We’ve had some time to process the news of Leonard Nimoy’s death. The character which Nimoy helped create inspired generations to seek balance between discipline and feeling. Let’s take a look back through Spock’s trek through the stars in these 10 clips from the franchise.
What It Means To Be Vulcan
In one of the most definitive moments from the original series, Spock finds himself torn between his dual natures when a debilitating attack upon Captain Kirk leaves Spock in command of the Enterprise during a critical diplomatic mission.
The wrinkle is that Spock’s father lies sick among the delegation, succumbing to a malady that only a transfusion from Spock can resolve. But yielding to the procedure would compromise Spock’s capacity to command while the ship is under threat, and so logic dictates that he mind his Starfleet duty and allow his father to die.
Spock’s human mother pleads for him to reconsider in this heated confrontation.
Spock Climbs a Tree
Throughout the franchise, writers have frequently explored the notion of an emotional Vulcan. What would Spock be like if unmoored from logic?
That premise was explored in the original series episode “This Side of Paradise.” Exposed to mind-altering spores while exploring an alien planet, Spock instantly loses his inhibition and sense of duty.
We find him in this clip finally confronted by a confounded Kirk, and hanging from the branch of a tree.
Though it’s generally panned as among the worst of the franchise’s films, Star Trek: The Motion Picture nonetheless contributes to the mythology in significant ways. For Spock, it begins at a point where he stands most disconnected from his humanity.
For an unspecified span of years, Spock left Starfleet and returned to Vulcan to pursue the Kolinahr discipline. Through it, he would shed all remaining emotion and attain perfect logic.
But when he senses an alien intelligence of unprecedented power, it stirs his human blood. He rejoins his former crewmates in pursuit of the invader, and must contend with an emotional reception.
Ship… Out of Danger
The death of Spock was an event so unexpected and powerful that it completely derailed the narrative of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Oddly, that worked. After all, doesn’t the death of a loved one always derail our narrative?
The film does a remarkable job of cultivating the maturing relationship between Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Spock has clearly moved past his desire to shed all vestiges of humanity, embracing the sentiment of friendship and the occasional necessity of “exaggeration.”
That setup lends gravity to Spock’s death, at once an expression of both logic and love. He gives his life to save his ship, and his family, from certain doom.
After his death and resurrection, Spock isn’t quite the Vulcan he used to be. He’s stuck in his head, seemingly deprived of his humanity, like a newborn operating on instinct.
In this scene from the end of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, the newly revived science officer reunites with his crewmates. It takes significant prodding for him to recall who they are. So begins Spock’s long road to recovery.
Suitably, no other event shapes Spock’s journey quite like this one. Reborn Spock eventually finds peace with his dual-nature as both human and alien, placing logic in its place.
Guessing Is Not in His Nature
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home deals with several parallel homecoming metaphors. Among them is Spock’s reconnection with his human heritage.
When an alien probe threatens Earth, the crew is compelled to travel back in time to find extinct whales capable of communicating with the intruder. It’s Spock’s first adventure since his resurrection. He begins unable to conceive of human feeling, but quickly learns to appreciate his humanity.
In this exchange with Doctor McCoy, Spock confronts the limitations of logic.
While arguably the worst of the franchise films featuring the original Enterprise crew, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier retains some great character moments. Among them is an early sequence following Kirk, Spock, and McCoy as they camp in Yosemite National Park while on shore leave.
The scene sets up themes of family and brotherhood which echo throughout the rest of the film. Spock’s earnest effort to mimic researched camping rituals signals his otherwise unspoken desire to maintain bonds with his friends.
The brotherhood theme in Star Trek V takes literal form in Sybok, Spock’s rogue half-brother. Casting off logic and embracing the emotional nature of his Vulcan ancestors, Sybok stages a ruse to capture the Enterprise.
During the takeover, a struggle between Sybok and Kirk presents Spock with the opportunity to end the siege. But to do so, he must kill his brother.
It’s the logical choice. But Spock can’t bring himself to do it.
Spock reaches his zenith in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Working to negotiate peace between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, Spock threads the needle between Vulcan logic and human intuition.
A protégé named Valeris finds her mentor’s eccentricities both compelling and frustrating. Yet, the balance which Spock has struck in his old age enables him to progress through a mystery threatening the nascent peace.
Star Trek VI was directed by Nicholas Meyer, who also directed The Wrath of Khan. It’s therefore no accident that Spock’s journey comes full circle in this final film staring the original Enterprise cast.
Spock Meets Spock
Whatever you might think of the most recent entries in the Trek franchise, they benefit from the presence of Nimoy’s Spock. Imagine what it would be like to meet your younger self, how differently you would see the world despite being literally the same person. That dynamic proves most dramatic between the conflicted younger Spock who battles to suppress his humanity and an older wiser Vulcan who has learned to integrate his dual-heritage harmoniously.
Zachary Qunito’s Spock would get along far better with the version found in the first video on this list. Spock Prime, as the elder is known in fan circles, has come a long way from the commander who would let his father die in service of logic.