Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Sarek

A classic Star Trek character returns in this week's look-back at a must-watch TNG season three episode...

This review contains spoilers.

3.23 Sarek

In a startling moment of originality, the Enterprise is once again acting as the glorified taxi for a Federation Ambassador and hosting their negotiations. But this time, it’s not boring. This time, they’re transporting Ambassador Sarek!

Although his entourage seem over-protective of Sarek, insisting that he’s excused from all non-essential functions, Sarek himself seems surprisingly energetic. Nonetheless, Picard lets him off the Mozart concert he had planned, and also tells Worf not to bother setting up the Tri-Dimensional Guess Who? Tournament (probably).

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When checking out the conference room, Sarek gets uncharacteristically agitated at the unpreparedness of it. Geordi and Wesley don’t help the situation by complaining about the smell of the slime the Legaran delegation live in and talking about Wesley’s upcoming hot date with Ensign Suzanne Dumont. Of course, if I was the chief engineer and found myself hanging out with the ship’s cabin boy to fill up a pool of slime, I’d probably let my mind wander too.

Up on the bridge, Picard, Riker and Troi are having a rather indiscreet chat about Sarek’s lack of frailty when Troi suggests they invite his wife, Perrin, to the concert in the hope that he’ll attend too. Picard does just that, and Perrin accepts. She tells Picard that Sarek is meditating, but when he’s gone she goes to check on him. He isn’t meditating, and hasn’t been able to for weeks! Possibly because his wife keeps interrupting his attempts, if this episode is any indication.

Back at the slime tank, Wesley and Geordi are still trying to sort things out when the two end up in an almighty argument. They’re seconds away from fisticuffs when Riker breaks it up by wedging his beard between the two. Later that day at the concert, Sarek does arrive with his wife, but exits the performance early when he’s moved to tears. Or possibly bored to tears. Either way there is at least one tear.

In the aftermath of the performance, Crusher summons Wesley to sickbay to ask why he wasn’t there. When he gives her some lip, she does what everyone had wanted to do for three years and slaps him in the face. After checking in with Troi, it transpires that this is not an isolated incident. People are lining up to slap Wesley in the face. Then in Ten Forward, there’s a bar room brawl, which makes the usually quick-witted bridge crew finally put two and two together.

They finally surmise that Sarek has Bendii syndrome, which is a disease old Vulcans get which makes them lose control of their emotions. Sarek is telepathically broadcasting bursts of anger around the ship. Picard has his people call Sarek’s people and they find out that one of the young Vulcans is telepathically augmenting Sarek’s will in an attempt to keep him in enough of a state to host the negotiations.

Eventually, Picard confronts Sarek with the truth and Sarek starts off deconstructing the accusation, until Picard’s constant badgering finally causes him to feel anger, at which point he can no longer deny it. Rather than call off the negotiations after a ninety-year lead-in, Picard suggests a mind meld so that he can assume the burden of Sarek’s emotions and let the Vulcan concentrate on negotiating. Although initially hesitant, Sarek agrees. While Sarek brokers the deal with the Legarans, Picard sits in a dark room displaying every emotion ever named, and several others that are still waiting for names.

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With the gaps in Patrick Stewart’s showreel now fully plugged, the negotiations successfully conclude and Sarek bids the crew farewell. As they transport away he reaches out and holds his wife’s hand. Luckily, sticking your hand outside of the transporter containment beam proves to have no ill side-effects. Once again, Chief O’Brien has saved the day.

TNG WTF: They spend all that time hyping up the stinking slime-alien Legarans, and then we’re DENIED the full glory of a completely inadequate costume shot? It could’ve been up there with the Antedeans  (from Manhunt) or the Allasomorph battle form (from The Dauphin).

TNG LOL: Wesley accuses Geordi of having to get his women on the holodeck. Obviously we know that’s true (it’s the second allusion to Booby Trap this series!) but I can’t help wondering how Wesley knows. Does Geordi bring his brief holo-infatuation up every time he has to give a motivational speech to someone? Or is it just a common insult to accuse someone of using the holodeck to get dates?

Who’s That Face?: Mark Lenard! As well as being Sarek, he was also the first Romulan ever seen on Star Trek, and a Klingon in The Motion Picture. Ain’t many (if any) other actors who have played a member of all three of Star Trek‘s most recognisable alien races.

Time Until Meeting: At first glance it appears that there are no meetings in this episode. I was ready to be outraged at the oversight, until I remembered that this entire episode takes place purely so a meeting can happen. Off-screen, yes, but it’s there, behind the scenes. It is, in effect, the most meeting-based episode yet.

Captain’s Log: There’s a lot about this episode that really works, particularly when you appreciate that the episode was, in a way, about Gene Roddenberry himself, whose mental health had started to deteriorate with age. At the same time, it’s got a reasonably major flaw in that the Enterprise crew are largely secondary to the plot. Sure, Patrick Stewart gets his ACTIIING! moment, and the events reach beyond this episode, but the change is incidental. There’s no real parallel drawn between Sarek’s emotional repression and Picard’s stoicism, nor Sarek reaching the end of a life of service to the Federation and Picard entering his own old age.

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Furthermore, the tensions within the crew are left completely unresolved at the episode’s conclusion, because once they confront Sarek, the chaos caused by his telepathic emotional instability never gets mentioned again. We’re just left to assume Wesley and Geordi never spoke to one another again.

Despite all that, it works. Because Sarek isn’t just some guest actor, he’s an established and important part of Star Trek lore. It’s a great example of how to use continuity to enhance a story. Better still, they cunningly build up his respect for Picard throughout the episode so that the proposed solution to his problem doesn’t seem too far-fetched, and the rapport between Lenard and Stewart is so immediate that you can believe a literal mind-meld makes sense for the characters. It’s not a perfect episode in terms of its writing, but the acting sells it far better than it could’ve.

Watch or Skip? Watch. Not only does it involve the return of a classic Trek character, the events of this episode are followed up in a big way during season five.

Read James’ look-back at the previous episode, The Most Toys, here.

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