After I heard that Leonard Nimoy died, it took me a while to put together my thoughts about the event. Growing up in the early 70s, Star Trek was a favorite show of mine, together with those other syndicated standbys, Bewitched and I Dream of Genie. It was broadcast early in the evening, before prime time. When I got old enough to stay up later, I enjoyed M*A*S*H* (Hawkeye!) and All In The Family, but they never captured my imagination the way Star Trek did.
My older brother and I used to watch the show together. It was one of the few experiences we shared, since he usually didn’t want his kid sister following him around, and would physically enforce the ban. He was a boy with strong, suppressed emotions, and Spock represented that, I think. Whenever there was an embarrassing moment on the show, especially if it had to do with Spock getting emotional, my brother would get up and leave the room:
Spock gets hit by alien spores (“This Side of Paradise”) and suddenly turns into a Love Machine!
Spock goes into “heat” (“Amok Time”) and fights to the death with Kirk! When he realizes Kirk is alive, he greets him with great joy, then pretends nothing happened.
Spock and the rest of the crew become intoxicated by a strange space disease (“The Naked Time”). When Nurse Chapel confesses her love for him, he loses control of himself!
Of course, those were my favorite bits. I loved Spock’s rational, logical, scientific learnedness, but I also loved his emotional side. It was a powerful metaphor for masculinity: being in control of your feelings all the time takes a lot of work. As a girl, I didn’t have to worry about that; having and revealing emotions didn’t take away from my girl-ness. Spock showed me that it was OK to be smart, and to love science. I could have the best of both worlds.
When I got older, I realized things weren’t that simple. But I never stopped believing.
The characters in Star Trek were archetypes. Spock was the logical one who relied on reason–the Tin Man who “didn’t have a heart.” McCoy was big-hearted, the Scarecrow of the story. In his gruff, no-nonsense way, he represented compassion and intuition. But just as Spock had emotions, McCoy had brains. When Spock and Kirk were forced to fight to the death, McCoy pronounced the wounded Kirk “dead” and beamed them away to the ship. He knew when to step in and call a halt to macho silliness. Kirk was the hero, the ideal synthesis of brain and heart. He was, in Gene Roddenberry’s original vision of the show, Horatio Hornblower in space.
Anyone who has read C. S. Forester’s Hornblower books knows that Hornblower is an extraordinary character, a man of great courage, intelligence and integrity who is also plagued by self-doubt. As played by Shatner, Kirk was far more confident, and more the ladies’ man, forever enjoying James Bond-like trysts with exotic women. But he had Hornblower’s determination to do the right thing, if not always by the book. According to the writer’s guide for the original series, Kirk was “always on trial with himself,” and “inclined to push himself beyond human limits.”
We all recognize the Star Trek music. The original show had special themes for different situations, beautifully performed by the studio orchestra (“Danger!” “Romance!” “Battle!” “The Awesomeness of Space!” “Weird Planets!”). And the writing on the show was nothing less than extraordinary. Theodore Sturgeon, Norman Spinrad, David Gerrold, and Harlan Ellison all wrote episodes. The titles themselves were riveting. Here are some of my favorites:
Is There In Truth No Beauty?
For The World Is Hollow, And I Have Touched The Sky
The City On The Edge Of Forever
The Conscience Of The King
Whom Gods Destroy
Who Mourns For Adonais?
Viewers were often treated to a dose of humor (with whimsical music to match), as in “The Trouble With Tribbles.” Most episodes had a moment of comic relief at the end, with Kirk and the rest of the crew chuckling at some “human” joke and Spock raising a supercilious Vulcan eyebrow.
Like Sherlock Holmes, Spock is one for the ages. Leonard Nimoy’s portrait of Spock was so convincing that he will be forever identified with that character, a fact he struggled with. In the end, I think he understood that it was not just a case of typecasting, but something larger and more profound. Spock meant a great deal to people around the world, and Nimoy’s legacy is a lasting gift. After we are all long gone, he will still be teaching boys and girls that to be a “Science Officer” is an admirable thing, and that the truly “humane” person is one who tempers reason with feeling.
Beautiful Man, you are one of the Immortals now.