Trek’s Non-Toxic Male Friendships

Spock and Kirk chatting, Kirk's arm around Spock

An important part of what makes Start Trek so great is the genuine affection the crewmembers feel for one another. They experience some pretty terrifying things together, and their loyalty to one another helps them pull through time and again. In particular, it struck me recently that the franchise seems to go out of its way to portray male friendships in a non-toxic way. Of course, like any series, the characters have their problematic moments. But by and large, the men of Star Trek sincerely care about each other and aren’t afraid to express that. Instead of suppressing emotions for the sake of masculine appearances, instead of connecting over violence and objectification of women, the men of Star Trek connect in deep, real ways and help one another grow. Let’s take a look at a few of these powerful male friendships.

Kirk and Spock

Of course, the original Trek friendship is that between Kirk (William Shatner) and Spock (LeonardNimoy). These two work well together, but it’s clear from the beginning that their friendship runs deeper than professional respect. What’s more, they complement one another. Spock helps to temper Kirk’s impulsiveness, and I’d argue that Kirk’s emotionality helps encourage Spock to embrace his human side. For example, in the Next Generation two-parter “Unification,” we see Spock essentially going rogue, fighting to reunify Vulcan and Romulus. While the goal of peace is a logical one, Spock seems to be driven by a deeper, more emotional motivation. I wonder if he would have made these kinds of decisions without having spent years at Kirk’s side.

And of course, there’s Spock’s death scene in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. In my opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful expressions of friendship in all of film. It’s the kind of tender, heartbreaking moment that’s usually reserved foron-screen romantic partners. These two love each other and they allow themselves to express how they feel openly. This is particularly poignant given their characterizations – Spock is a logical Vulcan who is not naturally emotive, and Kirk is a brash swashbuckler. It would have been easy to have them handle this scene in a more reserved, stoic way. But the fact that the writers didn’t choose that option is an example of the franchise allowing its male characters to be fully fleshed out humans with real feelings.

Picard and Riker

Their friendship starts off as a mentor-mentee relationship, but it grows into something deeper. It’s based on mutual respect and a shared value system. Over the course of the series, these two come to trust one another implicitly, and they become advocates for each other. In the season six episode “Chain of Command, Part I,” acting captain Edward Jellico (Ronny Cox) repeatedly talks down to Riker (Jonathan Frakes), and Picard (Patrick Stewart) stands up for him, calling him, “one of the finest officers that I have ever served with.” And in the season seven episode “Gambit, Part I,” when Picard is presumed dead, it’s Riker who insists on learning the truth more than anyone. Both Picard and Riker believe in diplomacy, compassion, and approaching conflicts in good faith. Their shared worldview allows them to understand one another and connect meaningfully.

Data and Geordi as Sherlock Holmes and Watson

Geordi and Data

Data (Brent Spiner) needs someone to be his guide and teach him how to be as human as possible, and it’s significant that it’s a male character who fills that role. It would make sense for Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) to be his mentor – she’s a therapist with an empath’s understanding of emotion, so she’d be a natural choice. But the fact that it’s a man who teaches Data about feelings, humor, and personal growth is another example of the series choosing to allow its men to explore and express their emotions in real ways. And clearly, it’s a two-way relationship, as Data becomes just as important to Geordi (LeVar Burton).

Nog and Jake

Sisko (Avery Brooks) and Jake’s (Cirroc Lofton) relationship is amazing. As we see throughout the Deep Space Nine’s seven seasons, Sisko prioritizes teaching his son about non-toxic masculinity. But Jake’s relationship with Nog (Aron Eisenberg) is important, as well. As adolescents, they’re at a critical point in their personal growth. They’re both learning how to be adult men, and deciding what kinds of adults they’re going to be. They’re both raised by single fathers, and they live on a space station where there aren’t a lot of other young people around, making their bond even more significant. What’s great about their friendship is that we see how much they genuinely enjoy being around each other. And they rub off on each other in positive ways. Nog provides Jake with the kind of reliable friendship that’s especially important at that age. And Jake, in some ways, passes his dad’s wisdom off to Nog. In the season three episode “Heart of Stone,” Nog explains why he wants to join Starfleet, and it seems likely that he is at least in part influenced by Jake.

Tom Paris and Harry Kim in Irish period garb in "Fair Haven"

Harry and Tom

Voyager’s Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) and TomParis (Robert Duncan McNeill) are a bit of an odd couple, but that’s part of what makes their friendship work. Tom’s outgoing confidence helps Harry come out of his shell, and Harry’s work ethic and sense of responsibility helps to ground Tom. They both have the potential to be more than what the world sees them as in the beginning of the series. Harry starts out as a shy young officer who’s a bit socially awkward, and Tom is a former criminal. But they see the potential in one another and help each other grow to achieve it.

Archer and Trip

It’s interesting to compare Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) and Trip Tucker’s (Connor Trinneer) friendship to Picard and Riker’s, since they both have that commanding officer/crewmember dynamic. But what’s different when it comes to Archer and Trip is that they’ve already known each other for years when Archer is made captain of his Enterprise. It’s Archer’s first time commanding a ship, and it’s a huge step forward for him, so having the support of an old friend is especially important to him at this juncture. Similarly, it’s Trip’s first time being appointed chief engineer. What’s more, Starfleet is venturing into deep space exploration for the first time, with Enterprise its first warp five ship.  So they’re journeying into uncharted territory on multiple levels, and an old, dependable friendship is precisely what they need to stay grounded.

As a franchise, Star Trek is forward thinking in a lot of ways, and one of those is its non-toxic portrayal of male friendships. The men in Start Trek are allowed to care for one another deeply. And those friendships aren’t forced to take the backseat to romantic ties or professional relationships. They’re given equal validity, and they’re often integral to the characters’ arcs and growth.

 

 

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