Sunday, January 15, 2006

Character and the Arc for Spock

Character arcs add up to our sense of the character’s essence, of what makes Kirk Kirk or Picard Picard, based on how they responded to a variety of situations depicted over time. But the character arc basically shows us how the character changed over time.

As far as I know, the only character arc that was planned from the beginning was Data, and that was a very basic plan. Brent Spiner has said that GR told him that Data would start out being quite different from the humans around him, but his eagerness to learn and his involvement in the lives of the crew and of the Enterprise, including his relationships, would mean that Data would gradually become more “human” in speech and behavior. In other words, the puppet Pinocchio would become a boy.

At some point, the TNG producers must have realized that they had a similar opportunity with Worf, though the changes in him would be more dynamic: how could he become more comfortable as a member of the Enterprise crew, and assimilate (it’s hard to use that word in a non-Borgian sense, but it’s the correct one) the best of what humanity had to offer, without losing his Klingon identity---in fact, while he strengthened it? That became the Worf arc, and it continued in Deep Space Nine.

By then, Star Trek producers had the example of the character arc of Spock. Due at least in part to the involvement and prodding of Leonard Nimoy, Spock began to change with the very first Star Trek feature. Nimoy managed the change somewhat in the same way as he managed the establishing of the basic Spock character in TOS: by using the particular script or story he was confronted with, and finding a way to do something interesting with Spock that would support the story, but also grow the character.

So in the chaos of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Nimoy (with Shatner) apparently cooked up a few moments that clarified what had been implied from the beginning: that Vger’s journey to the point of needing human feeling was parallel to Spock’s journey of trying to purge himself of everything human, failing, and then learning from his mind-meld with Vger the value of those human aspects, to himself as well as to Vger.

Spock’s arc seemed to be over in Star Trek II. He seemed warmer with Kirk and others than in the first film, and older than in the series, which fit well into one of “Khan”'s general themes: the relativity of youth and aging. But then, Spock died.

The movie was a major hit and so the arc was not complete. Spock returned at the end of Trek III, and in IV was a new Spock, with a different air of innocence. He had knowledge but incomplete access to personal memories: he was, in his own way, Data-like.

By Star Trek VI the arc was more or less complete, though Spock had personal lessons to learn in the course of the film. He had come to one conclusion that seemed to merge Vulcan logic with what a commander of Star Fleet in an earlier film called “Vulcan mysticism.” Spock told Valeris to have faith that the universe unfolds as it should. But his other insight, communicated in this same scene, was a summation of his personal journey, of Spock’s basic arc: “Logic is the beginning, not the end of wisdom.” But within the film, Spock also learns about human weakness (anger), and perhaps even Vulcan weakness (arrogance), and again the theme of aging emerges, culminating when the original crew refuses to stand down, and warps into legend.

Spock makes one more appearance, more than 80 years later, when he meets Picard and Data, and learns of the recent death of his father, in a TNG two-parter. While it was a decent story, and continued Spock’ occupational evolution as a kind of diplomat and mentor, it contributed little to the character arc. This story ended with Spock underground on Romulus, working for the reunification of Romulans and Vulcans (which unites this last story with one in the first season of TOS), an apt correspondence to Spock’s character arc of personal unification.

Carl Jung believed, as others have, that we have several “personalities,” several contending voices within us. The process of becoming more conscious, of knowing ourselves, over a lifetime is partly a process of recognizing those voices and getting them to work together. Nimoy believed that adolescents in particular were drawn to Spock because they were realizing their own internal conflicts for the first time. So in this sense at least, Spock’s arc is a template for all of us.

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