One of the strengths of Star Trek: TOS has always been the relationships- especially those between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. In the show, we often have personal and professional conflicts between the doctor and science officer, as the opinions of the emotionally driven McCoy frequently differ from those of Spock, who prefers to base his decisions on logic. Kirk is often the bridge between his two polar opposite friends. He relies on Spock's intelligence and rationality, yet also realizes that command decisions cannot always be based solely on cold logic. They must also take into account what the human- or humane- thing is to do; the expedient course of action is not always the right one.
Happily, The Wrath of Khan gets this right- both the adversarial yet affectionate relationship which exists between Spock and McCoy, and the equally strong yet completely different friendships they have with Kirk. We see this difference in how the two men approach advising Kirk to get his command back. Both Spock and McCoy are concerned by their friend's obvious dissatisfaction with a desk job, but their responses differ radically. Spock advises Kirk to resume his captaincy from a logical standpoint: Kirk's greatest skills lie in command, therefore for him to do anything else is a waste of his abilities. McCoy, on the other hand, barges in and confronts Kirk about his unhappiness, telling him to get back his command before he turns into one of his antiques. It's the same message, delivered for the same reasons, but from two completely different perspectives.
This difference is also obvious in the responses of the two men to the Genesis Project. Spock looks at it from a scientific point of view, objectively discussing its capabilities and possible outcomes and consequences without addressing its morality, or lack thereof. McCoy, on the other hand, immediately questions this, doubting that anyone has the wisdom to handle that kind of power without eventually misusing it- or having it fall into the hands of those who will. It's a discussion that has been ongoing since time and technology began- and one that should always be had. Should man always do or create something simply because he can? Are there no lines which shouldn't be crossed, either on the ethical grounds, or simply because human beings, with their inherent flaws, hubris, and weaknesses, are not capable of handling something so powerful without causing unmitigated disaster? In this situation, as always, Kirk listens to what his two friends have to say, weighing Spock's rational arguments against McCoy's emotional ones, and tries to arrive at a decision which is right and true to both- logic tempered by humanity.
I was thinking as I re-watched The Wrath of Khan this week the the relationship between the three friends is rather subtly exemplified by the gifts which the two men give to Kirk on his birthday... Spock gives Kirk a book, and McCoy gives him the lens through which to view it. Of course, he also gave him a bottle of illegal Romulan ale, but we won't get into Bones' drinking problem right now.
Since Spock was going to die at the end of the movie, W of K focuses a good deal on the relationship between him and Kirk. And it's really well done. You believe that these two have a friendship and working relationship which has withstood the tests of time and adversity. We see on multiple occasions how, during crises, Kirk and Spock act as counterparts, able to communicate almost without words. During the first Reliant attack, when Kirk orders Saavik to bring up the Reliant's schematics, Spock knows immediately that he is trying to take down the shields and gets the prefix code for him. Also, when Spock tells Kirk that it will take two days to repair the Enterprise, Kirk knows that his first officer is speaking in code. Of course, they could have arranged at some prior date to do this in such a situation, but that only underlines the fact that these men have served together in many hazardous situations.
Generally the way the Kirk/ Spock teamwork goes is that Spock observes and evaluates, then presents his information to Kirk who uses it to form a plan of action. We see this when Spock makes his character evaluation of Khan and his tactics- that though brilliant, he is inexperienced and doesn't think about space in three dimensions. Kirk uses these observations to design the tactics they use to defeat the Reliant. Incidentally, this is what made the dinner scene in Space Seed so great: their usual modus operandi is reversed, with Spock going on the attack while Kirk sits back, watching Khan for weaknesses. It isn't what we're used to, and it makes an interesting change.
We're so used to Kirk looking off to his right to the science station for Spock's input that it makes it a powerful moment when, as Kirk gets McCoy's message, he glances over at Spock's chair. It is empty, and we know that Kirk will never be able to look over there for advice and support again.
This is also why the death scene in the engine room is so affecting- the poignant grief displayed by Kirk seems real and understandable- not just because Spock is dying, but because it's also the death of a powerful and enduring friendship.
O.K., I didn't get around to it in this post, but my next one will focus on what makes Khan Noonien Singh such a great villain, and why he's pretty much the anti-Kirk in every way.