In which McCoy has ceased to be a butt monkey, Spock needs cut cut back on the Adderol, and Kirk should really read the instructions before committing to things.
Welcome to season 2. By now the writers have had some significant time to reflect on the world they’ve built and also the Neilsen ratings. Last season, Bonanza took the top ratings, and this year it’ll be the Andy Griffith show. I suppose it could be worse. Also of note – we haven’t met Chekov yet. This is a Crime. Fortunately, this is the episode.
McCoy is worried that Spock is acting strange. Her has surprisingly good medical reasons for doing so. Spock hasn’t been eating, so Chapel, hoping to get the good old Vulcan Salute, brings him some soup and gets it thrown in her face. Spock, is irritable and requests from Kirk to go on shore leave. This is the episode that will tell us more than we ever wanted to know about a Vulcan’s sex life. Also, this season we get the choral vocals over the theme music.
Spock has never taken shore leave, but he’s asking for it now and it has to be on Vulcan. He’s also hiding a shiv behind his back, and when Kirk leaves he starts talking to himself.
So, up until now, we’ve seen Spock as the epitome of logic and rationality, except when mentally compromised, as in “The Naked Now.” His outbursts now hint at something much deeper, and indeed he’s being utterly irrational – refusing to answer Kirk’s questions when his mental stability is clearly on the line, balking at going to Sick Bay when he’s experiencing blackouts. He’s also hinting at a deep cultural taboo that no Vulcan would answer, despite it apparently being a life-threatening matter. What is the logic of a biological taboo on even discussing a life-threatening periodic biological function?
This is the first hint we’re going to see that the Vulcan philosophy of logic is more dogmatic than rational. Their mating ritual uses ritual and custom to
protect them from a surge of hormones that takes away all of their ability for controlled rational thought. They must return to Vulcan every seven years, apparently. This will certainly get corrected some time between now and Voyager, but it does raise some interesting tangents. For example, it puts an upper limit on the expansivity of the Vulcan sphere of influence, if they farthest out they can go is three and a half years at maximum warp. Also, what are the Vulcans of the Abramsverse supposed to do now that their homeworld is a point mass instead of a planet?
How did this not come up in the hundred years Vulcan was mentoring humanity? Efficiently organized duty schedules, I guess, but it takes a conspiracy by literally every member of the species to conceal that they have arranged marriages and go berserk? No human ever got curious when a Vulcan colleague brushed off some water cooler chat a little too brusquely? They never had to submit a dossier for entry into Starfleet medical records?
T’Pring interrupts the ritual, though. Which seems really rude and a terrible way to construct it. Then again, at least she gets to challenge to see whose chattel she becomes, so that’s… um… yeah. She chooses Kirk to fight to the death against Spock, although that pissy guy over on the left isn’t too happy about that, either.
Kirk is having an ego moment. Most of the reason he refuses to back out is because T’Pau, the matriarch, is the only person ever to turn down an invitation to a seat on the Federation council. So he’s going to go toe-to-toe with someone about five times stronger than him, in the heat, in a thin atmosphere.
Back on the subject of Vulcan dogma, T’Pau is not exactly making any friends here. I mean, okay, Kirk accepted the challenge without knowing what it entailed, and without asking, and that’s on him. But with the taboo on discussion with outsiders, it’s not like anyone should expect them to know what’s being expected of them. Anyway, they lose the blades, McCoy injects Kirk with some intravenous oxygen to compensate for the thin air, and then they start attacking each other with rocks on straps. It’s not long after that Spock strangles Kirk to death. “Death.”
T’Pring is the only rational one in this whole thing. She set up Kirk instead of that other guy because this way, even if Spock won, he’d be gone on the next ship out for murdering Kirk, and she’d be free. Spock has his hormones to excuse him, Kirk is smart, not logical, and McCoy is no longer the dumbest person on the ship but still very much McCoy. T’Pau, though, is not being logical. She’s being imperious and dogmatic.
The Vulcans put on a very impressive mask, but that’s all it is. Underneath it all they are, as Kirk will probably say at some point in one of the jokey wind-down scenes at the end of every episode, just as human as everyone else. That’s one of the strengths of the Star Trek franchise as a whole, of course. It portrayed a future that everyone can take part in. In the midst of the Civil Rights movement, they put Nichelle Nichols on the bridge. During the cold war they put Walter Koenig, in the thickest Russian accent they could find, on the bridge. They gave us Sulu and Scotty and McCoy to show us a future for everyone on Earth, and they threw in Spock too, because what’s the point of abolishing racism if we’re just going to be species-ist instead?
Fun Fact: this episode was written by Theodore Sturgeon, one of the lesser giants of Science Fiction of the era, and who coined Sturgeon’s Law. “Ninety percent of science fiction is crap. But then, ninety percent of everything is crap.” Let’s hear it for 50 years of Star Trek beating the odds.