Sunday, May 26, 2024

Down We Go Again in Star Trek: Discovery Episode 6

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Oh boy. We have a whole new set of “what the hell” this week. Let’s get to it.

Episode 6: “Lethe”

On Vulcan, Ambassador Sarek embarks on a mission to the Cancri System with Adjunct V’Latak. Although Sarek won’t share the details of the mission, V’Latak reveals he doesn’t need to. The member of an extremist group wholly dedicated to logic, V’Latak rejects Sarek’s mission to broker peace with two splinter houses in the Klingon Empire. He attempts to assassinate Sarek through self-destruction. Sarek’s ship drops out of warp and drifts aimlessly in an undisclosed nebula.

Simultaneously, on Discovery, Burnham puts Tilly through a rigorous training regimen to improve her chances of ascending to captaincy. Initially reluctant, Tilly takes to it with enthusiasm once swayed by Burnham’s logic and long-view of her career. After their training, they meet new Chief of Security Ash Tyler in the mess hall—him having come off from a simulation mission/personal training with Lorca. Tyler shows little concern for Burnham being the infamous mutineer, taking more of Lorca’s stance and seeing her as a viable and valuable crew member. During the introduction, Burnham suddenly doubles over in pain. She sees a vision of Sarek as she collapses.

Propelled through their mental link, Burnham finds herself in Sarek’s mind. Sarek is remembering Burnham’s graduation from the Vulcan Science Academy, and the results of her application to the Vulcan Expeditionary Group. The VEG has denied Burnham’s application, and while Amanda Grayson, Sarek’s wife and Burnham’s adoptive mother, pleads with him to fight the decision, Sarek refuses to. He agrees their assessment of Burnham’s lack of abilities is valid and accurate. Sarek eventually notices Burnham’s intrusion in his mind. Enraged, he forces her out.

Burnham wakes up in sickbay, monitored by Dr. Culber and questioned by Lorca. She explains she shares part of Sarek’s katra, has done so since a terrorist attack on the Vulcan Learning Center she studied at as a child. Burnham explains Sarek’s “experiments” with humans integrating into Vulcan society are not well thought of by small renegade sects, and he has been the subject of several direct and indirect attacks. Burnham is concerned he might have been attacked again, and this time dying, unknowingly reaching out to her for help. She pleads with Lorca to help her find him. Lorca agrees.

Starfleet command confirms Sarek was attacked by extremists on route to a secret meeting with the Klingons. Lorca, assuming the meeting would be a trap, mocks the Vulcan Starfleet member for thinking Vulcans could successfully go behind Starfleet’s back to “clean up our illogical mess.” Lorca says he will retrieve Sarek, despite Starfleet’s objections. Given his history of forging alliances and working with other species, Sarek is the best chance they have for brokering peace.

Discovery warps to the nebula, but the size of it and the lack of distress beacon from Sarek’s ship makes locating it through scans or probes impossible. Burnham suggests they use her connection to Sarek instead. With Stamets help, Burnham uses a neural enhancer to augment the Vulcan mind meld, which should allow her to locate Sarek and force him into consciousness. He could then activate his transponder, which would allow Discovery to find him. With its spores, Discovery can’t venture into the nebula. Lorca allows Burnham to take a shuttle with Tilley and Tyler.

While waiting for the shuttle to return, Admiral Katrina Cornwell boards the Discovery and confronts Lorca. She demands to know why he went through with an unauthorized rescue, jeopardizing the Discovery as Starfleet’s secret weapon and calling into further question his competency as captain. Lorca convinces her to drop the admiralty act and speak to her as a friend. They continue their conversation over drinks. They reminisce on better times before Admiral Cornwell expresses her concerns, worried the events of Burham and his Klingon captivity are affect his judgment. Lorca dismisses her concerns, citing his passed psych evaluation. They let the conversation about his mental state drop in favor of reconnecting as lovers.

On the shuttle, Tilley and Burnham prepare for the mind meld augmentation. Burnham confesses Sarek is focusing on her failure as his ward and the bridge between humans and Vulcans in his dying thoughts, and how distressing this is to her. How can his greatest failure—Burnham’s humanity—save him now? The shuttle arrives at Sarek’s last known location. Burnham starts the meld.

Burnham returns to Sarek’s mind and her graduation. She watches as Amanda gifts her younger self with Alice in Wonderland, complete with mother’s advice. Amanda praises her and her gifts, telling her she is as good as any Vulcan but to never forget or fail to nurture her human side. Sarek joins them and delivers the news of Burnham’s rejection. The argument begins again. Burnham calls out to Sarek. Once again he tries to expel her, but Burnham resists. She fights him, trying to get him to understand she wants to help.

Burnham’s life signs plummet. Tyler forces Tilley to pull Burnham out of the meld. He tries to get them to return to the Discovery. Burnham refuses to go without Sarek, but isn’t sure what else she can do. Sarek continues to reject her because of her failure, and remembering it is painful for Burnham. Tyler suggests it hurts Sarek, too, and then offers her advice: at death, no one thinks of other people’s failures; they think of their own and what they should have done differently. Armed with this new perspective, Burnham dives in again.

In Sarek’s mind, Burnham demands to know what he is hiding from her. In their next fight, Burnham bests him and Sarek finally lets her in, revealing to her his devotion to her, and also his failure as her guardian and adoptive father. Burnham’s application had been accepted by the VEG, but anticipating that Spock would also seek a place in it, the leader forced Sarek to choose between his two “experimental not-quite-Vulcans.”

Although it clearly distresses him—a reaction based on emotion, which is illogical and clearly mocked by the leader—Sarek chooses Spock for a future in the VEG. Sarek never told Burnham out of embarrassment and shame; when Spock went again Sarek’s wishes and joined Starfleet, it negated his decision, leaving Sarek with only the future he stole for Burnham. Burnham accuses him of manipulating her, confesses how much living with Sarek’s lie and her supposed “failure” hurt her. Sarek agrees and admits he failed her. He collapses. As he dies, he shows Burnham how to meld with him, just as he did with her once before

On his damaged ship, Sarek awakens. He activates his transponder. The shuttle is able to find and rescue him.

In Lorca’s quarters, Cornwall awakens. She watches Lorca as he sleeps, lightly touching his back. Her touch triggers a startled response. Lorca pins her down and holds a phaser to her. Recognizing her, he apologizes, but Cornwall is furious. She knows he is unwell and unfit for the chair, and unlike the rest of command, she refuses to let his victories keep her from doing what’s right. She accuses him of lying on his evaluations, of trying to box her into a corner and woo her into backing off. She promises Lorca she will get him out of Discovery’s chair. Lorca pleads with her not to take Discovery away from him. He admits that he lied to her and needs help, but she can’t tell if he’s being serious or if it’s another tactic to get what he wants.

Sarek arrives at Discovery and is taken to sickbay. Burnham reports to Lorca, telling him that Sarek cannot meet with the Klingons in his condition. Lorca suggests Admiral Cornwell goes in Sarek’s place. Burnham thanks Lorca for allowing the rescue mission to go through. Lorca tells her it wasn’t for Sarek. It was for her, to convince her to accept a position as Science Specialist on the bridge.

Burnham visits Sarek. She asks him what he remembers of the rescue and the conversations in his mind. Sarek claims not to remember, citing unconsciousness. Burnham isn’t fooled. She promises him they will discuss it eventually, whether he likes it or not. She goes to the mess hall, where she sits with Tyler. After checking in about her father, Burnham confesses she realizes she will never be what he wants, and he will never be what she wants. Her emotions are in turmoil, anger and love, sadness and hope. Tyler tells her this is what is being human. She reintroduces herself to Tyler.

Admiral Cornwell arrives on Cancri IV with a small envoy. She meets with the ambassadors of the two Klingon houses, but it is a trap. The Klingons kill her envoy as well as the Cancri Elders, who were their hosts. General Kol, via hologram, congratulates the Klingons for their work, promising them cloaking capabilities and a place in his united Empire. They capture Admiral Cornwall.

At the news, Lorca tells Saru to follow protocol and ask for orders from Starfleet Command.

Episode Impressions

This will teach me to be careful what I wish for.

I wanted this: an in-depth look at Burnham’s struggle with her Vulcan heritage and her innate humanity. I wanted this from day 1. I guess I should have prayed for it to be in an episode that wasn’t so slipshod.

Discovery seems to have forgotten that Vulcans are the primary logic-based species in the universe. That while they feel emotions—more deeply than humans in many cases—they reign them in for the sake of a clear perspective able to see light-years into the future. They see the potential long before anyone else sees the idea.

So why in the hell did they send Sarek into what was clearly a trap—Lorca figured it out with in two sentences for crying out loud–with little more than a shrug and “some reservations.”

Discovery wrote itself an answer that it didn’t even take: Vulcans are trying to get rid of Sarek. I admit, it’s nice to see how Vulcan society reacts to Sarek’s family and particularly his children—“experiments”, “not-quite-Vulcans”, good job Discovery for showing gross discrimination without getting into weird slurs. This was never really touched upon in TOS, and only briefly shown on in the reboot movies (Spock’s “disadvantage”), but it’s clear here that Sarek is doing something rather radical. He’s covering both the genetic and cultural gap between humans and Vulcans, finding ways to merge them through his children.

Which, as Tilley says, is an awful thing to do to a child.

Maybe we’ll find out later that the logic-extremists have infiltrated the High Council and sent Sarek off on a suicide mission. Considering V’Latak’s response (“You know of my mission” “Your mission does not reflect true Vulcan ideology”), I seriously doubt it. The Vulcan High Council really thought Sarek could assess the Klingon claims for alliance and come back alive. They really were that nearsighted, idiotic, and illogical.

For no other reason than to give us the background on Burnham and Sarek’s relationship that we’ve been waiting for.

That background is great, but it comes because of a ploy so painfully obvious, the revelation is ultimately cheapened. Burnham learns her entire sense of doubt and loathing are based on a decision Sarek couldn’t bring himself to tell her about. They’re based on lies Sarek told her to make him feel better about choosing his blood over the found familial connection he forged with her. They’re based on Sarek having to feel.

And we only get to see it because the Vulcans thought it was a good idea to send him out to the middle of nowhere to meet with Klingons. And without vetting his copilot. Brilliant.

We also get to see how much Amanda Grayson meant to Burnham; of the two, she is clearly the one who openly accepted her daughter as human and Vulcan. She celebrates her achievements and helps her nurture her humanity. She truly adopts her; it’s Amanda Burnham turned to when she was upset, asking to go home. Amanda understood. She fought for her. And it’s so obvious in the memory that Burnham wanted that sort of love from both of her adopted parents.

Burnham feels betrayed—and liberated—in knowing Sarek couldn’t give her that. It’s a strange thing, for a human raised on Vulcan.

I’m not okay with Ash Tyler taking the place of Tilley as Burnham’s emotional sounding board. I can see why they’re doing it; we’re setting up the heterosexual romance. Give me back Tilley and her stories to show Burnham why feelings are okay even when scary.

I don’t even know why Stamets is still high from the spores, and I don’t think I want to know.

I don’t have enough space to rant about Lorca throwing Admiral Cornwell to the Klingons because she rightly told him he’s a danger in the chair. Ends justify means, and I hate that entire concept.

Coming away from “Lethe,” I’ve realized that I need to accept what other people have been saying for several weeks now: Discovery really doesn’t feel like Trek. At least, not the Trek I grew up with and loved. Oh there are moments; I’ve noted them. But they’re fewer than I would like. They’re fewer than there should be in a show built around finding the pinnacle of humanity, peace and justice.

Which is unfortunate, considering the moniker the show is carrying.

Discovery is fun. It’s entertaining, and I’m going to hold out hope it continues to get better. It’s made some leaps I’m pleased to see—Stamets and Culber, women of color in positions of power (albeit however brief)—and its nodded back to earlier series. But there is an essential quality of Trek—that insistence on the moral good, on being and becoming the best of humanity we can possible be—that’s missing. And it’s been missing.

Burnham shows it on occasion, losing it when she returns to the necessity of logic. The rest of the ship hardly shows it at all. Instead we see a vessel hell bent on doing whatever is necessary, whether it’s for science or for war. We see a ship of faces without names, walking lock step to the beat of ends and means.

We hardly see it in non-humans. Klingons, and now Vulcans, are caricatures of themselves: cartoonish slaves to roles like villain and emotionless robot-creature.

Star Trek: Discovery still has time. There are 15 episodes in season 1, the second half of which will air in January 2018. Season 2 has already been greenlit. It has time to grow, to evolve, to become the series that launches Star Trek into the 21st century with messages of hope, understanding and reaching out.

The question is: will it?

Image(s) courtesy of CBS

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