In 1982, the world was brought to its knees when Spock died in The Wrath of Khan (1982). What made it so terrible was its perfect nobility. The idea of someone giving their life out of love for their friends is so moving that some early Christians came to interpret Jesus’ death as a substitutionary self-sacrifice. This was only one (and a minority) spin on the execution of a minor Jewish radical but today it stands at the core of a major world religion and probably had a lot to do with its spread.
Suicide is startling. But suicide done out of love is tear-jerking, heart-winning, and movement-growing.
Unlike Jesus, Spock wasn’t a victim of execution who was only later redescribed as a great hero. He was actually that hero in real life. The intention that killed him really was his desire to save his friends.
What happened: The dilithium’s crystal housing was damaged and leaking antimatter radiation. Scotty entered the chamber and deactivated the warp drive but succumbed to radiation poisoning and went to sick bay. Khan had just initiated the Genesis Device and the Enterprise needed warp drive ASAP in order to avoid annihilation. Spock went inside and fixed the war drive by sticking his head in a deadly upwards spray with no concern for his safety. Of all the violent scenes I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen plenty), this one is the most upsetting. Spock successfully restored power to the warp drive and the Enterprise escaped the Reliant-cum-Genesis explosion.
This scene was brought back to collective consciousness three years ago with Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). The scene was now reversed. Uppity Kirk was now the noble life-giver; tender Spock, the grieving and grateful witness.
This symmetry reminded me of another regarding the same scene. Early in The Wrath of Khan, Spock and Kirk are discussing Kirk’s depressing promotion from captain (adventurer) to admiral (paper pusher). Here, Spock utters the famous and most virtuous Vulcan Maxim,
The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.
Here’s a transcript of the actual conversation taken from archive footage taken from an actual recording:
Kirk: I would not presume to debate you.
Spock: That is wise. Were I to invoke logic, however, logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.
Kirk: Or the one.
Spock: You are my superior officer. You are also my friend. I have been and always shall be yours.
Above, Spock says few and Kirk says one. At the end of the movie, the contribution is reversed. Now it is Kirk who says few and Spock, one:
Spock: Do not grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many, outweigh...
Kirk: The needs of the few.
Spock: Or the one. I never took the Kobayashi Maru test until now. What do you think of my solution?
[Spock sits down]
Spock: [Gasping] I have been... and always shall be... your friend.
[he places a Vulcan salute on the glass]
Spock: [Gasping] Live long... and prosper.
Here, the two scenes are shown side-by-side:
I find this reversal of speakers inside the Maxim more touching than the reversal of characters inside the chamber. What do you think?