Monday, October 10, 2011

Classics: TNG 3:23 - Sarek (Cheers)

Overall Rating: 9.3

Jake Jacobs and Peter Beagle contribute to the continuity and charm of Star Trek with a nuanced and loving portrayal of the Vulcan mind.

Plot Synopsis:

Wikipedia has the goods as usual - with every passing year, wikipedia grows on scales that get more and more mind boggling.

The Skinny:

This script expresses two things with crystal clarity about its' writers.  They understand Star Trek (better than most of the regular writing staff did at the time) and they know how to write compelling characters and dialogue.  Not bad for freelancers!  Seriously, when you watch this episode, you feel like you're not being lectured to, patronized, stupefied, or otherwise muddled the way you tended to feel when watching a first or second season TNG episode.  Beagle wrote dialogue with real flare and substance and understood characters with nearly as much fullness as Rene Echevarria.  And Jacobs pitched a story that shows more of a feel for the Vulcan psyche (not to mention Picard's psyche) than half the chuckle-heads who wrote Vulcan characters in the 60s or the 90s.

What could be more terrifying to a Vulcan than to loose command of their emotions?  How lose control of their emotions and discover the agony of having never expressed them the way they perhaps should have?  If you understand one thing about the Vulcans, it should be that they aren't purely logical - that is simply a goal to which they ASPIRE.  And they chose that path because their inner nature is filled with extremely intense emotions that made them prone to violence and mayhem the likes of which we humans couldn't even imagine.  At no point should someone writing a Vulcan imagine that his character is at peace with his logical world - no, he is the ultimate ascetic...denying himself any hope of the pleasure of love expressed beyond simple, logical companionship and trust as the price for the potential evil that unchained emotions might unleash.  In the case of Sarek, as he approaches death, he realizes that he is estranged from his son at least in part because the human part of him needed an emotional expression of love and support, even after the debates had been fought to a bitter draw.  The toll for this great Vulcan for his steadfast commitment to logic is great - the loss of years of bonding with his son.  And it drives him absolutely mad (as does the failing of his years of hard-practiced mental discipline).

When we get to covering Star Trek: Enterprise, we will talk more about the ongoing war in fandom over the correct interpretation of Vulcan history and spirituality.  The classical view - held by purists dedicated to what my co-author and I believe is a naive vision of a world made better by a purely logical social construct - is that Vulcans, being virtuous for their logic, could never have been involved in illogical things like espionage and warfare, and would never have been tempted to embrace their emotions as T'Pol does when she becomes addicted to Trellium D.  The new view - equally wrong, IMHO, is that the Vulcan logical construct is a cover for the same malfeasance that goes on in Earthly conflicts.  This started on DS9, actually - there were several episodes portraying Vulcans as seething with secret emotions that they expressed with cocky, arrogant self-aggrandizement or with malice and this would be found again on Voyager and on Enterprise.

The correct answer, IMHO, is here.  We might disagree with them on the correct answer to emotional addiction (the inability to harness your emotions once touched and experienced).  We might even suggest that emotions can be a great source of strength and wisdom and joy when properly harnessed.  But the Vulcan choice to suppress their emotions should not be viewed as purely virtuous, nor purely disingenuous.  They did, after all, manage to curb their violent tendencies and their dedication to this cause is admirable, even when they fail.  They are a metaphor for us as is every alien race on Trek - an example of the power of the human mind to will oneself to change for the better - and perhaps a cautionary tale (as in the case of Sarek) for the dangers in going too far to better yourself.  They are Plato's Eros - the pure and unfettered striving for perfect truth.  Unchecked by Agape, they managed to become suspicious of the better parts of their emotions and to deprive themselves of the chance to truly live.  For what good is the quest for virtue if you can't share it with someone intimately - including the very real part of that virtue that comes from an emotional place.

Writing: 10.0

This script is utterly without flaws that I can will feel enriched for having watched the episode, of that I can assure you.

Acting: 10.0

Mark Lenard and Patrick Stewart work VERY well together...they pulled a good one when they got Lenard to play the title role.  It's a shame we didn't get to see much more of him.

Message: 8.0

For a lesson in the pros and cons of being Vulcan, look no further.  Perhaps the Enterprise haters and the modern defenders should take notes.

No comments:

Post a Comment