Star Trek: The Original Series

“Journey to Babel”

3 stars.

Air date: 11/17/1967
Written by D.C. Fontana
Directed by Joseph Pevney

Review Text

Spock's parents, Vulcan ambassador Sarek (Mark Lenard) and his wife Amanda (Jane Wyatt), board the Enterprise for transport to a conference for Federation consulates. But trouble arises when a heated argument between Sarek and a Tellarite representative forms the basis for the suspicion of Sarek when the Tellarite later turns up dead—by way of an ancient Vulcan method. Meanwhile, the episode scrutinizes Spock and some of his life's choices, which has formed the uneasy rift between him and his father.

There are a lot of good uses of characters in "Journey to Babel," which has a plot that seems to go in every direction at once, yet still makes plenty of sense. In addition to the murder mystery, there's a medical emergency when Sarek suffers a heart attack and the only chance for his survival is an experimental surgery requiring a blood transfusion from Spock. Meanwhile, Kirk ends up in sickbay after being attacked by an Andorian. This puts Spock in command, who is forced to delay the transfusion because he must be on the bridge as an alien ship pursues the Enterprise with less-than-friendly intentions. Kirk slyly being a trouper and coming to the bridge to allow Spock to attend to his father is a humorous and very Kirk-like endeavor—especially after the crisis breaks out and Kirk finds he can't go back to sickbay. The murder mystery angle is maybe a bit unnecessary (Sarek is of course absolved), although it connects with the espionage angle involving the alien ship.

"Journey to Babel" probably has just a little too much plot, but fortunately this doesn't get in the way of seeing how Spock addresses his duty, his family, and the uneasy balance between his humanity and Vulcan rationality.

Previous episode: Metamorphosis
Next episode: Friday's Child

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Comment Section

61 comments on this post

    This marks the 40th episode in the series and the best of them. Easily four stars for the plot, character development, humor, pacing and direction. This is a Spock episode while still utilizing the other main characters well.

    This episode is why I personally love the Trek universe.

    Good last line from McCoy, as he successfully shushes both Spock and Kirk, being patients in his Sick Bay:
    "Well, what do you know! I finally got the last word!"

    This could have been a two-parter, but they just weren't of a mind to do such things back then.

    I loved it, and one reason why is we FINALLY get a real taste of the Federation. A couple of the trial episodes hinted at it, but this is the most Federation-focused TOS episode.

    From this one outing, Andorians and Tellerites became Trek folklore. I don't know why they didn't develop them a bit more.

    I agree with William. This is probably the only episode of TOS or at least one of a few that focused on the Federation. This was a great politic episode. It's a shame that they weren't able to show more alien crewmember besides Spock. It was also great to see different alien races. This is truly TV ahead of it's time. The only thing Star Wars had on Trek is that they were able to do it on a better budget. Tough break the fans have to wait until Enterprise to see a good episodes featuring Andorians and Tellerites. The other trek shows did a good job of defining things introduce on TOS.

    I concur with everyone above - a wonderfully made episode, 4 star treatment all around. This episode is so foundational, with its exploration of Spock's parents and past, so large in scope with a Federation focus that feels like an interplanetary collective with the Tellerites and Andorians, and not just some Earth-focused abstracted bureaucracy. It's also so dramatic with great tension over the murder/spy plot, Sarek's threatened life, and Spock's harrowing (and Mother-infuriating) decision based on absolute devotion to the rules and regs vs. Kirk and McCoy's clever circumvention of Spock's determinations.

    I also agree that it's kind of too bad that the Andorians and Tellerites didn't get much play in later series, except for Enterprise (and the Andorians in particular were quite the highlight on that otherwise hit-and-miss, often lacklustre show).

    I agree with everyone, an amazing episode.

    However, I am somewhat surprised that no one realized a glaring inconsistency in Spock's mother's behavior: when she first learns that Spock might die trying to save his father, she sternly opposes it, claiming that she "won't risk both of" them. But later, when Spock prioritizes his duty to the ship over the blood transfusion, she desperately tries to convince Spock to help Sarek.

    3.5 stars from me.

    This is terrific episode as others have said. What's fantastic is that there's so much going on, yet it all works together so well. Obviously, not a single scene wasted.
    This is a very well thought out episode - the backdrop of ambassadors dealing on their way to a conference underlies murder/spying/Spock's family, and as others have said, getting a better idea of UFP (not just Earth and Vulcan) members.
    In the opening scene, I would have thought Kirk knew that Sarek was Spock's father. He has egg on his face when Spock informs him.
    I guess it was convenient Scotty wasn't involved in the episode (no Sulu either) -- I think Spock should be able to give command to him and go to give his transfusion initially -- but that would rob us of his mom slapping his face.
    I think the challenge of Spock's mom is well portrayed and the episode continues to chip away at developing Spock's character (after "Amok Time"). Spock is a major part of Trek and probably back in the 60s, folks would have benefited from seeing his Vulcan character develop.
    This is another 4/4 stars episode for me. Edge of your seat stuff - can't really find any faults with it -- it's an action-packed hour with a clever plot and all the qualities that made Trek TOS so good, including the usual bit of humor at the end.
    TOS Season 2 is doing quite well thus far -- I don't think I'm generous in my ratings, but as I go through chronologically, I've given 3 of the last 5 episodes 4/4 stars! More of a coincidence than anything.
    I don't know what's up with Jammer for rating "Journey to Babel" the same as "I, Mudd". Don't see how that can be the case.

    Only thing that should have been changed, was not knowing Spock,s parents. This should be common Federation knowledge. Otherwise outstanding episode.

    If the episode entertains and is well written, and has something to say, it's not really worth looking too deep into it. I agree with the vast majority of the ratings but this one's a top 5 and should be 4 stars.

    Great episode. My only complaint is the resolution of the attackers. Pirates? Sure, makes sense... But why would pirates be so eager to die so their friends can get rich? The story would have worked just as well if they weren't on a suicide mission and got captured at the end. Ah well, great pacing, a whole bunch of sub plots that effectively intertwine and some great moments from all the characters.

    This episode is AMAZING, one of the all-time great TOS and Trek episodes in general, setting the mold for dozens of weaker imitators across the franchise. Here we get the A-B story format with an objective peril (espionage attempts to foil a peace conference) and human drama (Spock's family) embedded in it, a style that later becomes de rigeur from TNG onward. There's so much fun world building stuff here for Spock, the Federation, and Trek in general, but we also get two great characters in Spock and Amanda -- including the universally appealing father-son tension -- as well as great character interplay between the regulars as Kirk works to save Spock and his ship at the same time. It's easily 4 stars.

    The dialogue is great in this one. And I love the mutual stubbornness of Spock and Sarek, who both agree it's more logical to let Sarek die than risk the ship by taking Spock off the bridge during a crisis while Kirk is incapacitated. That's hardcore stuff, but it fits the characters so perfectly. Amanda gives us a solid human foil to the whole affair, played by the legendary Jane Wyatt, and her insights into Spock's shame over being human and his childhood teasing for it tell us a lot about him. The characters love each other and work for the common good, but always within the limits of their characters, presented so sharply.Just great stuff all around.

    Shouldn’t the faux Andorian have been handcuffed on the bridge? And a heart bypass on a Human is still tricky in the 23rd century?

    This is a nice episode with some fascinating stuff about vulcan/human family relationships. Especially Spock's struggle between his human and vulcan sides, imagine being willing to let your very own father die and alienate your mother. Logical perhaps, but not very emotional.

    This episode features one of the greatest "ass punches" of all time on TV - Kirk on the faux-Andorian in the fight scene..
    :))))

    Brilliant episode -- but just one thing bugged me ever so slightly: Why does Kirk allow the Orion spy disguised as an Andorian to basically have free reign on the bridge as the Enterprise engages in battle with the Orion ship? Yes, he's trying to find out what he can about the mysterious ship but the way this scene plays out had me scratching my head a tad. He's hoping to engage the spy who likely would not talk if held down by security guards -- a risky game.

    The Orion spy already tried to kill Kirk and is on a suicide mission (as is their ship) -- he had taken a slow-acting poison but also could have turned into a suicide bomber. He basically stands beside Kirk's chair with the 2 security guards several feet away.

    Anyhow, just a minor nitpick on one of TOS best episodes.

    I think this is an outstanding example of what Star Trek can be. I especially the conflict between Spock and both his parents, particularly when Spock's mother slaps Spock, leaves him alone and he places his hand on the door that closed behind her. But I do have one gripe. Kirk leaves Ensign Chekov in command while Lt. Uhura, a senior bridge officer is passed over. 60's sexism in action.

    Gotta love those DMSes (Dramatic Moment Sensors) on starships. The door knows it's supposed to open to let Amanda storm out of Spock's quarters, but stay closed for a slapped-silly Spock to lay his hand against it.

    My favorite moment in this episode is at the beginning, after Spock demonstrates the Vulcan salute to McCoy. Kirk introduces Sarek to McCoy, who just nods and then looks down at his hand, as though he was ready to do the salute and didn't get the chance. How about that Bones, huh?

    One of my favorites so far. Complicated plot, but it's well presented and easy to follow despite the busy-ness.

    The Spock character development is great, with good dialogue and performances from mom, dad, and son.

    Amanda did a plot-serving 180 (first strongly forbidding Spock from helping dad, then begging him to do so) that could have been better handled - because it was believable enough that once she truly saw her beloved husband at Death's door, her reservations vanished.

    Great scene with the slap.

    The whole thing just worked. Some minor inconsistencies and such, but nothing unusual for a weekly series. I can live with wondering why the "Andorion" was given so much freedom on the bridge, though I did wonder that, and why Kirk left Chekhov in charge near the end. But no big deal.

    DeForest Kelly continues to be a delight. Great casting that truly helped make the show. He has a nearly unstoppable likability. He can say the most dubious or corniest of lines and still seem like your best pal.

    Chekhov's hair. Oh, my. Don't really know what else to say there, but I've been noticing it all season and I thought it deserved a mention.

    Some weird lighting in this ep that makes McCoy's face look green and Amanda's hair look purple, but that was kinda fun.

    I actually liked the episode EXCEPT for the mother. She didn't want to potentially put spock at risk but then when the whole ship was in danger didnt give a toss and kept guilt tripping spock into doing the operation. I mean YES mothers are moody like that. But I expected a bit more respect/resolve from a human woman who has been married to a Vulcan for years. She couldn't understand the logic. Really after all this time. Slapping spock was super uncalled for in my opinion.....

    Oh and also McCoy not relaying Spock's important info to Kirk just before he went into the operation. I mean typical every time -.- Bones is always like "hush hush you're a patient.......who cares if the information could save the whole ship you need to rest lmao XD"

    Other than that the episode was awesome and I enjoyed the story!

    Just saw this episode the other day and saw something I never noticed despite watching TOS a bazillion times. In one scene I spotted DeForest Kelley looking directly into the camera. It was when Kirk was in sickbay after being stabbed and started to sit up. As he tells Kirk, "Jim if you stand you can start to bleed again" he looks right into the camera for a split second!

    A silly thing to point out, I know, but it's always neat to spot something you missed despite years of watching.

    Love that moment when Spock tries to bolt from his cot alongside the operating table and Nurse Chapel calmly knocks him out with a hypo. Patient autonomy vs. health professional authority must be a pendulum that happens to swing to the same spot in the 23rd century as it occupied in the mid twentieth.

    I also want to mention that even though I wasn't crazy about the premise of the Trek reboot movies ("The entire series you loved now never happened." ) , the one moment in them that rang most true for me was when Sarek answered Spock's question of why he married Amanda truthfully rather than wryly: "Because I loved her."

    Journey to Babel

    Star Trek season 2 episode 10


    "Mother, how can you have lived on Vulcan so long, married a Vulcan, raised a son on Vulcan, without understanding what it means to be a Vulcan?”

    - Spock


    4 stars (out of 4)


    I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen this episode over the past decades of my life, and yet every time I enjoy it.

    Journey to Babel is for me, quintessential Star Trek. Here you see the scale of the canvas Gene was painting on. Not just humans and Vulcans. But also Tellerites, Andorians, little gold men, a beautiful woman in a purple dress with a sheer back. A pink lady with gold hair and very nice legs. 100 Federation delegates. A cornucopia of sentient life.

    Yes, this is my favorite episode of The Original Series. It's been my favorite since I was a little boy.

    Don’t believe what Kirk tells you (“the issues of the council are politically complex”). No sir, the political intrigue at the heart of the episode is actually fairly straightforward. It comes out in splendid detail during the verbal sparring between Sarak and Gav,

    SAREK: We favour admission.

    GAV: You favour? Why?

    SAREK: Under Federation law, Coridan can be protected and its wealth administered for the benefit of its people.

    GAV: That's well for you. Vulcan has no mining interest.

    SAREK: Coridan has nearly unlimited wealth of dilithium crystals, but it is under-populated and unprotected. This invites illegal mining operations.

    GAV: Illegal? You accuse us?

    SAREK: Some of your ships have been carrying Coridan dilithium crystals.

    GAV: You call us thieves?

    At the planet code-named Babel, the Federation Council will debate whether or not to admit Coridan.

    So interesting that at this time in Star Trek canon, the decision does not depend on Coridan’s culture, world government, peaceful relations, abandonment of the caste system or religion, or any of the other myriad issues that predominate such decisions in TNG, and even more so, in DS9.

    No, at this time, the Federation has 1,000 planets and is growing strong, and she is refreshingly clear-eyed about what she looks for in a new member planet. If this was the perspective we got on Enterprise, I imagine that show would have lasted a lot longer. I don’t think Archer would have known what mining interests were if they stabbed him in the back and left him for dead.

    It turns out that it is not the Tellerites, however, who are intent on sabotaging the meeting. It’s the Orions, the most dependable villains for 60 straight years of star trek!

    The political machinations are fascinating. The battle of wits with the Orion ship is edge-of-your-seat engaging. But two things really elevate this episode for me to an all-time classic Trek affair.

    The first is Kirk faking that he is well enough to get Spock off the bridge, only to get stuck there when an emergency befalls the ship. Shatner plays the whole sequence, from the moment he steps onto the bridge, right to the death of the “andorian” (really Orion) perfectly. Who ever says The Shat can’t act doesn’t know what acting is!

    And the second is the entire sequence, quoted at the top of my review, between Spock and his mother, when they discuss duty and love and family and loyalty. And she slaps him.

    Now for a moment just to appreciate the score to that scene.

    https://youtu.be/KJgT1GQWVcE?t=715

    Those strings are exquisite!

    And that scene with Spock and his mother is immediately followed by a bridge scene with a version of the standard Star Trek Theme, but also done in strings!

    https://youtu.be/KJgT1GQWVcE?t=808

    What could be more perfect? This show truly was a labor of love. 3 stars, @Jammer?? Have you no heart?

    Rewatching this after Enterprise's final season, it's incredible how much ground this one episode lays, though it's a shame how little the later shows feature any of these species. This is first and foremost a Spock episode, and Nimoy is rightly praised, but I also think Shatner deserves a fair bit of credit for how he plays Kirk just barely holding himself together on the bridge. And of course, great to see the first appearance of Spock's parents. Having recently watched "The Forge", the line about Spock's sehlat also gave me a good laugh.

    "Having recently watched "The Forge", the line about Spock's sehlat also gave me a good laugh."


    Have you watched the old animated series episode "Yesteryear"? Spock's pet plays a big role in the episode. It's quite good.

    Im watching TOS for the very first time in my life and so far it was a bit of a struggle at times. But this is by far one of the best episodes I have seen so far. Reminded me a bit of TNG and I even laughed at the final scene in sickbay. Good stuff!

    Classic 4 star episode. This is the first TOS episode in which you can see the seeds of the future Trek franchise, even if they didn’t at the time! Convincing alien races, murder mystery, alien attack, the first appearance of Sarek, medical drama - there’s almost TOO much here, yet it still makes a compulsive watch.

    The political aspect would of course be seen again often - in TNG, DS9 etc. As others have said, I just wish the Tellurites and Andorrans had been seen again in TOS but you can’t have everything and the producers of the time didn’t have a crystal ball.

    This episode was where Spock and McCoy really shone as characters, and it was refreshing to see Kirk take a (relative) back seat. I wasn’t quite so convinced by Spock’s mother; though she was well played, and added to what was written as a one-off episode, she would - as pointed out - have lived long enough on Vulcan to understand her husband and son better.

    This episode is classic Star Trek and more than makes up for the weaker Series 2 episodes. If I could give more than 4 stars I would.

    4 stars. Excellent acting by the guest stars, fascinating mystery plot as one crisis after another cascades onto poor Captain Kirk, action moving all over the ship, from the bridge to other decks, to sick bay and back to the bridge. Uhura has a more substantial role in the plot development than usual, and the Vulcan family dynamics are really interesting. The various alien ambassadors are interesting- especially liked the tellurite appearance and speech. Well done humor in the last scene.

    One question though: Is DeForest Kelly smoking a cigarette in the first surgery scene? I could swear that’s cigarette smoke coming up from his side of the heart surgery box in sick bay. 😁

    On this viewing, I find myself struck by how some of the cascading mysteries never really get solved by the end.

    How does it happen that Orions, who are clearly at least somewhat known to the Federation, have a code that is utterly unrecognizable even to a highly skilled cryptographer like Spock or an experienced communications specialist like Uhura?

    Assuming that it wasn't Sarek who killed the Tellarite Gav but Telev, the Orion agent disguised as an Andorian, how does it happen that an Orion agent is skilled at a traditional Vulcan method of execution?

    And was the motive for the murder simple chaos?

    I’ve always been of two minds about this episode. There’s no doubt that it’s many very good aspects: I like the complex storytelling – several plots and conflicts which slowly build up and interweave and culminate –, the battle with the Orion ship is great, and there are many other excellent things, most of which have already been mentioned above. But I always found it a bit uncomfortable to watch, mostly for personal reasons.

    My first problem is that, despite or maybe because of the episode’s obvious intention to make the viewers take sides with her, I just can’t stand Amanda. As others have already pointed out, her character is totally inconsistent. At the beginning of the episode, when talking to Kirk, she praises the “Vulcan way”. Later, during her confrontation with Spock, she rejects and despises it and keeps going on about Spock’s human half. Even though I can understand that she’s worried about her husband, I find her behavior in that scene absolutely repugnant. She guilt-trips Spock, accuses him of letting his father die, threatens to hate him for the rest of his life, skillfully striking every key on the board of emotional blackmail.

    It’s the climax of a conflict based on logic vs. emotion, and I feel that Spock, representing the logical approach, is being treated quite unfairly – not only by his mother, but in general. He comes across as callous, devoted more to his duty than to his family; his motives are constantly questioned and depicted as insufficient; his decision to remain on his post instead of helping Sarek is being criticized; when he finally agrees, it doesn’t seem to come from own, deep insight; on the one hand, it’s Amanda who has finally gained the upper hand with her manipulations, and on the other it’s Kirk who literally orders him to participate in the surgery, which makes the positive outcome seem less to be to Spock’s merits and more a magnanimous sacrifice on Kirk’s part. At least, that’s what it looks like on the surface. I don’t deny that it’s more complex than that and that there’s a lot going on under said surface (I’ll get to that later), but I can’t help feeling that Spock’s motives and reasons don’t deserve being overridden in that way. They are totally plausible and reasonable: regardless of his parents’ presence onboard, he is ON DUTY, which means that he’s primarily the First Officer and – after Kirk’s injury – the acting Commander of the Enterprise and NOT mommy’s baby boy. He keeps explaining this to almost everybody throughout the entire episode, but his arguments are not considered valid. It’s revealing that when he asks Amanda what Sarek would think of him evading his command responsibility, “all for the life of one person?”, she doesn’t answer the question, she doesn’t even seem to consider it… all she does is to put more emotional pressure on him with a childhood story about his human half. She’s constantly infantilizing him (note that she even slaps him to make him obey her!), just as much as Sarek who has been sulking for eighteen years because Spock once decided to go his own way instead of following his father’s path. Their behavior is a startling display of adult immaturity – and that’s my second problem. The episode depicts it as normal that parents treat their adult son like an infant, just as that adult son is expected to assume a child’s role in presence of his parents, even to the disadvantage of the life he’s chosen for himself. What happened to the idea that children grow up, leave home and become independent persons?! Well, maybe I’m on the wrong track, but I always found the episode’s approach to describe a relationship between parents and their adult children somewhat wrong-headed.

    Coming back to Spock’s decision-making, however, it seems to me that the scene on the bridge with Kirk faking recovery and ordering Spock to sickbay for the surgery is indeed a crucial moment, especially if we raise the question – which the episode leaves unanswered – whether Spock sees through Kirk’s ruse or not. If we assume that he doesn’t, it makes Spock appear in a bad light, as I have already described. To be honest, I always thought he does, but until now it never occurred to me that this changes the whole situation.

    Let’s look into the scene: Kirk comes in, and everyone on the bridge can see that he’s barely able to walk. Note that Uhura extends her hand when he walks past her, as if to help him, and Spock himself seems quite suspicious, asking Kirk if he’s alright and glancing doubtfully at McCoy who confirms his medical consent. I’d say that Spock clearly knows that Kirk is in no condition to command and that he’ll probably turn command over to someone else as soon as Spock has left the bridge. It may seem inconsistent that turning command over to Scotty is something Spock explicitly refuses to do while it seems perfectly fine for Kirk, but I find it quite understandable and I’m sure it has nothing to do with confidence: they both know that Scotty is able to command the ship even in a critical situation – he’s done that more than once. The reason why Spock doesn’t want to put Scotty in charge is that, with the captain incapacitated, it’s his duty as First Officer to command the ship, it’s his responsibility to protect the ambassadors aboard, and that’s not something he can just choose to fob off on the engineer, in favor of devoting himself to another task… even if his father’s life depends on that “other task”. That’s Spock’s whole dilemma. When Kirk orders him to “report to sickbay with Dr McCoy”, he takes that responsibility from Spock’s shoulders. Even the stern commanding tone is not meant to put pressure on Spock or to infantilize him like Amanda does: Kirk’s simply making for him the decision he knows Spock would have made, had he been free to decide. I think that in this very moment Spock knows that Kirk has understood his dilemma and is now wordlessly offering him a face-saving possibility to solve it… which Spock gladly accepts. If we look at this scene from this angle, it’s not patronizing at all. What’s more, it becomes another example of their deep friendship, showing how well they understand each other’s motives and needs.

    @ Lannion,

    I'd have to watch that scene again to be sure, but I get the sense this conflict is supposed to be about Spock's relationship to his father in the end. The writing seems to me to suggest that keeping to his duty is a way of avoiding facing his father's weakness, or himself becoming weak to help him when he father was merciless to him. If it was just a question of overriding his real desires then I could see Kirk ordering him to go as infantilizing him. But what if instead it's his friend giving him permission to do the thing he needs to do, with the understanding that no one will view it as an emotional desire to help the father he loves? Regarding Amanda's inconsistency, I think this reading would also address that: she probably does truly believe in logic, and appealing to Spock's human side is the logical thing to do since it's very likely his emotional pain causing him to want nothing to do with Sarek.

    @Peter G.

    Thanks for your thoughts on this... I'm not 100% sure either, and the episode certainly leaves a lot of room for different interpretations. Concerning Spock, I could indeed imagine that his refusal is a kind of avoidance strategy, even though I'm not sure if this fits together with what we see earlier in the episode. Before the attack on Kirk, Spock is totally willing to participate in the operation: he is the one who suggests using the Rigelian drug and he volunteers himself as blood donor for Sarek. He changes his mind only when Kirk's injury leaves him in command. I still have the impression that his refusal then had in fact nothing to do with the tense relationship between him and his father, but that it was really his sense of duty which made him act this way.

    And Amanda... well, her outburst in the final scene suggests what she thinks of logic, and in the scene when she's in their quarters with Sarek, she also seems to be toying with the image of being an emotional human female, in contrast to her husband and son. Even if her pressure on Spock springs from logic, as you say, it's still cruel and nasty.

    One of my favorite lines: "Perhaps you should forget logic, and devote yourself to motivations such as passion or gain. Those are reasons for murder."

    I like how Kirk had Chekov go to Spock's bridge station then had him come back to the navigation console when they were "playing dead". Shows how useful Chekov was to Kirk.

    @ Lannion (and others),

    I watched this one last night with special attention to matters we were discussing, and I have decided I was wrong about something. I always considered Spock's decision to command the ship rather than help his father to be an extension of the tension between them, but as you pointed out he seemed quite ready to help Sarek prior to Kirk's stabbing. In fact, he was not only ready, but was putting forward a risky procedure McCoy wouldn't have even considered, something above and beyond even what was being asked of him. So what gives?

    But it all makes sense to me now, and it does come down to Spock's relationship with Sarek. What is the one thing that they have in common? Kirk said it, they're both stubborn. And although that's a human weakness, Spock is half-human, and Sarek himself is clearly an odd duck to have found it logical to marry a human. Maybe he does have a strong enough affinity for human weakness that marrying a human was more logical than marrying a Vulcan, who may have found his stubbornness irrational. And both being stubborn, Spock and Sarek seem to base their relationship on just that: neither of them will ever let the other have the last word. Even after all these years Sarek still brings up Spock's decision not to go to the science academy, and he does so on very little pretext. And once we start to see things in this way I think it becomes pretty clear that Spock and Sarek and constantly competing with each other, trying to one-up each other about everything. I'll go through a few examples:

    -Sarek comes on board, Spock makes no acknowledgement of him in any personal way. And Sarek then ignores Spock even more than Spock does.
    -Kirk gives Spock a chance to show off his computer knowledge in engineering, Sarek immediately replies that he first taught Spock about computers, before betraying him.

    These first two could perhaps be seen as merely striking blows at each other rather than competing. But there's also this:

    SPOCK: Doctor, do you propose surgery for the heart defect?
    MCCOY: I'm not sure. It's tough enough on a human. On a Vulcan, an ordinary operation's out of the question.
    KIRK: Why?
    SAREK: Because of the construction of the Vulcan heart.
    SPOCK: I suggest that a cryogenic open-heart procedure would be the logical approach.
    SAREK: Yes, unquestionably.

    It's hard to tell from the transcript, but the way they play the scene it really feels like Sarek is one-upping Spock, going from Spock making a suggestion to Sarek stating it as unquestionable. The scene really doesn't feel like they are agreeing, but rather that each is trying to demonstrate their own intellect to the other.

    If we accept for the moment that Spock and Sarek need to compete with each other, it makes sense of why Spock would suggest the risky transfusion strategy: it would be both creatively innovative as well as something Sarek himself is too weak to do. Adding this to the fact that Spock won't give up command later to help Sarek, we have to then examine that again. I previously assumed it was because he wanted nothing to do with his father. But that idea doesn't work, certainly not how I see things now. And even Kirk says Scotty could take command no problem, crisis or no crisis. But what if retaining command in a crisis is yet another way for Spock to prove to Sarek how important his duties are, even if it will kill Sarek? If Spock steps down it shows that Sarek means more to him than his role in Starfleet, therefore making it illogical that Spock ever chose Starfleet over Sarek's wishes. To maintain his position with the argument with Sarek he can't back down, and must assert that his duties are more important than Sarek. So to show how much it matters to prove his position to Sarek he has to prove that Sarek doesn't matter compared to his duty: a funny logical loop there.

    The interesting thing is the resolution:

    AMANDA: And you, Sarek. Would you also say thank you to your son?
    SAREK: I don't understand.
    AMANDA: For saving your life.
    SAREK: Spock acted in the only logical manner open to him. One does not thank logic, Amanda.
    AMANDA: Logic, logic! I'm sick to death of logic. Do you want to know how I feel about your logic?
    SPOCK: Emotional, isn't she?
    SAREK: She has always been that way.
    SPOCK: Indeed? Why did you marry her?
    SAREK: At the time, it seemed the logical thing to do.

    Spock and Sarek join together in hoisting up logic over human emotion, even though from a certain point of view they've been the most emotional ones in our story. Maybe Sarek finally realized he's become too weak to always try to prove he's the stronger; or maybe Spock proved himself to Sarek by refusing to give up command in the crisis while Kirk was out. Or maybe Sarek really did appreciate that Spock saved his life. Part of the problem is that the only vehicle available to the two Vulcans to resolve their dispute was logic, and if each side was logical how could they ever give up? It's not like a Vulcan can just throw up his arms and say, aw shucks, I guess the logic doesn't matter, we need to make up now. One way or the other their logic would have to be reconciled, which is perhaps why they can't resolve their argument in any way other than competitively or combatively. It reminds me a bit of Chinese "face" where you cannot back out of a situation in such a way as to lose face, so the only acceptable resolution would be one where neither side loses face. The problem is that any admittance that one's logic was flawed would be the ultimate loss of face for a Vulcan. So the logic kind of makes things stuck if they cannot agree. That's probably why we have this exchange:

    SPOCK: Doctor, do you propose surgery for the heart defect?
    MCCOY: I'm not sure. It's tough enough on a human. On a Vulcan, an ordinary operation's out of the question.
    KIRK: Why?
    SAREK: Because of the construction of the Vulcan heart.

    This excerpt strikes me as being about Vulcan relationships as much as about Vulcan physiology. Sarek and Spock seem to have been trying to punch through the barrier between them using the force of logic, and it has failed so far. And I think Spock's willingness and then unwillingness to help Sarek can both be accounted for if we consider them to individually be stratagems in winning the larger argument against Sarek.

    @Peter, it goes without saying that I enjoy your writing, but sometimes you just outdo yourself and I have to say so. Amazing analysis.

    @Peter G.
    Thanks for the brilliant analysis. Spock's and Sarek's constant attempts to one-up each other are one of these things beneath the surface which I never noticed before, but you're totally right, and it explains their relationship better than any other theory.

    @Steve
    Good observation regarding Kirk and Chekov... I've noticed that too, and I even think that when Kirk turns command over to Chekov at the end, it's a way of giving him credit for his performance in the battle with the Orion ship.

    One thing that I think works really well for the show is that Spock's combative relationship with Sarek also helps explain why he gets along so well with McCoy and Kirk, who enjoy exchanging barbs with him. It's actually a form of relating that he understands very well. Whereas with Pike we had a sense from Spock of strong loyalty, with Kirk and Bones we see closeness.

    There are lots of clever lines here, and the last sickbay scene in particular has a healthy dose of 1960’s sitcom fodder, with characters and actors truly enjoying each other’s company without daring to admit it. Throughout the episode, Mark Lenard, DeForest Kelley and especially Shatner & Nimoy are all at their best, the theatricality lively and the stakes engaging (especially Shatner’s depiction of Kirk trying to stubbornly hold it all together and command a starship for the sake of his best friend--foolhardy on the surface but admirable as a human being).

    But “Miss Jane" Wyatt is atrociously awful as Amanda. As many have pointed out above, Amanda's schizophrenic writing doesn’t help. But even when Amanda is at her best, she always comes off as a haughty, unbearable hag. Sure, lots of people have mothers like this (or a mother-in-law in my case). But an examination of Amanda’s struggles between Vulcan logic and human mothering needed a lot more dichotomy. Unless the show’s point was to reveal that the “logical” path and the “human” path are ultimately very much the same, which I don’t think it was, we already have excellent counterpoints among Kirk, Sarek, McCoy and Spock without Amanda’s scenes grinding everything to a halt. Wyatt has no nuance, no depth, and no charisma here. You can portray “stern” and “stubborn” without being so monotonous. To say nothing of the histrionics--she may as well have spanked Spock right on the ass, as slapping him across the face pretty much had the same effect. Both the writing and the acting utterly fails us here.

    The meat of the story, obviously, is the relationship between Spock and Sarek, and as @Lannion and @PeterG have pointed out above, their mutual stubbornness and one-upmanship. It’s left to Kirk to force the issue, which I think is as brilliant a use of Kirk as the scene in “This Side of Paradise” where he had to literally knock some sense into his logical best friend.

    I’m with Peter G -- if Spock gives up his command on the Bridge, he’s showing Sarek that his decision to join Starfleet means less than his familial ties to the father who strongly disapproved of said decision. @Lannion, I think Kirk correctly realizes this and is offering his friend a way out. Does Spock see through Kirk’s ruse? I think he absolutely does. And with Spock now free to relinquish command to Kirk, the stalemate with Sarek in his mind has now resolved itself. I doubt that Spock will ever thank Kirk for what he did, but intrinsically he will always be grateful. I like how this tale therefore examines not only family, but friendship.

    The murder mystery oddly descends into an afterthought, though it does come to a satisfying resolution. I think it’s obvious that the Fake Andorian is the killer. By the way, what a hoot when his latex antenna pops off. “Surgically altered,” my ass. The Orions just have the same makeup skills as the Star Trek production staff, and that’s apparently enough for them.


    Speak Freely:


    Gav: “There will be payment for your slander, Sarek.”

    Sarek: “Threats are illogical. And payments are usually expensive.”

    (No one can take the piss out of someone like a Vulcan.)



    My Grade: B-

    I think that this episode was MAJOR inspiration, or self-inspiration (you know, D.C. Fontana in both teams) for Babylon 5:

    Babel -> Babylon station
    Vulcans -> Minbari (both stoic and monk-like)
    Tellarites -> Centauri (both arrogant and doing illegal things)
    Andorians -> Narn (both violent, in medieval looking clothes)
    Kirk + three ambassadors -> Sheridan + three ambassadors too
    Starfleet -> WhiteStar fleet (in very Garth's-like uniforms*)
    UFP -> IA

    * Ok, that's from another episode of TOS, like:

    Medusans -> Vorlon (both hidding themselves)

    And we also have (that's from TNG):

    Betazoids -> Byron's telepaths
    Martian Independence Declaration -> Martian struggle for independence
    Galen - archeology professor -> Galen - technomage and archeologist

    I dare to say that B5 is unofficial TOS prequel (better than ENT), like AND and ORV are unofficial TNG/DS9/VGR sequels.

    @ Q,

    That is a very nice theory. Some of it I think is a stretch, such as Kirk + 3 ambassadors => Sinclair + 3 ambassadors. However I'm virtually certain that JMS did design B5's story and backdrop at least in some part as a commentary on Star Trek. His use of telepaths is pretty clearly a correction on what he probably thought was an unrealistic portrayal of them in TNG, and the manner of portraying Earth was definitely a dig on the utopian view shown on Trek. Whether the specific races in B5 were inspired by the races in this episode is something I've never heard about, but I guess it's as cool a guess as any. I actually do think there's a decent chance Kollos the Medusan inspired Kosh as there are multiple parallels there, including the fact that no one can see his true form, his telepathy, and his special skills.

    As far as the Minbari go I think the better parallel is found in Lord of the Rings, as they're clearly the elves. I think a lot of JMS's world building involves a Middle Earth conception, especially including the Shadows, the role humans have to play despite their political problems, and the bringing in of races that previously were at odds with each other. A lot of the naming is also from Tolkien, but there are plenty of sci-fi homages and references too.

    "As far as the Minbari go I think the better parallel is found in Lord of the Rings, as they're clearly the elves"

    Yes, but Vulcans are called space elves too ;), and youtuber Lore reloaded have video about Minbari as Vulcans too.
    However it might be more accurate to say that Minbari are Vulcans/Romulans before the schism.

    And: you are correct, that in B5 we see strong Tolkien inspirations. Lovecraft and "Doc" Smith inspirations too.

    "the manner of portraying Earth was definitely a dig on the utopian view shown on Trek."

    Rigjt. Julie Musante words about Earth looks like discussion with Picard's idealism.

    This is a great episode, very well crafted with outstanding character work. I think this outing, perhaps more than any other TOS episode, lays the groundwork for future trek series. This one really has a lot of similarities in tenor to TNG and DS9, with ambassadors and aliens and a bustling feel to the ship on a diplomatic mission that fleshes out this Federation thing that has largely existed on the periphery thus far. Plus murder mystery, starship jousting, and some of that old-timey TOS fight choreography, this time with shivs!

    But the absolute core of this episode is the Spock/sarek dynamic. I find Spock’s dilemma to be quite compelling for all the reasons mentions above(peter g’s solid analysis). I would add one other layer however, which is Sarek’s point of view. I don’t think Spock’s actions are just about affirming his own path in life, or gaining his father’s respect. I think part of why Spock is in such a tough spot is that if he abdicates his command responsibility to, say, Scotty, it would result in irreparable damage to his relationship with his father from the standpoint of making the choice that would lessen sarek in sarek’s own eyes. Sarek is, obviously, quite committed to logic, the question of dying for his philosophy, for the worldview of the entire Vulcan civilization, is a no-brainer for him. Had Spock chosen his father over his duty it would have been a repudiation of everything sarek stands for, it would have both diminished Spock in his fathers estimation and diminished his father entirely. Thus Spock’s choice to remain committed to his role as first officer was also a choice to stand for who and what his father is, to protect and bolster him even if it means allowing him to die. In this sense, Amanda can be seen as more representative than literal. Her contradictory behavior can be seen as symbolic of Spock's own inner struggle, caught between the competing motivators of logic and emotion, who in turn are inverting upon one another as Spock’s actions serve the logic of sarek through a deep rooted emotional lense. I think the final scene in which Spock and sarek seem to banter at Amanda’s expense shows that sarek and Spock have sort of turned a corner in their relationship, which would have been impossible had Spock simply jumped right into saving his father. Sarek is reaffirmed by Spock’s choosing his duty over him, and thus in this oddly roundabout Vulcan way, sarek can be proud of his son.

    Additionally, Kirk’s role here is pretty brilliant as he clearly understands Spock's position implicitly. He’s willing to endure risk and great discomfort to release Spock from his bind, thus protecting Spock’s dignity and also expressing the ultimate statement of respect for who Spock is as a person. It’s a great bit of development in their friendship.

    A ton of great stuff here. I would have liked getting a stronger sense of what the Orion’s were all about, they were willing to die for their task after all, pretty fanatical. And although I can find certain ways to rationalize Amanda’s emotional swings, it would have been nice to see a bit more self-awareness from her, it’s fine that she sort of freaks out given her difficult situation, but I’d expect her to be able to see herself a bit more clearly. In any event, great episode.

    3.5/4 papier-mâché detachable antennae

    @ Idh2023,

    I'm not exactly sure I understand what you're saying about Sarek's POV and how Spock is protecting that by sticking with his duty. Could you maybe elaborate? Do you mean that because Sarek is so unyielding, in a funny way Spock is honoring him by being equally unyielding even if it means Sarek's death?

    @peter g

    While Spock’s focus on duty could be interpreted as a way to justify his own choices, his leaving Vulcan, his joining starfleet, even his being half human, I think it would be incomplete to see his position as wholly self serving. So the point I was making is that Spock is honoring sarek and what is important to sarek as well, fundamentally important. Spock is unyielding because he has no other path to take. To step away from command would be to choose an emotional path, to choose an emotional path is to ostensibly reject what his father is willing to die for, to reject that is to reject his father outright while simultaneously undercutting the very core of Vulcan society. This would be against sarek’s own desires, which is what I mean by sarek’s point of view. For sarek’s own son to make a decision that runs contrary to his logical philosophy would be both damaging to their relationship and fundamentally disrespectful to sarek’s whole person, almost hurtful if you will.

    Hm. I guess I still don't quite understand. What is the logic of allowing a fellow Vulcan to die? If taking some action to save someone's life was an emotional path, does that imply that logic requires letting people die left and right? I'm not sure I follow that reasoning. Also, in this instance it doesn't seem like Sarek is dying for anything to do with his Vulcan values. So I'm not sure how Spock letting him die honors those Vulcan values. The Vulcans seems to value peace above all else, as in not taking life, and the preservation of life. That seems to be a chief reason why Sarek was displeased at Spock going to join the violent Starfleet. You'd think, if anything, it would appease Sarek's sense of values to desist in participating in a violent confrontation and choose to serve peace and life instead.

    The unique circumstances of Spock being thrust into command amidst a crisis raises the old “needs of the many” thing, a pretty solid Vulcan tenet. If everything was normal, then of course Spock would help his dad, but to save his father by shirking his duty, ie, the emotional path, he would be tarnishing his father’s beliefs. Until Kirk lets Spock out of the bind, Spock is duty bound not to compromise himself, my point is the reason for that, at least in my mildly speculative way, is that it would be against sarek’s wishes. Spock is risking sarek’s life, much to Amanda’s chagrin, in order to represent sarek in his time of vulnerability.

    I know it’s a little confusing, but it boils down to Spock being the only person on board the ship who understands the magnitude of meaning that logic plays in the life of a Vulcan. His decision stands in defense of that philosophy, his father’s philosophy, and thus his father himself.

    @idh2023 agree 100% with you.

    Sarek's respect for Spock's duty is already established in the scene where he chastises Amanda for embarrassing Spock in front of his fellow officers.

    No way Sarek would approve of Spock abandoning his duty to the ship just to save one man.

    I guess the question of whether it's abandonment of duty to help Sarek depends on whether Spock's duty didn't matter prior to the attack, but matters more during the attack. Spock still had duties earlier in the episode after all, and since the operation was a risk to Spock's life it seems to me he was already choosing Sarek over serving Starfleet. The fact that during the attack Spock changed his attitude and refused to help Sarek seems to me a bit less about duty generally and more about the *type* of situation Sarek would and wouldn't approve of. I don't think Sarek appeared to have a problem with letting Spock put himself at risk before, so why would he have a problem with it after if, indeed, Scotty is well-equipped to deal with the Orions? I take is as a given premise that the episode is stating that Scotty was equally up to the task as Spock was with the ship under attack. The fact of Spock demanding to stay on the bridge had to be for reasons other than him being superior to Scotty at ship combat. To me this issue is that of Spock serving a non-peaceful organization, and within that context it's especially relevant that it's during a *fight* that Spock goes to his station and won't back down. It's exactly this type of situation that Sarek criticized him for in choosing to join Starfleet, so to me it's almost exactly the opposite of honoring Sarek here: he is doubling down on "Yes! Starfleet!" not only despite the fact that it involves violent conflicts, but almost because of it. He is repudiating the Vulcan non-violence beliefs through his present actions, and putting his own father's life on the line as proof that he means business. I really do view this as the ultimate trump card in his argument with Sarek, and I think at the end of the day it does ironically end up honoring his father, but in the sense that Sarek won't back down from positions (until ST: IV, at least) and Spock likewise refusing to do so demonstrates that despite their disagreement he has integrity and sticks to his moral position. I think this mutual inflexibility is what they bond over at the end, so that they can poke fun at the moveable Amanda who is swayed by the emotional stakes in a situation. So I guess I'm disagreeing that Spock stays on the bridge because Sarek would think helping him is an emotional choice. In fact in my opinion Spock and Sarek are behaving emotionally in their very stubbornness, and so staying on the bridge is the emotional choice. Logically I think the best outcome would have been served by Spock saving a life and Scotty saving the Enterprise, and this is essentially proven when Kirk relieves Spock and everything works out. The only conclusion that makes sense is that Spock was actually behaving illogically, but was stuck in his position due to the nature of needing to keep proving himself to Sarek. Stubbornness is not logical, and the two of them in their own way acted like children toward each other for most of the episode.

    I think given the circumstances, Scotty would logically best serve the ship at his post in engineering. After all, there are assassins running around, mystery ships attacking, a bunch of diplomats in evident danger, and the captain is out of commission, this is an “all hands on deck” kind of situation. So it’s a calculation of risk, and reducing the Enterprise’s resources amidst this crisis only shifts that calculus in the wrong direction. As such, stepping away from his post as captain to save one man, even an eminent guy like sarek, would be risking the whole to save one, and it would be virtually pure sentiment to do so, especially considering it’s Spock's dad who’s on the doctor’s slab. Thus, immediately saving sarek would be the emotional choice, and sarek would never condone such a choice coming from his son.

    Personally I read the last scene as being sarek finally accepting his son’s choice to join starfleet and gaining a new respect for Spock in general, specifically *because* he doesn’t jump right into saving sarek, and this proves to sarek that Spock is still committed to Vulcan logic while wearing the starfleet uniform, that the two aren’t in conflict with one another. Almost like Spock had passed a test of sorts by upholding what his father stands for, even up to the point of sacrificing his fathers life.

    "I think given the circumstances, Scotty would logically best serve the ship at his post in engineering."

    Well, yes, but I think it's a conceit in TOS that Doohan plays both the chief engineer and the 2nd officer, so that some episodes feature him illogically in command even though he's not a command track officer. I think it's just a combination of an economy of avoiding too many actors, along with his terrific performances warranting more screen time. It's really never logical having him in the Captain's chair rather than in engineering. I think this type of point is too much in the weeds, since the plot really doesn't ever refer to the issue of Scotty taking command and therefore leaving engineering without its chief. He's in command of the Enterprise plenty during crises and this never comes up as a problem, and Kirk seems absolutely confident in this very episode that Scotty taking command is no problem. I think trying to argue something contrary is just rejecting what the episode is telling us is a fact.

    Did anybody notice that Kirk's device that made people disappear in the mirror universe was visible behind Amanda in one of the sickbay scenes?

    Great episode with great dialogue - 4/4.

    One nitpick that I haven’t seen mentioned - the Orion ship’s one great advantage is its speed and maneuverability. If one phaser blast could disable it, would it really risk approaching at such a slow speed?

    Ah well, I don’t suppose D. C. Fontana suspected when she wrote it that we’d be analyzing the script this closely more than 55 years later!

    One thing I don't get is when Spock initially proposes the procedure both Bones and Amanda basically say he'll no because it is too risky to Spock. But then 10 minutes later Amanda is practically accusing Spock of murder for refusing the procedure.

    Incidentally, after watching this episode recently my absolute favourite moment is Spock's question to his mother: "can you imagine what my father would say if I set aside my duty to save one man?" which tells us that Spock's decision to let his father die is as much about pleasing his father as anything else. He refuses to save Sarek for fear that Sarek would forever hold it against him, that it would be another testament to his human weakness. Amazing line and great performance by Nimoy, who always understood that playing a Vulcan doesn't mean being a robot, that even in the confines of logic there is such a range of nuance and feeling.

    Just 9 episodes ago, Spock was ready to get married, which had been pre-arranged by his parents when he was just a child. This ceremony was to take place on land his family owned for 2000 years. Fucking T'Pau was presiding. So where were Sarek and Amanda when all that was taking place? Risa?!?

    Amanda beseeches Spock to let his human side shine through to save her husband. And we assume her plea falls on deaf ears.

    But I had a realization that maybe that isn't correct. As Kirk tells Amanda at the outset, he's not just Spock's commanding officer but his friend. And that friendship, borne of Spock's human side, is what saves Sarek.

    Every time I watch this episode, I can’t help but notice how much Tellarites look like fat farm pigs. So how come did they have to totally alien-stereotype their boorish and rude personalities with their hog-like appearance.
    It would’ve been more interesting if they had been given steeling manners and impeccable diplomatic skills, with the look of domestic swine.
    Now that would have been an interesting contrast.

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