While en-route to peace negotiations with the Klingons, Sarek is injured by another Vulcan – a Logic Extremist – who performs a suicide bombing aboard Sarek’s ship. Having placed part of his katra within Burnham years earlier, Sarek creates a telepathic link with Burnham seeking her help. The crew of the USS Discovery, against Starfleet’s explicit orders, decide to make a dangerous rescue mission to save Sarek, stranded in Klingon space.
To find him, Burnham must enter Sarek’s mind and face difficult memories from her past, including a secret that Sarek, her adopted father, has kept from her for years. A secret which changes the way Burnham feels about him.
Lieutenant Tyler begins to settle in with the Discovery crew and quickly finds favour with Captain Lorca after proving his combat skills.
Upon learning of Lorca’s decision to contradict Starfleet’s orders and rescue Sarek, Admiral Cornwell visits the Discovery and questions Lorca’s tactics. The two spend an intimate evening after which Cornwell discovers Lorca has lied on his psych evaluations and is not the man she used to know. The Admiral decides this will be Lorca’s last mission until he is psychologically fit for duty.
With Sarek rescued but unable to attend the peace talks due to injuries, Cornwell goes to Cancri IV, a neutral territory, in his place. But the negotiations were a trap set by the Klingons, who take the Admiral as a prisoner. Rather than attempt a rescue mission, Lorca chooses he will not take the risk – undoubtedly because he can now maintain control of his ship with Admiral Cornwell out of the way.
Quick take on ‘Lethe’
This episode dove in to a number of large issues including Vulcan supremacy, post-trauma psyche, terrorism, and more. It further establishes the series setting and the climate of its era, further develops Michael Burnham and Lt. Tyler’s characters, and moves the season’s story arc a little farther forward.
Lethe has some great dialogue, such as the scenes between Burnham, Tilly, and Tyler, and also those between Admiral Cornwell and Captain Lorca. But it also has a few scenes that could have been done differently or left out completely, such as the hologram fight scene with Lorca and Tyler.
On the plus side there are some stunning visuals in Lethe that really helped make the Star Trek universe feel more accurate to its scale in a way unlike any previous Star Trek series. Vulcan felt like a real world with millions of inhabitants for the first time.
I give Lethe 3.5 stars out of 5.
Writers amplify Sarek’s “fatherly” traits
When one objectively looks at the facts surrounding Sarek, not only in Star Trek: Discovery but in any other Star Trek show or movie, you begin to realize something. Sarek is a failed father and terrible father figure. Lethe chose not to ignore this but instead embrace and further that perspective. I admit that initially this was uncomfortable to me. Sarek has been a staple in Star Trek that is often viewed with great reverence – but should he be? Sarek is by no means a good father or father figure to either of his children, and we get to see he’s done some likely irreparable damage to Burnham as well.
In Lethe we learn Sarek was forced to choose between Burnham and Spock for who would get to go to the Vulcan Expeditionary Group. While Burnham was top of her class, Spock was Sarek’s son. He chose Spock and as we’re reminded in the episode, Spock opts not to join the expedition and instead join Starfleet. However Sarek never tells Burnham that his own choice was the reason she was rejected. Instead, she finds out the hard way while in Sarek’s mind. The choice of Spock doesn’t bother Burnham as much as the fact Sarek withheld this from her. Burnham has felt for years that she failed Sarek; instead she learns she had been manipulated by Sarek.
I got the impression that Discovery‘s writers may also have been trying to touch on the subject of poor fathering. There’s a lot of it out there and women and men can be impacted differently by it. What better way to tell that story than through Sarek? I liked this approach.
Burnham got much needed character development
We finally learn a bit more about Michael Burnham’s formative years.
The Michael Burnham we see when Vulcans are present seems completely different than the one we’re starting to get to know. Perhaps the seven years spent with humans and other species has made a big impact. Or perhaps she feels a need to live up to Vulcan expectations and logic. Either way I’m finding her character to have more split personality with each passing episode.
In addition to her past, we get some hints of where Burnham’s future may be.
Her interactions with Lieutenant Tyler certainly elude to a possible romance between them in the future. If Tyler does indeed end up being Voq, the Klingon, like many of the rumours going around suggest, it could lead to devastation for Burnham. Remember, her parents were killed by Klingons. It would either destroy her from within, or she may recognize Klingon potential beyond violence.
We also learn that Burnham is heavily into fitness – for purely logical reasons I’m sure.
Speaking of fitness, I was uncomfortable with the scenes of Burnham and Tilly jogging around the corridors of the ship. I’ve hailed Cadet Tilly, played by Mary Wiseman, as being a better representation of women of average size. Rather than a show where all the women are overly thin, Discovery opted to be more representative. But here we have Burnham pushing Tilly to work out, as though that has something with one day becoming a starship captain. I found these segments to be a little bit tone-deaf. However I was glad to see Burnham relent in the end, recognizing that she had given Tilly bad advice.
Vulcan has logic extremist terrorists?
In Star Trek: Enterprise, we learned Vulcans can be quite xenophobic when it comes to species with emotions. And particularly Humans. They’re back at it in Discovery too, as the Vulcan Expeditionary Group shows. But did you know that Vulcans also have terrorists?
The thought of a Vulcan terrorist, as so far described in Discovery, seems rather… questionable. Think about it for a second. We know that Vulcans embraced logic millennia ago after becoming so violent they nearly destroyed themselves. Logic became their saviour in a way, and a defining factor of the species. Now we’re expected to believe there are Vulcan Logic Extremists that are willing to perform acts of violence and terrorism as a logical way to achieving their goals. One of those goals, by the way, is basically Vulcan-for-Vulcans. Burnham was killed by them as a child before being revived. So the logic extremists have been around for at least a few decades.