Star Trek: The Next Generation – Sarek [3.23]

The Enterprise plays host to important negotiations that can only be held by legendary Federation ambassador Sarek.  However, the aged Sarek is suffering from a rare debilitating disease that causes his emotional control to break down.  His telepathic abilities cause random outbreaks of violence amongst the Enterprise crew.  In the end, Sarek is only able to carry out the negotiations by mind-melding with Picard, temporarily trading his emotional turmoil with the Captain’s stability.

Television Story and Teleplay by Peter S. Beagle.  From an Unpublished Story by Mark Chushman & Jake Jacobs.  Directed by Les Landau.

Previous Episode: The Most ToysNext Episode: Menage a Troi

Patrick Stewart absolutely knocks this episode out of several parks in this episode.  His performance during the mind-meld scene in which Picard  is carrying Sarek’s emotional turmoil would have been enough to make this episode one of the highlights of the season, even if it hadn’t included a beloved Original Series character that we never really expected to see in Next Generation.  But to our pleasure, Sarek provides us with both.

This episode represents a strong maturing of Next Generation.  It has clearly established it’s identity sufficiently to begin to tie itself more strongly to it’s predecessor without falling into the trap of being derivative (ie The Naked Now).  Sarek has all the appeal to fans as a piece of well done fan fiction, but wrapped up in an excellent stand alone story that is very much in the Next Generation style.  It’s like the series has grown from adolescence to young adulthood.

Mark Lenard is excellent as Sarek as well, bringing a dignified and sympathetic performance as of a Starfleet legend who is finding himself betrayed by his own faculties.  It’s sort of like a much better version of what we saw in Too Short a Season.  Comparisons with mental deterioration and conditions like Alzheimers are apt, and having the focus around a familiar character helps to bring home the reality of it.  The “duet” between Sarek and Picard where the Captain has to confront the Ambassador with a logical argument to help him understand the reality of his condition is especially good.  The closing moments of it, where Sarek is screaming “Illogical!  Illogical!” over and over again could have descended into self parody, but Lenard manages to keep the scene afloat.

The episode also has it’s lighter moments, seen in the various outbreaks of aggression and violence around the ship.  The Geordi-Wesley arguments stand out, with reference to Geordi’s “romantic” interlude in Booby Trap being referred to again.  Wil Wheaton does quite a good job as “angry Wesley”.  There is overall a good use of the ensemble in this story, with most of the rest of the regulars, including Data, Dr. Crusher, and Troi, all getting some good moments.  I particularly like the way that Picard tells Beverly during the mind-meld that he will appreciate her company in the midst of it.

All in all, a great episode, and a highlight of an already strong season.

Shout Out to the Past:
Naturally, Sarek himself is the episode’s biggest shout-out.  Up until this point, Sarek had appeared in an episode of the Original Series, and episode of the Animated Series, and in Star Trek III and IV.  Actually, he’d also appeared in Star Trek V, but played by another actor.

In addition to Sarek, there are also a number of references that relate to the character.  Spock, of course, is mentioned (both by name, and then also possibly indirectly when Picard talks about being at Sarek’s “son’s wedding”).  Amanda, Sarek’s wife from Journey to Babel and Star Trek IV is mentioned.  And the events of Journey to Babel are referred to in a brief list of Sarek’s diplomatic accomplishments.

Guest Cast:
• Mark Lenard debuted on Star Trek as a Romulan Commander in the original series episode Balance of Terror.  He played Sarek for the first time in the second season story of the original series, Journey to Babel. He would go on to reprise this role in three Star Trek movies and two episode of Next Generation.  He also guest starred in episodes of Mission: Impossible and Little House on the Prairie (as Charles Ingall’s older brother).  He was also a regular on the TV version of Planet of the Apes.

• According to IMDB, the famous Peter Cook appears uncredited as a Commander!  I haven’t found anywhere else that confirms if this is true.

• Joyce Agu makes her first of 46 uncredited appearances as Ensign Gates.

• Picard’s line, “I hope that I’m that frail when I’m 202 years old!” is a good one.

• Nice foreshadowing in Picard’s line, “I suppose they were foolish and vain, my expectations of this voyage. Sharing his thoughts, memories, his unique understanding of the history he’s made.”

• Mendrossen’s line about the ambassador having more free time than he anticipated is nicely diplomatic.

• Who is the old guy playing the Viola?  You almost never see crew members look like that.

• The concert hall isn’t very big, it seems to me.

• The scene with Sarek’s tear during the concert is great.  It’s well directed, and makes good use of Troi’s empathic abilities.

• Not very subtle of Sakkath, his questioning of Data about Picard’s diplomatic experience.

• It’s a bit strange to have scene where someone tries to calm people down in a bar by buying another round of drinks when you’re in an environment where there is no alcohol and there is no money.

• It’s another good scene when Data is trying to find out the truth from  Sakkath

• Excellent debate scene between Picard and Sarek.  “You exaggerate, Captain. I recall only one tear.”  And, “Sarek of Vulcan would never be afraid of looking straight at something he did not want to see,” and “Sarek of Vulcan never confused what he wanted with the truth.”

• OK, the obvious question:  Why not Sakkath as the Mind Meld partner?  It’s such an obvious point that it really does beg some sort of explanation.

• Picard’s breakdown scene is phenomenal.  It’s well shot and brilliantly performed.

• Good parting lines between Picard and Sarek:  “We will always retain the best part of each other inside,” followed by, “I believe I have the better part of that bargain, Ambassador.”

Dialogue High Point
There’s a lot of good dialog in the story, but my favorite line is probably this one, with Picard talking to some of the crew.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? All this magnificent technology and we find ourselves still susceptible to the ravages of old age. The loss of dignity, the slow betrayal of our bodies by forces we cannot master. Do you still want to be one of us, Data?

Previous Episode: The Most ToysNext Episode: Menage a Troi

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