Friday, February 27, 2015

In Memoriam: Leonard Nimoy

Like so many others today, I am saddened by the passing of Leonard Nimoy, the actor best known for his portrayal of Spock in the classic television series Star Trek.

A friend of mine (who is the age of my son) asked which original series episodes would be best for Spock-watching this weekend, and I told him that just about any episode that was good for Spock was good for the whole series. However, these are the ones that immediately came to mind:

• In a Season 1 episode, The Naked Time, Spock is infected by the same germ that has affected the rest of the crew and begins to lose his inhibitions, releasing the emotions he has pent up throughout his life. He breaks down and cries, confessing to Kirk how he never even told his mother (a human woman living on a world where emotions were considered “bad taste”) how much he loved her — our first real glimpse behind his Vulcan facade.

• Later in the season, Galileo Seven gives us a “lifeboat episode,” with a small number of crew under Spock’s command trying to repair their crashed shuttle while under attack from giants on an uncharted, inhospitable planet. The crew soon turns on Spock, whose lack of emotional reaction to the stresses makes him a target of their fear and anger. However, it is Spock’s “hail Mary” at the end that saves them all.

• Another outstanding first-season episode, This Side of Paradise, again allows Spock a chance to lose his self-control, this time under the influence of alien spores. The hour gives Nimoy a chance to embrace his most naturalistic acting of the entire series as we see the first officer experiencing true bliss and true love, finally able to express himself freely. He then puts the mask back on, his “self-imposed purgatory” as he calls it, to help Kirk save his ship and crew.

Amok Time kicked off the second year with Spock going into his mating season, which required him to return home or die trying. His visible struggle to maintain dignity, his sadness when he believes he has killed his captain, and the brilliant smile that escapes from under his mask when the truth is revealed — these are truly great moments by Nimoy that made Spock so much more real to fans.

Other good Spock moments can be found in Journey to Babel, which introduces Spock’s mother and father; The Devil in the Dark, in which Spock mind-melds with a dangerous blob creature and experiences its physical and emotional pain; The City on the Edge of Forever, in which Spock is tasked with building a computer using “stone knives and bearskins” while Kirk falls into a doomed love; Mirror, Mirror, which shows us that even the Spock of a parallel “evil” timeline is subject to the demands of logic; Specter of the Gun, which finds Spock melding with the crew to save them from death in a manufactured OK Corral scenario; and All Our Yesterdays, which has Spock cast back in time on a frozen world and falling in love with Mariette Hartley, who is wearing little more than a stone knife and bearskins.

"I Reach."
I even have fondness for the two most-ridiculed episodes of the series because of their very fine Nimoy moments, which have to be seen to be believed. The Enterprise intercepts a bevy of space-hippies in The Way to Eden, and we learn how Spock “reaches”; he is not Herbert. And the Season 3 premiere, Spock’s Brain, which finds Kirk and Co. tracking Spock’s stolen brain across the galaxy with a remote-controlled Spock body along for the ride.

Nimoy, of course, was much more than Spock. To fans of his work, he was a photographer, poet, playwright, author, producer, director — and even singer. (Look up The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins for a lark.) He was a social philosopher, truly embracing the concepts of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations that surfaced on Star Trek.

And as such, he was, and always shall be, our friend.
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