Star Trek: Discovery – Lethe (S1E06) Review

*SPOILERS*

Fresh from last week’s shocking revelation that white male privilege is still alive and kicking in the 23rd Century (Lorca loses his starship, kills his entire crew rather than let them be captured and is rewarded with command of Starfleet’s most advanced experimental secret weapon while Burnham withholds information from her Captain, disobeys an order and orders the crew to take action to prevent a war (which is then countermanded anyway) gets life in prison). I’m no expert in UFP jurisprudence, but I’m thinking Burnham really should have hired Samuel T Cogley, attorney at law, to defend her at her Court Martial.

On Vulcan, Sarek (James Frain) is preparing to leave on a secret mission while onboard the USS Discovery, members of the crew are curious about the newcomer Lieutenant Tyler (Shazad Latif) and Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) arrives to give Captain Lorca a literal dressing down.

We open on Vulcan where we might be expected to think we’re watching a flashback. Only we find out it isn’t and it’s contemporaneous with the stuff happening now on the Discovery but, later on, we do get Vulcan flashbacks, so it’s win win, I guess? On the Discovery we get to see the crew kicking back and relaxing by jogging or playing video games. There’s a fleeting mention of the constitution class Enterprise but it still doesn’t give us definitive proof to place this series in one or other timeline. There’s a lot to unpack in the pre-credits stuff, least of all “Star Trek: Discovery” apparently signing off on the principle of suicide bombing being a ‘logical’ response to a political problem. Oh, and the fact Discovery has a fully functional holodeck, a century before they would become standard issue. More and more it seems like Discovery will have to mysteriously vanish at the end of its televised adventures and take all records of its existence and technology with it.

As the episode opens, we see Ash Tyler trying to settle in, utterly oblivious to the swirl of internet speculation around the nature of his character (which well get to later). He’s welcomed in the mess hall by the Disco twins, Burnham and Tilley, but before they get down to some serious flirtin’, Burnham gets an emergency call on the Psychic Hotline. Unfortunately, it turns out that it’s the mental equivalent of a butt-dial and Burnham has to fight Sarek in order to find out where he is and rescue him before he dies from his injuries.

Discovery spore-drives like its NBD in this episode and it’s casually dropped in that Stamets is just navigating the drive now. It’s played for laughs but there’s a really interesting scene between Lorca, Burnham and Stamets where he’s very different, different enough for Lorca to comment on. It raises the intriguing and no doubt to-be-revisited question: is the Stamets who goes into the spore drive the same Stamets who comes out again? In any event, the Stamets who is there now figures out her can create a navigational tool which piggybacks on the back of the psychic hotline and pinpoint the injured ambassador’s ship.

Although we’re on board for The Search For Sarek, when they arrive at the nebula and send a shuttlecraft in, Discovery is tipping the hat to another classic Trek adventure, The Galileo Seven. Given the track record so far, its remarkable they’re so willing to use a shuttlecraft but off they go into another classic Trek trope of visiting memories to discover a revelatory truth about a past event. It still shows Sarek to be one of the worst TV fathers ever created but at least it teaches Burnham something. I think? I mean, it’s hard to tell given her defining characteristic up until now is that she’ll do whatever the hell she wants, her way, often with her fists. Speaking of which, Surak must surely be spinning in his grave at the portrayal of Vulcans on “Star Trek: Discovery”: suicide bombers, Vulcan mental martial arts? There’s a propensity to violence in Star Trek’s most famously pacifist race that’s bordering on gleefully distasteful.

Burnham may be the series’ declared lead character but she’s not the most interesting. That continues to be Gabriel Lorca and this episode sees him stage a remarkable comeback from last week’s mass murdering nadir. I mean, Kirk was a notorious ladies’ man but even he never bedded an Admiral sent to reprimand him. Perhaps it’s the sleazy saxophone music Lorca apparently favours while plying his visitor with single malt that helps him seal the deal. As a mini-audition, it certainly made me think that thanks to Daniel Craig’s prevaricating and equivocating, we’ve potentially missed out on a fantastic James Bond in Isaacs. In the end, though, it’s a real shame that Admiral Cornwell didn’t have the instincts of her Calamarian peer because the situation she wanders in to is so very, very obviously a trap.

This week’s other nod to Trek’s long history was the Vulcan using a self-detonation technique that we’ve seen before when Tierna turned himself into a bomb to sabotage Voyager and hand it to the Kazon in “Basics, Part 1”. Mind you, the replicator was doing its own homage to “Star Trek: Voyager” this week, channelling its inner Neelix as it couldn’t shut the hell up about the nutritional benefits and marketing slogans of whatever reconstituted proto-matter it was serving up.

A much stronger episode this week, if still a bit patchwork as they covered multiple locations and timeframes. The revelation of how on-the-edge Lorca really is ups the ante and raises the possibility that he’s could be dramatically killed off but also sealed the Admiral’s fate before it was revealed in the show. The internet scuttlebutt about Ash Tyler not being who he appears to be thanks to abruptly changing pre-production publicity seems to be toyed with deliberately in this episode. There’s enough there in the performances and dialogue to reinforce your view, whichever way your confirmation bias lands. If it is revealed that Tyler is an imposter, especially that imposter, then it risks the credibility of the whole series given Lorca’s thoroughly checked out his background and he would have had to undergo a physical examination to return to duty. If he was a Klingon in disguise, we would have easily been found out. As it is, I’m not sure I can trust the series and its writing to keep things logical so if we don’t see Voq pretty soon, preferably in the same room as Tyler, I’m not willing to rule it out.

7/10 

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