When Spock experiences the pon farr, a period of intense physical and psychological stress preceding Vulcan mating, he must journey back to his planet to marry his fiancé or he will die. The accompanying ceremony is elaborate, culturally significant, and ancient. The ritual also allows Spock’s potential mate to challenge
the offer and choose another husband. In this rare circumstance, the two prospective partners must fight to the death. Spock’s fiancé, T’Pring, evokes this challenge, leading to a fight to the death between Kirk and Spock. McCoy saves Kirk by simulating his death with an injection, thereby finishing the challenge and earning Spock’s joyous gratitude. In end, T’Pring reveals that she never wanted to marry Spock, and she used the procedures of the ceremony to craft the outcome in her favour.
It would be just like the Vulcans to design a systematic approach to courtship and marriage, and just like a Vulcan to play such a system as game of chess. For such an enlightened alien race, it is interesting that they would hold on to so many ancient traditions. Antiquated customs tend to limit personal freedom and liberation, as well as hinder cultural progress and adaptation. Spock even makes it sound as though Vulcans can’t choose their own partner, although T’Pring seems to have found a way. Why continue to embrace such backward practices?
Star Trek explored this theme before, when we met the Organians in “Errand of Mercy”. These aliens are so incredibly powerful they could destroy their enemies with just a thought. Their strict discipline and pacifist values help keep their society thriving, instead of rapidly descending into chaos as a result of their limitless capability. Much like the Organians, Vulcans are also powerful; they feel such intense emotion that their society was once violent and out of control. Institutions such as marriage, the justice system, religion, and the behaviour a society values, all function to regulate the raw destructive potential that an unchecked person could act upon.
Marriage has been particularly scrutinized by some cultures because of its role in shaping the next generation. Human children need structure, and Vulcan children even more so. They begin an intense study of logic and meditation at an early age, and their methodical practice is what enabled the Vulcan society to reach the levels of excellence that took thousands of years to achieve. This structure is the discipline that focuses the mind’s potential and sets it free from primitive impulse… unless you want to find a convenient loophole.