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Tuesday, 24 April 2012

T'Puhku's 4000 Word Character Analysis of Sarek.

I do not consider very many people "friends" - but when I do, I care about them deeply. Two of my friends, unfortunately, live in other countries - one of which is across the ocean.

One of my friends is T'Puhku, who shares my fascination with the Vulcan language and culture. I send her boxes of Star Trek memorabilia when I can, and we send each other messages in Vulcan. In fact, we started a tumblr blog dedicated to the Vulcan language where we post lessons, translations, and a phrase of the day. You may visit it here: Gen-lis Vuhlkansu - Gol’nev heh Zhit-Ballar

In particular, she shares my fascination with Sarek - in fact, her obsession with him may have surpassed mine. On her tumblr, "Benjisidrine and Frozen Glass", she posted this wonderfully in depth (exactly) 4000 Word Character Analysis of Sarek and kindly permitted me to share it here:


Although he is not a prominent or regular member of the Star Trek cast, the character of Ambassador Sarek is one that seems uncharacteristically popular among fans of the series. After Sarek’s first appearance in the thirty-ninth episode of The Original Series, Journey to Babel, a lot of the interest came from his obvious connection to Spock – the fans’ all-time favourite – as his father, but it did not take the fans very long to realise that in Sarek, they had been given a second Vulcan, a full one this time, whose character depths and complexities very nearly equal those of his son.

Sarek was born in 2164 (or 2165, according to Memory-Alpha.org) on Vulcan. His father was Skon, son of Solkar. His mother is never mentioned, although some non-canonical sources like to use T’Pau, who can be seen in The Original Series episode Amok Time. Sarek was very possibly born in or near the metropolis Shi’Kahr, where he raised his son Spock (and his other son Sybok, if you consider Sybok canon) and continued to live until his death on an estate named D’H’riset. Semi-canonical works have used S’chn T’gai as a first name for both Sarek and Spock. The original script of Journey to Babel states that before going into politics, Sarek was an astrophysicist. This information was not included in the actual episode – which did, however, indicate that Sarek possesses a significant amount of computer-technological knowledge. Either way, his diplomatic expertise allowed him to climb the hierarchical ladder of politics rather quickly, and he became the Vulcan Ambassador extraordinaire to Earth and the Federation. According to his third wife, Perrin, Sarek “owes the Federation a lifetime of service”, and he had soon established his reputation as one of the most significant politicians of his time.

First Officer William Riker of the USS Enterprise-D once says, “I remember studying his career in school.” Sarek’s most distinguished political achievements that are considered canonical, many of which led to him being immortalised in numerous Starfleet history records, include the admission of Coridan into the Federation, his involvement in the Klingon Treaty of Alliance and the Khitomer Accords, as well as the treaties of Alpha Cygnus IX and Legara IV. The latter took the incredible effort of 93 years and was finalised less than two years before Sarek’s death with the help of Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Enterprise-D.

It was on this mission in 2366 that Sarek was diagnosed with Bendii Syndrome, a debilitating, slowly progressing and untreatable lethal condition that only affects Vulcan males over the age of two hundred Terran years. The effects of the disease have been compared to those of Alzheimer’s in humans. The major component of Bendii Syndrome is, however, not primarily dementia, but rather the loss of the emotional control that is a quintessential part of any Vulcan’s culture and pride, making the condition far more frightening and painful than many others. Furthermore, the disease affects neurochemical pathways, leading to gradual deterioration of the brain. The later symptoms therefore include loss of memory, confusion and dementia as well as loss of more delicate motor functions. The latter leads to one of the most touching and heart-breaking scenes of The Next Generation, in the episode Unification I, where Captain Picard helps Sarek put his fingers in the right position for a ta’al (Vulcan salute), only days before his death.

The Next Generation has done a great deal to unveil Sarek’s personality in several ways. In the aptly titled episode Sarek in season three especially, we learn a lot about the man’s personal pride and the feeling of great dignity that his majestic appearance already suggests. To summarise one could say that Sarek is “a very Vulcan Vulcan” in the same way his second wife Amanda Grayson has been called “a very human human”.

Sarek, like most Vulcans, believes in logic and rationality as the source of peace and progress. Often, the Terrans of Star Trek, such as Dr Leonard McCoy, can be found accusing their neighbours of being cold and ‘heartless’. Sarek, however, never appears deliberately mean, unlikeable or arrogant. On the contrary; the way he delivers his logic, while always calm and quiet, has a certain quality of warmth to it, and sometimes there is almost a naiveté of some kind that seems to sincerely ask “Because what else would I do?”, as in for instance the last scene of Journey to Babel.

It is, of course, hard to describe the character of someone who never really shows any emotion in depth. For a Vulcan, however, Sarek seems to be more susceptible to emotions than would be considered average. Whether that is natural or rather a result of having two human wives, working with humans at the Terran embassy and in the Federation and also dealing with his constantly ostracised son Spock is another question. At least in The Original Series, however, it is clear that Sarek is at peace with himself and whatever emotions he may have. In many Star Trek novels that are generally considered fanon, such as The Pandora Principle by Carolyn Clowes, Sarek’s utter conviction that peace can and has to be achieved no matter the case and that any violence has to be avoided at all costs is mentioned and praised as a quality that makes him such a valuable Federation ambassador.

Another attribute worth mentioning is Sarek’s ‘darkness’. In Diane Duane’s novel Spock’s World, his entering a room aboard the USS Enterprise is described with the words “Darkness walked in: Sarek, in his usual diplomatic dress” (Spock’s World, p. 89). This thought-provoking word choice can be interpreted many different ways. Sarek obviously is not someone who takes things lightly. Like most Vulcans, he is very serious about his job and responsibilities and work in general – however, most of the situations depicted in Star Trek are rather dangerous and often consist of life-threatening adventures and risks, so a certain amount of professionalism is usually present in and expected from all the characters. One could also say that “darkness” relates only to Sarek’s appearance, which, as has already been mentioned, does in fact have a very dark, solemnly majestic and dignified quality.

Both Spock’s World and A. C. Crispin’s novel Sarek also tend to show his character with a tinge of very dry, sarcastic humour. This, fortunately, is never overplayed and never seems out-of-character. Diane Duane wrote, for example:
“Father”, Spock said. “Are you and Mother well?”  
The dry voice, far away, got an ironic tone to it. “I had not thought you gone so far into human behaviour, my son, as to begin indulging in ‘small talk’ with me.” (Spock’s World, p. 10)
In fact, Journey to Babel may have started the notion by the following conversation between Sarek and the Tellarite Ambassador Gav who is later murdered:
GAV: Vulcan, I would speak to you! 
SAREK (suppressed sigh, rather sarcastic tone): It does seem unavoidable.
Sarek’s hard-working serenity, sincere logic and this dry edge combine to give an extremely charming individual. It is canonically established that Sarek had at least three partners and was married to at least two of them. His first wife or bond mate was the Vulcan princess T’Rea, with whom he had his first, semi-canonical son Sybok. But Sarek was not content with his Vulcan wife for reasons unknown to us. Many fan fictions like The Vulcan’s Wife by Aphrodite420 have suggested that after constantly being around humans while working on Earth, Sarek became rather accustomed to them and found himself actually missing their warmth und unpredictable emotionalism.

Understanding human behaviour has always been a difficult task for the Vulcans, and their struggles have been a focal point of many Star Trek episodes and even entire series, for example with Spock The Original Series or T’Pol in the newer ‘prequel’ Enterprise. Sarek is one of the few Vulcans that seem to have more or less mastered this task. He accepts and even enjoys new cultures and philosophies, especially the Terran ones, making him a well-liked colleague among his fellow politicians. Unlike many other members of advanced societies, he never judges humans and seems to instead tolerate and respect them. In Sarek, he beams aboard the USS Enterprise-D with a small but welcoming smile on his face, a contraction of facial muscles that Spock would have never allowed himself. Sarek, on the other hand, uses it as a diplomatic tool, not to manipulate, but to signalise open-mindedness and goodwill.

A lot of Sarek’s understanding of human behaviour is undoubtedly the doing of his second wife Amanda Grayson, an Earthwoman from Canada, later usually known as ‘The Lady Amanda’. The relationship between Sarek and Amanda is an interesting and unusual one. There are hundreds of stories illustrating how the two of them met and fell in love, but none of them have ever been approved by Gene Roddenberry. Sarek himself humorously answers his son’s question why he married Amanda with “At the time, it seemed like the logical thing to do”, drawing an affectionate smile from her. In the movie Star Trek from 2009 – usually referred to as the Reboot – Spock asks the same question, and years later, after Amanda’s untimely death during the destruction of Vulcan in the alternate timeline, Sarek simply says, “I married her because I loved her.”

Either way, it is obvious that an inter-species marriage requires a tremendous amount of sacrifice and devotion from both partners. Amanda had to give up her home to move to Vulcan and then endure the constant patronising of her neighbours there. Sarek also is very likely to have encountered a lot of dismay regarding his bonding with a being as ‘unworthy’ as a human – even the children of Shi’Kahr openly call him a traitor.

In addition to that, it is more or less established that Amanda went through several miscarriages due to incompatible gene combinations before Spock was created with assistance from the Vulcan Science Academy or, in proper Vulcan, Shi’Oren t’Ek’tallar T’Khasi. Such experiences are usually said to either destroy marriages or make them stronger, and for Sarek and Amanda, it was definitely the latter case. In Journey to Babel the two appear almost inseparable without ever seeming ‘clingy’ or disrespectful of each other. Sarek answers Amanda’s humorous inquiries calmly and rationally, but still seems amused by them. He explains everything with the sweetest patience, without ever appearing patronising or even condescending. In one of the most famous (and only) dialogues between them in Journey to Babel, Sarek tries to explain his actions rationally for quite a while, finishing with:
SAREK: …Do you understand? 
AMANDA (affectionately): Not really, but it doesn’t matter. I love you anyway. I know. It isn’t logical.
Amanda herself also shows a great understanding and acceptance of her husband, as can be seen in the following lines:
I know that you love me, she thought, gazing up at him. But I will not embarrass you by telling you so… (Sarek, p. 113)
And although Sarek logically knew that he was going to outlive Amanda by up to one hundred years, his pain after her death, even decades later, is truly heart-breaking. The grief of her loss is probably the most prominent emotion that manifests itself in The Next Generation, when Sarek, after being diagnosed with Bendii Syndrome, decides to mind-meld with Captain Picard in order to gain the emotional stability needed to finish his treaty with the Legarans, leading Picard to experience all of Sarek’s repressed emotions. Picard is in his quarters, accompanied by Dr Beverly Crusher for support. After the mind-meld, the human captain is close to a nervous breakdown, crying and screaming as Sarek’s grief and regret roll over him.

Because although he always has an air of serenity and contentment around him, Sarek has accumulated a devastating number of such regrets throughout his life. Most of them regard the relationship with his son Spock, which will be analysed later in this essay, as well as the fact that his Vulcan identity and upbringing have made it impossible for him to ever show his wives and son the love and devotion he felt for them. The following is a transcript of Sarek‘s soliloquy that is delivered though Captain Picard:
SAREK (through PICARD): No! It is wrong. It is wrong! A lifetime of discipline washed away, and in its place… bedlam. Bedlam! I am so old… there is nothing left but dry bones… and dead friends. Tired, oh so tired. …No! This weakness disgusts me! I hate it! Where is my logic? I am betrayed by… desires. I want to feel. I want to feel everything. …But I am a Vulcan. I must feel nothing. (Starts crying) Give me back my control… Perrin. Amanda. I wanted to give you so much more. I wanted to show you such… tenderness. But that is not our way. Spock. Amanda, did you know? Perrin, can you know how much I love you? (Sobbing) I do love you! 
PICARD (as himself again): It is quite difficult. The anguish of the man, the despair pouring out of him, all those feelings. The regrets. (Sobbing) I can’t stop them…
Sarek’s relationship with his third and last wife Perrin, another human, is different from the one with Amanda. In many ways it appears more serene and less ‘youthful’, although it is not clear whether that is based on age or simply on the metaphorical ‘chemistry’ between the two personalities. Although their relationship lacks the sweet, flirtatious qualities of Sarek’s marriage with Amanda, it is in no way short of the love and devotion we have seen before. In the end of Sarek, when the couple takes their leave of Picard, the Captain and Perrin exchange the following words:
PERRIN: Thank you, Captain. 
PICARD: …He loves you very much. 
PERRIN: I know. I have always known.
After all this praise of Sarek’s character, it has to be said that he was never intended to be perfect, and his greatest flaw has always been his son Spock. The relationship of father and son has always been exceptionally strained, and it raises an important question: How come Sarek, the personification of tolerance, who was married to and worked among humans for most of his life, never seemed to accept his son’s human half, never seemed to acknowledge the ostracised child’s difficulties? Why was he never satisfied, no matter how hard Spock tried to please him? Sarek himself stated that it was his and Amanda’s dream to create a child as a symbol of their people’s unification and equality. In the 2009 Reboot, Sarek tells his son, “You will always be a child of two worlds. I am grateful for this. And for you.” So why does it never show?

There are people who do not consider The Animated Series canon. However, most people agree that a certain episode entitled Yesteryear is indeed canon, especially since it was written by Dorothy C. Fontana, who also created the script for Journey to Babel. Yesteryear features Spock having to go back into his own past to save his seven-year-old self from being killed by a Vulcan le-matya during his kahs-wan (a ritual that involves young children proving themselves by surviving out in the desert of Vulcan’s Forge without any assistance for ten days). Pretending to be a distant cousin of the family, Selek, Spock spends some time in his parents’ house, and we get a chance to observe their early family dynamics.

In the episode, Amanda says that Sarek does not understand his son very well, and much later, in The Search For Spock, Sarek himself admits to the High Priestess T’Lar, “My logic is uncertain where my son is concerned.” Even though that may not be intended to carry a negative connotation, other conversations between father and son like this one in Yesteryear are actually quite shocking:
SAREK: I do not expect you to fail. 
SPOCK: What if I do, Father? 
SAREK: There is no need to ask that question. You will not disappoint me. Not if your heart and spirit are truly Vulcan.
We already knew that Sarek was a stern, no-nonsense leader, but such uncompromising, relentless coldness is entirely untypical of him. He obviously has extremely high expectations of his son, and he does not accept any human notions in him. In a deleted scene of the Reboot, he tells Amanda that “his humanity is the very source of his ostracism”. Spock’s well-known personality, his attempts at complete flawlessness and perfection and his inherent difficulty with the processing of emotions is undoubtedly the product of this harsh upbringing. After Sarek’s death in Unification I, Captain Picard tells Commander Data:

“Father and son - both proud, both stubborn, more alike than either of them were prepared to admit. A lifetime spent building emotional barriers; they are very difficult to break down. And now the time has come and it’s too late… it’s a difficult moment. It’s a lonely one. It’s a moment that Spock is about to face.”

Their strained relationship reaches its peak when Spock decides to join Starfleet instead of fulfilling his father’s expectations of him going to study at the Vulcan Science Academy. Sarek himself is not particularly fond of Starfleet as he disapproves of their use of violence, even if it is only hypothetical – the fact that the Fleet’s ships carry weaponry is enough of a reason for the pacifist Vulcan. As every fan of Star Trek probably knows, since it is the type of information that tends to be displayed and included everywhere, Sarek and Spock did not talk “as father and son” for eighteen years after Spock’s decision. During most of Journey to Babel, they tend to pointedly ignore each other’s presence, and if they do interact, there is no trace of affection behind their words, only cold, professional logic.

The conflict that makes Journey to Babel such a fantastic episode is one of Spock’s loyalties. Spock is the only one who can save his father’s life by giving him a blood transfusion, but on the other hand, Spock needs to replace the wounded Captain on the bridge because the Enterprise is under attack from an alien vessel. While he does not want his father to die, he knows it would be logical to stay on the bridge during the time of danger. As he puts it, “Can you imagine what my father would say if I were to agree, if I were to give up command of this vessel, jeopardise hundreds of lives, risk interplanetary war, all for the life of one person?” Obviously, Spock is trying so hard to please his father by acting rationally and in true Vulcan fashion that he is prepared to accept his father’s very death in exchange.

In the end, of course, Sarek gets the transfusion, and there is a definite feeling of family reconciliation in the air. For a few years, father and son redevelop respect for each other, and in the end of The Voyage Home we see the following dialogue:
SPOCK: Father? 
SAREK: I am returning to Vulcan within the hour. I would like to take my leave of you. 
SPOCK: It was most kind of you to make this effort. 
SAREK: It was not an effort. You are my son. Besides, I am most impressed with your performance in this crisis. 
SPOCK: Most kind. 
SAREK: As I recall, I opposed your enlistment in Starfleet. It is possible that my judgment was incorrect. Your associates are people of good character. 
SPOCK: They are my friends. 
SAREK: Yes, yes of course. Do you have a message for your mother? 
SPOCK: Yes. Tell her… I feel fine. Live long and prosper, Father. 
SAREK: Live long and prosper, my son.
The state of peace, however, did not last long. After leaving resigning from his post as science officer aboard the USS Enterprise, Spock finally follows his father’s footsteps and becomes an ambassador to the Federation as well. It is assumed that the two attended several diplomatic missions together. However, they soon split again over the Cardassian issue of the mid-2350’s, when they began publically contradicting and objecting each other. As Perrin puts it: “They had argued for years. That was family. But when the debates over the Cardassian war began, he attacked Sarek’s position publicly. He showed no loyalty to his father.” While Sarek pointed out errors in Spock’s logic and accused him of endangering the Federation by ignoring historic precedents, Spock argued that Sarek’s logic is too inflexible and conservative, clashing with the reality of changing times. In Unification II, Spock explains to Captain Picard: “I always had a different vision than my father. The ability to see beyond pure logic. He considered it weak.”

More importantly, Sarek strongly disapproved of Spock’s intention of reuniting the Vulcan people with the Romulans and his friendship with the Romulan senator Pardek, who also supported reunification. Sarek was correct in his presumption, since Pardek, “after spending decades building a reputation as an advocate for peace and supporting Vulcan-Romulan reunification, lured Spock to Romulus for false reunification talks; secretly, he had launched a Romulan invasion fleet to Vulcan.” (Memory-Alpha.org: Pardek)  - even though Sarek was already dead during these events.

These incidents, again, led to father and son almost refusing to acknowledge each other’s existence. Only much later, after Sarek realised that he would have no more than a year left to live, he expressed his wish for reconciliation. As Perrin told Captain Picard in Unification I: “He wants to see his son. He wants to heal any rift that may still remain. Now it may be too late.”

And it was too late, indeed. While his father was on his deathbed, Spock was involved in his campaign of reunification on Romulus, and for unknown reasons, he never came home, even though he was informed about Sarek’s illness. They had never chosen to mind-meld, so Sarek never had the chance to personally tell his son that despite all their conflicts, he always felt love and an exceptional pride for him and that secretly, he “admired him, the proud core of him that would not yield.”

Picard fulfils Sarek’s last wish and allows Spock to touch the memory of his father’s mind – which the Captain gathered during Sarek – by mind-melding with him. When Picard finds Spock on Romulus, the have the following conversation:
PICARD: He is a great man. 
SPOCK: He was a great representative of the Vulcan people and of the Federation. 
PICARD: I was with him before coming here. He expressed his pride in you. His love. 
SPOCK: Emotional disarray was a symptom of the illness from which he suffered. 
PICARD: No, those feelings came from his heart, Spock.
The episode Unification II ends with Spock initiating the mind meld. Before the screen goes dark, we see him silently crying for his loss and regret as he finally sees his father’s true feelings – it is one of the most mournful and touching scenes of the entire franchise.

In conclusion, it is probably clear now that Sarek is one of the most complicated and multi-facetted characters of the Star Trek universe. Not every bit of information regarding him has been analysed in this essay, but hopefully, the main points have given the reader an outline of his personality and an invitation to consider him and his implications independently. Not everyone views Sarek as one of the ‘good guys’. While he was an advocate of peace, acceptance and equality, many fans feel that his failure to administer these philosophies during the upbringing of his son make it impossible to see him as the proud and loving father he was – to the Federation in a metaphorical sense, and finally for Spock as well. Either way, taking sides in this discussion seems redundant at this point. Let it just be said that with Sarek, Gene Roddenberry gave us one of his deepest, darkest and most complex characters, and I am grateful for his creation.

2 comments:

  1. That's certainly an in-depth portrait of the venerable Vulcan, the only one who is at once free to be perfectly Vulcan, and who must also show the deepest familial bond, which does not seem to come naturally to Vulcans. Tuvok was another exception, but we didn't really get to see him with family so much as talk about his children. There was one episode, "Innocence," that gave a good indication of what he was like (or even "Learning Curve"). But as far as Vulcans interacting with other Vulcans, Sarek set the unmatched standard.

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    1. Indeed! I was actually watching "Innocence" today, and it was great to see his parenting style.

      Sarek will always be unmatched.

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