is his worst fear realized. These two lovers were reunited just to be torn apart again.
SPOCK: Suppose that beneath its programming, the real Ilia's memory patterns are duplicated with equal precision.
KIRK: Ilia's memory, her feelings of loyalty, obedience, friendship might all be there.
SPOCK: You did have a relationship with Lieutenant Ilia, Commander.
How would you react if your dead ex-girlfriend came back to life as a super-advanced android? We'd freak out. (Or maybe make out with it—we've always wanted to kiss a robot.) Personal fantasies aside, this is going to be an emotionally draining experience for Decker. He's still grappling with Ilia's death and now he's expected to exhume the grave, metaphorically speaking.
[Ilia seems to remember her identity after trying on a hat she used to wear.]
In an attempt to reawaken the real Ilia, Decker shows her things that were important to her, like her favorite clothes and board games. It works, but only in fits and starts.
KIRK: Spock, what should you have known?
[Spock takes Kirk hand.]
SPOCK: This simple feeling is beyond V'Ger's comprehension.
We'd like to interrupt your regularly scheduled analysis of romantic love to look at the galaxy-spanning bromance of Kirk and Spock. Although these two men are as different as you can be, they get each other in a way that few do.
SPOCK: Captain, V'Ger is a child. I suggest you treat it as such.
KIRK: A child?
SPOCK: Yes, captain, a child. [...] It knows only that it needs, Commander. But like so many of us, it does not know what.
We're pretty sure that we know what V'Ger needs: love. Like a little kid throwing a tantrum, V'Ger is carving a warpath through half of the known universe just to get some attention. That's simultaneously cute and terrifying. Is there a word for that? Cutifying? Terrute? We'll workshop that one.
KIRK: Enterprise, stand by. The antenna leads are melted away.
SPOCK: Yes Captain, just now. By V'Ger itself.
SPOCK: To prevent reception.
This is V'Ger's equivalent to not responding to bae's texts so they're forced to just call you. In V'Ger's mind, it's traveled way too far to settle for a long distance relationship: it wants the real deal. We've never related so much to a machine.
DECKER: To bring the Creator here, to finish transmitting the code in person, to touch the Creator.
Decker instinctively understands why V'Ger is insistent to reconnect with the Creator. Do you think that has anything to do with the fact that his ex-lover is its physical manifestation?
McCOY: You mean that this machine wants to physically join with a human? Is that possible?
You best believe that it's possible, especially when that machine has taken the form of a beautifully bald babe. Unsurprisingly, Decker volunteers for this position, as it is his only way of reconnecting with what's left of Ilia.
KIRK: Spock! Did we just see the beginnings of a new lifeform?
SPOCK: Yes, Captain, we witnessed a birth. Possibly a next step in our evolution.
Talk about a happy ending. Although it began as a star-crossed romance of carbon-based bodies, Ilia and Decker's love has transformed into something incredible. They might have even created a new species. Whoa.
Now that we think about it, however, they might have just created the Borg. Whoops.
KIRK: Two and a half years as Chief of Starfleet Operations may have made me a stale, but I wouldn't exactly consider myself untried. They gave her back to me, Scotty.
James T. Kirk is a loyal Starfleet officer, so he'll do whatever the big brass tell him to do. That doesn't mean he has to like it. Since leaving the U.S.S. Enterprise, Kirk has been living the boring life of an office-bound Admiral, which explains his strong need to regain command of the ship. His ship.
DECKER: May I ask? Why?
KIRK: My experience, five years out there dealing with unknowns like this. My familiarity with the Enterprise, this crew.
DECKER: Admiral, this is an almost totally new Enterprise. You don't know her a tenth as well as I do.
As you might imagine, Decker is less than enthused when a washed up Admiral steals his spotlight. It must be a pretty big honor to captain a ship as legendary as the Enterprise, after all, and the dude must have worked hard to get selected for the post. Although we're psyched that Captain Kirk is back on the team, we sort of feel bad for Decker.
DECKER: I remember when you recommended me for this command. You told me how envious you were, and how much you hoped you'd find a way to get a starship command again.
Here's a shocker: Kirk and Decker have a past relationship. Kirk even helped him land the gig in the first place. Huh. This completely changes the way we understand Kirk's behavior. He might claim that he's only taking charge because he's the best person for the job, but there's more than a little ego involved in his decision.
McCOY: Your revered Admiral Nogura invoked a little known and seldom used reserve activation clause. In simpler language, Captain, they drafted me.
Unlike Kirk, McCoy is none too eager to restart life as an interstellar explorer, much less risk his life on their most dangerous mission yet. To his credit, he changes his tune as soon as Kirk explains the gravity of the situation.
KIRK: Why was my phaser order countermanded?
DECKER: Sir, the Enterprise redesign increases phaser power by channeling it through the main engines. When they went into anti-matter imbalance, the phasers were automatically cut off.
When the Enterprise gets caught up in a time-slowing wormhole, Decker defies Kirk's orders and takes charge of the situation. Kirk is pretty ticked about this, as you might imagine, but even he is forced to admit that Decker was right. He literally saved everyone's lives. This raises questions about whether Kirk is fit for duty as Enterprise's captain, or whether he's the Starfleet equivalent of an old washed-up rock star.
McCOY: The point, Captain, is that it's you who's competing. You rammed getting this command down Starfleet's throat. You've used this emergency to get Enterprise back.
We love Bones' honesty so much. Everyone has been dancing around the issue, but he's just going to say it: Kirk is using V'Ger as an excuse to retake his ship. It could've been a space-trucking accident for all he cares—all that matters is that he's back at the helm of the U.S.S. Enterprise.
McCOY: It's an obsession—an obsession that can blind you to far more immediate and critical responsibilities. Your reaction to Decker is an example.
This exchange makes us think about Captain Kirk as Captain Ahab, which is a metaphor the Star Trek series later employs to great effect in First Contact. In many ways, the Enterprise is Kirk's Moby Dick: an all-consuming obsession that threatens his own life, as well as everyone's around him.
McCOY: Well, however it's pronounced, Mister Spock, it's the Vulcan ritual supposed to purge all remaining emotions.
KIRK: The Kolinahr is also the discipline you broke to join us.
It's worth noting that Spock is actively neglecting his duty as a good Vulcan by taking part in this mission. Not only is he abandoning the Kolinahr ritual before attaining the blissful state of pure logic, but he's now actively embracing his human side and all of its emotional messiness. For (the human emotion of) shame.
DECKER: We don't know it will do. Moving into that cloud at this time is an unwarranted gamble.
KIRK: How do you define "unwarranted?"
This is a nice encapsulation of the difference between Kirk and Decker. Kirk is your classic old school adventurer: he acts first and considers the consequences later. Decker, on the other hand, prefers to weigh and analyze each decision before taking action.
KIRK: Well, Mister Decker, it seems my bluff has been called.
DECKER: I'm afraid our hand is pretty weak, Captain.
This is a small moment, but we think it shows how Decker and Kirk manage to coexist. They don't always have to agree with each other—and in fact rarely do—but they no longer feel the need to compete all the time.
FEMALE VULCAN: Our ancestors cast out their animal passions here on these sands. Our race was saved by the attainment of Kolinahr.
The most important aspect of Vulcan culture is that they were once a passionate and violent race, but decided to actively shed their emotions in favor of "pure logic." In order to reach this state, every Vulcan must go through an emotion-destroying ritual known as "Kolinahr."
FEMALE VULCAN: The consciousness calling to you from space, it touches your human blood. You have not achieved Kolinahr.
Here's a big thing to note about Spock: he's half-Vulcan and half-human. This creates a great deal of inner tension between his logical Vulcan side and emotional human side, which is a concept explored in great detail throughout the film.
ILIA: V'Ger and the Creator will become one.
SPOCK: And who is the Creator?
ILIA: The Creator is that which created V'Ger.
KIRK: Who is V'Ger?
ILIA: V'Ger is that which seeks the Creator.
This is the silliest variation of the "Who's on First" routine we've ever seen. Jokes aside, it's clear that V'Ger—our alien cloud extraordinaire—is on some sort of religious pilgrimage to reunite with its Creator. But what will happen when that meeting occurs? Only time will tell.
SPOCK: And yet with all this pure logic, V'Ger is barren, cold—no mystery, no beauty. I should have known.
Interestingly, Spock feels repulsed by "pure logic" when he feels it reflected back at him by V'Ger. This represents a big shift for his character, as he is embracing his human emotionality more than ever before.
SPOCK: This simple feeling is beyond V'Ger's comprehension. No meaning, no hope, and—Jim—no answers. It's asking questions. "Is this all I am? Is there nothing more?"
Spock is shaken to the core by his encounter with V'Ger. There he sees nothing but logic, which should be comforting to him as a Vulcan, but ends up leaving him cold and scared. Logic is great and all, but it has no purpose without those intangible emotions that go along with it—those silly things that make life worth living.
KIRK: The carbon-units are not an infestation. They are a natural function of the Creator's planet. They are living things.
ILIA: They are not true lifeforms. Only the Creator and other similar lifeforms are true.
Here, Ilia reverses our preconceptions by arguing that machines are the only "true" life in the universe, and that biological creatures are the artificial ones. It might sound odd, but it makes sense that a self-aware machine would reach that conclusion.
DECKER: Learn all that is learnable. Return that information to its Creator.
SPOCK: Precisely, Mister Decker. The machines interpreted it literally. They built this entire vessel so that Voyager could fulfill its programming.
After discovering that "V'Ger" is in fact the super-evolved form of NASA's unmanned Voyager VI probe, the crew is left with more questions than answers. Why did the living machines help this silly little probe? How did they become self-aware in the first place? And what is V'Ger trying to achieve with all of this wanton destruction?
SPOCK: What it requires of its God, Doctor, is the answer to its question, Is there nothing more?
In an interesting reversal, it's Spock who ignores logic and focuses instead on the emotional side of things. Looks like Spock and V'Ger are going through the same thing.
McCOY: What more is there than the universe, Spock?
In contrast to Spock, McCoy is a total realist, providing yet another viewpoint to bounce off the crazy philosophical Rorschach test that is V'Ger.
KIRK: I think we gave it the ability to create its own sense of purpose out of our own human weaknesses and the drive that compels us to overcome them.
Through V'Ger's desperate attempt to reunite with its Creator, Star Trek shows us that logic and emotion are not mutually exclusive. A full life requires an ample portion of both. What's more, the weakness associated with emotions only drives us to become better versions of ourselves.
ILIA: I've been programmed by V'Ger to observe and record normal functioning of the carbon-based units infesting U.S.S. Enterprise.
Note Robo-Ilia's word choice here: the crew is "infesting" the Enterprise. That's the way we talk about bugs or diseases. Ew. Right of the bat, it's clear that V'Ger is not a fan of biology.
DECKER: What does that mean?
ILIA: When my examination is complete, all carbon units will be reduced to data patterns.
Do you think the lives of you and everyone you've ever known could be squeezed into "data patterns"? We don't think so. Regardless, V'Ger is only able to think in terms of data.
SPOCK: I am seeing images of planets, moons, stars, whole galaxies all stored in here. It could be a record of V'Ger's entire journey.
When Spock goes solo into the deepest recesses of V'Ger, he's taken on a holographic tour of its long journey across the universe. In many ways, this is the identity that it has constructed for itself, which isn't all that different from the way that we humans do it. It's all about your experiences.
KIRK: Were you right? About V'Ger?
SPOCK: A lifeform of its own. A conscious, living entity.
During his descent, Spock realizes that V'Ger is as much of a conscious being as any of them. The big question that remains is how it got that way. Any guesses?
SPOCK: I saw V'Ger's planet, a planet populated by living machines. Unbelievable technology. V'Ger has knowledge that spans this universe.
As we later learn, this is not V'Ger's home but its second home. Either way, the thought of a whole planet filled with conscious machines like V'Ger seriously melts our brains. Like what do they eat, for starters? And what's robo romance like?
ILIA: V'Ger signals the Creator.
SPOCK: A simple binary code transmitted by carrier-wave signal. Radio.
This shocks the crew because radio is hundreds of years out-of-date by now. Why would such an insane technological marvel employ such basic technology?
ILIA: The Creator has not answered. The carbon-unit infestation is to be removed from the Creator's planet.
ILIA: You infest Enterprise. You interfere with the Creator in the same manner.
In its quest to complete its mission, V'Ger makes a big assumption: the Creator must be like V'Ger. It must be a machine. This, as Kirk & Co. learn in a few moments, is patently false: humanity is its creator. Based on that, this passage takes on a decidedly ironic bent.
KIRK: Voyager series—designed to collect data and transmit it back to Earth.
DECKER: Voyager VI disappeared into what they used to call a black hole.
And then boom—all of the puzzle pieces fall into place. Although there were only two Voyager probes launched in real life, these unmanned crafts are indeed still exploring the depths of the universe. Placed in that context, V'Ger's desire to reunite with the Creator becomes almost...beautiful.
SPOCK: The machine inhabitants found it to be one of their own kind, primitive yet kindred. They discovered its simple twentieth-century programming.
Here, we flesh out V'Ger's story, learning that its "homeworld" is in fact its second home. Think of it as college: a place of immense personal growth spurred on by likeminded peers. Also: robo-kegstands. We're pretty sure that's part of Star Trek canon.
KIRK: What V'Ger needs in order to evolve is a human quality. Our capacity to leap beyond logic.
DECKER: And joining with its Creator might accomplish that.
In the end, V'Ger can only reach the next stage of its evolution by becoming less mechanical and more human. How's that for irony? Likewise, it's implied that it works the other way around too, with humans needing to gain a technological aspect to reach our next evolution. Fancy-pants call this merging "the singularity."