In Sunday night’s Lethe, Trek fans got a little more background on Michael Burnham and Sarek courtesy of a flashback to Burnham’s Vulcan graduation where instead of being appointed to the Vulcan Expeditionary Force as expected, disappointment awaited her.
James Frain, who plays Sarek, spoke about portraying the human-friendly Vulcan, and rated Sarek’s parenting skills.
In taking on the role, Frain wanted to honor Mark Lenard‘s Sarek performance, not imitate it. “I watched a lot of Mark Lenard’s performances as Sarek, which I admire, and I feel are very definitive,” he said. “And so I feel like I need to honor that, and I need to portray the character that convincingly could become where he ends up. But at the same time, I didn’t want to do an imitation of him, of his voice or his mannerisms. I wanted to come up with something that would convincingly link up to his part of the story, but then also opens up all these questions that are unanswered in The Original Series about who he is and where he comes from.
“I don’t think we’ve ever really looked at it before in terms of, well, who is this guy who married a human and then had a son, and clearly in opposition to the whole Vulcan code and the whole Vulcan way? He’s an ambassador, so his job is to look for areas of conflict resolution, and areas of pact-making and bond-making. And so it was always this unanswered question really of what kind of Vulcan marries a human and then has a child with her? Who is this guy, really?”
What Sarek wants is more interaction between humans and Vulcans, but his fellow Vulcans are not on board with this idea, with extremist groups and Vulcan elders alike against it. “What’s interesting about [the scene where Sarek must choose between Spock and Michael for a Vulcan Expeditionary Force slot is that Sarek’s] in a sort of vulnerable position with a father figure who is accusing him of being emotive. It really kind of echoes and parallels what’s happening elsewhere. And it’s just interesting to see Sarek in such a vulnerable position, because he’s been seen before as this sort of epic father figure. And yet here he is opening up to his daughter, and here we see him as a sort of rebellious teen being put in line by the principal, you know?”
Sarek “has a great deal of internal conflict himself,” said Frain, “and he’s a very interesting and flawed and ambivalent character with noble ideals, who doesn’t always make the right choice. He’s very human.”
“I think that Sarek is someone who wants to be a good parent,” said Frain; “someone who very much wants to do right by his kids. How successful he is at that, that’s for us to judge. But he is torn between the Vulcan code and his own ideals. So that tension is always being fought out with him, and it’s played out in his relationship with his kids as well.”