Yesterday we lost a true legend. If there was ever a Mount Rushmore of geek culture, then Leonard Nimoy’s face would absolutely be on it. And although Nimoy did many other amazing things in his career, he will be forever remembered first and foremost for his role as Spock in Star Trek, a part he played from 1964, when the original Trek pilot “The Cage” was shot, till 2013 when J.J, Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness was released. That’s nearly fifty years with one character, and I can’t think of another actor who had the opportunity Nimoy had, to take one character successfully through that many stages in life over so long a period of time.
Nimoy played Spock in 79 episodes of the original series, 22 episodes of the animated show,one episode of The Next Generation, and 8 feature films, so picking his 10 best moments was no easy task, but to me, these 10 moments encapsulate what so many love so much about the Enterprise’s half-human/half-Vulcan science officer, and will continue to love for decades to come.
10. “The Menagerie” Parts I and II (Star Trek: The Original Series, Season One, 1966)
Most of the entries on this list deal with Spock losing his Vulcan control over his emotions and showing off the the human side of his character, often in bombastic (but still amazing) ways. The reason being is, these scenes often resulted in some seriously great acting moments from Leonard Nimoy. But there was an episode where Nimoy got to have his cake and eat it too, with Spock both acting super emotional and still maintaining his Vulcan resolve. That episode is “The Menagerie”, which managed to re-use footage from Trek’s original pilot “The Cage” and re-purpose it to even greater effect.
In this two-part episode (the only one in the original Star Trek’s history) Spock disobeys every Starfleet directive there is, and even faces the only death penalty left on the books to help his former Captain, Christopher Pike, find some semblance of peace and happiness after a horrible accident has left him trapped in a totally useless body. Spock might see it as the “logical thing to do” for his former commanding officer, but no matter what he might say, the way Nimoy plays it, you know he’s doing it to help a friend in dire need and for no other reason.
9. “Unification” (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Five, 1991)
Leonard Nimoy only appeared in one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, titled “Unification”, where a now elderly Ambassador Spock has gone rogue and taken on a secret mission to Romulus to help the underground dissidents there find a way to eventually reunite with their Vulcan cousins. Spock’s father Sarek dies while he is away and on his mission, so Captain Jean Luc Picard (who had already mind melded with Sarek in a previous episode) is tasked with bringing Spock home. In doing so, he offers Spock one last chance to reconnect with his father from beyond the grave. It’s a great moment between Patrick Stewart and Nimoy, and it’s too bad we didn’t have more of them.
8. Star Trek (2009)
When J.J. Abrams approached Leonard Nimoy to return to the role of Spock for the 2009 big screen reboot of the franchise, he hadn’t played the part in over seventeen years, and had even turned down a chance to come back to the role for a cameo appearance in Star Trek: Generations in 1994. Although it was small part, in a way the entire plot of 2009 Trek hinges on Nimoy’s version of Spock, whose failure to save the planet Romulus resulted in a new, alternate timeline. For any major Star Trek fan, when old Spock meets young Kirk and says “You are, and always will be, my friend” it’s hard not to get a lump in your throat. But maybe the best scene is at the end, when Nimoy’s Spock meets Zachary Quinto’s younger Spock, and does what everyone in the world wishes they could do: give the younger version of themselves a little bit of sage advice.
7. “The Naked Time” (Star Trek: The Original Series, Season One, 1966)
In a very early episode of the original series, the crew of the Enterprise contract a virus that lets all their inhibitions go, like being drunk, but only twenty times more powerful. This is the very first time we see a crack in Spock’s steely non-emotional Vulcan resolve, as he finds an empty room on the ship and just allows himself to completely lose all emotional control. This is where we begin to understand that, for Spock, exposing his emotions like this isn’t just against his nature, but in his culture it’s shameful, and you can feel it in every moment of Nimoy’s performance. Apparently, after this episode aired in 1966, Spock’s fan mail from women across America tripled.
6. “Mirror, Mirror” (Star Trek: The Original Series, Season Two, 1967)
What actor wouldn’t relish getting to play the evil version of the character they are best known for? Certainly not Nimoy, who played the “evil” commander Spock from the alternate universe in “Mirror, Mirror”. Although this version of Spock is a bit nastier than the one we know (I mean, he has a goatee, so he must be bad, right?), the thing is…unlike the rest of the crew, this Spock isn’t really “evil” as he’s still a logical Vulcan, and evil just isn’t very logical, is it? Our Kirk actually convinces “Evil Spock” to change his ways, and change the ways of his universe. But not before we get to see Spock crack the whip on the miscreants aboard his Enterprise.
5. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was the last film the entire original crew appeared in together, released on the 25th Anniversary year of the original series. In this movie we are introduced to Spock’s latest protege, a young Vulcan named Valeris (played by Sex and the City’s Kim Cattrall). Over the course of the movie, it’s discovered that Valeris has not only betrayed the crew in a vast conspiracy with rogue elements of Starfleet, but personally betrayed her mentor, Captain Spock.
The moment where Spock catches Valeris red-handed after setting a trap for her and exposes her as a traitor is amazing. At this point in his life, Spock has lived, died, come back to life, and finally come to terms with his human half (“logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end.” he says, earlier in the movie), so he’s not so ashamed to show his justified anger in this scene. And when Spock has to mind meld with Valeris to get information, the crack in Spock’s voice after having to essentially torture his former pupil always gets me.
4. “Journey To Babel” (Star Trek: The Original Series, Season Two, 1968)
In this second season episode, Spock’s parents, the Vulcan ambassador Sarek (Mark Lenard) and his human wife Amanda (Jane Wyatt), visit the enterprise for a conference. Despite being logical Vulcan beings, this father and son pair haven’t spoken in years, due to Spock’s insistence that he join Starfleet instead of following in his father’s footsteps. When Kirk is seriously hurt, Spock needs to take command during the crisis.
However, when Sarek is also gravely injured while on the Enterprise, only Spock has the right blood match to help save his life. Just like in Star Trek II years later, the good of the many has to outweigh the needs of the few (or the one). Despite his human mother begging him to step down and let someone else take command “or she’ll hate him the rest of her life”, Spock’s logic and sense of duty to his ship prevent him from being able to do so, even for his father’s sake. When Spock’s mother slaps him, Nimoy’s reaction as he stands silently against the door says it all.
3. “This Side of Paradise” (Star Trek: The Original Series, Season One, 1967)
In an earlier episode of season one, “The Naked Time”, Spock lost control of his emotions and felt deep shame. Later that season, Spock and the Enterprise crew find a planet that harbors spores that leave you in a state of perpetual bliss. (The planet in question also happens to have an old flame from Spock’s past on it, who has harbored an unrequited love for our favorite Vulcan for years.) At first Spock resists letting go of his logic, but when he finally accepts his new state of being, you can’t help but feel happy for him, despite the fact that he’s been pretty much brainwashed by a plant.
When Kirk has to get him back to his senses, first by yelling racial slurs at him and then by beating the crap out of him, you almost don’t want him to snap Spock out of it. Just let him stay on that damn planet with the pretty blonde girl and be happy! When Spock regains his wits, he plays it as both being grateful to be himself again, but also regretful of the life he could have had that he will now never know.
2. Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982)
After no one involved was creatively satisfied with 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, it seemed like a longshot that anyone would come back for a sequel. Yet Star Trek II producer Harve Bennet lured Nimoy back with a tantalizing promise– “How would you like a great death scene?” As an actor, Nimoy couldn’t resist that, and returned for Star Trek II the Wrath of Khan, which is not only the greatest Star Trek film ever made, but one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever made, period. At the climax of the film, when Spock sacrifices his life to save the Enterprise, and has a tearful farewell with Kirk, his best friend and Captain of fifteen years, there’s never a dry eye in the house. It doesn’t even matter that you know that he gets better in the next movie. This scene is one of Spock’s crowning achievments as a character, and one of Nimoy’s as an actor.
1. “Amok Time” (Star Trek: The Original Series, Season Two, 1967)
In this great second season episode of Star Trek, Spock begins to undergo Pon farr, the Vulcan mating cycle that happens to males of his species once every seven years. During this time, all emotional control is lost, and they must return home to Vulcan to find a mate or die. After Spock has a massive meltdown on board the ship, Captain Kirk takes his first officer and best friend home, only to find that his betrothed has ordered an ancient ritual where Spock must fight another potential mate of her choosing to the death. She chooses Kirk, and he and Spock have to fight in a brutal arena battle.
At the end, Spock believes he’s killed his Captain and his best friend. When the Vulcan dignitary T’Pau tells Spock to “Live Long and Prosper” he responds “I shall do neither. I have killed my Captain… and my friend.” Although there are many moments in Trek‘s long history where Spock’s human emotion bubbles out from under the surface, there were none more heartbreaking and powerful than this one. And when Spock returns to the Enterprise and finds Kirk alive and well, and totally loses his Vulcan resolve for that one joyful split second, it’s absolutely priceless.
Honorable Mention – Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Because who hasn’t wanted to do this to some annoying person at some point:
Have a favorite Spock moment that you feel should have been on this list? Let us know in the comments below.