Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Spock Must (Have) Die(d)!
I was thirteen years old when Mr. Spock died, heroically saving the ship in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It was a powerful experience; for the first time, a character I'd known my entire life had been killed. Suddenly anything was possible.
Until the next movie, of course. Turns out Spock was only mostly dead, and by end of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, all was right in the world once more. (Well, except for the Enterprise getting blown to smithereens, but that's another kettle of tribbles.)
But consider the course of Spock's death and resurrection. Near the end of Star Trek II, Spock, realizing that he's probably going to die in the act of saving the ship, initiates a mind-meld with his old friend, Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy.
"Remember," Spock intones gravely, and enters the reactor room, ready to make the ultimate sacrifice.
We learn in Star Trek III that the mind meld transferred Spock's katra - his soul, or consciousness - into McCoy's brain, so that Spock's essence could be transferred to its rightful home on the planet Vulcan. But as we know from the third film, Spock's corpse was regenerated by the Genesis Wave, and the high priestess of Vulcan was able to reunite Spock's mind and body, and faster than you can say "ye canna change the laws of physics!", the status quo is restored.
For years Star Trek fans have accepted Spock's miraculous return as a given. But a few nights ago I sat straight up in bed and realized that it's quite possible that Spock never really returned at all. Since 1984, the Spock we've seen presented in subsequent films and television shows may have been, in fact, an imposter!
Consider the climax of Star Trek II. Here's the sequence of events:
1) The warp engines have been knocked offline and need to be fixed before the Genesis Device explodes, destroying the Enterprise.
2) Spock realizes that only he has a chance of fixing the warp drive, but that he'll have to sacrifice his life in the process.
3) Realizing this, and wanting something of his essence to live on, he mind-melds with McCoy in the engine room - transferring his consciousness to McCoy.
4) Spock then enters the reactor room, and while bathed in radiation, manages to repair the warp drive.
5) Dying, he has a final, lucid conversation with Admiral Kirk. "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few...or the one."
What's wrong with this picture?
At step 3), Spock transfers his soul into McCoy. How, then, can he carry out a complicated repair and then have a heartfelt, deathbed conversation with Kirk?
We are left with only three options.
A) Spock transferred a copy of his consciousness into McCoy. This copy is what was resurrected on Vulcan - the original Spock died in the reactor! For a few moments, there were two Spocks, one lodged in McCoy's mind, the other carrying out the reactor repair and deathbed heart-to-heart.
B) Somehow, Spock's consciousness embedded some kind of automatic pilot function into the body it left behind, enabling the soulless husk to carry on as if it were a conscious being for a few minutes. A zombie saved the ship, and Admiral Kirk wept over that zombie's death, never realizing that the real Spock was just a couple of metres away, inside Dr. McCoy.
C) The "real" Spock left behind a copy of himself in his original body to carry out the reactor repair.
Which option is correct? It's impossible to determine for certain, but consider this: when Spock transferred his consciousness, his aim was not to come back to life. As we learned from Spock's father, Sarek, in the next film, Vulcans transfer their katras only so that their wisdom and experience can be stored in a kind of library for the use of other Vulcans. We can infer that a copy of a Vulcan's katra would be sufficient for this purpose.
Knowing Spock's character, it is unlikely that he would create a copy of himself for the sole purpose of sacrificing itself; such an act would be akin to giving birth to a twin with a built-in death sentence.
Therefore, we must conclude that the katra in McCoy's head was but a copy of Spock's essence, and that the real Spock did in fact die for the sake of his shipmates. The Spock we saw in Star Trek III, Star Trek IV, Star Trek V, Star Trek VI and two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation was a biological robot of sorts - or, at best, Spock's twin.
Does it matter? Well, as Spock once said, "A difference which makes no difference is no difference." Pre- and post-Genesis Spock retained the same essential character, taking into account the passage of time and gathering of new experience, and the new Spock certainly would have passed a Turing test, or any other test of his sapience.
And yet I can't help but feel like I've been living a lie since that warm summer night in 1982...the night Spock died, and never came back.