Star Trek: Discovery Episode 6 — “Lethe”
The Jokerside.com review
A series well in its stride, Discovery has no intention of giving up its dedication to mystery during one of Starfleet’s darkest hours. For any other series, this episode could be called, run-of-the-mill. *Spoiler alert*
Episode log: Star Trek: Discovery 1.6: Lethe | Series: 1 | Episode: 6 | Duration: 43 minutes | Ship: USS Discovery | Teleplay: Joe Menosky & Ted Sullivan | Director: Douglas Aarniokoski
“We have exactly no time to discuss the metaphysical implications”
Fortunately, I do! Few of the current crop of leading genre shows can match Discovery’s quest to conjure up conspiracy theories. In part, that’s the fans poking and prodding around its combative placement in a dense chronology. But mainly, it’s writing that’s intent on pulling mystery into almost every character interaction. And how better to stoke those flames than evoke the name of a character who managed a whole minute of screen time 51 year’s ago? Of course, this episode’s title was seized as a reference to the episode Dagger of the Mind from The Original Series’ first year by the conspiriati, a forgivably wistful deduction considering how many links to the franchise’s early days have popped up so far… But we’ll likely never know which hideous crime that mysterious heterochromatic patient turned facilitator at the Tantalus correctional facility originally committed… And that’s a worthwhile sacrifice. This episode instead delves into the definition of the Greek name she bore — oblivion, forgetfulness, concealment; all related to the plots and sub-plots that run through another surprisingly dense, but pacey episode.
Continuity fans shouldn’t worry at the absence of another TOS character.
There are plenty of other references, some more controversial than others, to keep the tricorder whirring. Welcome is the presence of exec producer Joe Menosky on writing credits, an alumnus of all three next generation Star Trek series, not least 12 episodes for ST:TNG itself, including legitimate fan favourite Darmok.
His script is packed full of continuity nods, humour and the standard slice of horror and pure discombobulation we’ve come to expect from Discovery. Take the opening run through the ship’s decks, after a dazzling camera drift in from space. Tilly and Burnham knowingly decked out in ‘Disco’ shirts, bantering at peak odd couple. That relationship’s a fun one, and crucial here; allowing a reintroduction to Sarek, a recurring character already absent for four episodes, and pulling into the net the new, damaged recruit Ash Tyler.
One killer for continuity fans is the rather advanced holo-simulator Ash and Lorca are found in, taking out digital Klingons in a slicker replication of the previous week’s escape.
Incongruous to that era? Debatable, but it very much depends on one’s view of complicated canonicity. Disowned by creator Gene Roddenberry, Discovery’s already afforded Star Trek: The Animated Series an unprecedented amount of respect, and here its astute to reference that series as home to the franchise’s first holodeck-gone-wrong story. The holographic recreation room was introduced aboard the Enterprise in the episode The Practical Joker. More on that intense training session in the theory zone below.
If you’re looking for less controversial continuity, there’s some lovely stuff to be found. From the early mention of the Constitution Class Enterprise, the first mention of Burnham’s adopted brother Spock, and an appearance of his mother Amanda — naturally handing her adopted daughter a copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Surely there’s more to that book than meets the eye or Katra in this show.
Yes, Sarek’s back, and he’s in trouble as we’re propelled into yet another rescue mission.
It’s a staple of Trek, and any perceived repetition between the episodes is confronted: come the end, those incessant rescue missions prove a crucial benchmark. This week, Discovery’s take on it incorporates a babbling, quick and expository natter around a sickbay bed (how we’ve missed those!). And then comes a full pelt horror-tinged, matrix-derivative dive into psychedelia. Fortunately, the derivative part doesn’t overstay its welcome. Horror returns with the senior Vulcan, and this time it’s an unsettling take on the ghostly, evoking the low-budget horror of films like Insidious as much as dream sequences in classic Star Trek. There is something massively unsettling about Sarek breaking his own role in past events to physically attack and repulse his adopted daughter. The reluctant victim refusing rescue from the confines of their mind, is not the easiest, especially when they’re a rather prickly Vulcan. Discovery can hack that, and by the end of the Vulcan sequences it shows that it can hack it well.
And respect to the representation of Vulcans the show throws up; Klingons and humans aren’t the only ones under the spotlight.
While James Frain’s Sarek may appear mildly less Vulcan than some of his compatriots, the characterisation, culture and pricks of logic are ably played with. Enterprise wasn’t bad at that — spending huge swathes in the company of a potentially very dull race, but Discovery shows just how interesting they can be. Yes, the early terrorism, finally filling in some holes gaping since the pilot, is quick. But it’s also effective. The controlled exchange and rapid last-minute response in the pre-title sequence is wholly Vulcan. and to watch? Quite fascinating.
But there’s a heart in there as well. Come the end it’s as much about Burnham as Sarek. Aside from the complex parental relationship it’s clear that Burnham learnt much about manipulation from her adopted father (and there’s plenty of manipulative crossover with her new ‘adopted’ father to be mined too). Things don’t get much better than Sarek’s sneaky, disingenuous attempts to wriggle out of his “Vulcan dad” role from his sickbay bed at the end. His situation isn’t without some empathy. Spock is described as his experiment, he lives with the fact that, “the choice I made merited nothing”. But how impressive that the show can both retcon an established relationship schism after 50 years and develop the main character’s journey. Confident stuff.
They went that way
It’s just a shame that a fair few of these developments are sign-posted.
That’s not something we’re too used to in the growing, compelling web of intrigue that Discovery’s done so well to weave. While the appearance of the show’s unluckiest Klingon, Voq, in the opening summary is curious once again, the mission to meet two dissident Klingon houses was never likely to pan out well. And as soon as Jayne Brooks’ Admiral Cornwall gets a lock on Lorca’s issues and resolves to have him removed in the main sub-plot, it was never likely she’d ever make it back to HQ. Just as it’s evident far too early in the pang of Katra that the Vulcans accepted Burnham, yielding a choice that Sarek shouldn’t have found quite as impossible as he did.
Fortunately, there are other herrings hung out to swelter. That Burnham collapses near Tyler is telling, as are ambiguous revelations about Lorca. And maybe, respectively, connected to each: the Klingon masterplan or the fascinating implications of the mirror universe moving into sight.
The shadow, or rather reflection, of the Mirror Universe hangs over proceedings, or is that just what we think?
Utterly unfathomable is the amusing change in Stamet’s personality, explained away as his augmentation regimen, but also inexplicable how that change allies to the mirror universe. It’s brief too — the onboard humour falls to Tilly and Burnham instead. Cornwall’s appearance quickly brings to the fore the dark rule-bending aboard ship, not least pulling eugenics into the spore-drive breakthrough in a way that can’t help add a further shade of grey to Starfleet’s greatest weapon (and whatever route through the mirror darkly it chooses to take). In fact, Cornwall’s visit was spectacularly savage. “You launched an unauthorised rescue mission using a convicted mutineer not to mention a POW who has barely had time to recover”.
One curiosity is becoming a habit.
As the show hits a mean stride, particularly acute when the vulnerable shuttle’s powering through a fantastically vibrant nebula, the USS Discovery is a very static ship. That’s quite opposite to wonderful swoosh of the marketing and title sequence. The jumps, here little explained, only reinforce that stationary nature. For long swathes the ship’s hanging in space, easily reached by Starfleet. And for all its role as the Fleet’s greatest weapon, we aren’t revealed to much of the war. Sarek’s taken down by the dissident roots familiar from Enterprise and involving neither human nor Klingon. There are none of the casualty bulletins or savage accounts off-screen familiar from Deep Space Nine.
But much can be forgotten in the weight that Discovery can pack into what’s could easily be seen as a more work-a-day episode. Telling character work is there for plot-propulsion first and foremost. But there’s a clear remit for that to happen that the show wears on its sharp blue sleeve. It’s the same approach the Disco shirts bring to a fine sense of humour, pitched in with Burnham and Tilly’s hilarious interplay, and a health conscious vending machine that could have been upgraded from Red Dwarf. What’s great about Discovery is that these scenes matter, even if they’re clearly and primarily intended to position. By the end we have progress on Tilly’s route to the captain’s chair, Burnham adapting to her situation, and a crucial reintroduction to Tyler. The return to that early race around the ship, and a new beginning for both new Bridge members is lovely stuff. “May fortune favour the bold” indeed.
Getting Theoretical: What are the latest theories?
“Less than a week ago you were being tortured, now you’re back in the chair”
The geometric scars, that ending — wilfully reflecting and subverting the mirror surprise of the week before, but with added paranoid phaser — Lorca’s shoulders carry a lot of strain this week. It’s occasionally difficult to work out the desperation from manipulation, but there’s no doubt he’s on edge. That is, if he isn’t Section 31, a Klingon spy, or a mirror duplicate.
But there is the distinct sense, reading between the lines, that Lorca really does know what he’s doing. His ‘adoption’ of Burnham is rightly allied with Tyler’s. Both gain new Bridge positions this week, and both are put to the test as their relationship grows while Lorca’s position crumbles. “Or don’t come back at all” he says to Tyler at the idea he may lose Burnham. And yet for all the reassertion that she’s important, that reason is increasingly a little lost. A cadre of troops loyal to him and not Starfleet, perhaps? But in the earlier exchange could Lorca’s dialogue suggest that he’s playing a longer game than anyone ever imagined? His questioning of Tyler may suggest that. If the lieutenant most likely to own a tattoo stating, “I am a Klingon” does have something to hide, his captain may be two steps ahead.
That throwaway “Seattle” trap may prove one of Discovery’s most important moments.
“Rules are for admirals and back officers”
A tale of two sides. Kol’s quest for a united Klingon empire, bribing a growing faithful with the power to cloak ships. And then Lorca’s increasingly dark mission to win at any cost. And somehow in the middle it packs in style, horror, and humour, with more layering than a targ could shake its tail at. A ‘B’ rating seems mean for a show that’s maintaining such a high level — not seen in the franchise for 50 years. And that’s not bad when you know an ambassador will definitely survive, and an admiral’s damned as soon as she sets foot on the ship.
While it’s pacey this is all a bit run of the mill by Discovery’s standards. The confidence still dazzles as it’s happy to serve up unbelievable sights. Strands are left as it coils a palpable noose tighter around the looming looking glass. Can the promise of the Mirror universe really be a crucial crux at the heart of this series? Can it sustain the jump from mystery to answers? If the trade-off is such a watchable episode that’s so dedicated to simply getting chess pieces to their next position I can take it.
There’s a delight in the little details, like Lorca’s quick zip up as he heads for a rollicking, Burnham’s still impressive eyebrow work before a broad grin at the end, the wildly irritating health advice from the replicator, and a background score that’s working its own thematic magic. To think we haven’t even reached a temporal anomaly yet…. News that a second series has been confirmed broke just before this episode was released and it’s welcome. Discovery just makes me want to watch more Star Trek.