Saved by Spock
by Aaron Cooley
Picture yourself living in a time with only five or six channels on your television set. A world in which your computer can only access the floppy discs you slip inside it — assuming you’ve got a computer at all. A world in which video games are made up only of slowly moving geometric shapes bouncing off one another with disharmonious beeps.
Imagine you’re a sci fi fanatic – but there are only a couple of science fiction movies at your local cinema each year, most of which your parents don’t want to take you to anyway. The only way to get your fill of sci fi is to beg them to drive you to the bookstore or to let you take the bus to the library to pick up a paperback.
Or you can make sure to be sitting on your living room floor at that one hour each week – probably Saturday afternoons – when pure magic comes to your television set. You have to be right in front of your TV, probably several minutes early, to ensure another family member doesn’t swoop in to watch something else. Remember, there’s no DVR on which you can record your show, and your VCR’s timer is the most complicated device in the house.
It’s at this appointed magic hour that one of your six channels goes back in time and shows you the future all at once, playing delectably antique episodes of a long-ago cancelled show chronicling the 23rd Century voyages of a lone, oddly-shaped ship sailing through the final frontier.
I realized upon hearing the news of his death that I hardly knew anything about Leonard Nimoy. I never knew how important his Orthodox Jewish faith was to him, that his most famous hand salute was based on a Hebrew letter, and that he recorded a song in the 1970s about a Hobbit.
All I knew is that Spock rescued me from the pre-cable, pre-Internet age.
It was Spock I lost on Friday. Through every Star Trek reboot, Spock – Leonard Nimoy’s rendition of him – was the one Starfleet officer who refused to die, appearing even in both of J.J. Abrams’ films in which every character in the franchise, including even Spock himself, had been recast. But you could never recast Nimoy’s Spock. Zachary Quinto could create his own Spock, and a fine Spock at that, but there will always only be the one, true Spock.
Why did we love Spock so much? Why did we refuse to let Nimoy’s Spock go?
It isn’t just because he made science cool. I am sure there are thousands of Sheldon Coopers out there who undoubtedly were inspired to their vocations by the Enterprise’s Chief Science Officer. But there were just as many of us who didn’t care about the science, who just wanted them to power through all those gobbledygook MacGuffins and dei ex machina and get back to the story.
See, Spock was the heart of the Star Trek story. He, and not his Captain, was the protagonist of the original series. While Kirk just bullied and smirked his way through intergalactic catastrophes, learning hardly a thing and repeating all the same mistakes a stardate later, it was Spock who was undergoing change, Spock who was learning about himself, Spock who was becoming more… wait for it… human. Star Trek was primarily built on Spock’s character arc. His was the global arc of the original 79 episodes, and when that arc had run its course, it was conveniently restarted by resetting him to emotional zero through his death and rebirth in the second and third films.
Despite being the only alien on the crew, Spock was the one dealing with many of the personal issues the audience, especially the show’s first-run ‘60s audience, was wrestling with. Kirk’s parents were never seen, whereas Spock’s mixed race family was a very present part of his everyday life. As he grew and matured, Spock struggled with growing out of a rigid, regimented culture and finding his own moral compass in a whole wide galaxy ruled by personal freedom and permissiveness. And in a Federation that seemed almost universally secular, Spock could be found in the best of all Trek films, The Wrath of Khan, on his knees in black robes, praying.
But most importantly, Spock was the perfect best friend, the kind of best friend we all need and want. Harsh and critical, yet loyal and supportive. Kirk was plagued with the most human of failings – he was brash, impulsive, and made decisions with his emotions. Spock was the foil who was always there to tell him the right course of action, the one to talk him off the ledge when no one else would. But Spock also always came around and supported Kirk in his final decisions no matter how wrong they might appear on paper, no matter how many regulations they might violate, or how many different ways they might desecrate the Prime Directive. He did this because he was Kirk’s first officer, yes, but above all, because he had been, “and always shall be – your friend.”
Sadly, one of my favorite basketball players also died just nine days before Mr. Nimoy. I struggled to find grainy, standard def highlights of this player on YouTube, but alas, some of my greatest memories of him will remain just that. But all 90+ hours of Spock’s adventures have been preserved in glorious HD for all eternity, to be played on Saturday afternoons across the world, even in this age of so many different sci fi choices. Spock saved my childhood, and he gave Leonard Nimoy every artist’s dream: he will not only live forever — but prosper.Tags: Aaron Cooley, Hollywood, Leonard Nimoy, Spock, Star Trek, Television that matters