When he appeared as a green-blooded, emotionless, pointy-eared Mr. Spock in the first pilot of the “Star Trek” television series in 1965, Leonard Nimoy played a character role in the beginning of what may be the most successful failure in television history.
A television series that was cut after only three seasons turned out to be one of the longest television and film franchises ever.
Like the show, its most popular character was believed, at first, to be dismissed by Americans. It turned out that Nimoy played the character of an alien over a span of 50 years—that actually taught us what it means to be human.
Spock served as the voice of logic and wisdom in the original “Star Trek” series.
“If I let go of a hammer on a planet that has a positive gravity, I need not see it fall to know that it has in fact fallen,” is one of his many great lines from the series.
Though he was always referred to as the only alien who worked with the humans on the bridge of the Enterprise, Spock was actually a breed of human and Vulcan. Vulcans have evolved over centuries to deter from violence, resort to logic as their power of thought and were in control of their emotions, so they do not control them. In essence, Spock represented the television series’ hope for the future human race.
Spock’s ancestors were barbaric before their minds became accustomed to logic. Like Vulcans, humans had moved past hundreds of years of bloodshed and hatred by the 23rd century, the time period the show takes place. Things like world wars were the distant past and unimaginable in their current time. The Vulcans became forever dedicated to peaceful relations, which in the “Star Trek” series, is the united world’s main objective in spreading all over the galaxy.
Spock’s main personal obstacle was the constant battle going on inside him. His human side tried to express his emotions, while his Vulcan side tried to suppress them. Emotional reactions can often interfere with one’s ability to think clearly, which is something Spock has always seen as a weakness in humans. What Spock really taught us is that a delicate balance between emotion and pure logic is not only possible, but the best way to go about it.
“Pain is a thing of the mind, but the mind can be controlled,” he said in one of the episodes. He was able to maintain his stance during stressful situations, but still had that hidden inner emotion that kept him active in art, music and most importantly, at his friend Captain James T. Kirk’s side, one of the best television partnerships ever, in my opinion.
Maybe most importantly, Spock represented literally “the best of both worlds.” When “Star Trek” took off during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, images on the evening news portrayed the hallmarks of American segregation—protests, spraying water hoses and “whites only” signs in front of stores. After the news, “Star Trek” would come on and show Spock, a human-alien mulatto if you will, in a position of respected authority and peacefully working with other humans. This character that NBC feared seemed too devilish at first turned out to be the face of futuristic utopian diversity on American television. Spock reminds us that diversity actually makes us better when we work together.
Nimoy is one of the few actors and directors ever that, despite all he’s done over his 60-year career, is remembered instantly for his portrayal of Spock. He became the character and made Spock appear in all of us. Whenever you hear that voice in the back of your head asking, “Is this really the action you want to take?,” that’s Spock.
But you don’t need me to tell you that Spock displayed humanity at its best. Kirk told us in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” following Spock’s death, which may be the most emotional moment in the entire franchise, and more recently, an emotional moment for Trek fans in the wake of Nimoy’s passing.
“Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels,” Kirk said at Spock’s funeral in the movie, “his was the most… human.”