This Star Trek: Discovery review contains spoilers.
Star Trek: Discovery Episode 6
Like many TV shows, Star Trek series have always taken a bit of time to find their narrative footing. Hopefully, we will look back on the beginning of Star Trek: Discovery as the slightly confused period before the show really took flight.
Right now, unfortunately, it increasingly feels like we’re watching a show that thinks it’s in its second season. While not without its delights, Discovery is making narrative choices as if we already know and care about these characters enough to follow their unlikeable, erratic behavior. It is making narrative choices that assume we already trust this show enough to revel in its mysteriousness rather than simply be confused by it. “Lethe” was a classic example of the kind of presumptive, missed-a-step storytelling Discovery will hopefully grow out of.
In the “A” plot, “Lethe” dives back into the backstory of Michael Burnham. When Sarek’s shuttle is sabotaged by a Vulcan logic extremist (a fascinating concept I wish this episode had explored in greater detail), Burnham immediately feels Sarek’s pain, collapsing in the Discovery mess hall.
Why can Burnham feel Sarek’s pain across space? When Michael was small, she was killed in an explosion at the Vulcan Learning Center. She, a human studying at a Vulcan school, was the target. Sarek brought her back to life by sharing his katra, or soul, with her. Now, they are tied together. It’s why Burnham could contact Sarek during the events of the pilot and it’s why Burnham collapses when Sarek is dying on the other side of the galaxy.
While Sarek’s katra may be reaching out for Michael, the Vulcan himself is less inclined to ask for his surrogate daughter’s help. Michael attempts to locate Sarek by doing a mind meld across space, but Sarek resists. He doesn’t want Burnham to learn his most shameful secret: that, when told the Vulcan Science Academy would only accept one of his two not-fully-Vulcan children — Spock or Michael — he chose Spock and then lied to Michael about the reason for her rejection.
It’s an interesting piece of backstory, but one told in an uninteresting way, via flashbacks to the same minimalist courtyard as remembered in Sarek’s mind. The themes of Vulcan supremacy, terror attacks committed against the threat to Vulcan society, and the complications of being a father to two children who are not fully accepted by your culture are topical, fascinating ones left largely unexplored by this plot-driven episode.
It’s as if Discovery is unwilling (or contractually unable) to fully commit to the Burnham backstory, perhaps because of the connections to the Spock character. Why not show Michael’s life with the Spock family? Or what it was like the day of the bombing? Perhaps that is coming later. For now, it feels strange that Discovery so committed to Burnham’s backstory in the first two episodes only to play coy with it later on.
Eventually, Burnham manages to convince Sarek to let her in, enabling her, Tyler, and Tilly to find him and wake him up. Sarek survives to live another day, but his relationship with Burnham may never be the same. She has been through a great deal in the last year and that tends to give people new perspective. When Sarek, lying in the medbay, refuses to have a real conversation about what they shared in his mind, Burnham realizes he may never be able to give her what she needs as a parental figure.
Families are the people who care enough to talk things through, Discovery tells us in the next scene, even and perhaps especially when those things are difficult. I’m not sure if I completely agree with that definition, but I like it’s relative freshness as a theme within TV drama. Star Trek has always, to a certain degree, been about found family. Burnham’s relationship with Sarek is on shaky ground, but, in the difficult process of learning more about her father figure’s regrets, Burnham nurtured her relationships with Tilly and Tyler. Sometimes, this is what family looks like. (Even if Tyler may be a secret Klingon…)
While Burnham was busy forging new, potential bonds of found family, Lorca was busy ruining the ones that he presumably once held dear. When Admiral Kat Cornwell comes to the Discovery to find out more about Sarek’s intended meeting with two independent Klingon houses, she makes no secret of the fact that she is also there to check on Lorca. The two go way back, and quickly fall into bed together.
When Lorca wakes up from a dream to pull a weapon on Kat, she realizes that he is not OK. Worse that that, she isn’t sure if he slept with her simply to manipulate her into giving him a clean bill of mental health. Following her meeting with the Klingons, which she will go to in an injured Sarek’s place, she plans to tell Starfleet about the seriousness of Lorca’s mental unwellness. His command will be taken from him, at least until he can fully recover from the deaths of his last crew.
Of course, Cornwell won’t be able to make that recommendation any time soon. Upon meeting the Klingons, they immediately kill the landing party and take Cornwell hostage. It was a trap. Duh. This “twist” is robbed of much of its narrative power by its predictability and the fact that we don’t really know or care about Cornwell.
It’s a shame to see Discovery continue to make these interesting narrative moves without doing the character work and set-up to make us care what happens. Though, I will say I was surprised that Lorca didn’t find a way to sabotage Cornwell’s mission himself, so desperate is he to stay in command. Then again, suggesting that Cornwell go on this mission itself was a form of getting Cornwell out of the way and ensuring that he keeps his seat of power.
“In times of crisis, ignorance can be beneficial,” Sarek tells his would-be Vulcan logic extremist betrayor. Are we living in a mirror universe or what?
Burnham and Tilly running around the Discovery made me nostalgic for Starbuck running around the Galactica.
Lorca and Tyler “training” in the holodeck was basically just an excuse to play fancy laser tag, right?
Tyler is an orphan? How convenient.
“Vulcans will soon recognize and withdraw from the failed experiment known as the Federation.” Yikes!
Tilly whispers to the replicator: “Computer, add salsa.”
“This is my mentor, Michael…”
Lorca doesn’t read his fortunes, just eats the cookie. What kind of monster is he?
Stamets is chipper and chill in this episode, further demonstrating that his self-experimentation changed him. Given how Lorca was staring at his own reflection this episode, something is up with evil reflections on this show, especially given Cornwell’s comments about how much Lorca has changed. Almost as if he is a completely different person… Is the crew slowly being taken over by mushrooms or something?
“Bring her back in one piece or don’t come back at all.” I legitimately didn’t know that Lorca cared that much about Burnham.
“Rules are for admirals in back offices.” Oh, Lorca.
What did you think of Discovery’s interpretation of Amanda Grayson?
“You can do better. We’ll have this conversation one day, father.”
“May fortune favor the bold, admiral.” Coming from Lorca, this feels like a threat.
“There are a million ways to get to the captain’s chair. Find your own.” — Burnham, to Tilly