The evolution of Spock, from a scrapped Star Trek pilot to Discovery

Star Trek Discovery season 2, boldly going on the CBS All Access streaming service, is a success. After cramming a Klingon war, a weirdo mushroom-based propulsion system and an encounter with the Mirror Universe into one season 1 arc, the successor’s slower pace is welcome, and Anson Mount’s Captain Pike is already a fan favorite.

But even with the warp core purring, Discovery isn’t getting complacent. The second season’s seventh episode, “Light and Shadows,” takes its biggest swing yet by recasting one of the principal pillars of nerd culture — again.

[Ed. note: this article contains spoilers through the seventh episode of Discovery]

This week we finally meet the second Spock of the decade, and the first as a television regular since the original series. And Discovery is ready to play with expectations; as revealed in “Lights and Shadows,” Starfleet’s most famous science officer is dyslexic.

Unlike with the 2009 J.J. Abrams-led “reboot” (or, eleventh film in the series, if you want to get technical, and by Kahless’ shroud I sure do), Leonard Nimoy is not here to offer his benediction to actor Ethan Peck. Instead this new Spock is traversing the galaxy on his own, after apparently killing a doctor during a sanitarium breakout (!?) and pursuing red flashes throughout the galaxy he believes to be a “Red Angel” he’s had visions of since he was a child (!?!?).

The latest episode reveals that Spock evaded the U.S.S. Discovery and Section 31 and found his way to Amanda on Vulcan. She put him in a sacred crypt containing Katra Stones that shield it from even Sarek’s telepathic links. For days he’s been roiling in emotion, muttering and mumbling and scratching numbers (and a rendering of the Red Angel) on the wall. Not quite the Spock we’re used to!

Or is it?

I may occasionally (and jokingly) refer to Leonard Nimoy as “Real Spock,” but there have been more Spocks along the route than we may realize. And, no, I don’t mean an “outsider” character unable to handle human interaction that appeals to the typical Trekkie’s crypto-Asperger’s inclinations in every series (TNG – Data, DS9 – Odo, Voyager – Seven of Nine, Enterprise – T’Pol, Discovery – Saru). I mean that Spock evolved.

spock - star trek original series season 2 Paramount

Let’s look at the timeline.

In “The Cage,” the Trek pilot shot in late 1964, Gene Roddenberry cast Leonard Nimoy (with whom he has worked on The Lieutenant) as a Mephistophelean alien. He was not the second-in-command; that was Roddenberry’s future wife, Majel Barrett, who would later play Nurse Chapel, and then Lwaxana Troi. Instead, Spock was the Science Officer, and, once Captain Pike was endangered, was at the forefront of the away mission to rescue him.

The differences are major: Calm, dispassionate Mr. Spock has the volume turned to eleven from the very first scene. (When the Talosians yank the female crewmembers from the transporter pads, he famously yelps “The Women!!!”) He’s also positively giddy at the odd plantlife on Talos IV. He doesn’t raise an eyebrow. He giggles.

Though NBC rejected “The Cage,” the material remains canon. Roddenberry repurposed scenes for the flashback scenes in The Original Series’ first season two-parter “The Menagerie.” All the characters from “The Cage” were scrapped saved Spock. Even though he wasn’t fully developed, the pointy-eared guy showed promise.

The second pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” brought us Kirk and the bright red ring on the Enterprise’s bridge, but not all of the show’s pieces snapped into place yet. Spock wore tons of makeup, his eyebrows frighteningly steep, and a gold tunic with a thick collar. He’s also a bit of a dunce. When Kirk says that Spock’s style of playing chess can be irritating, this alleged genius on a mostly-Earthling vessel looks puzzled, takes a beat, asks “Irritating?” then brightens with an “ah, yes, one of your Earth emotions.”

Spock’s true nature quickly emerged. In the next episode, “The Corbomite Maneuver,” featured a scene in which everyone on the bridge is rightly freaked out by a giant, powerful Rubik’s Cube in space. Nimoy had his “aha!” moment on set when he delivered his line in a peculiar way. With a little bit of humor and perhaps a whiff of braggadocio, he meets this curiosity as a scientist, raises an eyebrow and simply says “Fascinating.”

From then on, Spock, who tamped down all emotion, ironically became the heart of the show. Nimoy was television’s least likely sex symbol, and his “fan mail” (still a metric for success in those days) dwarfed that of the show’s leader, William Shatner. The fame caused consternation until Roddenberry was somehow able to convince his leading man that the pair worked in tandem, and without Kirk there could be no Spock, and that however high the Vulcan’s star rose, he’d still be giving him orders.

Star Trek: The Animated Series Paramount

Spock, the next generation

Star Trek was famously cancelled after three seasons, but success in syndication brought it back, albeit briefly, in animated form. Much of is silly, but a few episodes are legit. The episode “Yesteryear,” written by TOS staffer D.C. Fontana, is widely considered a high point, and was the first time someone besides Nimoy got to play the role of Spock.

Young Billy Simpson voiced a child version of Spock, who thanks to time travel, we see preparing for his kahs-wan ritual. The line readings are … atrocious, as if he’s hearing the words milliseconds before he’s saying them. There are awkward gaps and the cadence with which he repeats the phrase “yes, father,” is hilarious. It’s a solid episode, but very hard not to goof on this kid. Fun fact: Simpson did a bit more acting as a tyke, then as an adult segued into becoming “Whimsical Will,” part of radio weirdo Doctor Demento’s extended circle.

Major aspects of the franchise were upended for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The entire aesthetic of the film is very 1970s, very “new age.” As such, Spock’s demeanor is serious and sparse. It’s a style that rubbed a lot of people as being quite dull. Things got back to normal in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but by this point Nimoy was through. He only agreed to do the movie if he would get killed off.

And yet … he was convinced to return. Primarily as director. Nimoy stayed behind the camera for almost all of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, but there is plenty of Spock on screen. As the Genesis planet kickstarts the life cycle of Spock’s katra-free body (just work with me here) we check in with speechless Spock at age nine, 13, 17 and 25.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock - Carl Steven
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Paramount Pictures

Carl Steven, who played the nine-year-old version of Spock, is primarily tasked with looking timid. Weirdly enough, Steven would later play another younger version of a Leonard Nimoy character in the 1991 television movie Never Forget. (He was also in Teen Wolf, but died in 2011 at age 36.)

Vadia Potenza plays the 13-year-old quasi-Spock who, I must confess, I never really noticed wasn’t Carl Steven until now. As 17-year-old Spock, Stephen Manley is the angry, freaked-out Vulcan in physical discomfort. Even as a little kid I somehow intuited that the mindless, rapidly aging Spock was undergoing raging hormonal agony. Spock needed to vent the airlock! Manley continues to work, and does so regularly, in movies with names like Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter.

Joe W. Davis rounds out the group, and his Spock had an even more shattered psychology. They needed to get the Spock body off the Genesis Planet and back to Vulcan where a High Priestess could initiate the Fal-Tor-Pan and bring it together with Spock’s Katra that was inserted into Bones McCoy. Obviously.

The last scene of Star Trek III shows Spock dazed — but everyone gets a little spaced-out after surgery — so in Star Trek IV, Nimoy plays his character as half-“himself” and half a confused fool. It’s Starfleet by way of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. “You really have gone where no man has gone before!” Bones sighs. It is fantastic.

Spock is completely back to normal by V and VI, and seems the same but older when he appears opposite Captain Picard (and Data!) in the episode “Unification, Part II” on TNG. Same goes for the Nimoy scenes in the J.J. Abrams 2009 Star Trek. But what about his younger counterpart?

star trek the next generation Unification, Part II
“Unification, Part II,” Star Trek: The Next Generation

Star Trek beyond … the original cast

When casting was announced, Zachary Quinto, who was known for the TV series Heroes seemed like the biggest coup. I mean, he really looked like Spock. Chris Pine was a big question mark and, Karl Urban was the dude from Xena and Simon Pegg was definitely funny, but could he be Scotty? With some distance now, if I had to rank the casting of the “Kelvin Timeline” crew, I’d probably put Quinto down near the bottom.

His version of Spock is pouty. Until Star Trek Beyond, he never quite nails the humor. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but something about Quinto leads me to feel that he thinks he’s just a tiny bit “above” the role. The fact that he and Nimoy became genuine friends toward the end of the elder Spock’s life really carried a great deal of Altair water with me, and probably with other fans, too.

(Oh, there was another kid version of Spock in the 2009 film, Jacob Kogan, and he was great. Plus, in the deleted scenes, there’s a shot of an infant Spock, too – a little baby with pointy ears!)

Before getting to Ethan Peck’s big moment, Star Trek Discovery season 2, introduces us to a grumpier kid Spock in the form of actor Liam Hughes. (This guy also played a young Barry Allen on The Flash, so let’s hope he’s a bonafide nerd in life.) Whereas Kogan’s version was sympathetic (as was the Animated Series’), Hughes’ Spock is something of a jerk when we see him earlier in the season, then a bit sadder in episode 7’s flashback with Michael Burnham.

Peck’s big debut (other than his voice, which is deeper than Quinto’s) is something of a bait and switch. He’s definitely there and gets his close-up, but he’s rambling, repeating the First Doctrines of Logic, and freaking out in a Surak-enhanced catatonia. But even without Peck getting into it with Sonequa Martin-Green with scene work there are some surprises with Spock 3.0.

Canon purists will be surprised to learn that Spock went to Talos IV before the episode “The Cage.” (It also appears that the Burnham-Spock team-up in the first Discovery tie-in novel Desperate Hours has officially been memory holed, too.) But the bulk of fandom will be most interested to learn that the most famous Science Officer in Starfleet is actually dyslexic. On Vulcan the rare condition is called l’tak terai, and the implication is that he inherited the trait from his human side.

This is unexpected, but in line with Discovery’s stated goal of being the most inclusive iteration of Star Trek yet. There have been some examples of neurodiversity in the franchise — Lt. Barclay, while not officially diagnosed, could likely be considered — but Spock’s new layer is one clear enough to start a dialogue about highly functioning people with learning disabilities. (Though using it as a gag to discover a code (“the numbers are backwards!”) is another story.)

A preview for next week’s Star Trek: Discovery teases even more Spock, and even more twisting of Trek canon. If you think you know everything there is to know about this Vulcan, consider the past, present, and future: the conclusion that there’s a “Real Spock” is nothing short of … highly illogical.

Jordan Hoffman is a writer and member of the New York Film Critics Circle. His work can be read in The Guardian, New York Daily News, Vanity Fair, Thrillist and elsewhere.


It’s The Perfect Time To Return To Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild

Recently, a friend of mine started playing Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for the first time. This has had an interesting side effect: Any time I try to play anything else, I just wish I were playing Breath of the Wild. My ironclad resolve to continue making my way through games I hadn’t yet played lasted two days. So anyway, I’m playing Breath of the Wild again.

It’s been surreal to fall back into Breath of the Wild’s world so easily, especially considering how I’ve felt about new games that have come out in what was supposed to be a packed month. I ended up having mixed feelings about Metro Exodus, Anthem might be a good video game in a year, Crackdown 3 is less a meal than a throwback snack—the Dunk-a-roos of video games—and I got my fill of Far Cry New Dawn back when it was Far Cry 5, Far Cry 4, Far Cry Primal, Far Cry 3, and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.

Breath of the Wild came out two years ago, but there’s still nothing out there that replicates the sheer joy of exploring its world. While other open-world games that arrived before and after rely on quest icons so plentiful that they threaten to blot out the map, Breath of the Wild lets you plot your own course. It trusts you to have a good time. You can always see the next interesting, weird, or harrowing thing just over the horizon, or peeking out from behind a particularly inviting hill. Every piece of terrain you have to negotiate is its own stamina-based puzzle. Then you reach the top, see a veritable promised land of intrigue beckoning you onward, and glide down into the still-mostly-unknown. That moment is perfect: an exhilarating reward and a trepidation-soaked dive into the deep end. Breath of the Wild strings these perfect moments together, turning them into an irresistible rhythm. When I first returned to the game last Sunday, I planned to mess around for 30 minutes or so, maybe do a shrine. I played for eight consecutive hours.

Curiosity is constantly rewarded, most obviously with puzzle-laden shrines, but also with fairy fountains, oddball characters, location-dependent survival mechanics, dragons, mysterious ruins, special items with unexpected interactions, food recipes, and of course, demigods who can bring horses back from the great pasture in the sky. I love the little touches that go into making those things feel like more than just video game rewards. After I discovered the horse reviver’s pod-shaped pad for the first time, I encountered an adventurer who’d heard tell of a horse god not long after. “I wonder if it’s actually real,” the adventurer said. I got the impression that I was supposed to meet this person before I met the god of life, death, and horses, but it still added to my experience. “The horse god is real!” I wanted to shout. “I just met them and paid them a fuckton of rupees to bring back my dead horse! I’m poor now!”

In hindsight, I realize that I never really quit Breath of the Wild like I did with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Far Cry 5, Spider-Man, and even Red Dead Redemption 2. I never completed yet another mission that felt less thematically appropriate and more like Content (TM) and said, “OK, I get it. That’s enough.” Because it wasn’t enough. After 40 or so hours of playtime, life just got in the way. But returning to it now, it’s still just as special as it was back then—in some ways, it’s even better after so much time away.

What’s changed most, I’ve realized, is my approach to playing Breath of the Wild. I’m much more methodical now. I creep up on everything: bokoblin camps, camouflaged lizalfos, dogs I want to feed. This, surprisingly, is not a byproduct of the fact that all weapons are breakable, a system I actually love because it forces experimentation and creates occasional moments of absolute, hilarious desperation (eat it, haters). Rather, it’s just kind of how I play most games now. I stealthed all of Metro Exodus, for example, while I played its two predecessors much more violently. My general video game play style was still in flux when Breath of the Wild first came out, but it solidified after more time passed and even more games presented stealth as an option in most scenarios. I’ve found myself more and more inclined to explore these games’ stealth options as they’ve become more prevalent (to varying degrees of success), and when I returned to Breath of the Wild, I had a new layer of the game to dig into. 

Sure, there’s an appeal to emerging pristinely unscathed from a sword (and spear and boomerang and lightning) fight with a small army of enemies, but I love messing with them when they can’t see me. Dropping bombs downhill, watching curious enemies scratch their heads and investigate, and then sending them flying is one of life’s simple joys. Similarly, who doesn’t love stealing weapons from idle enemies and then watching as they go bonkers in frustration while trying to fight you? These are, I recognize, not the machinations of a Machiavellian brain genius, but one of Breath of the Wild’s greatest strengths is that it can combine majestic exploration, larger-than-life heroics, and dumb slapstick antics, and there’s no dissonance. Unlike in the Far Crys and Red Deads of the world, it all feels like it belongs.

Breath of the Wild took the rigid, sometimes awkward underpinnings of the open-world genre and made them feel as natural as a dip in a secluded river. It’s one thing to play such a mind-blowing game upon its release, when it can only be compared to its peers. It’s another to see it put countless games that have come after to shame, too.


First Look At Pokémon’s Ash, Brock and Misty In Full CG

The upcoming Mewtwo Strikes Back Evolution is the first full-CG Pokémon anime movie. Of course, that means that not only the Pocket Monsters are in CG but also the Trainers.

Here is the latest Mewtwo Strikes Back Evolution trailer.

Here is how Mewtwo looks in CG, which is quite good, I think!

And more startling, perhaps, is how Trainers Ash, Brock and Misty as well as Nurse Joy look when rendered in 3D computer graphics.

I’m so used to seeing them 2D!

Mewtwo Strikes Back Evolution opens in Japan on July 12. 


Skyrim Mod Making $33,000 A Month Accused Of Stealing Code

For a while now, a development team has been working on releasing a mod called Skyrim Together that would allow players to jump online and make their way through Bethesda’s RPG together. And for almost as long, they’ve been facing long-standing accusations of having stolen code from another team.

The guys behind SKSE (Skyrim Script Extender) have for years been feuding with the Skyrim Together crew over allegations of code theft, with SKSE even going so far as to write this in their code’s license:

Due to continued intentional copyright infringement and total disrespect for modder etiquette, the Skyrim Online team is explicitly disallowed from using any of these files for any purpose.

That of course hasn’t stopped Skyrim Together from working on their project, which is accepting backing on Patreon and is raking in over $33,000 a month at time of posting.

The mod scene is always full of drama, and projects like mod packs that bundle a lot of other people’s work and pass it off as their own have always been a source of controversy.

But a mod that’s making money off other people’s work, when modders tend to do what they do for love and release it for free is a big deal, and so are these accusations. For the technically-minded they’re spelled out in this thread.

In response, a Skyrim Together team member posted this comment on Reddit:

“We have had disagreements with the SKSE folks in the past, I have tried to communicate with them but they have never replied, so we stopped using their code. There might be some leftover code from them in there that was overlooked when we removed it, it isn’t as simple as just deleting a folder, mainly our fault because we rushed some parts of the code. Anyway we are going to make sure to remove what might have slipped through the cracks for the next patch.”

To which an SKSE member replied:

So, to be clear – you are saying that you:

  • started using our code
  • then asked for permission
  • never got permission
  • continued using it
  • eventually removed part of it yet somehow left some of it in
  • continued to charge for access the entire time?
  • promise to totally clean up a now license-tainted project?

The Skyrim Together team’s Patreon page says they “hope to release the first stable version of the mod during the year 2019″, but the same Reddit post in which they defended their use of SKSE’s code also says “We are far from a real release, currently the mod is unstable and has a lot of features disabled.”