Published Sep 15, 2023
WARP FIVE: The Makings of a Vulcan Relationship
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ Gia Sandhu offers insight to T’Pring and Spock’s relationship in the latest season.
By Christine Dinh
Editor's Note: This article contains material from an interview conducted before the SAG-AFTRA strike against the AMPTP went into effect.
Welcome to Warp Five, StarTrek.com's five question post-mortem with your favorite featured talent from the latest Star Trek episodes.
On the anniversary of the first broadcast of Star Trek’s “Amok Time" on September 15, 1967, the iconic episode introduces many significant franchise firsts. Most importantly, its first depiction of the planet Vulcan and other Vulcans other than First Officer Spock allows us to understand Vulcan culture.
It’s on Vulcan that we meet Spock’s betrothed, T’Pring; they were both telepathically bonded to each other as children. It’s through their relationship that the Enterprise crew (and viewers) learned about pon farr and the kal-if-fee (passion challenge) ritual.
Following the events of “Amok Time,” fans would not learn more about T’Pring until 50+ years later, with Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, whose events are set prior to that of The Original Series, with the character’s second on-screen appearance.
Earlier this summer, StarTrek.com had the opportunity to chat with Gia Sandhu about her thoughts on T’Pring and her appearances across the two seasons, her relationship with Spock, what exactly does a Vulcan break entail, and other elements from the second season’s “Charades.”
On Understanding T’Pring
Having been a fan of Star Trek with The Next Generation prior to joining the franchise, Sandhu revels in the opportunity of playing the Vulcan T’Pring and finally giving audiences more than “Amok Time” to go on, admitting she’s “always very delighted” when she gets a new script. Following the events of Strange New Worlds’ second season, fans believe they’ve been given new lens to understand T’Pring’s actions in the TOS classic.
In “Amok Time,” T’Pring invokes her right to request kal-if-fee during their koon-ut-kal-if-fee wedding ceremony. With Spock more committed to Starfleet than their relationship, Spock is challenged to fight for her with T’Pring choosing Kirk as her fighter. She saw her logic as sound with all outcomes in her favor — If Kirk won, he would not want her. If Spock won, he would release her because she challenged their marriage. And should he still proceed with the wedding, he would always return to his Starfleet duties in space, leaving her free on her own.
“T'Pring's journey, when we work backwards from ‘Amok Time,’ is really one where we're getting to understand how she ends up in that situation where she isn't the most sympathetic character when she makes the decisions that she makes,” explains Sandhu. “I've found myself really intrigued by all the steps that it takes to get somebody to make what seems to be a very harsh decision. We're seeing more and more what the justifications are and the reasoning and the thinking that happens before what is the final ending between T’Pring and Spock.”
Sandhu calls out a line in the script that stood out to her, “Spock says it right at the very end when they're sitting on the bed, ‘T'Pring, you seemed very overwhelmed by your mother.’ And that was the line that allowed me to understand what the journey of this character had to look like to get there and why Spock, despite trying to tell her, just absolutely couldn't. It allowed me to play with a lot of human emotions as well in there, which we don't always get to see Vulcans play with.”
On Her Relationship with Spock
As Strange New Worlds progressed, so did Spock’s feelings for Nurse Christine Chapel. In the first season “The Serene Squall,” Spock utilized another ruse in his gambit of outwitting a pirate, who took control of the Enterprise and sought to exchange the science officer for their lover, a confined criminal and Spock’s half-brother, at the facility for Vulcan rehabilitation where T’Pring worked. The ruse involved him renouncing his fiancée and professing his feelings for Chapel instead. At episode’s end, T’Pring commends his “impressive gambit,” believing he could not have feelings for Chapel, and praising his human side for selling the ruse.
In addition to her acceptance of Spock’s half human, half Vulcan nature, she also dismisses her mother’s disapproval of him. Where Spock is uncertain and believes he’s unworthy of her, T’Pring is confident in her choice, hinting at her own defiance of Vulcan culture.
“First of all, wouldn’t you just love a fiancée like T’Pring,” Sandhu cheekily remarks before expressing, “She sees someone who hasn't fully conformed to Vulcan society, and that the rebellion within T'Pring is attracted to that in Spock as well. He's created his own path in his life and he's a bit of an outsider. Despite the fact that T'Pring is a part of the Vulcan society in the way that she is, there's a big part of her that wishes to have more in her life and wishes to experience more and doesn't necessarily agree with everything that Vulcan society teaches.”
On the Events of “Charades”
While Spock suffers from an accident that leaves him fully human, he is unable to delay the V’Shal, a ceremonial Vulcan dinner, with T’Pring’s family any longer, especially as this meal between both families is meant to assuage her parents’ disapproval of Spock as a suitable companion. From her arrival on Enterprise, T’Pring reveals she too just wants to get the meal over with as she finds her mother exhausting.
“I love how blunt T'Pring is, and that is such an endearing quality of hers because there's nothing hidden with T'Pring,” states Sandhu. “All of this stuff that’s going on between Chapel and Spock, she has no idea until this episode. It kind of seems to her that, ‘Okay, this is weird,’ but everything is now out in the open. All her thoughts and her feelings are out in the open.”
“It really allows an audience to get behind that,” she adds. “It makes it less obvious who the good or bad people are in this whole love triangle. I really love that for T'Pring; that she's vindicated and she's justified and she's got a real reason that is an engine to where she ends up going on her journey in this love situation with Spock.”
On What a Vulcan Break Entails
“Charades” concludes with T’Pring deciding that the couple take time apart. Despite all they’ve been through, including the sharing of their katras, Spock did not feel like he could not reveal his ruse with her. It is not his current predicament of being fully human that set this in motion, but his betrayal and inability to confide in his partner.
“What I love about this show is that they really find those very human circumstances,” notes Sandhu. “Any woman, you can have a gazillion men after you, but if you want the person that you want, there is nothing that's going to stop you from just focusing your attention on that and loving that person. That just is what it is.”
On the betrayal, Sandhu shares, “It can't be pleasant, right? If I was in that situation going through this whole thing and somebody else comes in, and suddenly your other half is missing for a few moments... The way that they structured those moments is to show that T'Pring is curious. She is questioning. There's something going on here. I'm not sure how much she really knows. I would assume that she probably doesn't think that it is where it is between Spock and Chapel, but certainly she knows something is off. She smells something.”
When Ethan Peck was prompted to explain his perception of what their time apart meant, he shared, “I don't think he knows what a break means. I don't know that she does. I don't know that any of us do. What is a Vulcan break?”
Sandhu deems it’s the “ultimate Ross and Rachel question,” referencing an infamous situation between the two characters in Friends, before calling out, “That clearly still isn’t answered. They haven’t discussed what the boundaries are, and they’re both at fault for that. What happens next? I don’t know, but I’m sure that someone’s going to be not so thrilled about it.”
How to Properly Portray Spock
In the episode, as Spock continues his farce of hiding his human predicament, he consults his friends on the bridge on how to pass as more Vulcan, which they humorously find the opportunity to roast him on how he presents to them.
An expert on not only portraying a Vulcan, but specifically the Vulcan in question, we took the opportunity to inquire what Sandhu’s approach to playing Spock was. After all, she has experience. In the first-season “Spock Amok,” we get a glimpse into another Vulcan practice designed to help couples understand each other better.
In a “soul sharing,” Spock and T’Pring allow the other into their innermost thoughts and being. Unfortunately, their telepathic ritual involved a katric transfer, where their katras (or life essence) ended up swapping bodies. Intended to help each other see one another through the other’s eyes, they now had to literally live a day in the other’s life.
Sandhu jokingly states two most important aspects to master are the eyebrows and the delivery of “fascinating.”
Jokes aside, Sandhu reflects, “What I really love about Spock’s character, and having played him when I did, is that there’s this transparency about him. It comes out really nicely in this episode when the jokes are being made around the table [with the other crew in the mess hall]. He himself just doesn’t find it funny what’s going on until he becomes human.”
“I love that quality about Spock,” concludes Sandhu. “If something isn’t resonating, he’s not pretending. Everything just is, exactly as it’s displayed. The deeper layers aren’t accessible to him; that’s a great quality of his.”