(continued from Part 1)
Spock is different from Everyone Else. EVERYONE.
During Star Trek: The Original Series, Spock is the only Vulcan serving amidst humans on the Enterprise, making him a literal "alien." But his estrangement goes deeper than that. From all indications, he is the only half-Human, half-Vulcan in existence.
In other words, Spock has no real home. On Vulcan, he is an outsider. On Earth, he is an outsider. And this, we can see, often works against him. In the Star Trek: The Animated Series episode, "The Ambergris Element," he notes the truth that "many people fear beings different from themselves."
Sheldon, even more than the rest of us geeks, likely recognizes that alienation. He has experienced it. Sometimes he gets positive responses to his differences, as when Penny says, in the Pilot, "So you’re like, one of those, beautiful mind genius guys." Even after Penny has gotten to know Sheldon better, she often softens her jests with acceptance: "Boy, I love him, but he is one serious wackadoodle" ("The Cushion Saturation").
The others? Not so much. They usually groan when Sheldon tries to explain things. They often lie about or admit news he might find distressing (which includes, admittedly, a lot), not to protect Sheldon but to avoid the annoyance of his upset. Howard, in particular, shows a surprising mean-spiritedness in his jokes: asking "Who's up for Sheldon-Free Saturday?" ("The Hofstadter Isotope"), celebrating the idea of "an entire summer without Sheldon" ("The Monopolar Expedition"), and suggesting that "I'd take Sheldon to Switzerland... and I'd leave him there" ("The Large Hadron Collision"). Even characters--mostly males--who don't know Sheldon well at all mock him as somehow alien:
Wil Wheaton: Did that guy just say 'Revenge is a dish best served cold' in Klingon?
Stuart: I believe so.
Wil Wheaton: What is wrong with him?
Stuart: Everyone has a different theory.
But at least Wheaton, played as Sheldon's nemesis, is supposed to be an ass on the show. And the others are guys. I'm told men (and male viewers) enjoy mocking someone less able than themselves (especially fictitious characters whose feelings, presumably, can't be hurt). But that doesn't mean Sheldon wouldn't feel the sting of his own friends' dismissal, or that he would not have longed to find someone, anyone, he might relate to.
More than anyone else, Spock might understand what it is like to be Sheldon Cooper. And better yet? In the world of Star Trek's United Federation of Planets, differences are celebrated. Spock wears an IDIC pin, representing Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. In one of the only instances of bigotry shown by a crewman toward Spock, Captain Kirk quickly calls the man on it: "Well, here's one thing you can be sure of, mister: Leave any bigotry in your quarters. There's no room for it on the bridge. Do I make myself clear?" ("Balance of Terror").
Spock Has Friends
One of the best arguments, to me, for tolerating the mockery on The Big Bang Theory is that it really does seem to be a guy thing. We see it even on Star Trek: The Original Series, in the rivalry between Spock and McCoy. Most of the time, the two seem to hate each other.
McCoy often mocks Spock's lack of emotions, comparing him to machinery: "Did you see the love light in Spock's eyes? The right computer finally came along" ("The Ultimate Computer"). Compare this to the guys' reaction on The Big Bang Theory to Sheldon's focus on what seems like an unsolvable problem:
Howard: Have you tried rebooting him?
Leonard: No, I think it’s a firmware problem.
McCoy complains about Spock's never-ending lectures: "Well what do you know--I finally got the last word!" ("Journey to Babel"). Spock insults McCoy: "The fact that my internal arrangement differs from yours, Doctor, pleases me to no end" ("Mudd's Women").
And yet, when necessary, Spock and McCoy care deeply about each other's welfare. In "The Immunity Syndrome," Spock suggests McCoy "employ one of your own superstitions--Wish me luck." McCoy waits until the bay door has closed, but then quietly does just that. In "All Our Yesterdays," Spock refuses to save himself by leaving McCoy to freeze: "We go together, or not at all." In the same episode, Spock--reverting to his ancestors' warrior-like past--finally reveals his dislike of McCoy's continuous taunts of him being a "stubborn, thick-headed Vulcan" or a "pointed-ear Vulcan," grabbing him: "I don't like that! I don't think I ever did, and now I'm sure!" But he saves him, nevertheless, as ship's doctor McCoy so often saves Spock.
Sheldon seems to have had few friends in his real life, having gone from 5th grade to college to graduate school. Somewhat like Spock, in Star Trek, he found his current companions mainly through proximity--Leonard answered Sheldon's ad for a roommate, and both Sheldon and Leonard work at Cal Tech with Raj and Howard.
As already noted, Sheldon has compared Leonard to Captain Kirk more than once. At one point, Sheldon tells his roommate that: "Pursuant to Starfleet General Order 104 Section A, you are deemed unfit and I hererby relieve you of your command." It's a comparison that Leonard rejects: "General Order 104, Section A, does not apply in this situation... because this is not Star Trek!" ("The White Asparagus Triangulation"). At other points, however, Leonard has used the comparison to his own gain, as when he wants Sheldon to join his team for the Physics Bowl in "The Bat Jar Conjecture:"
Leonard: Sheldon, what, do I need to quote Spock’s dying words to you?
Sheldon: No, don’t.
Leonard: The needs of the many...
Howard: ...Outweigh the needs of the few...
Sheldon: ...Or the one. Damn it, I’ll do it.
Of course, they're referencing the 2nd Star Trek movie, Wrath of Khan, in which Spock sacrifices his life for the good of the ship, gasping those words to his Captain while dying of radiation poisoning. Spock follows that reminder with the pledge: "I have been and always shall be your friend."
The Kirk/Spock relationship, after all, represents legendary friendship. Even in the Original Series episode, "The City on the Edge of Forever," the character of Edith Keeler predicts that Spock belongs "at [Kirk's] side, as if you've always been there and always will."
That Sheldon would idolize a character with such close friendships tells a great deal about him, as much as the fact that, despite him being shown to have plenty of extra money, Sheldon prefers a roommate to living alone. As he explains in "The Bozeman Reaction," "it's what evolution wants. Human beings are primates. Primates have evolved to live in groups, both for protection and support."
Whether Leonard deserves the comparison has become increasingly arguable across Season 3, but the fact exists that, at least until "The Electric Can Opener Fluctuation," he was Sheldon's "best friend in the world." Even by "The Bozeman Reaction," Leonard still counts as one of Sheldon's "three closest friends" (along with Raj and Penny).
Perhaps if The Big Bang Theory were an action-adventure show, we'd see Sheldon and his friends coming to one another's physical defense more often, to temper their verbal mockery. But an action-adventure series would not be The Big Bang Theory. For now, we can only hope that by all four guys continuing to spend time with each other, we're seeing proof enough that the friendship Spock had, and the one Sheldon apparently craves, does exist.
Spock Doesn't do Romance... or Does He?
So far, I've dealt with classic Spock -- Spock Prime. Some Trekkers (unlike me) have a problem with the Uhura/Spock pairing of the recent 2009 movie, so I'll leave it alone here. That said, even classic Spock--all protests of Vulcan disinterest to the contrary--is not asexual.
The writers of The Big Bang Theory know that. In "The Bat Jar Conjecture," Sheldon protests Raj wanting a scene of Spock's conception by explaining that, "For Vulcans, mating, or if you will, Pon Farr, is an extremely private matter."
And yet, Penny's inquiry into what Sheldon's "deal" could be ("Is it girls? Guys? Sock puppets?") leads to a discussion of the possibility of mitosis or that "Sheldon might be the larval form of his species." ("The Cooper-Nowitzki Theorem"). Nobody considers the likelihood that Sheldon, like Spock, might simply be putting off the messiness of romance until a point--every seven years, or whenever--that he can no longer do so.
He may just fear the loss of control that romantic feelings would bring. Look, after all, at Sheldon's role model in the definitive episode, "Amok Time."
"Captain, there is a thing that happens to Vulcans at this time, almost an insanity, which you would no doubt find distasteful." When Kirk notes that, "There's no need to be embarrassed about it, Mr. Spock; it happens to the birds and the bees," Spock reminds him that, "The birds and the bees are not Vulcans."
Sheldon, too, labels sexuality as something which can be catalogued and controlled. "Romantic love as the basis for marriage has only existed since the nineteenth century. Up until then, arranged marriages were the norm, and it served society quite well" ("The Grasshopper Experiment"). In "The Maternal Capacitance," he admires the efficiency of Leonard's parents when Beverly Hofstadter explains that, "Besides a pro forma consummation of marriage, his father and I had intercourse only with the purpose of reproduction." Apparently that, to Sheldon, sounds far less messy (physically or emotionally) than the likely reality of a physical romance.
But does that make it any more feasible?
Spock overcomes his barbaric sexuality only when he believes he has killed his best friend and captain, fighting to the death over his intended mate--something unlikely to happen in modern-day Pasadena. But it's likely Vulcans can mate outside of Pon Farr, as well--they just cannot reject that biological imperative for over seven years at a time. In the episode "The Cloud Minders," the beautiful Stratosian Droxine gets further clarification:
Spock: The seven-year cycle is biologically inherent in all Vulcan's. At that time the mating drive outweighs all other motivations.
Droxine: And is there nothing that can disturb this cycle Mr. Spock?
Spock: Extreme feminine beauty is always disturbing, Madam.
After all, Spock's own father--Sarek--found love with the human Amanda Grayson. And unlike Spock, who is "tainted" by emotional human blood, Sarek is wholly Vulcan.
Can Sheldon, who is wholly human despite the multitude of computer and alien jokes, reject all possibility of romance forever?
An intriguing side note: Although Captain Kirk was the adventure hero and the ladies' man on Star Trek, Spock most appealed to women fans and women on the series as well. He attracted the romantic interests of Uhura and Nurse Chapel, as well as aliens such as the above-mentioned Stratosian, Droxine, and to Sarpeidonian Zarabeth in "All Our Yesterdays." Similarly, Sheldon has unintentionally attracted more women--Martha from "The Psychic Vortex," Ramona and Kathy in "The Cooper-Nowitzki Theorem," even Leonard's mother in "The Maternal Congruence"--than his more romantically inclined friends.
Like Spock, Sheldon seems to be the favorite among female viewers, as well.
The Big Bang Theory definitely plays up the Spock/Sheldon parallel. Like Kirk and Spock, Leonard and Sheldon play Three Dimensional Chess. Unlike Kirk, Leonard's not very good at it, as Sheldon notes: "Perhaps three-dimensional Candyland would be more your speed." The sitcom references Sheldon's "Vulcan hearing" ("The Electric Can-Opener Fluctuation"). And only this week, Entertainment Weekly's Michael Ausiello announced that the series would love to get Leonard Nimoy as a Season 4 guest star.
Are they aware of the consequences of this parallel, and the reader expectations it invites? Because understanding Spock--and what geek worth their salt doesn't understand Spock--goes a long way toward expanding our understanding of Sheldon Cooper.
Is it clumsy "Rule of Funny" writing, deliberate foreshadowing, or maybe a bit of both?