Mr. Spock (1964–2013)

Spockby Brad Nelson   3/2/15
Condolences to the Nimoy family and friends. But in this day of celebrity-reality, it would be foolish for me to pretend I knew the least bit about Leonard Nimoy, the person. For better or for worse, what was real to most of us was the character he played on Star Trek, beginning in 1964 with the making (if not airing) of the Star Trek pilot, “The Cage,” and ending with his appearance in 2013’s feature film, Star Trek Into Darkness. This is the person I have come to mourn.

I’ve read three or four tributes to Nimoy on the web. All were well-meaning. Some said he was a conservative character. But neither Roddenberry nor Nimoy were particularly conservative. What they did accomplish with the character was to look deeply into human nature, not Vulcan nature. And these days simply noticing that there is such a thing as human nature is somewhat revolutionary (and thus, by today’s standards, conservative).

A few shows, such as “Amok Time,” dealt in some detail with the Vulcan side of Spock. But we knew him best through his weaknesses and his struggle to overcome those weaknesses which he considered deriving from his human half. In the short-lived Enterprise series with Scott Bakula — a show that was abandoned soon into the first season thematically in regards to developing the early Federation backstory — the Vulcans announce themselves to the humans. I forget the exact circumstances, but although they looked down upon humans as inferiors, there was a general understanding that one day the humans would make vital allies.

So imagine a television sci-fi show which deals with racial issues, and through the soft lens of the supposed superiority of Vulcans, for Spock did all he could to suppress his human half, seeing emotion and irrationality as anathema to his very being. This is quite the reverse from today where vomiting out any and every emotion you have is considered the sane and cool thing to do.

We don’t learn, so far as I can remember, why this cold logic did not lead the Vulcans down the road of blood-thirsty conquest as was the case with their cousins, the Romulans. The best indication is probably because of the savage civil wars in Vulcan’s past that nearly destroyed them. They thus (presumably) not only learned to tame their savage emotions but developed an ethic not entirely different from Buddhism (but, of course, nowhere near as wimpy and with cool weapons).

Spock was Nimoy’s finest role by far, and one which he (or the producers of the Star Trek movies) did all they could to ruin as they turned the Spock formula on its head and suddenly decided that his human half was the better half. On my better days, I’m able to imagine that the Star Trek movies do not exist, for the original TV series presented a Spock who was interesting, dynamic, and in many ways represented the very best of the Federation.

Through the various series that came after the original we learn there are other types of Vulcans. Not all is necessarily as tranquil in the Vulcan world as was generally portrayed in the original series. And this is where you all join in and talk a little Star Trek and give us the benefit of your expertise, for my memory is not quite that of a Vulcan. But with the perspective of other types of Vulcans, or events on Planet Vulcan, we see that Spock — regardless of his human half — is an extraordinary individual in his own right. As Kirk clearly understood when he said in “Amok Time,” “Spock, you’ve been called the best first officer in the fleet.”

And although I was lukewarm on Nimoy’s work after the original series, this is of little matter, for he had the role of a lifetime and fleshed this character out to the best of his ability or of anyone’s. There has never been a better portrayal of an alien character in perhaps any series or movie, and that is saying something. Yes, the writing was good. And, yes, his nemesis, Dr. McCoy, brought to the fore the issues his character struggled with. But Nimoy put a stamp on Spock that was so artful that people, including myself, fell in love with a character who was not classically cool. He was no cowboy. He was a cold logician. And yet his character was extremely compelling.

And that is one large reason that the original series remains the best of all the Star Trek series and movies. What so many others have lost in an orgy of special effects is that mature and realistic relationship of the Big Three (Kirk, Spock, and McCoy) which anchored the series. Yes, the aliens were cool. The various adventures intriguing. But it was the Big Three’s reaction to the events that captured our attention. And the writers slipped in quite cerebral subjects in what was otherwise thought of as “Wagon Train to the stars.”

Spock’s character, because he was not fully human, allowed us to see humanity — in all its strengths and weaknesses — more fully through his eyes. In “The Galileo Seven” we see just how difficult it was for Spock to fit in, not unlike the young Vulcan his mother describes in “Journey to Babel” who would come home crying because the other Vulcan children picked on him. And we also see his unique assets as a Vulcan playing out as he grudgingly makes use of human “desperation” in a bid to save the shuttlecraft. Spock was, if anything, practical and versatile.

I was never particularly enamored by Nimoy’s acting ability on other projects, but in “All Our Yesterdays” we see Nimoy hitting his stride as he plays a Vulcan who is reverting in stages to his more savage past…while lusting after the drop-dead gorgeous Mariette Hartley.

Perhaps second only to “Amok Time” for highlighting the strengths of the Spock character, and Nimoy’s acting, is “This Side of Paradise” where at the end of the episode, Nimoy shows his intuitive sense of understatement for his character. Having recently come down from his spore-induced euphoria, he delivers one of the most memorable of all Star Trek lines: “For the first time in my life, I was happy.”

We wish Nimoy and his family all the best in the years to come. But for better or for worse it is Mr. Spock who will be missed the most. And although Mr. Spock isn’t technically a real person, that matters little in this day and age of our somewhat utopian entertainment-based culture. As William Shatner wrote in his song, “Real”:

I have saved the world in the movies

So naturally there’s folks who think I must know what to do

But just because you’ve seen me on your TV

Doesn’t mean I’m any more enlightened than you

And while there’s a part of me, in that guy you’ve seen

Up there on that screen, I am so much more

And I wish I knew the things you think I do

I would change this world for sure

But I eat and sleep and breathe and bleed and feel

Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m real

I’d love to help the world and all its problems

But I’m an entertainer, and that’s all

So the next time there’s an asteroid or a natural disaster

I’m flattered that you thought of me

But I’m not the one to call

Live long and prosper, Mr. Spock. You were real enough to me.

Brad is editor and chief disorganizer of StubbornThings.
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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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20 Responses to Mr. Spock (1964–2013)

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    As a teenager, my emotions tended to be rather bilious (in the sense of the medieval humor theories — black bile and yellow bile), which is one reason I appreciated the rationality of Spock. Of course, strict reason has its limits, as in fact was shown by the decision of T’Pring in “Amok Time”. This is something the atheist militants fail to consider: reason doesn’t necessarily lead to virtue.

    There were a couple of episodes that indicated that the rationalistic, pacifistic Vulcan mindset was the invention of a Vulcan leader. In “Balance of Terror”, Spock supports attacking the Romulan ship on that basis: the Romulans were like Vulcans without inventing the pacifism (and probably the strict rationalism) — and thus were wildly violent, as the Vulcans were before they were reinvented.

    The importance of the major characters, and their interactions, can be soon in the movie The Voyage Home. It’s a very PC movie, but quite good because of the character interactions.

    Nimoy was best known for his Star Trek connections (and not just playing Spock). But one previous guest appearance I want to mention is his role in the Man From UNCLE episode “The Project Strigas Affair”. The guest star in that one was William Shatner, the chief villain was played by Werner Klemperer, and Nimoy was the villain’s top aide (who turns on him at the end).

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Yes, “Balance of Terror” was another game-changer in the Federation. It was their first run-in with the Romulans. And Mark Lenard is apparently the only one to play three races in the franchise: Romulan, Vulcan, and Klingon.

      This is something the atheist militants fail to consider: reason doesn’t necessarily lead to virtue.

      You betcha. And in that same episode we see that Spock was no doormat. I like his parting words to the ignoble Vulcan, Stonn:

      After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.

      Oh, baby, did he get that right. Can there be any doubt that T’Pring was a ball buster?

      There’s certainly a very Freudian influence in “Amok Time.” It’s the idea that anything you “repress” is going to come out somewhere else, often worse. Whatever the truth in regards to Vulcans, it has turned many humans into silly little creatures as they “express” the most comically superficial and vulgar things, believing that expression itself is sacrosanct. Believe me, we need a lot more repression in this culture.

      “Amok Time” is an episode that is almost too good to be true. There are so many revelations about Vulcans and Spock, in particular. But that’s not to overlook the superb writing at the end of this episode where the Big Three (after chasing the women out of the room — ah, the good ol’ days) engage in a little guy talk. McCoy: Spock, what happened down there? The girl? The wedding? In this you see a side of Bones we don’t often see. When push came to shove, he was there for Spock, despite his ill treatment and behavior often verging on the insubordinate.

      And true to good friends, they’re usually trying to figuratively screw each other to the wall:

      McCoy: There’s just one thing, Mister Spock. You can’t tell me that when you first saw Jim alive that you weren’t on the verge of giving us an emotional scene that would have brought the house down.

      Perhaps this isn’t Shakespeare, but it’s heads and tails above the usual crap in today’s movies or TV.

      Speaking of Nimoy, I was watching him in Season 2, Episode 6 in “Columbo” which you can stream on Netflix. He was a very bad man.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I remember that episode, Nimoy as a murderous surgeon. Will Geer and Ann Francis were also in it (though I didn’t recognize them at the time) according to The Columbo Phile by Mark Dawidziac. (Incidentally, I recommend that book for any fans of the series. He even points out that the concept of the inverted mystery comes from R. Austin Freeman’s story “The Singing Bone”.) Nimoy had no other appearances on the show, though William Shatner later turned up as a villain. I suspect Columbo was like Batman in that everyone wanted to play one of the villains.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I suspect Columbo was like Batman in that everyone wanted to play one of the villains.

          LOL. Yep.

          And a few months ago I saw that Columbo episode with Shatner. It’s Shatner at his worst/best…doing a sort of T.J. Hookerish character as he did (mostly ruining) the movies, although I agree the one with the whale worked okay. But it’s his schtick and he does it well. I’ve gotten used to it.

          One of the most unintentionally funniest moments in a recent movie (Star Trek Into Darkness) is where Kirk and Spock replay their moment from “Wrath of Kahn” behind the glass. This was J.J. Abrams at his worst. And, believe me, he’s had some bad moments. God save us from his touch on the Star Wars movies which are coming up.

          Star Trek Into Darkness was a horrible movie. The only question is if it was worse than Interstellar.

          So I’m completely serious when I say that I have those days when I can forget that the Star Trek movies ever existed. The Gold Standard is the original series. And, you know what? I used to think that Next Generation was okay. And, indeed, they have some good episodes. But I think I just got roped into it at the time, because if you go back and look at those, most of them don’t hold up well.

          But I have come today to bury Spock, not to praise him. I guess. Oh, goodness, I’m so not looking forward to seeing how badly J.J. massacres the Star Wars movies. But you never know. Part of me figures no one can do worse than Jar Jar Binks.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Yes, there was a lot of good material in ST:TNG, including fixing a few errors from the original series. But too many of the writers (perhaps taking their cue from Roddenberry) seemed to have a hatred of their own society, which got wearisome very quickly. And there was a tendency to play Wesley, the smartass who never paid the price for it (which is why I think SF fans didn’t like him). This last tendency no doubt was influenced by Roddenberry’s middle name being Wesley.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who like Mary Ann and those who like Ginger. Another way to parse that is that there are those who like Wesley and those who wish he would have had to pay the death penalty for walking on the grass in the TNG episode, “Justice.” These are the same people who wish Jar Jar Binks would have been sucked out of an airlock early in that movie.

              Tracking the differences between the original series and TNG, you can see how everything was moving to touchy-feely. If not for Worf being an ass-kicker, Riker being a womanizer, and Data being Data, the show would have overdosed on estrogen. Commander Troi was a horrible character. And Wesley Crusher’s mother wasn’t much better. I’m one of the few who preferred Katherine Pulaski, although even Diana Muldaur couldn’t fix some of the crappy dialogue she was given.

              Still, the show had some outstanding episodes and concepts, include the Data-centered “Measure of a Man.” That won’t be popular amongst those who see artificial intelligence or lifeforms as an absurdity. But I think they made some interest what-if points, which is what sci-fi does at its best.

              Eventually the show overdosed on Lore, Data’s evil brother. This was a show that, while successful and long-lived, needed a little more balls. Still, it was head and tails above one of the worst shows ever on TV, of any genre: Voyager. As Doctor Smith might have said, “Ohhhh…the pain.”

              • Timothy Lane says:

                “Justice” was one of the episodes that epitomized the idiocy of their hatred of the contemporary world. They carefully identified the planet as having “late 20th Century technology” — such as using disintegration for capital punishment.

                Interestingly, Canadian comic Leeman Kessler had an “Ask Lovecraft” (in which he putatively is HPL recently reanimated by a friend) in which someone simply asked him “Ginger or Mary Ann?” Of course, the reanimated Lovecraft would know nothing of Gilligan’s Island, so his response was rather unexpected.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    “Justice” wasn’t one of their better episodes. And I agree with you about some of the idiocy.

    I know we’ve had this discussion before, but one of The Next Generation’s greatest weaknesses, at least from a sci-fi standpoint, was that it never delved into how and why Utopia had suddenly broke out upon earth and thus no one actually had to work unless they wanted to and could spend their time doing art or science (as is the Utopian vision of Nancy Pelosi, for example).

    And, hey, it’s not that that isn’t a nice vision. But The Next Generation (typical of liberals) never tells us how we got there. It’s just sort of assumed that if everyone kumbayas around the idea, Utopia will automatically emerge (another instance of “emergent phenomenon,” one presumes, which is all the rage amongst materialists for explaining what cannot be otherwise explained).

    Yes, yes, I know, I know. As we get older (and thus hopefully wiser) a lot of the sci-fi themes we marveled at as a child or adolescent no longer can amuse us because they are just too implausible. But the best of sci-fi weaves in plausibility at the very core. The original series did this, to some extent, giving us a United Federation of Planets, but certainly not a peaceful universe, and certainly not an earth that was Utopian. In fact, did we ever see much of the earth in the 23rd century?

    But it was certainly plausible that man would go into space — a space teeming with life — and do so aboard the modern equivalent of an aircraft carrier with lots of weaponry and a military-style crew. The USS Enterprise was a mix of the military and the scientific — the tilt being more toward the military than the later Enterprise D of Picard which actually took their families with them.

    Anyway, I know a few movies have made often feeble attempts at this sci-fi theme, but wouldn’t you love to see a more realistic Star Trek universe where those aboard the Enterprise might be the equivalent of John Galt? They would have tired of earth and her bureaucracy. Instead, they venture out to see what is possible in this vast universe beyond petty people such as Obama. Why should Utopian economic policies be taken as a given. Let’s show what really happens when Utopia breaks out, and not with just an extreme dystopia orientation. I think when we rush to that end (a realistic end though it is), the details get lost.

    Hey, I’m no libertarian, but that’s a show I’d love to see.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      The secret in Next Generation is that Data is the only sentient being. The rest are just droids.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        LOL. Well, Riker seemed real enough. Anyone who could fall in lust/love with a computer simulation (episode 11001001) is all 100% real guy. It’s not pretty but she certainly was.

        I’m sure this area has already been covered before, but the Great Sci-Fi Story bubbling inside me is one where men (of course) have perfected androids (of women, of course) who are very life-like and can be programmed to behave as you would like. In fact, swapping programs (and creating them) would become big business, as well as a hobby. And you could program your Sexbot (patent not pending on the name…I think we can do better) to be demure or bossy. Whatever you want.

        Of course, this is where someone steps in (within sure earshot of their spouse) and declares for one and all that “Such a thing would be a poor substitute for the real thing.” But the truth is, marriage and relationships are hard. They certainly can be rewarding. But where we’re heading now is a hook-up culture where sex is being segregated from biology. I’m just talking about the natural outcome of this…and the natural inclinations of men.

        Riker was by no means a perv, unless you can call his propensity for lusting after nearly any alien (as long as they were marginally female) a perversion. But he got hooked by Minuet even though he knew it was a program. And I can see that happening and I think that was one of the few instances where The Next Generation actually delved into sci-fi instead of their usual space soap opera.

        But I digress (or have I?)

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          the Great Sci-Fi Story bubbling inside me is one where men (of course) have perfected androids (of women, of course) who are very life-like and can be programmed to behave as you would like.

          I have never seen the movie, but this sounds like “The Stepford Wifes” as someone described it to me.

          Perhaps I am a masochist, but I was never one for simpering women, which I suppose is the type such programmers would go for.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Very similar, but Brad is discussing the open use of female androids (or would that be gyndroids?) with exchangeable programming (perhaps more like Rhoda the Robot from My Living Doll). In The Stepford Wives, it was all very secret, partly because the actual wives were murdered to make room for the gyndroids.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              For the record, I’m against murdering wives and replacing them with life-like and compliant robots. However, if one wants to fool around with one at college, who am I to say no? Just make sure you get permission from the bot (in this case, it would be her saying “Affirmative,” not necessarily “Yes”) for every step of the courting engagement. As they say, “Negative means negative.”

              What would be interesting to see is what the market would look like for what the women would choose. We know what men would go for, generally speaking. But would women betray their gender and actually go for strong, handsome, non-girly men who may even have a bit of bad-boy in them? Oh, I’m sure feminists would get the vapors even considering it.

              The truth is, there would likely be no surprises in what a life-like woman robot market would look like. But on the other side…hmmm…there could be some surprises. Might many women, in their fantasy of fantasies, want an assertive and slightly dominating man? Or would they tend to choose a PC ninny a la Pajama Boy?

              • Timothy Lane says:

                Actually, a minor fantasy writer (Phyllis Ann Karr) once wrote a parody sequel to The Stepford Wives, “The Steptoe Husbands”, in which the robot wives (concluding that they were better as robots than real women) decided to give their men the same benefit. She didn’t go into detail about the results, though. One writer suggested that the ideal female pin-up would be a rich guy like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. This would be difficult to arrange with an android. By contrast, an ideal gynoid would be much easier, though different personality types would be needed.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Perhaps I am a masochist, but I was never one for simpering women, which I suppose is the type such programmers would go for.

            Well, there you go. You’ve just given evidence for the coolness factor of programability (and swapping programs amongst buds). Don’t want simpering but prefer even a little bitchy? Would you rather have a setting of, say, 75% for assertiveness? No problem. You could even randomize these features to sort of simulate PMS. 😀 (Oh, did he really say that?)

    • Timothy Lane says:

      As it happens, I was once on a panel discussing the economics of Star Trek. It was noted that they apparently played cards for money even in TNG. There was definitely an economy in the original series, so that whatever seemed to eliminate it (except for the Ferengi) had to happen after that. The basic problem is that there are necessary jobs that no one wants to do. For example, who would want to be a “red shirt” if they could live perfectly well without doing so? But this isn’t a thought that ever seems to occur to liberals.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        As Jeff Foxworthy would no doubt say, “If you’ve ever been on a panel discussion about the economics of Star Trek, you might be a geek.” 😀

        I just wish I could have watched that. There’s a happy medium somewhere in sci-fi and other stories between not enough detail/realism and too much detail/realism. Sci-fi, in particular, needs to be anchored in the overall paradigm or idea. It doesn’t mean that faster-than-light travel has to be physically possible. It just means that you need to stipulate it (via deed is fine, rather than stopping a movie to say so).

        What I fear will happen — is happening — is that our culture is becoming so dumbed-down that the minimal elements will not be part of the story, and thus sci-fi (as well as other genres) will be anchored by no more than “I will.” There have always been bad movies and scripts, of course. But never have we seen such bad movies and scripts based upon 100 million dollar (or more) budgets.

        Even my friends (and you know who you are, Pat) think I’m way too picky when it comes to movies. Opinionated, yes. Picky, well…I’m extremely forgiving if the writers have set out a fully-functioning scenario. This is why you will almost never see me pick at a movie because such-and-such a special effect was not what it should be. I don’t give a flying fart. I read a lot of reviews online, and I’m tired of these idiots who don’t like Star Trek (or any other movie) because the special effects 50 years ago were not as they are today.

        I mean, Jesus, use your imagination. Go with the flow of the story. But I believe (and with good reason) that the creative soul of our culture is being sucked out. I’ve heard too many times, for instance, that some yute won’t even consider watching a movie that is in black-and-white. And surely I’m not the only one to have noticed the big budgets being thrown at the special effects bobbles on the screen while the script and characters are for all intents and purposes brain dead.

        So although I didn’t share Roddenberry’s (or Nimoy’s) politics, I like what they did with Star Trek and the Spock character. Roddenberry worked his ass off to make a show that was well grounded in what-if. And, God bless him, his (and D.C. Fontana’s, no doubt) sense of story-telling was generally (but not always) first rate. Roddenberry would not announce to the world, as so many amateurs do, “Look at my great special effect or futuristic idea!” No, he simply wove them into the story never calling undue attention to them and thereby doubling or tripling their impact.

        You didn’t have to be told the mechanics of Dr. McCoy’s medical scanners that looked suspiciously like salt shakers. They worked because he (in character) believed they worked and didn’t take any special notice of them. Brilliant. This sort of understatement (if that’s the right word) is missing from most of the junk being made by brain-dead nose-picking hacks in the film industry today.

        So cheers to Roddenberry and Nimoy who were serious about this show. Later, Nimoy (perhaps due to the effects of California liberalism) would help to trivialize his character, perhaps proving once again that “Everything the left touches, it makes worse.” But before the Star Trek movies, Nimoy was superb. With a mere raising of an eyebrow, he expressed more than most of the cheese-ball actors can do today. I think he was uniquely suited to play this character.

  3. Glenn Fairman says:

    I love and hate Star Trek simultaneously. However, I think the show pandered to human conceit.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I’m right there with you, Glenn. Love: The Original Series. Liked: The Next Generation. Hated: Voyager. Ambivalent: Deep Space 9. Promise Cut Short: Enterprise. J.J. Abrams (Oh, god, noooooo…don’t touch my Star Wars series) and the Reboot movies: Acceptable (1)/One of the worst movies I’ve ever seen (the second one). Vulcan Death Grip: useful at times.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    One writer suggested that the ideal female pin-up would be a rich guy like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett.

    No doubt, Timothy. And, again, for the benefit of those just tuning in, I’m not advocating a merely physical relationship. But if I did ever write a sci-fi story or short story, this is the one I have on my mind, where the robots are so life-like as to function as a human. No, such a story would not be a gratuitous sexual tale of freaky exploits. Boring. I would mean to have some fun with the idea, throwing in some parody and some droll commentary on human nature.

    Pets are already stand-ins for children. If I would have written a book with this notion 50 years ago, it might have seemed a little odd. But little Fido is now not only the family mutt. He’s often the object of bled-off maternal (and paternal) instincts. God only knows that dogs are much cheeper and easier to take care of, so a culture cut off from the biological need to reproduce was going to be headed this way anyway. Robot dogs would be even better, one presumes. And we’re likely heading that way as well.

    That reminds me of something I read lately about a child who was bored by the unmoving turtles in the local aquarium. The child thought it would be more life-like if they use robotic turtles. So the seed is already firmly planted.

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