The male duo of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock is famous; not only for being the most enduring on-screen bromance of all time, but also for birthing an entire subgenre of fan fiction. But Kirk…Kirk was not Spock’s first. What about Pike/Spock? How did Spock’s long relationship with Captain Pike prepare him, or guide him, or shape him into being Kirk’s best friend in the original Star Trek?
The second season of Star Trek: Discovery is answering that question right now, and actors Anson Mount (Pike) and Ethan Peck (Spock) both have very specific insights as to how their versions of Pike and Spock are creating the dynamic duo the original series.
Spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery, season 2, specifically, episode 8, “If Memory Serves.”
A casual fan might glance at Captain Pike in Discovery and confuse him for a slightly more chilled-out version of Captain Kirk, and in some ways, they wouldn’t be entirely wrong. From a linear creative standpoint, Captain Pike is literally the first draft of Captain Kirk. When Gene Roddenberry pitched “The Cage” as the pilot episode of Star Trek, he had no idea he’d end up scrapping the character of Pike and replacing him with Captain Kirk. Roddenberry and the other producers and writers of Star Trek managed to sneak Pike back into the show via “The Menagerie“, which uses the scrapped pilot as backstory for Spock, but this diminished the relationship between Pike and Spock from something an entire television series was meant to explore…to a segment of about 90 minutes or so.
In its current season, Discovery is actually expanding that segment of story back out again. And part of that story is witnessing why Spock is so loyal to Pike and what makes their friendship tick.
“The relationship wasn’t explored in the original series,” Ethan Peck told me earlier this year. “I imagined that Pike wasn’t paternal, but maybe like an older brother for Spock.” Peck revealed that he also “looks up” to Mount in real life, meaning it was an “easy link to Spock,” in terms of how he played the relationship on the show. “I shared that with Anson and he told that made a lot of sense.”
In the same way that the Spock we see in Discovery is not the Spock from the original series, Captain Pike is not the same kind of commanding officer as Kirk. Though, Anson Mount certainly thinks there are very obvious similarities. At the start of the new season, Mount told me that ” I think they’re both red-blooded American men. If they were in the same fraternity, Kirk was the social chairman and Pike was the house manager. You know?”
Thus far, Discovery has made it very clear that Captain Pike is a more by-the-book officer than Kirk. Mount says, “Pike sees himself as an extension of Starfleet code.” From the episode “New Eden” to “If Memory Serves” (the most recent episode as of this writing) we see Pike quoting and enforcing Starfleet rules and regulations to what is often a totally unruly crew. From lecturing Commander Saru about allowing fights in the cafeteria (dude!) to telling Tyler exactly what he can and can’t say on the bridge, Pike’s approach to management—in contrast with Kirk’s anyway—is much more controlled and measured. We think of Pike as a warm and charismatic guy, but relative to Kirk, he’s much sterner, cooler and stoic. Which is probably why Spock respects Pike, and maybe, deep-down, totally loves him. With Pike, Spock found a human who had emotions, but maintained an efficient control over them. Pike certainly wasn’t as cocky or hot-headed as some humans he’d meet later.
“I think, at this point, Spock has compartmentalized his human side,” Peck said. “And I think Pike was, as a human, a good emotional example for him. I don’t know that Pike necessarily knows that. I think Spock admires him from afar.”
In “The Menagerie” we know that Spock served with Pike for at least 11 years, though clearly not all of that time as on the Enterprise. By the time Kirk takes command of the Enterprise sometime before 2265, the ship and its crew will change dramatically from what we saw in both “The Cage” and this season of Discovery. But Spock will remain, and in Pike’s place will be a very different captain. One who is different from Pike in a very, very specific way. Mount thinks the biggest difference between Kirk and Pike isn’t actually a good or a bad thing, but simply a different philosophy in starship management.
“Kirk follows his gut. That’s his go-to,” Mount told me. “Pike follows Starfleet Code. The funny thing is that the result is somewhat the same. They’re both two of the most highly decorated captains. If Pike has one advantage over Kirk it’s that his ego is more in check. And that he is able to admit when he is wrong or when he needs help. His gift is using his bridge crew as a larger brain. And the best idea wins. I think if Kirk were to have an advantage, it’s that there is no lag time in his decision-making. He’s quicker on the draw!”
In all the years that Spock serves with Kirk, he’ll have to cope with that “quicker-on-the-draw” co-worker over and over again. Although now that we’re starting to see Pike and Spock in action, we have to wonder: Did Spock miss working with Pike in all his years with Kirk? Perhaps, since Pike was a little more stoic than Kirk yet still very emotional, that experience eased Spock into dealing with truly hot-headed humans. Meaning, by the time Spock gets to Kirk in the original series, his long history with Pike has him craving a different human relationship. Spock didn’t necessarily want a big brother anymore. He was ready for a best friend.