In between the fisticuffs, space battles and technobabble, Star Trek is noted for its dalliances in romances. Captain James T. Kirk is nearly infamous for his numerous romantic relationships which earned him a well-deserved reputation as an intergalactic ladies man. While the original Star Trek series and its characters had many star-crossed romantic interludes, so too, did the Star Trek spinoffs, which had their fair share of romances. In honor of Valentine’s Day and Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, let’s look at some of the most memorable romantic moments from Star Trek.
Will They or Won’t They?
A common romantic motif in Star Trek is that of romantic tension between would-be lovers. They’re attracted to each so why can’t they go the extra step? In Star Trek: Voyager, Captain Kathryn Janeway and Chakotay’s shared a hidden romantic tension was stronger in the early episodes and led to many fan-fiction stories about them going a step further. The closest the two ever came close to consuming their feelings was in “Resolutions” where they were self-exiled on a planet and over time their professional restraint began to wither. But before they could go further, the two were rescued and the show never re-visited this subplot.
This also happened in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine between Odo and Kira Nerys. At first, it was a case of unrequited love where Odo was madly in love with her, but Kira was involved with Bareil, a Bajoran clergyman. Odo’s plight was quite poignant thanks to some strong acting by Rene Auberjonois. The situation changed in later seasons when the two finally became a couple (“His Way”)…only to regretfully separate in the series finale “What You Leave Behind”.
Star Trek: Enterprise also featured a long-simmering relationship, this one between the Vulcan T’Pol and the Enterprise’s engineer “Trip” Tucker. That romance started off in the typical fashion: two disparate souls clashing with each other in a way reminiscent of the old Spock and McCoy arguments. Except this time, the two participants were growing closer, first as respectful colleagues then friends and finally lovers in the episode “Harbinger”. It was a refreshingly mature relationship that was based on mutual respect and curiosity about each other’s feelings and cultures.
Arguably the most popular couple falling into this category had to be Will Riker and Deanna Troi. At the start of Star Trek: The Next Generation, it was established that the two were former lovers. Their relationship ended because of Riker’s ambition (never mind that he turned down many promotions during the series and most films). But there were lingering feeling between the two that were never quite re-ignited. That didn’t occur until the movie Star Trek: Insurrection where they rekindled their romance thanks to the effects of being on an alien planet. Thankfully it wasn’t a brief fling because at the start of the next film Star Trek: Nemesis the two had married each other.
The later Star Trek shows featured married couples who were part of the cast and this allowed for the showcasing of marital issues. But in a nice twist, rather than go into dark territories and have the couples separate or commit adultery, many episodes showed how strong a marital bond was and celebrated the married couples’ romance.
One of the earliest married Starfleet couples we saw was in Star Trek: The Next Generation when in the episode “Data’s Day” we found out that Miles O’Brien was getting married. This development fleshed out his character and made him even more of an everyman to fans. He and his wife Kieko were featured in many episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation before becoming regular cast members of the spinoff Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episodes featuring O’Brien we often saw the joys and pitfalls of married life through his and Keiko’s eyes, though the “Fascination” episode took time to explore how the two rekindled the passion for each other. In later seasons, when Worf became part of the crew, he realized his love for Jadzia Dax (“Looking for par’Mach in All the Wrong Places”) after being spurned by a Klingon woman who only had eyes for Quark. Eventually the couple married (“You Are Cordially Invited”) and Worf’s devotion for Jadzia was so strong that in the episode “Change of Heart” he abandoned an important covert mission in order to save his wife’s life.
Another notable relationship that led to marriage was that of Tom Paris and B’Elanna Torres in Star Trek: Voyager. In the early seasons of that program, the two were strictly colleagues, however in the third season episode “Blood Fever” B’Elanna was afflicted with pon farr and soon she and Tom started a long-lasting relationship that culminated in marriage (“Drive”) during Star Trek: Voyager’s final season.
Heartbreak Across The Stars
Regretfully, not all romances have happy endings. There are many Star Trek episodes about one-time flings, betrayals, deaths and the realization that an affair just won’t work.
One thing that made Captain Jean-Luc Picard different from Captain Kirk was his lack of romantic relationships. He was the ship’s captain after all, removed from such trivialities. However, he did have a few dalliances, a precious few leading to something more. In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Lessons” he started an affair with Lt. Commander Nella Daren, but the two realized they couldn’t remain a couple as long as she was under his command and Nella transferred out of the Enterprise.
The android officer Data explored relationships starting with a one-night-stand situation with Lt. Tasha Yar in the episode “The Naked Now”. However, in the episode “In Theory” he had a full-blown relationship with fellow crewperson Jenna D’Sora, but it ended due to his emotional limitations or rather lack of emotions.
The original Star Trek was renowned for its many one-episode romances and exotic women. Kirk was a living legend of sorts by the many women he successfully courted. Meanwhile, his first officer Spock was more reserved and resisted temptation except for certain occasions. The best example was in “This Side of Paradise” where Spock is reacquainted with a would-be lover Leila Kalomi. Due to alien spores Spock loses his emotional inhibitions and starts a passionate love affair with her. As wonderful as it was for the two of them to finally consummate the relationship it ended when the spores lost their influence on him.
As for Kirk, the space-age Lothario, it seemed as if every three episodes he was falling in love or manipulating some woman. This behavior made him the envy of many and repulsed others, but it was part of what made him so famous. Still, he did experience his share of tragedies. The worst and most unforgettable heartbreak was with his relationship with Edith Keeler in the classic episode “City on the Edge of Forever”. Kirk and Spock time travel to New York City in the 1930s to prevent McCoy from altering history. He meets and falls in love with Edith and later finds out that she will lead a peace movement that leads to a Nazi victory in World War II. What is worse is that the point of divergence in history is that McCoy saved her life. Meaning in order to save the future, Kirk had to let the woman he truly loved die. The only other romantic tragedy that equals that moment was in “The Paradise Syndrome” where Kirk married Miramanee and impregnated her only to see her die by the episode’s end.
Probably the greatest regret for Kirk is that he never found that special love. He’s come close like with Edith Keeler, Miramanee, and Carol Marcus and the mysterious Antonia glimpsed in Star Trek: Generations, but he never settled down. In the end, after his Starfleet career was over, Kirk was incomplete and lonely. If he had a special one in his life he might’ve better accepted his career’s end.
Heartbreak and loneliness also afflicted the other Star Trek captains. The last we saw of Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: Nemesis he was left with his ship and a few trusted allies; instead of settling down with his girlfriend Cassidy Yates, Ben Sisko sacrificed his life to stop the Pah-Wraiths, and Kathryn Janeway and Jonathan Archer were seen without anyone special at the end of their shows. It’s quite a sacrificial choice the Star Trek captains had to make: career vs. love. That is why these heroic characters resonate so much with us. We identify with their dilemmas because it’s something that many of us has faced at one time or another. And there are those of us who chose wisely and are able to celebrate Valentine’s Day and Star Trek’s 50th anniversary with our beloved.