Not all Star Trek fans follow the path of cold, calculating Vulcans like our beloved Spock. Indeed, some are driven by emotions as erratic as that of Lwaxana Troi of Betazed. For those of us in the more-histrionic quadrant of the galaxy, watching Trek isn't just about adventure; it can be a full-on psychological workout.
Here, then, are the 10 moments that are sure to set off a supernova-sized lump in my throat, no matter how many times I've seen them. If you've got big enough photon torpedoes, boldly read this list. Hankies are set to stun.
It isn't really the moment of David's death in The Search for Spock that moves me, it's the response. David's an interesting character, but there never was any real time to connect with him. Yet when he's stabbed with a d'k tahg blade at the hands of the Klingons on the Genesis Planet, Captain Kirk is so rattled by the senseless murder of his son that he STUMBLES OUT OF THE CAPTAIN'S SEAT.
To see Kirk in a position of total weakness is a shock to the system and never fails to send a chill up the spine.
Even the most fervent of Enterprise-haters will admit that Trip Tucker is a cool guy. So to see him suffer the loss of his sister due to the Xindi attack on Earth can't help to pull on the heartstrings.
A clear analogy to the events of 9/11, Elizabeth Tucker's death is dealt with in a far more realistic way than the usual off-screen character dismissal. First, Trip hears that the attack was in Florida. He worries about his sister, hears nothing and fears the worst. When he finally received confirmation, he does not bounce back to normal by the next episode – he changes, and is haunted by visions of her. The darker, more-driven Trip may be good for the safety of Earth, but it is a loss felt by all around him.
Voyager has seven seasons of Kate Mulgrew making what those in the acting biz call “unexpected choices.” The one that always gets me is in the episode “Hunters.”
It's been four years since Voyager got stranded in the Delta Quadrant and they've finally found a way to communicate with people back home. Captain Janeway receives a letter from her fiancee Mark explaining how he held out hope as long as he could, but he's just recently married another woman. It could have been a big, scenery-chomping moment, but Mulgrew plays it with the poise of a Starfleet officer. She internalizes the news and is quickly back to the business of running a starship. This nearly thrown-away moment has me reaching for the Kleenex every time.
Let's face it: Scotty is the Enterprise's mascot. To see our old Aberdeen pub crawler blubbering and holding the bloody corpse of his kid nephew in The Wrath of Khan will get any Trek fan glassy-eyed. Young Peter Preston was “crazy to get to Space,” but even with the great engineer keeping an eye on him he was no match for the genetically enhanced villain Khan Noonien Singh.
Frankly, the entire final 20 minutes of Star Trek (2009) get me all goose-pimply. But when Spock meets Spock Prime and the baton is officially passed from Leonard Nimoy to Zachary Quinto with a double Vulcan salute, well, I have to use every bit of my Kolinahr training to hold back the tears. When, a few minutes later, Nimoy looms above the commendations ceremony like a proud elder statesmen, there's just no hope anymore and I'm as liquid as a Founder.
The team-up of the Excelsior and the Enterprise-A against General Chang's Bird-of-Prey in The Undiscovered Country is like a little trip to Risa for my heart. Not for one moment does Captain Sulu consider following Starfleet's orders – despite commanding a ship of his own, he will always have loyalty to Captain Kirk.
His final line, “Nice to see you in action one more time, Captain Kirk,” causes an instant fist pump reaction, followed by tears of joy. Now if only Shatner and Takei could play as nicely as Kirk and Sulu.
Now we're getting into the territory where even thinking about these moments will turn me into Jell-o.
In “The Visitor,” a temporal displacement sends Sisko out of phase with our spacetime, but he still appears to Jake in intervals long enough for him to devote his entire life to figuring out how to rescue his father.
The episode ends with Jake Sisko, now old, and with an essentially wasted life, who must now sacrifice himself to bring his father back. There are about 16 layers of guilt happening in the final scene, as Ben watches his old son die. It is one of the saddest things you'll ever see. You should really wash this one down with a Ferengi episode.
Jean-Luc Picard has devoted his life to the noble calling of Starfleet, but doing so sacrificed any semblance of a family life. “The Inner Light” implants our noble captain with the memories of a full existence in a near-utopian culture with generations of offspring. When Picard is first “taken” from the bridge of the ship he, of course, tries to get back, but after decades he settles in despite himself.
The planet, however, is doomed, which is why this “experience capsule” was created in the first place. When Picard returns he presents a facade of being pleased. Back in his quarters, however, we know his heart is breaking when he plays the instrument from his “other life.” For the rest of the series, the Ressikan Flute was a secret held between Picard and us, the audience, of his inner sadness.
It's amazing how Spock's death scene in The Wrath of Khan still has impact, even though we know that Spock doesn't really die. It's because it isn't about a plot twist anymore. It's about the relationship between Kirk and Spock. And, to some extent, about the true friendship that exists behind the scenes between Shatner and Nimoy.
What's so striking is that we so rarely see Spock with his guard down. While we are able to predict his behavior, it is impossible to know what the half-Vulcan is really thinking. Or, more specifically, really feeling. When he says “I have been and always shall be your friend,” it validates decades of wish-fulfillment for legions of fans, even as it turns our eyes into water faucets.
But more than even Spock's death, the most tear-jerking moment in all of Trek – in all of anything you'll ever see in movies or TV as far as I'm concerned – is the ending to “The City on the Edge of Forever.”
In this cruel scenario, Kirk must allow the death of his true love, Edith Keeler. As she makes her way into the street and an oncoming truck, he must actively hold back Dr. McCoy – an act that, one might argue, actually kills her.
“I could have saved her!” McCoy cries out. “Do you know what you just did?” And as the camera stays on Kirk's devastated face we hear the unusually soothing and understanding voice of Mr. Spock. “He knows, Doctor. He knows.”
I am now blubbering at my computer, thank you very much Mr. Harlan Ellison.
So here we are at the end and, I gotta tell ya, I'm in a very fragile emotional state. Normally I implore you to let 'er rip in the comments, but this time, please, go easy on me.
Jordan Hoffman was the movies editor at UGO.com for more than four years. He has produced two independent films (look 'em up!) and is a member of the New York Film Critics Online. In 2005, he was named the Ultimate Film Fanatic of the NorthEast by IFC. Jordan fell in love with Star Trek through TOS reruns just as TNG was getting ready to launch. On his BLOG, Jordan has reviewed all 727 Trek episodes and films, most of the comics and some of the novels. He has a funny story about the one time he met Leonard Nimoy.