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Obviously Star Trek’s Kirk and Spock are in love. Get over it

Star Trek's two most defining characters, Captain James T. Kirk and Spock, are obviously in love, and it's time to get on board. Spirk forever, or something.

Star Trek's Kirk and Spock in TOS

“Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” Spirk, an amalgamation of the names Kirk and Spock (the alternative option would be too blatant), remains one of the most enduring shipping pairings in the history of fiction. It was formalized half a century ago in 1974 in a Star Trek fanzine, and a brief glimpse at Twitter or Tumblr will show you it’s still flourishing today.

The concept of Spirk is predicated on the notion of underlying sexual and romantic tension in the relationship between Captain Kirk and Spock as seen throughout Star Trek; the original Star Trek series, and the six subsequent Star Trek movies.

“What sexual tension?” You might be asking, as an oblivious, innocent Star Trek fan. “Is there some hidden subtext to their relationship that I missed?”

The honest truth is no: there is no subtext you missed. It’s just text, plain and simple, displayed for everyone to see. And it’s underlined the Kirk and Spock relationship since the very beginning.

William Shatner as Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as Spock in TOS

William Shatner was, and remains, a very charming man. It’s an element of Shatner that carries through to Kirk and has always been emphasized by Leonard Nimoy’s aloof, cold portrayal of the USS Enterprise’s half-Vulcan science officer. This dynamic: the suave, jocular captain prodding and poking his colleague who refuses to give anything in return is brought to life by a sizzling chemistry. There are instances in the series where Kirk’s bright grin and glittering eyes light up exclusively for Spock. These moments of flirting, looks, and glances, can admittedly be missed by the distracted observer.

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But, then, there’s the blatant. Possibly the most iconic example is when Kirk believes he’s receiving a massage from Spock, only to be cruelly disappointed when he discovers it’s from another member of his crew. It’s borderline impossible to watch and interpret that in a non-homoerotic way.

There’s also the dialog; perhaps slightly more subtle again. “Your son meant more to me than you could know,” says Kirk in Star Trek III, to Spock’s father Sarek, as they ruminate on his sacrifice. When Kirk and Sarek mindmeld, and Kirk is forced to relive Spock’s death, his eyes widen and dilate, and his eyebrows rise. He lets out a soft, despairing, “No,” torn apart once again by Spock’s absence.

William Shatner as Kirk during mindmeld in Star Trek 3

Kirk later tells Admiral Morrow that Spock’s soul is his responsibility, “as surely as if it were my very own,’ prior to embarking on a career-ending quest to resurrect Spock. This mission costs Kirk everything: his son, his ship, and as far as he’s aware, his entire career (which had defined his life). It comes at the expense of so much. For Kirk, the needs of the one, Spock, outweigh the needs of the many. There’s a selfishness to that. A selfishness that can only be explained by love.

Driving this relationship is a mutual fascination. Spock’s fascination with Kirk’s flagrant humanity, flaws and all, and Kirk’s fascination with Spock’s ability to bury his own human side. It’s deep, and curious — and lasting. So lasting, that Kirk was physically and psychologically unable to give Spock up. He traveled across the quadrant and risked it all to bring Spock back into his life, such was his inability to live in a galaxy without him. Spirk, or whatever you want to call it, is the most obvious interpretation of the pair’s relationship.

William Shatner as Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as Spock in TOS

But audience interpretation doesn’t always align with authorial intent. When Gene Roddenberry created the two Star Trek characters in the ‘60s, he surely couldn’t have envisioned it as a romantic relationship. This is, instead, a modern reinterpretation… right?

“I definitely designed it as a love relationship,” said Roddenberry, in 1975, when interviewed for the book Star Trek Lives! Personal Notes and Anecdotes. “And I hope that for men…who have been afraid of such relationships…that they [Spock and Kirk] would encourage them to be able to feel love and affection, true affection…love.”

Then, in a separate interview for a biography of William Shatner, Roddenberry was asked again for his thoughts on the topic. The interviewer compared Kirk and Spock to the historical gay relationship between Alexander the Great and Hephaistion. Rodenberry responded: “there’s certainly some of that, certainly with love overtones. Deep love. The only difference being, the Greek ideal…we never suggested in the series … physical love between the two. But it’s the… we certainly had the feeling that the affection was sufficient for that, if that were the particular style of the 23rd century.”

William Shatner as Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as Spock in TOS

Star Trek has always been progressive, within the limitations of its time. It broke ground in the ‘60s for the first interracial kiss on television and, if Roddenberry had made the series today, there is almost no doubt that the relationship between Kirk and Spock would have been explicit. That’s not to say that the two would have ended up together (they’re not particularly compatible partners, when all is said and done), but the romantic, physical element of their connection would not have gone unexplored.

It’s an almost unforgivable mark against Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, and the Chris Pine trilogy, that the promise of Roddenberry’s progressivism has gone unfulfilled.

“Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same,” isn’t a quote from Star Trek. It’s from Wuthering Heights, the defining gothic romance novel; a piece of dialogue in which Catherine speaks about her love for Heathcliff. But, you believed it was Shatner’s Kirk, referring to Spock, didn’t you? You can hear the delivery: it’s a line straight from the series, or movies.

That says it all, really.

For more on the adventures of Kirk and Spock, check out our guide to the Strange New Worlds season 3 release date. You can also see the best way to watch the Star Trek movies in order, and our complete breakdown of the Star Trek timeline.

Or, find out who in wins in our ranking of the Star Trek captains, before learning about our hopes for a Star Trek Legacy release date, and the return of Pine with the Star Trek 4 release date. Once you’re done with that, see what’s new on Paramount Plus this month, and learn all about the new movies coming this year.