Star Trek’s First Science Officer – The Spock Breakdown
Mr. Spock is ubiquitous. To exist is to know he exists. But how much do you know about him beyond the pointy ears and the bowl haircut?
When a fictional character is writ as large in the cultural consciousness as Mr. Spock is, it’s easy to think you know more than you do about him. In fact most presumptions about Spock are wrong. Assumption: Spock is a Vulcan. Reality: he’s half Vulcan. Assumption: Spock doesn’t have emotions. Reality: he has more emotions than basically everyone else in Star Trek. Heck, we all originally thought he was an only child and found out that isn’t true on two separate occasions!
So if Spock isn’t an emotionless Vulcan, who is he really? The character has been a part of our lexicon across seven decades now, so consider this breakdown an examination of the big stuff and the most fun stuff.
The Wee Baby Years
Spock is born in Vulcan in the city of Shi’Kahr. His father is a Vulcan named Sarek and his mother is a school teacher (and a human) named Amanda Grayson. Despite its ethos of logic above all, Vulcan society is incredibly racist. As a result, Spock is not a popular kid. In both the Star Trek: The Animated Series episode “Yesteryear” and the 2009 J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot movie, we see him shoved around by his fellow classmates. To be clear: he’s hated because he is half human and for no other reason. Spock is not entirely alone as a kid. In fact, he has siblings, both of whom have plenty of emotional baggage of their own.
Sybok is our hero’s elder half-brother. Sybok is a brilliant student, but goes entirely against the logical teachings of Vulcan and embraces emotions. Spock loses Sybok from his life for many decades after Sybok is banished.
On the flipside, there is Spock’s foster sister, Michael Burnham. Sarek and Amanda adopt Michael after her parents are (presumably) killed by Klingons. Spock resents and then embraces Michael. Unfortunately, logic extremists try to kill Michael (they really hate human’s y’all) which causes Michael to break ties with him for his own good.
During this time, Spock has visions of a Red Angel who shares visions of the future with him. More on her later.
Teen Dream Spock & Beyond
Spock dives pretty hard into Vulcan logic. We find out in Star Trek: Discovery that both he and Michael graduate the Vulcan Science Academy but Sarek can only choose one of them to recommend for the Vulcan Expeditionary Group. Sarek chooses Spock which furthers the rift between him and Michael. And after the Academy low key disses his mom to his face, he decides against the VEG and joins Starfleet instead. As a result, he and Sarek do not speak for eighteen years.
This is where things get a little hinky with official continuity. We can say for certain that Spock joins Starfleet, struggling but ultimately succeeding there. In the Kelvin Universe, he creates a Starfleet exam called the Kobyashi Maru. It is unknown whether or not he creates the test in the main uniform. It is also unclear as of this writing whether or not Spock meets James T. Kirk at Starfleet Academy in the main universe or not.
What we can say for certain is that he eventually graduates and becomes a science officer aboard the U.S.S. NCC-1701 Enterprise under Captain Christopher Pike. At this point, Spock is, perhaps as a result of his relationship with Sybok, pretty visibly emotional for a Vulcan. The Enterprise‘s first officer Una Chin-Riley even remarks on how unerring it is to see a Vulcan smile. As a result, he actually dials it back and tries to be more reserved and less openly emotional.
Spock and the Enterprise: Part One
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds deals with Spock’s early days on board the Enterprise. As a result we don’t know a ton about this time just yet, however we do know a couple things. For one thing, we know that he has a fierce allegiance to Captain Christopher Pike, which will later include him betraying all of Starfleet in order to save Pike.
But the big thing to know about the early Enterprise days thus far is the reappearance of the Red Angel from Spock’s childhood. He becomes obsessed with understanding who the Red Angel is and what their purpose is. Eventually he loses his sanity and connection to Starfleet during this time, but later finds out that the Red Angel is seeking to prevent an apocalyptic future.
Spock reunites with this sister Michael to save the Federation (and all life in the galaxy) from an A.I. gone haywire called CONTROL. The net result is that Michael sacrifices herself (along with her entire ship USS Discovery), traveling 600 years into the future where Spock will never see her again (we think). Basically what you need to know is that, during this time, he’s struggling because he’s lost his sister, he assumes his brother is also dead, and his dad hasn’t spoken to him in years.
Basically, the one long-term Vulcan connection Spock still has is his betrothed T’Pring. More on her in a moment.
And Then Came Kirk
James T. Kirk is going to be in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds beginning with the show’s second season – but we’re not there yet. However, most of what we know about Spock comes from the time he acts as science officer for Captain Kirk in Star Trek: The Original Series. To put it in the simplest terms possible: Kirk, Spock, and Doctor Leonard McCoy become a triad of best friends during the course of Kirk’s time as captain.
Spock pseudo-resolves things with Sarek during this time. On the flip side, he also has to let go of his betrothal/marriage to T’Pring. Basically, Spock dedicates too much time to Starfleet for T’Pring and she, in turn, spends too much time with this other Vulcan named Stonn. It’s very tawdry. But throughout all of this there is Kirk. When Spock’s mind is manipulated, Kirk is there to save him. When his brain is stolen, Kirk is there to get it back.
During this time, Spock also has a vaguely romantic thing going on with Nurse Christine Chapel. As of now, we are unaware of anything really happening between these two, but we do know that Chapel is in love with him. And it is possible that the backstory of a love triangle between Spock, T’Pring, and Chapel may crop up during Strange New Worlds.
But Kirk is the key. In fact, something critical to know in the metatext of Spock and Kirk is that they represent the first slash fanfiction pairing to find their way into fanzine print. More on that later.
In the Movies
Some time after Kirk is promoted to Admiral, Spock makes a pretty major change to his whole vibe – he grows his hair out! But more importantly he returns to Vulcan and takes part in the kolinahr ritual which is designed to finally purge him of all emotion. Surprise, the kolinahr ritual does not work out! Instead, Spock psychically connects with a sentient Earth probe called V’GER. But it’s worth noting that, beginning here, he’s the more reserved, emotionless Vulcan most people think of him as being.
However, if there’s one definitive thing to know about him during the movies it is this: he dies! On a mission to recapture a highly experimental device called Project Genesis, Spock is killed while dealing with Kirk’s former nemesis Khan Noonien-Singh. But he doesn’t die until he passes his soul, called a “katra“, into Dr. McCoy.
The Genesis Project brings life to lifeless worlds. And because Spock’s body is deposited on the Genesis World, it is resurrected. Long story short, his body is returned to Vulcan and reunited with the katra from McCoy’s mind. The result is that Spock is resurrected, but struggles more with this emotions than ever before. However, in accepting his human half after so many years, he rejoins his old crew on the newly christened Enterprise NCC-1701-A after finding peace with Sarek.
Ambassador and Unification
A few more things happen during Spock’s time on the Enterprise 1701-A. The biggest for him is almost certainly discovering that his half-brother Sybok is still alive. It turns out Sybok gains the power of psychic control of others by “sharing their pain” and is trying to find god (yes, really) at the center of the universe. Spock ultimately attempts to aid Sybok but, rather than a monotheistic deity, they find an evil god-like being at the center of the universe that kills Sybok.
After his time with Kirk and the Enterprise crew, Spock becomes a Federation ambassador and disappears. He reappears on a planet called Romulus. The thing to know about the Romulans is that they are, technically speaking, the same race as Vulcans except they defected generations ago to explore their emotions. He decides that the best avenue to peace between the Romulans and the Federation is for him to reunify Romulus and Vulcan.
During his attempts at Unification, Spock meets the then-current Enterprise captain Jean-Luc Picard. Picard has a strong psychic bond with a recently-deceased Sarek. During their meeting, Picard shares Sarek’s final feelings of remorse and love. During the two-part Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Unification,” he succeeds in beginning negotiations to unify Romulus and Vulcan.
The Kelvin Universe
In the late 24th century, Romulus’ sun threatens to go supernova. Spock attempts to prevent the catastrophe with red matter. Unfortunately the mission fails, Romulus is destroyed, and he’s eventually hurtled through a black hole into an alternate past dubbed the Kelvin Universe. Spock is captured by a fellow multi-verse traveler (and Romulan) named Nero before being deposited on a frozen wasteland. Nero then uses the red matter to destroy Vulcan while Spock watches.
Spock eventually helps the Kelvin Universe Kirk regain the Enterprise and defeat Nero. Ultimately, the original universe Spock meets his Kelvin counterpart. It is agreed that the original will travel with the survivors of Vulcan’s destruction in order to rebuild their civilization. And it is in that effort that he eventually succumbs and dies of natural causes.
Spock’s death coincides with the real life passing of Leonard Nimoy, the original actor who played the role.
Kelvin & Mirror Spock
Chris Pine is the Captain Kirk of the Kelvin Universe. And partnered with Pine is Zachary Quinto as Spock. This version of Spock created the Kobayashi Maru exam before briefly acting as first officer to Captain Pike on board the Enterprise. He eventually becomes science officer for this universe’s Kirk. And, fun fact, screams the name “Khan” very loudly when Noonien-Singh kills Kirk. Also, this Spock dates Uhura, ooh-la-la!
Perhaps even more interesting, though, is the goateed Spock from the mirror-verse. In this alternate world, there is no Federation. Instead there is a Terran Empire run by fascistic humans who enslave all other races – including the Vulcans. In the TOS episode “Mirror, Mirror,” the alternate Spock meets with our original Kirk and is inspired by him to seek freedom.
The good news is that alt-Spock becomes the Enterprise captain and even leader of the Terran Empire. The bad news is that his kinder, gentler regime is ultimately taken over by the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance. That’s what you get for being nice!
The Creation of Spock
Three actors have played the famous human-Vulcan over the years. On Star Trek: Strange New Worlds the character is played by Ethan Peck. But for many reasons, he’ll always be most synonymous with Leonard Nimoy. To say that the actor was conflicted about the role would be an understatement. In 1975 Nimoy wrote a book called I am Not Spock. In 1995, Nimoy wrote a book called I Am Spock.
Roddenberry always had Nimoy in mind for playing the character but there are a few other actors that could have wound up playing the Vulcan. George Lindsey, Martin Landau, and DeForest Kelley all auditioned for the role as well. The pointy-ears were always a design intention. However, Spock’s skin was originally written to be green and then, later, red. The reason he’s pale now is simply because that is the coloring that looks best on screen.
Most notably, Spock’s Live Long and Prosper hand gesture is a “creation” of Nimoy’s. As a young Jewish kid, his grandfather took him to an orthodox synagogue. There, Nimoy saw the Kohanim doing a hand gesture in the shape of the Hebrew letter shin. The image just stuck with Nimoy and when Star Trek needed a Vulcan salute, Nimoy was ready.
The First Science Officer’s Future
As of this writing, there is a lot we do not know about Spock that we likely will in the future. Thanks to Star Trek: Strange New Worlds we know that T’Pring proposes marriage to Spock. And we are just beginning to see the hints of romance between him and Christine Chapel. And that’s just romance-related stories. Who knows where the Vulcan’s story might go next?!