FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, sociological, psychological*
On re-viewing this episode, which opened TREK's second season, I noticed that its elaborate evocation of Vulcan mating-rituals recapitulates one of Gene Roddenberry's most-used tropes: one I like to call "Savage Masculinity." No single episode adequately glosses the trope. Yet despite the occasional predictions that humans will someday advance to a higher plane, some TREK episodes-- "The Enemy Within," "Shore Leave," "Return of the Archons," and "Space Seed"-- evince a sneaking admiration for the masculine gender's more, uh, forthright qualities. Malayan culture came up with a term for sudden, violent behavior, which term evolved into the English phrase "running amok." but in this story the process of going berserk is linked to a specific time, when the body of even a logical Vulcan feels compelled to be joined with that of a female, or else perish.
Theodore Stuigeon's script is a masterpiece of misdirection. For the first half-hour, "Amok Time" is a military drama, as Spock begins displaying violent, irrational behavior aboard the Enterprise. Kirk must walk a balance between interacting with his first officer both as a subordinate and as a friend. Eventually he and McCoy pry the truth out of the reluctant Vulcan: whether it contradicts Starfleet protocol or not, Spock must at a certain time return to Vulcan to "take a wife"-- a wife, one soon learns, to whom he's been engaged since childhood.
At the second half-hour, however, military concerns are left behind as Spock invites his boon friends Kirk and McCoy to attend his wedding ceremony on Vulcan. Up to this point the Enterprise has usually encountered alien cultures in states of aberrant behavior, thus allowing the representatives of the Federation to come in and straighten things out. However, Vulcan's archaic wedding-customs are, as the matriarch T'Pau says, a deep ritual that "comes down from the beginning." Kirk and McCoy are put in the position of guests seeking not to embarrass themselves in their friend's world. Their ignorance then comes in handy for a woman who wants to be married even less than Spock does.
Spock, it should be noted, does not want to be married: he speaks of having hoped that he would spared the mating-urge by his half-human heritage. However, because he defines himself first by his Vulcan heritage, he's willing to accede to that culture's demands-- which he can hardly sublimate, given that they have become incarnated in his own biology. It's broadly implied that it's functionally impossible for a male Vulcan to refuse the mating-urge, but that females can do so, which may speak to Roddenberry's personal beliefs about female sexuality. Further, females unwilling to be married to their planned consort-- as Spock's fiancee T'Pring is-- can only escape unwanted male attention by invoking another male as a protector. I suspect this trope would not play well with modern feminists.
T'Pring brings her new protector with her, but gets the brilliant idea to name Captain Kirk as her protector. Kirk, concerned only with helping his friend, agrees to meet Spock in combat with the fatuous idea of simply "knocking him out." In one sense, though, McCoy proves the most savvy of the trio, in that he finds a way to basically "cheat" the Vulcan ritual of its surrogate victim.
I've passed over commenting on the skillful interaction of the three leads, since this has received ample praise. I will say, though, that this is probably the only episode where Christine Chapel serves a useful purpose, even if it's as an object of pity. Kirk and McCoy see her making ready to bring the
now-tempestuous Vulcan a meal, at which point McCoy shows his faux-sympathetic contempt with the lines, "You never give up hoping, do you?" Chapel, as much a doormat as she was in "What Are Little Girls Made Of?," can't even manage a halfway clever response. Later, after Kirk agonizes about the conflict between friendship and duty, he finally decides to take Spock to Vulcan against Starfleet orders, and he sends Chapel to give Spock the news. When she braves Spock's den, the Vulcan broadly implies that he might finally be willing to mate with her, in a patent attempt to defuse the sexual torment he's experiencing. Chapel, trying to do the right thing, pointedly ignores Spock's overture and gives him the news he wants to hear. Spock, believing that release is right around the corner after all, endeavors to give Chapel some empathetic treatment by asking her to bring him some of her soup, in essence returning the two of them to their normal status. Chapel, though, is so gushingly happy for this minor acknowledgement that one can't help but find her inferior to the conniving but supremely logical T'Pring.