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Mmkay, so first off, I do not really care if you do not ship Spock/Uhura! People have a variety of reasons for not doing so. Some are good, some are not, and ultimately none of them are a concern to me in this here post. I am not interested in a shipwar. I pretty much thrive off of multishipping. I really do not care. Nor is this a post about how Spock/Uhura as a ship is ‘objectively’ right or good or enjoyable or whatever. Whether a relationship is emotionally satisfying for a consumer, or whether the characters’ personalities mesh well, those are totally subjective concepts that cannot be ‘proven’.
But! One thing that irritates me is when people talk about Spock/Uhura as ‘pointless’ in the context of Star Trek XI. Now if you want to read about why this viewpoint is frequently problematic, I’d like to direct you to a really fantastic and well-thought out piece here, from someone actually qualified to talk about that. (The point being that I’m not.) But in terms of why it makes me grind my teeth in a totally petty way on a narrative level when people claim that it’s a pointless dynamic with no justification… let me explain in ENTIRELY TOO MANY WORDS AND TANGENTS. (No, really, this is long. Save yourselves; none of you care nearly as much as I do about this shit.)
Oh, and finally: I’m not saying I came up with all these ideas independently. This is a combination of me reading all the STXI meta I can get my hands on and forming my own thoughts on the topic. Plenty of people have their own takes on these concepts.
For the sake of context, let’s talk about TOS for a second. In the original series of Star Trek, you have the McCoy-Kirk-Spock trio, right? In which Bones is the Id, Spock the Superego and Kirk the Ego (hah, get it. Ego. Because… Shatner. Yes.). It’s been said that this is a solution to the ever-present problem that faces a lot of TV: how you get across characters’ internal monologues when you don’t have an actual internal monologue to show. They are, broadly speaking, three elements that can be combined to make up a single character, arguing with themselves out loud. In this context, no one character mirrors any other. They are all distinct.
Flash forward a bit. The original series is now settling into what people tend to recognise it as. And what do people recognise it as? The Kirk and Spock show (with McCoy). Not everyone, but that is strongly the popular perception and by the end of the show, definitely by the movies, this is pretty obvious. Kirk and Spock become unofficial dual protagonists and the original dynamic is rendered, well, if not quite obsolete then quite diluted. It’s definitely something which upsets or unbalances that original dynamic!
They more or less get away with it, because once the Epic Friendship between Spock and Kirk is cemented in people’s minds then honestly, a lot of the series begins to focus on that and not philosophical issues, which renders the need for that balance of viewpoints less necessary to facilitate discussions between characters. Spock and Kirk can just talk about simple feelings and hold hands and shit and it’s all great. I’d say McCoy here starts to be defined less as the ‘Id’ character and more as Kirk’s friend/Spock’s frenemy, too, but since those relationships aren’t as central as the Kirk-Spock one it still results in him moving into the background a bit.
OK, so now we cut to the 2009 reboot. Spock-Kirk as The Central Dynamic Of Star Trek, Always, Forever is pretty strongly established in pop culture. So when they make this movie, they centre it around those two and this time, they plan that from the get go and structure the movie very strongly around that fact. Spock and Kirk are mirrored protagonists; they are not opposites, but two characters made of essentially the same elements approached from different directions. And as a result of how this is executed, they are quite strongly antagonistic for a lot of the movie.
So we lose the trio. We also limit, this time, the ability to use a dynamic which forces characters to talk out loud. The Kirk-Spock conflict in STXI definitely generates argument and discussion of their views but it also means that after a certain period the characters tend to get to the angry shouting stage which kind of creates a conflict overload! There is only so long you can have your characters communicate their internal thoughts and feelings through shouting at someone before your character starts to be flat and dull.
This also, of course, totally eliminates McCoy. Which sucks. So what do you do? Why, you change his role. You’re restructuring everything, you can do that. So now McCoy is less ‘the Id guy’, though his personality remains intact. Instead, he’s there so that Kirk can have a conversation about the Kobayashi Maru and explain something about his character to the audience. So that we can see what Kirk is like around a friend and what this says about his character. Etc. Spock can’t do this because Spock is antagonistic or absent. Bones becomes a character who exists not as a philosophical extreme to facilitate discussion of differing viewpoints, but a character who instead means that Kirk doesn’t have to talk to himself randomly to show how he feels in certain scenes and to provide emotional support which means Kirk’s only significant interactions with people are not angry/antagonistic.
What does this have to do with Uhura? Well, what does this mean for Spock? It means that there’s a lack of balance again. Kirk has something Spock does not and honestly, in this movie, most of the quieter emotional stuff goes to Spock’s character, not Kirk. Imagine, for a moment, the elevator scene after Vulcan is destroyed. What do we learn about Spock in that scene? That he is emotionally affected, that he is struggling to cope, and that he attempts to cope by having everyone continue without changing their routine. Imagine that scene, now, without Uhura. You could communicate some of this silently; Zachary Quinto really sells it in that scene, after all.
But could you communicate all of it? Effectively? Could you likewise communicate what we see on the transporter pad before going onto the Narada later with only Spock and Kirk? No! Because they are too antagonistic and going into it together besides. That scene shows that Spock is worried enough about their chances of survival that he’ll engage in freaking PDA to say goodbye to Uhura! It communicates something about his character that we cannot get without either a) a friendly second party or b) an internal monologue, the latter of which film as a medium does not really support.
Uhura exists to make sure that as paralleled protagonists, Spock and Kirk are balanced. She fulfils a similar role to Bones and therefore means that Spock is allowed equal access to certain narrative elements as Kirk. That’s not to say that this is the ONLY reason she exists, of course. She also has a sub-arc with Kirk (which parallels Spock-Bones, by the way), and she has plenty of value as a character in her own right alongside Sulu, Chekov, etc. This is not the extent of Uhura’s importance!
But what this means is that if you take Spock/Uhura out, you fuck up the way this film is structured. You cannot have Spock and Kirk be paralleled characters who are antagonistic to one another and of equal prominence without giving them SOMEONE to sound off with so the audience understands them as characters, and where Bones is that for Kirk, Uhura is that for Spock, and their romantic relationship specifically is there to tie into Spock’s wider arc of emotional acceptance (as well as telling us certain things about her own character, such as the scene where she refuses to accept less than she deserves because of their relationship, which is a really defining moment).
Whether you engage emotionally with Spock/Uhura is one thing! But it has a really specific and important and valuable narrative function that couldn’t be easily replaced without totally altering the film. And acting like it’s nothing but tacked on Hollywood bullshit is a really shallow understanding of it. I think that’s a shame, because the really very thorough commitment to paralleling Kirk and Spock and the characters surrounding them is actually one of my favourite things about this movie. They really didn’t half-arse it, so please stop acting like they did, fandom.