Star Trek: The Next Generation: Sarek   Rewatch 
December 4, 2020 3:53 AM - Season 3, Episode 23 - Subscribe

The Enterprise crew experiences infinite tantrums in infinite combinations while hosting a living legend of the Federation.

Memory Alpha has been accused of many things, never an excess of emotion:

• According to Michael Piller, the story originally pitched involved another ambassador who begins to have mental problems on a mission. He recalled, "As we started talking about it in house on staff, we said what would really be interesting is if you took a very powerful member of either Starfleet Command or the Federation, and have them going through a time of their lives, like so many of our parents, where they're beginning to have problems with aging. From that point, it was two or three steps of somebody saying, 'How can we turn it into a science fiction show?' Somebody said, 'If you were a Vulcan, you could have some real telepathic impact from some kind of disease,' and from that point it was really short-stepped to, 'What about Sarek?' Sarek is an extraordinarily honorable character who we felt obliged to protect and deal with in a very respectful manner. At the same time, this becomes an extraordinarily personal story. A real stunning show."

• Marc Cushman recalled that after he pitched the story of Sarek going through senility, Gene Roddenberry had him write two scripts: one with Sarek and another with a new Vulcan character. Roddenberry "started to have second thoughts about tying the two shows together," Cushman said. After some time had passed, and The Next Generation had been on for more than two years, Roddenberry came to feel that the time was right to make the episode with Sarek.

• For Piller, there was an even deeper resonance to the story. "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."

• The script received an uncredited page one rewrite by Ira Steven Behr and Ronald D. Moore.

• Behr said, "I broke open the barrier and made it possible for The Next Generation to use names like Spock on-screen. That was a major taboo when I got there. No way could you mention the original Star Trek characters. It took days and days of arguing to slip in a single reference to Spock. So I like to think in my own sort of incoherent way I helped start to push open the door to what was a very, very closed and narrow franchise".

• Picard's crumbling emotions, mirroring Sarek's inner turmoil, is an echo of a similar scene of Spock in TOS: "The Naked Time", even down to a single take being used.

• Mark Lenard enjoyed working with Patrick Stewart on this episode. He recalled, "Patrick was young and professional, and his acting was simple, pure and clean. There's a great confidence in Patrick that's very important for an actor. When he had that emotional scene, he did it with great skill. And when he was just behaving himself, he did that with great skill, too."

• Picard stated in the episode that he had briefly met with Sarek at the wedding of the latter's son. Episode writer Ira Steven Behr recalled that caution was still in place during early The Next Generation about dealing with characters from The Original Series, thus it was only implied that the son in question was Spock. In the novel Vulcan's Heart, it was the wedding of Spock and Saavik, in 2329, and Lt. Picard, not really knowing why he was there, spent most of it in the company of one of the few other Humans in attendance, Leonard McCoy.

"I met him once… Many years ago, very briefly at his son's wedding. I can tell you, was quite a moment for a young lieutenant. Standing in the presence of such history… I remember he spoke to me, and I just stood there grinning like an idiot."
"You, tongue-tied?"
"Indeed. How do you make small talk with someone who helped shape the Federation?"
- Picard and Riker

"That girl's way out of your league."
"At least I don't have to find my women on the holodeck!"
- Geordi La Forge and Wesley Crusher

"My husband has taken an interest in your career. He finds it to be… satisfactory."
"My word… high praise from a Vulcan."
- Perrin and Picard

"A mind-meld can be a terrible intimacy, Captain."
- Sarek to Picard

"My wife, you will leave me now. I require solitude."
- Sarek, to Perrin

Poster's Log:
If only this aging statesman had borrowed some All-Natural Insta-Young Technology from Admiral Jameson to get him through this absolutely-essential series of negotiations with this alien species we'll never meet again.

Snark aside, this is one of TNG's great ones—genuinely emotionally affecting, a showcase for powerhouse acting and yet of a style we don't usually see from Patrick Stewart or Mark Lenard, and a huge installment for the franchise's continuity. It both cashes in on what TOS and the TOS films establish about Sarek and gives that earlier stuff retroactive weight. As for DISCO's use of Sarek? When you really think about it, Sarek isn't all that important a character to Trek-that-we-see (as opposed to "offscreen" continuity), and for that reason, one wonders if, in the timeline where this episode never got made, Michael Burnham is even written as Spock's sister.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
…and on that topic, it'll be a huge missed opportunity if Lower Decks never makes a joke about the 47 siblings Spock has but never talks about. (Such as, possibly, the brother who I guess got married?!?)

We will see Mark Lenard as Sarek again on TNG one more time, in season 5.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (17 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is such a beautifully affecting episode. I first saw it when I was pretty young, in reruns on one of the local TV stations, and I didn't really have the life experience at that point to "get" it fully, but I remember being really moved by Patrick Stewart's performance as he "holds" Sarek's emotions, and the story took on a new resonance when my grandmother developed Alzheimer's and fairly rapidly declined a few years later. Can't watch it without getting pretty misty even today.

Also, I love the quiet relational piece of Beverly being the one who stays with him when he's going through it all.
posted by Kosh at 5:22 AM on December 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

Some very logical cards in the Star Trek CCG from this episode:

In Premiere we got Sarek and the Vulcan Mindmeld. With Diplomacy x3 Sarek is the most diplomat of any personnel in the game, bar none. Very handy for those Wormhole Negotiations! With 9 Integrity and 10 Cunning, the game considers him a principled genius. The mindmeld card does what it says on the tin. The Mindmeld skill can be found on all Vulcans (other than a misprint) in this edition.

Q-Continuum provided Sakkath and Bendii Syndrome. Unless your opponent has a Vulcan(this could be a big if), this Dilemma would miss. Flavorful but not that effective: very typical of this set.

The second version of the game sees Sarek, Logical Being in the final expanion, What You Leave Behind. Not bad. The 'you and your opponent both get a benefit' thing is a common to the 2E Federation. They're all about Mutual Advantage. The art is in making sure that it's more beneficial to you, when you play the card.
posted by StarkRoads at 10:49 AM on December 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

It's not just a great ep, but the comparison/contrast with "Too Short a Season" is very apt. Aside from the problems previously noted in that ep, the fact remains that we just don't care about Mark Jameson that much, so his sacrifice is just not that big of a deal. Sarek, on the other hand, is a very big deal in Trek; he's arguably the character who's second only to Spock in helping establish Vulcans in the franchise, at least in the early years. It actually hurts to see him falter and suffer, and will be even more painful in his second and last appearance in S5. Especially if we've had someone in our own lives whom we've witnessed raging against the dying of the light, we can empathize with Perrin and the others in his entourage who are suffering along with him and desperately trying to keep him going for his final mission. I even found myself appreciating Mendrossen, even though his insistence that everything was fine, just fine, in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary was sort of frustrating. (Certain, ah, real-life events in the recent past compel me to believe that there are more Mendrossens in the lives of Very Important People than we realize.)

So, great performances all around; Lenard, of course, but also Stewart channeling his fury and grief. Seeing people lose their shit was pretty funny, as well, especially Wesley's crack about La Forge's holo-girlfriend, and the Ten Forward donnybrook reminded me of the bar fight from "The Trouble With Tribbles."
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:58 AM on December 4, 2020 [3 favorites]

Agree with everyone's points about how much this resonates for people who've experienced something similar. Watching it again after not seeing it for many years, it plays so differently now for me after losing all my family, and especially being the sole caretaker for my father, whose tendency toward terrible ill temper morphed into violent outbursts at the end. It was honestly difficult to watch much of the episode, I found myself turning my attention away from the scenes with Picard holding Sarek's emotions because it just felt too acute for me. So good job there, and also with "everything's fine here, we're all fine" enabling, because that one's really difficult to fight.

I bounced hard off of Discovery and only lasted a few episodes, and one of many reasons I did was that James Frain, an actor I usually like, was doing the most tortured Americanized accent (of the ye'rrrrrre not weeerrrrrrking harrrrrrd variety) and he was just so not Sarek-like to me at all and I actively resented them trying to reboot him. Lenard was always a favorite from the time of Here Come the Brides, and I loved him so much as Sarek--I think Journey to Babel was actually the first episode I saw of the original series back in the '60s, one summer night when I got exiled to the house after injuring myself playing in the street with other kids in the neighborhood. I saw the show and was like, what's this?! It's amazing! and I imprinted deeply on that Spock and Sarek (and Amanda--I loved her so much!) and Lenard was just such a fabulous, very dry and droll actor so he played it to perfection. Watching his decline in this hurt.

It seemed as though they were also intentionally doubling down on the other callbacks to TOS, as Halloween Jack mentioned the Ten Forward fight is so very Trouble with Tribbles, and the insults and picking fights felt much like Day of the Dove--and I'm totally here for it. I don't know, frankly, I'd be very much down with the son's wedding being a reference to Kirk and Spock finally tying the knot officially, since that's the pairing that created slash fandom, but they'd never allow that even today and certainly not in the early '90s. No homo!

All in all, a great and painful episode.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 12:46 PM on December 4, 2020 [5 favorites]

Behr said, "I broke open the barrier and made it possible for The Next Generation to use names like Spock on-screen... No way could you mention the original Star Trek characters.

Was he not aware of the fact that McCoy appeared in "Encounter at Farpoint?"
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:03 PM on December 4, 2020

Really good episode! Seems like we’ve had a run of good ones lately, almost like the show has levelled up mid-season.

Stewart does a great job of capturing Lenard’s performance in his emotional post-meld scene.

And I think it’s a pretty good meta-joke that in his argument with Wes, Geordi gets all aggro about reading a book (LeVar Burton was also the host of Reading Rainbow).
posted by rodlymight at 7:35 PM on December 4, 2020

Was he not aware of the fact that McCoy appeared in "Encounter at Farpoint?"

The rule that he's citing was actually written into the original TNG writers' bible [PDF]; it's on page 10. McCoy's appearance is basically a glorified cameo; he's not really involved in the plot at all. In general, I admire their desire not to lean too hard on the previous show for easy fan-favorite references, but in this case it was well worth it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:13 AM on December 5, 2020

Yes, I’m aware of the rule, but the fact that an exception was made to the rule long before his involvement means he overestimates his own importance in “breaking open the barrier.”
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:33 AM on December 5, 2020

The writers’ bible also explicitly prohibits stories with Vulcans (p11). So that’s two rules broken.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 9:45 AM on December 5, 2020

Was he not aware of the fact that McCoy appeared in "Encounter at Farpoint?"

They also never even dropped McCoy's name in the episode. He was only referred to as an admiral.
posted by Pryde at 12:56 PM on December 5, 2020

This isn't the only time Behr "overestimates his own importance".
posted by obol at 1:05 PM on December 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

Yes, I’m aware of the rule, but the fact that an exception was made to the rule long before his involvement means he overestimates his own importance in “breaking open the barrier.”

This isn't the only time Behr "overestimates his own importance".

Have you read something I haven't or were you involved in the day to day writing of the series? I can the rules hanging over the entire writing staff, even if they've been lightly broken before. I just don't see how Behr feeling this way is anything other than normal when a person in that situation.

He and Moore are consistently the best Trek writers. Discovery is so unfathomably poorly written its driven me back to the best of Trek, which is DS9.
posted by juiceCake at 2:09 PM on December 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

He and Moore are consistently the best Trek writers.

Um, now I completely understand why we disagree.

I’m not saying they have no talent whatsoever and never wrote anything worthwhile for the series, but I certainly would never go as far as “consistently the best.”
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:51 PM on December 5, 2020

The scene in Farpoint, at the beginning of the series, is written and performed as handoff. It is not relevant to the plot. Roddenberry was clear that he wanted the new series to be its own thing, to the extent possible. Up to this point, a few years later, TNG has been light on references to the original series. Behr could be exaggerating, but the Farpoint scene is not dispositive.
posted by StarkRoads at 3:25 PM on December 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

And that’s what I was saying: Behr is overstating or exaggerating. I’m not saying he didn’t push the boundaries further than anyone previously intended or expected; I’m saying the “broken barrier” metaphor isn’t as apt as he seems to think it is.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:20 PM on December 5, 2020

This is one of those episodes that gets me too. I lost my grandmother to Alzheimer's. I actually fear that for myself.

When I had surgery a few years ago, I had a period of post anesthetic delirium where I didn't know where I was or why I was there. I have few real memories of those 5 days. I was told that I got very mouthy with some of the nurses. When I had back surgery about 10 years ago, I remember telling the PT to f-off when she tried to get me up after surgery. I'm not usually nasty to people.
posted by kathrynm at 4:43 PM on December 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

Behr didn't say there had never continuity references, ever - he said that it was highly discouraged at the time he started working on the show and that he campaigned to get such references included. The scene in Farpoint does not falsify his statement.

Has anyone connected to the series at that point said otherwise? it would be really interesting to read if so.
posted by StarkRoads at 5:57 PM on December 5, 2020

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