HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
After the intensity of last week’s “Memento Mori,” the “Spock Amok” episode is at once both a welcome palate cleanser and yet another beautifully wrought character piece. This week’s Strange New Worlds episode captures the Enterprise crew in quiet moments of silliness, allowing us to see them outside of their professional capacities or in those moments in which they stare down death. We’re getting a rare treat in this story that fleshes out who they are as people in a way we’ve not seen Trek do in a long, long time.
The Enterprise is at Starbase 1 for repairs, and the crew takes the occasion to enjoy some much needed shore leave aboard the facility. Though Spock, Uhura, and Captain Pike have been tasked by Admiral April to negotiate with the elusive Rogovians, whose territory holds immense, strategic value. Unfortunately, dispensing the Tellarites to make the initial overture proved a terrible idea, so April has high hopes that Pike will be able to salvage the situation.
Despite his role in the upcoming negotiations, Spock hopes that he’ll have time to spend with his fiancée, T’Pring who has joined him aboard the ship. Spock worries rather intensely that she sees him as being too human to serve as an appropriate mate, and he has quite the nightmare about it. T’Pring’s initial distaste for his quarters appears to bear out Spock’s concerns, but her most important concern centers around whether Spock is willing to make the same sacrifices to be with her that she is to be with him. He promises to complete his diplomatic duties in time to be home to dine with her. Predictably, he fails, and T’Pring handles it with a truly staggering display of Vulcan passive aggressive frustration.
The negotiations themselves appear to go well, despite Spock’s personal discomfiture, but April and Pike are both shocked to hear that the Rogovians felt no connection was formed and will only negotiate with Spock going forward. This development becomes problematic because, after an enlightening chat with Nurse Chapel, Spock initiates a Vulcan ritual that will allow the two of them to share their souls. Unfortunately, that ritual does not quite go as planned and leaves their respective consciousnesses trapped in the wrong bodies. Hijinks, despite T’Pring’s distaste for them, ensue.
Meanwhile, Nurse Chapel attempts to avoid becoming serious with her long-time, no-strings-attached partner. Dr. M’Benga indulges in fly-fishing. Number One and La’an decide to demonstrate that they do not represent “where fun goes to die” by engaging in Enterprise-bingo, which is a game crafted by the ship’s lower decks contingent. Una indulges in some hilarious competitiveness with La’an, and La’an wonders why they’re trying all of this.
Spock as T’Pring attempts to negotiate with the Rogovians, and that doesn’t quite go the way Admiral April, who remains ignorant of the Freaky Friday hijinks, would prefer. However, Pike stands up to defend Spock to his fiancée, explaining that Spock represents the best not only of Starfleet but of the Federation. His speech impresses both the Rogovian delegates and T’Pring. Spock has to step into T’Pring’s role and bring in Barjan T’Or, a member of the V’tosh ka’tur, for rehabilitation. Barjan proves himself to be deeply prejudiced against humans, and Spock punches him.
When the negotiations with Spock do not yield results, Pike attempts a last hail mary attempt to get through to the Rogovians. They ask why they should join the Federation, and he tells them frankly that they shouldn’t because the Federation is a complex alliance that has many enemies. April nearly chokes, but Pike has a good feeling when the Rogovians leave. As they watch the Rogovian solar sailing ship depart, they notice that the Rogovians fly the United Federation of Planets flag to honor their new allies. Pike concluded that what the Rogovians valued most in an ally was that ally’s ability to see the issues from the Rogovians’ perspective.
Una and La’an are walking across the Enterprise’s hull under protection of a forcefield to go sign the “Scorch,” the last item on the Enterprise bingo list. Una explains that the Scorch is the oldest, unreplaced part of the ship’s hull, and as they sign the plate, they watch the Rogovian ship depart, awed by its beauty.
M’Benga uses sea urchin paste and some sort of device apparatus to switch the Vulcans back to their original bodies, and Spock and T’Pring work through some of their mutual concerns. Spock confesses to punching Barjan, and T’Pring allows as how doing so was a logical response.
Yes, gentle readers, “Spock Amok” is very much a Star Trek take on Freaky Friday, but perhaps the best part of the episode is how aware it is that it’s playing with the trope with the express intention of getting to the heart of what that trope is designed to do. Spock and T’Pring struggle to understand each other, so they get the unique opportunity to walk a mile in the other person’s shoes, so to speak. That entire story is as hilarious as it is strangely poignant, especially in light of what will happen later in “Amok Time.” T’Pring comes to understand a bit of Spock’s love of Starfleet, which is that in Starfleet, Spock is simply Spock. He doesn’t have to be either wholly Vulcan or wholly human. He can, in essence, be both.
The problem with that assertion, of course, is that Strange New Worlds Spock gets that treatment. TOS Spock will not, which is part of the problem of casting this installment as a prequel. However, the chemistry that exists between all of these actors and the fantastic writing we’ve been getting, week after week, makes me want to excuse issue. Strange New Worlds is aware that it’s in dialogue with more than five decades of canon, and it doesn’t quite let me do that. Spock’s nightmare represents an almost shot-for-shot recreation of the famous battle sequence from “Amok Time,” though here, Spock battles his human self rather than Captain Kirk, with everything that Kirk represents. I think the writers and production team behind Strange New Worlds want us to remember the show’s historical roots and draw subtle comparisons between the two versions of the same characters. Last week, I mentioned that I think Mount’s Pike represents an attempt to reframe masculinity, and I think this week, the show wants to reframe the attitudes in the Original Series, pointing out where it could have been better. However, Strange New Worlds, unlike Discovery’s first season, does this with a love for the source material that embraces the good while tweaking the bad.
As genuinely funny as the Spock/T’Pring storyline is, the Enterprise Bingo subplot is just as funny, if more charming than laugh-out-loud funny. The idea of Enterprise Bingo is, itself, so incredibly believable, especially if you’ve ever been in college, but more to the point, the subplot gives Una and La’an more time to work through the issues brought to the forefront by “Ghosts of Illyria.” They get to bond based on their mutual disconnect from the rest of the crew with the added bonus of being able to let loose with someone who not only understands them but needs to blow off steam just as badly. Plus, signing the Scorch creates a tangible link between both Una and La’an and the rest of the crew who’ve engaged in the same rite of passage.
With Chapel, we get to see a more vulnerable side of the fantastic Christine Chapel, who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite characters on the show. She’s leery of commitment, and I have to wonder if that’s a holdover from her experience with Richard Korby that gets referenced in “What Are Little Girls Made Of.” Please note, in the Trekker’s Delight podcast episode on “Spock Amok,” I conflate that episode with the TAS episode “The Survivor.” Still, I do think that what we’re seeing is a lovely callback to future events, which is possibly a phrase that would appear only in either a Trek blog or an article on Dr. Who.
I can’t believe we’re already halfway through this season, and I really, really wish we were getting more than just the ten episodes.
Five Time Crystals
Stray Thoughts From the Couch:
- The sea urchin thing reminded me so much of Phlox, it hurt.
- The solar sailing ship served as a visual callback to Deep Space Nine.
- Chapel is either bi or pan, which makes for a wonderful change in that representation in Trek which is a great way to kick off Pride Month.
- I have so many thoughts about T’Pring now, and Gia Sandhu is just killing it in the role.
- ”Hijinks are the most logical course of action.” I’m here for it.