Episode Epilogues Chapter 2: "The Corbomite Maneuver"
Kirk and Spock are seated in Kirk's quarters, having a post-mission meeting after Kirk returns from Balok's ship; we join them in mid meeting:
Kirk looked at Spock with a mischevious gleam in his eyes. "What would you think about learning to play poker as your professional development project for next quarter? You could join Scotty's weekly poker game and learn to play from some excellent players."
Spock tilted his head to the side as he regarded his captain. "I believe that would constitute shirking the mandated professional growth, Captain. I learned to play poker while you were on the Fesarius."
Kirk smiled. "You may have memorized the rules, Spock, but you haven't learned to play. Half of learning poker is learning to bluff. I admit that you have the world's best poker face, but that's not all that makes a good bluff."
"As I understand it, a bluff involves intentional deception, luring one's opponents into believing that one's hand is better or worse than it actually is."
Spock regarded his captain with carefully concealed amusement. "Suppose that I make three statements, some of which will be true, and some of which will be false. If you can discern which statments are true and which are false, then I will join Mr. Scott's weekly poker game until I am considered to have learned to bluff. If you cannot discern their truth or falsity, then I will be judged to have mastered the necessary skill."
Kirk chuckled. "You could make a hundred statements about xenobiology or Tellarite history or any of the other thousands of things you know, and I'd have no way of judging the truth of any of them."
Spock raised an eyebrow. "Choosing such topics would leave you at a disadvantage and would thus be useless for our purposes. I will make personal statements."
Personal statements? Kirk looked at his first officer with concern. Spock was generally a reticent man, though he had been unusually forthcoming earlier in the day, volunteering — in front of the entire Bridge crew, no less — that Balok reminded him of his father. Did Spock hate the idea of joining the poker game so much that he'd do anything to get out of it? The Vulcan didn't look upset, but even Kirk couldn't always read him if he didn't want to be read. Then Spock relaxed slightly and allowed Kirk to see the twinkle in his eye. Ah, so he wasn't pushing Spock to the wall, then; Spock was playing with him, in his subdued Vulcan way.
Kirk smiled. "Agreed. Lay 'em on me."
Spock stiffened slightly, then became more inscrutable than usual. Kirk hadn't quite realized just how much Spock showed in the look in his eyes, in the way he stood, the way he tilted his head, the way he placed his hands, until he stopped.
"First statement," Spock said, his face and voice both completely impassive, nearly robotic. "My father disowned me when I entered Starfleet Academy, and we have not spoken as father and son for seventeen years."
Kirk nodded. "Got it."
"Second statement. I hope to captain a starship myself someday." Not a muscle moved in Spock's face but those necessary for speaking, and his usually expressive eyes were flat and guarded.
Kirk grinned. "Go on."
"Third statement. Sometimes I wish I were human." Spock remained impassive, not giving off any of his usual subtle cues.
Kirk smiled. "I admit that your manner didn't give much away, but an excellent poker face isn't the only thing you need to be able to bluff. A good bluff should be believable and should be something your opponent can't disprove, or the best poker face in the world won't help you."
Spock relaxed from his heightened impassivity and raised a brow. "You believe you know which statements are true and which are false, then."
Kirk leaned back in his chair. "Of course. Let's take statement one. You're the finest person I've ever known — human, Vulcan, Andorian, whatever — and since your father is a Vulcan, that means he's a logical man. Any logical father would be happy to have you for a son, so statement one is clearly false."
Spock swallowed, then lifted his head slightly. "What of the other statements?"
Kirk smiled. "Statement three is so clearly false that I'm surprised you had the gall to include it. You take every possible opportunity to remind us that you're Vulcan. You're clearly proud of being Vulcan and sometimes seem almost ashamed of your human side. I wish you didn't feel that way, but you clearly do, so statement three is obviously false."
"And statement two?"
"You said that some of the statements would be true, so that means that statement two has to be true. I'm surprised, though; I thought you were capable of command but not especially fond of it."
Spock relaxed even more, now looking mildly amused. "Jim, I regret to inform you that the truth is exactly the opposite of what you have guessed. Statements one and three are true; statement two is false."
Kirk's eyes widened. "Your father disowned you when you entered Starfleet Academy?"
Spock gave a brief nod. "He did. He believes that Starfleet resorts to violence too frequently to be compatible with Vulcan philosophy, so he refused to allow me to join Starfleet. I believe that my true crime, however, lay not so much in the choice I made as in the fact that I insisted upon my right to make it. I chose my own path, and it is that which he cannot forgive."
Kirk looked thunderstruck. "Spock, I ... I don't know what to say. I can't believe that any sane man would be other than grateful to have you for a son."
"Your disbelief in the statement — and your stated reasons for that disbelief — were most gratifying, and you have said all that needs to be said on the subject."
Looking at Kirk's distressed face, Spock could see that he, himself, needed to say more, however, or his captain would remain distressed. He tried to imagine the human reaction to the situation he'd described, in order to target the cause of Kirk's distress. "Jim, my estrangement from my father is news to you, so you are still assimilating the knowledge. I, however, have been living with this estrangement for seventeen years, and it is not news to me. Whatever wound you believe me to bear from my father's rejection scabbed over long ago; it is done."
Kirk thought about this; it sounded like Spock was asking him to leave it alone. Well, he could do that. Even being told this much was an unusual amount of sharing from Spock ... and he could always raise the subject later if he needed to. Kirk made a mental note to put Spock in for Starfleet commendations on the many occasions when he deserved them; if his first officer was forced to live without his father's approval, then Kirk would try to see that he got as much approval from other sources as possible.
"All right," Kirk said. "Moving on to statement three. Sometimes you wish you were human? Really? I'm ... I'm shocked, Spock."
Spock exhaled audiby. "I admit that the moments when I wish to be human are both few and fleeting, but they do exist. For the most part, I find it gratifying to be a Vulcan, but the need to continually monitor my behavior for appropriate Vulcan comportment, to analyze every thought and every action; this constant monitoring can occasionally become wearisome. During times when my energy is unusually low, I can occasionally wish for humans' lesser burdens."
Kirk smiled. "That's not part of being Vulcan, Spock; we all do that. I'm constantly second-guessing myself, wondering if I've done the right thing. Should I have talked to those hostile aliens as long as I did, or should I have pulled out my phaser sooner? Should I have promoted that ensign who doesn't seem to be doing as well, now that she's a lieutenant, or is that part of the normal settling-in process? Both Scotty and McCoy want new equipment, but there's only enough room in the budget for one of them to have what he wants. McCoy saves lives, but the engines save the ship that protects us all ... whose need is greater?" He laughed. "Gad, don't get me started on second-guessing myself, or we'll be here all night."
Spock shook his head. "I am aware that all sentient species think about their behavior and its ramifications; that is part of the very definition of sentience. But I suspect that you never question your species identification as part of this process. Nothing can stop you from being human, no matter what you think or say or feel or do. You question your behavior but not your identity."
Kirk sobered. "You're right, I didn't understand before. Thank you for explaining. But ... does being Vulcan depend on your behavior? Aren't you a Vulcan because you were born into a Vulcan body? Aren't there a lot of ways to be Vulcan, probably as many ways as there are Vulcans?"
Spock looked at Kirk silently for a moment, thinking about how to explain this so that the human could understand. Finally he said, "I have heard many humans say that certain kinds of actions are not the actions of a human, that anyone who would do a particular thing is 'a monster.' Throughout history, there have been those who have said that such people as Caligula, Adolph Hitler, or Colonel Green1 were not human but rather monsters. There are some actions so heinous that the rest of humanity attempts to rescind membership in its ranks, in spite of the fact that the person in question does possess a human body."
"Yes, that's right; I've heard people say that." Kirk stared at Spock for a moment. "Then what are you saying? Would abandoning logic make Vulcans repudiate you? Would allowing yourself to express a feeling or to be guided by emotion make you the Vulcan equivalent of a monster?"
Spock exhaled audibly. "Dubbing someone a 'monster' is primarily an emotional judgment, an instinctive revulsion against behavior too horrible to admit to the realm of humanity. The Vulcan approach is less emotional, but the results are similar: those whose lives are guided by emotions instead of logic are not Vulcans. Possessing a Vulcan body is not enough; one cannot BE a Vulcan unless one behaves as a Vulcan."
Kirk shook his head. "But you're half human. Isn't it illogical for Vulcans to insist that you ignore half of your genome?"
"If there were more human-Vulcan hybrids, we could carve out a place for ourselves in Vulcan society, but there are very, very few. I have no wish to be a member of a species which has a mere handful of members."
Kirk pointed at the insignia on Spock's shirt. "You're Starfleet! That's a species with thousands of members, and nearly all of them are people to be proud of."
Spock nodded. "As you say. It does seem that Starfleet has become my home in a way that Vulcan can no longer be."
"Vulcan's loss is our gain, Spock. Starfleet knows how to appreciate excellence, and you've got excellence in spades."
"Speaking of card suits, Captain, would you say that I have proved conclusively that I know how to bluff?"
Kirk laughed. "Yes, I should know better than to argue with you; if you say you can do something, then you can." He sobered and looked seriously at Spock. "Thank you for everything you've shared with me tonight. It means a great deal to me."
Spock inclined his head. "To me as well, Jim. I believed today that our deaths were imminent and certain, and when your brilliant tactics saved all of our lives, I decided that I would take this opportunity to share more of myself with you."
Kirk smiled. Spock would never say, "Coming so close to dying made me realize what good friends we are," but he didn't have to. He even made it clear why he could never say that, and Kirk got the message; he got both messages loud and clear.
1. Colonel Green is one of the characters chosen to represent evil in the third-season episode "The Savage Curtain." He's a historical figure in the Star Trek universe, said to have "led a genocidal war early in the 21st century on Earth," but while he's in Kirk's and Spock's past, he's still in our future. :-)
2. Spock's discussion of what it takes to BE a Vulcan is an extrapolation from his comments to his mother in "Journey to Babel." Kirk does not yet know everything that will be revealed about Spock in "Journey to Babel," but WE do, so I am using some of those events to inform this discussion.
3. As I explained (much more extensively) in the author's note for Chapter 1, there are reasons why I'm assuming that the first year of the series is the second year of the mission at the earliest. So although Kirk and Spock have only been in two episodes that we've seen, they've been working together for more than a year at this point and have already formed a friendship that's important to them both (as witness Kirk's comment about Spock's giving him "emotional security" in the current episode).
4. I think "The Corbomite Maneuver" is a crucial early episode, because it shines so much light on the character of Kirk. Why is a man this young the captain already? And why is he in charge when Spock knows more about everything?
Two main reasons: 1) Kirk never gives up. Spock analyzes the situation, realizes that the other ship has many times their power, and assumes that their fate is in Balok's hands. Kirk is still looking for a way to win two minutes before they're scheduled to be blown up. (Spock learns from this and will be more persistent in the future.) 2) Kirk can pull inspired tactics out of thin air, such as creating this corbomite malarkey.
There are lots of other reasons why Kirk's a great captain, of course, but these two reasons are on display in this episode, and they're excellent reasons why Kirk — young as he is — is a worthy captain for the Enterprise.
While Spock is my favorite character, I do appreciate the heck out of Kirk, and the Enterprise is usually much better off with Spock's intellect harnessed to Kirk's will than they would be the other way around.
5. Thanks for reading!
6. The episode summary, for those who want to refresh their memories, is below:
The Enterprise encounters a rotating cube in space. It doesn't respond to hails, it moves to block them when they try to get away from it, and it eventually begins to emit radiation that will kill everyone aboard if it continues. Since they can't get away, Kirk orders the cube destroyed, and the Enterprise continues on her way.
A short time later, a large ship approaches the Enterprise and seizes her with a tractor beam. Balok, the captain of the large ship — the Fesarius — says that the Enterprise is trespassing and will be destroyed because they destroyed the cube, which he calls a "warning buoy." Kirk tries to explain that they destroyed the buoy in self-defense, but Balok interrupts and says that they have ten minutes to make peace with any deities they believe in before he destroys them. The Fesarius is much more powerful than the Enterprise, and they can neither fight nor run.
Kirk asks Spock for an analysis, and Spock says, "In chess, when one is outmatched, the game is over. Checkmate." Lieutenant Bailey panics and starts ranting at everyone and is relieved of duty. McCoy tells Kirk he's pushed Bailey too far too fast and asks to put "fatigue" as the reason that Bailey was relieved of duty, not "panicked and went nuts." Kirk refuses, and McCoy threatens to put his qualms about Kirk's pushing Bailey in his medical log, saying that's no bluff. Kirk says, "Any time you can bluff ME, Doctor," then pauses for a second, struck. Then he says (in a line that I think is the heart of this episode), "Not chess, Mr. Spock — POKER."
Kirk calls Balok on the Fesarius and tells him that all Earth ships have a substance called "corbomite" as part of their makeup, and this stuff returns destructive energy to its source, so any time an Earth ship is attacked, corbomite makes the energy of that attack destroy the attacker instead. (Of course, no such substance actually exists; Kirk is making this all up, trying to bluff his way out of being destroyed.)
Balok says that the destruction of the Enterprise has been delayed and that she will be towed to a facility were the people aboard her will be disembarked before the ship itself is destroyed. A tiny portion of the Fesarius detaches itself from the huge ship and begins to tow the Enterprise. By using every available scrap of power, the Enterprise manages to break away from the small ship, which appears to have been disabled by the process. Uhura catches a distress signal from the tiny ship to the larger one, saying that engines and life support are both out. The signal is faint, and it looks as if the larger ship couldn't have heard the distress signal.
Kirk decides to board the small ship and rescue the people aboard her, taking McCoy and Bailey with him. Once there, they discover that the entire thing was a test, and Balok is actually a sweet little fellow who's merely lonely. Kirk leaves Bailey with Balok as a liason to the newly discovered civilization, and Balok tells Kirk that the two of them are much alike.
This is McCoy's first episode, and Kirk calls him "Doctor" and "Doc;" he doesn't call him "Bones" even once. Red alert is called while Kirk is undergoing a physical in Sickbay, and the alert is silent there, presumably so as not to wake any sick patients. McCoy sees the red alert flashing and doesn't tell Kirk. When Kirk calls him on it, we get the first of McCoy's "I'm a doctor, not a ___" lines when he says, "What am I, a doctor or a moon shuttle conductor?"
Bailey gets overexcited while Spock is in command, leading them to eventually have this exchange:
BAILEY: Raising my voice back there doesn't mean I was scared or couldn't do my job. It means I happen to have a human thing called an adrenaline gland.
SPOCK: It does sound most inconvenient, however. Have you considered having it removed?
BAILEY: Very funny.
SULU: You try to cross brains with Spock, he'll cut you to pieces every time.
Spock says that Balock reminds him of his father, to which Scotty replies, "Then may heaven have helped your mother." Spock says, "Quite the contrary. She considered herself a very fortunate Earth woman."
At one point, Kirk asks Spock to think aloud about whether or not they should continue to explore after encountering the cube. Spock does so, then realizes that Kirk has already decided to continue to explore. He asks why Kirk asks for his input when he's already made up his mind, and Kirk replies, "It gives me emotional security."
When Kirk is with McCoy in his quarters, Yeoman Rand brings him his lunch, and McCoy jokes with Kirk about the temptations involved in his having a female yeoman. Kirk says, "I've already got a female to worry about. Her name's the Enterprise."
The Enterprise is called an "Earth" ship — the "United Earth Ship Enterprise" — and neither Starfleet nor the Federation is mentioned. Indeed, the only Federation mentioned in this episode is the one BALOK belongs to.
Spock's mother is called an "Earth woman;" they are not yet using "human" to contrast with "Vulcan."