Plot Synopsis: Violent emotions sweep the Enterprise when Ambassador Sarek comes aboard to finish a long diplomatic mission.
Plot A and B Analysis: The teaser here doesn’t seem that promising. The Federation is all twitterpated because of an opportunity to negotiate a treaty with the Legarans, some mysterious race that will benefit the Federation a lot. Sarek, Spock’s dad, is the only one who they will negotiate with. His aides arrive and say he’s old and tired and will be isolated until the negotiations begin. Plot A is about Sarek himself, there is no plot B. This is not an action-packed episode, but it has its own tension that I enjoy. Disagreements start breaking out on the ship: between Wes and Geordi, then Wes and Dr. Crusher, then a fight in Ten Forward. Turns out the problem is Sarek himself. The resolution is wonderfully unexpected, as this episode builds to a (literally) dramatic conclusion, allowing us to see some of Patrick Stewart’s most emotional acting.
Favorite Scenes: Far and away my favorite scene is Picard’s soliloquy, as he holds Sarek’s mind together during the conference. I can see that scene alone being shown in acting classes, it still emotionally affects me when I watch it. My other favorite scene also involves Picard, having to figuratively push his way past Sarek’s wife and imposing advisors in order to confront one of his personal heroes and tell him he’s losing control of his mind.
Use of Cast/Characters: Picard is under some uncomfortable pressure here, as he has to deal with one of his heroes, and ends up carrying an awful burden toward the end. I love it, this is the most nakedly emotional and vulnerable we will see Picard until the outstanding ‘Family.‘ Think about what it says about the man that Sarek agrees to let Picard contain his overwhelming emotions, even temporarily. Can you imagine any other TNG character with the will and self-mastery to hold on through that? Riker and Worf don’t do much in this episode, though they are in a couple of scenes–I had to chuckle when Riker gets sucker punched. It’s nice to see Data playing the violin again, first seen in The Ensigns of Command–he does little else though. Troi and Dr. Crusher are very useful here, working together to reveal the actual problem with Sarek–it’d be nice if physical and mental health professionals worked that closely together in real life. Geordi and Wes have an argument and not much more. TNG is getting better at using more of the cast more consistently. The eminent Mark Lenard gives an excellent performance as Sarek–a Vulcan who’s finely-tuned veneer of control is cracking. His entire performance, and in particular the dynamics during his confrontation with Picard, is some of the finest acting this season. Joanna Miles also gives an authentic performance as Sarek’s wife, Perrin.
Blu Ray Version: Another great HD transfer, but nothing special here.
Nitpicks: The benefits of relations with the Legarans are incalculable? Really, why? No explanation is ever given, nor is it ever referred to in any subsequent episode of Trek. Also, audiophiles out there will notice several errors during the symphony: that piece is performed with six instruments, not four, and the piece they’re actually playing is Brahms, not Mozart.
Overall Impression: This is a character-driven rather than a plot-driven episode, and it’s a success. The Lagarans are never seen, why they’re important is never clarified, and it doesn’t matter. The theme subtly explored here is dementia, aging, and its effects. Episodes that explore problems of the human condition, like this one, are what I enjoy. This is an underrated episode because there’s almost no action, no wild-looking aliens to see. It’s not quite as accessible to the average adolescent (which I was in 1990), but the older I get the more I appreciate it. Sarek is at the center of things, and he provides the first solid link to TOS since Dr. McCoyin the pilot. This adds further legitimacy to TNG as well as paving the way for other TOS cast members in future episodes. Mark and Patrick are in top form here, and it’s worth seeing for them alone. I rate this episode 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: The person who wrote the screenplay, Peter S. Beagle, is the author of the well-known novel “The Last Unicorn.” Here’s a link to him telling the story of how he became involved, his opinion of Patrick Stewart, and saying which of the Star Trek franchises he liked best (it’s not TNG). Evidently it was a huge struggle to even get the word “Spock” into the episode–Ira Steven Behr had to argue for days to get just that one word in, because Roddenberry had generally forbidden overt references to TOS. The best story about this episode is probably by Michael Piller, one of the executive producers at the time:
What I remember most about that episode, however, is that in a very real way it reflected what was going on with the show at the time we wrote it. Gene [Roddenberry] was beginning to go into decline. Not that he was completely uncommunicative, but it was clear that he was not the same man that he had been. We all respected him so much, and he had been such an important, strong leader of the franchise and everything it stood for. But here is this great man – and I’ve only known him for less than a year at this point – here is this great man going into decline, and I immediately felt a very strong connection to the premise of ‘Sarek,’ because I could see that it really was about the universe that we lived in on a daily basis. If you go back and look at ‘Sarek’ closely, what that character is, is Gene Roddenberry.
Missable/Unmissable? Again, technically missable, but if you like character-driven stuff and are a fan of Vulcans at all, watch this episode. Enjoy it, because the next couple of episodes are crap.