Something I've never been able to puzzle out an in-universe reason for....

In the course of the episode "The Tholian Web," Capt. Kirk disappears in an 'interphase' event, along with the ill-fated USS Defiant. He is ultimately declared dead, they hold his memorial service, and Spock and McCoy watch the recording he'd left of his last orders and advice to them.

Ultimately of course, Kirk is found and rescued. At the end of the episode, he tells Spock and McCoy he hopes his last taped orders were helpful to them through the crisis. But Spock and McCoy lie and say that they were so busy, they never had the chance to watch the tape.

OK, so out-of-universe, it offers the audience a chuckle. Kirk's confident assurance that his taped last orders were something moving, significant, helpful, etc. is skewered by the offhanded dismissive response, "Oh, yeah, that... naahh, didn't have time, it didn't seem important."

But in-universe, why would Spock and McCoy want to mislead Kirk and make him think they never watched the tape?

3 Answers 3


OK, so out-of-universe, it offers the audience a chuckle. Kirk's confident assurance that his taped last orders were something moving, significant, helpful, etc. is skewered by the offhanded dismissive response, "Oh, yeah, that... naahh, didn't have time, it didn't seem important."

In-universe, the same joke works just fine. Spock and McCoy were joking with Kirk by implying this exact thing. It's just as funny for the characters in-universe as it is for us out-of-universe.

Also, refusing to admit that they watched the final orders tape implies that they never gave up on the idea of rescuing Kirk. They were so sure they'd find him and so busy doing that that they never got around to watching the tape. How insufferably loyal of them. (/sarcasm.)

Of course, Kirk is somewhat taken aback by such a suggestion, because he knows as well as they do that, as good and conscientious Starfleet officers, they would of course have recognized the situation was dire enough to justify watching the tape. He knows they watched it. He knows they're joking with him. Everyone is having a little chuckle at the end, in-universe and out.

  • OK, makes sense on the whole. I need to go back and watch again, but my 'read' of the scene was never that Kirk saw through the lie. If he expressed disbelief at all, it was disbelief that his final orders could POSSIBLY be less important than, well, anything.
    – JDM-GBG
    Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 21:13
  • End of episode Star Trek TOS (The Original Series) dialogue is often humorous, so I think we can assume that is how this dialogue was expected to be interpreted. And it's also common in the end of episode humorous moments that one of the three is befuddled by another's comment. Usually Spock or McCoy is on the receiving end of the jab, and usually to Kirk's amusement. In this case Kirk is the befuddled one and both Spock and McCoy are presumably amused. Although Spock would never admit it, like he never admits to being sarcastic in his end of episode jabs at McCoy, he's just being "logical". Commented Oct 28, 2023 at 14:17

In the tape Kirk asks them to work together for the benefit of the ship.

Spock and Mccoy were known to argue and disagree with each other all the time.

Lying to Kirk means that they don't have to admit to him that they'd ever work together, even though it's obvious they did. Their response to Kirk just proves that they followed his orders, he obviously doesn't buy the dismissive tone.

  • Kirk's reaction never struck me as skeptical. More so, he believes them and is very taken aback by the implications -- "We can get along fine without you!"
    – JDM-GBG
    Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 21:05
  • @JDM-GBG Like Steve-O said in his answer, Kirk knows they're joking
    – Luciano
    Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 8:36
  • 1
    Not only did they work together, but the lie itself doesn't work unless they're lying together.
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Sep 12, 2019 at 13:41

Ok. I am late to the party since I just watched the episode again...for the gazillionth time. I've had the same question about Spock lying. However...I must say he did not. Spock's exact line...AFTER McCoy lied was..."You see, the crisis was upon us and then passed so quickly, Captain, that we, er..."

Not a lie. Just an omission of fact. Spock has done this before. McCoy lied. But not Spock. Since Vulcans never lie this means two things.

  1. Vulcans CAN lie.

  2. Vulcans have become experts in obfuscation...walking up to the line but not crossing it.

This episode is a clear example of the latter.

  • Hi Matthew, welcome to M&TV! Please take the Tour to see how this site works. Refuting the question's premise as an answer is okay, but there is a lot here that doesn't really address it and makes it read more like commentary. Maybe you can edit it to focus your answer a bit more? I'm also wondering why you deduce Spock not lying means that Vulcans can lie?
    – Joachim
    Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 21:25
  • This does not provide an answer to the question. Once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post; instead, provide answers that don't require clarification from the asker. - From Review Commented Oct 28, 2023 at 2:26
  • @Joachim - I agree it's not definitive but the obfuscation points to having the ability to lie while also having the restraint to not actually do so. However another issue is that Spock is only half Vulcan, so it's quite possible that Vulcans can't lie, but Spock can, but he honors his Vulcan heritage by purposely holding short of actually lying, just like he tries (mostly successfully) to keep his emotions in check. The Spock quote is interesting because he is displaying uncharacteristic difficulty forming a statement, perhaps trying to avoid lying, or displaying humor, also uncharacteristic. Commented Oct 28, 2023 at 14:06

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