Stardate: 3372.7 (2267)
Original Air Date: September 15, 1967
Writer: Theodore Sturgeon
Director: Joseph Pevney
“Live long and prosper.”
In this classic season two opener, Dr. McCoy kicks off the episode by expressing concerns about Mr. Spock. According to Bones, Spock has been acting strange: “restive,” “nervous,” even irritable, and he is avoiding eating food (not to mention the fact that he threatened to strangle Bones). Bones and Kirk catch Nurse Chapel attempting to bring a bowl of Vulcan plomeek soup to Spock in a show of affection, but when Spock erupts at her in a rage, he immediately requests shore leave on his home planet of Vulcan. However, the Enterprise is already en route to Altair VI for the presidential inauguration ceremony, however Spock apparently redirects the Enterprise’s course to Vulcan anyway. Nevertheless, Spock continually appears agitated and confused. Kirk orders Spock to sickbay where Bones concludes that Spock must be delivered to Vulcan urgently or else he will succumb to certain physical and mental pressures and ultimately die (he has perhaps eight days left).
Spock is a facing a “deeply personal” crisis wherein he must return to his home planet for pon farr –the seven-year cycle of the Vulcan mating ritual, not unlike the rituals of giant eel-birds on Regulus V (once each eleven years they return to the caverns from whence they hatched) or the salmon on planet Earth (who must return to the stream from whence they spawned). Once Kirk understands the situation, he orders the Enterprise toward Vulcan at Warp Eight, notably this is in direct disobedience of Admiral Komack of Starfleet who has again commanded the Enterprise to Altair VI. Apparently, in this case the needs of the one (Spock) outweigh the needs of the many.
When the Enterprise arrives at Vulcan, the screen is graced by the presence of a beautiful Vulcan woman named T’Pring (pronounced “Tee-Pring,” played by Arlene Martel) –she is actually Spock’s wife by a parental arrangement, much to everyone’s surprise. Kirk and McCoy join Spock on Vulcan in the center of a ceremonial ring where an ancient “koon-ut-kal-if-fee” ritual unfolds, the mistress of ceremonies if T’Pau () whom Kirk notes is the only being to ever turn down a seat on the Federation Council. T’Pring decides not to select Spock as her mate because of his celebrity status on Vulcan. Instead she selects Kirk, and it is decided that a fevered Spock must battle Kirk to death using bladed Lirpa weapons. As the battle unfolds, McCoy slyly injects with Kirk with a “tri-ox compound” to help him handle the brutal climate on Vulcan. Shortly thereafter, Kirk is pronounced dead as a result of battle while Spock and T’Pring decide they do not want one another after all –T’Pring has used ‘flawless logic’ to gain another Vulcan named Stonn (Lawrence Montaigne) as her partner. Before he departs, Spock offers some advice to Stonn: “After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.”
Spock returns to the Enterprise ready to hand himself over the Federation for the trial, but as it turns out, earlier during the fight, Bones had merely used a neural-paralyzer to simulate Kirk’s death. All is returned to normal, and the Enterprise speeds away.
Sometimes watching Star Trek gives us the experience of being a futuristic Herodotus of sorts, surveying planetary worlds and cultures while conducting comparative anthropological studies. This episode is a delightfully intriguing character study of the Vulcans. There cold-eyed logic is contrasted with primal urges to mate and reproduce, as well as our first glimpse of Vulcan mysticism and deep passions. The Vulcan rituals give the impression of being ancient in origin, with allusions to Indian, Mayan, Incan, and other longstanding human cultural traditions. We are reminded of just how distinct Spock is from his fellow crewmen.
Shockingly, for all of his intransigence, Spock is not punished in this episode despite numerous outbursts, especially threatening to break Dr. McCoy’s neck and secretly brandishing a knife during Kirk’s interrogation. Spock’s behavior is reminiscent of his mutiny in the first season two-parter “The Menagerie.” Still getting to see another side of Star Trek’s most popular character is great as is the tender romance between Spock and Nurse Chapel as previously glimpsed in “The Naked Time.”
Director Joseph Pevney (1911-2008) is tied with Marc Daniels for most TOS episodes directed.
Legendary science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon (1918-1985) also wrote the Star Trek episode “Shore Leave.” This episode was originally pitched for the first season, and NBC was quite adamant about putting it into production as soon as possible, however Mr. Sturgeon was known for his extremely slow writing process so this episode was shelved for the early second season.
Star Trek Trivia:
- This is the first episode in which the famous phrase “live long and prosper” is used along with the Vulcan salute. According to Leonard Nimoy, Celia Lovsky had some trouble actually making her fingers form the Vulcan salute. Reportedly, William Shatner also struggles to make the Vulcan hand salute.
- This episode established the trend that nearly all female Vulcans have a name beginning with a “T” and apostrophe (in this case T’Pau and T’Pring).
- This is the first episode in which Ensign Chekov appears (wearing a wig as he did in his first few episodes).
- Majel Barrett reappears as Nurse Chapel again this episode.
- We learn some background information on Spock, namely that his family owns historic land on Vulcan and that he is a celebrity among Vulcans.
- Lawrence Montaigne, who plays Stonn in this episode, previously appeared as the Romulan Decius in “Balance of Terror.” He was considered to replace Leonard Nimoy in the role of Spock for a brief time.
- Romulan helmets are reused in this episode from “Balance of Terror” in order to hide the pointed ears and thereby save money.
- This episode was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1968.
- Both Gene Roddenberry and Director Joseph Pevney ranked this episode among the best in the series. In addition, Michael Chabon also said he grew up watching Star Trek episodes like this one.
- Gerald Fried’s iconic battle song has been parodied many times over in other shows, such as on The Simpsons.