The latest episode of Star Trek Discovery is here and while it’s a fairly self contained episode in terms of events, it sets up a lot of narrative threads. From Vulcan racism to hints about the Mirror Universe, it’s a show that makes up for it’s insular narrative by sowing plenty of interesting and dangerous seeds for the future. There’s also, as in previous episodes, a few canon bothering discrepancies with both tech and timelines that might never be answered satisfactorily. It’s a good episode, though, building both tension and backstory without necessarily (or needing to) advance the larger plot in any major way. So, what does it all mean? Here’s the ten questions (with spoilers) I have after watching episode 6 Lethe. Want to read our full episode review? Ok!
1. What the hell does Lethe mean?
As with previous episodes, episode 6’s title has a telling meaning relevant to clarifying the events within. In this case 'Lethe’ was a river in Hades where drinking the water made you forget the past. It’s also a byword for forgetful oblivion and clearly a reference to Sarek’s shameful secret that he tries to hide from Michael - that, forced to choose between letting her or Spock into the Vulcan Science Academy, he chose against her.
2. How messed up and racist is Vulcan society exactly?
“You are one of them. A fanatic,” says Sarek just before his co-pilot explodes as a living bomb attempting to end Vulcan involvement with the Federation. It sets up episode 6 but also makes it clear that it’s not all logic and cupcakes in Vulcanland. There’s a heavily racist underbelly of radicals that see humans as “inferior” and Sarek’s interest with their Federation as an damaging “obsession.” Later, we discover both his children - the adopted human Michael, and the half human/Vulcan Spock - are seen as aberrations to Vulcan purity. So much so, that it’s revealed in this episode that the bombing which nearly killed Michael as a child was their work. Even at an otherwise civilised level we see Sarek forced to chose which of his children will enter the Vulcan Expeditionary Group, because the idea of two non-Vulcans succeeding at being Vulcan is apparently far too abhorrent. For a race espousing logic above all else they get pretty upset by immigrants coming going over there and taking their science academy jobs.
3. What is the Vulcan Expeditionary Group?
The Vulcan Expeditionary Group appears to be a significant part of the Vulcan Science Academy, but it’s not been mentioned before other than within Discovery itself. We know from this episode (and main canon) that Spock ultimately refused a position with the Academy, and presumably the Expeditionary Group, in favour of Starfleet, because of Vulcan racism against his human half. That refusal at the time was was seen as an extraordinary move by Spock suggesting it’s the very top of Vulcan scientific culture.
Read more: The 20 best Star Trek episodes ever.
4. Where did the holodecks go?
Until now holodecks weren’t a thing on pre-24th century starships (The Next Generation era). Which makes the holographic battle simulation Lorca and Tyler are running a bit of a problem… This takes place about ten years before Kirk’s time, remember, and ships of that age, while potentially having holographic-equipped recreation rooms, didn’t have full holodecks. Maybe Discovery’s place as a cutting edge Starfleet science vessel means it’s got some specialist equipment that won’t be more common issue for another hundred years or so.
5. Just how much has Starfleet checked up on Lieutenant Tyler?
If you’re up to speed with Discovery then you’ll have seen a certain Star Trek theory that Ash Tyler might not be who he says he is. The theory seems to be put in the spotlight almost immediately here, with Lorca calling out inaccuracies to Ash claiming Seattle as his home town. Later, even Vice Admiral Cornwell expresses doubt about him as Lorca prepares to make him Chief of Security. For a man now on the senior crew of one of the most sensitive and important ships in the Federation war effort, there still seems to be a lot of questions about him.
6. How far can the Discovery jump now without the Tardigrade?
As we saw in episode 5, the Discovery's teleporting DASH drive was slowly killing Ripper, the creature that acted as its living navigator. It was the key to long distance DASH jumps previously only perfected by its sister ship the Glenn. Without it, only shorter jumps are possible, but here we see the Discovery apparently jump to rescue Sarek (the ‘drop’ straight down when it appears is different to the streaking warp appearance). In episode 3 it’s mentioned that the Discovery has only managed jumps in the hundreds of kilometers, before obtaining the Glenn’s tardigrade. If it’s DASH jumping here, it suggests the distances possible may be a narrative constraint as much as a scientific one.
7. Is that the real Stamets?
At the end of the last episode Stamets appears to have been changed from his brush with the DASH drive, with his reflection in the mirror suggesting he might be linked to the Mirror Universe now. In this episode his behaviour has changed a lot, from stern and cold, to light hearted and almost… fun. It begs the question: has his encounter with cosmological infinity given him a new perspective, or is he a totally different Stamets from another dimension?
8. Why did Kol want a high ranking Vulcan?
The now vanquished and curiously absent Voq wanted to unite the Klingon houses to destroy the Federation by appealing to jingoistic pride. Kol, on the other hand, is trying to do much the same but by trading Voq’s cloaking tech to anyone who helps him. Using that leverage he manages to engineer ‘peace talks’ from two of the houses that eventually gets him Vice Admiral Cornwell. That was an accident, though, as he’d previously been trying to get “a high ranking Vulcan”. But why? The Vulcans are part of the Federation but it’s a human-led organisation - what would a Vulcan leader, and a non-military one at that, get him?
9. Just how messed up is Lorca? (And is it really him?)
Captain Lorca is being to crack in this episode and Vice Admiral Cornwell questions his state of mind both as an officer and a friend. The second his command is threatened he engineers a situation he presumably hopes will solve that problem, by suggesting she takes Sarek’s place talking to the KIingons. At best, it implies he’s unhinged, or, at worst, so far gone that he’ll sacrifice anything to ‘win’. However, one lingering shot of his reflection in a window opens up another possibility: that this is a Mirror Universe Lorca. In the original series the Mirror Universe was discovered when a violent ion storm caused the Enterprise to beam over alternate evil versions of the crew. We know nothing about Lorca’s previous command, the USS Buran, and given his actions, I have to wonder if he’s an evil version as a result of a similar accident? One who killed an entire ship’s worth of people to keep that secret?
10. Will we ever see Spock?
It’s only a name check but we finally have Spock mentioned by name in Discovery. It’s unlikely we’ll see him in any major capacity, but this episode sets up Sarek’s non-Vulcan children as a major thorn in the side of Vulcan society, so both have a part to play. Given Sarek’s predominance in Michael’s life, the appearance of her foster mother Amanda, and the need to flesh out Michael’s backstory, it’s possible that we might get a glimpse of a certain set of pointy ears at some point.