The first episode of the second season is notable for a couple of reasons. It’s the first appearance of Ensign Chekov. He is a young man with a really bad Russian accent and a Beatles haircut which differed from the rest of the crew with a more military cut. The other distinction is that this episode features the first details of Vulcan. Mr. Spock is going through a Vulcan physiological syndrome that requires him to return to Vulcan to perform an ancient mating ritual or else die from the suppression of the metabolic process involved. The visible manifestations of this syndrome include clear irritability and tremors in his hands. When the always annoying Nurse Chapel brings him a bowl of Vulcan soup Spock scream at her and throws the bowl out of his cabin into the corridor. When the video screen on the desk in his cabin interrupts him he smashes it flat with his bare hand.
Kirk has been ordered to proceed in all haste to a diplomatic occasion on another planet but in order to save Spock from dying he disobeys his orders and brings Spock to Vulcan. When they arrive Kirk and McCoy agree to act as Spock’s entourage during the ceremony. There we meet the prospective bride, T’Pring. She’s decently good looking. We also meet the leader of Spock’s tribe, T’Pau. She on the other hand is an old battle axe. Now we find out that a Vulcan marriage has the potential to involve a battle to the death for the bride’s hand. And that’s what T’Pring demands. And as is her right she selects the challenger. But instead of selecting her real choice, a doofus named Stonn, she picks Kirk. Kirk is afraid that if he refuses that Stonn will kill the weakened Spock in the combat. So, he agrees to battle Spock, unaware, at first, that it is to the death. The first round involves a weapon that has a large semicircular razor on one side of a pole with a cudgel on the other side. Spock immediately slices through Kirk’s shirt and chest with it and Kirk barely manages to avoid death. In the next round the weapon is a combination bolo and garroting band. Before they get going McCoy gets permission to inject Kirk with a medicine that will allow Kirk to breath better in the low air pressure on Vulcan.
This time the contest does not go well and Spock chokes Kirk to death. McCoy returns to the ship with Kirk’s body. Spock questions T’Pring as to her motive in choosing Kirk. She explains that she was unwilling to be the wife of an absentee legendary husband and so she reasoned that if Kirk won, he would not want her and if Spock won, he would also reject her for her betrayal. Spock commends her on her logic and warns Stonn that winning T’Pring might not be as good a deal as he currently thinks it to be.
The payoff for the show comes as Spock takes his leave of T’Pau. They flash their Vulcan gang sign with the space between the third and fourth digits and Spock gives her the “live long and prosper” line. She repeats it to him but his comeback is, “I shall do neither, for I have killed my captain and my friend.” Upon meeting Dr. McCoy, Spock informs him that he intends to hand over his command to Scotty but behind Spock a visibly living James Kirk replies, “Don’t you think you better check with me first?” Spock in surprise and then delight breaks into a broad smile and grabs Kirk by the arms and exclaims “Captain! Jim!” McCoy explains that what he injected into Kirk was a drug that would temporarily simulate death. When McCoy questions Spock about his apparent emotional outburst on seeing Kirk alive Spock goes into a song and dance about how it was merely logical relief to see that he had not killed Kirk. McCoy says it is all very logical but as Kirk and Spock are leaving, he says in a loud voice, “in a pig’s eye.”
And as the final straightening out of the plot we hear that Starfleet Command retroactively agrees to a request from T’Pau to allow the Enterprise to stop over at Vulcan. Apparently, she is indeed a very heavy hitter in the galaxy. So, Kirk is off the hook.
Interestingly this episode was written by Theodore Sturgeon who was a very talented but erratic science fiction writer at the time. As a tv show it has a lot going for it. We get to watch Kirk and Spock dance around the uncomfortable dynamic of their friendship and Spock’s discomfort with addressing his Human/Vulcan emotional baggage. I especially enjoyed Spock screaming at Nurse Chapel. I’ve always despised the character and the chance to see her abused by Spock whom she obviously pines for was vey funny. What can I say, I’m a monster.
There is also an enormous amount of hokey ritual on Vulcan with gongs, bells on some kind of shaking rack that looks really stupid. There are funny weapons. T’Pau is carried around on a litter by two attendants. They’ve got all the funny words they use for the various parts of the ritual. There are the silly names T’Pring and T’Pau. It’s so much fun. And the friendship between Kirk and Spock is actually well done. When Spock answers T’Pau about his bleak future it hits just the right chord. The scene where Spock realizes that Kirk isn’t dead works to great effect with Kirk’s line coming off as very comical and effective. I give this episode a 9.
As for Shatner mockery points, what more could you ask for. There is the sliced shirt, the rolling around and the minor tumbling moves. Plus, Kirk gets to be strangled and play dead. It’s great. This is a 9 // 7.