Friday Favorites: Favorite Scene – Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Welcome to “Friday Favorites” which highlight some of my favorite movie-related things.

All Star Trek fans were saddened by the death of Leonard Nimoy two weeks ago.  His impact on Star Trek as a story, saga, franchise, and experience is probably second only to Gene Roddenberry himself, as his character, Mr. Spock, is probably the defining character of Star Trek, ahead of Kirk, Picard, or any of the others.  And while many articles celebrating his life and his work on Star Trek have focused on either his memorable quotes (“Live long and prosper” “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” or “I have been and always shall be your friend”), the two Star Trek films he directed (The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home), or Spock’s biggest moments in the show or the film series, my mind keeps returning to one particular scene near the end of the final Original Series film, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

To understand the scene (which is not available on youtube), here’s a brief summary of the film up until this point.  The Undiscovered Country tells a parable about the end of the Cold War, with the Klingon Empire dying and an attempt to forge peace between them and the Federation, longtime enemies.  Spock, now an ambassador, has reached out to the Klingon Chancellor and brokered a peace deal, and has brought the Enterprise and her crew out of mothballs in order to take him to escort the Chancellor to a secret location to sign a new treaty.  Kirk and many of the others would have rather stayed retired, and Kirk in particular is opposed to the plan, as he has “never trusted Klingons, and (he) never will.  (He’s) never been able to forgive them for the death of (his) boy.”

Things get off to a rough start as the Klingon ship and the Enterprise meet, but things get much worse when the Klingon ship is attacked in such a way where the Enterprise is blamed for it and Chancellor Gorkon is murdered.  Kirk and McCoy are blamed for Gorkon’s death, and are sentenced to life on a remote prison planet, but are eventually rescued by Spock and the Enterprise, who suspect a saboteur is on board.  They eventually uncover a conspiracy attempting to thwart a peace agreement between the Federation and the Klingons, orchestrated by high ranking members of both the Federation and the Empire, including Spock’s Vulcan protege, Lt. Polaris.  Having learned of their plans, the Enterprise rushes to intercept a prototype Klingon ship attempting to disrupt the peace talks.

As they travel at maximum warp towards a battle in which, even if they arrive in time, they’ll be outmatched, Kirk pays Spock a visit as the half-Vulcan, half-Human lies meditating in his quarters.  What follows is a quiet, subtle, contemplative scene where these two men, getting on in years, discuss the future in partly veiled terms while questioning what led them to this point.  Kirk seeks to interrupt a brooding Spock by asking:

Kirk: Dining on ashes?

Spock: You were right, it was arrogant presumption on my part that got us unto this situation.  You and the Doctor might have been killed.

Kirk: The night is young!  You said it yourself, it was logical.  Peace is worth a few personal risks.

Kirk wonders around the room, messing with Spock’s things, before finally getting to the deeper point he wants to discuss:

Kirk: You’re a great one for logic.  I’m a great one for rushing in where angels fear to tread.  We’re both extremists; reality is probably somewhere in between. … I couldn’t get past the death of my son.

Spock: I was prejudiced by her accomplishments as a Vulcan.

Kirk: Gorkon had to die before I understood how prejudiced I was.

They both stare into space before Spock finally sits up and looks at his friend, delivering my favorite line that Spock has ever delivered, in one of Leonard Nimoy’s finest moments as an actor:

Spock: Is it possible that we two, you and I, have grown so old and so inflexible that we have outlived our usefulness?  Would that constitute a joke?

Nimoy gives Spock a weariness and even a tinge of bitterness that lies just under the surface, still suppressed by Spock’s Vulcan half.  Yet he also appreciates the irony and even the humor of the moment, when these two old heroes, whom the universe is passing by as the Federation enters a new era and whose own prejudices that once served them so well are now working against them, are called upon once again to save the very universe in which they seemingly no longer have a place.

Kirk tries to comfort Spock:

Kirk: Don’t crucify yourself, it wasn’t your fault.

Spock: I was responsible…

Kirk: For no actions but your own.

Spock: That is not what you said at your trial.

Kirk: That was as captain of the ship.  Human beings—

Spock: But Captain, we both know that I am not human.

Kirk: Spock, you want to know something?  Everybody’s human.

Spock: I find that remark… insulting.

Kirk: Come on, I need you.

In many ways, The Undiscovered Country was a farewell to the Original Series crew, set up as their final mission.  The Next Generation had now taken over the reins, and was already four years into their seven year run, with spinoffs Deep Space Nine and Voyager coming soon.  All three series were set in a different era of the Federation, and all aired in a different era of television, where special effects were more impressive, stories were more intricate and cerebral, writers strove for a level of realism, stories were more serialized, and there was considerably less camp.  By comparison, the Original Series was quaint, outdated, and generally less popular.

But The Undiscovered Country did more than just unceremoniously kick those familiar faces out the door to make way for the new, it also celebrated what made them unique and special in the first place, while showing that even these old dogs could learn some new tricks, and be a part of a more thoughtful, mature, emotional, and symbolic film than audiences were used to from them.  And while there was still an action packed finale to come, this scene encapsulates everything I love about the film, the cast, and Leonard Nimoy in particular (though Shatner is great in it as well).

And since this scene isn’t available for me to embed here for you to watch, I’ll leave you with another scene, the final of the film and the last time we see the entire crew together, signing off for the last time as a family.

What do you think?  Do you remember this scene from The Undiscovered Country?  What moment springs to mind when you remember Leonard Nimoy?  What is your favorite Star Trek series, film, or character?  Let me know in the comments!