“Shore Leave” and the back rub

I've been occasionally rewatching Star Trek: TOS episodes. Tonight, foiled by a stomachache from my original plan of attending various social events, I decided to watch season 1, episode 15 (in broadcast order): “Shore Leave.”

The opening scene is kind of remarkable. For those of you who haven't seen it, or who, like me, haven't seen it in 20+ years, it goes like this:

After an establishing shot of the Enterprise in orbit, we see Spock crossing the bridge to Kirk's command chair. He stands behind Kirk's right shoulder. Kirk, meanwhile, is messing with one of those ubiquitous high-tech clipboards; next to him on his left is a red-shirted female yeoman.

Kirk: Anything from the landing party?

Spock: They should be sending up a report momentarily, Captain.

Kirk: [grunts] [hands clipboard to yeoman, who steps to her side, so she's standing behind his left shoulder] [he puts his hands on his lower back]

Spock: Something wrong?

Kirk: A kink in my back.

The yeoman, now standing behind him, reaches down and starts rubbing his lower back.

Kirk: That's it. No, a little— A little higher, please.

I was kind of shocked. There's plenty of 1960s sexism on the show, but it would not have occurred to me that it's perfectly normal for a yeoman to rub Kirk's back on the bridge, so normal that she doesn't even have to speak, and that nobody remarks on it.

But then Spock raises an eyebrow, and the scene goes on:

Kirk: Push. Push hard.

She does.

Spock starts to step forward past the arm of Kirk's chair and into his field of view.

Kirk: Dig it in there, Mr. Sp—

He sees Spock, who is clearly not the one rubbing his back.

There is a long beat as Kirk realizes what's going on.

Kirk: Thank you, yeoman. That's sufficient.

She stops, and Kirk and Spock exchange a glance.

That made me laugh out loud. Especially because it seems to suggest that Kirk saw nothing at all out of the ordinary about Spock rubbing his back. On the bridge.

And thus were a thousand slash stories born.

(I should note that the yeoman later turns out to be neither anonymous nor silent; her name is Barrows, and she figures prominently in the episode. But I didn't know that at the start of the scene.)

Added after watching the episode: Overall, I felt this was a pretty bad and weak episode in almost every way. (By my own modern standards; I'm having a hard time judging it by the standards of its time.) I was disappointed to see at the end that it had been written by Theodore Sturgeon.

2 Responses to ““Shore Leave” and the back rub”

  1. allogenes

    Oddly the thing that stands out to me is that it was Barrows and not Rand.

    • Jed

      Yeah, agreed that that’s interesting. The reason is that Rand’s last episode was the preceding one, “Balance of Terror”; for details, see Wikipedia’s section on Rand’s departure from the show. Which makes me wonder whether the female-yeoman-in-distress part in “Shore Leave” was originally intended for Rand—although in the episode as broadcast, she’s more a quasi-romantic interest for McCoy than for Kirk.


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