Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 3: Sarek

The Next Generation, Season 3
Airdate: May 14, 1990
70 of 176 produced
70 of 176 aired


The Enterprise is to host the final sessions of diplomatic negotiations with a mysterious race known as the Legarans. The Federation's negotiator is none other than Vulcan ambassador Sarek. These negotiations are to be the crowning achievement of a career spanning two centuries. However, shortly after Sarek's arrival, the crew of the Enterprise start attacking each other at random. Complicating matters, Sarek's wife and staff seem to be overly protective of Sarek, but won't explain why. Is there a connection between Sarek and these outbursts of violence? What does it mean for the peace conference?

Picard, Riker, and that guy take in a Brahms concert with Ambassador Sarek.


Kevin: The episode's primary focus is emotion and character development, moreso than science fiction elements, but I don't think it derails the episode. I liked how the arguments crescendoed and started somewhat innocuously, like Worf putting a subordinate on report. I'm sure the scene with Wesley made the haters cheer, but I thought the scene itself, and the follow up with Troi were really well done. It felt out of character and it was nice to see everyone acknowledge it right away rather than stumble through an extra scene of not realizing there is a problem.

Matthew: I actually view this as a relatively sci-fi story. Telepathic powers are a definite "what if" scenario, and telepathic powers going awry are a good development of that "what if." The fact that there is a strong theme of aging, and not wanting to admit when your prime has passes, adds to the tale. I think it's a very strong story concept, all told. I absolutely adore the scene between Wes and Geordi. Part of it was the acting, of course, but it took great writing by a careful, attentive staff to tune the insults so well.

Kevin: The scenes with Sarek and Picard are the highlight of a pretty good episode. I really liked the decision to shoot Picard in one long shot instead of cutting back and forth. It gave it a very theatrical feel. It helped connect me to the scene as it felt like I was watching it in person. I also love including Beverly in the scene as it served both the needs of the situation, and led to a lovely moment between the two.

Matthew: It would have been lovelier had they actually consummated the relationship. I imagine it was discussed by the writing and editorial staffs, and was nixed. But I would have argued for it for the following reasons: it would have ended the relentless teasing, for good. It would have been a great romance moment for the two. It would have allowed for future stories in which they don't know whether to continue their relationship, because they are unsure of how "genuine" it was. Finally, it would have allowed the Nella Daren episode to be a Beverly Crusher episode. Sigh.

Kevin: Though I think it served the plot well, I remain ambivalent about this use of the mind meld. We never established until now that the meld survives the absence of physical contact, and normally I eschew adding an alien power for the purposes of saving the day. That all being said, it was done with enough aplomb that I can live with it. I will say, overall, I'm really happy they did this story. There's always a chance that dusting off a TOS story or character looks like leaning on the past (Naked Now), but here, it really adds to both the characters and Vulcans in general. I also liked there were enough references to TOS people without bogging down the dialogue in exposition.

Matthew: This definitely didn't feel cheap. It felt natural that Sarek would be there, given the Vulcan lifespan. I do kind of wonder why this treaty was so important, compared to Sarek's other diplomatic achievements. I think the story would have been stronger and had a bit more punch for the viewer if the alien had been a "name" Star Trek race, such as the Romulans, the Ferengi, or even a lesser but still known quantity like the "First Federation" from TOS' "Corbomite," or the Eminiar from "A Taste of Armageddon."


Kevin: If Picard's performance isn't an Emmy clip, I don't know what it is. He really gave it his all and it showed. I still lose it a little when he says that there's nothing left but "dry bones and dead friends." One of my greatest personal fears is outliving everyone I care about, so that one always hits home for me. I also really like the scene of him calling Sarek out. It built well and it was fun to watch the two actors volley for a while.

Matthew: I have to agree. Stewart's performance is this/close to going over the top, but he keeps it in a good place. It might even just be how raw and visceral it is that makes me feel a little... uncomfortable watching it.

Kevin: Mark Lenard is always a welcome addition to a Trek outing. He has a wonderful gravity that even in his anger, never quite left him. He clearly put as much work into displaying Vulcan emotions here as he did in suppressing them in Journey to Babel.

Matthew: Yeah, it's too bad he didn't have a greater role in some of the TOS movies. I would have loved to have seen him along for the ride more in 2, 3 and 4. Even 5. Lenard really knows his character backwards and forwards - Sarek really is the Vulcan par excellence, not Spock. It is Mark Lenard the really defined "regular" Vulcans for the franchise - not to denigrate Nimoy's contribution, but his character was always a special case. Lenard took Nimoy's outline and really created the baseline.

Kevin: The rest of the ensemble did a good job. They really threw themselves into getting pissed at each other, and that was fun. I also liked Joanna Miles as Perrin. She displayed a similar quiet warmth as Amanda, which makes sense that Sarek would fall her as well, but carved out her own character. Her scenes with Picard were particularly good.

Production Values

Kevin: This was a bit of a bottle show, wasn't it? Matt, do you know what room they redressed to make the Legaran conference room? I couldn't tell. Beyond that, there was really nothing to note. I will single out again the directorial decision to not cut away from Picard during the meld. It elevated the scene.

Matthew: I'm thinking the Legaran pool was in a shuttle/cargo bay. I did really enjoy the concert scene in Ten Forward. It was set up well, and the music choice was great. It's actually led to a love of Brahms for me that has lasted since seeing this show. It's a great piece that really makes you believe that it might overwhelm someone with emotion.

Kevin: [This section reserved for discussing the awesome make-up job on the Legarans.]

Matthew: Yeah, that was kind of an effects blue-balls situation. As I said before, this could have been avoided with a more "known" species being the diplomatic target. As far as optical effects go, the tear on Sarek's face was LAME. Why even do it that way? It just calls attention to itself. Just have her wipe it. We don't need to get an insider's view of Vulcan tear ducts to understand the dramatics of the scene.


Kevin: I'm going with a 4. The problem and its solution are a little too neat, but that doesn't distract from some A-class actiing and some very nice character moments.

Matthew: I agree that this is a strong episode that definitely lands in above average territory. I think it misses a 5 due to punting on Bev/Picard, and due to lacking a truly interesting alien element on the diplomatic end. So I agree with the 4, which makes for a total of 8.


  1. I never understood how a human could marry a Vulcan. Being with someone who is emotionally closed off/dead seems more like a nightmare. Someone who just wants to spend every minute studying, is closed off, or meditating or doing something logical - whatever that means - someone who cant laugh, no sense of humor, no issues, no desires, no passions, no hobbies - just bland existence. ... How does that work and I mean on a very fundamental level?

    I never thought that Vulcans - as a species - made sense anyway - but this is sci fi so I didnt want to get into how plausible they are. (Just as I dont wanna think about how plausible it is to be a violent and warring species like the Klingons - who seem modeled after the Neanthertals - and still have been able to invent warp drive and be a space-faring species etc). Anyway, I digress.

    My point with humans and Vulcans being in such a intimate type of relationship is that we humans, after all, connect with one another on an emotional level, especially as romantic relationships go - how could a human and a vulcan ever have that emotional connection? How could they maintain a marriage with all its ups and downs? How do they spend their every-day lives? What do they talk about? What does an argument between them look like? Do they only have sex once every seven years?

    Sarek and Perrin's relationship seems so sterile. Maybe because they are "older" but I dont think that is it. I know Vulcans dont care about emotions but I cannot imagine that marriage to a Vulcan would be fulfilling for a human. I imagine it to be painful, constraining, suffocating and just bland.

    This is a great episode that i enjoy a lot but everytime I watch it, the human-Vulcan thing comes to mind and it just does not resonate with me.

    1. I always took Perrin to be the sort of person who is attracted to older men for their greatness. It's not uncommon for both (human) men and women. So I think what she "gets" out of it involves more than just repressed emotional feedback, it is more focused on being close to someone great/wise/powerful.

      Also, I think the portrayal of Vulcans has evolved a bit - Tuvok and T'Pol both have given us a picture of more repression and roiling undercurrents than lacking emotions entirely.