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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23 comments on this review

dustwy
Tue, Jul 3, 2012, 4:54am (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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 (UTC -5)
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.
dash
Sat, May 9, 2015, 12:26pm (UTC -5)
Great episode, but why does this series have to make such a mockery of classical music? Can't they find anyone who knows about these things? Clipping off the introduction to the "Dissonance" quartet is bad enough. For the second movement, we have the slow movement from the Brahms op. 18 sextet... played by a quartet?
Luke
Sat, Jun 13, 2015, 9:19pm (UTC -5)
An excellent episode. It's nice to finally get a crossover/call-back to The Original Series. We had the cameo appearance of DeForest Kelly in "Encounter at Farpoint," but that wasn't very well done and Kelly was buried under so much old age make-up that it was laughable. This one is just perfect, even if we're dealing with a side character from TOS.

Two things I'll mention that make this episode so good. First, the scene where Picard confronts Sarek about his problem. It's amazing that that confrontation takes up an entire act of the episode (from commercial break to commercial break) and yet it just flies by. It really is a testament to some wonderful actors (not just Stewart and Lenard, but the others in the scene as well). It's nothing but a bunch of people (and eventually just two) standing in a room talking and yet it's riveting. Second, the scene where Picard deals with Sarek's emotions. Stewart indeed knocks it out of the park, acting-wise, but that isn't what stands out most for me. I especially liked the end of the scene where Crusher takes Picard into her arms and comforts him. It's a really well-handled and kind-of subtle demonstration of their relationship. Nothing really needs to be said, she just bends down and embraces him in his time of need. These are two people who genuinely care for each other. It's a shame they never properly pursued this relationship because all the elements are clearly there for it to be wonderful.

9/10
Diamond Dave
Sun, Sep 6, 2015, 10:07am (UTC -5)
With its callbacks to TOS, this one bears all the hallmarks of a TOS episode with a relatively simple story, lots of (welcome, given TNG's sidelining of the race) Vulcan imagery, and glory of glories, an honest to God fistfight in ten-forward.

What elevates it above the norm are two bravura acting performances from Mark Lenard and Patrick Stewart. The latter steals the show in the stunning scene where he struggles with Sarek's repressed and raging emotions - the simple "It's quite... difficult" as he regains himself for a moment may be the best delivered line in the series so far. 3.5 stars.
Rikko
Mon, Oct 12, 2015, 10:55pm (UTC -5)
I loved this episode!

The allegory of old age and ilness was really well done, a theme that's so universal that it makes this episode timeless. Also, the acting. I almost felt the "Irrelevant" scene was a bit over the top, as SkepticalMI said, but any doubts of this episode's quality were erased by the end of it.

I loved the mindmeld scene for all the reasons stated above and for something more: this is pure TNG optimism right here. Sarek's problem is everyone else's problems too. While they can't cure him, they can at least help him bear this burden. And you see Beverly Crusher helping Picard as well.

Btw, this is once again* a great way to bridge TNG with TOS, something the previous seasons couldn't do well at all. One of the greatest strenghts of S3.

* The other time (imo) was with the first Romulan episodes of the season. They made me care for that alien race, and at the same time, I acknowledged their importance in the overall universe of Star Trek.
Peter G.
Wed, Mar 16, 2016, 11:39am (UTC -5)
The most interesting detail in this episode is that after Amanda's death Sarek has chosen *another* human woman to marry. Not only does Sarek deem it logical to marry a second time, but he once again chooses a non-Vulcan. For someone so utterly invested in Vulcan culture and the science academy - to the point where Spock rejecting this life and choosing Starfleet led to their estrangement - he seems to have quite the fascination for Humans. Sarek had also long since been the Vulcan ambassador to the Federation as well, apparently living on Earth among Humans (we frequently see him in council sessions on Earth in the feature films). Sarek's quote from Journey to Babel about his decision to marry Amanda was "At the time it seemed the logical thing to do," which to me is clearly a subtle hint that Sarek is much more like Spock than he would ever let on, and a little less than the unemotional robot he pretends to be.

Here's another question I never thought of until now: Might Perrin be Sybok's mother?
Peter G.
Wed, Mar 16, 2016, 2:38pm (UTC -5)
Er, let's just forget that comment I made about Sybok. I was tired...
Jor-El H.
Fri, Sep 9, 2016, 10:15am (UTC -5)
It felt like the confrontation scene with Sarek ended rather abruptly, like it was cut off before the originally intended end of the scene.

I remember an interview in which P. Stewart evaded a question about which role he liked better, Picard or Prof. Xavier. Episodes like this (and there are so many) make it very hard to believe he really doesn't know the answer - Picard is clearly THE role he was born to play, and he invested so much more of himself in this role, so much more emotional depth, charisma, and brilliant acting than any other role I've seen him in (I haven't seen his theatre work). One could argue that he revitalized Star Trek almost by himself. I can only assume he didn't answer because he didn't want to alienate his x-men fans.
Dark Kirk
Fri, May 12, 2017, 8:19pm (UTC -5)
I just realized why ST: Voyager struggled - it didn't have too many opportunities to do shows like this where we meet family members of the crew.
Ravenna
Sat, May 13, 2017, 1:37am (UTC -5)
@dark Kirk:

Ah, but the positive side is, this gave Voyager not too many opportunities to display the strongminded controlling father alongside the ineffectual placating mother, the Great Man father alongaide his devoted, self-abnegating wife; the show-stealing father alongaide the generic smiling mother, the well-characterized brother alongaide the generic smiling sister-in-law.

Not that there's like, a pattern there or anything.

(What other female relatives showed up on ST?, Well, there's Ziyal. She was interesting when first introduced - actually I thought she was going to develop in exciting ways and create great new storylines. But she was quickly downgraded to a generic Sweet Young Thing who existed to give Dukat and Garak an object to argue over. So who else? Geordi's dead mother. Tasha's hot sister.)

Now, Mrs Sarek. Who is Mrs Sarek? She is a person. She is a person who fell in love, moved to an alien land with her unemotional Romeo - where she was required to give up all normal and natural human self-expression, all laughter and fun and tears and authenticity that she had been accustomed to to. She has a husband so coolly unfeeling that while she is striving to protect his dignity, he is meanwhile making dry disapproving comments to near-strangers about his wife's unseemly human over emotionality. She has an adopted society so rigid and coercive, it demands she use excruciating self-control and constant decorous deportment at all times.

Yet the episode tells us that she is content inside these strict limits, on this planet where she is never allowed to cry or laugh or play or tell a friend how she feels or be her own true and relaxed self.. And why is she content? Because she has the lurrrrve of a great man. Sure, he is barely willing to actually show her any lurrrrve, but she sets the bar low enough that the little glimmers of lurrrrve he flicks at her are enough to fill her heart. Sure, she has sacrificed her own soul and her own self and receives almost nothing. But it's lurrrrve! And he is a great man. Wifehood trumps all the negatives.


(It's too bad: I probably would have loved the episode had they simply given Sarek a normal Vulcan wife , and spared us the character of an all-but-burqa-clad Mrs. S.)
Jason R.
Sat, May 13, 2017, 9:47am (UTC -5)
Ravenna remember this is Sarek's second human wife. I actually had to look that up the first time because I naturally assumed that she was Spock's human mother - until I did the math and realized she'd have to be 120 or something for that to be true.

Which makes it even better - when the old devoted human female croaks he just goes and gets a newer model to replace her. You'd think bridging the cultural gulf and finding companionship with an alien woman would be something special, maybe even once in a lifetime. But for Sarek I guess it's no bigger a deal than checking the "human" box on his Vulcan Tinder App.
Peter G.
Sat, May 13, 2017, 10:11am (UTC -5)
What makes you guys think that Sarek taking a Human wife in Amanda was some random coincidence? He told Spock it seemed like the *logical* thing to do, which means it wasn't a fluke. Since we know that Amanda wasn't especially unemotional or logical, it seems logical to assume that some part of Sarek's character made this logical. And if it was logical once it should remain logical twice. I believe the writers were intentionally hinting that Sarek wasn't your typical Vulcan and not as different from Spock as we might think. In this episode we have confirmation when Picard shares he thoughts and we hear about all the love Sarek had in him and was repressing. Not your normal Vulcan at all, but surprisingly human.
Chrome
Sat, May 13, 2017, 10:20am (UTC -5)
Is it so hard to believe Sarek likes a certain type of woman? Is there something wrong with that?
Jason R.
Sat, May 13, 2017, 3:12pm (UTC -5)
Is it crazy that Sarek would have this type? I suppose not. Illogical, but not crazy. Sort of like if Worf fell in love with another Trill.

But where is he finding these human women willing to devote their lives to him? I think Raveena illustrated pretty well how unlikely it is a woman would seek out such a lifestyle. So we're left with the assumption that Sarek caught lightning in a bottle twice.

I suppose it's not wrong from a plot standpoint. But for me it just feels like they needed Sarek to have a wife and a human one, couldn't make the math work with the original wife, so they manufactured a new identical one as a plot contrivance. It makes Mrs. Sarek seem, shall we say, disposable.
Chrome
Sat, May 13, 2017, 3:24pm (UTC -5)
@Jason R.

"But where is he finding these human women willing to devote their lives to him?"

Simple, Sarek's a prestigious Federation official and some women are attracted to that sort of prestige. As for the human side of the equation, wasn't Sarek a Vulcan ambassador to Earth granting him ample opportunity to meet human women?

What's more, this episode really only shows a slice of Prinna's role as Sarek's wife during a time in which Sarek desperately needs special care. For all we know during Sarek's healthy life, Prinna influenced Federation trade deals and policy along with Sarek, it's just not relevant to this episode.
Chrome
Sat, May 13, 2017, 3:55pm (UTC -5)
Sorry, Prinna should be Perrin. Silly auto-correct!
Peter G.
Sat, May 13, 2017, 8:31pm (UTC -5)
Jason,

"But where is he finding these human women willing to devote their lives to him?"

It sounds strangely like you're saying that no human woman could or would ever find a Vulcan desirable. Is that really what you're trying to say? Because I bet you there are many human women who would enjoy the company of an intelligent and sophisticated Vulcan. How many of them could endure long-term in such a relationship is another matter, and has more to do with what typical values are in the 24th century compared to now and how people are raised. If a large enough proportion of humans value logic over emotion then they might even find Vulcans to be role models. We don't see that in Trek because the shows try to show us different cultures, rather than people from one culture taking on the ways of another. But in reality I'm sure there would be many 'Vulcanist' humans, and also ones who like the Klingon traditions as Curzon did.

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