Amok Time is the first episode of season 2 and it’s a wonderful opening giving us a clue about Spock, his culture, and why we grew up with a song we all loved call Heart and Soul by T’Pau. Well… maybe not that last one, but when T’Pau made a comment about “this” being “the Vulcan heart, the Vulcan soul”, I had a whole new respect for the song! (And yes, they did take their name from this character, bless them!) Anyway, enough of 80’s music. Let’s talk about the episode.
We spend the first act with McCoy trying to convince Kirk that Spock is acting erratically. When Spock goes into a full-fledged rage about his soup, Kirk realizes something is wrong and breaks Starfleet orders to get his friend home. Once again, I’m impressed by the value of friendship in this series and that is elevated even further when Spock asks Kirk to accompany him to Vulcan. What made it even more impressive is when he also asks McCoy. Spock realizes that, even with all the playful banter, McCoy isn’t just a friend; he’s one of Spock’s best friends. And I love that.
There are a lot of things that make this episode great. So let’s ignore them for a second and talk about “if this were a different kind of show”, because that’s going to be far more fun. So, we learn that this whole thing is because Spock is a bit … horny. He’s going through a 7 year itch that puts Vulcans in a particularly tough spot in their aging process especially when on a ship with no other Vulcans. T’Pau says she’d hoped Spock would be spared this. What’s that exactly? Having a libido or getting a wife? And he strikes me as older than 7, 14, or even 21 so… when does this actually kick in? Speaking of the wife, before we learn why this is all happening, Spock seems to be facebooking a young girl on the screen in his room. Sure, that was T’Pring when she was younger, but it sure comes off a bit creepy as he glares at her, longingly. I hope Security gets a pop-up alert indicating someone is researching naughty material; computer viruses are dangerous on Starships. Spock’s explanation is hilarious too. The Lord of Logic himself, Spock can’t think to explain it better than “it has to do with biology.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not even Vulcan and I totally get Spock’s frustration but I’ve never punched my computer monitor into a pulp. Then again, no doctor has ever told me that I’d die within a week if I didn’t… well… you know… it has to do with biology.
What I didn’t get at all was why Christine thinks she loves Spock. Here’s a repressed woman if ever there was one. She never says a thing and then the first chance she gets for screen time, it’s to say that she loves Spock and wants to make him soup… On Vulcan we show a different form of repression. When McCoy explains that the air is too thin for Kirk, T’Pau offers the very sensible explanation: “the air is the air.” So it is. Perhaps that’s Vulcan for “it is what it is”. In other words, you’re screwed so deal with it.. and not the way you want to be. Although I guess she does let McCoy possibly inject Kirk with steroids, since she has no way of knowing what he’s really giving Kirk. Then again, maybe McCoy has been reading his Machiavelli. I mean, let’s face it: he manipulates Spock with a damned fine line: “Yield to the logic, Spock!” And he clearly used that same logic to get his name in the opening credits now, too! Good job, Doctor Machiavelli McCoy.
For all the fun I have picking on this episode, there really are a lot of great things about it. The friendship that exists between Bones, Spock and Kirk is magnificent and may be one of the best episodes to illustrate the power of friendship. When Spock thinks he’s killed Kirk, it destroys his libido. (Don’t worry, Rog, the effort of traveling to England just to kill a friend to overcome the Pon Far isn’t worth it, but I’ll tell Paul to be on high alert…) But it’s back on the Enterprise when Spock has a full blown glee-reaction that we realize how much these people mean to one another. Kirk may call Spock an “asset” but more importantly, he’s a friend. (Though T’Pring was pretty lovely so perhaps Kirk’s motivations were not entirely altruistic… worst case, he would have ended up with a hot Vulcan wife!)
A side note about T’Pring: Stonn should really watch out. This girl is brutal! Lovely, sure, but good lord. Let’s review her logic: “If you killed your best friend, you’d leave and I’d have Hunky McUgly because I could cheat on you while you’re in Starfleet jail. And if Kirk killed you, I’d have to endure a few nights of Jim “givin’ ‘er all she’s got” before I could get back to Vulcan and thus be with Stonn the Stone because Kirk grows tired of woman faster than a Vulcan who just killed his best friend. Either way, I get Hunky… until I find that having is not always as pleasurable a thing as wanting and I move on to the next guy. Then Hunky better watch out or he’ll be in a pit with a Gorn!”
The music in this episode is stellar, no pun intended. That battle music is hands down one of the best battle pieces ever and has been used in such great (read: highbrow) productions as The Family Guy and The Cable Guy. (Must have “Guy” in the title I guess…) But the most remarkable thing about the episode is a very real and somewhat scary lesson, mentioned above: “you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.” WOW. We all know the truth hurts, but that stings! And this lesson applies to most things. Look at any kids Christmas list. Once they have it, the toy goes by the wayside. Probably true of getting together with that one person you’ve been longing for, only to finally have that date and then that’s it, done! No interest any more.
The episode ends with a great scene of the crew together again and heading back on course. T’Pau reached out to Starfleet (probably on Facebook) and sent a message giving Spock a note from the Principal so Starfleet command wouldn’t be angry about Kirk disobeying orders. Everyone is happy once more. And they even have a new navigator to help get them places. Maybe now Kirk can stop asking Spock to “lay in a course”. I think after this episode, the euphemism would be too hard to ignore. (Sorry…)
Spock, clear your browser history now that this is all over… ML
The view from across the pond:
“It’s Spock. Have you noticed anything strange about him?”
Well, where do we start? In fact, Spock seems more human than normal, displaying some unchecked emotions. Angry Spock is not a person we are used to seeing. At first I thought he was going through some kind of Vulcan puberty, and I wasn’t too far from the mark. He is going through the “Pon Farr”, when he needs to go back home to mate.
“It strips our minds from us.”
Most men know that feeling. Just in case we didn’t quite understand, Spock is ready with a useful analogy for us: he’s like a fish swimming back to its home to spawn.
“But you’re not a fish Mr Spock.”
Turns out the writer of this episode was Theodore Sturgeon, so there’s something decidedly fishy about Amok Time. What’s even fishier is the fans’ reactions to the episode, because this one is positively adored. I sometimes take a look on the internet to find out the fan reputation of an episode after I’ve watched it, and I must admit this one really baffled me. It seems to be often considered the #2 Classic Trek episode, behind City on the Edge of Forever. That’s two turkeys right there at the top of the Trekkie tree. Although it’s rubbish, I can understand the love for City a bit better because it does at least attempt to engage the brain, but what’s the appeal of this one? The whole thing is just an excuse to get Kirk into a fight with Spock, and rip yet another one of his shirts.
For a start, I hate it when a writer goes with the default position of representing another culture as being slaves to silly traditions. It’s a lazy way to portray difference, with a whiff of xenophobia that says anyone who isn’t like us must be weirdos with stupid customs they never break, even if that involves killing somebody for no good reason. This is a civilisation that has reached for the stars before humans, and yet they behave like they’re still stuck in the middle ages, with an unbending adherence to what they’ve always done. Inflexible societies don’t achieve greatness. They have to grow up a bit first.
Secondly, there’s just nothing to this episode at all. It’s an interminably long time before Spock gets to Vulcan, and then all that happens is Kirk’s fight of the week (which happens every episode and is always boring, even when he’s fighting Spock). There’s little to get the brain working here.
Finally, Kirk’s principles are just so damned inconsistent. He’s more than willing to betray his own people in order to save the life of his friend, and quite right too. As he points out, Spock is worth more than his career. But when the nasty old hag on Vulcan tricks him into agreeing to fight his friend to the death, he goes ahead and agrees to that because she’s an important person. So he’s fine with betraying his own people, but won’t look bad in front of the Vulcan hag, who thinks she can enforce a contract without explaining the terms in advance.
“Challenge was given and lawfully accepted.”
Laws like that tend to get in the way of the kind of independent thinking that leads to a society reaching for the stars.
After all the doom and gloom about Spock being about to die if he doesn’t get jiggy with it, his wife decides to get jiggy with somebody else instead, but Spock’s just fine apparently. Luckily, the final encounter with his treacherous wife and her boyfriend did bring the episode to life at the end:
“After a time you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing as wanting.”
I think that’s Spock’s way of saying “you’re welcome to her.” Good luck living with T’Prick, or whatever her name was.
Maybe the wailing woman in the new version of the theme music put me in a bad mood or something, and I do often find myself out of step with fan opinions, which tend to display a depressing herd mentality. Maybe I’ve just got weird taste, but I simply don’t understand the appeal of this episode. Or maybe I’m being too tough on myself and it’s actually the Trekkies who have weird taste. Yeah, let’s go with that one, shall we? After watching this I felt a bit like Spock when he bashed his television with his hand. I didn’t go that far though. For a start, mine’s not made of cardboard. The future’s looking a bit flimsy. RP
I always remember Leonard Nimoy sharing how he based the Vulcan hand salute on a how a hand can make the shape a Hebrew alphabet letter, “shin”, which he learned as a boy at a Jewish church. Amok Time was our first understanding of what it’s like on Vulcan. It was also the first episode for fans to completely appreciate the very special bond between Kirk, Spock and McCoy, which shaped many of their stories together.
It’s therefore always interesting that Kirk, Spock and McCoy were somehow most often the landing party for several classic Treks. It may have defeated Roddenberry’s original intention for the main cast to work entirely as an ensemble. But fans enjoyed this dominating trio so much that the depth of their friendship could sustain even several episodes of the last troubled season. Shatner as Kirk, embodying the combination of Spock’s logic and McCoy’s emotionalism, was like a bridge for every occasion where Spock and McCoy, despite all their disputes, would still get along in some sense. As the most basic inspiration for all human/ET relations throughout Trek history, Amok Time is Trek’s most special memory for how friendship always counts for something. 🖖🏻🖖🏼🖖🏽🖖🏾🖖🏿
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There was some very good casting for the Vulcan guest characters in this one. Particularly Arlene Martel (whose sci-fi credits include The Twilight Zone: Twenty-Two and The Outer Limits: Demon With A Glass Hand) as T’Pring and the distinguished Celia Lovsky as T’Pau. Lawrence Montaigne, who was Stonn, is interesting after seeing him in Balance Of Terror as a Romulan named Decius.
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Highly passionate romances and fights of the week in the classic Trek may not always blind us to the main story, despite the story’s obvious flaws. But it was a relief that the classic Doctor Who was never clouded by such intense viewer expectations. As for the overdone strangeness for alien races in Trek, even for Vulcans, it can make audiences appreciate how much of it has been mellowed in newer space-age shows since Babylon 5.
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If Amok Time would prove how one classic Star Trek familiarity would become particularly repetitive, it’s how an Enterprise mission of vital importance would so easily get delayed by some unexpected drama. When Kirk is defiantly responsible for that as he is in this case to help Spock, it’s blatantly strange that Star Fleet would continue to trust the Enterprise with such imperative missions at all. But most traditionally, it’s the varied delays in the mission where the Enterprise crew find their pivotal adventures and personal growth. Of course it would show how routinely forgiving Kirk’s superiors in Star Fleet must have been, which I must now say feels rather unrealistic and makes me understand why The Next Generation had creatively changed so much for Picard’s authority.
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