It’s time for….Star Trek Saturdays #36!
Important note: starting today, this feature will be going biweekly so I don’t miss an update.
This week’s episode is “Amok Time” and it is stellar from start to finish, giving us our first glimpse into Vulcan culture, the first Vulcan salute, and real, honest insight into the relationship between Kirk and Spock.
We open with McCoy informing Kirk that Spock has grown restless, stopped eating and is altogether not like himself. Kirk brushes them off, but when they see Nurse Chapel bringing Spock some Vulcan soup, only to have him (offscreen) throw it and yell at her, he becomes concerned. He rushes to Spock’s quarters where Spock, refusing to tell him why he’s acting this way, asks for a leave of absence so that he can journey to his home planet of Vulcan.
Although the Enterprise is headed to the planet Altair IV to be present at the king’s coronation ceremony on behalf of the Federation, Kirk orders a course set for Vulcan, seeing as how the planet is not that far out of our way. However, after receiving a message from Starfleet Command that the ceremony has been moved up a week early, they are forced to revert to their original course. Kirk, wanting to help his friend, later asks Chekov how late they’d be if they diverted to Vulcan.
Surprised, Chekov tells him that they’re already on course for Vulcan, per a course Spock laid out. When asked about this, Spock claims no memory of doing this, but states that if Chekov says he did, then he must have. Kirk orders Spock to sickbay, where, after a battery of tests, an anguished McCoy tells Kirk that Spock is suffering from such high levels of adrenaline that, within eight days, he’ll be dead from the stress.
Kirk presses Spock to tell him what’s going on, and eventually Spock relents, explaining that his agitation is caused by “Vulcan biology;” in other words, the Vulcan reproductive cycle, or pon farr, has begun. Spock explains that Vulcans enter this state once every seven years and that they must return to Vulcan to mate just as salmon must go to their original stream to spawn. He explains that it is very painful for the Vulcans, such a logical race, to regress to such urges and that they cloak the whole affair in ritual out of embarrassment.
Kirk promises to help and, defying all orders, steers the Enterprise at full speed towards Vulcan. Once there, they make contact and a beautiful Vulcan woman (Arlene Martel) appears onscreen, exchanging greetings with Spock.
“She’s beautiful,” Nurse Chapel says. “Who is she?”
“She,” Spock says, “is T’Pring. My wife.”
After explaining that he and T’Pring were betrothed to each other at the age of 7, Spock beams down for pon farr, but asks that Kirk, as his friend, goes along, as well as McCoy; he is entitled to this right, he says. And they head down to the planet.
This is where it pays off to watch the remastered version, as here, we see completely digital inserts of the surface of Vulcan, which look absolutely stunning.
Arriving at an arena atop a high, desolate peak that Spock says has belonged to his family for eons, a procession enters, bearing not only T’Pring, but also the legendary Vulcan T’Pau (Celia Lovsky), who Kirk recalls as an iconic diplomat, and the only person to ever turn down a seat on the Federation High Council.
After reaffirming Spock’s commitment to T’Pring, T’Pau says that the ceremony–the koon-ut-kal-if-fee–can now begin. But during the ceremony, T’Pring interrupts by shouting, “Kal-if-fee,” invoking her right to have Spock– who, at this point, is subsumed with his feelings–fight for her. Kirk and McCoy speculate that a male Vulcan in T’Pring’s entourage will be made to fight her, but, to their surprise, she chooses Kirk!
Given that the kal-if-fee is a fight to the death, will Spock give in to his feelings and do away with Kirk? How will Kirk survive? And why did T’Pring choose him?
This is an astonishing episode, and it should be of no surprise to anyone that Joseph Pevney is in the director’s chair again. He’s quite simply the finest director Trek had, and his mastery is in every frame. No shot is wasted, no setup is too silly. Everything fits the story and the tension is palpable throughout. The episode’s score is by Gerard Fried, and Pevney and his editor perfectly tie its lush themes to every scene.
Theodore Sturgeon’s script is utterly fascinating, giving us a glimpse of what Vulcans are underneath all their logic, as well as giving us our first glimpse into Vulcan society at large, including the first ever performance of the Vulcan salute ( between Spock and T’Pau) as well as the first utterance of the Vulcan language.
The cast takes this ball and runs with it. Shatner gives great depth to Kirk’s loyalty, and DeForest Kelley has some typically great zingers, as well as genuine concern for Spock that shines through. Martel doesn’t have much to do outside of standing and looking pretty, but she’s good at that, and also projects an air of icy imperialness quite well. Lovsky does most of the heavy lifting as T’Pau, using her natural Viennese accent to give her a sense of alienness and ancient authority. You may not always understand her words, but they’re riveting.
But obviously, this is Nimoy’s show through and through. He’s incredible, showing just how frightening it can be when the calmest person in the room flies off the handle. He also deftly portrays Spock’s grappling with his desires, which are difficult enough for him to subsume as a half-Vulcan, but at this time, it’s damn near impossible. It’s an exhilarating trip he takes viewers on and I heartily recommend this episode. It was nominated for a Hugo, along with four other Trek episodes (with “The City On The Edge of Forever” ultimately winning) and it’s easy to see why.