Spock’s Human Side Comes Through in “Charades”

The latest 'Strange New Worlds' episode is a poignant and comedic showcase for our favorite Vulcan.

I’ve been a Star Trek fan for almost as long as I’ve been a Star Wars fan. I grew up on the reruns of the original series, and if you know me at all, it will come as no surprise who my favorite character has always been.

Live long and prosper.

Yes, the chubby, little kid who liked to read identified with the logical half-human, half-alien character. (Pause for gasps.)

Spock was always the best. He tried to suppress his human side, but the Vulcans never fully accepted him as one of their own. Human emotions confused him, but Spock could always be counted on to get off some good deadpan lines to drive an exasperated McCoy crazy.

All the actors I’ve seen play Spock give different weight to each part of the equation. Leonard Nimoy played up the emotionless and detached Vulcan half. Zachary Quinto gave Spock more human emotions, making out with Uhura and beating up Kirk in a rage. Ethan Peck is finding his own way to make Spock his own. The scripts have given him many opportunities to indulge in the human qualities of jealousy, lust, and stress, and has also established how many Vulcans view him and his father. (Hint: not well.) He’s also taken full advantage of any chance to let Spock be funny. (“I would like the ship to go! Now!”)

Spock has always had a funny side, sometimes intentional and sometimes not. (Recall a newly reborn Spock learning how to swear in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, or rather using “colorful euphemisms.”) Still, the Spock of Strange New Worlds is eager to embrace his Vulcan heritage. He’s taking emotional inhibitors and trying to avoid triggers — like Sam Kirk leaving damn crumbs everywhere. (Honestly, those crumbs were bothering me as well. Clean up your mess, Sam!)

Oh, and emotional triggers like Nurse Chapel.

Ever since they fake-kissed last season, the romantic tension between them has been palpable. Chapel had to calm down a raging Spock with a hug, Spock almost lost his mind when it looked like Chapel had frozen to death in the vacuum of space (“You do not die!”). Spock has been avoiding her (although he claims it’s unintentional.) It’s made all the more bittersweet by Spock’s engagement to the pretty Vulcan, T’Pring.

Oh yeah, T’Pring… I almost forgot about her. She’s very understanding about Spock’s Starfleet schedule (and she claims she was totes cool with him kissing Chapel to trick an adversary), but it has been a while. I mean, we’re halfway through the season! Fortunately, the Enterprise’s mission this week is to investigate an energy anomaly on the nearby moon of Kerkhov, and see if that can offer any clue as to what happened to the Kerkhovian civilization that simply up and vanished one day centuries ago. (Oooh! Energy anomaly! Shit’s gonna go down!)

T’Pring has arranged for her and Spock to have their traditional engagement dinner with her parents when he gets to Vulcan. T’Pring’s mom doesn’t like Spock. (The whole “half-human” thing. Have I mentioned lately how extremely unsubtle Trek can be about social issues?) This is, as we humans say, a big deal. And it will happen right after the scan of the moon Spock will be doing. Alongside his new passenger, Christine Chapel.

Chapel is applying for a fellowship in medical archeology which will take place on Vulcan. She wants to examine the remains of the civilization and see if the stories of their advanced medical knowledge are true. Should be super easy: do a shuttle fly by, do some scans, then Spock can go and meet the in-laws.

Ah, but that’s the thing about Star Trek energy anomalies! They never go according to plan! The anomaly turns out to be a stable vortex, a rift in the fabric of space-time. They move to investigate, but the shuttle gets caught in the gravitational pull and is dragged towards the vortex. Spock and Chapel exchange scared glances, when everything goes white…

…And they wake up in the sick bay. The Enterprise rescued the dead shuttle with both Chapel and Spock unconscious. Pike and M’Benga tell them that the shuttle crashed and they were both injured, but it appears that something healed them. Chapel is fine, but Spock has had all of his Vulcan DNA removed. He’s a human boy now.

A strange ring is found in the shuttle, and Uhura quickly deciphers the markings as instructions on how to contact the entities via subspace communications. They dial up , and come into contact with the long-vanished Kerkhovians. They are sentient balls of energy who left through the vortex long ago. Yellow, the one they get in touch with, explains that the shuttle collided with their transport tube, and their laws require them to fix anything they injured. That includes the shuttle, Chapel, and Spock. However, Spock’s mixture of human and Vulcan DNA threw them for a loop, so they made it so Chapel and Spock “matched.” And hey, everyone’s alive, so no need to contact them again, kthnxbye! And they hang up and won’t answer anymore calls.

So, Spock is now human, which is rich with possibility. Spock is now flooded with emotions and they’re all very intense, much stronger than his repressed Vulcan emotions. La’an explains that it’s like going through puberty, a delightful cocktail of lust, confusion and anger. (And snacks. So many snacks.) And the emotions are running wild. Since he’s no longer on nasal suppressants (apparently, the smell us humans give off requires a lot of  getting used to for Vulcans) the smell of Pike cooking bacon makes him positively orgasmic, and he starts to wolf down slices until he gets nauseous. Ortegas’ jokes, which before got a head nod and a “Fascinating” now make Spock crack up to where he’s banging the table and slapping backs. And Spock has to be restrained by security lest he go and beat up Sam Kirk for making a mess with his snacks. (“I WILL BREAK YOU!”) Again, I’m on Spock’s side. Clean up after yourself, Kirk!

Oh, and most importantly, he gives Chapel a friendly hug to comfort her after he Vulcan fellowship interview goes poorly. “Vulcans can be such jerks.” But there’s no time for awkward hugs, because as Pike tells him, his mother is beaming aboard.

Amanda Grayson (Mia Kirshner) tells Spock that — despite what they said before — T’Pring’s family is not happy about rescheduling the engagement, or V’Shal, dinner, once more. It’s been postponed several times because of Spock’s Starfleet duties, and if they postpone again they’ll cancel the engagement. This would bring great shame to T’Pring and Spock, so Amanda took the step of having the V’Shal rituals take place on the Enterprise. Spock yells at his mom that it simply isn’t possible, so get off his back, ok? This makes Amanda realize something is wrong. She makes him take off his clever disguise — a wool hat — and when she sees his human ears, she understands.

Still, T’Pring’s mother, T’Pril, is looking for any excuse to call the engagement off. She wants to have their family connected to Sarek, but she really doesn’t like Amanda because she is a “traditionalist” (i.e. racist).  They can’t postpone again, so Amanda decides to teacher her boy to embrace his human side and lie. This leads to a hilarious sequence where the crew is teaching Spock how to act Vulcan again. “Talk flatter. More Robotic. Notice my eyebrow moves and how nothing else on my face moves.” Spock: “Do I really sound like that?” Everyone: “Yes.” This is good practice for the rituals, one part of which is having your future mother-in-law tell you everything that sucks about you, and you have to sit there calmly and take it. They also have to mind meld with their own mothers and tell what they saw. No big deal for a Vulcan, except when human Spock tries to fake it he just looks constipated. M’Benga glues some Vulcan ears onto Spock, and everyone hopes for the best.

Meanwhile, a guilt-ridden Chapel is trying to find a way to get Spock’s Vulcan DNA back, but nothing is working. In a last-ditch effort, she convinces Uhura and Ortegas to fly them back to the anomaly. Oh, you’re expecting me to say no to some dangerous flying maneuvers, asks Ortegas? And off they go, flying into the trans-dimensional portal.

T’Pring arrives and is vibrating with tension. She’s been stuck with her mother for days. debating (aka, arguing) over everything. Spock plans to tell her about how he’s temporarily human, but decides against it when he sees how overwrought her mother is making her.

T’Pril is pretty much every stereotype of the overbearing mother-in-law. Her henpecked husband is much more easygoing, at least until T’Pril tells him what he should be feeling. She’s rude to Amanda, rude to Pike — who spent all night preparing traditional Vulcan appetizers — and most of all, rude to Spock. When they get to the Airing of Grievances portion of the evening, Amanda goes easy on T’Pring (“You should visit more!”), T’Pril tells Spock he’s a disappointment, a failure, and a disgrace to his family who has turned his back on Vulcan. Yeesh. Spock rightly excuses himself after that to go scream into a pillow.

Chapel and company wake up to find themselves in inter-dimensional space, talking to the Kerkhovians. Chapel tries to explain how they messed up Spock, but they aren’t receptive. “The complaint period has ended. No complaints were received.” (Wow, customer service sucks all over the galaxy.) And anyways, friends can’t lodge complaints. This causes Uhura and Ortegas to roll their eyes. C’mon, Christine! It’s obvious to everyone except you that you like like Spock! Chapel makes her friends turn around — causing more eye rolls — so she can explain to a disembodied, sentient energy field that friends in her dimension care for each other and she has feelings for her friend, so please help him. Huh, says Yellow, that could explain something. Like why Spock diverted all the shields to protect her in the shuttle. They were curious about that.

Spock is white knuckling it through the ceremony, and just about to sit down for the mind meld when the door chimes. It’s Chapel! She has his “vitamins” ready. The Kerkhovians gave her the DNA treatment, but before she injects him, she asks why he diverted shields to her. It was only logical. His Vulcan half would make him more likely to survive. (Oh, that’s all? Vulcans really are bad liars.) With his genetic code restored, Spock can easily mind meld with his mother.

T’pril is impressed. She didn’t think Spock could do it, given his handicaps (and she says this staring right at Amanda). Spock has had enough of T’Pril belittling his mother. So, this ritual, only a Vulcan could pass it, right? Yes, of course. Wow, it’d sure be embarrassing for you if a human did it, huh? At which point Spock rips off his ears. You think my humanity is a weakness? It’s my strength. My mother is the strongest, most resilient person I know, and I am sorry it took me until now to realize that.

I should note that Pike has some fantastic comedic acting throughout the ritual. At one point he comes in with a tray of hors d’oeuvres, only to do a Homer-backing-into-the-hedges move when he sees Spock start to yell at T’Pril.

T’Pring is shocked by this. She is also hurt that seemingly everyone in the crew was part of the ruse, but not her. Which is a valid complaint! She’s accepted Spock and his human side, but he didn’t trust her enough to handle it when he was all human. She decides that they need a little time apart. And Spock doesn’t fight her.

Later, he is about to leave his quarters to go and talk to Chapel, but she is already at his door. He tells her that he and T’Pring are taking some time apart. He also has feelings for someone else. (Oh really, whom might that be?) He starts to say more when Chapel starts to kiss him.

This was a wonderful, character-focused episode, full of everything you’d expect from Strange New Worlds. Spock is forced to examine his human side and realize that he’s been oblivious to the prejudice his mother had to deal with as a human living among Vulcans who view her as lesser. Mia Kershner does great work, biting down her resentments to help out her son.

As cute a couple as Spock and Chapel are, I do feel bad for T’Pring. She did nothing wrong, and had to put up with her horrible, racist mother all week. She is legitimately hurt that Spock didn’t trust her enough to tell her. Spock logically thought that T’Pring had enough to deal with in her mother, and since Vulcans are bad at lying, she might let it slip. He’s not wrong, but relationships are built on trust, even Vulcan ones.

I am curious to see where Spapel — as the Spock-Chapel shippers have been calling this —goes from here. Are they going to stick with established canon in the original series, where Spock and Chapel weren’t dating? Is this going to be a fling? Both characters and actors are great, so I’m excited to see what is next.

Episode Rating: 4.5 out of 5. You get docked half a star for doing T’Pring dirty.

Classic Call Back:  Spock wears an Enterprise issue toque to disguise his lack of ears from his Mom, and this made me think of “City on the Edge of Forever”, where Spock wore a wool hat to hide his ears from the Depression-era Earthlings. Spock can rock a hat in any timeline.

Victor Catano
Victor Catano
Victor Catano lives in New York City with his adorable pughuaua, Danerys. When not writing, he works in live theater as a stage manager, production manager, and chaos coordinator. His hobbies include coffee, Broadway musicals, and complaining about the NY Mets and Philadelphia Eagles. Follow him on BlueSky and Instagram at @vgcatano and find his books on Amazon

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I've been a Star Trek fan for almost as long as I've been a Star Wars fan. I grew up on the reruns of the original series, and if you know me at all, it will come as no surprise who my favorite character...Spock's Human Side Comes Through in "Charades"