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Star Trek: Discovery made this the perfect weekend to watch For the Love of Spock

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With Ethan Peck’s Spock finally turning up on the new show, it’s a good opportunity to consider where Spock came from

There are so many streaming options available these days, and so many conflicting recommendations, that it’s hard to see through all the crap you could be watching. Each Friday, The Verge’s Cut the Crap column simplifies the choice by sorting through the overwhelming multitude of movies and TV shows on subscription services and recommending a single perfect thing to watch this weekend.

What to watch

For the Love of Spock, a 2016 documentary that began as a father/son project between director Adam Nimoy and his father Leonard Nimoy.

The film took on a different shape after the elder Nimoy’s death in early 2015 at age 83, at which point Adam turned it into a cradle-to-grave look at his father’s life and the character that came to define him. The titular name-drop of Mr. Spock, the half-Vulcan science officer Leonard Nimoy portrayed across three seasons of Star Trek and in multiple projects that followed, speaks both to the scope of the film and to Leonard’s attitude toward his fictional alter ego at the end of his life. In his 1975 memoir I Am Not Spock, he struggled with his association with the character and the way it limited his career and the public’s interactions with him. But by the time of his 1995 follow-up memoir I Am Spock, he’d made his peace with Spock, and the film suggests he maintained that peace until the end.

Adam Nimoy’s interests in the film extend beyond his father, however. The filmmaker also spends time conversing with other people about what Spock meant to them, from scientists inspired by Star Trek to pursue their professions to Jim Parsons discussing the character’s importance to his work on The Bang Theory.

Why watch now

Because after spending half a season chasing young Spock across the universe, Star Trek: Discovery finally caught up with him in Thursday’s episode, “Light and Shadows.”

From its premiere, Star Trek: Discovery has tied itself closely to the continuity of the original series, revealing protagonist Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) to be Spock’s adopted sister, raised by his Vulcan father Sarek (James Frain) and human mother Amanda (Mia Kirshner). Both Sarek and Amanda — familiar characters from other Trek iterations — have been significant elements of Discovery since its early episodes. And the season 1 finale teased a second-season run-in with Trek’s flagship the USS Enterprise, under the command of Captain Christopher Pike. A reunion with Spock, who served under Pike prior to his time with Captain Kirk, has seemed inevitable throughout season 2, but the show took its time in introducing him, with repeated fake-outs along the way.

Ethan Peck (Gregory Peck’s grandson) has the unenviable task of following Leonard Nimoy in the role, but he isn’t the first to face that challenge. Zachary Quinto played an alternate-universe version of Spock in three films between 2009 and 2016, and Quinto’s respectful, appreciative presence in For the Love of Spock reinforces the film’s thesis that the character has taken on a life beyond the actor who originated the role. (Thanks to a twist in inter-dimensional astrophysics, Nimoy also appeared in two of those films as the original-universe Spock.) Spock quickly became Star Trek’s breakout character after the show’s 1966 debut, so much so that Adam Nimoy recalls trucks of fan mail showing up at his family’s house after a magazine accidentally printed their home address. The pointy ears and arched eyebrows immediately set Spock apart from his fully human shipmates, but the film argues that his appeal went beyond his physical oddities. His still demeanor, commitment to logic, and the occasional flashes of the emotions he could never quite repress gave him an offbeat romantic appeal reinforced by the deep, often contentious camaraderie he developed with the rest of the crew, especially William Shatner’s Captain Kirk. Spock became iconic in the truest sense of the word: his image became invested with meaning, which deepened as the series took on new generations of fans.

Judging from the film, that didn’t always make it easy to be Adam Nimoy, who recalls fighting with his father as a young man, then seeing his face everywhere he went. For the Love of Spock vacillates between exploring Spock and telling Leonard Nimoy’s story. It isn’t filled with unflattering details, as might be expected a film where interview subjects reference “your dad” while talking the director. But Adam doesn’t shy away from referencing his father’s frequent absences — the result of an impulse to make money while he could, knowing that acting careers don’t always last. He addresses Leonard’s mid-life struggles with alcohol, and their sometimes difficult relationship. Leonard emerges, especially via a letter he left for his son, as a man who struggled, and sometimes failed, to find the emotional intimacy with his children he wished he’d had with his own sometimes-distant parents. He wasn’t Spock. But he understood him.

Who it’s for

Star Trek fans who never tire of getting fresh angles on an old, familiar story.

For the Love of Spock sometimes suffers from trying to do too much, and for attempting to analyze both Leonard Nimoy and his most famous character. Major chapters in Leonard’s career get reduced to a fleeting mention, and the search for what Spock means to the world never really gels into a thesis.

Nonetheless, the film offers a better sense of who Leonard Nimoy was, and where Spock came from, than a more objective approach could. The Nimoys’ memories, home movies, and up-close-and-personal reflections get beyond the usual bits of trivia, providing a sense of how a barber’s kid from Boston could make a green-blooded, logic-worshipping man from the stars seem so familiar — and often so aspirational.

Where to see it

For the Love of Spock is currently streaming on Netflix and available for rental through other services.