Leonard Nimoy 1931-2015: Spock’s Greatest Hits

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No matter how long and prosperous one’s life may be, eventually it must end.

Leonard Nimoy passed away the morning of Friday, February 27 as a result of COPD—a byproduct of years of smoking—and he leaves behind a larger than life legacy that will live on long past any of us. Though he did a lot throughout his remarkable career, he will always and forever be known as Mr. Spock to his legions of fans around the world. While it may feel disrespectful to reduce the life of an actor down to a singular role, the fact is that Nimoy so embodied the character of Spock that the two are forever linked in a sort of symbiotic existence. One cannot exist without the other in the minds of fans worldwide (indeed, even the J.J. Abrams reboot series needed appearances from the original Spock in order to be fully digestible) and for many, the death of Nimoy is on par with the death of an old friend or uncle.

Over the years, Nimoy was able to do so much with the character that any actor would be—should be—envious of. Spock allowed Nimoy to constantly evolve and display increased chops over the decades he played the role and solidified the actor not only as a pop cultural icon but as one of the finest television actors of all time. Today, as we celebrated the life and legacy of Nimoy, we took a look back through Star Trek to find some of the best and most memorable performances he gave as the enigmatic Vulcan.

Spock’s death in Wrath of Khan:

Rightfully considered the best of the Star Trek movie franchise, the biggest and most shocking moment of the movie—the series, even—was Spock’s decision to sacrifice his life in order to save the Enterprise and her crew from imminent destruction. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” he said, early on in the film and once more to justify his decision. It’s an emotional scene to watch, not just for Trek fans but for movie fans in general. “You are and always will be my friend,” he says, life fading from his body. For a series lambasted for its cheesiness, this was an emotionally hard-hitting scene that stuck with you even after they resurrected him in the next movie.

“Unification” (Star Trek: The Next Generation):

This two part episode is notable for many reasons; not only was it the first episode to air following creator Gene Roddenberry’s death (it’s dedicated in his honor) but is generally considered a high water mark for this series. Fearing their greatest ambassador has defected to their greatest enemy, Starfleet sends Picard and his crew to Romulus to find and retrieve Ambassador Spock before he has the chance to give any classified secrets away. It was a classic case of “say it ain’t so” for Trek fans as they sat on the edge of their seats wondering how and why Spock decided to collude with the Romulans. Who among us can forget the chills of excitement that washed over us when a hooded figure stepped out of the shadows to greet Picard? “Indeed, you have found him,” he says, revealing his face. Two legends stand in each other’s presence for the first and only time on screen. A fitting tribute for Roddenberry, for sure. But Nimoy’s performance in this two-part episode was nuanced, layered, and in all ways amazing.

“Amok Time”:

With a single season under its belt, there were already certain things we had come to expect from Star Trek and its cast of characters. Of all of these things, that Spock is always logical and in control is the most reliable. So imagine the shock when viewing this season 2 opener for the first time to find Spock acting erratically and aggressively. He physically assaults Nurse Chapel, refuses medical attention from Bones, overrides Kirk’s orders, and demands shore leave on Vulcan. What’s going on? What is wrong with you, Spock?! Turns out, Spock is in heat and for a Vulcan this is serious business. For a Vulcan, it’s not simply a matter of getting one’s rocks off, it’s a purely biological necessity that could result in their death if ignored. What had every possibility to be supremely silly turns out to be a fascinating exploration of instinct vs. intellect, duty vs. responsibility, and societal feelings about sexual desire. Nimoy shines in this episode, for the first time playing Spock with emotion. This episode also marks the first appearance of that most famous of Trek tropes: the Vulcan salute and the phrase “live long and prosper.”

“Mirror Mirror”:

Alternate universes have long be a science fiction trope, but there’s arguably none more influential or memorable than this first peek inside Trek’s alternate universe. Also, you gotta dig those goatees, right?! Who among us haven’t thought about how different our lives would be if we had made different choices or if one little thing had happened? “Mirror Mirror” takes that concept and extrapolates on the macro-level. We accept as fact that Starfleet and the Federation are agents of good, but how easily things could have changed with just one or two different outcomes in history. This episode, like “Amok Time,” saw Nimoy stretching his acting abilities to portray evil Spock as, well, evil as hell. He’s merciless, brutal, and absolutely cutthroat. The entire premise of this episode hinges on Nimoy’s role and he holds it all together. It’s a testament to his capabilities as an actor and the sheer power of his performances.

“Devil in the Dark”:

The Enterprise is sent to a Federation mining colony to investigate a series of strange deaths and, in the process, gets more than they bargained for. A strange, rock-like creature is terrorizing the miners and killing them seemingly without rhyme or reason. As Kirk and Spock investigate the matter, they learn that things aren’t quite what they initially seemed. This episode is notable for Spock’s most infamous mind-meld. “PAAIIIN,” he screams, as he attempts to read the mind of this murderous creature. “Waves and waves of pain,” are all he can get from the mind of their enemy, their first suggestion that maybe the mining colony hasn’t been exactly forthright about the goings on. Star Trek has always been known as a place to explore the grey areas that ethics often dwell in and this is one that does so beautifully. Kirk and Spock clear the muddled waters of morality and turn grey into black and white, clearly defining what is right and what is wrong. The mind-meld scene is one of the most memorable and powerful scenes of the original series and clearly shows the kind of powers Spock has. Nimoy pulls it off and delivers one of the best Spock performances of his career.

Spock’s eulogy (honorable mention):
No words can be better said than Kirk’s eulogy for his fallen friend at the end of The Wrath of Khan. It’s difficult to be a Nimoy fan and not think of this scene today. If any of us were to have words have as beautifully spoken at our funerals then truly our lives have been blessed. Leonard, I can think of no better tribute than this scene as you continue your journey from our world into the final frontier…

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