Star Trek: Discovery Season 1, Episode 6 – Debuted Sunday October 22nd
Written by Ted Sullivan and Joe Menosky
Directed by Doug Aarniokoski
With a visit to Vulcan, some crazy science, a daring rescue mission, romance, and galactic political intrigue, what’s not to love about “Lethe?” Standout performances from Jason Isaacs and Sonequa Martin-Green drive rich character development from writers Ted Sullivan and Trek vet Joe Menosky. The sixth episode dives into Trek canon and expands it in surprising ways making this the most ‘Star Trek’ episode of Star Trek: Discovery yet.
“Lethe” kicks off with a beautiful shot of Vulcan, with Sarek (James Frain) boarding a ship heading off to a secret mission of peace. We know it is secret because Sarek refuses provide details, telling his pilot “In times of crisis, ignorance can be beneficial.” Maybe such verbiage beyond “it is classified” isn’t logical, but these kinds of delightful flourishes are peppered throughout this episode which shouldn’t be a surprise coming from Joe Menosky, who was also co-writer of the classic TNG episode “Darmok.”
The scenes on the shuttle also drive the plot for the episode as it was revealed that there is a faction of Logic Extremists who don’t like how Sarek cavorts with humans. These extremists have even decided Vulcan’s inclusion in the Federation to be illogical. The pilot turns out to be a suicide bomber, however Sarek has time to put up a force field thanks to the fanatic’s need to deliver a political statement lengthy and hateful enough to make T’Kuvma proud.
The issues of fanaticism and race are something the producers said would be addressed on the show, and now we see that it is not just with the Klingons. The Federation isn’t as unified as it seems. The Vulcans may no longer have the same problems evident during the 22nd century (as seen on Enterprise), but they apparently still have racist extremists in their midst. The message here seems pretty clear, but isn’t as heavy handed as it was in the two-part premiere.
We also learn these same Vulcan fanatics were responsible for the attack that on the Vulcan Learning Center seen in a previous flashback, specifically targeting the young Burnham because she was a human. They were even successful in killing her, leading Sarek to give Michael a piece of his Katra to bring her back to life. This “soul graft” is what gives the pair the special bond that allows for an interstellar psychic connection. This definitely pushes our understanding of Vulcans, but as noted in TrekMovie’s review of the premiere, we can’t expect the show to merely paint within the lines. The writers must be allowed to be creators of canon, and not just custodians of it … within reason, of course.
Who is mentoring whom?
A big theme with “Lethe” regards mentoring relationships with Michael Burnham, both confronting the realities of her past with Sarek and fostering a new relationship with Cadet Tilly. Although with Tilly there is a bit of a twist as we see her trading advice on how to best advance to the captain’s chair from Burnham while she mentors Burnham on getting a “personality” and socializing, and plays matchmaker with the new “hot” addition to the crew, Lt. Tyler (Shazad Latif). Mary Wiseman continues to pop on screen with Tilly fast becoming a fan favorite.
Our initial scene between Burnham and Tyler drops the first seeds of what may be a budding romance between the two. One of the nice things about a serialized show is they can take their time with this, but both Martin-Green and Latif already show some promising chemistry, with Tyler giving Burnham a needed pep talk to start believing in herself and to leave the past behind, another theme of this episode.
Klingon fight club
Another bonding pair for “Lethe” are Lorca and his new recruit, Lt. Tyler, who spend some quality time killing a few dozen Klingons in the armory almost-but-not-quite holodeck. The banter with the pair is reminiscent of a number of classic Trek bonding-during-target-practice scenes, like Riker and Picard or Seven and Janeway.
But there is another layer to this scene with Lorca seemingly checking out Tyler by asking him probing questions about his past. It appears he passed the test as Tyler is made chief of security (replacing the recently ripped apart Landry). Lorca’s need to surround himself with loyalists who are ready for combat seems to override any suspicions he may have, even though he ominously notes Tyler “fights like a Klingon.”
Lorca trusts Tyler so much that he entrusts him to lead the mission to rescue Sarek, although he does let Tyler know that if he loses Burnham on the mission, he may as well not bother coming back. Even though we are only six episodes in, Discovery has effectively defined this captain well enough now that we can say that was “classic Lorca.”
Groovy, crazy science
The episode also delved into some classic Star Trek tech and science, without getting bogged down in technobabble. It turns out the only way to find Sarek is to tap into the psychic connection Burnham has due to holding a piece of Sarek’s Katra, which we learned about in the premiere. Enter Lt. Stamets, who appears to be a whole new man now that he has been genetically altered with tardigrade DNA.
We still don’t know what is going on with Stamets’ creepy, smiling after-reflection seen at the end of last week’s episode, so maybe it was just the introduction of mycelial network comic relief. Anthony Rapp didn’t have much to do in this episode, but he certainly had a “groovy” time playing the newly shroomed-out science officer. He designs a new “SarekVisionTM” device for Burnham to track down and rescue her adoptive Vulcan father inside a nebulae that looks like the aftermath of an explosion at Santa’s Village. Sullivan and Menosky nicely weave a science solution into the plot, without making it the plot, allowing the focus to stay on the characters.
Sophie’s Sarek’s Choice
The heart of “Lethe” is the relationship between Sarek and Burnham. The terrorist attack on the shuttle has Sarek close to death, leaving his unconscious mind focused on a key memory. Burnham is able to insert herself into this flashback to the moment when it was decided she would not join the Vulcan Expeditionary Group. Through repeated visits we find out that it was not Burnham’s failure, but Sarek’s, as he was given a heartbreaking choice to pick only one of his “non-Vulcans” to attend, and he chose Spock over Michael. And to top it off, Sarek gets the “worst father of the year” award by lying to Michael, making her think that she wasn’t good enough for the Expeditionary Force.
In a scene replete with fun nods to Vulcan lore from familiar looking gongs to a Vulcan lyre, this episode again expands the canon in an interesting way. We now know why Sarek was so angry at Spock for rejecting the Vulcan Science Academy and joining Starfleet, causing a long rift between father and son as shown in “Journey to Babel.”
The show also deftly expanded upon its own internal canon, as we meet Amanda (aptly played Mia Kirschner) giving Michael a copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the same book we saw Burnham give to Tilly in episode 3. Surrounded by the crushing logic of all those Vulcans, Amanda is trying to remind her adopted daughter to hold on to her humanity. And to add a bit of action to the serenity, we have Sarek and Michael engage in some Suus Mahna (aka Vulcan Kung-Fu), as he literally and figuratively fights her attempts to delve into his thoughts and reveal his shame.
After successfully breaking through, Sarek is saved and this story thread ends with a scene with him and Burnham in sickbay that echoes the final scene in “Journey to Babel.” But this episode reveals that like pretty much every character on this show, Sarek is also a bit broken and he faces his own path of redemption. So, instead of the fun, tidy sickbay resolution between Spock and Sarek seen on “Babel,” we have Burnham telling Sarek “You can do better” as she leaves him alone to contemplate his failures. James Frain’s performance as Sarek was more nuanced and subtle than seen in the two-part premiere, helping nail the needed emotional tone for this episode.
The admiral is in session
Also confronting the past was Captain Lorca, who gets a surprise visit from Admiral (and apparently ex-girlfriend) Katrina Cornwell. She is not pleased that he has taken on the rescue mission of Sarek, the latest unilateral move that has her warning him, “You cannot treat Discovery like its your own fiefdom.” Although actress Jayne Brook was never promoted to be a major player for the series, she has shown herself capable of going toe-to-toe (so to speak) with the formidable Jason Isaacs, who continues to extend his range with Lorca.
The pair switch from superior officer and subordinate, to psychiatrist and patient, to old lovers rekindling a single-malt fueled flame seamlessly. Lorca seems to have her convinced that he is able to cope with the loss of his last command and his time being tortured, but he lets his true self slip with a reflexive bit of light choking and phaser play. Instead of being turned on, Katrina literally picks up her badge of rank and declares “I can’t leave Starfleet’s most powerful weapon in the hands of a broken man.”
It’s a Trap!
So, that’s that, Lorca is losing his ship as soon as the admiral gets back from her little trip to Cancri IV, stepping in for the injured Sarek … until the whole trip was revealed to be a trap laid by Kol. So when Lorca surprises Saru by not immediately rushing in to save the admiral and instead deciding (possibly for the first time) to first check in with Starfleet Command, was that Lorca learning his lesson to be less impulsive? Or was he recommending her for this mission part of another calculation? Subtle writing along with Isaacs’ performance allows this to be another mystery for this unusual captain. But, the smart money is actually on him cynically hoping that his Katrina problem will be solved by some bat’leth diplomacy.
Without getting bogged down like previous episodes, “Lethe” offered just the right amount of Klingon intrigue with a dramatic scene of Cornwell’s capture by the “independent” Ujilli and Dennas. We learn that Kol has now taken command of the Klingon Empire and he is using the promise of cloaking technology from T’Kuvma’s ship as a way to extract loyalty and bring reluctant Houses to his side.
Now that’s a Star Trek!
“Lethe” book-ended neatly with Burnham learning a lesson and trying to impart it to Tilly, who is also appears ready to chart her own new path. Michael’s redemption continues apace as she moves past her Vulcan family, forging relationships with her new family on the USS Discovery. As a sign of her acceptance, Lorca has given her a new position as science specialist on the bridge, showing he too has a nurturing side. And the irony is thick as Burnham thanks him for “being able to serve under a captain like you,” moments after he was told he was unfit for command.
This episode is the most satisfying yet for Star Trek: Discovery. Although character development was paramount, “Lethe” was still able to offer Trek lore, action, science, romance and some humor too. While continuing to deal with darker themes, the true light and hope of Star Trek flowed through the “Lethe” instead of just offering a flicker. This sixth episode provided the best balance so far, feeling like a self-contained and resolved story, while at the same time moving the ball forward on a number of the serialized arcs for the season.
Star Trek: Discovery is really hitting its stride, and hopefully we are just getting started on this show which just got picked up for a second season.
Random thoughts and easter eggs
- Six episodes in and we finally got mention of the USS Enterprise and the Constitution-class in general (Captain Pike got a nod in episode 5).
- Sarek was lost close to Yridia, which we have learned in many past episodes is the home to a race of information dealers.
- “Lethe” brought the second mention of a “burrito” to the Star Trek franchise.
- The organic explosive seems to be the same as used by the Triannon in the Enterprise episode “Chosen Realm”
- The nickname first used by the creative team for the USS Discovery is now canon with crew wearing “DISCO” shirts.
- Vulcan blood is now DayGlo green.
- The USS Discovery food synthesizers are way too chatty, hopefully Lorca shoots one with his handy phaser.
- Vulcan is not supposed to have a moon, but the objects seen in the sky can be explained by Trek books which give Vulcan a sister planet named T’Khut.
- 2 more shuttle pilots dead (Suicide Vulcan and Cornwell’s pilot), bringing series total to four.
Streaming issues with CBS All Access
While the episode “Lethe” was top notch, the same couldn’t be said for the All Access streaming service on Sunday night. There were a number of reports from fans across the country experiencing issues with the quality and connection to the CBS All Access streaming service. According to CBS, some users experienced buffering due to technical issues with one of their delivery partners. The issue appears to have been resolved.
Having Star Trek: Discovery drive many new users to CBS All Access was always the long-term strategy for CBS, so hopefully this kind of hiccup was a one-time thing and they have the infrastructure in place to deliver what they describe as a premium service.
Star Trek: Discovery is available on CBS All Access on in the US and airs in Canada on the Space Channel. It is available on Netflix outside the USA and Canada.
Keep up with all the Star TrekDiscovery news at TrekMovie.