Written by Peter S. Beagle, Marc Cushman, Jake Jacobs, and Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Les Landay
In the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Encounter at Farpoint, fans were given a brief scene between an aged Admiral McCoy (DeForest Kelley), and the android Data (Brent Spiner). It made for a whimsical “passing of the torch” scene.
Since then, many of the original series regulars had shunned the new series, some even going as far as to say that they would never appear in it under any circumstances.
Sarek marks the first time we see an episode centered around a character from the original series. Perhaps this is the first strike at the wall separating the two series, opening the door for appearances later on down the line.
For anyone not a Star Trek fan, Sarek (portrayed by Mark Lenard) is from the planet Vulcan. He has been a great ambassador for both his home planet and the Federation. He is also the father of Mr. Spock from the original Star Trek series.
Sarek arrives on board the Enterprise as the chief ambassador to negotiate formal relations with a race known as The Legaran. He is accompanied by two personal assistants, Sakkath and Mendrossen (portrayed by Rocco Sisto and William Denis) and his wife, Perrin (portrayed by Joanna Miles). Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) invites Sarek to a concert to be held in his honor. Without consulting Sarek, his assistant declines, citing tiredness in his advanced years. Later on, Picard approaches Perrin who agrees to think about attending by herself. Instead, she brings Sarek and his assistants along. Picard is shocked when Sarek, moved so by the performance, exhibits a tear running down his cheek.
Vulcans are a race that has emotion, but has learned through to use their amazing self-control to control and suppress them, valuing logic above all else.
After Sarek’s arrival on the Enterprise, uncharacteristic anger and insubordination begin to plague the crew. Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) is driven to almost strike her teenage son during a particularly heated argument. She seeks out Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) who reports that this is not the first incident of this kind aboard the ship. Together, the two women come up with a theory: Ambassador Sarek is suffering from Bendii Syndrome. Though rare among Vulcans, it’s main characteristic is a loss of emotional control.
Sakkath then admits that he has concerns about the success of the conference and has been attempting to telepathically control Sarek’s emotions for him. Sarek is so appalled by the accusation that he suffers from this disease, he ends up in an uncharacteristically heated confrontation with Picard.
In order to save the conference, Picard agrees to mind-meld with Sarek. This allows Sarek to draw the control he needs to complete the negotiations. Picard, meanwhile, suffers through all of the emotions that Sarek has been feeling over suffering with this disease.
The performances in this episode are all outstanding. Mark Lenard is as fantastic as ever as Sarek. He demonstrates an incredible range as he goes from a man seemingly in control of himself and his emotions to a man completely out of control. I could feel Sarek’s angst at his aging and having to admit that he may not be up to what he was in his younger days.
The issue of aging is at the core of this episode. Sarek is not about to admit that he is getting old and suffering from this affliction. Though supposedly emotionless, his pride is very evident even before he loses control in front of Picard. Anyone who knows or has experienced someone aging and in denial about not being able to function as well as when they were younger will recognize what Sarek is going through.
Though this episode was first aired in 1990, it seems to take on more significance now with the perspective of Ronald Reagan’s Alzheimer’s disease. What do the people around a legend do when the legend begins to fall? Much the same way Reagan’s family originally tried to protect him, so do the people surrounding Sarek. When looked at it from this perspective, the episode is almost prophetic to what would be announced just a few years later.
The brief period of time Picard is under the influence of Sarek’s emotions also give Patrick Stewart ample time to show off his acting skills as well. The rapid changing of emotions coupled with the fast changing of facial expressions to convey the angst he is going through gives Stewart a scene many actors would love to have, if only as a challenge. This scene is also fodder for scenes that will occur much later on in the series involving Picard and another character from the original Star Trek series.
Even better is that the rest of the crew is not short-changed in this episode. As the anger and emotional outbursts spread through the ship, there are enough scenes given to the rest of the cast that they truly seem to be a supporting cast, rather than forgotten about while the opportunity is taken to let Lenard’s and Stewart’s acting skills shine.
Without the knowledge of Sarek’s history in the original series, this episode might be hard for non-fans to follow. However, for followers of the two series, this is a true gem.