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Spock/Uhura revisited

Kaleya wrote an excellent post exploring why she thinks Spock and Uhura had a romantic relationship before the events in Star Trek 2009.

I still disagree with that position, although I acknowledge that the movie leaves room for interpretation on this point.


Ooh, fun! Thanks for taking up the other side of the question. :) Ultimately, the movie is ambiguous, so although I strongly believe that one perspective is more consistent with the characters, I'm delighted to find someone who put a well-thought response out there.

I have to start by saying that I'm not familiar with TOS canon in meticulous detail. I haven't seen most of the TOS episodes. I'm extrapolating Spock's character from the few episodes and movies with Nimoy's Spock that I have seen. If you can argue convincingly from a stronger position there, I'll concede my points. (Until I can watch the episodes for myself and squeeze my projections onto them. :)

You're right that Quinto's Spock is more edgy than Nimoy's Spock, and I think hitting on the "he's younger" angle is effective. By the time we'd met Nimoy's Spock, he was settled in his position on the Enterprise, he had Vulcan and his mother intact, and he had a few more years of experience dealing with Kirk.

Up until the younger Spock runs into Nero, though, I think he was on exactly the same trajectory as Nimoy's Spock. The events of his life up until that point were exactly the same and if he hadn't lost Vulcan--and especially his mother--he and Uhura would probably have had the same distanced-but-good-friends relationship that TOS Spock and Uhura had. TOS canon has them flirting but never going farther than that. Spock is not the sort of character to enter into a romantic relationship lightly (unless it's the get-involved-or-die pon farr situation, which isn't exactly light, but it does give him an easy psychological out), so I can't seem him shacking up with Uhura at the Academy and then dumping her when they end up on the Enterprise together. I see no reason why the same set of events would lead Quinto's Spock to a different place than Nimoy's, up to that point in his life. I didn't see anything in the pre-Nero events that were contradictory to Spock Prime's development. Spock Prime eventually becomes more comfortable with his human side and shies away less often from the messiness of human emotions, but it takes him a lot longer to get there than this younger Spock, because he never got put through the pressure cooker quite so soon or so intensely. That he was attracted to Uhura was never in doubt in TOS, so why didn't he respond to her advances?

It's because he IS that emotionally locked down. He finds peace, stability, personal pride, and a sense of identity in the absence of inner conflict...which he achieves by embracing those things which don't provoke him to feel, and distancing himself from those that do. I think it might be uncomfortable, possibly even painful, for him to experience emotions: it's as if he's been holding that "muscle" down for so long that it's seized up and it's cramped and it hurts to move it. If he "walks it out" it'll eventually stop hurting and turn out to be a great experience, but everything from his childhood (except for Amanda) has trained him to clamp that part of himself down tight. He has his mother's love but he wants his father's approval (love is too much to ask for there, he thinks, not realizing that his father has always loved him), and he's perennially torn between what he sees as the two warring positions. This tension hurts, it continues hurting every time he is forced to interact with both his parents, and his peers make a cruel habit of continually driving barbs into the wound, so it's no surprise that since he can't express the pain to anyone (except his mother, I'll theorize a bit on that later :), he winds himself up tightly and clamps down beyond even what the Vulcans around him are driven to do.

You're right that he would still be keenly aware of his mother's emotional nature and would take pains not to cause her pain. Aside from the normal mother-son bond, I think there's another dimension to their relationship. Recall that Spock is a touch telepath. What this likely means is that as he was growing in Amanda's womb, he developed a deep telepathic bond with her, which continued after his birth. Because she wasn't a telepath, she wouldn't have had the ability to sever that bond, but he would have. She would have enjoyed it, and when he was very young, he would have too...until he came to realize that he couldn't be so emotional in public, and seeing / reading into his father's apparent disapproval would have had a freezing effect on any demonstrations he made, no matter how small.

I expect that this sort of telepathic bond between mother and child would be a matter of course between Vulcans, but that the mother would sever the bond some time around the weaning, and the child would no longer be bound by that tether. There would probably have been a few cases where the mother didn't sever the bond when she should have, and that would have led to censure and an eventual forced break between them. When such an illicit bond was recognized to exist, that was likely to be an ancient root cause for the establishment of the ritual of kolinahr. Over the millenia, it evolved into the highly ritualized tradition of Spock's day, but it still applied to that deepest and most primitive of bonds. Spock's conversation with his mother about going through kolinahr was him apologizing for the impending decision to break his telepathic bond with her, not just him asking her for permission to reject his human heritage.

I think he would have realized early on that his peers were not still bonded with their mothers and although it wouldn't have been a casual topic of conversation, he probably would have realized the illicit nature of their continued relationship and how antithetical it was to Vulcan society. He would have felt a combination of guilt and thirst when he realized that he had the power to break it, but was unwilling to do so--both to spare his mother's feelings and to protect that most precious aspect of his childhood. I am certain that Sarek was aware of the bond and would have been able to break it himself, but likewise would have been unwilling to do it, because he had taken Amanda away from nearly everything else that she knew and loved. Amanda probably viewed the bond as an incredible gift that she hadn't anticipated when she had agreed to marry Sarek, and it was in addition to her awe of and deep love for her unique and sensitive son.

As to the nature of their bond? He likely drew emotional strength from her--she could probably smooth over the ragged edges of his nature because she knew when he was in pain and she could offer comfort. He felt safe and home with her. Both because she did not completely hide her emotions in public and because he was still bonded with her, he knew when she was in pain, when she had to deal with the censure and discrimination of the people around them. I think alessiana was right when she asserted that their rejection of his mother infuriates him. He is not as concerned about his own hurt--that would be admitting to himself that he has emotions--as he is about his mother's pain. As long as they remain bonded, he can't completely block her emotions, so he knows her well and he knows that she is a beautiful, kind, and amazing person. That the others don't recognize that and go so far as to call her a whore is beyond wrong, and it's no wonder that it infuriates him, even if she weren't his mother, which just magnifies it beyond his control. His emotional bond with his mother is both his Achilles heel and a significant source of strength for him.

An awkward part of this bond (and perhaps a big reason for why it's not approved of in Vulcan society) is that it co-exists with Amanda's telepathic bond with Sarek. Everything that Amanda feels, Spock has access to, even her love for and responses to Sarek. Spock knows that his mother passionately loves his father and when Spock allows himself access to that bond in those moments, he knows what it feels like to love someone without reservation. Of course, this contradicts how Spock himself feels towards his emotionally-distant father, that distance being magnified by how deeply it contrasts with his relationship with his mother. The fact that Spock is not telepathically bonded with his father means that he doesn't have access to how his father feels about his mother (which would be just as deep, and most likely deeper, than Spock himself feels about her). Thus, he feels as though the relationship between his parents is unfairly one-sided, so as logical as he tries to be about it, he can't help but resent his father. In his one attempt to find out how his father feels, Sarek deflects the query with cool rationalism, confirming young Spock's perception of the unequal relationship.

When entirely in private with Amanda, I'm also certain that Sarek was affectionate with her. I can easily imagine them laughing together and thoroughly enjoying each other. Remember that again, Sarek is a touch telepath. That would turn any lovemaking up to 11. He loved her deeply and he showed her that, and she responded in kind. But as an intensely private person, he would never have allowed Spock into that lover's bond. Despite his independent streak in marrying a human, he carried with him a sense of what was traditional and proper in the home, probably learned from his own distant parents. He would treat his son in kind, thinking that that was how a child ought to be raised, and knowing that Spock needed to learn emotional distance if he were to succeed in Vulcan society, which Sarek passionately wants him to do. I wonder if Sarek would ever have realized that Spock could tap into Amanda's emotions while she was with her husband. If he had, he probably would have forced the break between her and her son. Perhaps it never occurred to him. Perhaps he chose not to think of it. In any case, I completely agree with you that Sarek was emotionally demonstrative with Amanda. It just does not necessarily follow that he was emotionally demonstrative when in the presence of his son. I can see him permitting Amanda chaste good-bye kisses when Spock was in sight, but no more than that.

When Spock left Vulcan, the bond with his mother was attenuated, but never broken. It was his and her private world, and I'm sure they stayed in regular touch with each other, even though he and his father were estranged. Again, I think she provided Spock a sense of home, even when he was far from Vulcan...which he didn't necessarily think of as home per se, except that it was where his mother was.

He built a life for himself in Starfleet, with all the strangeness and adjustment of living on an alien world. He was there nearly fifteen years before he met Uhura, long enough to develop habits around how he related to humans. He was far more intelligent than most people there--and they were the best and brightest that Earth had to offer. He saw himself as apart from most people, and would not have pursued close friendships / bonds with anyone. Captain Pike was probably the closest thing he had to a friend, built from mutual respect and a decade of active service under the man. The humans and other more emotionally-demonstrative beings around Spock would have stopped trying to befriend him soon after he arrived, because they perceived him as cold, proud, aloof, emotionless, intimidatingly intelligent, and unbendingly committed to his pursuit of scientific knowledge and career: all traits that are disconcerting to most people. He would have gained a reputation, so that new people would be cautioned to not even bother trying to befriend him. Perhaps a few of his fellow cadets even tried to provoke him like his Vulcan peers had during his childhood, but the humans' attempts would have been clumsy and ineffective compared to the Vulcans'. As a young male, he would certainly have found various women attractive, but (having married an INTJ myself and seen what he responded to) Spock would not have been seriously affected in any long-term way by anything less than the shock of recognizing a mind that could match and perhaps exceed his own in some ways. Enter Uhura.

But I don’t see Uhura being the aggressor in the relationship, pursuing a stoic, unfeeling Spock shamelessly. I think the relationship was gradual, mutual and organic growing out of the many things they had in common intellectually. A personal relationship between S/U would be kept extremely private first and foremost because of the natures of the individuals involved. No one spending 2 minutes with Uhura would have doubted her intelligence, skill or professionalism. Only the silliest or pettiest of life forms would have thought a relationship with Spock “gilded the lily” for Uhura’s upward mobility.

Oh, I heartily agree with you on all of this. I'm sorry if I implied that Uhura was pursuing a stoic, unfeeling Spock shamelessly. Quite the opposite, I assure you! I tried to establish why Uhura would not have pursued Spock openly while they were at the Academy, by arguing that because she could perceive his pain and discomfort, she saw that he wasn't as cold or aloof as everyone else thought, that in fact he felt quite deeply but didn't feel free to show it. Recognizing that about him probably made her ache with the realization, and swear to do everything in her power to keep him from the censure of others, which she saw on a regular basis. Pursuing a relationship with him when she was a student would have exposed him to censure, not to mention herself. But fear of how others would perceive her would not have given her much pause, because she too would have recognized a gem when she saw it. Despite the fact that only silly and petty people would have accused them of anything inappropriate if they did have a romantic relationship, the sad reality is that the world is filled with silly and petty people. Other cadets who weren't as good as she was, whose wrong answers she showed up in class when she gave the right ones. Other faculty who weren't as highly accomplished as Spock was, and who resented him for being too damn good at what he did, and unwilling to share the glory. Jealously drives people to do silly and petty things. Unfortunately, the only viable way to avoid censure from such people is to avoid all appearance of evil--give them no solid fodder for the rumor mill. Spock would have found himself falling hard for her and, being sensitive to what would be best for her career, what would be worthy of a woman of her caliber, he would never have allowed himself to jeopardize that.

So what we have is two people who are both putting the needs of the other before their own desires, not concerned about dangers to their own positions--because both believe that merit will lead to advancement, and that they have the chops to demonstrate that merit no matter what--but rather thinking of how the other could be hurt if they gave into what they really want, which was to start shagging each other like telepathically-bonded rabbits. Mutual respect, years of growing friendship, a shared love of learning, sharp minds, selflessness with respect to each other, hours spent working closely in each other's company, a strong physical attraction...holy crap, that's about the ultimate in hot.

And all of this is roiling through Spock, who can't express any of it out loud, and who isn't comfortable feeling all of this, because it threatens his stability and identity. But it's impossible to resist and he'd rather endure it than force a separation between them, because he enjoys their rare friendship so much. Uhura likewise values their friendship very highly, because he treats her as an equal and engages her intellectually, rather than flirting with her or acting intimidated by her daunting intelligence, like most of the other men in her life. Uhura's not quite as conflicted about her attraction to him. I could see her planning to approach him, tentatively and patiently, when their positions were changed to the not-as-volatile situation of commissioned officers working on board the same starship. The crews spent extended periods of time out in space; families routinely traveled on ships that large. The taboo on their relationship would be relaxed significantly, if not entirely removed. And this is what you see TOS Uhura doing--making that move in a situation where she finally could. The fact that TOS Spock resisted her is rooted in my earlier assertions about how uncomfortable/painful experiencing strong emotions felt to him and the core emotional bond that he still enjoyed with his mother. He would have worked to reduce his feelings for Uhura as he got older and was capable of doing that, and he would have relied somewhat on his bond with his mother to regain his emotional stability.

Quinto's Spock comes from the sexual pressure-cooker of his relationship with Uhura at the Academy straight into the loss of his telepathic bond with his mother. The loss of Vulcan is immense, but secondary to his personal loss. He's hollowed out, a bloody strip of flesh whipping in the psychological wind. He has no emotional anchor any longer--and he's haunted by the fact that he had his mother within reach but realized only too late that he was going to lose her, and she literally slipped through his fingers. He believes his father blames him for her death. He blames himself for her death, because he was the one that pushed her out to the front of the group. The litany of pain goes on, and it's amazing that Spock manages to hold it together for as long as he does. It's a testament to his strength and his discipline, but his control cracks and he hurtles out of the bridge before anyone else--he thinks--can see it.

Again, enter Uhura, who although she isn't in nearly as much pain as Spock, is still reeling from the loss of Vulcan and the rest of the fleet (all her friends and teachers!) and is acutely aware of what Spock must be going through. Watching the tension in his body, the way he clips his words, the way he can't meet her eyes when he speaks to her, the subtle but tell-tale changes in his breathing...everything screams to her that he's drowning, suffocating under the weight of not being able to express it. Everything in her cries out to comfort him, and heedless of the consequences, she offers herself as a blank canvas to him. If he can't express it, she will do it for him. She isn't worried about being rejected, because the whole moment is about him, not her. If he were to push her off, she wouldn't be angry at him. She's not there to turn him on or take advantage of him: she's there to let him know that she loves him and if he needs someone to lean on, she's willing. Again, thinking of his needs over her own.

Spock, for his part, had fled from the bridge because he knew he was about to have an emotional breakdown, and he wanted to do it in private. When Uhura follows him into the lift, his pain, hurt, and bewilderment show in his eyes because he has almost no control left. He was likely planning to hold it together just long enough to make it back to his quarters. When Uhura walks in, those first few seconds of privacy that he had been counting on are unexpectedly taken from him, and he becomes hyperaware of her presence because it is initially so unwanted. When she stops the lift, he freezes, because he realizes something is coming that he isn't prepared for, something that will likely be another assault on his fragile veneer of control. And it is--but to his surprise, it isn't as painful as he expected, and thus it isn't as unwelcome. He listens to her words but can't respond--the meaningless human pleasantries normally expressed during grieving are laughably inadequate, and besides, he can't talk through the dry lump in his throat. When she suddenly kisses him in sympathy, a whole new whirl of emotions starts to lift in him--shock, overload, some compartmentalized part of his mind noticing how her lips feel against his, and how that compares to what he had imagined they would feel like, no, too much, I can't feel this too--, the warmth of her body and her actions, the way she abandons decorum to comfort him, which--oh God--reminds him of his mother, and he sinks his head into Uhura's shoulder.

And then after a few seconds, he realizes with no small measure of shock what he's just done and what he's let happen in front of Uhura. His control had slipped and now she knows him. He lifts his head, with confusion, surprise, and not-quite-shame--because he can't bring himself to regret what happened--all flitting across his face. Uhura feels the change in the tension of his body and asks him what he needs, because obviously holding her isn't it. She stands back to give him that space, not knowing what to expect, but willing to give him anything. When he manages to choke out, "I need everyone to continue performing admirably," she recognizes his statement for what it is--a desperate last attempt to hold himself together and an acknowledgement of her. He knows he needs to flee now, because she's too open and he can't make it any farther. He starts the lift running again and when he turns back, she kisses him again--this time with a very different feel. It's still tinged with grief, but this time she's acting on purpose rather than impulsively, and he knows it. At first he just lets her, too exhausted to respond, but then he realizes what he's wasting, and how his non-response might hurt her. Not wanting to cause her any pain and recognizing this gift for what it is, he kisses her back in the briefest and quietest way. It's as close as he comes to a thank you for the whole conversation--and then he hears the lift hissing to a stop and he pulls back, steels himself, and leaves her behind.

And you're right, Uhura did not feel rejected in the slightest when Spock left the lift. If anything, she felt a lingering concern, because she knew he wasn't even close to recovery yet. And perhaps she also felt a little twinge of fear--had she done the wrong thing in pressing herself on him at this vulnerable time? But his simple response at the end assured her that he wasn't upset with her...and that she had to let him handle this on his own. I'm sure that as she made her way back to the bridge and took up her post again, she didn't stop worrying about him, but she also turned back to her job and swore to honor his wishes, whatever they were, and to continue performing admirably.


These two will make a great, stable couple over the long-term. Not the sort of people to generate drama between themselves, but the sort of people who are capable of being excellent servant-leaders. They will thus find themselves thrust into plenty of dramatic situations, so despite their mutual stability, they'll rarely encounter a dull moment.

Comments

I hadn't thought about Spock having a telepathic bond with his mother, but it's definitely a plausible idea.

And I totally agree that Uhura and Spock would have restrained themselves at the Academy because they were concerned about the well-being and reputation of the other person.

YES.
I agree with you so much! I don't have the time right this second to reply to everything, so I'll be back later when I can. :) Also, thanks for following me on twitter, I'll add you back. :)

(Anonymous)

Still Talking 'Bout Spock & Uhura

Hi! I had the same problem on your board as you had on mine...too many characters to submit post. Of course, I couldn't cut out any words, so you can see my answer to your great post here:

http://heartoftheslayer.blogspot.com/2009/06/in-response-to.html

kaleya
shiny

June 2017

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