An Ode To Leonard Nimoy, and To His Undying Character

Spock with a cat is basically the epitome of awesome.

Spock with a cat is basically the epitome of awesome.

Spock is still with us. He was brought back to life by the Genesis Device, after all. He’s out there somewhere, with pointy ears and one eyebrow raised, telling us the most logical course of action.

It is Leonard Nimoy, beloved to millions of people across the globe, that is no longer with us. But somehow, that doesn’t feel quite right to say.

I generally have a slight aversion to cheesy celebrity death posts, mainly because I have never had personal experiences with these celebrities, or did not feel like I was enough of a fan to warrant writing a eulogy for someone I’d technically never met. I was a fan of Robin Williams, for instance, and was very saddened to hear about his tragic death, but I did not feel I was the right person to write about what he meant to people.

This is different.

Leonard Nimoy did much more than play Mr. Spock on Star Trek (here is the proof). But for me, and for most people, I imagine, Spock is what he will be remembered for the most. It’s obvious why, and I don’t need to explain what made Spock such a good character. What I want to talk about is what Spock meant to me.

My parents are huge Star Trek fans, and one day the decided to order the first show from Netflix, CD by CD (back when people actually still ordered physical DVDs from Netflix), and watch it episode by episode with us. Since we had to wait for the DVDs to come in the mail, it was the closest we could get to watching it as a real TV show. In a way, it was even better because we were seeing every episode in order.

The show gets off to a semi-slow start, but by the time I saw “The Menagerie,” I was hooked, and much of it had to do with that intriguing pointy-eared science officer that was so different from everyone else in the show. And yet, he fit in perfectly. There would have been no Star Trek without Mr. Spock, and I don’t think I would have been drawn to the show as I was if not for him.

I’ve said numerous times, in discussion of TV shows like The X-Files and movies like Gravity, that what I personally look for in storytelling are complex characters. A good story is carried by great characters, and the emotional arc of any tale rides on a character’s conflict and development. But a great deal of it also rides on personality, which is something I haven’t discussed much.

Spock was – is – a logical, practical, calm person with two halves, a person split right down the middle between two kinds of being: the logical, and the emotional. The emotional is his human side, the logical is his Vulcan side. Or so the show claims. What was so, so special about Spock – and what really drew me to him, as a shy, lonely, awkward twelve-year-old – was the way he showed his humanity through his inhumanity. Some of Spock’s most emotional, noble, loving material is channeled through a being of logic – his Vulcan side cooperating with his human side, allowing it to drive his actions. And damn, there’s just something so relatable about that. We all feel like that. We all have problems that lead us in different directions. We all must find ways to make two conflicting sides of ourselves help each other.

I think Leonard Nimoy took this character that Gene Roddenberry created and gave him a depth, a layer, that Roddenberry had not anticipated. One raised eyebrow is funnier than any joke, one sincere sentence says more than a monologue ever could have. The contrast between Spock and Kirk is striking: Kirk, whose emotional material is delivered through passionate monologues and rousing speeches; Spock, who can do the same with a softly spoken sentence. Neither is better than the other; they go together, complement each other. Two halves of a whole.

I had to go out and do stuff today. I had to do normal things, like eat breakfast and go to class and buy food and talk to people. And all the while, I kept turning my head away, blinking back tears. I kept thinking back to when I was younger, sitting on my living room floor with a bowl of popcorn, watching a spaceship full of people wearing primary colors flying through space, boldly going where no one had gone before. To my young mind, Star Trek was the greatest thing I had ever seen, the most exciting, the most intriguing, the most creative. In many ways, it still is. In great part thanks to Leonard Nimoy and his character.

Spock, you have been and always shall be my friend. Live long and prosper. Thanks to you, I know I will.

spock

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