Originally Published on There Are Four Mics – A Star Trek Podcast
(We’re moving our Star Trek Discovery related content over here where it belongs)
To be honest, going into the sixth episode of Star Trek Discovery, Lethe, I felt like the setup was definitely establishing this as one of those one-off episodes. Nothing much meaningful is going to happen, and is a break from the grand arc of the season. It’s featuring Sarek, who isn’t even a member of the crew. What relevance could this have?
BOY WAS I WRONG. Lethe is the opposite of that. Let’s do a Lethe review.
Sure, there is a fair amount of focus on Sarek. But even where that doesn’t contribute dramatically to the season’s arc, it contributes a heckuva lot to Burnham and family. The revelation that Burnham earned entry into the Vulcan Expeditionary Force, but those bigoted Vulcans would only take one of Sarek’s “experiments”? Devastating! That’s no way to talk about actual children.
Burnham earned it and desperately wanted it, but Sarek made the decision to reserve the opportunity for Spock. That Spock later abandoned it and opted for the same path that Burnham is now on in Starfleet? This is some Greek tragedy levels of goodness. While I’m suspect of the concept of prequels in general because it does inherently remove a certain sense of tension from them, this is exactly where prequels can excel. They can add greater depth and meaning to later events. This does so perfectly without feeling forced or shoe-horned in. This is just delightful storytelling.
These episode also seems the integration of Ash Tyler into a full-fledged member of the Discovery crew. After seeing his fancy flying in “Choose Your Pain” and his on-point shooting in the simulator this week, Lorca offers him the post of security chief. As a dedicated Commander Landry supporter, this feels a little too soon. Even in space, I’m not sure her body is cold yet. But, Tyler continues to be irresistibly charming so I can’t help but make room for him in my heart. And the fact that he’s from Issaquah, Washington?! I work in Issaquah! Way to finally tap into that suburban Seattle demographic, Star Trek Discovery.
Lorca and Cornwell
I think the biggest contribution to this season’s arc comes in the interactions between Admiral Cornwell and Captain Lorca. Obviously, there’s the unexpected part where they get drunk and bang. This seems like it might be a violation of some Starfleet code, or at least raise some salmon-colored flags. In spite of that, it’s quirky and unexpected so I’m definitely filing it under “fun.”
But afterwards when she’s exploring all the scars on his back? Lorca pulls out a phaser clearly set to kill. The moments where he’s choking her and his sleepy head is still trying to piece together what’s going on are terrific! That beautiful pause creates space for the implications of this to sink in. Those horrible moments just hung there for what felt like an eternity. So when he finally pulls back, I’m totally right there with him realizing that this ain’t gonna go well for him.
But she promises to demote Lorca just as soon as she’s finished up with this whole Klingon peace agreement thing. I’ve seen TV before. You never say “as soon as I get back from this dangerous thing the show will be fundamentally changed.” That’s asking to be murdered, Admiral. So it unsurprisingly turns out to be an ambush. What is surprising, however, is Lorca’s complete lack of effort at a rescue. Yeah, she’s gonna take his ship away, but…generally Star Trek tells us stories about people doing the right thing regardless of personal cost. Lorca does not do that, but often gets close enough to that line that he’s able to get away with it. Lotta bread crumbs continue being dropped suggesting that Lorca ain’t a great fella. Admiral Cornwell helps drive the point home by just straight-up saying that he isn’t the man she once knew.
“Lethe” looks like one of those inconsequential standalone episodes, but turns out to be anything but. Cornwell is at least temporarily removed from the board. Ash Tyler is making his way into everybody’s hearts. And Sarek’s actions in this episode reverberate forward through time to make his disappointment with Spock in The Original Series all the more meaningful.
Pick up all of Star Trek Discovery season one on Blu-ray from Amazon here.