Star Trek #1458: Lethe

FORMULA: Journey to Babel + Kir'Shara + The Final Frontier + Unification

WHY WE LIKE IT: A retcon that actually informs the past without destroying it.

WHY WE DON'T: Martial artist Sarek fuels opponents of "action Trek".

REVIEW: The show features great effects (this time a Vulcan city, the zoom into the saucer's "spokes", etc.), but if we're to tune in every week, it's got to be for the characters. And Lethe really delivers on that front, not just as far as Discovery is concerned, but its revelations reverberate back in time and make the Sarek-Spock relationship deeper and more tragic at the same time. No small feat. In short, when Sarek's shuttle is damaged and he is almost killed by a Vulcan separatist (every culture has its radical extremists, it seems), the bond he shares with Burnham allows her to track him, so long as she can keep the lines of communication open. The problem is that he's examining a particular memory that Burnham finds painful, her graduation day when she was rejected from service aboard Vulcan's equivalent of Starfleet. She sees this as her great failure and believes Sarek is meditating on his disappointment. As ever, Burnham is motivated by self-loathing. To save his own life, he must let Burnham into his shameful secret, that he was asked to choose which of his two "non-Vulcan" children should be accepted into the Vulcan Expeditionary Group. Both of them laudable "experiments", but the Vulcan establishment is perhaps not that far from the elitist attitudes shown on Enterprise. Sarek is forced to make an emotional choice - his real son vs. his adopted daughter - or perhaps it is logical - as at least half-Vulcan, Spock has a better chance of succeeding. Regardless, he misses the emotional component and psychologically scars her. The real tragedy is that Spock chose to join Starfleet instead, which casts a different light on his father's well-known disapproval of this decision. It's not merely that he would have rather seen Spock serve the V.E.G. (cough, cough), but that he sacrificed his other child's career for nothing. This is a new context that changes nothing that went before, merely adds to it, makes it more complex and interesting. Burnham, like Spock, has a strained relationship with her father, and he IS her father - that moment when she calls him that caused a wide grin to spread on my face.

Like the very best episodes, the main plot echoes through the subplots thematically. The Sarek-Burnham relationship, for example, informs Burnham's mentorship of Tilly. Though Burnham has the cadet's path to captain all mapped out for her, this adventure makes her realize there are many possible paths. And Tilly may sponge as much as she can from Burnham, but she may be more independent than it seems. I'm really liking watching this relationship develop. Lorca is Burnham's other father figure, in a sense, and he does her a great favor here by sending Discovery after Sarek against orders. AND gives her a posting on the bridge. The respect appears to be mutual. Lorca has someone else under his wing, however, and that's Ash Tyler. He vets him with personal questions during a holodeck-type drill (which at first makes you think we're going back to the Klingon ship, perhaps to reveal something underhanded), but ultimately trusts him and as predicted, makes him head of security. The way he befriends Burnham, it's going to really sting if he turns out to be a Klingon mole. He's a fast friend, the emotional center of this subgroup of officers (compare to sour Saru, and the formerly mean but currently high on life because he injected himself with alien DNA Stamets, who have more difficult relationships with Burnham), humble... He's the best of humanity, so he better not be a Klingon!

Speaking of different paths to the captain's chair, Admiral Cornwell really comes into her own here, and it appears she started out as a ship's counselor! Between her, Lorca cheating psych evals, and Burnham's knack for xenoanthropology, it seems the show is keen on showing how Deanna Troi might have been better utilized! Anyway, Cornwell is an old friend of Lorca's, more than a friend actually, and though she's tried to reign him in before, this time he goes too far. We see just how good he is at manipulating people, and how ruthless, plying his friend with drink and sex, until it becomes clear to her that he's not in his right mind. She would relieve him of command, but he - perhaps self-servingly - asks her to take Sarek's place on a diplomatic mission to the Klingons. It turns out to be a trap (Kol is buying all the Houses off with cloaking technology) and she is captured, and for the first time, Lorca doesn't jump on the chance to play the cowboy. He waits for orders. Because friend or not, Cornwell is about to take his ship away from him. That is stone cold. Edge of seat reached.

LESSON: Disco isn't dead, it's just resting.

REWATCHABILITY - High: Discovery's first resounding success.


snell said...

Can't help but wonder if Vulcan's "logic extremists" are related to Earth's "Brotherhood of Logicians." Launching a thousand bad fanfics...


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