Monday, March 28, 2011

"Sarek:" A Blast From Star Trek's Past

The Good: Excellent acting, Good character work, Fun for the fans
The Bad: Gets repetitive quickly.
The Basics: A surprisingly good first crossover between Star Trek and Star Trek The Next Generation finds Sarek visiting for one last negotiation.

The early philosophy on Star Trek The Next Generation was that the creators and producers of the show wanted to make a new series that had no crossovers to Star Trek. They wanted Star Trek The Next Generation to be distinctly different. At least, that's what they said. In the second episode, "The Naked Now" (reviewed here!), they steal a plot so directly from Star Trek that they even mention the original series mission. The first direct crossover between the two shows takes place in the form of "Sarek." Sarek was first seen in "Journey To Babel" (reviewed here!) and has the character played by his original actor, Mark Lenard.

Sarek, Spock's Vulcan father, arrives on the U.S.S. Enterprise for the final negotiations of his career. Very old now, Sarek is accompanied by his new wife, Perrin, and two advisors who are quite protective of the Ambassador. Shortly after his arrival, there are violent outbursts among the crew; Wesley and Geordi have an argument, Dr. Crusher slaps Wesley and Picard and Riker yell at one another on the bridge about whose ship the Enterprise is. The source of the emotional outbursts is unknown until Picard observes Sarek crying at a concert being held in his honor. It is revealed that he has Bendii Syndrome, a disease that robs Vulcans of their emotional control, and Sarek is likely not well enough to complete the negotiations.

"Sarek" comes at a good time in the Star Trek The Next Generation lore. The series is striking out in bold new territory that the writers of Star Trek never conceived of. In the process, it is beginning to feel like an entirely different universe than that created in Star Trek. "Sarek" helps root the franchise together.

And it is a worthwhile outing in its own right. The pretense for having Sarek aboard allows the writers to explore the issue of aging for the first time in a realistic way. Sarek is a tortured soul very analogous to any human senior suffering from depression.

"Sarek" is worthwhile as well for the acting. Patrick Stewart gives one of his most amazing, and loud, performances as the receptacle to Sarek's emotions. His moods change with lightning speed and while the scene is heartwrenching to watch, each mood is made distinct by facial ticks, tones of voice and the most subtle and expressive eye movements ever. It's truly an extraordinary scene to watch.

Picking Sarek as the focus of the crossover also allows the series to use powerhouse actor Mark Lenard. Lenard brings dignity and professionalism to the project that is impossible to define outside using the word presence. Lenard has definite screen presence.

But the rest of the cast gives it up well, too. Wil Wheaton dishes it out and takes it with both anger and utter surprise in his scenes. The writers were sharp, making the arguments worthwhile and sharp. Wesley Crusher picks on LaForge for not being able to score outside the holodeck. It's a low blow, but it's exactly the type of remark that people say when they are angry. It's that type of realism that is refreshing in "Sarek."

More than that, the episode does attempt to explore a compelling issue. What do we do with the aged who are genius' but cannot control their bodies or minds any longer?

The only real downside to this episode is that the patterns of arguments becomes quickly predictable and we come to expect them more than we ought to. Still, there's a lot here to like. A treat for the fans, this might be a little harder for non-Trek fans to get as it is heavy in technobabble and jargon, especially that which is specific to Vulcans. Of course, if you have a Star Trek fan friend, it's a great one to watch together, especially if you want a lot explained.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Third Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the third season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode and film reviews, be sure to check out my index page for an organized series of listings!

© 2011, 2008, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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