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One Trek Mind: Top 10 Uses of the Vulcan Nerve Pinch

One Trek Mind: Top 10 Uses of the Vulcan Nerve Pinch

On the last episode of One Trek Mind we took a look [] at one of the key things that made Star Trek so appealing to me as a young lad – the Vulcan Nerve Pinch. (It also was the thing that tended to get me in a lot of trouble at home, as I kept trying to make it work on the poor, suffering family poodle.)

It is anathema to any Star Trek fanatic to ruminate on an aspect of the show without immediately quantifying the best examples of that aspect in top ten list form. So that's what we're doing this week.

It is time to roll up our sleeves, stick out our fingers and prepare to subdue our enemies in an elegant, contained and gentlemanly manner. Click on the episode titles/links, by the way, to watch the episodes.

10 – On Flavius in “Bread and Circuses

Oh, if only Woody Strode were a Vulcan!

When Spock and Bones are sent to do battle against the TV broadcasting faux-Romans of Planet 892-IV, the Vulcan nerve pinch is there to save our heroes without giving in to the bloodlust of the jerks who are keeping them prisoner. This comes in especially handy because Spock doesn't want to harm Flavius, a runaway slave. As far as the other guy, Achilles, is concerned. . . he is something of a name-calling meanie and is knocked out with a punch. Even if Spock could show emotion I doubt he'd look too guilty.

9 – On Dr. Daystrom in “The Ultimate Computer

Sometimes the nerve pinch is more about the pinchee. Dr. Richard Daystrom, the brilliant computer scientist whose contributions to artificial intelligence eventually led to schools being named for him, needed a little help from our friends aboard the Enterprise to get him back on track, ethically speaking. His blind devotion to his work, specifically the M-5 system, crept into the realm of fanaticism during its test run. Luckily, Mr. Spock and his vulcan nerve pinch were able to subdue him and get him to rehabilitation before too much damage was done. When Spock goes in for the grab, the look on Dr. Daystrom's face is priceless.

8 – On Travis Mayweather in “Strange New World

One of the fun things about getting to know T'Pol during that first season of Enterprise was doing a wee “compare and contrast” to the Vulcans we already knew and loved. Yes, some of her attitudes were different, but every now and then she's act just like how we knew a Vulcan should.

In this early episode she is trapped with her Terran shipmates who are going nuts from an airborne toxin and letting their anti-Vulcan xenophobia get the best of them. In the end, T'Pol saves the day with an antidote injection but not before she must use the fan-favorite method of subduing the NX-01's Helmsman.

7 – On Sulu in “The Naked Time

To those who watched TOS chronologically, this was the first use of the Vulcan nerve pinch. As we discussed previously, it was actually created (by Leonard Nimoy) for the episode “The Enemy Within.” But that episode ended up airing after this one.

This image really sums up what's so smooth about the Vulcan nerve pinch. There's Sulu, mad on Psi 2000 polywater, grappling with Captain Kirk. Behind both of the furious men stands a cool and collected Vulcan, who needs only to outstretch his hand and – like calmly playing a chord on a piano – silences the bridge of the Enterprise back into order.

6 – On Devor in “Starship Mine

Hey, who says ya gotta be Vulcan to do a Vulcan nerve pinch!??!

Even though Kirk never could master it, that doesn't mean Picard can't do it. (Chalk this up as a serious notch in the win column for those endless Kirk versus Picard debates.) Now, it may be possible that Picard can only do it because he's had a mind meld with Sarek (logical) or it could just be that he studies harder than Kirk and knew precisely where to press (also logical.)

All of this is secondary when you realize that the bandit/infiltrator/terrorist Devor is played by Tim Russ who would, of course, go on to play the Vulcan Tuvok on seven seasons of Voyager.

5 – On the bus-riding punk in The Voyage Home

The Vulcan nerve pinch is a great way to combat the noise pollution and colorful metaphors of urban life.

While riding a bus to the Cetacean Institute in Sausalito to see a pair of humpback whales named George and Gracie (just go with it), Kirk and Spock run afoul of an M-Class jerk who won't lower the volume on his boom-box. (Moreover, he feels the need to make coarse hand gestures that coincide with some of the song's crude lyrics.) While rendering a citizen unconscious may seem like a bit of abrupt behavior, especially from a Starfleet Officer, Spock's use of the Vulcan nerve pinch on the fellow inspires a round of applause from the other travelers.

4 – On an Andorian and Tellarite in “Whom Gods Destroy

Earlier in this very episode Spock uses the Vulcan nerve pinch on Marta the Orion (played by Yvonne Craig!) and under normal circumstances that would be a standout. But just a few moments later comes one of Spock's all-time slickest moves.

Pretending to be unconscious, Garth of Izar's two goons (a Tellarite and Andorian, two species that usually hate one another) drag Spock out of a detention cell. Once he is past the force field, he rises up and, using the element of surprise, whips out a DOUBLE nerve pinch. Both evocatively dressed aliens slump to the ground and Spock doesn't break a sweat.

I know it is hard to believe there are three cooler uses of the nerve pinch than this, but hear me out.

3 – On Lt. Galloway in “Turnabout Intruder

This is one of my favorite moments in all of Star Trek, because it shows how great the average crewman of the Enterprise can be.

Kirk's body has been taken over by the consciousness of Dr. Janice Lester. “Lester” (really Kirk) is confined to quarters, with Lt. Galloway as her guard. Spock wants to take her to Dr. McCoy, but Galloway has his orders. Spock respects this and says “we must all do our duty.” When it looks like he is going to turn his back he sticks out his arm for a nonchalant pinch.

But Galloway is no noob! He's been around Spock enough to know what to expect, and ably dodges his lunge. Just when you think someone has finally gotten the best of our Vulcan, we realize that Spock expected as much from Galloway. He's able to pivot and swiftly swoop in with the other hand, thus plunging the guard into unconsciousness. It's a really sweet move, and a nice extra flourish that takes into account how something like this would actually unfold.

2 – On Dr. McCoy in The Wrath of Khan

“Perhaps you're right. What is Mr. Scott's condition?”

The most emotional moment in all of science fiction begins with a Vulcan nerve pinch. Spock's self-sacrifice aboard the retro-fitted Enterprise in The Wrath of Khan is only possible because he is able to beat a path to the key warp drive functions that need immediate manual repair.

Of course, it is only logical that if a friend's mind were to be made available due to recent unconsciousness, that would make an appropriate receptacle for a hastily deposited katra. But we're not going to know about that until the next film.

1 – On a security guard in “A Taste of Armageddon

Here's something no one ever talks about: Spock has a tremendous sense of humor.

Laughing may be a sign of emotion, but clever constructs of wit are something else entirely. Spock's zings are dry and if you aren't paying attention you may miss them. However, the one time Spock just walked center stage and TOLD A JOKE he punctuated it with a Vulcan nerve pinch.

In “A Taste of Armageddon,” as Kirk and Mea fret about how to get past a guard, Spock just effortlessly walks up to him and says “Sir, there is a multi-legged creature crawling on your shoulder.” When the attendant looks aside, in Spock goes with the pinch and he's down for the count. The moment blew my mind as a kid and it still kills me to this day.

Yet there were a lot of other tussles that our interstellar explorers got into. I'm certain there's an example of the Vulcan nerve pinch that you like better than the ones I have listed. Here's your opportunity to reach out from behind the screen and jab me into submission. You can do so by leaving your comments below.__________________________________________________________________________

Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on, ScreenCrush and Badass Digest. On his BLOG, Jordan has reviewed all 727 Trek episodes and films, most of the comics and some of the novels.