by Jay Johansen | Apr 23, 2014
I just watched the Star Trek TOS episode "Amok Time" for the first time in many years. And, hmm, interesting episode, but the plot was full of holes.
Warning: Huge spoilers here. Well, assuming that you find the revelation, "One of the main characters in the series is not really dead after all" a spoiler.
Mr Spock reveals that Vulcan's have one time in their lives when they are NOT relentlessly logical: their mating season. At this time they go rather crazy. They have many elaborate rituals surrounding this to keep it somewhat under control.
Spock is now in this period. He must return to Vulcan to marry the woman to whom he was betrothed when they were both children. Kirk defies orders to divert the ship to Vulcan. Kirk and McCoy beam down to the planet with Spock to attend the Vulcan equivalent of a marriage ceremony. But Spock's fiancée announces that she does not want to marry Spock, and invokes an ancient ritual that gives her the right to choose another man. Spock and her choice must then fight for her, the winner getting the girl. To everyone's surprise, she declares that the man she wants is ... Kirk. Kirk agrees to accept the challenge because he worries about what would happen to Spock if he had to fight another Vulcan. After committing to the fight, he learns that it is to the death. So they fight a few rounds, and then McCoy uses a ruse to give Kirk a drug that makes him appear dead.
Spock then recovers his senses. He declares that, as he has killed his commanding officer, he will surrender himself to Star Fleet authorities. He then asks his fiancée why she choose Kirk, a man she had never met before. She explains that she was really in love with another man, but if he and Spock had fought he might have been killed and she would lose him. She then explains how by choosing Kirk, no matter how things turned out she would get what she wanted -- more on this in a moment. Spock commends her on her logic, announces that he is giving up any claim to her, and leaves.
In the final scene, we are told that a prominent Vulcan politician who was at the ceremony has made excuses to Star Fleet for diverting the Enterprise and so Kirk will get away with disobeying orders to take Spock there.
Okay, let's accept that the always-logical Vulcans go crazy during mating season. There's a sort of symmetry to that. They have to have some break from their logic, right?
But the whole reason why they have to rush Spock back to Vulcan is supposed to be because in his present state, if he doesn't mate within a few days he will die. When Kirk asks Star Fleet for permission to make a side trip to Vulcan, he refuses to give them any reason, and so they reject his request. Okay, Spock had asked Kirk not to tell them about the mating season. But ... Vulcan is supposed to be one of the leading planets in the Federation. Have they really kept their marriage rituals secret from their fellow Federation members all this time? Presumably almost every Vulcan alive must go through this at some point. How do you keep something like that secret? Or even if we accept that, and that Kirk can't tell Star Fleet what it's really all about even to save Spock's life, why can't he just say that there is a medical emergency, his first officer is dying, and he must take him back to his home planet for treatment? Maybe, possibly, Star Fleet would reject such a request. But you'd think he'd at least TRY, rather than just saying that he can't tell them why.
Minor point: Why did Kirk agree to fight for this girl without bothering to ask about the rules for the fight? They've been telling us the whole episode how Vulcans go totally crazy over their mating ritual. Wouldn't the idea that it was a fight to the death even occur to him? But okay, maybe we can accept that he was so worried about his friend, or that the idea is so contrary to what he knew of Vulcan culture, that it just didn't occur to him.
After the fight Spock's fiancée admits in front of all the officials there that selecting Kirk as her champion was a ruse to get her boyfriend without putting him in danger. There is no indication that anyone present had any problem with this. If this is one of the most serious and profound rituals in Vulcan society, wouldn't SOMEONE object to her manipulating the rules like this?
Furthermore, her clever plan where all paths lead to her being able to run off with her boyfriend seems pretty shaky. She says she saw three possible outcomes:
One: If Spock had won, he wouldn't want her because she had rejected him for another man, and so he would leave her to the boyfriend. But ... The whole point of the story was that such a fight to the death is part of Vulcan marriage customs, and that the winner gets the girl. Why would she assume that Spock would not follow what is apparently his people's tradition and proudly declare that as the winner, she was now rightly his? And if she knew that saying she wanted another man would lead Spock to no longer want her, why did she need a challenge at all? Why not just tell Spock, "Hey, I don't love you, I want this other man"? You might speculate that under Vulcan customs a couple can not break such a betrothal even if both wanted to, and that the only way out was this fight to the death. But then how could Spock just give her up after winning? Is the custom really that you can't break off a betrothal by mutual agreement, UNLESS you have just killed your rival, and then you CAN break the betrothal, and she can then marry anyone she wants? I suppose the writers could make up anything they want and say that's how Vulcan customs work, but that seems pretty odd.
Two: She concedes that if Spock won, he might still want to marry her. But, she says, he would then go off on another mission with Star Fleet and she "would have his name and his property" but he would be gone and her boyfriend would be there. But ... If that was an acceptable scenario to her and her boyfriend, then why did she need the whole scheme at all? Why not just marry Spock and have the affair?
Three: If Kirk had won the fight, he wouldn't want her, and so she could have her boyfriend. But ... How would she know that Kirk wouldn't want her? When she demanded the challenge, the person officiating the ceremony solemnly reminds her that she "will be the property of the winner" -- apparently women's rights are not big on Vulcan -- so if Kirk had said he wanted her, she would have been obligated to marry him. Spock's own parents were a mixed human/Vulcan couple, so it seems such pairings are possible and accepted. How would she know that Kirk would not have insisted she accompany him back to Earth or to some remote Star Base or wherever as his wife?
It seems that all three of her scenarios are full of holes.
After Spock thinks he has killed Kirk, he announces that he will surrender to Star Fleet authorities to be tried for murder. But ... Vulcan is supposed to be a leading member of the Federation. He supposedly killed Kirk as part of a ritual sacred to the Vulcan people, and that was attended by high government officials. One must assume it was completely legal under Vulcan law. Does Star Fleet have no respect for Vulcan law and customs? Does Earth regularly put Vulcans on trial for actions committed on the planet Vulcan, that are legal under Vulcan law? That would be like the United States arresting a French person for violating American law for actions done in France and that are legal under French law. Considering that Star Fleet's "prime directive" is non-interference in other cultures, this seems particularly odd.
And last point: Kirk got away with disobeying Star Fleet orders because a Vulcan official who was part of the ceremony made excuses for him to Star Fleet. High government officials were involved in the whole affair. Surely sooner or later they will figure out that Kirk was not really dead, and that he made a mockery of their sacred traditions. What happens then? Wouldn't that create an international incident? Imagine if a high-ranking US military officer travelled to France -- on a U.S. Navy ship, by the way -- announced that he was marrying a French woman, and then, at a high-profile wedding attended by top French government officials, suddenly faked a heart attack and pretended to be dead, and then had his friends quickly take the "body" back to the ship and flee the country. Surely there would be a scandal.
Paul Jun 6, 2016
Also, why didn't Spock die?!? He never mated, so he should have died within the 7-8 day period, or whatever it was. I don't believe that was ever explained. So going to Vulcan and participating in the fight to the death is the same as mating?
Dale Jul 7, 2016
Good point. Personally I think I'd prefer the mating to the fight to the death, but that's just me.
The one guy who liked voyager. Jan 27, 2021
In Voyager they had a Pon far episode and explain that somehow killing or being savagely beaten by their rival provides a similar release to their hormones so they stop being murderously horny. Also, there is a fan theory that I subscribe to that Pon Far is actually a disorder that is a side effect of them suppressing their emotions and is why Romulans don't have a similar biological tick.