The following analysis contains many spoilers for the film Star Trek Into Darkness.
Kirk, Spock and Uhura are the new Kirk, Spock and McCoy.
- The posters that feature multiple characters feature the villain, Kirk, Spock and Uhura.
- The intersecting relationships between these three take up the most screen time and are the most developed in the dialogue and story.
- They go together on the away mission to Kronos and have a heart to heart, that starts with bickering, on the way down. That’s a classic Kirk, Spock and McCoy move.
- When Spock dies in Wrath of Khan, Scotty and McCoy are there to support Kirk; when Kirk dies in Into Darkness, Scotty and Uhura are there to support Spock.
- Uhura tells Spock to give into his rage and go after Khan.
- Uhura beams down to assist Spock in capturing Khan and convey the message that Kirk could be saved.
- During Kirk’s speech at the end the camera pans to Spock, then Uhura, then everyone else in a group shot.
- In nearly the last shot of the film, when Kirk asks Spock where they should go first, Uhura steps into the shot just long enough to be framed as The Trinity.
- Zoë Saldaña has third billing in the cast list.
Kirk, Spock and Uhura are the new Kirk, Spock and McCoy and it’s awesome. It’s also important. It’s important because Nyota Uhura is a woman of color. If that sounds simplistic or insignificant to you, you are probably not a woman or an underrepresented minority (which in Hollywood is basically everyone who is not a straight, white male).
Uhura is a character who has had quantifiable importance to our society. She has fans in the space program, the entertainment industry, and the White House. She is more than a character, more even than an inspiration, she is a symbol of how far we can go. This is the next logical step.
Kirk and Spock
The rebooted Star Trek universe revolves around the love story of James Kirk and his Vulcan first officer. In the 2009 film the villain has a vendetta against Spock which results in the total destruction of his planet but Spock Prime puts the ghost of his friendship with Kirk ahead of any other agenda. Both Kirk and Spock tell Spock Prime that his word would have set Spock on the course of action they wanted him to take without necessitating an emotional breakdown but that wasn’t good enough for Spock Prime. From a vulcan point of view, it was not the most logical decision. But from a human point of view it’s easy to understand. Spock Prime lost everything; he failed his mission, he lost his family and his timeline, and then his planet blew up in front of him. He lost everything and he couldn’t fix it. But the universe sent him Jim Kirk and he could fix that. And in fixing it, he fixed himself, too, because their relationship was the most defining of his life.
The idea of family as something we create rather than something we are born to is a main theme in this second film and the relationship between Kirk and Spock takes center stage again. From the near death scene in the volcano to the death scene in Engineering, Kirk’s honest desperation for Spock to understand the depth and complexity — and simplicity — of their relationship bookends the action of the film. Throughout the history of these characters, Spock has embodied the struggle to accept and assert their true feelings. As a vulcan, his emotions are not supposed to be evident. But in this film Kirk has an even greater advantage: he melded with Spock Prime. He knows firsthand how strong those feelings are. Spock Prime told Spock James Kirk was his greatest friend, but Kirk got to feel it. When Spock tells Uhura and Kirk that he suppresses his feelings because they are too strong to feel, Kirk realizes it is the absolute truth.
Spock and Uhura
In the original series, Kirk and McCoy are already friends when we join them on the Enterprise. In the first rebooted film, Spock and Uhura are already a couple when we join them on the Enterprise.
Quite a lot has been written about whether or not her relationship with Spock serves the character of Uhura, or women in the Star Trek universe in general. These are valid questions. The romance takes away from Uhura’s status as an independent woman with no ties to a man or relationship. I do not agree with the opinions that the romance makes her less interesting, less important, more whiny, or too much of a girl (frankly, that last one is just offensive). But I understand the concern behind the complaints.
Regardless, the relationship is established, and it is important to both characters. Clearly, Uhura’s romantic relationship with Spock is different from McCoy’s playfully antagonistic relationship with Spock — however it is based in the same conflict of hidden emotion. Uhura wants clear communication of feelings and Spock was raised to avoid them.
Kirk and Uhura
I absolutely love the relationship that has evolved between Kirk and Uhura. It was cute in the first film, but it was based on Kirk’s conquest of Uhura (which is gross). Now he doesn’t see her as something to win.
After Pike’s death Kirk ordered Spock, McCoy and Scotty out of his sight rather than listen to their concerns about his mission and his state of mind. But he opened up to Uhura. And she was bolstered in turn to pull Spock into a conversation about their relationship with Kirk as witness. They have each other’s back without even realizing it. Like siblings they have organically developed a shared language that allows them to communicate with shrugs and pointed looks and half phrases. They bicker and they flirt and they bond because they love Spock. And they understand, without discussing it, that no one else loves Spock the way they do.
Kirk, Spock and Uhura
Along with the concept of found family, the value of feelings is a central theme of the film. It’s most clear in Spock’s story arc, but many characters struggle with and/or exhibit strong emotions. Harewood’s feelings for his daughter and wife lead to his complicity in Khan’s attack. Pike’s paternal feelings for Kirk lead to Kirk’s second chance. The loss of Pike drives Kirk to push away Spock, Bones, and Scotty in succession; Uhura’s acknowledgement of those feelings prompts him to open up to her. Carol appeals to her father’s feelings in her attempt to save the Enterprise. Tears fall down the cheeks of Kirk, Khan, and Spock. Kirk makes multiple impassioned speeches about trusting his gut feelings over any amount of logic or regulation.
But it’s most clear in Spock’s arc. An arc that starts with his peaceful acceptance of imminent death that requires a complete emotional shutdown and ends with a literal murderous rampage through the streets and skies of San Francisco. Which event best serves Spock and the story? The answer is transparent to anyone who cares to understand Spock: neither suppression nor surrender but balance. And it is through Kirk and Uhura, the two people there at each leg of the journey, that Spock finally accepts that truth.
In the end, three things are required for emotional balance, which is in turn a foundation for love and family: passion (Kirk), restraint (Spock), and communication (Uhura).
Kirk, to Spock: You saved me.
McCoy: Uhura and I had something to do with it, too.
I saw Star Trek Into Darkness twice its opening weekend. I came up with this thesis after the first viewing and in the second I realized Dr. McCoy is a part of the Kirk, Spock and X trinity more than I’d thought. Still, my thesis was not derailed since the scenes most directly tied to the themes of the film (found family and the value of feelings) included Uhura, not McCoy — and if I didn’t notice or remember McCoy’s presence in certain instances, clearly those were not the instances of greatest significance.
That’s not to say McCoy is not significant. Certainly his friendship with Kirk is secure and important, and he got to banter with Spock and Sulu and Carol Marcus. His significance to the plot is obvious: he saved Kirk’s life. McCoy has not been tossed aside in favor of Uhura by either the characters or the narrative, but she has claimed the spot at the top, between Kirk and Spock.
Uhura is one third of the central trinity of Star Trek and that is important and that is good. But it is not quite good enough. Women are less than one-third of the central or background characters in Star Trek and by rights they should be half. So keep climbing, Nyota!