Before we jump into everything, CBS made an important announcement earlier in the week: Star Trek: Discovery has been renewed for a second season!
Congratulations to everyone involved. So much love, time, care and attention to detail has gone into the show and this is a fitting reward for all of that exceptional effort. As a fan, I am over the moon happy!
Thank you CBS.
Okay. Let’s dive into this weeks episode.
Lethe was the mystical underworld river of oblivion, and the Greek Spirit of forgetfulness and oblivion, after which the river was named.
The shades of the dead used to drink from her waters to forget their mortal lives.
Star Trek: Discovery, episode six, “Lethe”, draws from that inspiration as it plays with the idea of memory and the things we might want to forget.
This was another episode that went by in a flash. It’s also another episode that will challenge those Trekkers among us who choose to stick rigidly to perceived canon.
I say perceived, because canon doesn’t mean “this is it, and this is all there can be,” it means “this is what we know for now.” In Star Trek, canon is what we see on screen.
Personally, I enjoy having my own perceptions of canon expanded and in most cases Star Trek: Discovery treads just this side of going too far. Where they have crossed the line, most of the time they’ve had to. What worked in 1966 will not work in 2017. Choices had to be made, and while some of those choices are a bit mystifying right now we’ve been told they’ll make sense. Eventually. Of course, having said that, there are some things we’ll just have to deal with – the most noticeable being the design aesthetic of the 21st Century vs the design aesthetic of an era where colour TV was brand new, and the world had never heard of things like the internet, cloud computing, and 3D printing.
After watching “Lethe”, I found myself both excited by the things I had learned in the episode, and I found myself thinking back over an article I wrote a few months back where I wondered if CBS was purposefully rebooting the entire television franchise, just like Paramount rebooted the movies.
Back when Star Trek: Discovery was still teasing us with a non-committal release date, I began thinking “is this a reboot of everything, using Star Trek: Enterprise as the jumping off point?
I’m pretty sure that’s not an original thought, by the way.
Now and again, watching this new iteration of Star Trek, I wonder if that is indeed what is happening. Back when I first wrote about that idea, I encouraged the new creative team behind Star Trek to take the 15 best episodes of each season of the existing Treks (post Star Trek: Discovery) and redo them. That’s sacrilege to a lot of Trekkers, I know, but I keep thinking of how deeply Star Trek both changed and defined my life, and keep hoping that it will do the same for children in this and following generations. I grew up with TNG and its impact on my life and the way I live it is still significant today.
I also keep worrying that the earlier versions of Star Trek will become niche memories for a faithful few. When we look back at the older iterations of Trek we see moments of sexism and we see a visual style that is… kind of flat and boring. Even TNG and more recent Trek’s fail to live up to the dynamic and visual style of today’s event television. Using Star Trek: Enterprise as a jumping off point, and then rebooting the entire franchise from there, isn’t a terrible idea if the reboot is faithful to the original. So… not a Battlestar Galactica reboot. Not even a J.J. Abrams Kelvin-timeline reboot. An update of the original where certain things can be ‘tweaked’, like the sexism, like the ship’s computer in TOS which has already been surpassed by Siri, and like many of the props and effects that just don’t hold up today. As much as many of us probably don’t like admitting it, Star Trek: Discovery is a more faithful imagining of the future than we were capable of in the 1960s. Even the 1980s.
What made me think back over those things? The Holodeck (?) battle simulation Ash and Lorca went through, and the simple realism of the set of the Discovery and the shows props and visuals. We see things in this episode that are going to give the more strict among us reason to complain, but they make sense when held up against the reality and wider audience expectations of today.
Sometimes I think these changes come down to one question: do we want Star Trek to live long and prosper?
But, enough of my musing (heretical ramblings?). Let’s get into the recap and review.
Episode Number: 106
Episode Title: “Lethe”
Written By: Ted Sullivan and Trek alumni Joe Menosky
Directed By: Doug Aarniokoski
Sarek to his assistant: “In times of crisis, ignorance can be beneficial.“
Tilly to Michael: “It’s been my experience, that what I lack in athletic ability I more than make up for in intelligence and personality. We may want to focus on those attributes.“
Michael to Tilly: “Everyone applying to the command training program will be smart. Personality doesn’t count.“
Tilly, in response: “That’s just something people with no personality say… wait! Which in… which in no way means you… ah… you, you absolutely have a personality!“
Tilly to the computer: “Computer, green juice. Extra green.“
Interesting Bits and Pieces
In the second scene of the episode, Michael is trying to help Tilly achieve her dream of one day becoming a captain. In that scene, she name drops the Constitution Class and the USS Enterprise, recommending that Tilly aim to get on a ship like the Enterprise to help with her career aspirations.
In this same scene, both women are wearing an awesome little t-shirt with one word printed on it: Disco. Disco has long been an internal production nickname for the show.
According to After Trek, the producers had no idea the t-shirts were going to appear! Now, they’re canon, and you can bet you’ll be able to buy them some time soon. That is, if you can’t already! I admit, I haven’t done that search on the official website, eBay or Amazon yet.
In this episode, we also learn that the food synthesiser likes to comment on the nutritional quality of your order! I like that… though I could see me telling the computer to shut up after a while! I can’t stand my fridge beeping at me when I’ve had the door open for too long. If my fridge started talking to me I’d probably unplug it.
We also learn, thanks to Admiral Cornwell, that the Discovery is the most advanced starship in the fleet.
The Recap and Review
After “last time on Star Trek: Discovery,” the episode jumps into a scene on Vulcan, which is beautiful.
The visuals are evocative of past glimpses of the planet, while bringing something new. There is no doubting it’s Vulcan you’re visiting. We find Sarek is looking out across a dessert locked, red tinged city scape as a ship hovers into view.
Sarek and an assistant board the vessel and take off across the surface of the planet, into space.
The ship is a new design but looks Vulcan, and, like Starfleet vessels, has an excellent heads up display that I really like.
We don’t know where Sarek and his companion are going.
That scene transitions beautifully into a shot of the Discovery sailing through the void, and then moves seamlessly to an interior shot of Michael and Tilly jogging along one of the spokes that connects the two halves of the saucer section of the Discovery.
Michael is helping Tilly develop some strategies and habits that will benefit her in her pursuit of command.
According to After Trek, this scene took eight hours to shoot because the corridors were only long enough to permit ten seconds of dialogue as the actors ran the full length. So, the slight exhaustion you see on Sylvia Tilly’s face might actually be more than good acting.
The interchange between both characters is wonderful. These two actors play off each other really well, and the chemistry is so easy to see on the screen. While the dialogue is excellent, you can’t fake chemistry. I often find myself silently congratulating everyone involved in the casting process.
As Tilly responds to Michael’s mentorship, dashing on ahead of the show’s leading lady, we cut to a scene of Lorca and Ash Tyler zapping Klingons.
Lorca, being Lorca, has a deep and meaningful (D&M) with Tyler as they run around in armour shooting stuff. Seriously, this ship needs Deanna Troi. If these two men ooze out any more testosterone and repressed rage the whole ship will drown in it.
In their macho-D&M session, we learn that Ash is from Seattle and has lost both parents. He had a challenging relationship with his father, which might hint at Lorca being a bit of a surrogate for him – just like he seems to be for Michael.
In an interesting exchange where Ash lies to Lorca to help his captain save a bit of face we learn that Lorca really does want to be surrounded by the best. And probably needs a hobby like knitting or yoga to avoid going absolutely batshit crazy. This guy is wound so tight he’s going to snap at some point and Michael is going to have to trot out the mutiny card again. Lorca chews Ash out and tells him he wants his Chief of Security to shoot better than he does. Chief of Security? Ash, DO NOT take that job! The last one got mangled by an unhappy tardigrade!!
This exchange surprises Ash, who asks Lorca if he’s giving him a job? In a potentially telling moment (if you go by the Ash is Voq theory), Lorca says: “Well, I figure I’ve seen you fly, shoot… fight like a Klingon…” Fight light a Klingon. Way to screw with our heads, Star Trek: Discovery writing team.
Ash brushes that off, saying that he learned a thing or two from the Klingons beating on him for seven months.
Lorca then affirms Ash’s appointment.
We jump back to Sarek and his assistant, who shoots himself up with a funky little needle that starts tracing a burning pattern up his arm.
Sarek quickly realises that his assistant knows just what it is he’s planning to do and isn’t happy about it.
The assistant turns out to be a fanatic – a “logic extremist” who believes that humans are inferior.
It’s a nice tip of the hat to Star Trek: Enterprise and the less than pro-human sentiment often expressed by the Vulcans of that era, and it’s a nice nod to what we’re going through as a world today with extremists threatening our way of life, and the pro-nationalist views of some.
The assistant’s mission? To draw attention to Vulcan purity, and to encourage Vulcan as a world to withdraw from the “…failed experiment known as the Federation.” With that, he blows himself up. Sarek erects a forcefield between the two men just in time, but that doesn’t stop the explosion from sending Sarek’s shuttle spinning out of control, and it doesn’t stop Sarek from being wounded.
We cut to the credit sequence. Which, I have to say, is really growing on me.
And then we return to the Discovery where Tilly is ordering a green juice. That’s extra green.
She and Michael order breakfast, with Michael over ruling Tilly’s choice. The ships computer backs Michael up, reading out the nutritional value of burritos.
Ash Tyler walks in, and the girls have a bit of a gossip about how he kicked Klingon ass. Six asses, to be exact. It’s an interesting exchange because Michael makes the same comment many of us have been making since the last episode… Klingons are tough. How could one human over power so many single handedly? This is such a throw away comment in the context of the scene that you just know it means something.
Tilly also observes that Lorca wants to adopt Ash. Michael challenges that, but Tilly reminds her that Lorca did the same to her.
Tilly, proving she has no filter, then sits down at Ash’s table and blurts out “Scuttlebut is that you took out six Klingon warriors in hand to hand combat.“
Ash tells her not to believe everything she hears, and then asks Michael to sit. We have an exchange between Ash and Michael that is really nice as he refuses to judge her on her past actions, and prefers instead to make up his mind based on what he sees. That impresses Michael and makes her look at this new crew member in a different light.
Then, Michael collapses in pain!
In a katra-contact moment, Michael is plunged into one of Sarek’s memories.
We’re on Vulcan watching Vulcan’s wander serenely through a pristine plaza. It’s beautiful, and full of familiar little touches, including examples of the Vulcan alphabet. We zero in on a family gathering and finally meet Amanda, played beautifully by Mia Kirshner. She’s arguing with Sarek over what appears to be Michael’s rejection from the Vulcan Expeditionary Group. A young Michael watches on. As does the current Michael, observing the memory as an outsider.
Sarek becomes aware of the older Michael, and challenges her, forcing her out of the memory.
They appear in a neutral mental space, where Sarek tells her that ever since the bombing of the learning centre his Katra has been with her.
She wakes up in Sickbay before we get to go any deeper into that little addition to canon.
Doctor Culber is trying to work out what is wrong as Lorca watches on. Michael opens her eyes.
She tells them Sarek is in trouble. Lorca challenges her, and she reveals that she shares part of Sarek’s katra. Lorca wants to know more, so she reminds him that after her parents were killed at a Vulcan outpost that was attacked by the Klingons, she was raised by Vulcans to be Vulcan. She says that Sarek hoped she could serve as a bridge to show other Vulcan’s the potential in humanity.
She then reveals something new. A group of logic extremists, who did not want humans in their culture, attempted to kill her a few years later, while she was at the Vulcan Learning Academy. It was then, to save her life, that Sarek shared his katra with her.
She was dead for three minutes. Sarek’s katra had healing powers and his life force saved her life. She tells them it is a rare procedure, and frowned upon. It’s this gift that enables a form of long term telepathy between both Sarek and Michael.
She tells Lorca that Sarek is in danger and asks him to rescue her adopted father.
Lorca checks the facts with Starfleet, and they confirm Michael’s claims. Sarek was on a diplomatic mission to try and stop the war.
Lorca says he’ll rescue Sarek, but Starfleet forbids it. Lorca, being Lorca, ignores them.
They jump to the nebula that was the last known location of Sarek’s shuttle. Saru tells them that they can’t scan for the shuttle because of all of the interference in the nebula and that it will take months to search it because of its size.
Lorca and Michael visit Stamets to see if he can help by creating a device that will enhance Michael’s connection to Sarek.
Stamets says “yes” – and it is clear we have a brand new Stamets. His interaction with the spore-drive has really changed him. He’s more relaxed, almost euphoric.
After some discussion, he says he can create something for Burnham and gets to work.
We also learn he has a bit of an implant that enables him to safely (?) engage with the drive.
Lorca tells Burnham to get a team ready to help her with locating Sarek.
Michael asks Lorca to assign Tilly to help her, because she’s a genius, and, in a telling moment, because Michael needs her emotional support.
Daw… friendship. I LOVE IT!
Lorca agrees, and then assigns Ash Tyler to help.
As Tilly, Ash and Michael load up the shuttle and get it ready to enter the nebula, Lorca visits Ash and orders Ash to bring Michael back in one piece… or to not come back at all.
Hmmm… what does Lorca want from Michael? She’s brilliant. She’s extraordinary in many ways, but what are Lorca’s plans for her?
We leave our intrepid rescuers for a moment to cut to Lorca examining a star chart as Admiral Katrina Cornwell warps in for a visit. She boards the Discovery and proceeds to rip Lorca a new one for disobeying orders.
She’s also not happy that one of his crew experimented with eugenics.
Behind all of this anger from Cornwell, we learn, is genuine concern for an old friend. Lorca is not the Lorca Cornwell remembers.
We leave them in that moment and jump to the shuttle where Michael is preparing to send a katra ‘jolt’ to Sarek to wake him up so that he’ll activate his ships transponder so that the Discovery can find him.
In a nice character moment, Michael is nervous and anxious. She shares her feelings with Tilly and Ash and tells them how affected she is by the memory she was dragged into in her initial psychic contact with Sarek. She believes he is reliving that memory in his dying moments because she is his greatest disappointment.
As she goes under, she tells them not to pull her out of the katra connection, no matter what happens.
And… we’re back in the Vulcan plaza, in the same memory.
Young Michael is talking to Amanda, who gives her a gift – an old fashioned copy of Alice in Wonderland. Going back to “Context is for Kings”, it’s obvious Amanda had as much of an impact on Michael as Sarek did.
Sarek intrudes and tells them that Michael’s application to the Expeditionary Group was rejected.
Older Michael interjects, and Sarek breaks from the memory to do some kick-ass Vulcan martial arts on Michael.
Back in the shuttle, Michael is showing the effects of being psychically beaten up.
Ash orders Tilly to wake Michael, and as she comes to with a gasp we jump to Discovery and a dinner between Lorca and Cornwell.
She tells him she’s worried about him.
He justifies his behaviours using the excuse of war. She’s not going to be put off and tells him he’s unfairly pushing his crew.
Eventually, she tells him that he’s changed since the destruction of the Buran.
He says he’s passed every test and is fine. She’s smarter than that and suggests that maybe he’s suffering from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). So… he seduces her, because he’s either got PTSD or there’s something else going on.
She falls for it. Maybe? I’m not sure if Katrina lets it happen in a calculated attempt to further test Lorca, or lets him seduce her because she still carries a flame for this complicated man, but she takes off her badge and smiles at him…
And we’re back on the shuttle.
Michael is deeply affected by the memory she keeps seeing.
Ash gives Michael a reality check, and says that maybe the memory isn’t about her failure – but Sareks?
Michael dives back into the katra-connection.
We’re back in the same memory and Michael has had enough. She challenges Sarek on the memory-scape, asking him what he’s hiding. He attacks her and she holds her own. She asks him what he doesn’t want her to see, and begs him to let her in.
He also affirms what Ash said. He’s not fixated on Michael’s failure. He’s focused on his own.
We learn that Michael was accepted into the Vulcan Expeditionary Group, but that the Vulcan’s were concerned. Were Spock to apply and be accepted, there would be two non-Vulcans in what had once been a Vulcan only institution – one human raised to be a Vulcan, whom Sarek says he has crafted into a being of exquisite logic, and one half-human, half-Vulcan who is still (it seems) at school.
The Vulcan elder tells Sarek that what he has done is extraordinary, and that he applauds Sarek’s efforts to integrate humans into Vulcan culture, but that his attempts need to be titrated.
Sarek has to choose between Michael and Spock.
Michael learns that Sarek chose Spock. This adds a beautiful, extra layer to the historic distance between Sarek and Spock. It always seemed petty that Sarek was so ‘pissed’ with his son for choosing Starfleet, this adds another welcome dimension and gives that history more impact.
Michael tells Sarek that her rejection from the Vulcan Expeditionary Group hurt her deeply.
Sarek says he didn’t realise the impact then, but does now. He apologises, as only a Vulcan can: “I failed you, Michael Burnham.”
As he collapses on the memory-scape, he admits his shame.
Michael asks him to show her how to save him, like he saved her. He helps her initiate a mind-meld and she wakes Sarek up. He activates the transponder.
We cut to Lorca and Cornwell in bed. She traces the scars on his back, which wakes him up. Instead of snuggle time, he grabs a phaser from under his bed and rolls on top of her holding it to her face.
She loses her shit… and rightfully so.
She tells him he lied on his psyche evaluation and that his behaviour is pathological. She finishes with the worst thing she could say: “I can’t leave Starfleets most powerful weapon in the hands of a broken man.“
This illicits a genuine response from Lorca as he begs to keep his ship. He admits his lie, admits that he needs help. She tells him that she hates that she can’t tell if this is the real Lorca or not, and leaves.
Saru interrupts to tell Lorca that the crew are back from their mission. Sarek is going to be alright, but he can’t finish his mission of peace. Lorca says that Cornwell can.
Burnham thanks Lorca and in return he gives her a real assignment. On the bridge. She’s now the science specialist.
As Lorca leaves, she goes to visit Sarek. He initially tries to dodge her question about what he remembers of the rescue, but she’s not having any of it. Michael asks him to help her understand why he did what he did, so that they can come closer rather than be pushed further apart, because that’s what families do. He says that technically they’re not related, and she tells him he can do better than that, but she won’t push him. She tells him “We’ll have this conversation one day… father,” and leaves Sarek, looking a little lost, perhaps even a little shamed, in Sickbay.
Admiral Cornwell takes up the challenge of completing Sareks mission. Lorca is waiting for her in the shuttlebay as she gets ready to leave. She tells him that she doesn’t want to ruin his career, but adds that when she returns they will talk about how he steps down. There’s compassion in her voice and it’s clear she believes her decision to be the right one – for Lorca, for the Discovery and her crew, and for Starfleet.
Lorca can’t find a response, and instead wishes her luck in her negotiations.
Just a side note, I love the new shuttlebay. It’s magnificent. It looks real, and it looks used. It looks like it belongs on a ship like Discovery that has been busy both with a mission of science and exploration (previously), and now a mission of defence. The shuttle bays on the original Enterprise and Enterprise-D always bugged me because they looked… plastic and totally unused. Even with transporters, those ships would have been busy with freight transfer and various visitors but they just looked lifeless.
We change scenes at this point to an interaction between Tilly and Michael. Tilly is running through the corridors again. Michael tells her, “I gave you bad advice. There are a million ways to get to the captain’s chair. Find your own.” Tilly responds with, “I have,” and keeps running.
We follow Michael to the mess hall where she sits down with Ash Tyler. Michael, obviously affected by her chats with both Sarek and Tilly, is in a reflective space. She opens up to Ash, and we see a woman who is slowly coming to terms with the complicated relationship she has with her adopted father, and maybe even the internal conflict she feels as a human who has spent a great deal of her life trying too hard to be a Vulcan rather than a balanced amalgam of both.
To close the scene, Michael introduces herself to Ash, who is a bit confused at first because they know each other, but then gets it. Michael has had an epiphany, or perhaps even a little bit of a rebirth and with a smile he takes her extended hand.
We leave this budding friendship? romance? to visit with Admiral Cornwell. Let’s just say things go bad. Her guards are killed. The meeting hosts are killed. Kol pops up as a hologram and Cornwell is taken prisoner.
In the last scene, Saru reports to Lorca, telling him Cornwell has been captured. Prick-Lorca is in full swing as Saru tells Lorca they can start to calculate a jump to rescue her and Lorca says no. Saru is taken aback. Lorca rationalises his sudden “by the book” caution beautifully.
He orders Saru to notify Starfleet Command and to seek guidance. Saru is surprised, but no doubt relieved by this change in his captain. Saru is awesome, but he’s not a great first officer.
As he leaves to follow orders, Lorca closes the door of his quarters and the episode ends with him staring out the window as we focus on his reflection.
Is his reflection smiling?
Is this another hint at the upcoming Mirror-Universe episode?
I just know we’re going to have to wait a while and see.
I really enjoyed this episode on so many levels. I love the additional context to Sarek’s disappointment with Spock’s decision to go into Starfleet, as I mentioned earlier in the recap, and I’m intrigued by where the whole cloaking technology thing is going with the Klingons.
Historically, according to canon, the Klingons obtained their cloaking technology from the Romulans. So… did T’Kuvmar negotiate that and then Kol meter it out through the Empire as he demanded loyalty from the various Houses?
Quite a few questions were raised in this episode. Is the need for eugenic experimentation on humans what kills the spore-drive? Does that mean we’re going to lose Stamets?
Is Ash Voq? I keep trying to determine from Shazad Latif’s performance if he is, but can’t yet.
One the things I like most about this series, is the growth we’re starting to see in the characters. They’re not fully realised. They’re “becoming.” We’re really seeing it in Michael’s character – and it’s a beautiful thing and very measured. The writers have paced it beautifully, certainly a lot better than Star Trek: Voyager‘s writing team paced the integration of the Maquis and Tom Paris back into Starfleet.
Lorca’s character also continues to grow (or perhaps, more appropriately, be revealed), and it is evident he is a very damaged human being. Did he recommend Admiral Katrina Cornwell go to the Klingons because he was hoping she’d be captured or killed? Does winning the war mean that much to him?
We haven’t seen much of Saru recently, which is a little disappointing, but I get it. The writers needed to set up Ash Tyler. This will change, I believe, with Michael now on the bridge.
I like the addition to canon of the katra-communication. There’s a parallel here to the mycelial network. If there’s a bunch of spores spread throughout the universe that can be used as a source of navigation, why couldn’t a psychic ability have that kind of range? I’m just not sure what the writers are getting it? There’s a definite but very subtle spiritual aspect to this show, that hints at the interconnection of life. Starfleet represents that and always has. We’re all ‘star stuff’ and our commonalities are more interesting and meaningful than our differences, and so we should come together and celebrate that infinite diversity in its infinite combinations.
Though the Vulcan’s are best known for that philosophy of diversity, it’s interesting to see them still struggling with Surak’s teachings. It is a nice echo from Star Trek: Enterprise, and I loved seeing Sarek be the main proponent of that concept with his attempts to unite the Vulcan people and humanity. He will, of course, continue to do that kind of work throughout the history of Star Trek as he seeks to unite other disparate peoples. Spock, of course, will eventually follow in his father’s footsteps.
All of this stuff also gives merit to Sybok. Imagine being the oldest child growing up in such a mixed household? You have a human step-mother, a human adopted sister and a half-human younger brother. You can imagine Sybok sitting back and observing the strengths in both as his father seeks to bring two important worlds together. All of this actually helps make sense of Sybok, but it also paints Sarek, always one of my favourite characters, as a vital part of the Federation.
By the time we really get to know Sarek, in the movie-era and in TNG, he’s an elder statesman who is held in high regard by everyone. Star Trek: Discovery is helping us see why and how – despite his stubborn streak!
It’s just one opinion, but my opinion is that Star Trek: Discovery gives more to Star Trek than some of the other spin-off series. It’s giving the entire collection of series’ and films a level of depth that I really appreciate.
Last but not least, there is not one bad performance. Again. Particular praise needs to be heaped on Sonequa Martin-Green, Jason Isaacs and James Frain.
How lucky are we to have such amazing actors bringing these characters to life?
Five out five Starfleet Deltas. This was another exceptional outing.
Star Trek: Discovery airs in the United States on CBS All Access with new episodes available Sundays at 8:30pm ET. In Canada, the show airs on the Space Channel at 8:00pm ET. Outside the USA and Canada, Star Trek: Discovery airs on Netflix with new episodes dropping in the UK at 8:00am BST on Mondays, and in Australia at 6:00pm AEDT, also on Mondays. We only have three more episodes until the mid-season break, so make sure you tune in.
Live long, and prosper. See you next episode for “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad.”