I quail in spirit as I confront the awesome task of tackling this absolutely monumental episode, where we learn many wonderful new things about Vulcans, and about Spock in particular. The interactions between Spock, Kirk, and Spock's parents are all deep veins of rich ore, particularly for K/S hagiographers like myself.
This is the big "MEET THE PARENTS" event. In this episode, Spock's parents come aboard the Enterprise, and they get a slice of Spock's life: They get to see where he lives, see him at work, and you know, meet his partner, the man whom he loves and shares his life with: Jim Kirk.
It's made very clear in this episode that Spock and his father had a falling out 18 years ago, over Spock's un-Vulcanlike choice of a career. But another significant shift in Spock's life took place FOUR years ago, when Spock suddenly just plain stopped coming around. Amanda complains, not about Spock's estrangement from his father, but about Spock's more recent lapse. It's easy to imagine that the drastic change that happened in Spock's life FOUR years ago is that he fell in love with Jim. Not only is the timeframe correct, but no other explanation is offered.
Also, there isn't the slightest sign of the mythical heterosexual-playboy Kirk in this episode. As usual, neither Kirk nor Spock show any heterosexual type interest in any women. As usual, they only have eyes and sighs for each other. Furthermore, nobody seems to have a problem with this.
Sarek's relationship with his human wife Amanda is directly and deliberately compared with Spock's relationship with his human "friend", Jim. That those two couples are similar to one another in more than one way is directly and pointedly shown, more than once.
We first see dear, vain Captain Kirk preening in front of a mirror - utterly entranced with his own yummy reflection. McCoy stands nearby, carping about how uncomfortable the full dress uniform is. Kirk doesn't argue, but he obviously doesn't agree. Jim pretty obviously loves his dress uniform.
Kirk and McCoy next stride briskly down the hall, and Spock falls into step with them, also in formal dress. They are on their way to greet the Vulcan ambassador's party.
Sarek, ambassador from Vulcan, is accompanied by some aides, and his human wife, Amanda. Sarek greets Kirk and McCoy politely, but he is rude and rejecting to Spock, which is surprising, but it's even more surprising when Spock tells Kirk that Sarek and Amanda are his parents.
[NOTE: This cheap GOTCHA trick is a startling way to begin the episode, but otherwise it makes no sense at all. It's unthinkable that such basic facts such as who Spock's parents are is not a matter of record. It's also wildly improbable that Kirk and Spock never discussed it before this. In Naked Time, Spock was so anxious to talk with Kirk about his family and upbringing that he almost forgot to save the day. In Amok Time Spock spilled his guts to Kirk about Pon Farr, and invited him to a wedding. If Spock talks about personal, private, intimate stuff with anybody, that body is usually Jim. Maybe they are supposed to keep the facts about Spock's distinguished relatives quiet around the crew for security reasons, but why wouldn't Kirk and Spock talk about it with each other privately? Were their mouths ~always~ full?]
Kirk decides that, since this is clearly a family matter, that he should conduct Sarek's tour himself.
[NOTE: Appropriate. After all, he *is* family.]
When Kirk leads Sarek and Amanda past Spock in the engineering section, Mommy Amanda lags behind to initiate a conversation with her adored son, Spock.
Amanda (gently chiding): "After all these years of living among humans, you still haven't learned to smile."
Spock (dryly): "Humans smile with so little provocation."
[NOTE: Spock has a point. Nobody has recently given him a reason to smile.]
Amanda (still chiding): "And you haven't come to see us in four years, either."
[NOTE: Four years. Hmm. That's a significant detail. What happened four years ago?]
Spock: "The situation between my father and myself has not changed."
[NOTE: So, the situation between Spock and Sarek, is that the four years ago thing? No...]
Sarek calls his spouse to his side. Kirk similarly calls his spouse, I mean Spock, over.
[NOTE: Seriously, that wasn't even subtle. Who is with who is now totally clear! It's like Kirk's saying OK you've got yours and I've got mine.]
When Kirk asks Spock to explain the computers to Sarek, Sarek responds, "I gave Spock his first instruction in computers, Captain. He chose to devote his knowledge to Starfleet, instead of to the Vulcan Science Academy."
Spock excuses himself, Kirk apologizes, Sarek decides to let Amanda finish the tour without him, and next thing you know it's just Amanda and Jim, the two humans - chillin' and chattin'.
Amanda (earnestly): "You don't understand the Vulcan way, Captain. It's logical. It's a better way than ours. But it's not easy. It has kept Spock and Sarek from speaking as father and son for 18 years!"
[NOTE: 18 years? But what happened *four* years ago? It was FOUR years ago that Spock stopped coming to visit.]
Kirk (abruptly): "Spock is my best officer...(softer) and my 'friend'."
[NOTE: Hmm. I wonder how long Kirk and Spock have been together at this point? Certainly it's been years, but how many years exactly we don't exactly know. Hmm.]
Amanda: "I'm glad he has such a 'friend'."
[NOTE: Aww! Amanda gives Kirk her blessing.]
Amanda: "It hasn't been easy on Spock... neither human, nor Vulcan...at home nowhere, except Starfleet."
[NOTE: Not to mention he's queer as a bowling ball with wings, and kinky as a hairpin besides...]
Kirk (referring to Sarek's remark): "I take it that Spock disagreed with his father about a choice of a career."
[NOTE: That's the thing that happened 18 years ago. But the four years? We are left to wonder.]
Amanda: "My husband has nothing against Starfleet... but Vulcans believe that peace should not depend on force."
[NOTE: Oh? So it's not that Sarek alone dislikes Spock's choice of career, it's that Vulcans in general disapprove. It's that *all* Vulcans think that Starfleet is a pack of bully thugs, it seems. Nothing personal!]
Kirk (defensively): "Starfleet force is used only as a last resort..."
[NOTE: Jim just admitted that Starfleet uses force, and that the pacifist Vulcans therefore have a point.]
Kirk: "We're an instrument of civilization."
[NOTE: Yeah, a sometimes forceful instrument, as has been established.]
Kirk (brightly): "AND it's a better opportunity for a scientist to study the universe than he could get at the Vulcan Science Academy!"
[NOTE: Yeah, an occasionally forceful opportunity. Yeah, he can study the use of force better than he can on Vulcan, I'll bet. Especially with Kirk, I'll bet! Kirk obviously doesn't think that the occasional use of force is a ~problem~. I mean, he just plain doesn't see it that way AT ALL, as we have seen many times.]
Amanda (amused) "Perhaps."
[NOTE: Translation: I can see it will do no good to discuss it with the likes of you.]
Amanda (seriously): "But Sarek wanted Spock to follow his teachings, as Sarek had followed the teachings of his own father."
[NOTE: Sarek's father to little Sarek... "Son, eschew the use of force."
Little Sarek... "Yes, father."
Daddy Sarek to little Spock... "Son, eschew the use of force."
Little Spock... "Get Bumped!"
Is it hard to see why Sarek might have a problem with that? Especially when all your nosy pacifist Vulcan relatives and neighbors can see?]
Kirk (amused): "They're both stubborn."
[NOTE: Translation: Girlfriend, can we talk?]
[NOTE: Nevertheless, it's easy to tell them apart - it's the cute young one who likes the use of force better than he likes his daddy's approval.]
Uhura interrupts the chat with some information about a weird signal, before Kirk can tell Amanda that he totally approves of Spock's use of force, especially in bed. Too bad. It would have been great to hear the rest of that conversation.
Next thing you know we are a fly on the wall at the fancy party where all the ambassadors are schmoozing, grab-assing, and eating snacks. Alcohol is flowing, and tempers are beginning to rise. It's explained by Kirk in a voice-over that the Enterprise is transporting UFP ambassadors to a conference to discuss the admission of Coridan to the Federation. The conference is to take place on a neutral planet which was code-named Babel, obviously by some witty Terran wag.
Spock, McCoy, and Kirk are hanging around with Amanda and Sarek at the party.
McCoy (to Sarek): Mr. Ambassador, I understand that you had retired before this conference was called. Forgive my curiosity but as a doctor I'm curious about Vulcan physiology. Isn't it unusual for a Vulcan to retire at your age? After all, you're only 102!"
Sarek: "102.437 precisely, Doctor... measured in your years."
Kirk sips his brandy, seems amused, says nothing.
Sarek: "I... had other concerns."
Kirk turns away, and just as he does Sarek is confronted by a couple of pugnacious Tellarites (one of them is identified as Ambassador Gav). Intrigued, Kirk listens in. Before long some tension is evident so Kirk asks them to chill.
A blue-skinned Andorian asks Sarek if he had ever met Gav before. Sarek answers that he debated the guy the last time they met.
Amanda happily chimes in, "Ambassador Gav lost."
[NOTE: Amanda is really enjoying this party. She's proud of her son, she's proud of her husband, she's been drinking, and she's just in her glory.]
Now comes the famous conversation about little Spock's pet Selat which we are all no doubt totally familiar with.
[NOTE: To be fair, remember that Amanda looked to Spock for some sign about how to handle McCoy's questions, and Spock gestured permissively with his eyes, before she divulged a single fact]
So, Amanda opts to tell about Spock's pet Selat, which delights McCoy (and us).
Immediately after this, Sarek abruptly leads Amanda away from the party for a private chat.
The private conversation between Sarek and Amanda bears close attention. He quietly rebukes her for embarrassing Spock with the famous Selat revelation. The way she handles him in the course of the following conversation is rather interesting.
Sarek: "You embarrassed Spock this evening. Not even a mother may do that. He's Vulcan."
Amanda: "He's also Human."
[NOTE: And human mothers traditionally have the right to embarrass their offspring. They are both right. No point awarded.]
Sarek: "He's a Starfleet officer"
Amanda: "I thought you didn't approve of Starfleet."
[NOTE: Gee, NOW for some reason it's not OK to embarrass Spock for the same reason that Sarek embarrassed him earlier? Point awarded to Amanda.]
Sarek: "It's not a question of approval. The fact exists... he is in Starfleet. He must command respect if he is to function."
Amanda: "Sarek, you're proud of him, aren't you?" (teasing gently) "You're showing almost human pride in your son."
[NOTE: Very smart. Amanda steers clear of the bullshit and cuts right to the heart of the matter. For 18 years, it *was* a question of approval. If that has changed, it changed very recently. Obviously Sarek's disapproval of Spock is fading - and she knows why.]
Sarek (defensively): "It does not require pride to ask that Spock be given the respect that is his due... not as my son, but as Spock. Do you understand?"
Amanda (happily): "Not really, but it doesn't matter. I love you, anyway."
[NOTE: Amanda very diplomatically resists the urge to wittily retort, "Oh ~really~, Mr. I refuse to be polite to that Spock person, Mr. I-Have-No-Son!?" She also won a solid point, and lost absolutely nothing. Furthermore, she makes it clear that she thinks the whole discussion has been silly, *and* she gets away with it.]
Then Amanda offers him the ritual gesture that they've exchanged several times already: she holds up her hand, two fingers extended, and he meets her touch with his.
[NOTE: It was always Sarek going first before, and her participation seemed like a gesture of submission. Now, well... hmm!]
[NOTE: At no point, even in private, do Sarek and Amanda hug or kiss. But they do touch hands, fairly frequently, several times, both in public and private. Apparently, touching hands together is the accepted way for Vulcans to express couple-togetherness.
I draw attention to this fact, because some boneheads say that Kirk and Spock can't be lovers because we never saw them kiss. Well, we never saw Sarek and Amanda kiss, either. They show love the same way that Kirk and Spock show love to each other: with hand contact, and with acts of fond devotion.]
Meanwhile, on the bridge, Kirk is troubled by a very speedy unidentified ship that is dogging them. Spock tells Kirk that it's capable of flying at warp ten. Uhura tells Kirk that, according to Starfleet Command, it's not an authorized vessel. Kirk keeps the ship at yellow alert, because he doesn't want to alarm the diplomats unnecessarily. Then he returns to the party just in time to break up a heated dispute between Sarek and Tellarite Ambassador Gav.
Gav attacked Sarek, and Sarek threw him off with a defensive gesture, just as Kirk re-enters the scene.
[NOTE: It's revealed, in Sarek's preceding conversation with Gav, that Coridan contains a nearly unlimited supply of dilithium crystals, but its small population has allowed illegal mining operations by outsiders. Outsiders like the Tellarites, for example - which explains the Tellarite touchiness.]
But suddenly something terrible happens.
From Section A3 on Deck 11, Lt. Joseph discovers that Tellerite ambassador Gav has been murdered. He reports this via intercom directly to Kirk.
Kirk, typically, is shirtless and - tossing his shirt away - decides to stay that way as he takes the call, of course! It's not like he's got anything to hide. Everybody on the whole ship has seen him half-naked at least once. Of course Spock has seen him that way more than once. Kirk's made sure of that.
Then we get a yummy close-up. If he had any chest hairs you'd be able to count them, but he hasn't any. His entire chest is as smooth as a freshly Zambonied hocky rink. This is only one of many times we are shown this apparently highly significant detail.
[NOTE: If Kirk's shaved chest is not significant, then why do they keep showing it to us? Obviously it means SOMETHING... but what? We are left to wonder.]
McCoy ascertains that Gav's death was instantaneous following an expert breaking of his neck. Spock reveals that it's a "merciful" method of execution known to Vulcans as Tel-Shaya.
[NOTE: so much for Vulcans never believing in the use of force.]
Kirk (uneasily): "Spock... a short time ago I broke up an argument between Gav and your father."
Spock (dryly): "Indeed, Captain? Interesting."
McCoy (carefully): "Interesting! Spock, do you realize that makes your father the most likely suspect?"
Spock (blandly): "Vulcans do not approve of violence."
[NOTE: MOST Vulcans don't approve of the use of force, SPOCK. But you're not like most Vulcans in that regard, are you, SPOCK? IMHO, that makes YOU the most likely suspect, SPOCK.]
Kirk (to Spock): "You're saying he couldn't have done it?"
Spock (to Kirk): "No, Captain. I'm merely saying it would be illogical to kill without reason."
Kirk: "But if he had a reason... could he have done it?"
Spock: "If there were a reason, my father is quite capable of killing... logically, and efficiently."
[NOTE: Can't you just hear the wheels in Kirk's mind turning? From his point of view, Sarek thought that a minor difference of opinion was a good reason to treat his own son like less than a stranger, so...]
So Kirk approaches Sarek and begins to ask nosy questions.
[NOTE: Sarek's reaction to the shocking news about Gav is exactly like Spock's, which is SO CUTE! For Spock fans, it's delightful to see the family resemblances popping up.]
But suddenly something terrible happens.
While Kirk is politely interrogating Sarek, Sarek suddenly suffers a heart attack.
[NOTE: We see at this moment evidence that McCoy is not well-versed in the facts about Vulcan biology.]
Amanda: "What's wrong!?"
McCoy (scanning Sarek, unsure): "It's difficult to say, with Vulcan physiology... but I believe it's something to do with his cardiovascular system."
Kirk: "Can you help him!?"
McCoy (flushing hotly): "I don't know that yet, either!"
In the scene immediately following, we get a rather slashy exchange between Kirk and Spock, on the bridge.
Spock (scanning with deep attentiveness): "".
Kirk (approaches with evident tender concern, speaking gently): "Spock."
Spock (briskly): "Yes, Captain, I get sensor readings of tri-titanium from the alien ship's hull.".
Kirk (very softly): "I'm sorry about your father."
Spock (mechanically): "Yes, it could adversely effect our mission.".
Kirk (very softly): "Aren't you worried about him?"
Spock (mechanically): "Worry is a human emotion, Captain. I accept what has happened.".
Kirk (doesn't buy it, but keeps that to himself): "".
Spock blathers on very logically, and Kirk sees and understands that Spock's immersing himself in his work because it helps him to cope with the pain and turmoil of his upsetting situation.
Spock (icily): "The-ship's-hull-seems-to-have-a high-density-level (etc.)".
Kirk (very, very softly, with a tender, sympathetic expression on his face): "I see."
Uhura determines that a message was sent to/from the alien vessel by somewhere aboard the Enterprise. However, Spock is unable to decode the fragment of the message which Uhura has intercepted. Kirk orders Uhura to try to pinpoint who aboard is receiving.
In sickbay, to Dr. McCoy, Sarek reveals that he has had three previous heart attacks. This fact AMAZINGLY takes Amanda completely by surprise.
[NOTE: Which is thankfully consistent with Spock-not-telling Kirk- about-his-parents. I mean, it's waaaay more tolerable for K/Sers to stomach Spock-not-telling-Kirk very personal stuff if Sarek keeps equally important info from Amanda, eh, what!?]
McCoy decides that Sarek requires an immediate heart operation, but the ship's stores do not have a sufficient supply of exotic Vulcan blood of Sarek's rare Vulcan T-negative type. Spock's blood is a mixture of human and Vulcan factors, but he also has T-negative blood, so he might be a good-enough donor in a pinch... and this apparently is such a pinch.
[NOTE: We are forced to wonder, at this point, why this ship is shy of T-negative blood, since they have a high-ranking officer aboard who requires it!? Spock is not the ship's LIBRARIAN, for cryin' out loud, he is frequently placed directly in harm's way. WHY isn't there enough blood stockpiled to see him through a dire surgical emergency!? Agggg! Don't Get Me Started!]
Spock shows McCoy a medical study performed on Rigellians that demonstrates the effectiveness of a experimental stimulant. Apparently Vulcans and Rigellians are biologically similar, and Spock thinks that the blood stimulant would work on a Vulcan. He decides to provide a blood transfusion to Sarek if McCoy uses the experimental stimulant to increase Spock's rate of blood production. This is very generous and noble of Spock, especially since the proposed procedure is very dangerous. Everybody is fearful and doubtful, but the heroic Spock thinks the risks are acceptable.
[NOTE: See? He's a good son!]
But suddenly something terrible happens.
A blue-skinned Andorian attacks Kirk for no obvious reason, and stabs him. Kirk wins the fight but is very seriously injured. As he's losing consciousness, he manages to call Spock on the intercom and tell him.
Spock now feels he must postpone helping his dad since he cannot pass command on to anyone else simply for personal reasons - especially not when they are being chased by a mysterious ship, and they've got a boatload of diplomats.
[NOTE: Also, Spock doesn't want Dr. McCoy to be focused on anyone but Jim Kirk right now! Think about this: Spock loves Jim. He's absolutely nuts about the guy. Kirk is currently flat on his back in sickbay, recovering from a deep stab wound that punctured his left lung. If Spock was forced to choose only one person to save, his father or his lover, who do you THINK he's going to choose? Starfleet duty my ass... what Spock's really worried about right then is what is best for JIM.]
McCoy: "You can turn command over to Scotty!"
Spock: "On what grounds, Doctor? Command requirements do not recognize personal privilege. I'll be in the brig interrogating the Andorian."
[NOTE: And he no doubt has a trunkfull of pithy things to say to that nogoodnik Andorian who just stabbed his lover, you betcha!]
After Spock chats with the Andorian ambassador about the renegade Andorian who stabbed Kirk, he goes to his quarters. Amanda comes there to plead with him, but Spock firmly refuses to relinquish command, despite her begging.
Spock: "Mother, how can you have lived on Vulcan, married a Vulcan, raised a son on Vulcan, without understanding what it means to be a Vulcan?"
[NOTE: It's significant that Spock says "raised a son" not "raised a family" or "raised children". This is evidence that Spock is an only child, and that Amanda played a large role in his upbringing.]
Jim in sickbay (shirtless again!) is very sympathetic about Spock's desire to help his dad, but he understands why Spock doesn't feel that he can relinquish command.
McCoy: "When you became injured, Spock assumed command. He's staying there until you're back on your feet, even if it costs Sarek his life...!"
Kirk: "I can't damn him for his loyalty... for doing his duty... but I'm not going to let him commit ~patricide~."
[NOTE: Hey, it's a family affair. And Jim's part of this family, folks.]
Jim struggles weakly upward.
McCoy: "Jim, if you stand, you could start to bleed again."
Kirk: "Bones, Sarek will die without that operation, and ... you can't operate without transfusions from Spock. I'll convince Spock I'm all right and order him to report here. Soon as he leaves the bridge, I'll turn command over to Scotty and report to my quarters. Will that fill your prescription?"
[NOTE: Got that? Because Jim loves Spock, he decides (despite incredible pain) to pretend to be healed (with McCoy's reluctant approval) so that he can reassume command long enough to get Spock to sickbay. That way, everybody's happy... especially Kirk, who is, frankly, a masochist.]
Spock is really amazed to see Jim up-and-at-em, and he needs to be convinced, so McCoy lies through his teeth, and Jim (enduring terrible pain the whole time) smiles brightly and fakes it like mad. The ruse works. Spock finally leaves, and Jim promptly faints into the Captain's chair. Jim calls Mr. Scott to the bridge, and plans to go directly back to bed.
But suddenly something terrible happens.
The alien ship that's been tailgating them begins to approach in a threatening manner. Kirk suddenly realizes that he shouldn't relinquish command, since a battle might begin any second.
So there Jim sits, trapped by the circumstances that he's created: he's in incredible pain, and the single most useful guy on the ship, Spock, is unavailable to help, as the crisis looms.
Uhura detects another transmission originating from the Enterprise, and this time it is pinpointed: it's coming from the Andorian in the brig.
A search by security reveals a transceiver hidden in one of his fake antennae. The Enterprise is then (finally) attacked, which rocks the ship - while Sarek and Spock are on the operating table, which makes the dangerous procedure even more perilous.
The mysterious alien antagonist's ship is moving too quickly to be hit by the Enterprise, but is able to damage the Enterprise sufficiently that it loses one of its shields. Kirk tricks the alien ship by turning off shields and power, luring the enemy ship in for the kill. When it takes the bait and moves close, phasers are fired and that disables it. Before Kirk can rescue survivors, they blow themselves up. The prisoner dies of self-administered poison soon after.
Amazingly, Sarek's surgery is successful. Even more amazingly, Sarek, Spock and Kirk all survive this horrific ordeal.
[NOTE: Quite a bonding experience for the guys, eh, what? Obviously the rift between father and son is now mended. And Kirk Helped.]
Spock guesses that the "Andorian" assassin was really an Orion, since Orions are known to have been smuggling dilithium from Corridon, and therefore have a grudge against anybody who might prevent them from continuing to do this.
This exchange between Jim and Spock is cute:
Spock: "That ship was constructed for a suicide mission. Since they never intended to return to their home base, they could use 100% power on their attacks. The thing I don't understand.... is why I didn't think of it earlier."
Kirk (flirting): "You might have had something else on your mind."
Spock (deadpan): "It hardly seems likely."
Kirk (flirting): "No, but thank you, anyway."
The episode ends with Spock, Kirk, and Sarek all recovering in beds in sickbay, while a relieved Dr. McCoy happily gloats.
And the forces of unity and love win again, hoorah, hoorah!
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