June 7, 2022

Streamin' Meemies: Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 Ep 5, "Spock Amok"


After the first four episodes of the season (and especially the last, "Memento Mori") we needed a lighter episode, and this is it. The Enterprise is in spacedock for repairs and the crew is on shore leave (except for Captain Pike, who has a diplomatic mission to finish up) for some needed downtime. But while this episode has its fair share of laugh-out-loud moments, there is also some good character work done for Spock, T'Pring, and Christine Chapel.

There are three main interweaving storylines: Pike's mission; Una and La'an, who stay behind on the ship, getting sucked into "Enterprise bingo" (a list of absurd and/or dangerous tasks to be checked off); and T'Pring meeting Spock to spend time together. We open with a dream sequence lifted directly from the original series' "Amok Time," with Spock coming to marry T'Pring and realizing he is in his human form, and her saying "I will not marry a human" and calling kal-if-fee--the challenge--on him. Only he doesn't fight Kirk--he fights his Vulcan half. (The original series music is also used here to great effect.) In fact, Vulcan Spock kicks Human Spock's ass, and Human Spock is about to get his head chopped off by the lirpa when Spock wakes up. This opening clearly depicts Spock's fear: that T'Pring will end up rejecting him because of his half-human heritage. This is shown as he yells at his Vulcan half during the fight: "I'm not human. I'm not.

This theme of Spock and T'Pring each fearing the other's reactions and not understanding each other continues throughout: when T'Pring arrives, she notes Spock's quarters are "too human." He says he's redecorating (he's really not). We find out what T'Pring does: along with her colleague T'Pyll, she "undertakes to rehabilitate those who have committed crimes by showing them the true path of Vulcan logic," which rather sounds like a combination of bounty hunter and social worker? At any rate, she's still expecting Spock's duties to interfere, even as she tells him "We must prioritize our relationship." 

Unfortunately, what she fears comes to pass. Spock had agreed to help Captain Pike in negotiating with the R'ongovian Protectorate to join the Federation before the Klingons and/or Romulans can beat them to it. (Admiral Robert April makes a return appearance, and Pike is wearing the green uniform from the second season of the original series, although he doesn't fill it out quite as well as William Shatner did.) The R'ongovians arrive early and insist on starting the negotiations right now, which spoils Spock's dinner plans with T'Pring. When he briefly returns to his quarters to tell her this, she is not pleased. "I am concerned that your time in Starfleet may be causing you to behave in a manner so human we may ultimately find ourselves incompatible." 

During another break in the negotiations, Spock is sitting in one of the starbase's bars/eating areas, and is approached by Christine Chapel, who is also on her shore leave. She's actually using Spock to get away from her boyfriend/fling, who is questioning her about where their relationship is going, which she doesn't want to hear. Spock asks her for advice, and after she hears what's going on with T'Pring, she tells him that although he's an extraordinarily intelligent person, he's also being an idiot. "I feel I should have seen that coming," Spock says, with such a dry tone it made me laugh out loud. Chapel says he has to put T'Pring ahead of his duty, as "that's what being in a relationship is," and says T'Pring most likely feels misunderstood. Spock then returns to T'Pring and comes up with the idea of a "Vulcan soul-sharing," a deep mind meld wherein they will share each other's katras and deepest thoughts. They perform the ritual and end up swapping katras, with each in the other's body. This also provides a nice opportunity for both actors, Ethan Peck and Gia Sandhu (who looks quite a bit like the original series T'Pring, Arlene Martel) to stretch and copy each other's character mannerisms, which they pull off pretty well. 

But this development leads to the episode's crisis point, because the negotiation with the R'ongovians have fallen apart. They don't want to speak to Pike any longer, and will speak only to Spock. So Pike goes to Spock's quarters to tell him what's happening, and gets a bomb dropped on him in turn, as Spock and T'Pring admit they are now in each other's body. T'Pring-as-Spock: "Now that you know, you can likely tell the very clear differences in our mannerisms." "Yeah, totally," Pike says, continuing Anson Mount's record of letter-perfect line deliveries. T'Pring and Spock try to get out of it, but Pike says the negotiations depend on it, and they reluctantly agree. T'Pring-as-Spock goes with Pike, and Spock-as-T'Pring gets dragged into T'Pring's job, as her assistant T'Pyll says their target Barjan will talk only to her. 

We then see them doing each other's jobs and temporarily living each other's lives. T'Pring-as-Spock talks to the R'ongovians and during that conversation they begin to sound an awful lot like him, which Pike picks up on. He also realizes T'Pring really isn't suited for this and ends up interrupting them, taking "Spock's" side, which impresses the R'ongovians. So much so they say they will give Pike the final "summation," the last word, before they make their decision about joining the Federation. Meanwhile, Spock-as-T'Pring goes to confront Barjan, but also seeks out Christine Chapel and asks for her help in solving his and T'Pring's problem(s). Chapel accompanies him to the confrontation with Barjan, who is an arrogant, superior little Vulcan snot, piling on insults about T'Pring's betrothal to the "son of Sarek" and making snide remarks about humans until Spock-as-T'Pring finally decks him. Which got another resounding laugh out of me. 

Back on the Enterprise, with both Chapel and Dr. M'Benga prematurely returned from their shore leave, M'Benga works a little handwaving technobabble magic with sea-urchin paste that will drive the katras from the wrong bodies back to the right ones. After all the dust has settled, Spock and T'Pring are finally honest with each other. 

Spock: "I admit I was afraid that I was not Vulcan enough for you. That you saw me as a human, more concerned about my duty to Starfleet than to my culture or my betrothed. My feelings about Vulcan are not easy. On our world, I was forced to prove my Vulcan-ness. Any deviation was seen as proof I did not belong. In Starfleet, I am accepted for who I am. Half Vulcan, half human. I am, quite simply, Spock." 

T'Pring: "I know how much you value duty. And I feared that you saw our relationship as just that, a duty, rather than something more. We must both want to be here." 

Well, they both clearly do, as they kiss and the camera pans up towards the ceiling. 

So Captain Pike ends up concluding the negotiations with the R'ongovians. They had earlier admitted that "empathy is a hallmark of our people," and Pike, remembering that and also drawing on his observations of what happened during previous negotiation attempts, plays a hunch of his own. He's brutally honest with them, saying that from the R'ongovians' point of view, it may not be such a great thing for them to ally with the Federation. They listen, say "Thank you," and walk out. Pike explains: "The R'ongovians were rude with the Tellarites, reasonable with us, and deeply logical when talking to a Vulcan. What if this was a diplomatic technique? They responded positively when I took Spock's side, even though it was in direct violation of what they'd asked. Maybe they're just looking for somebody to take their point of view. Radical empathy. Maybe what they value the most in others is the capacity to see things their way." 

This is spot-on, as we see a minute later when the R'ongovians get in their ship, fly the Federation flag, and deploy their solar sail as they leave (in a gorgeous effects shot). We are also shown Spock and T'Pring in bed together (hey, in this modern era, Spock can have a sex life!) and T'Pring admitting, "You know, I enjoyed being Mr. Spock for a day."

Spock: "In the spirit of total honesty, I should probably tell you I punched Barjan."

T'Pring: "Having met him, that is logical." 

So this was an interesting character study of both Spock and T'Pring, and Christine Chapel to a lesser extent. Obviously the powers-that-be are not interested in putting Spock and T'Pring at odds quite so soon, even though we know that's where they'll end up. (Although I'm now itching to find out more about the pilot Erika Ortegas. I hope she gets an episode soon.) We also see an exploration of Una's and La'an's friendship (although Una's hair is pulled back in a very unflattering bun that looks like a knob on the back of her head). That's probably the lighter of the three storylines, but the two of them have a good camaraderie. At any rate, this episode was a nice break. 

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