TNG: S3E23: “Sarek”

In which we meet an old friend, Picard gets weepy, and Vulcans are wimps. 

I would like to briefly recap what we know of Sarek so far, since he is far from a regular character but has shown up before. We first met him in “Journey to Babel” in which we learned that Sarek had a heart condition and Starfleet Medical couldn’t treat nonhumans worth a tinker’s damn. Then we saw him in the movies when he and Spock and somewhat reconciled, and in the Animated Series in the past, where he was super ashamed of his emotional son and Spock had to refrain from slapping some parenting into him. Now, 80 years later, Sarek is around. Vulcans live a while, it seems.

Sarek, age 201, definitely violating the 'half your age plus seven' rule with second wife Perrin.

Sarek, age 202, definitely violating the ‘half your age plus seven’ rule with second wife Perrin.

Anyway, on with the episode. The Enterprise is in a first real meeting with a new species, the Lagarans. Sarek is still an accomplished diplomat, and after the death of his first wife has taken another, also human wife. So he definitely has a Type. It’s also in the grapevine that he’ll be retiring soon, and there are some health problems that his chief of staff and aid brief Picard on, due to Sarek’s advanced age. They won’t let him see the concert that had been planned for him, for instance. Not that that’s going to stop Sarek from doing whatever the hell he wants, however.

The Lagarans live in slime, apparently. Geordi and Wes are rigging up a mud Jacuzzi for them, which is going to ruin the carpets. The conference room is still being prepared to their liking, and Sarek gets a bit worked up about how everything has to be perfect. I will say that again. Sarek gets worked up, and his aids have to get him to chillax.

Picard laments his inability to share Sarek’s insights, and laments that Sarek won’t be at the concert, but Picard goes to ask Perrin to show up. As it turns out, Sarek can’t meditate properly. While this is not a retelling of “Journey to Babel” it does appear to be an homage, right down to the point of Sarek’s failing health being a major plot element.

"You wouldn't l'm angry!" "Nobody likes you regardless, Wes."

“You wouldn’t l’m angry!”
“Nobody likes you regardless, Wes.”

Geordi and Wes are finishing up the slime Jacuzzi, which is to be kept at 150 Celsius. As a matter of record, the hottest known temperature Earth life can survive at is 130 Celsius for 2 hours, or 121 Celsius continuously. At higher temperatures, protiens in most organic compounds cook and fold up, or ask a chemist what actually happens. Regardless, one wonders if the aliens are going to walk in or just get beamed in from home, because if you normally live at 150 Celsisus, a human-comfortable room temperature of 21 Celsisus is cold enough for any euphamism you might care to name involving the erogenous zones of magical practitioners or alloyed primates. That’s really beside the point, however, as Wes and Geordi start fighting and one of them is probably going to get boiled alive. Probably Wes, when he brings up La Forge’s love affair with the holographic Leah Brahms. A brief aside just before the conference indicates that the entire crew is behaving uncharacteristically.

Data, having perfect hand-coordination, offers Sarek to choose from a menu of performance styles. His wife pickes a specific person. This is no so important except that it highlights just how implausible the idea of Data committing pilot error was in “The Most Toys.” Although it’s somewhat interesting that he’s not creating a blend this time, as he has done in the past. The concert begins – The Enterprise of course has a dedicated concert room. When Datas solo takes place, Sareks aids are looking at him with concern, as is Troi, and we can see why. I won’t subject you to a screencap, but Sarek is crying. This is not a Thing that Happens. Also, later Beverly slaps Wesley. It turns out that tens of people have experienced rapid sudden onsets of extreme anger just like that. I wish I could stop listing examples, but Worf and Riker walk into a full-on barfight in Ten Forward. And just where was Guinan during this, I might ask?

Troi and Crusher track the outbreaks to the moment Sarek beamed aboard. It seems Sarek may have Space Alzheimers – Bendii syndrome causes emotional outbursts and could channel outwards through the Vulcan telepathy abilities, which is going to imperil the negotiations. The aids are steadfastly denying the possibility, until Data challenges the Vulcan aid on the logic of denying a problem.

This is a case study in what amounts to, for Vulcans, a fairly blurry line between logic and dogma. They tend to hold, to outsiders, as if their minds are flawless bastions of perfect reason due to their suppression of emotion. Their (well, Spock’s) demonstrated ability to rattle off large precise numbers and do complex and accurate maths certainly sound good, but… well… Sarek has an excuse. He has a degenerative disease which causes his emotions to impact is logic. What about his aids? Are his emotional outbursts compromising the decision-making of those around him? If so, that makes Bendii syndrome dozens of times more dire, so why hasn’t the Vulcan Science Academy more strongly indicated the problems with Bendii syndrome to their Human allies? After all, an emotionally compromised angry Vulcan is a severe threat. Like the taboo against discussing Pon Farr with outsiders, Bendii syndrome is a deeply shameful subject to Vulcans, even though they have every reason intellectually to understand that eventually organic bodies do wear down. In Not Talking About It, they have imperiled a fragile negotiation with a very tetchy species. Where is the logic in that?
Well, okay. Apparently there hasn’t been a confirmed case in two centuries. That kind of undermines my whole thesis. Hey, at least you know I’m not editing these after the fact to make myself seem smarter. Sarek shows willingness to take the test for Bendii, and its eems that even his aids have been hiding their assistance from Sarek himself, and Sarek tells his aid to stop helping in order for them to get to the truth, and the discussion afterwards does basically confirm that he’s a bit emotional… for a Klingon.
It’s looking like they’re going to have to cancel the conference and all that boiling slime was for nothing. Perring comes to beg to let Sarek do this one last task even though it could end in complete and unmitigated disaster. There is, in fact, one chance. Apparently, a Mind Meld will… I don’t know… allow Sarek to foist off his emotions onto Picard and borrow Picard’s calm and uncompromising discipline.
Here’s a thing. Vulcans claim their emotions are too strong for a human to handle – Sarek warns Picard that the onslaught might overwhelm him. But much like Data claiming he has no emotions while showing every outward sign of posessing them to some degree or another… how would they know?
I mean, we’re about to find out, obviously. But how often has it ever been necessary for a Vulcan to give their repressed emotions to a human, much less in the past 200 years when there have been no confirmed cases of Bendii? A case could be made that Vulcans are fairly mentally fragile even before you factor in that they have the emotional equivalent of a teetotaler’s liver.

"It is illogical that the laxatives aren't working!"

“It is illogical that the laxatives aren’t working!”

Sarek seems to be holding up fairly well, and frankly all Picard is doing is yelling a lot and ranting about how old Sarek is. I mean, he’s not fit to hold a conference or captain the ship, but with all this talk of overwhelming emotion I was kind of expecting Crusher to have to call in a security team, or call up a holodeck program of a padded cell to keep him from hurting himself. It’s a powerful moment for Picard and Sarek alike, don’t get me wrong. But I’m going to say my thesis stands. It works long enough for the conference to go through, though, so that’s good. Plus, now Picard has a tiny simulacrum of Sarek running around in his brain. We’ll see if it strengthens the part of him that seeks diplomatic solutions to complex problems or the part that cold-cocks Ferengi on Risa.

Did we miss something awesome?