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Recap / Star Trek S2 E10 "Journey to Babel"

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Bones operating on Spock's father, Sarek.

Original air date: November 17, 1967

Everyone's getting all primped up to greet the ambassadors whom the Enterprise is delivering to the planet code named Babel for an important Federation conference. The arrival of Vulcan Ambassador Sarek and his Terran (i.e., human) wife Amanda is particularly looked forward to. The awaited arrival comes with a shocking surprise. Sarek and Amanda are Spock's parents!

Spock has been estranged from his parents for awhile. Spock and Sarek haven't spoken as father and son in 18 years due to Sarek not approving of Spock going into Starfleet rather than the Vulcan science academy. And Amanda just wants him to smile, dammit! But, Spock has no time or desire for lovey-dovey family reunions. Things are tense with all the delegates on board, many with personal grudges against each other. And just to make matters worse, an unidentified vessel is stalking the Enterprise. And just to put the cherry on the crap sundae, Sarek is not only accused of murder, but he has a heart attack just as soon as the charges are made against him!


Then Kirk gets stabbed in the back by Thelev of the Andorian party. Spock is told that only his blood could save his ailing father, but with Kirk indisposed, the Enterprise needs a commanding officer, particularly with that alien vessel closing in.

What's a Vulcan to do?

Journey to Tropes:

  • AB Negative: Sarek and Spock both have T Negative blood, a type rare even among Vulcans.
  • Ambadassador: Sarek is quite capable of defending himself and easily pushes the overly aggressive Tellarite ambassador Gav away when their disagreement starts to become physical. Gav is stopped from further escalating the argument by Kirk, who just walked into the room. When Gav is later found stuffed in a Jeffries tube, apparently killed by an ancient Vulcan martial arts technique once used as a merciful form of execution, Spock points out that Sarek was quite capable of killing with his bare hands if he thought it logically necessary.
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  • Armor-Piercing Slap: Amanda gives one to Spock for refusing to help Sarek. (It is obvious from the footage as aired that Jane Wyatt really slaps Leonard Nimoy - hard - in this scene.)
  • "Ass" in Ambassador: A whole shipload. Gav (the biggest ass of the lot) ends up dead.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: While Sarek is quite cold toward Spock publicly, in private he chastises Amanda for relating embarrassing stories of Spock's childhood, noting that Spock should be paid the respect he has earned. Amanda quickly intuits that Sarek really is proud of his son, but of course Sarek won't come out and say it.
  • Bears Are Bad News: Sort of. Amanda reveals that Spock kept a similar creature as a pet, despite it having six-inch fangs. We see it in Yesteryear and Star Trek: Enterprise later confirms that the smaller ones can be kept as pets, as long as they're properly cared for.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": McCoy to Spock and a shush to Kirk at the end of the episode.
    McCoy: "Well, what do you know; I finally got the last word!"
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: Vulcan anatomy is very different from humans and not studied by most Terran physicians. Seems the heart is somewhere where a human's liver would be.
  • Black Eyes of Evil: Gav and presumably all Tellarites have completely black eyes. While Gav doesn't come off as completely evil, he is considerably belligerent.
  • Blood Transfusion Plot: Spock is Sarek's only compatible donor, but would have to donate a dangerously large amount of blood so the human factors can be filtered out. Forcing him to choose between his duty to the Enterprise and his duty to family.
  • Captain's Log:
    • Kirk supplies two at the beginning of the episode to explain the point of the conference and note the "explosive" tensions of the delegates.
    • Notably, after Kirk is injured, Spock supplies the log to note how he's in temporary command.
  • Call-Back: Makes references to "The Naked Time." This episode provides Call Back material for pretty much every Spock-based story out there.
  • Clear My Name: Sarek is accused of murdering Gav due to his cause of death being similar to Tal-Shaya — a merciful Vulcan method of execution. Sarek could have logical motive as well as means and has no alibi beyond he was meditating. Actually, he was recovering from another heart attack. He didn't tell Amanda how bad his heart condition was because he didn't want her to worry. He has another heart attack as he asserts his innocence.
  • Clueless Mystery: The culprits are a race completely unrelated to anything happening with the ambassadors.
  • Continuity Porn: One of the few plot threads to actually be seen to completion in the series, given that Spock's half-human heritage had been alluded to all the way since the beginning of the series.
    • The events of this episode would later be referenced and alluded to in both TNG and Enterprise.
  • Cultural Posturing: Amanda gets in on both sides of this coin: Speaking to Kirk, she defends the Vulcan philosophy of Logic as "a better way", but later on she reminds Spock that he is part Human and that it's "not a dirty word!"
  • Deconstruction: A minor one for the Federation itself. As it turns out, it's not quite the big happy family we're generally led to believe; after all, it's made up of dozens of worlds and races with their own — sometimes conflicting — agendas. The issue of Coridan's admission is apparently a controversial one because some Federation members, including the Tellarites, wish to keep the planet out so they can exploit its resources, or even annex it themselves; the tensions over this bring them to the brink of civil war (pushed along by the Orions, true, but they were only exploiting cracks that were there to begin with).
  • Dramatic Unmask: Thelev breaks an antenna, revealing he's not an Andorian at all!
  • Driven to Suicide: Thelev takes a poison rather than risk further interrogation. The Orion ship also self destructs.
  • Emotions vs. Stoicism: Spock's dilemma.
  • Fantastically Challenging Patient: Bones performs surgery on Spock's father Sarek. As a Vulcan, Sarek's organs are arranged a bit differently than a human (his heart is where a human's liver is, for example), and Spock is the only crew member who can donate blood to him.
  • Feigning Healthiness: Whilst transporting numerous dignitaries, Captain Kirk is hospitalised by an assassin and Spock takes over command of the Enterprise. Meanwhile, Spock's father Sarek (one of the diplomats) needs a blood transfusion, with Spock as the only viable donor. However, as the quantity needed would also put him out of action for several days, Spock's sense of duty won't allow him to relinquish command whilst the ship is still in danger. To avoid him being responsible for his father's death, Kirk fakes an early recovery to retake command. He initially plans to simply hand over control to Scotty and return to his own treatment once the operation has started, but at that moment the Enterprise is attacked, forcing Kirk to stay on the bridge during the battle in spite of his wounds.
  • Follow in My Footsteps: Sarek really wanted Spock to go to the science academy just as he and his father before him did.
  • Forced into Their Sunday Best: Bones expresses dislike of having to wear a dress uniform for the delegates.
    Bones: Dress uniforms, spit-and-polish...I don't know how much longer I'm gonna be able to stand this. I feel like my neck's in a sling.
  • Foreshadowing: It's mentioned early on that Sarek had previously retired, but returned for the conference. McCoy notes that he's surprisingly young to be retiring — he's only 102. As it turns out, he had a good reason to retire; his health was failing, which he didn't want to reveal, partly due to his natural Vulcan sense of privacy and partly because he didn't want his wife to know, as he felt it would only worry her pointlessly.
    • At one point, Sarek discretely swallows a pill, which is apparently the benjisidrine that his doctor prescribed for him.
  • Fragile Speedster: The ship that attacks the Enterprise. It's extremely fast and maneuverable, but one phaser hit cripples it.
  • Handshake Refusal: Sarek offers Kirk and Bones the Vulcan salute, but makes a point of not returning Spock's salute.
  • Heart in the Wrong Place: Thelev obviously stabbed Kirk in the lower back, which is nowhere near the heart, unless Kirk's organs have the habit of migrating around into a Vulcan configuration.
  • Holding Hands: An odd Vulcan variant is introduced here. When Sarek introduces his wife, he holds out his hand, the first two fingers extended and the others curled in towards his palm, and she holds out her hand in the same position, and they touch the tips of their extended fingers together. Later, after Sarek's surgery, they repeat the gesture. We've seen emphasis placed on Vulcan hands before, what with the mind meld, neck pinch, and Strange Salute, but it probably isn't until "The Enterprise Incident," when Spock and the Romulan Commander (and later Spock and Saavik) essentially begin making out by just touching and caressing hands, that the significance of this becomes apparent. Vulcans Bizarre Alien Biology (or their touch telepathy, or both) makes touching hands an intimate gesture, and the form demonstrated by Sarek and Amanda seems something like holding hands, a hug or chaste peck on the cheek by human standards.
  • I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder: Inverted! Spock and Kirk discuss what should be done for the ailing Sarek, with input from Sarek himself. When Kirk gets around to asking Bones what they should do, he says "I'm glad someone is asking me!"
  • It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: Sarek, gives this as the reason why he married Spock's human mother:
    Spock: (about his mother) Emotional, isn't she?
    Sarek: She has always been that way.
    Spock: Indeed. Why did you marry her?
    Sarek: At the time it seemed the logical thing to do.
    • Though, given how the couple are never shown as other than Happily Married, it sounds like it was actually the logical thing to do.
  • It's Personal: Gav of Tellar Prime isn't friendly to anyone, but holds a particular animosity toward Sarek. We later discover that the two clashed during a previous Federation debate, with Sarek winning the argument. Since intense debating is the Tellarite hat—to the point where it's considered a sport on their world—being bested in that field is a personal insult, and it's clear that Gav hasn't forgiven Sarek for it.
  • Last Words: "I seem to have miscalculated." - Thelev, after declaring that the poison he took would give him only 10 minutes to live.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: After telling Spock to shut up and Kirk to shush, Bones smiles not quite into the camera and says "Whaddya know? I finally got the last word!" Cue end credits. Falls short of outright Breaking the Fourth Wall since Word of God is that Bones was addressing Nurse Chapel, but it's certainly the nearest the franchise has ever come to breaking it.
  • Ludicrous Precision: As befits the father of Spock, Sarek corrects Doctor Mc Coy's estimate of his age to the thousandth decimal. He specifies that he is using Earth years, meaning that is accurate to within eight hours.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: Due to George Takei's and James Doohan's absence, the command crew runs a little shallow this episode. As a result during the space battle, with Spock in sickbay, Chekov is shifted from his own station to Spock's and back, with an extra taking over navigation in his absence.
  • Meaningful Name: A rather ironic meaning in this case. In the Bible Babel was where what was left of humanity dispersed because they couldn't understand each other. Here, Babel is where people from different planets go in an attempt to understand each other.
  • Neck Snap: Tal-shaya involves applying very specific pressure to the victim's neck, causing it to snap instantly. As Dr. McCoy puts it, Ambassador Gav's neck was "broken - by an expert."
  • Never Tell Me the Odds!: After McCoy notes that the chances of producing enough blood for Sarek's operation are extremely small, Spock begins "Indeed. I would estimate the odds—" Amanda cuts him off. "Please don't."
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: When Sarek claims to have been incapacitated at the time of Gav's death, Kirk indicates that while his heart condition makes it less likely that he's the killer, without anyone who can back him up he's still their prime suspect. Not long afterwards, the actual killer makes an attempt on Kirk's life, unwittingly taking suspicion away from Sarek.
  • No, You: This is Ambassador Gav's reaction when Sarek accuses him and the other Tellarites of arguing for the sake of it. Luckily, Kirk intervenes before things can get nasty between the two.
  • Noodle Incident: Why DID Sarek marry Amanda? "At the time, it seemed the logical thing to do." (Although the tender look he gives her shortly afterward suggests there's a simple enough answer — he loves her; he's just too stubbornly Vulcan to say so.) This is revisited in Star Trek (2009), in which Sarek first protests that it was merely logical, then later simply states that he married her because he loved her.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Reggie Nalder makes no attempt to hide his Austrian accent as Andorian ambassador Shras, though to his credit this only further emphasizes the character's alien nature.
  • Not So Stoic: Sarek smiles a little when he's alone with Amanda.
  • Older than They Look: Sarek appears to be about 40 to 50 Earth years of age, but is well over 102 Earth years old at the time the episode takes place in 2268, having been born on Vulcan in the Earth year 2165. Learning that Sarek had retired prior to the events of the episode Doctor McCoy made a point to ask Sarek why he had retired at such a relatively young age, noting that it was fairly unusual for a Vulcan to retire at that age.note 
  • Parting-from-Consciousness Words: "It should be possible to identify them this way, it's— important..." - Spock, just before the anesthetic kicks in.
  • Planet Looters: Cordian has a near-limitless supply of dilithium crystals, making it a prime target for mining operations both legal and illicit. Several alien species want Cordian to stay out of the Federation so they can continue looting without fear of reprisal; Sarek remarks that unscrupulous Tellarites have been caught doing so, prompting a fight with Tellarite ambassador Gav.
  • Playing Both Sides: In the aftermath, Sarek and Kirk conclude that the Orion plan was to trigger a civil war which would create profitable opportunities to raid Coridan and sell dilithium to both sides.
  • Playing Sick: Inversion. Kirk fakes being healthy enough to take over his captain duties so Spock is free to donate the blood his father needs. And then it's played straight when Kirk has the ship play wounded in order to trick the attacking Orion vessel to swing back into phaser range.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: A smallish example since the storyline isn't just about the conflict between Spock and Sarek, but the whole thing will be very familiar to anyone who's seen The Jazz Singer. Even Leonard Nimoy supposedly commented on the similarities during filming.
  • Red Shirt: Their usual dramatic role is averted in the scene where they are ordered to search Thelev. When he resists, one red shirt simply stuns him with his phaser, discovers a small transmitter that was on the prisoner and immediately reports it to the bridge.
  • Secret Stab Wound: Sorta. It's no secret that Kirk was stabbed, but he pretends to be sufficiently recovered to resume command so that Spock will leave his post and give blood for Sarek's operation.
  • Shirtless Scene: Kirk is topless for no reason (maybe changing out of his dress clothes into a more everyday uniform or off-duty clothing?) when he is informed of the murder of Ambassador Gav. Justified when he's in the sickbay swathed in bandages from Thelev's attack.
  • Smug Snake: Thelev.
  • Strange Salute:
    • The famous Vulcan salute. Bones can't do it and settles for a quick wave.
    • The finger tip touching between Amanda and Sarek.
  • Suicide Mission: Both the attacking ship and their spy on board have self-destruct orders.
  • Took a Level in Badass: The only previous appearance by the Orions featured them becoming the Trope Namer for Green-Skinned Space Babe.
  • Truth Serums: Used on Thelev off-screen, with no success.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Spock, no matter how much he pretends not to care.
  • Wham Line: Played for Laughs when Kirk asks Spock why he isn't on the surface of Vulcan to visit his parents:
    Spock: Captain, Ambassador Sarek and his wife are my parents.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The fate of Coridan, the planet whose admission to the Federation is the subject of the Babel Conference, is not revealed. The implication is that it will be admitted (Sarek, whose vote carries others, has survived his life-threatening operation; one of the primary opponents of admission, the Tellarite Ambassador Gav, is conveniently dead). Almost a century later Riker stated Sarek's vote did indeed carry others and Coridan was admitted to the Federation.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Amanda gives one to Spock when he chooses his duty to the Enterprise over saving his father.
  • Who Murdered the Asshole: Gav is loud, belligerent, and rude to everyone, especially Sarek. His murder doesn't exactly cause tears to be shed among the other delegates, but the Enterprise crew still has to solve it to avert a civil war.