Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Sarek"

***1/2

Air date: 5/14/1990
Teleplay by Peter S. Beagle
Story by Marc Cushman & Jake Jacobs
Directed by Les Landau

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Famed Vulcan Ambassador Sarek (Mark Lenard) comes aboard the Enterprise to conduct delicate negotiations with the Legarans, an alien species that Sarek has single-handedly been able to open relations with on behalf of the Federation. Sarek intends to seal the talks as the crowning achievement in his storied career. While en route to meet the Legarans, however, odd occurrences of flaring tempers begins to affect members of the crew, with escalating urgency. Meanwhile, it becomes evident that Sarek himself may be having problems controlling his emotions; Picard sees a tear in the Vulcan's eye during a concert in Ten-Forward.

The flaring tempers begin ominously but harmlessly, as Wesley and Geordi get into a shouting match over who's more hopeless when it comes to women (ah, a perfectly appropriate nerd fight!), and slowly escalates: Crusher slaps her son in the face for no good reason, and ultimately an entire bar brawl breaks out in Ten-Forward — a visual that proves as amusing as it does odd. What's going on here? Crusher believes that it's a case of a rare Vulcan mental illness that results in a loss of emotional control. The side effects are unintentionally inflicted upon others, caused by Sarek's telepathic abilities randomly projecting emotions, and thus havoc, on members of the crew. Picard runs into resistance with Sarek's staff and wife Perrin (Joanna Miles) when he recommends that they delay the negotiations. A delay would derail the talks completely, and Sarek will not hear of it.

In addition to being a rare, direct, fan-welcome bridging of TNG and TOS, "Sarek" is an obvious example of the "actor's episode." Some Trek outings highlight action or visual effects as their main selling points; this one highlights performances. It's a good, solid story that's elevated by two critical acting scenes. One is where Picard confronts Sarek, and Sarek attempts to prove his competence while his emotional control is not being held together by his aide Sakkath (Rocco Sisto). Sarek's gradual deterioration as depicted by Mark Lenard in this scene is an explosive (and heartbreaking) sight to behold. The other big scene comes when Picard offers to accept a mind meld that temporarily allows Sarek to regain control of his emotions long enough to finish the negotiations. In the meantime, Picard's mind must host Sarek's savagely intense and unfiltered Vulcan emotions. Patrick Stewart is completely uninhibited in showing a rambling, anguished explosion of Sarek's inner voices, fury, and soul. It's a remarkably brave performance that makes us believe in this intriguing premise.

Thematically, the story provides a subtle allegory on the elderly and the mentally ill, regarding the issues of humiliation they must endure when the circumstances of their health force them to abandon important parts of their lives and identity. There is no cure for Sarek's condition; like Alzheimer's, it will slowly continue to steal him away, separating the mental faculties from the man.

Previous episode: The Most Toys
Next episode: Menage à Troi

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7 comments on this review

dustwy - Tue, Jul 3, 2012 - 4:54am (USA Central)
I find this episode excellent as well. I cannot think of a better choice of music to frame Sarek's silent, gradual fracture - the Brahms bit is pure emotion itself.
Willaim - Wed, Aug 29, 2012 - 10:11pm (USA Central)
Just one more example of the power of the third season of Next Gen. Totally agree with review -- this is strongly acted episode.
Chris - Thu, Aug 22, 2013 - 7:37am (USA Central)
A great episode, the tear during the concert and Stewart doing what he does best after the mind meld were just fantastic scenes...and a bar fight to top it off!
Dwane - Sun, Sep 8, 2013 - 4:52am (USA Central)
Could you imagine if Worf ended up losing his temper due to Sarek?

The poor sod who crossed him wouldn't live to tell the tale.
Kieran - Tue, Dec 17, 2013 - 9:07am (USA Central)
I liked this one, but not too sure why Picard wasn't just sedated while he had to host Sarek's emotions. Was it integral that he stay conscious in such turmoil?
SkepticalMI - Mon, Feb 10, 2014 - 9:08pm (USA Central)
Forgive me for being contrarian, but I must disagree. Lenard and Stewart are great actors, of that I have no doubt. And Lenard's portrayal of a man barely containing his emotions was excellent... up until the point where Picard forces him to confront the issue. Sadly, that scene always looked cheesy to me (Irrelevant! Irrelevant!) He looked more like Data getting short-circuited than a man losing control. Too bad, because up to that point it was an excellent scene.

And on a similar note, I thought the Picard-as-Sarek scene was too over the top as well. I guess they were trying to convey that Vulcan emotions are that much more powerful than human ones, but it still didn't convince me. Picard alternating between shouting and crying while verbalizing Sarek's internal monologue was also rather silly to me. For one, if he is really experiencing that much emotion, would he just remain seated the entire time (or did Bev strap him down?)? And two, if he was really so overcome with emotions, how could he enunciate clearly like that? Ever see people give speeches at a funeral or other emotional event? Notice how they have trouble talking when they start to cry?

For that matter, I think the scene also could have been plotted better. Wouldn't it still make sense, within the confines of the story, if Sarek transferred over only his emotions, but not necessarily the thoughts that went with it? Mindmelds aren't exactly perfectly fleshed out in Trek lore, so why not? Then we could see Picard not being able to control his emotions, but they would be HIS emotions and not Sarek's. Wouldn't it be better to have an unbridled, brutal look at the main character of the show rather than a one-time guest star? Especially since Sarek's thoughts and emotions were pretty pedestrian, all things considered?

Still, a very good episode on the whole. I particularly liked that Picard asked Beverly to stay with him; it's a nice reinforcement of their friendship.
Patrick D - Mon, Feb 10, 2014 - 9:44pm (USA Central)
I got to meet Peter S. Beagle, the author of this episode. He was also the author of The Last Unicorn and many works of fiction. He recounted how the episode came to be and even remembering what the TNG writers group were wearing when he pitched it back in '89. He also autographed my ST: TNG Companion. Class act.

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