It’s incredibly impressive that Star Trek Discovery is still this good after the excitement of its explosive premiere has long since died down (call me a pessimist, but it’s more than I hoped for), especially considering the risks it takes. Not only does it continue to flout seemingly every Star Trek rule available, but it doesn’t even cling to the new ones it creates for itself - now that’s bold! Episode 6, Lethe, continues to drive the story forward and build the characters’ development, while still providing an exciting series of events to keep you glued to the screen. If you haven’t seen it yet, there are mild spoilers to follow, but for everyone else, let’s talk about what makes the latest episode such good viewing.
This episode sees more of a self-contained story than in previous weeks as we take a break from the war and the DASH drive for some character building. The main thrust of the plot is that Sarek is in trouble and Burnham has to rescue him, which gives the perfect excuse for some emotional flashbacks which tell us more about these characters. Thanks to Burnham’s connection with Sarek (she’s shares part of is katra - basically, his Vulcan soul - after he used it to save her life as a child), she quickly discovers he’s in danger and is pulled into his dying memories as she rushes to rescue him. It’s within these memories we get our first look at Mia Kirshner as Spock’s mum Amanda, as Sarek remembers Burnham’s graduation day and the moment they found out she would not be joining the Vulcan Expeditionary Group.
It’s a painful memory for both Burnham and Sarek (who continually tries to eject her from his thoughts despite her attempts to save his life) and it’s obvious that not all it as it appears to be. It takes Burnham a little longer than us to realise Sarek is hiding something, but eventually it's revealed that she wasn’t rejected from the Expeditionary Group because she wasn’t good enough, but because the Director forced Sarek to make a choice between his son Spock’s induction and Michael’s. Apparently, it wouldn’t do for two “non-Vulcans” to be accepted into the Expeditionary Group and Sarek chooses his son. It’s a decision which fans will witness with much irony, knowing that Spock will never even apply to the Vulcan Expeditionary Group after he rejects his offer of entry to the Vulcan Science Academy in favour of Starfleet. Sarek continues to feel shame over this “mistake”, which is why he focuses on it in what he thinks are his final moments.
Everything about this plotline is a joy to watch. The flashbacks provide us with another much-wanted look at Vulcan and Spock’s family (although minus its most famous member), while the revelations give birth to some real development and change in both Sarek and Burnham. Finally, we see Michael move forward, her long-delayed personal evolution based on some well thought-out plot points. Some fans will balk to see Sarek, a Vulcan, show such emotion in this episode, but it actually works. After all, Vulcans aren’t born emotionless, they simple to choose to suppress their feelings in favour of logic, and the idea that they would never fail to contain them, especially in moments of extreme stress, is… well, illogical.
These aren’t the only characters to go through a change in this episode though. Elsewhere Captain Lorca is ‘recovering’ from his time in the hands of the Klingons. And by ‘recovering’, I mean not dealing with it at all. This is the concern of Admiral Cornwell, who turns up when she finds out that Lorca has sent Burnham off to rescue Sarek against orders, and that he’s made recent POW Lieutenant Ash Tyler his new Head of Security. She’s concerned about his judgement and it turns out she’s right to be when he wakes up after they have some sexy times (oh my god, hearing sexy ‘let’s get it on’ music in a Star Trek series is just whole new experience) and holds a gun to her head. Spoiler: She doesn’t take it well.
It’s in this moment, when she tells him he’s not fit to captain the Discovery, that we see Lorca in a truly different light. He’s vulnerable, he’s begging her not to take his ship away, and just when you think you’re seeing a different side to him, Cornwell makes you wonder if it’s real. “I hate that I can’t tell if this is really you,” she says, before walking out.
I thought seeing such a drastic change in Lorca would make him less believable, but it’s so cleverly done that it actually just re-enforces everything you already felt about him. It’s truly a new experience to watch a Star Trek Captain with such suspicion, but it’s a great piece of storytelling regardless, and I can’t wait to see where it goes. The same can be said of how Tyler’s storyline is treated in this episode. It’s as if the showrunners knew about the popular fan theory doing the rounds when they filmed it and tease us with the possibility that he’s not who he appears to be throughout the episode. It never becomes too much though, or distracts from the main events - it’s clear his storyline will be a slow burner for the series, but I’m in no rush, I’m enjoying myself too much! On a related side note, we see nothing of Voq again in this episode...
Once again Star Trek Discovery proves that it can combine the best of the Original Series while satiating our more-modern story-telling desires, to create an almost perfect hour of TV. We learn a lot about almost all of the main characters - something which was desperately needed for lead Burnham - and not only that, they actually develop and move forward as well (which a lot of TV shows sometimes forget to do). There is enough intrigue, action, and emotion to keep us hooked throughout, as well as a set-up for very exciting series event next week. In short, you can’t ask for much more.