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Why Kirk and Spock are Emotionally Compatible: An Essay on Tetrachromacy

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One fine day, Amanda and I were exchanging inexplicably long, fannish swan-songs on Reboot, and then she linked me to this essay by Seperis. That essay ate my brain. It got me thinking about a lot of things - about Spock's psychology, and Kirk's psychology, and whether they're really compatible. (I mean, of course they're compatible, but the question is, how are they compatible?)

Something told me that the answer lay in their emotional constitutions. I began categorizing what really distinguished Kirk's and Spock's handling of emotion in Reboot, given that they are both violently emotional, albeit one in a steam-geyser way (constantly letting off) and another in a volcanic way (building up pressure). Given the fact that they're both volatile and more than a little dangerous, are they compatible or are they not? Shouldn't there be some balance, going on in there? Or is the double-or-nothing approach actually better, in some harebrained way?

My theory is that mutual volatility is the better option. (Why, yes, I am harebrained. Why do you ask?) Let's dub this thesis 'the theory of tetracrhomatic mating, and why it is a damn good thing'. In the explication of this thesis, I shall ramble much and squee often, but please, bear with me.


The thing is, Spock can't deal with complex emotions. With the - vagueness and ambiguity that most Humans live with, day-to-day. Humans only rarely experience a single, powerful emotion; mostly they're this... muddled, dull, muted mess of things, resentment/duty/love or boredom/apathy/irritation or attraction/anxiety/affection, and it must fucking suck to be a touch-telepath around them, just saying. I wouldn't be surprised if Spock pulled on gloves one of these days à la Bester from Babylon 5, which I certainly wouldn't mind, because while his pornographically naked hands are beautiful and pornographic, the thought of sleek black leather on those hands does... things to me. And the thought of Jim leaning in to peel those gloves off - with his teeth - is...

Spock approves.

Okay, getting off-topic. Uh. Basically, what I'm saying is that Spock experiences 'primary colors' in terms of emotions - pure rage, pure lust (a penny for your Pon Farr, Commander?), pure love, pure grief - but finds the quicksand of emotional complexity fucking compromising, beyond the powerful emotions that are too powerful to control, anyway. Spock's half-Vulcan; he totally does need to repress all the way to the Nile and back. But he can't repress the violent outbreaks precisely because they are outbreaks, seeded in years of DENY DENY DENY. The little saplings of emotion have been thoroughly crushed beneath the (admittedly sexy) boot-heel of Vulcan logic, their tenderness ground into the rich soil that is Spock's subconscious, from which (understandably) arise Beasts of the Deep - the powerful, pure emotions that are distilled by years of dedicated elimination of those normal-range feelings, those pallid things better known as 'sentiments'. In the absence of the - moderating? Contextualizing? Acclimatizing? - effect of these small emotions, these half-hearted, unimpressive debutantes that nobody ever dances with for long at the ball, but everybody ends up dancing with, anyway - Spock becomes an emotional extremist incapable of recognizing subtleties. He becomes an absolutist; a purist. It's all or nothing - absolute logic or absolute HULK-SMASH!

These eruptions of emotional lava lead to our much-loved moments of Spockbreak (way better than plain old mindbreak!), like that incident of erotic asphyxiation on the Enterprise's bridge, or that incident of I'm-a-tiny-but-enraged-baby-sehlat-and-I-will-claw-out-your-eyes incident from Spock's disturbingly adorable-yet-traumatic childhood. (Spock makes me hyphenate. What can I say.) Spock cannot abide those moments of ambiguity that most of us learn to live with; he fucking dashes their heads against the wall. He will either completely own the situation with his flawless logic, rising like a dark and glittering and ever-so-phallic obelisk to cast its shadow over us all - or he will impressively lose his shit, becoming a sort of thermonucleic ground-zero incarnate, and you had better get the fuck out of his immediate radius or you will be purged. He's like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel, with only two narratives and only one possible ending: a) be killed by my mind or b) be killed by my heart. Oh, look, you're dead. The end.

Is that binary or is that binary? The guy needs some serious deconstructing, Derrida-style. Lucky for him, Kirk's there to offer some charitable (heh, no, not confrontational at all) deconstruction. Uhura comes close, in a much subtler way, to undoing a little bit of Spock's pathological dichotomy - but he is ultimately puzzled by her attempts, although he does cherish them, because even though they're subconsciously frightening (ambiguity! Argh!) they're beautiful, like she is, and at some level, he recognizes the value of such things, although, really, no. (Hey. We're talking about dichotomy, here. The inability to tolerate ambiguity - to be ambiguous.) Spock wants to be more Human, but really not - the way he wanted to be proud of his mother, but really wasn't, except that he was, sincerely and ferociously, except that he secretly wished she wasn't Human at all.

That core ambiguity in Spock's psyche is the source of his internal 'split' - and I'm resisting the use of any word prefaced with "schiz-", here - which is also why he cannot tolerate ambiguity, especially in Reboot, because it takes him back to his core what-am-I trauma which was all about uncomfortable and incomplete halves, all about ambiguities and impurities, when all he wanted, after all, was to be pure. Like everyone wanted him to be. Like he could have been. If only... (My father wasn't a race-traitor; my mother was a Vulcan; I didn't have all this stuff inside me that my native culture doesn't teach me how the fuck to deal with, which makes me want to claw their faces off except that I can't, because it's illogical. End result: Learn how to say 'Live long and prosper' while really meaning 'Die slowly and tortuously'. That's the maximum level of ambiguity permissible - which isn't even an ambiguity anymore, because it's a dichotomy. Spoken vs. meant. Inside vs. outside. I cannot tolerate your sameness; therefore I will murder it. I will reduce any an all ambiguities into clearly defined - and destructible - binaries. If you give me an ambiguity-coconut, I will split it into mutually exclusive halves. You give me a universe full of maybes, and I will fucking cleave the universe with my axe. Of logic.)

So. Spock's emotionally stunted. Selectively color-blind. Tetrachromatic. Whatever. He can only see the primary colors. Almost everyone else (that is Human, anyway) is living in a goddamn unfathomable rainbow. He doesn't get the muted gold of Sulu's regard for Kirk, tinged equal parts with admiration and incredulity; he doesn't get the blue-lilac of Uhura's hesitant sympathy.

But he does get Kirk.

Because Kirk's emotionally stunted, too.

Kirk's just... bizarre, insofar as psychological profiles go, but I'm pretty sure there's got to be at least some neurological reason for his being so damn primary-colors, too. He's like a kid. Well, he is a kid. A kid that hasn't ever really stopped driving cars off cliffs. (Which is why driving starships into wormholes was a natural career choice, really.) He's like an incredibly pretty, gilt-embossed, adrenaline-scented invitation to Death - set to self-destruct immediately after Death reads it. (Why, yes, I'm gonna get beat by a bunch of guys 1.7 times bigger 'an me. And I'm gonna love it. I'm gonna love it when a Vulcan three times stronger than me chokes me like a little bitch, not just because he's hot but because he's choking me like a little bitch, and hello, Other Side. Been a while since I last saw ya.)

This guy is... just incomprehensible, from a normal Human standpoint, which is to say he's just as incomprehensible as Spock is. Maybe he's more incomprehensible than Spock, because hey, at least Spock's half-Vulcan. Where's the Klingon in your ancestral tree, Jim? Seriously. Because you sure act like it. (Except that Klingons have complex codes of conduct and deeply interconnected families and actual attempts at goddamn dignity, and at least some of their bravado is ceremonial, but in your case, yeah, no. The bravado is all real. And your family's about as emotionally bonded as toothpicks scattered on a diner's floor. And you don't know the meaning of the word 'dignity'. Or of the phrase, 'codes of conduct'. In fact, if someone's stupid enough to give you an inch, you'll stick 'em with a mile. And laugh while you're doing it.)

To Spock, Kirk is the equivalent of a red flag to a, heh, bull. (A tetrachromatic bull, let's say, rather than one that's completely color-blind.) Spock can see Kirk, clearly and totally, in a way he can't see anyone else. Why? Because Kirk is a walking primary color. When he's happy, he's happy, in a champagne-bubbles, riding-unicorns kind of way (except that Kirk's so far from being a virgin that even horses would have trouble carrying him, let alone unicorns - which is why he makes do with sexy and experienced motorbikes). When he's sad, he's all SADFACE, like, you could look him up under that word in the dictionary. When he's horny, he's h0r-nay, which is practically all the time, even (or especially) during beat-downs by physically superior foes (which bears thinking about, in, uh, certain other contexts). When he's angry, it's with an almost rapturous abandon that makes him beautiful to watch, but probably also alarming to be on the receiving end of (um, uh? Sex thoughts, go away!). And he has no fear, literally, which means that he can jump off almost anything - including a ship thousands of feet above a planet - and he literally can give a 'flying fuck', which I would totally pay money to see (if not to participate in, because, oh, god, no, freefall is not my idea of perfect coitus) - and he can goad an already-fragile Vulcan into utterly brutalizing him in front of their shipmates. On the rare occasion that he does experience fear (um, facing down a giant man-eating snow-beast?), it's still a pure, exhilarating whiff of sensation, undiluted by duller things like cowardice or indecision - it's electric, and immediately translates into action. Decisions are made; actions are taken; instantly, terror transforms into ecstasy. There is no middle ground. For Kirk, movement is where it's at; being the proverbial rolling stone, taking all the goddamn dents he can get, reveling in them. He won't stop to hesitate. He will skull-fuck your hesitation.

Kirk's, like, the very embodiment of kinetic energy; there's no 'potential' about him. It's all happening. Right now. Half-assed, ambiguous emotions can take a fucking hike. Kirk doesn't tolerate them for long, because they're boring, they're a waste of fucking time. He doesn't 'repress' those emotions like Spock does, so he's not ignorant about them; he just thinks they're a waste of psychosexual space. Where stuff could be happening. (Why hold an interminable meeting in a room where you could be having an orgy?) It's like Kirk read The Power of Now and Suicide Tactics: The Kamikaze Pilots During World War II and kind of... merged them together in his head, into some kind of perpetual zen of badassery. (And occasional lame-itude, because, you know, flying by the seat of your pants can land you in some pretty lame situations - like hiding under an Orion girl's bed or walking into bulkheads. Like ow.)

Spock has lightning-fast logic; Kirk has lightning-fast instinct. They've both got ways of compensating for their lack of internal ambiguity - for their lack of emotional subtlety and the sort of intuitive insight that comes from such subtlety. So, yeah, they're both emotionally tetrachromatic. But they're both decisive, and may the Qs help you if you get in the 'way' of their 'decisions'. (They aptly demonstrate this on each other, several times, by, say, exiling the other to an ice-planet or using his mother's death to completely fucking emotionally destroy him.) Spock represses ambiguity, like so much volcanic lava; Kirk purges it, like so much jettisoned garbage. Neither of them can tolerate gray areas. Or pastel shades. Or hues. Because they live in primary colors.

And that, infidels and gentlefolk, is why they're perfect for each other. Why they need each other, and, at some level, understand each other. Everybody else is dull-brown to their absolute red-and-black. In Kirk's case, it is only after his meld with Spock Prime that he realizes what an emotional minefield his own Spock is - and that's when he really starts liking him, you'll notice. (You feel. You feel like I do - as vehemently as I do. You're my kinda guy. You'll crack skulls with me. You'll dare death with me. And you've love me, even beyond life, even beyond death. Because you don't do things by halves - and neither do I. If we stand together, we will fucking be the Great Wall of China.) That knowledge is also how he destroys Spock, at least temporarily, by taking him out of command - but there's less of a victorious 'ha ha, got hold of your weakness now' feeling to that moment than there is an ecstatic recognition: 'I know you, I have you, I see you for what you are - you're like me, all molten and hot inside, and yes, I will fucking cut you if that's what it takes to feel your heat.'

Just. Wow. It's this incredible moment, this feeling of finally meeting one's destined partner, one's destined equal. And in that moment, we can already see what Uhura, in all her lovely carefulness, can't get out of Spock - can't give him - because she can't go as far as Spock can, as deep and hot, more searing than the fires of Vulcan, more vicious and dedicated than she has it in her to offer, more intense than she has the ability to take. She doesn't live in a world of primary colors; they'd blind her, or frighten her, or - no, because she's brave, they wouldn't frighten her - they'd just worry her. For his sake. And she'd try to fix them - to help, somehow - to allay that flaming chaos - but Spock's already had a lifetime of people trying to contain him, trying to cool him, and here, finally, in Jim, he's got someone that will do the exact opposite. Someone that will rip him free, that won't take no for an answer, that won't let Spock get away with repress-deny-repress all the time, that won't shield Spock from himself but will expose him for what he is and will celebrate it, with him and for him. And it's. It's perfect, seeing what they could mean to each other - what they will mean to each other. Just. Uh. Okay, I need to calm down. Somebody, hand me my inhaler.

In a message to Amanda, I'd said that one of the things I'd loved about Reboot was that I could easily ship Kirk/Spock and see them as the same Kirk/Spock I'd shipped before - but after thinking about it, I realize that I was wrong. I mean, I can certainly see them as the same pairing, but they're a different reality of that pairing - an alternate reality, of course - because both Kirk and Spock are different people, now, with more fisticuffs and fights in them, and more devil-may-care deadly beauty, and when they stand together they're stunning in a whole different way, possibly because they're absolutely terrifying to their enemies, or possibly because they don't calm each other down - they goad each other on. And you can see it.

Kirk and Spock from Star Trek: The Original Series had this kind of exquisite, yin-yang balance going - mesmerizing and gratifying to watch, yes, but what Kirk and Spock from Reboot have going is a whole other ball game, not so much balance but fiery completion, like two red stars colliding in the darkness of space. It's beautiful. It's scary. But it's also just radiant. And titillating in ways beyond the sexual, if you know what I mean; there's this visceral, crackling intensity between them that makes you want to see a goddamn throwdown, even if it ends in probable near-death. In the original series, it broke my heart when that happened - when Spock went all plak tow on Jim and thereby ended up (apparently) losing him - but in Reboot? I'm freaking praying for the next time they get to be all up-close and personal. Violently personal. Because, see, the violence within each of them becomes catharsis when they're together, and it's - it's got this sense of incredible release that's bordering on orgasmic, or maybe even is orgasmic, given Kirk's expression after the - yeah. Um. Erotic asphyxiation. (My god, can you imagine the bruises on Jim's neck? How many stories have been written about him wrapping his own fingers around those bruises later that night and, uh, touching himself? Surely a lot. LINK ME TO THEM.)

The thing is, Spock and Kirk can take each other. And no, slashers, I don't just mean it in that way. (Although - yes. That, too.) The fact is that they can take each others' intensity and return it, actually return it without trying to censor it, control it, restrain it, avoid it or run away from it. And I'm not afraid of a throwdown because I know that they can both take it. And enjoy it. Seriously, what a damn shame would it have been if two people so alike hadn't found each other? THANK YOU, ABRAMS GOD.

In Reboot, Spock and Uhura have a wonderful relationship - loving, giving and comforting - but Spock is careful with Uhura, because Uhura's careful with him. And who can blame her for being careful? You know. Like you'd be careful with an explosive compound. That you happened to be in love with. Sure, you'd throw yourself on top of it, but you'd also want to disarm it, because even if you've learned to love the bomb, it's still a bomb. But two bombs? Don't have to worry as much about hurting each other - of being themselves only at the cost of losing the other. Spock won't have to hold back with Kirk. And it's not just the catharsis. Even after their episodes of sexplode, when they're having moments of calm togetherness, it'll be real togetherness, not just, you know, 'being together'.

We can see instances of that already, in the latter half of Reboot, when they go about saving the day and are so wonderfully, perfectly in sync. They don't have to worry about outpacing each other; they have a deep, instinctive faith that the other will keep up. With his leaps of magnificent instinct, Kirk keeps up with Spock's leaps of magnificent logic; when Kirk reaches for a phaser, Spock nerve-pinches an opponent; and when they return to the ship, Spock is at Kirk's shoulder, and they'll always share (are already sharing) moments of such complete, unspoken communication that words are kind of passé. And this is - what - how long after they first meet each other? Not that long. Not even a year. But they're practically already pre-bonded for your fannish convenience, in a manner that is frankly undeniable. And that's not love, not yet, but it's by Jove a more solid foundation for it than the well-intentioned subterfuge that emotionally incompatible people often indulge in. (This would upset you if you knew about it; I probably shouldn't tell you about it. Or: You're hurting right now, so I will comfort you, but I can't hurt with you, not as deeply or jaggedly as you're hurting, because I don't know how.) With Kirk and Spock, emotional compatibility is not an issue. They're both tetrachromatic. They won't let each other down. Because they won't back down. They'll keep going at it, keep being honest with each other, even if it makes them raw and bloody, because it will also make them precious and whole, and sacred to each other, because they are both known.

And that's. That's what it's all about, isn't it? That's what great romances are about - the grand space ballads of Klingon warrior-love - not the quiet, soothing unions that so many of us know, but the stark, alien heights of untapped emotion - the depths of joyous anguish, the breadths of endless hope. Never containing and never contained - eternally feral and eternally sweet, never parted, never alone.