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Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Star Trek: Discovery 1-06: Lethe (Quick Review)

Episode:06|Writer:Joe Menosky & Ted Sullivan|Air Date:22-Oct-2017

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm trying to get some words written up about the new episode of Star Trek: Discovery in a hurry before a newer one comes along.

Lethe was written by Supergirl writer Ted Sullivan and Star Trek legend Joe Menosky... who wrote that episode of Deep Space Nine I hated. He's written better stuff than Dramatis Personae though, like Next Gen's Darmok and almost every Voyager two-parter. To be honest, I wasn't all that keen on a lot of his Voyager or Next Gen work, but I've got no worries about this episode. Discovery's been so consistent for me so far that I'm sure I'll like this episode exactly as much as I've liked the other five so far. Probably.

This is one of my quick reviews, so there'll be no recap, but there will be lots of SPOILERS, both for events in this episode and maybe a couple of other Trek stories. I won't spoil any episode that hasn't aired yet though.

Lorca finally sits down in this episode, it's amazing! Sure he was sitting in the torture chair last week, but here in this episode he willingly sits in his own captain's chair on his own ship. I just had to get that out of the way first. I also have to mention that I like the "Disco" t-shirts; I don't even care if they're just wearing them to sell merchandise.

If you were to do an internet search for the word "Lethe", perhaps because you need to know what it means before you write a review about an episode, you'll find that usually refers either to the Greek goddess of forgetfulness and oblivion, or to the River Lethe, from which people drank from to forget their mortal life. There's not a lot of forgetting going on in this episode though, much the opposite, so I'm thinking that the title might be referring to the other meaning of the word: concealment.

Both of Burnham's father figures have something to hide here, with Sarek hiding the fact that it was his choice that disqualified her from joining the Vulcan Expeditionary Group, and Lorca hiding his PTSD and scars.

The thing about Starfleet captains in the Original Series, is that even the best of them had a tendency to go a bit loopy. Matt Decker became suicidal after his crew died and drove a shuttlecraft into a planet killer, Ronald Tracey became obsessed after his crew died, and started arming aliens and murdering officers for the greater good, and Garth of Izar went megalomaniacal after a horrific injury and ordered his crew to wipe out a planet (they didn't).

I don't know how horrifically injured Captain Lorca was, he's got the eye problem and some mysterious scars, but he hasn't quite been the same since he blew up his own ship and crew. The difference between this and classic Trek though, is that this time we're following the people on his ship, and watching him manipulate them to gain their loyalty. Even his closest friend can't trust a word he says anymore. You want to side with Lorca because he's nice to Burnham, but he seems to be deliberately surrounding himself with veterans who've suffered trauma like him, people who are more likely to have his back when he uses alternative thinking and disobeys orders, and it hasn't escaped Admiral Cornwell's notice.

But the series likes to keep him as an ambiguous character, sometimes painting him as the hero, sometimes as a villain, and even here it's hard to say for certain he made a bold move and deliberately removed Cornwell from play to keep his command. He was definitely pulling a James Bond on her when she came over, charming her to keep her distracted and on his side, and it almost worked until she realised that Bond is a broken man who sleeps with a gun. But did he talk her into going to the secret meeting with the Klingons with the expectation it was going to be a trap? That's how I read the scene, but there's some room for doubt. He might have chosen to wait for Starfleet orders instead of rescuing her as an ironic way to remove an enemy, or he could be taking her advice and trying to play by the rules to keep his ship. Either way, he was clearly panicking and desperate here, and he's still phaser-pants paranoid at the end.

If they'd pulled this kind of thing with the captains on any of the other series I'd have found it too dark for Star Trek, but by making Burnham the protagonist they're in a unique position to take Discovery's captain to interesting places and I'm totally on board with it so far. Plus it helps that Jason Isaacs is great in the role. I've heard one theory I don't like about his scars though: that the 3-sided triangle next to a 1-sided dash is a sign he's a Section 31 agent.

Lorca definitely seems like the second star of the show, but it's Burnham who gets the most focus this time, after getting benched by Saru in Choose Your Pain.

Even in flashbacks, Burnham's always been shown to be super-driven to excel and control her emotions to make Sarek proud of her, which is good if you're trying to be Batman, but less good if you want to be human. This determination pushed her to graduate from the Vulcan Science Academy ahead of all the Vulcans in her class, but it also meant that rejection from the Vulcan Expeditionary Group was humiliating for her. She's had to live with the feeling that she'd failed Sarek all this time, that not getting in was his greatest disappointment, so learning that it was his damn fault and he never told her definitely seems like a real turning point for her.

It's like she's finally off the hook, she doesn't have to be what he wants her to be anymore, and now she's allowing herself to be slightly less robotic. Which sounds good to me; I've liked her as a character so far, but I think I'd like her more if she was ever happy. Though now she's got emotions conflicting with other emotions and it's a bit confusing for someone who's repressed them all her life. Fortunately, she's got Tilly and Tyler to help her out, with one of them having a personality and the other being really good at being a human. I mean that; Tyler is 100% convincing.

Star Trek 2-10: Journey to Babel
So after 50 years we've finally learned the real cause for the rift between and Sarek and Spock in Journey to Babel. He was pissed off that he'd sacrificed his adopted daughter's career to give his biological son the opportunity instead, and then his son didn't even go to the Science Academy, never mind the Expeditionary Group! Though of course Sarek couldn't come out and admit what he'd done, because of all kinds of very logical reasons (but mostly because he was ashamed). So one child ended up feeling like a failure and the other was pushed away. And a third was already exiled or something, but not even Discovery cares about Sybok.

I'm not sure anyone was really crying out for someone to come along and retcon Spock's relationship with his dad, but if it had to be done I'm glad it was done so well. It slots very well within what we've already seen and I actually kind of like how we've been getting the story of Spock and his family told in bits and pieces across multiple series and movies.

Star Trek (2009)
Sarek's memories in this episode apparently take place just before the scene in the 2009 Star Trek movie where Spock tells the council of dicks at the Science Academy to live long and prosper before going off to join Starfleet. Sure the film is set in an alternate timeline, but I can believe the two Spocks lived pretty much identical lives until one of them arrived on Earth to find that his Enterprise hadn't been built yet. They certainly encountered identical racism against Not-Quite Vulcans.

I kind of assumed that the xenophobic terrorist bombings would've ended by now at least, after Captain Archer got Vulcan society back on track in Enterprise, but 100 years later there's still Vulcans finding logical reasons to blow themselves up and others. This does explain a bit of continuity weirdness from the first two episodes though, as it turns out that Burnham was the victim of two attacks as a child. The explosion at the Learning Center was a Vulcan terrorist attack that came after the Klingon assault that killed her parents. So now that makes a lot more sense to me, and I'm a big fan of things making sense.

Vulcan's turning into the Tatooine of Star Trek at this point with how often it shows up, but when it gives us visuals like this I'm not going to complain. Plus it's nice to get out of the ship and see a planet for once, even if it is just a memory for most of the episode. The series is even less keen to visit strange new worlds and new civilizations than DS9 was.

We also got some goofy surreal shots of Burnham getting shoved out of the Matrix, which I think I liked, and a nebula made from an inexplicable splat of colours, which I'm pretty sure I didn't. Everything is forgiven though because of that scene at the start that zooms in to show Burnham and Tilly jogging through one of the bridges connecting Discovery's saucer sections. It's nice just to see Burnham and Tilly hanging out as friends still, especially now Tyler's joined them. I'm not sure how much the writers want us to be suspicious of Tyler at this point, but they're definitely dropping hints that he might not be 100% truthful (it doesn't help that he's caught lying to Lorca about his kill count at the start). But Lorca seems to trust him after his training course interrogation... maybe... it's hard to tell with him.

There's been no update on the Stamets mirror situation from the last episode, but 'hallucination' is starting to seem like a possible explanation. I don't know if it's due to Ripper's DNA in his cells, his connection to the mycelial network, or just too much exposure to his 'shrooms, but Stamets has started using words like 'groovy' and he's clearly a bit out of it. He's not even bothered by the needles at this point! Though he takes an immediate interest in the idea that there's a second magic uncharted superhighway network spread across the galaxy, this one allowing them instant telepathic communication and long-range soul grafting. I wish I shared his enthusiasm... though it's hard for me to complain about the bullshit science in this anymore now that The Flash is back on TV.

I'm really not happy with the holodeck though; that tech was supposed to be brand new in Next Gen! Yeah, I know the Animated Series featured a holographic simulator, but we never saw it the live action series and there's a whole scene in Encounter at Farpoint featuring Data explaining the tech to Riker like he'd never seen one before, so I'm declaring that to be non-canonical. I mean I'm sure this simulator doesn't replicate props and water like the Next Gen holodeck does, and I doubt they'll be having long conversations with the NPCs, but the fact that they're running around in what turns out to be a tiny room seems really off. Plus it gave me flashbacks to Die Another Day. If I was running the series I probably would've had the training course turn out to be a section of the ship decorated to look like a Klingon vessel, with the enemies projected in. Then next time Burnham and Tilly went for a jog they'd use it as a shortcut.

Overall, I think I liked this episode exactly as much as I liked the other five so far. It's a bit more introspective and there's fewer space battles, but I found it to be interesting enough. Even if taking a trip into someone else's mind and memories isn't exactly an original concept for Trek. I mean there's Next Gen's Dark Page, Voyager's Flashback, plus Joe Menosky himself wrote DS9's Distant Voices, with the Lethean hunting Bashir. Wait, lethe... Lethean... I see what he did there.


Sarek's pilot turns out to be a logic extremist who tries to blow him up (instead of just pulling a gun). The team on Burnham's shuttle did just fine though!

Discovery will return with Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm watching The Orville's Majority Rule.

If you've got any opinions or thoughts about Lethe you could leave a comment in the box below.

1 comment:

  1. I think the number one reason I don't want Clem Fandango to turn out to be Voq is that if he is, all the hints they are dropping are going to seem clumsy and obvious in hindsight, and that would be a shame.

    Although I like how Burnham is a rubbish Trek protagonist who keeps getting things wrong and annoying people, I admit it was good to see her be happy and get things right this episode.