I was lucky enough to have grown up in the 70’s while the original Star Trek was in syndication. I think it aired in the late afternoon on school days, just before the parents got home and dinner took over, and we’d catch every episode we could, eventually surprised when we caught one we hadn’t seen before. When we finally saw the second pilot “Where No Man Has Gone Before” with only a partially formed crew of those we all know (Kirk, Sulu, Scotty and a strangely hot-headed Mr. Spock – Dr. Mark Piper anyone?), it was an interesting view into the early days of the series. In the episode Lt. Commander Gary Mitchell is imbued with godlike powers and quickly becomes a threat to the rest of the crew, with the inevitable shirt-ripping fight with William Shatner in the climactic ending. It was a scarier episode than we had become accustomed to in the later shows, but moreso, we all noticed how much more rough around the edges Spock seemed to be. Of course, probably at this time, thoughts were about Vulcans being more closely aligned with their warlike Romulan cousins, and much still to be fleshed out. Even then, Leonard Nimoy had a presence as Spock that could not be denied.
Over the course of the series, he would bring a nuance to the character that we would seldom see in shows of the time, and I think even some actors today might point to him as one of our better character actors. One episode especially deserving attention would be “Amok Time,” Spock’s torment over the more primitive emotions he so ably keeps in check. It was here where we saw unfettered rage on display in his blood fight with Kirk. Then “Shore Leave,” where spores free Spock from his unemotional shackles and let him, almost drunkenly, explore his human side. And perhaps most the most subtle portrayal of Spock’s logic and empathy in “The Menagerie,” a recast of the show’s pilot, “The Cage.” This later Spock become his signature in the movies, sacrificing himself for the crew in The Wrath of Khan, and eventually working to reconcile the Romulan and Vulcan people.
In the end, Leonard Nimoy’s Spock became symbol of our own need to square our emotional and intellectual selves, show us a path between the warring of extremes in that spectrum. Leonard McCoy became the perfect emotional foil for Spock’s dry logic, with Kirk the balance between the two. The three of them together? Our brain personified.
Leonard Nimoy seemed to carry the theme of logic, balance, empathy and peace into other areas of his career with his poetry, photography, music, writings and support of the arts. He became a model for science that encouraged many to pursue that career – the influence his character played could very well be understated.
Sure Star Trek was a simple, even campy TV show, but the archetypes it presented were powerful and long-lasting. I can only express thanks to Leonard Nimoy for some of the lessons he taught me as Spock in my early teenage years. In many ways, Kirk, McCoy and Spock were three father figures who explained a little more about this complex world we live in. I will miss the one who balanced reason with emotion, the one who showed intellect can also be kind.