Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Sarek”

Written by Marc Cushman & Jake Jacobs and Peter S. Beagle
Directed by Les Landau
Season 3, Episode 23
Production episode 40273-171
Original air date: May 14, 1990
Stardate: 43917.4

Captain’s Log: The Enterprise is given the singular honor of escorting Ambassador Sarek to a conference with the Legarans, a first contact that Sarek has worked on for 93 years. His staff — Ki Mendrossen, a human, and a Vulcan named Sakkath — beam aboard first, warning the captain that the ambassador will require rest and that Picard should forego the usual ceremonial stuff that ships do when ambassadors come on board. Picard is disappointed, but agrees.

Sarek materializes and insists upon seeing the conference room despite the attempts by his wife — a human woman named Perrin — and his staff to get him to rest. La Forge and Wes are getting the room ready for the Legarans, who have very specific requirements.

Picard expresses regret to Riker and Troi, as he was hoping to spend time with Sarek. They had even planned a concert in his honor, and Troi suggests that Picard invite his wife. She agrees to attend, and she winds up bringing Sarek along. However, during the concert — which starts with a performance of Mozart’s Quartet for Strings #19 in C, and then moves on to Brahms’s Sextet #1 in B-flat Major — Sarek is so moved by the music that he sheds a tear. Sakkath is telepathically working to hold Sarek’s emotional control together — something Troi senses — and Picard sees Perrin wipe Sarek’s tear away.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on

Meanwhile, there are outbreaks of anger and violence all over the ship. Wes and La Forge go at it in the conference room — with some truly nasty things said — Crusher slaps Wes (for the first time ever), and Ten-Forward erupts in a good old-fashioned bar brawl.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on

The incidents happened as soon as Sarek and his party beamed on board, and that, combined with what Troi sensed during the concert, leads Crusher to theorize that Sarek has a rare condition that occasionally afflicts Vulcans over the age of 200 called Bendii Syndrome. The problem is, the test for it will take several days to produce results, and the conference with the Legarans is in twelve hours. They cannot postpone — Mendrossen not-very-patiently explains that the schedule alone took three months to negotiate — and the Legarans will not accept any negotiator save for Sarek.

However, Sakkath admits to Data — when the android, urged by Picard, pushes the young Vulcan on the subject, especially since Sakkath queried Data regarding the diplomatic qualifications of both Picard and Troi — that the mission is in jeopardy.

Picard confronts Sarek, despite the best efforts of Perrin and Mendrossen to deflect him. Sakkath admits to Sarek that he has been using his “limited abilities” to keep Sarek’s emotions in check. Sarek angrily asks him to stop; Sakkath says that that would not be wise, and Sarek much more calmly admits that it is probably not wise, but it is necessary. Sakkath accedes and leaves.

Sarek wishes to speak to Picard alone, which he does over the objections of both Perrin and Mendrossen. Picard insists that Sarek is not able to complete his mission; Sarek’s emotional deterioration over the course of the scene proves him right.

It is Perrin who suggests a solution to Picard: a mind-meld. Sarek gains Picard’s emotional control, but Picard’s mind is flooded with Sarek’s very turbulent emotions unchecked. Crusher stays with the captain to help him through it, while Sarek is able to conclude the negotiations with the Legarans as scheduled.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on

The mind-meld wears off and Sarek and Picard are themselves again, for better or worse. Quietly, Picard assures Perrin that Sarek loves her very much, which she already knew.

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi senses both Sarek’s emotional turbulence and Sakkath’s attempts to control it during the concert. She also winds up with a pretty full plate of counseling sessions as people act uncharacteristically angry, and then immediately run to their shrink — when Crusher does so after slapping Wes, Troi says that the doctor is the tenth person to come to her with such a problem.

If I Only Had a Brain…: Data once again shows off his fiddlin’, having previously played it in “Elementary, Dear Data” and “The Ensigns of Command.” He gives Perrin and Sarek a choice of which performer he might emulate during the concert (he’s been programmed with 300 styles, though he only provides four options for them to choose from).

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on

Later, Data gives Sakkath a tour of the ship, during which the latter queries him about Picard and Troi, something that raises suspicion — which Data himself later confirms in conversation with Sakkath. Data is also confused as to why Perrin, Sakkath, and Mendrossen are in such denial regarding Sarek’s condition.

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: As with “Hollow Pursuits,” it feels like a missed opportunity to not have Worf be one of the ones affected by Sarek’s emotional outbursts. One could argue that he was, and we just didn’t notice the difference, but Worf has as tight a rein on his emotions as any Vulcan (as seen in “Sins of the Father,” and to be spelled out in “Redemption Part 1” by Guinan and Worf himself in Deep Space Nine‘s “Let He Who Is Without Sin…”).

On the other hand, Worf does have one of the episode’s funniest visuals, as he holds apart two of Ten-Forward’s bar-brawlers with his bare hands.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on

The Boy!?: Wes takes the cheapest of cheap shots at La Forge when they argue. Yes, La Forge says that Wes has no chance with someone like Ensign Suzanne DuMont, with whom he has a date, but Wes’s riposte is to throw holographic Leah Brahms in La Forge’s face.

Later on Crusher slaps him for being mean to La Forge. Well, okay, she actually slaps him for going on the date with DuMont instead of attending the concert….

No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: Quite a bit of romance in the air in this one, from the simple pleasantness of Wes having a date to Sarek and Perrin’s understated love for each other — which becomes somewhat less understated during the mind-meld, and Picard-as-Sarek laments that he could never tell Perrin or his first wife Amanda or his son Spock how much he loved them — to Crusher’s support of Picard during the meld, which is ostensibly as his doctor, but it quickly becomes apparent that she’s there as someone who cares deeply about Picard and wants to be there for him in his hour of need.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on

I Believe I Said That: “I am so old. There is nothing left but dry bones and dead friends.”

Sarek’s emotions, but Picard’s words.

Welcome Aboard: Most of the guest stars in this episode are pretty nowhere. Joanna Miles is charmless as Perrin, William Denis is overly smarmy as Mendrossen (though I do love that his denial to Sarek’s face of Sakkath’s telepathic aid only confirms to Sarek that Sakkath did provide that aid), and Rocco Sisto is dreadful as Sakkath. Sisto makes the same mistake as far too many other guest Vulcans have made over the years, mistaking emotional control for emotionlessness.

Luckily, “most” is not all: the backbone of this episode is the late, great Mark Lenard, reprising his role as Ambassador Sarek, the father of Spock, which he debuted in “Journey to Babel” on the original series. Lenard’s portrayal of Sarek has been one of the most beloved recurring roles in the franchise’s history, and this episode is a beautiful illustration of why. (Lenard also played the unnamed Romulan commander in “Balance of Terror,” and the Klingon captain at the top of Star Trek: The Motion Picture; he was the first actor to play a Romulan, a Vulcan, and a Klingon.)

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on

Trivial Matters: Besides “Journey to Babel,” Lenard previously appeared as Sarek in the animated episode “Yesteryear” and the movies Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. After this episode, Lenard will again appear as Sarek in “Unification Part 1,” as well as in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. The character of Sarek has also been played by Jonathan Simpson (in flashback to Spock’s birth in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier) and Ben Cross (in the alternate timeline of the 2009 Star Trek).

When Sarek appears next in “Unification Part 1,” the Bendii Syndrome will have ravaged him pretty badly. The WildStorm comic book Enter the Wolves by A.C. Crispin, Howard Weinstein, and Carlos Mota is sort of the first part of a trilogy that this episode is the middle of, with “Unification” being the conclusion, involving Spock, Sarek, Perrin, and the Legarans.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on

Picard mentions meeting Sarek briefly “at his son’s wedding.” While this was never explicitly stated as being Spock, authors Josepha Sherman and Susan Shwartz interpreted it as such when they chronicled Spock’s wedding to Saavik in the novel Vulcan’s Heart — and there’s a young Lieutenant Jean-Luc Picard present.

When Riker makes reference to Sarek’s triumphs, two of them are Coridan’s admission to the Federation (thus revealing for the first time what the decision was after the events of “Journey to Babel“) and the Klingon alliance (later chronicled, with Sarek present, in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country).

During the mind-meld, Picard channels Sarek making references to Spock and Amanda, the latter being his second wife, also a human, and Spock’s mother. Like Sarek, she first appeared in “Journey to Babel.”

Sarek’s outpouring of emotion through Picard is reminiscent of Spock’s similar outburst in “The Naked Time” on the original series; both scenes were done in a single take. Sarek’s regretful words that he never told Amanda how much he loved her were echoed in the alternate timeline of the 2009 Star Trek by Sarek after Amanda is killed.

Picard’s mind-meld with Sarek will prove useful (in a way) when combating the chova in your humble rewatcher’s comic book Perchance to Dream (reprinted in the trade paperback Enemy Unseen). His Bendii Syndrome is revealed to be the result of poisoning by extremists in the novel Avenger by William Shatner and Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on

Sarek has appeared in more tie-in fiction than it is possible to list here, but mention simply must be made of A.C. Crispin’s landmark novel Sarek, which chronicles the ambassador’s life and times, and Diane Duane’s Spock’s World, which tells the history of Vulcan.

The DS9 episode “Favor the Bold” will establish a U.S.S. Sarek as a Starfleet ship.

Michael Piller stated in an interview that this episode had extra resonance for the staff because Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was also in ill health and deteriorating, and no longer capable of running the day-to-day of TNG.

This episode was written by Peter S. Beagle, best known as the author of The Last Unicorn. Beagle and Conlan Press have been promising a making-of type book about this episode called Writing Sarek, originally planned for October 2005, and which is still forthcoming, according to the publisher’s web site (last updated in August 2011).

Make it So: “It would be illogical! Illogical! Illogical!” Okay, I need to get the negative stuff out of the way first, and it will take a bit. This episode is, in many ways, a callback to “Journey to Babel,” Sarek’s first appearance, which the vast majority of Star Trek fans would consider a loving tribute.

Except for one problem: “Journey to Babel” is a simply awful episode.

Bear with me for this digression — I’ll try to be brief. Yes, “Journey to Babel” is an important episode because it gave us Spock’s parents, as well as Andorians and Tellarites, not to mention McCoy getting the last word. But it’s also dumb from the ground up and dumb from the roof on down the other side. We’ll leave aside that the matriarchal society we saw in “Amok Time” has apparently been abandoned for a female-subservient marriage that looks like something out of 1950s middle America. Instead, let’s focus on Spock’s refusal to give up command in order to help transfuse his father, which Amanda says is because of his Vulcan insistence on doing his duty to the exclusion of all else, never mind the fact that it has nothing to do with his being Vulcan, and everything to do with him being a commander in Starfleet. To make matters worse, being in charge is so important that Spock can afford to waste tons of time arguing with his mother in his quarters about the fact that he can’t spare the time for the transfusion (yet he can spare time to argue with his mother, y’know, a lot).

Amanda is, as portrayed in “Journey to Babel,” an awful character, a tiresomely submissive housewife with no identity beyond that of her husband. (Later fanfic and tie-in fiction would create a wonderfully complex backstory for her and make her into a formidable presence, but the actual character portrayed by Jane Wyatt in “Journey to Babel,” “Yesteryear,” and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is a cipher.)

So yeah — calling back to “Journey to Babel” is not really a good thing. We jump right in with Sarek’s new wife, Perrin — Amanda pretty much has to be dead by now, since she was middle-aged on the original series that took place a century earlier — who is referred to as “she who is my wife” by Sarek and “Mrs. Sarek” by the captain, thus making my teeth hurt all over again. Perrin also has no identity beyond being Sarek’s wife, and this time she states it explicitly to Picard. Mark Lenard beautifully and subtly plays Sarek’s obvious love for Perrin, but Joanna Miles does nothing to make you understand why he does. She’s an even worse cipher than Jane Wyatt was.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on

The plot is also dopey sci-fi stuff with Sarek’s telepathy bleeding out into the rest of the crew, a well Trek will dip into again, and it’s mostly a chance for the regulars to yell for a scene or two, and to finally, after two years, have a bar fight in Ten-Forward. (And I’m sure lots of folks cheered when Wes got himself slapped.)

Ultimately, though — despite the amount of time I’ve spent on it — the bad stuff doesn’t matter, because the good does actually outweigh it by a considerable margin.

First off, this episode would get an above-average rating from me for the concert scene alone, which is an absolute tour de force by director Les Landau, who more than made up for his weird-ass lighting and camera angles in “Sins of the Father” with this episode. With the lovely Brahms music as the scene’s base, we see Sarek being emotionally affected, Sakkath leaning forward, Troi reacting to Sakkath (obviously sensing something more going on), Sarek shedding a tear, Picard’s shock as Perrin wipes it away, and then the entire party leaving. I’m not doing the scene justice here, but luckily YouTube is our friend.

And finally, what makes this episode rise far above its tired plot, its callbacks to an overrated episode, and its mediocre guest stars are two great actors at the absolute top of their game.

Lenard is, of course, brilliant: gentle, subtle, emotional, pained, dignified, struggling, frustrated, angry, sad. As an added bonus, after the mind-meld, he does a frighteningly good combination of Sarek and Picard, with nuances of both characters showing through. (When he calls out “Number One” upon arriving on the bridge, it’s a scary-good impersonation of Sir Patrick Stewart.) He does a stellar job, one of the best in the history of Star Trek.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on

And it’s only the second-best performance in the episode. Stewart simply owns the mind-meld, a turbulent, raw scene that leaves the character of Sarek completely exposed, and Stewart sells it amazingly. At that point, the plot contrivances are forgotten, as you realize that the whole episode was worth it to watch this amazing scene (which was done in a single take).


Warp factor rating: 7

Keith R.A. DeCandido really enjoyed writing Sarek in his novel The Art of the Impossible, and especially loved making use of Picard’s mind-meld in the comic book Perchance to Dream. You can preorder the reissue of the trade paperback that includes the latter from IDW, which will be out in March. Go to his web site to order his newest works of fiction, and also be linked to his blog, his Facebook page, his Twitter feed, his many podcasts, and much much more.


Subscribe to this thread