Star Trek: Discovery – “Lethe” is largely forgettable

So, the thing about “Lethe” is that, though I really liked some things about it and have a vague feeling that it’s a continuance of the show’s improvement, it’s not an especially memorable episode. Its emotional beats are fine, but they’re pedestrian, and the episode, overall, relies a little too much on well-worn tropes and by-the-numbers storytelling to make its points, which are slight. Add an ending that’s a bit maudlin and you’ve got an altogether forgettable hour that entertains while it’s running but doesn’t stick around to make you think very much.

**Spoilers ahead.**

The episode opens with a look at two new mentoring relationships. Captain Lorca has taken Ash Tyler under his wing in the days since their escape from the Klingons, and the beginning of the hour finds them going through a training simulation in what—contrary to Trek canon—appears to be a holodeck. I’m not a stickler for that sort of thing, though, and I suppose that if there is going to be an anachronistic holodeck it would be on a state-of-the-art science ship like the Discovery. After they get through the sim, Lorca offers Tyler the recently vacated security chief position, which I guess takes care of that loose end that I’d totally forgotten about. Also, obviously nothing could possibly go wrong with this idea. I’m sure Ash Tyler is totally okay and fit for duty and completely ready to take on an important position in the Discovery team. I’m also sure that no one else on this ship with a crew of hundreds had any interest or qualification or familiarity with the job that might make them a better prospect for the position. What could possibly go wrong?

Meanwhile, Burnham is mentoring Tilly, mostly by helping her develop a strict regime of healthy eating and exercise, though they still have time to bond a little over how hot Ash Tyler is. There was a little of this slice-of-life stuff last week after several episodes without it, and I’m glad to see more of it in this episode, though the friendship between Burnham and Tilly still feels a little contrived and perfunctory. That said, it’s early yet. There’s still time for their relationship to develop the real, lived-in quality that other Trek friendships have had, and while I’m not totally sold on this one yet, both women are interesting and likable. Mostly, what I’d like to see is for the friendship between Burnham and Tilly to get the same kind of hour-long focus that Burnham’s relationships with the men around her get. This show initially got me really excited about it with marketing featuring Burnham and Georgiou, and it’s deeply disappointing how devoid of relationships between women it’s actually turned out to be. All this is to say, YES, more, please, of Burnham and Tilly. Maybe go really wild and introduce another girlfriend or two for them.

Burnham and Tilly are introducing themselves to Tyler when Burnham collapses, writhing on the floor in pain. Burnham’s foster father, Sarek, is in trouble; while en route to a secret meeting where he was supposed to negotiate with the Klingons, a Vulcan extremist, resentful over Sarek’s love of humans, tries to assassinate the ambassador. Sarek, injured and his ship knocked off course and lost in a nebula, reaches out with his mind for Burnham. Once it’s confirmed what has happened, Lorca is quick to approve a mission for Burnham, Tilly and Tyler to go retrieve Sarek, which they do, using a device that works like a Vulcan mind meld that allows Burnham to track Sarek on his disabled ship. It also sends Burnham on a trip into Sarek’s subconscious, where he’s dwelling on the day Burnham was denied entrance into the Vulcan Expeditionary Force, reliving it over and over as he lingers near death.

This is fine, but ho-hum. Sarek’s failings as a father have been adequately covered several times over through his relationship with Spock in previous Treks, so there’s not much new here. The irony of Sarek sacrificing Michael’s prospects in favor of his biological child’s only to have Spock reject the opportunity and join Starfleet instead isn’t that great of a shock and doesn’t really justify an hour-long episode to deal with it. Burnham’s sanguine response to the knowledge shows us something about her, but there’s a sense of inevitability about the way she comes to terms with the way parents and children disappoint each other that doesn’t ring true. From the way she reintroduces herself to Tyler at the end of the episode as “Michael Burnham, human,” it seems like this wasn’t intended to be about the fraught nature of parent-child relationships at all but about Burnham’s understanding of herself and her own identity. This, again, is fine, but the whole message, in addition to being trite, is garbled and unclear. And none of this is helped along by the fact of this show being a prequel, which prevents any of the danger Sarek is in from ever feeling truly consequential, which in turn blunts all the emotional moments.

On the Discovery, Lorca has much more interesting problems. They just aren’t particularly Star Trek-ish problems. His friend Admiral Cornwell is so concerned about his recent behavior that she shows up for an in-person meeting with him, where she expresses her observation that he’s changed following some recent traumas and her fears that he’s not competent to captain a ship, especially one as important as the Discovery. On his best behavior, Lorca puts on a reasonably convincing show of being okay and points out that, unorthodox as his methods may be, he does get results. Cornwell doesn’t seem quite convinced, but she’s convinced enough to have a few drinks and sleep with him. It’s only when she wakes up in the night, gently touches a scar on his back, and suddenly finds herself pinned down with a phaser in her face that she’s certain Lorca isn’t fit for duty. Before she can head back to Starfleet headquarters, however, Cornwell has to go fill in for Sarek at the meeting with the Klingons, which is, naturally, a trap.

Either predictably or surprisingly (and I’m leaning toward predictably), Lorca isn’t rushing to rescue the admiral from the Klingons. Cornwell explicitly threatened Lorca’s job before leaving the Discovery, and his plaintive “Don’t take my ship; she’s all I’ve got” had a ring of truth to it that makes me think we might be about to find out what Lorca will do to protect the only thing he’s got. I guess we’ll find out next week if Lorca’s refusal to immediately chase after Cornwell is motivated by a sincere desire to play by the rules in a last-ditch effort to rescue his career or if it’s a cynical choice to leave her in Klingon hands as long as possible. I’m not sure there’s any middle ground here.

Miscellany:

  • So, Stamets has obviously been straight-up body-snatched, right?
  • I’d like to see Amanda Grayson get a little more to do than just be a supportive mother. She seems nice, I guess.
  • I want a “DISCO” shirt.
  • It’s nice to see a man Lorca’s age with an age-appropriate partner, even if the professional ethics of their sleeping together aren’t great.

One thought on “Star Trek: Discovery – “Lethe” is largely forgettable”

  1. I’m not sure any of the relationships are particularly great atm, look at Michael and Doug Jones who served on the same ship together. Now I think this may be a deliberate choice what with this being a darker, less friendly Trek but either way I think the Doctor and the engineer’s relationship is looking the best so far and we only got like two episode of that before one got off their face on space fungi, or nipple clamps or body snatched or something.

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