Originally written for the Ship Manifesto Project. Many thanks to elynross, Jenna, Liz, and Linda B. for looking this over and offering suggestions.
The Legendary Friendship
The most difficult thing in writing about K/S is trying to capture the complexity of the relationship between two characters whose canonical voyage together spanned most of their adult lives. Captain James T. Kirk and his first officer, Spock of Vulcan, are such powerful figures of popular modern myth that they have arguably become new archetypes, and the sheer depth and breadth of the mythology surrounding that fictional voyage -- not to mention the richness and nuance of a fandom that brought the idea of slash into the fannish consciousness and has continued to thrive for thirty years -- really can't be expressed in anything close to 5,000 words. But I'll give it a shot.
Spock of Vulcan
With his cool demeanor, elegant profile, quiet compassion and mystical empathic abilities, Spock calls to that in us that loves a mystery and a challenge. The child of a Vulcan father and a human mother, Spock embraced the philosophy of logic and emotional control so highly valued on his father's homeworld -- but he turned his back on the career his father would have chosen for him and became the first Vulcan to join Starfleet, a radical decision that we later learn caused a rift between father and son that never fully healed. His relationship with his mother is no easier, for his Vulcan restraint forbids him from acknowledging the feelings he has for her; further, his sense of duty as a Starfleet officer leads him to make choices she cannot accept or understand. Seemingly controlled, his underlying fiery nature is revealed as we learn by degrees that Vulcans sought the solution of logic when their passions threatened to destroy them, and that every seven years, the mating urge overcomes all reason and forces them to take a mate, or die. Spock's path is one of constant conflict and struggle, and we can't help but feel for him as he strives to reach his own form of acceptance regarding the powerful forces of emotion, logic, intellectual curiosity, and duty that drive him.
Captain James T. Kirk
While we learn a great deal about Spock's background and inner turmoil, Jim Kirk is the true enigma. He's a study in contradictions: a highly physical guy who's been known to wade into a fistfight with seeming relish, he spends his off-hours indulging his love of old books and challenging his brilliant first officer at chess; he makes hard decisions in an instant and then shows his intense regret to those closest to him when the shouting is over. We get only the briefest hints about his past and the path that led him to become the youngest starship commander on record; the glimpses we get into his complex psyche are tantalizing and contradictory, and leave us much room for speculation. He speaks easily of being Iowa-born, but we never learn anything of his parents in canon, and the brief glimpse we get of his brother, Sam, reveals nothing of a significant closeness between them. We know that he has tragedy in his past, and feels responsible for the deaths of his shipmates on the Farragut when he was a Lieutenant; we learn later that he fathered a child with scientist Carol Marcus, but that she asked Kirk to keep his distance and chose to keep her son in the dark about his father's identity. His best friend from the Academy, with whom he seems to share a curiously fraught relationship, dies in the pilot episode at Kirk's own hand. (Incidentally, it's Spock who urges him to do it, for the good of the ship.) Perhaps the most significant truth that we learn about Kirk's past is the chilling revelation of his experiences on Tarsus IV when he was fourteen, a mysterious sequence of events that resulted in the deaths of over four thousand colonists and which left the young Jim Kirk one of nine surviving witnesses to a madman's murderous tyranny.
Despite all of this, these two are clearly resilient, determined, and compassionate men, driven by a guiding purpose they share: to discover strange new worlds. To spend their lives seeking out new life and new understanding of the universe. If the path they've chosen is a risky, lonely, and difficult one, the rewards are just as great, and it's plain that neither of them would be happy doing anything else.
Two Halves that Make a Whole
It is that incredible unity out of difference that made the Kirk-Spock friendship the stuff of legend, both in our world, and in theirs. Here are two souls as different as night and day, two men whose philosophical approaches to life seem, on the surface, to be miles apart -- and yet, somehow, they fit together as perfectly as yin and yang, until you can hardly imagine one without the other.
"And where would you estimate we belong, Miss Keeler?"
"You? At his side. As if you've always been there, and always will."
—City on the Edge of Forever
From the very first episode, we see that these two unlikely friends have reached a solid understanding in the seemingly short time that Kirk has been captain; in the pilot, we see them teasing one another over a chess game, working together in easy cameraderie, and facing the difficult truth that Kirk must kill his best friend and executive officer for the good of the ship. When the final decision must be made, Kirk orders the doctor to delay reviving Spock, shouldering the responsibility on his own. It's the first time one of them is seen protecting the other, but it is far from the last; twenty years later, Kirk will disobey direct orders, steal a starship, and risk his own life and the lives of his crew because, as he tells his commanding Admiral, he considers Spock's immortal soul to be his responsibility -- "as surely as if it were my very own."
"Lieutenant Saavik was right. You never have faced death."
"No. Not like this. I haven't faced death. I've cheated death. I've tricked my way out of death and patted myself on the back for my ingenuity. I know nothing."
—Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
The acknowledgment that Spock's soul is as dear to him as his own is a profound declaration from a man who is, by his own admission, married to his ship more than he ever will be to any woman. The loss of Spock is simply unbearable to Kirk, and hits him harder than even the loss of the Enterprise. "The death of Spock is like an open wound," he confesses in his private journal at the beginning of The Search for Spock, struggling to cope with the despair that visibly weighs him down. This is a man who has taken terrible losses before, and barely shown it -- why is Spock so desperately important to him? When did these two men become so much a part of one another that Spock should sense Kirk's thoughts across light years, even after years of separation? (Star Trek: The Motion Picture)
That intimate connection seems to have begun in the earliest days of their acquaintance, with a mutual respect and admiration that never wavers but only grows deeper as the years pass. We see it in those first scenes from the pilot. Kirk teases Spock about his differentness, but with an affection that reveals his fascination with and matter-of-fact acceptance of those differences. Spock finds Kirk's unorthodox approach to chess and his assumption of friendship perplexing, but equally fascinating, and he can't resist the challenge. Further, they trust one another instinctively: Kirk values Spock's advice, and Spock, in turn, trusts Kirk to get all their asses out of the fire. They're already important to one another, as is made obvious by Spock's sensitivity to Kirk's feelings for Gary and Kirk's protectiveness of Spock. It's this combination of contrasting but complementary traits, competence, curiosity, desire for excellence, and common goals that allows them to recognize one another instantly as trustworthy and intriguing, their strengths combining to make them more than the sum of their parts.
"Has it occurred to you that there is a certain... inefficiency in constantly questioning me on things you've already made up your mind about?"
"It gives me emotional security."
—The Corbomite Maneuver
It doesn't take long before that friendship evolves into something valuable beyond price, to each of them. An early episode, "The Man Trap," further lays the foundation for a relationship that will soon become more important to both of them than even deeply-held philosophical beliefs. Spock, who values all life and is the ultimate preservationist, orders McCoy to shoot a life form who is the last of her kind when Kirk's life is in danger. (He'll urge Kirk to do something similar in "The Devil in the Dark," for the same reason.) Later, Kirk will risk an interplanetary incident in a touchy star system as well as his own death to save Spock's life ("Amok Time"). In "The Enemy Within," Kirk asks Spock to help him capture his body double, but refuses to allow anyone else to go with them. This is only episode 5, but Kirk is already intimate enough with Spock to admit his weaknesses and let him see him at his worst. That deep personal affinity is only the beginning.
Intimacy Taken to a New Level: The Vulcan Mind-Meld
One mind touches the other. It is the ultimate lowering of personal barriers, and a hidden, personal thing to the Vulcan people. "I feel what you feel," Spock says when he touches a person's thoughts. "I know what you know." How terrifying -- and how addictive! To know the ultimate intimacy with another being, to share that kind of trust. And what must it be like for these two, who already share so much? The fannish mind boggles at the possibilities. Indeed, Spock touches Kirk's mind more often than anyone else's, and each occasion is overlaid with emotional significance. The physical contact the meld requires, the most sensitive part of his fingertips laid against the face of the person he touches, is undeniably erotic to watch. Perhaps that empathic vulnerability, and that potential for ultimate intimacy, is the magic key that let those who were fascinated by the Kirk-Spock relationship take the next step into slash, when no fandom before theirs had quite made the leap. How small a step is it from touching another's face, and his thoughts, to a kiss? Hardly a step at all, especially when that touch is happening between two beings who are already so intertwined. At the very least, it opens up a world of possibilities.
Canon: Where to Start
There's a huge appeal for me in the vast canon of Star Trek, both from a storytelling perspective and from a relationship perspective. Those seventy-nine episodes and seven movies give us the luxury of watching these two men live their lives together on screen, so that we feel the richness and texture of all the experiences they share. Their lives are so interwoven with one another that we can feel the way each watershed event -- each choice they make, each private joke and shared risk and test of their friendship, each time one was willing to sacrifice himself for the other or found sanctuary and understanding in his friend -- becomes part of the whole. But what are the most significant moments of that shared history? Where should you start, if you want to see for yourself why Kirk/Spock was the first true slash fandom?
Star Trek aired before the current trend of arc-based television writing existed, so most of the episodes stand entirely on their own, and don't need to be watched in consecutive order. This is good news if you're interested in trying a few from Netflix, and don't want to commit to 79 hours of viewing right away. These are my Top 10 picks for the must-see K/S episodes, in order of airing, with reasons why:
1. "Where No Man Has Gone Before" (airing order: Episode 1)
I've talked about this one quite a bit already, but I definitely consider it a must-see. First, it lays the groundwork for the Kirk-Spock friendship and working relationship, and you get to see them play chess, tease each other, tell each other hard truths, protect each other from harm, and work together to save the ship. It's also significant because in my opinion (and others have seen this, too) Kirk's relationship with Gary Mitchell is wonderfully ambiguous and heavy on the subtext, providing some lovely hints about Kirk's flexible sexuality.
"Have I ever mentioned you play a very irritating game of chess, Mr. Spock?"
"Irritating? Ah, yes. One of your Earth emotions."
Kirk (as he checkmates him)
"...Certain you don't know what irritation is?"
"The fact one of my ancestors married a human female--"
"Terrible having bad blood like that."
2. "The Corbomite Maneuver" (airing order: Episode 2)
Oh, let me count the ways. This underappreciated episode is one of the slashiest in the series, in my opinion. The intimacy between them is palpable, and some days, I believe they've just become lovers before this episode. Then there's the wonderful "emotional security" exchange and the incredibly blatant flirting that accompanies it on both sides, but my reasons for loving this ep go deeper than that. It's crucial to understanding Kirk's "I don't believe in the no-win scenario" philosophy, which becomes central to his success as a commander and which surfaces again and again as a theme. It also illuminates the different but complementary ways of thinking that Kirk and Spock embody in the classic "poker vs. chess" conversation which starts here, and continues in varying forms throughout the series. It introduces the essential Star Trek concept of looking beneath the surface when encountering the unknown, and shows us a future where alien life doesn't have to be monstrous and the hand of friendship can get you a lot further than a show of strength. But my favorite scene in this episode happens between Kirk and Spock on the bridge, when Spock weighs the logic of their situation and recommends to Kirk that they surrender.
"What's the matter with them out there? They must know we mean them no harm. They're certainly aware by now that we're totally incapable of it. There must be something to do, something I've overlooked."
"In chess, when one is outmatched, the game is over. Checkmate."
"Is that your best recommendation?"
It's the strongest reprimand Kirk ever gives Spock in the series, and it literally takes Spock's breath away. He starts to apologize, then breaks off. Kirk leaves him standing beside his bridge station, and the camera lingers on Spock, showing us how deeply Kirk's disappointment has cut him. Of course, I love the moment of tension, and the collision of their philosophical differences, but what I love most is that you can see Spock questioning everything he's believed up till that moment, everything his father and Vulcan taught him. He'll never again give up so easily, and from that moment on, his perspective is forever changed.
3. "The Naked Time" (airing order: Episode 8)
It reads like fanfic. A landing party is exposed to a virus which lowers emotional inhibitions. The virus is spread by touch. Fanficcers, start your engines!
In this episode, we get to see Spock run away from Nurse Chapel and lock himself in a briefing room, where he cries brokenheartedly over his inability to tell his mother he loved her, and his shame over his feelings for Jim. He tells Jim as much. What more could you really ask for? Yes, that's what I think, too.
"I respected my father... our customs. I was ashamed of my Earth blood. Jim, when I feel friendship for you, I'm ashamed. ...Understand, Jim. I've spent a whole lifetime learning to hide my feelings."
4. "The Conscience of the King" (airing order: Episode 14)
This one may seem a strange choice, but I'm including it for two reasons. One, it gives us more background on Kirk than almost any other episode, though that's not really saying much. And two, it's my favorite example of the lack of boundaries between Kirk and Spock even at this early date, and I adore Spock's dogged determination to save Kirk from himself.
This is the episode where we learn about Kirk's boyhood experiences on Tarsus IV, when he found himself in the middle of a famine on an offworld colony that resulted in four thousand deaths, and became one of a handful of survivors who could identify Governor Kodos, also known as Kodos the Executioner. Kirk struggles to be certain of his suspicions while Spock tries to keep Kirk from becoming the next in a line of murder victims. I think I love it for the unanswered questions it poses about Kirk's demons, and for the way it shows so clearly that Spock is more than just Kirk's right hand, and that Kirk knows how to lean on Spock when he has to.
"Even in this corner of the galaxy, Captain, two plus two equals four. Certainly an attempt will be made to kill you. Why do you invite death?"
"I'm not. I'm interested in justice."
"Are you? Are you sure it's not vengeance?"
"No, I'm not sure. I wish I was."
5. "The Devil in the Dark" (airing order: Episode 27)
Possibly my second favorite episode after "The Corbomite Maneuver." Aside from the story of tolerance and preservationism, which is told with a lovely, light touch, Kirk and Spock are wonderfully intimate and together in this episode, plainly taking delight in one another's presence in almost every scene. Spock argues against the use of force in bringing down a dangerous life form -- at least until Kirk's the one in danger. Believing Kirk has been caught in a cave-in, Spock starts to panic and runs down a tunnel calling, "Jim. Jim!" We get Kirk supporting Spock when a mind-meld with the injured creature leaves him shaky, and we get the two of them debating the odds in a wonderful conversation where it's quite plain that what they're really saying is, "I don't trust your instinct for self-preservation, and I'm not willing to let you put yourself in harm's way." "And Vulcan will freeze over before I let you stay down here without me." "Oh. Well, since you put it that way..."
"The odds against you and I both being killed are 2,228.7 to 1."
"2,228.7 to 1? Those are pretty good odds, Mr. Spock."
"And they are of course accurate, Captain."
6. "City on the Edge of Forever" (airing order: Episode 29)
Consistently named as the all-time viewer favorite, and it's easy to see why. It's a twist on the time-travel love story, where rather than changing history to save someone you love, Kirk must kill someone he loves to avoid changing history. If Edith Keeler is a bit of a Mary Sue, it's hard not to like her -- after all, she's right there with us in recognizing that Kirk and Spock come as a matched set.
For K/Sers, this episode is rife with angst and possibility. Kirk and Spock share a small tenement room for weeks in New York, in winter time -- and they use one of the two narrow beds to build Spock's "stone knives and bearskins" computer contraption. Hmm, I guess that's one way to keep warm. We have the pleasure of watching their quick minds work together to figure out a plan while they race against time, and of course there's the big angst factor of Spock acting as Kirk's confidante, sympathizing with his agonizing decision and watching Kirk's flirtation with Edith in noble, suffering silence. Big drama + big angst + flannel shirts = teh hot.
"Couldn't you build some form of computer aid here?"
"In this zinc-plated vacuum-tubed culture?
"Yes, well, it would pose an extremely complex problem in logic, Mr. Spock. Excuse me. I sometimes expect too much of you."
7. "Operation: Annihilate!" (airing order: Episode 30)
Bring on the hurt-comfort! Kirk's brother is killed, and his nephew and sister-in-law are dying. Spock, too, is attacked by a spinal-invasive parasite that causes excruciating pain and tries to take over his mind. He must endure the agony to learn how to defeat the creatures. When McCoy finally devises a way to kill it, the procedure leaves Spock blind.
I ask you. Most fandoms need fanfic for this kind of stuff.
"Can he control it the way he says, Bones?
"Who knows, Jim? I know the amount of pain the creature can inflict upon him, but whether he can control it hour to hour..."
"I have my own will, Captain. Let me help."
"I need you, Spock. But we can't take any chances."
8. "Amok Time" (airing order: Episode 35)
Aaaaaand here we have it. This episode may be singlehandedly responsible for the birth of slash fandom, at least as a group sport. It's easy to see why. The storyline goes something like this: Spock is acting strangely, suddenly displaying bursts of emotion he can't control. When Kirk witnesses one of his outbursts, he asks Kirk to take him to Vulcan, but refuses explanation. Unfortunately, an urgent diplomatic mission demands that Kirk deny the request. Spock's behavior deteriorates, and he orders the ship back to Vulcan but later has no memory of doing so. Kirk, now certain something is wrong, orders Spock in for a physical, which reveals what Spock has known all along: he is dying of a mysterious condition McCoy cannot explain.
Cue private tete-a-tete between Kirk and Spock in Spock's quarters, in what is one of the most sexually-charged scenes I've ever had the pleasure of rewinding to watch again. Spock confesses to Kirk that he is in pon farr, the Vulcan time of mating, and he must return to Vulcan and take a mate (a girl he has not seen since he left Vulcan almost 20 years before), or he will die. Kirk, in turn, swears to him that he will get Spock to Vulcan somehow, and that he will protect Spock's privacy.
Wait, it gets better. When they get to Vulcan, the woman he's supposed to marry invokes ancient custom and forces Spock into ritual combat with the champion of her choosing. And she chooses (drumroll!)... yep, Captain James T. Kirk. Unfortunately, by now Spock is the 'blood fever,' his instincts to mate or die taking over. And oh, by the way, did we mention this combat was to the death? No, no, but wait! It gets better, because they fight, and there's blood and shirt rippage, and then Spock throttles Kirk and thinks he's killed him (thank God for McCoy's trusty hypo!) and he's so upset over Kirk's death that it snaps him out of the blood fever (and how did that happen, exactly?) and he doesn't have to marry anybody, and he goes back to the ship to be court-martialed -- only to get the surprise of his life when Kirk revives, alive and well, and Spock grabs him and spins him around and smiles and says, "Jim--!"
You know, there's just nothing like uncontrollable alien sex drives and ambiguous endings to transform subtext into text, is there?
"My friend does not understand."
"The choice has been made, Spock. It is up to him now."
"He does not know. I will do what I must, T'Pau, but not with him! His blood does not burn. He is my friend!"
"It is said thy Vulcan blood is thin. Are thee Vulcan, or are thee human?"
"I burn, T'Pau. My eyes are flame. My heart is flame. Thee has the power, T'Pau. In the name of my fathers, forbid... forbid! T'Pau, I plead with thee. I beg!"
"Thee has prided thyself on thy Vulcan heritage. It is decided."
9. Tie: "The Paradise Syndrome" and "The Tholian Web" (airing order: Episodes 59 and 65)
Yes, I'm cheating. I just couldn't decide between these two. Both are "Kirk is missing and Spock worries himself sick over it" episodes, and I'm all about that storyline (if you hadn't guessed). Both involve McCoy harrying Spock mercilessly over his dogged determination to find Kirk, and in both Spock is unapologetic and doesn't hesitate to risk the ship for Kirk's sake. In "Paradise Syndrome," Spock goes for months without sleep and practically without food as he tries to decipher an alien language that holds the key to saving the planet where Kirk disappeared. In "The Tholian Web," Spock holds on to his faith that Kirk is alive even when all evidence points to the contrary, risking not only the Enterprise, but interplanetary war, to get him back. Hooray for this.
McCoy (as Spock mind-melds with Kirk)
"Spock! What is it?"
"His mind. He is... an extremely dynamic individual."
—The Paradise Syndrome
"It hurts, doesn't it?"
"What would you have me say, Doctor?"
—The Tholian Web
10. Star Trek: The Motion Picture
As I'm sure you've cleverly noticed, I'm cheating again. I debated a lot, and finally decided that you really can't have a list of "must-see K/S" without this movie on it. The storyline is tired at best and as nearly anyone who's ever heard of the movie is aware, the pacing is deadly, even for the most devoted of Star Trek fans. But the K/S story within this white elephant of a film is so compelling, and so beautifully nuanced, that it really can't be missed. Spock's failed sojourn at Gol so poignantly illustrates his inner struggle, and how ill-suited he is to meet the ideal he's sought all his life. He kneels on the stones of Vulcan's Mount Seleya and prepares to accept the symbol of kolinahr -- total logic -- but something calls to him across the light years. Roddenberry's own novelization of the film tells us it is Jim Kirk's thoughts he senses, even after three years of seclusion. He is denied the kolinahr, and leaves Vulcan to return to Kirk's side.
Kirk's sense of betrayal at Spock's decision to leave Starfleet is painful to see, but his relief and joy when Spock appears on the bridge are even more affecting. His emotional vulnerability in the officer's lounge scene when he admits openly how much he needs Spock, only to be rebuffed, is heartbreaking; Spock's own desperate attempt to maintain control is even harder to watch. All of that pain makes their reconnection in Sickbay the more welcome, and desperately needed, for us as well as for them. "I should have known," Spock says, and laughs, because it seems so obvious now. "Jim. This... simple feeling... is beyond V'Ger's comprehension. No meaning. No hope. And Jim -- no answers." Their joy is palpable, their hands clasping tight, and it's clear that they won't forget the lesson V'Ger and their years apart have taught them.
Now, of course, I have to throw a set of bonus episodes in here just for eye candy:
"Shore Leave" (airing order: Episode 18)
There's inappropriate touching. Also, shirt ripping. There's just no bad here.
"The Return of the Archons" (airing order: Episode 23)
Possibly the prettiest these two men ever looked, and they managed it in the same episode. Kirk in an embroidered vest. Spock in a cape. Both looking so hot my mind goes to very vivid places every time I watch it. Just, guh.
"Errand of Mercy" (airing order: Episode 28)
It was really hard to leave this one off the list of slashiest episodes, but it gets big points for the pretty, too. Tunics and tights, and much with the banter. Really, pure K/S numminess from beginning to end -- with the added bonus of a wonderfully lascivious Kor whose interest in Kirk is intriguingly personal.
"Mirror, Mirror" (airing order: Episode 40)
Absolutely mind-melting, saturnine alternate reality Spock, with none of the insecurity of our Spock and with his own dark, dangerous sex appeal. Hand-held torture devices. GOLD BOLERO. Ahem.
"Bread and Circuses" (airing order: Episode 44)
Second only to "Return of the Archons" for the raw sex appeal. This is another episode that's hard to leave off the "slashiest" list, because the scene where McCoy needles Spock about his neuroses and they admit they're both going crazy with worry about Jim is pretty intense. Kirk checking out the centerfold of Gladiator Today is pretty fun, too. But mostly? Wow, hot little outfits. Go, costume designers.
"Journey to Babel" (airing order: Episode 45)
Silk dress uniforms! Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more. Oh, and Jim demonstrates his patented flying ass kick and gets stabbed, and we get to meet Spock's parents.
"A Piece of the Action" (airing order: Episode 50)
How cute are these guys in their gangster outfits? Not to mention again with the banter, and the Butch & Sundance routine. More fun than should be legal.
"Patterns of Force" (airing order: Episode 53)
Also known as "Patterns of Chest Hair." Yes, it's a crime that this is the only episode where Spock takes his shirt off, because, yum. But hey, at least he runs around for half the episode without managing to find another one -- and there's flogging. Not to mention sweaty clambering around on one another's nekkidness to break out of jail. There's the 'I trust you to cut me' numminess as well, but the best, of course, is the bit where the Nazi interrogator hits Kirk, and it's Spock who flinches. Very nice.
"Requiem for Methuselah" (airing order: Episode 77)
This episode is more than a little crazy-making. The idea of an immortal who takes refuge on a deserted planet and builds himself an artificial companion is a good one, but it's sadly lacking in execution, and the idea that Kirk falls in love with this woman in a matter of hours is laughable. The acting is uneven, the eye candy factor is definitely on the low end of the scale, and the resolution is anvil-like in its subtlety. But I almost put this in the Top 10 anyway, because none of that matters once you see the episode tag, and it is made crystal clear that Spock not only has the word "love" written in his book, he's just as susceptible to making foolish decisions for love's sake as any of us. McCoy, believing Spock doesn't understand Kirk's pain, muses that he just wishes Kirk could forget. Then he leaves Spock alone with Kirk, who's asleep. Spock looks down at his friend for a long moment before touching his face and initiating a mind-meld, whispering the word, "Forget."
Hey, I wish he could make me forget the rest of this episode, too. But I'll settle for wearing out the last chapter on the DVD.
The Ultimate Love Story
Kirk (in Janice Lester's body)
"You are closer to the captain than anyone in the universe. You know his thoughts. What does your telepathic mind tell you now?"
Spock (after touching his mind)
"I believe you."
I fell fast and hard for the Kirk-Spock relationship at age 11, when I read the fantastic pro novel The Entropy Effect by Vonda McIntyre. In this book, Kirk is killed by a psychotic temporal physicist (around page 80 or so, I believe) and then Spock must unravel a maze of time loops to prevent the murder. I had no idea what Star Trek was when I read it, but it didn't matter -- the angst and beautiful pain of a logical, unemotional guy desperately trying to save the one person closest to him made a wreck of me. I was sold by the scene where Kirk lies dying in his own blood and Spock tries to save him with a mind-meld; the deal was sealed when I got to the end of the book, and Spock, waking in Sickbay to find Kirk standing over him, can barely control his laughter and tears.
Quickly finding other Star Trek books, I eventually clued in to the fact that it was a TV show, and not long thereafter went to see Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan on opening day. That was all she wrote. Three years of adolescent obsession ensued, derailed only by the usual high school preoccupation with dating, sports, grades, etc. And then one fateful day, I decided to go to a local Star Trek convention. There, wandering through the dealer's room, I happened to pick up a K/S zine, having no idea what was within its plain covers. I started to read, and -- dropped that thing like a hot potato. I'd been obsessed with Kirk and Spock and their emotional bond for almost four years, but the thought of throwing sex into the mix? Oh, no, no, no. That was far too bizarre for my 15-year-old brain to deal with. I quickly got the hell out of there, and denied the concept even existed for almost ten years.
So what changed my mind? What made me wake up one day and realize, hey, this isn't such a crazy idea? In fact, it's so not crazy that even though I've never really read any of this slash stuff, I think I need to write some and post it on the internet right now!
The simple answer is that I grew up a lot in those 9 years, and my ideas about relationships and sex broadened to encompass the idea of slash. But it was living with the idea of those characters and how they interconnect, what really makes them tick, that gradually opened my eyes to the richness of possibility in their relationship, and it was watching Star Trek III: The Search for Spock again after a number of years that finally made the pieces fit in my head.
"Sir, your son meant more to me than you can know. I'd have given my life if it would have saved his."
—Kirk to Sarek, The Search for Spock
The third film is, pure and simple, a love story. It's as good as the best fanfiction, and it convinced me beyond a doubt that not only did Kirk and Spock love each other, not only were they the most important people in one another's lives, but that they were, quite literally, unable to be what they were meant to be without one another. My imagination was set afire by the lengths to which Kirk is willing to go on the smallest chance that something of Spock can be saved, and the price he pays along the way. Seeing Spock die again on the monitor in Kirk's quarters, seeing his last words with Kirk from Sarek's perspective, made me really think about what I was seeing -- the parting of two lifelong soulmates who should have had more time. Sarek's assumption that Kirk holds Spock's katra, Kirk's despair when Spock walks away from him on Seleya, and most of all, the light that comes back into Spock's eyes when he starts to remember, and says Jim's name... it all added up to a love too passionate to be called friendship, too all-consuming to be less than true intimacy. (This vid was my best attempt at capturing that experience. password is "jim")
Alight with that new awareness, but still not quite able to name what I was seeing, I watched Star Trek: the Motion Picture again. And this time, when I saw the expression on Kirk's face when Spock walked onto the bridge for the first time, and watched the way Spock took Kirk's hand in Sickbay with an expression like he had come home, it suddenly seemed so obvious to me that these two men had been intimate together physically, as well as in every other way.
Some have said that Kirk is the ultimate ladies' man, and questioned his slashability, but I must admit that once I had that watershed moment watching ST:TMP, I no longer had any difficulty seeing both of them as thoroughly bisexual. The fact that neither of them ever manages a lasting sexual relationship of any kind leaves a lot of room for speculation, I think, and Spock's issues with repression certainly provide ample room for theorizing that he falls anywhere from a 2 to about a 5 on the Kinsey scale. Neither of them maintain any sexual relationship that even begins to approach the level of emotional attatchment they show for one another, and Spock's failed marriage to T'pring raises more questions that it answers. As for Kirk, his own history of failed relationships with women is interesting when seen in contrast to his lasting male friendships. Further, this is a guy who will have sex with aliens and androids, flirts with anything that moves (Spock at the top of the list) and loans his body out to a disembodied alien consciousness for the fun of it -- he is not exactly conventional in the sexual identity department. But more compelling than any of these factors is what I see on screen now when I watch the Star Trek films: the bottom line is, I'm looking at two men who have chosen each other time and time again over anything and everything else, and will continue to do so until the end of time, because that's just who they are. I just can't seem to see them any other way, any more.
And that makes me very, very happy.