Star Trek Discovery’s sixth episode “Lethe” aired tonight on CBS-AA, and after a deeply frustrating evening of trying to stream it via my Roku, I wound up watching it on my 21” Mac as opposed to my 43” living room TV. My up-till-now reliable Roku decided it was a good night to act up, so I found myself bounced out of the episode every few minutes or so, as my Roku kept freezing and buffering (this has never happened so far in the month or so that we’ve owned this newer model). Luckily, the last 20-odd minutes of the episode streamed very easily on my Mac and the night’s entertainment was salvaged…
****** SPOILER WARNINGS FOR “LETHE” ******
Technical snafus at my end aside, the episode was pretty solid. Perhaps not quite as tightly put together as last week’s “Choose Your Pain,” but it continues a deeper exploration of some of the characters (mainly Burnham, Tilly, newcomer Tyler Ash, Lorca and Tyler) and there were, most importantly for me (as a Vulcan-loving nerd) lots and lots of Vulcan flashbacks.
Vulcan ambassador, as well as Spock’s father and Burnham’s adoptive father Sarek (James Frain) is the fulcrum of the episode. He is stranded in space en route to a diplomatic mission to the Klingons by a reactionary Vulcan saboteur/supremacist who opposes Sarek’s ‘race mingling’ with humans, as well as his illogical mission to meet with the Klingons. Sarek’s ship is stranded at the edge of a nebula and he is rendered unconscious. Because of their “katra” mind-link in her childhood, Michael Burnham painfully ‘feels’ the missing Sarek’s distress from aboard the Discovery. While in sickbay, she reports it to Lorca, and the maverick captain defies fleet orders and sets a course to rescue Sarek. A furious Admiral Cornwell (Jane Brooks) comes aboard personally to confront Lorca, and in yet another new-to-Star-Trek-twist, winds up in bed with him instead (!). Cornwell is worried that her ex-lover captain isn’t fully recovered from the loss of his previous command (as well as his recent Klingon captivity) and she is dead-set on relieving him of command until she is personally convinced he is ready. Lorca literally begs her to reconsider, but the admiral thinks he is using her (which is most likely the case; Lorca is J.R. Ewing-level when it comes to manipulation). Meanwhile Burnham makes sustained contact with Sarek, who initially tries (violently) to deny her access to his thoughts. Upon further prodding, he reluctantly relates to her that he had to make a choice about which of his two children, his biological son Spock or his adopted ward Michael Burnham, could gain acceptance into the Vulcan Expeditionary Force. They would only accept one. He chose his son over Michael, and lied to her (yes, Vulcans can lie); letting her believe she was rejected. When news reaches Discovery that Sarek is located and injured, Lorca ‘volunteers’ his ex-lover admiral to take Sarek’s place as the Klingon peace envoy. The admiral, eager to end the war, naturally agrees to do so. And she is, of course, captured by the Klingons under direct instructions from previously seen Klingon council member Kol (Kenneth Mitchell). Sarek, recovering aboard the Discovery, feigns a lack of remembrance concerning her mind meld with him. Burnham calls him “father” as she exits sickbay. Burnham gets to know Ash Tyler a bit more in the mess hall.
What I liked about “Lethe”:
* Lots of glimpses of Vulcan, and an intimate peek into Sarek’s psyche.
We see many elements of Vulcan culture (the architecture, musicians, etc), and a nice intimate peek into Sarek making a “Sophie’s Choice” regarding the future of his two kids; adopted daughter Michael and biological son Spock. This was a powerful moment that doesn’t contradict canon at all; in fact, it even adds a bit of logic towards Sarek’s anger with his son for joining Starfleet instead of the Vulcan Science Academy. Turns out Sarek had pulled some serious strings to get him there. It actually makes the beloved Spock look like a bit of an ingrate, to be honest…
* Lots of insight into Burnham.
Since the show is centered on the character, it was nice to see a bit more of what makes her tick. The Vulcan flashbacks (via the mayday mind-meld) were very informative, and Sonequa Martin-Green rose to the challenge (yet again). I know the character gets mixed reactions online, but I like her. She’s an antihero working towards redemption, and it feels like she’s on her way (evidenced by maverick skipper Lorca’s increasing trust/affection for her). I certainly don’t mind her being the focus of the series. Though given the emergent charm of some of the other cast members? She may have to fight a bit to keep that spotlight in the future…
* Vulcan racists.
I don’t want to say I ‘liked’ Vulcan racists (or ANY racists), but I appreciated that contrary opinions regarding humans within Vulcan culture still exist. DSC is not the first Star Trek series to delve into Vulcan racism against humans (ENTERPRISE explored that negative aspect of their culture in-depth), and tonight’s episode with its Vulcan saboteur and none-too-subtle racism of Vulcan Expeditionary Force officials (echoing the “human disadvantage” scene of Star Trek 2009) provides more shadings of gray to this otherwise noble species.
* Once again, meeting Sarek’s human wife (and Spock’s mother), Amanda.
We see Amanda (Mia Kirshner), Sarek’s human wife and the mother of Spock (a role previously essayed by Jane Wyatt, Winona Ryder and in animation by Majel Barrett). While her scenes were brief, Kirshner does bear a passing resemblance to the late Jane Wyatt, and has some of her passion as well. One could imagine her making a young orphaned Michael feel very much a part of the family. A much-needed source of human warmth in a literal desert of logic.
* Lorca defies orders to rescue Sarek.
This ‘to hell with our orders’ bit felt very old-school Star Trek; in the proud tradition of so other other maverick captains who’ve taken their given orders and shoved them up Starfleet’s collective tailpipe. Contrary to myth, ALL captains have done this…not just James T. Kirk. I’ll be honest; I now fully (and a bit guiltily) enjoy Lorca’s bastardly side, as he shamefully manipulates his ranking lover just as she somewhat manipulated him (was sex part of her psych eval?). Lorca is about as radically different a captain as we’ve ever seen on Star Trek; he is flawed, hardened and not-easy-to-love, but he is also a fascinating antihero in the mold of Dallas’ J.R. Ewing (a shameful manipulator), with a touch of Quint from JAWS (the survivor guilt angle). While most captains in previous ST series have usually been stalwart heroic types, it’s refreshing to have one who isn’t always putting humanity’s best foot forward. A perfect captain for our current, morally murky age where leadership trust (certainly in the United States) is at an historic low. Lorca isn’t Trump (thank goodness!) but he isn’t entirely a ‘good’ guy either; there’s a lot of gray area to play with…
* The somewhat enigmatic new security chief Lt. Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif).
The rescued POW seems to be everyone’s new golden boy. Lorca affectionately calls him ‘soldier’ (after their shared POW experience together), and even takes him Klingon-hunting on a holographic shooting range (more on that in a minute). Cadet Tilly thinks he’s “hot” and squees over him. Michael Burnham seems to like him as well; going so far as to arrange a do-over meeting in the mess hall, after their initial meeting was so rudely interrupted by Sarek’s involuntary ‘mayday mind meld.’
But what IS his deal? Is he, as many have speculated online, a surgically altered Klingon agent (possibly the albino Torchbearer)? We know from prior Star Trek that the Klingons have the ability to alter themselves to pass for human (“The Trouble With Tribbles”’ Arne Darvin) and have long experimented with augmented human DNA (ENTERPRISE’s “Affliction/Divergence”). So a Klingon-agent Ash definitely makes sense to me.
It’s also worth noting that “Ash” is also the name of the science officer in 1979’s ALIEN, who was revealed to be an android operative on a clandestine mission for the Weyland/Yutani Corp.). This may be more than coincidence, me thinks…
Or…. is Ash Tyler just a ‘Gary Stu’ whom everyone seems to just love at first sight? It’s worth noting that he seems to be naturally gifted at shooting (besting Capt. Lorca on the range), flying shuttlecraft, and even loving Klingon women to stay alive (as revealed in last week’s episode). So who is he really? Lorca seemed to catch him in a lie when Tyler claimed to hail from Seattle (he actually hailed from outside Seattle, but who’s splitting hairs, right?). Lorca, blinded by his faith in the ship’s new golden boy, easily dismissed it. If he truly were nothing but a Gary Stu stalwart hero-type, I would be pretty disappointed; but I suspect future heartbreak is coming soon if/when Tyler is revealed to be VERY different from what he appears to be.
Staying tuned on this one…
* Lt. Paul Stamets.
Wasn’t sure how I felt about him initially but he’s definitely endearing himself to the audience now. Anthony Rapp infuses him with much humor and nerdiness. He only had one scene in the episode, and it was a memorable one. That’s speaks volumes for the actor.
* Cadet Sylvia Tilly.
I’ll say this right now: Mary Wiseman rocks. Her Sylvia Tilly is absolutely adorable. Loved the training sessions with Burnham (and trying to cheat on her diet every chance she gets). Loved her checking out ’new boy’ Ash in the mess hall. Loved her nervous conversation on missions. Tilly is about the most fully-realized audience avatar into Star Trek that I’ve ever seen. She looks a bit more like people that I know in real life; not some ridiculously thin & tanned actor. Her social awkwardness is very real as well. As her confidence seems to grow, I have no doubt that she will indeed make captain someday. As much as I appreciate Burnham, I wouldn’t mind if the story were told from Tilly’s perspective either…
* Love the “Disco” t-shirts worn by her and the crew in their off-hours.
^ These will be, I suspect, the easiest Star Trek future cosplay EVER. Hell, even I might grab one or two of these for when I hit up the Las Vegas Trek convention again…
And a few things I wasn’t so crazy about regarding “Lethe”:
* Lorca and Tyler on a freaking holodeck shooting range.
Okay, I normally try not to get too bent out of shape regarding Star Trek anachronisms popping up within this new show, but this one was a doozy. Holodecks were very specifically rolled out 100 years later in ST lore; as revealed in The Next Generation (“Encounter at Farpoint”). They could’ve at least made the shooting range holodeck a pair of VR gaming goggles or something else a tad less advanced looking than a fully-functional holodeck 100 years before they’re supposed to exit (!).
* Admiral Cornwell (Jane Brook) walking right into a trap.
I could understand Vulcan ambassador Sarek taking Klingons at their word (he’s a pacifist and he’s emotionally inexperienced), but a seasoned admiral just walking into their hands like that? And didn’t she smell a rat with Lorca ‘volunteering’ her on the mission just before she promises to relieve him of his command? Me thinks Admiral Cornwell isn’t necessarily the brightest bulb in Starfleet’s box…
* A so far very underused Doctor Culber (Wilson Cruz).
He had a couple of little bits of him so far, but I want to see him as someone other than kindly doctor and loving partner of Stamets. Who is he? And if he isn’t the ship’s ranking Chief Medical Officer, will we see that character too? Or will Culber be promoted soon? At this point in other Star Treks, we got to know the doctors a little better. I’d like to get to know this one as well. I follow Cruz on Twitter (I admire his courage in social activism), and I saw him in Vegas, so I know he has a lot more charm on tap than what we’ve seen so far…
So that’s about it for this week’s episode recap/review.
The preview for next week promises the return of two Star Trek tropes; a temporal anomaly of some kind (done to death in previous Treks) and a return of Rainn Wilson’s Harry Mudd (whom we met only last week).
Personally I’m thinking it’s a bit too soon for both, but if both are used creatively? There’s no reason why they couldn’t work.
To be continued…