I had some comments to make about the obvious changes made to Star Trek as season two began. Notably, Chekov shows up for the first time as ship’s navigator, and DeForest Kelley had his name added to the opening credits. But as much as I should say something about that, I want to say something else first. I’ve been rewatching the show on Netflix with the remastered special effects. They look nice for the most part. Certainly better than what the original show did.
But “Amok Time” features the original series’ first and only trip to Vulcan. And my god, Vulcan is gorgeous.
With the obligatory commentary on Vulcan out of the way, what about the casting changes? Well, Chekov doesn’t really do much here aside from exchange some mildly funny lines with Helmsman Sulu and report stuff to Kirk. As for Kelley, maybe it’s just me, but it did seem as if Dr. McCoy had a lot more to do this episode. He just seems more prominent. I can’t explain it better than that. Whereas before there might have been an episode here or there without him, this time around we see he really is the third of the command trio alongside Kirk and Spock. It isn’t much of a surprise he goes along with Kirk and Spock to Vulcan’s surface.
But why go to Vulcan at all? We’ve heard a bit about what Vulcans are like through Spock. We know they are creatures of logic who eschew emotions. They have some minor telepathic abilities, are freakishly strong compared to humans, and any time you need a sudden solution to a problem, Spock can probably take care of it. But Vulcan itself is still at this point something of a mystery, and what we do know about Vulcans comes either from Leonard Nimoy’s performance thus far or just minor bits about Vulcan anatomy. We don’t really know much about the planet’s culture or the planet itself.
This seems like a good time to look into that, and the best way to do that is to have Spock need to go there for some reason. And if he has to, that means he must have some weird illness or something. The episode opens with word Spock of all people is moody, withdrawn, and refusing meals. That includes one Nurse Chapel prepares because she has to moon over Spock. Spock’s response to the first offer of Vulcan soup is to physically throw it out of his quarters and berate Chapel in the most unSpock-like manner possible.
Now, I’m always a sucker for any time Spock shows feelings. He does it so infrequently due to his Vulcan nature that there has to be a good reason for it. But we see Spock go through a number of mood-swings this episode. He’s hostile to Chapel in the cold open, but he’s almost flirting with her later. He’s issuing orders he doesn’t remember issuing. And he really doesn’t want to tell Kirk or McCoy what’s up. McCoy more or less figures it out on his own. Kirk, eventually, wears Spock down and we learn about the pon farr.
Pon farr, though less of a secret in future Trek stories, is when Vulcans go into heat, basically. Described as the boiling of a Vulcan man’s blood, during this period, Vulcans experience painful and emotional outbursts as they must return home to spawn, so to speak. That’s not much of an exaggeration. Spock uses trout as an example himself to explain it to Kirk. All anyone knows is if Spock doesn’t return to Vulcan and handle his business, he’ll die in eight days.
What follows is a crash course on Vulcan culture that I am not sure any Star Trek story ever did again. We learn so much about Vulcan and Spock over the remainder of the episode. Spock had a wife back home (sort of). Vulcan has a thin atmosphere and is rather hot. There is a ceremonial fight to death if the bride-to-be decides she doesn’t want to marry the groom. And Vulcans apparently can fall into something like love with each other.
That’s more or less what happens when Kirk and McCoy arrive with Spock at the designated place. There’s a high-ranking member of Vulcan society there, T’Pau. The humans didn’t know Spock’s family had that high a status, so I guess no one told them Spock’s father is an ambassador. And then the bride, T’Pring, decides she doesn’t want to marry Spock, but rather than choose the fellow she dotes on, she picks Kirk to fight Spock to the death. McCoy objects loudly, but then he does something else. Knowing full well Spock is dying at this rate, he cheats a little, allowing Kirk to fake death.
Does that somehow still count?
I will say, it does say a lot that Spock reverts back to normal after the battle, set to that classic Trek fight music. He doesn’t seem particularly put out that T’Pring rejected him in favor of another man. Heck, he wishes them well before quite logically pointing out that “wanting” is a lot different from “having”. That’s some mad Vulcan shade. Then he dispenses with the famous Vulcan salute to T’Pau, seen here for the first time. Live long and prosper indeed.
Naturally, everything seems to revert back to normal now. Heck, T’Pau even uses her influence to get Kirk out of trouble for a negligible subplot involving the inauguration of a president on another planet. Seriously, that was a fairly forgettable subplot. I may have forgotten it already.
Still, the center of the story was Kirk and McCoy would do what they needed to in order to make sure Spock was fine. Kirk risked his career and ultimately his life. McCoy, never a fan of Vulcans in general, exists to protest loudly and find a loophole to the fight to the death. But in the end, everyone is fine and no is punished. Except maybe T’Pring’s new husband.
Maybe Spock just figured he dodged a bullet with that woman. Then again, her reasoning for choosing Kirk over her boyfriend had a logic to it Spock could compliment. But in the end, maybe it just shows that even the most logical of people don’t always have the most logical of traditions and behaviors.