My Favorite Nimoy Performances on Star Trek

I noticed in the aftermath of Leonard Nimoy’s death that a few in my Twitter-orbit went out and screened “Spock’s Brain” as part of their mourning process. While I’m not saying here that a person should never watch “Spock’s Brain”–I’ll say that elsewhere, but not here, it’s tantamount to mourning Shakespeare’s death by screening King John and Timon of Athens. Aim higher, kids. Aim higher.

Here’s a list to get you started.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Spock’s death scene was heartbreaking before Nimoy’s death, now it’s moreso because, though Spock has the Genesis effect to fall back on, we know Nimoy doesn’t. But don’t just watch it for that. Watch it for the subtlety of his humor, and for the lived-in feel of his rapport with Shatner.

“The Immunity Syndrome”

Spock’s arguments with McCoy take on a particular edge here because they’re both competing for the chance to explore and study this giant, single celled organism that’s threatening the galaxy. This exchange is one I come back to often:

Mr. Spock: Call it a deep understanding of the way things happen to Vulcans, but I know that not a person, not even the computers on board the Intrepid, knew what was killing them or would have understood it had they known.

Dr. McCoy: But, 400 Vulcans?

Mr. Spock: I’ve noticed that about your people, Doctor. You find it easier to understand the death of one than the death of a million. You speak about the objective hardness of the Vulcan heart, yet how little room there seems to be in yours.

Dr. McCoy: Suffer the death of thy neighbour, eh, Spock? Now, you wouldn’t wish that on us, would you?

Mr. Spock: It might have rendered your history a bit less bloody.

I’ve always admired Spock’s ability to hold a critical distance from humanity. It’s wonderfully devastating here.

“This Side of Paradise”

Spock. Happy. Two words that shouldn’t go together, but do, all too briefly, in this episode. Why doesn’t it last?

Spock: I have a responsibility to this ship, to that man on the bridge. I am what I am, Leila. If there are self-made purgatories, then we all have to live in them. Mine can be no worse than someone else’s.

“Journey to Babel”

At last, a chance to meet Spock’s parents, and to see the human and Vulcan sides of his nature literally pull him in opposite directions when his father suffers a heart attack, and Spock refuses to relinquish command of the Enterprise during a crisis to donate blood for the operation. (This foreshadows “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” by two decades.)

Spock: Sarek understands my reason.

Amanda: Well, I don’t. It’s not human. Oh, that’s not a dirty word. You’re human, too. Let that part of you come through. You’re father’s dying.

Spock: Mother, how can you have lived on Vulcan so long, married a Vulcan, raised a son on Vulcan, without understanding what it means to be a Vulcan?

Amanda: Well, if this is what it means, I don’t want to know!

“Devil In the Dark”

As I recall, this was one of Nimoy’s favorites, along with “Amok Time”. He gets to do some wonderful work mind-melding with the Horta

“The Squire of Gothos”

Admittedly, Spock’s role here is smaller than usual. Trelane’s conflict is with Kirk and it gets very focused very fast. Still, Spock gets some really great lines in here, including one that I love to quote:

Mr. Spock: I object to you. I object to intellect without discipline; I object to power without constructive purpose.

No one could deliver a character assessment as coldly as Spock. I love it.

“Amok Time”

Of course we have to include this one. Ted Sturgeon’s script fleshed out so much of Vulcan’s culture in it. What sells the script is the way Nimoy conveys both the stress Spock’s under and how mortified he is that others can see it. Nimoy was seldom allowed to play big as Spock. This episode, like “This Side of Paradise”, shows how effective he can be playing big.

“The Enterprise Incident”

This is, in essence, an espionage caper story. What makes it unusual is that, because we’re dealing with the Romulans, it’s Spock’s job to seduce the Romulan Commander while Kirk fakes his death, gets into disguise, and steals their new cloaking device. (Think of how many times Spock had to conceal his ears on the series and you can see what a role reversal this is.) Nimoy makes it work, and in doing so, lets us take a peek inside Romulan culture.

The aftermath, which has the Enterprise taking back to Federation space both the cloaking device and the Romulan Commander, leads to a great little scene.

Spock: It is regrettable that you were made an unwilling passenger. It was not intentional. All the Federation wanted was the cloaking device.

Romulan Commander: The Federation. And what did you want?

Spock: It was my only interest when I boarded your vessel.

Romulan Commander: And that’s exactly all you came away with.

Spock: You underestimate yourself, Commander.

“The Tholian Web”

Spock often said he never desired a command of his own. It’s easy to see why in this episode, where he tries to hold the crew together after Captain Kirk goes missing and is presumed dead. Spock is a many of many capabilities, but showing empathy during hard times is not his strength. What makes it worse is that he has to conceal his own feelings, so much so that people, Dr. McCoy especially, assume he doesn’t have them.

SPOCK: You will return to your duty as soon as we’ve discharged our responsibilities here.
MCCOY: There’s no hurry, Mister Spock. The antidote probably doesn’t concern you. Vulcans are probably immune, so just take your time.
(Spock enters the combination to the Captain’s safe.)
MCCOY: I must admit I don’t understand you, Spock, but I just can’t believe that you would want Jim’s command. You must know that if you get us out of this situation, they’ll pin a medal on your chest and give you command of the Enterprise.
SPOCK: Doctor, I am in command of the Enterprise.
MCCOY: I would like to remedy that situation.
SPOCK: If you believe I have acted irregularly, then relieve me of duty. That is your prerogative as medical officer of this ship.
KIRK [on monitor]: Bones, Spock. since you are playing this tape, we will assume that I am dead, that the tactical situation is critical, and both of you are locked in mortal combat. It means, Spock, that you have control of the ship and are probably making the most difficult decisions of your career. I can offer only one small piece of advice, for whatever it’s worth. Use every scrap of knowledge and logic you have to save the ship. But temper your judgment with intuitive insight. I believe you have those qualities, but if you can’t find them in yourself, seek out McCoy. Ask his advice. And if you find it sound, take it. Bones, you’ve heard what I’ve just told Spock. Help him if you can. But remember he is the Captain. His decisions must be followed without question. You might find that he is capable of human insight and human error. They are most difficult to defend, but you will find that he is deserving of the same loyalty and confidence each of you have given me. Take care.
MCCOY: Spock, I, er, I’m sorry. It does hurt, doesn’t it?
SPOCK: What would you have me say, Doctor?

“Mirror, Mirror”

Spock with a beard. Yes, it’s an iconic image in itself. But what’s even better is how the writers and Nimoy knew what to change and what to keep consistent. Since logic is the thread that connects both universes, Spock can’t just be the opposite of himself. He has to be a more ruthless, more selfish variant of Spock Prime.

Captain James T. Kirk: You heard my orders.

Mirror Spock: They are, of course, in contradiction to standard Empire procedure. You cannot ignore the consequences.

Captain James T. Kirk: Is that a threat?

Mirror Spock: I do not threaten, Captain. I merely state facts. I have found you to be an excellent officer. Our missions together have been both successful and profitable; however, I shall not permit your aberrations to jeopardize my position.

This should be enough of a list to get anyone started on their Spock appreciation tour. Enjoy, but I warn you. Once you start, you may not be able to stop, and the next thing you know, you’re in a hotel ballroom in pointed ears and a blue shirt standing in a line half a mile long to get William Shatner’s autograph.

There are worse situations to be in.

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