On February 27, 2015, Leonard Nimoy passed away. It was almost like losing a family member. As far back as I can remember, I watched Star Trek, often with my brothers and, in my earliest and fondest memories, with my mom too. In one of those early memories, we were nestled—all three boys and my mom, recently divorced—together in a darkened room, in front of the TV, snacking (Jiffy Pop? radishes?), watching Mr. Spock take the Enterprise’s shuttle deep into the heart of a giant space amoeba, a psychedelic blob that drained the life force from whatever it encountered, to record much-needed scientific data about the creature and transmit it back to the Enterprise. It was, in essence, a suicide mission. Spock’s transmissions grew fainter the farther he ventured into the creature, his final message, strained, fragmented, suggested there might be a way to kill the thing before dissipating into static. Those aboard the Enterprise assumed that Spock died. It was “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” being played out decades before it got the scene it deserved in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
I was mortified. They couldn’t kill Spock—he was my favorite character! Let’s face it, Kirk and Bones could be assholes. Kirk was a narcissist, preening like a peacock with self-satisfaction, and McCoy’s anti-Vulcan vituperative aligned him neatly with moonshine-swilling good ol’ boys with notches on their guns, keeping track of the uppity folk they kept in line. But Spock was the most human of the lot. He was cool, rational, and willing to sacrifice himself for the good of others. He was a hero, damn it. Not Kirk or McCoy.
And Nimoy played him with such naturalness that one actually forgot how often Spock laughed and cried and exploded with anger. Spock was, after all, detached, unemotional. We knew that, both from the scripts and Nimoy’s skill at making Spock seem untouched by emotion. So it startled me when Spock sobbed in “The Devil in the Dark,” as he did a mind meld with a strange silicon creature whose offspring were threatened by mining operations, or when he fell in love with a woman in “This Side of Paradise,” kissing her, blissfully refusing to return to the Enterprise, or when he shouted and raged in “Amok Time.” One could go on and on.
Watch the original series again. You’ll be amazed by how emotional Spock really is. Best yet, at the end of each episode, when Kirk, smug, smirking, attempts to rub Spock’s nose in the emotions he displayed, Nimoy had Spock dismiss the accusations with the skeptical arch of an eyebrow. Maybe that’s how Nimoy so effectively erased Spock’s outbursts. The gesture was so subtle, so indelibly Spock. And it’s indelibly part of pop culture. Live long and prosper, Mr. Nimoy, wherever you are. Shalom Aleichem.