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The Trek Nation - Sarek

Sarek

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at September 26, 2008 - 9:44 PM GMT

See Also: 'Sarek' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Vulcan ambassador Sarek comes aboard the Enterprise after his staff members have warned the crew that the ambassador needs his rest and is not to be disturbed. Picard and Riker are therefore surprised to meet an energetic Sarek who wishes to inspect immediately the conference room being prepared for his upcoming negotiations with the Legarans. Nonetheless, Sarek's assistants Mendrossen and Sakkath are very protective of the ambassador and discourage him from attending a concert arranged by the Enterprise crewmembers, though Sarek's human wife, Perrin, later persuades him to attend. At the concert, Counselor Troi and Doctor Crusher are as shocked as Picard to see the Vulcan moved to tears by the music. Meanwhile, numerous crewmembers are afflicted by fits of rage. Crusher slaps her son across the face for a minor disagreement, a bar brawl breaks out in Ten Forward, and Picard and Riker shout at each other when Troi and Crusher express their concerns that Sarek may be suffering from Bendii Syndrome - a condition in elder Vulcans that causes complete loss of emotional control. It seems clear to Picard that if Sarek is projecting violent emotions, then he must not oversee an important diplomatic meeting. After Sakkath admits that he has been using telepathy to help Sarek retain control, Picard confronts the ambassador, who becomes so enraged that his denials are meaningless. Picard proposes a mind meld that will allow Sarek to use his strength for the negotiations. While Sarek is able to carry on logical diplomacy, Picard suffers through the agony of Sarek's uncontrolled emotions. When the negotiations are concluded, the meld is ended, and Sarek and Perrin thank Picard for allowing the ambassador this final triumph.


Analysis: This is a very fine example of an "issue episode" that's also a great story with wonderful performances and a solid sci-fi hook, all of which would make it a terrific episode in its own right. But there's no denying that the return of Spock's father to the Star Trek franchise is the element that makes "Sarek" a classic. Any Vulcan suffering from the equivalent of Alzheimer's would make for a moving story - it's painful to watch a man as logical as Sarek face up to the fact that he has a disease that is stripping away his intellect, his control, and his pride. It's also an impressive decision on Picard's part to risk a mind meld and open himself directly to the suffering that Bendii Syndrome causes (and so fascinating to watch in retrospect, knowing that a future Picard will develop the neurologically degenerative irumodic syndrome). But Sarek is a character we know, and to see this happening to him - a man so proudly Vulcan that he did not speak to his son for decades because his son had chosen a career in Starfleet rather than the Vulcan Science Academy - is particularly tragic.

It's delightful to see Mark Lenard as Sarek again, one of the few supporting characters who appeared in the original series films as well as the television series. And though it is odd to see him without Spock's mother Amanda, it makes sense that Spock, like us fans, would have had to come to terms with the fact that his father has a much longer life span than his mother and would survive her by many years, long enough to have married someone else. Without being any sort of imitation, Perrin is nicely reminiscent of Amanda in her fierceness protecting Sarek combined with her private tenderness. Like Amanda, Perrin is able to show her sense of humor and connection to human interests with the Starfleet officers, yet her loyalty remains firmly with her Vulcan husband and his interests. She seems aware of Sarek's condition long before he is willing to face up to its seriousness, for she knows that he can't meditate. Yet neither she nor either of Sarek's staff members are willing to voice what they all privately know: that the ambassador is in no condition to carry on delicate negotiations with a species likely to leave in a huff over something as superficial as the conference room arrangements.

This fraught story is interspersed with quite a bit of humor, for before anyone knows the cause of all the arguments, they're quite entertaining to watch. First Wesley and Geordi nearly come to blows over which of them knows more about women, with Wesley saying Geordi only sees action on the holodeck while Geordi mocks Wesley's youth - since we've never seen either of these guys having much luck with the ladies, the entire debate is pretty funny, particularly when it's broken up by Riker, who's this generation's Kirk with the ladies. Later, Wesley's mother smacks him across the face for choosing a date rather than putting in an appearance at the concert where Picard asked after him. Then Riker tries to figure out why Worf has put the usually obedient D'Amato on report, and while Worf is defensively insisting that D'Amato deserved it - he hasn't noticed any incidents of short temper - the two walk in on a massive brawl started because O'Brien wouldn't give up his table in Ten Forward. And when Picard is finally forced to acknowledge that Sarek may be responsible, he and Riker have a full-fledged shouting match in front of the bridge crew.

By then the fighting isn't so amusing because it's obvious that Sarek's situation is so dire. Picard's gut instinct is to postpone the negotiations with the Legarans, but Sarek doesn't think they'll negotiate with anyone besides himself and Perrin believes that to take away this final triumph will shatter what control Sarek retains. When the aide Sakkath reveals that he has been helping Sarek hold it together, Sarek dismisses him, but then with Sakkath gone, Sarek is reduced to ranting and shaking while trying to insist to Picard that there's nothing the matter with him. It's touching that Sarek seems less willing to accept that the negotiations may be at an end than to accept a terminal diagnosis, and Picard is willing to make quite a big sacrifice to give Sarek one final triumph as an ambassador.

Lenard and Stewart are both terrific actors, but they particularly shine when their roles are reversed after the mind-meld, with Sarek speaking to Riker as though he were Picard while the captain sits alone with Crusher, sobbing over all the emotional connections in Sarek's life - Perrin, Amanda, Spock - that he has had to deny or repress. It's reminiscent of King Lear and a reminder not only of how much feeling must have underlay Sarek's familiar cool exterior - he did choose twice to marry human women - but of how repressed Picard himself must be among his crew. Crusher seems to welcome a rare instance of emotional intimacy with the captain even though he's expressing someone else's feelings to her. In the end, though the negotiations go well, all are helpless, for Sarek's condition is untreatable and will continue to erode his personality and pride. At least those of us who have seen the series before know what Picard and Sarek cannot: that they will meet again, and indeed, Picard will visit Sarek on his deathbed and become the instrument by which Sarek and Spock mend their differences.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green is a former news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.