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Star Trek Discovery: Lethe

Season 1, Episode 6
Written by Joe Menosky and Ted Sullivan
Directed by Douglas Aarniokoski

“Rules are for admirals and back offices. I’m out there trying to win a war.”

Discovery raises something entirely fresh in the Star Trek world: the possibility that acts of terrorism can be justified entirely by logic. Millions of people on Sunday experienced the irony of trying to watch a TV show about our own technologically advanced future with technology that can’t handle the popularity of the show. Luckily, Discovery maintains its level of excellence so that it is worth putting up with the tech glitches of the present day. Discovery continues to move nuanced characters through exciting situations and decorate it all with wonderful special effects. The eternal conflicts that arise between parents and their children, and between logic and violence take center stage this week.

Ambassador Sarek leaves Vulcan on a secret mission. The young Vulcan pilot who navigates his shuttle asks about the nature of Sarek’s trip, but Sarek refuses to tell him. As they get closer to their destination, the pilot injects himself with something that makes him ignite from within. The young pilot already knows what Sarek’s secret mission is: Sarek plans to meet with two Klingon houses ousted by the current regime to explore a possible alliance.  The pilot’s injection transforms him into a human bomb, a kind of flesh and blood IED. Though Sarek manages to engage a force field before the man explodes, the shuttle is badly damaged and he is seriously injured.

It turns out that many Vulcans disagree with policies that entangle them with other species. The young pilot belongs to a group of “Logic Extremists” who believe that acts of terrorism will convince their fellow Vulcans that engagements with humans and Klingons serve no logical purpose. Vulcans are almost always presented as being ruled by cold, clinical logic, and this prevents them from doing all the stupid shit that humans and Klingons do. Logic immunizes them from committing acts of violence, because violence can never be the result of logic. Or at least that’s how it seems in theory. Discovery totally proves that wrong this week.

This Vulcan faction’s reserve about engaging with other civilizations extends to humans as well as Klingons. This week we discover that Sarek’s willingness to work with humans, indeed his mixed marriage with a human woman and the fact that he has a human ward and half human child, have created difficulties for him and his family members.

Sarek used the mind meld to heal Burnham when she was a child and the Logic Extremists attacked Burnham’s school. During the mind meld, Sarek transferred part of his Katra, meaning life force or soul, to Burnham. Not only did this transfer have healing properties, it acted like a kind of soul graft and created a permanent connection. Now because of that connection, Burnham knows that Sarek is in trouble. She doesn’t just become aware that he is in distress, she actually feels what he feels and thinks what he is thinking. At the same time that this allows her to find him and save his life, it also allows Burnham to confront Sarek about something that happened in the past. The mind meld allows her to re-witness the day she was denied admittance to the Vulcan Expeditionary Group.

With that, Discovery resurrects and renovates two staples of the Star Trek universe, namely, Plotline Number 7 and the mind meld. Time travel appears in every Star Trek show and almost every movie. The writers of NextGen invented the term Plotline Number 7 and admitted with some chagrin that they relied on time travel as their fallback position whenever they couldn’t think of something to do with the show. In this episode of Discovery, Plotline Number 7 and mind melding fuse to create a kind of interdimensional time traveling psychic bond.  Since the Discovery is gadding about the universe literally day-tripping on a trail of magic mushrooms that seems entirely logical.

Though Burnham can only watch her younger self on the day in question, she can actually interact with Sarek. So much for matter not occupying the same place at the same time! At first he fights her when she tries to help him, and she does not understand why. Sarek’s mind keeps returning to that same day. Sarek told Burnham that she was denied a place because she did not possess the requisite qualities. During the flashback, Burnham discovers that Sarek was given a choice. The Vulcan Council did not wish to enroll both a human student and a half human student in the Vulcan Science Academy. Sarek could send either Burnham or Spock, but not both. Sarek chose to reserve the spot for Spock. Unfortunately, Spock later chose to go to Starfleet, so Sarek’s choice denied Burnham a place that Spock never took. To add insult to injury, Sarek allowed Burnham to believe that she simply did not pass muster. Sarek fights Burnham because he does not want her to see his mistake.

All of this very interesting story plays out mostly in Burnham’s and Sarek’s minds while something equally exciting happens on board the Discovery. When Lorca finds out that Sarek’s ship is in trouble in a nearby nebula, he defies the express wishes of the Vulcan wing of the Federation and immediately leaps into a rescue mission anyway.

Lorca definitely possesses the biggest swinging dick of all the Star Trek captains. He promotes Ash Tyler to be the new head of security, then warns him not to bother coming back if he can’t keep Burnham safe on the rescue mission. And he means it! He also defies his own admiral, and gets away with it because they have a history. They also have a thing right now, too. Well, at least until Admiral Cornwell wakes him suddenly in the middle of the night and he vaults on top of her and holds a phaser to her throat. I think that killed the mood for her. Apparently Admiral Cornwell worked as a psychiatrist. She already  feared for Lorca’s stability after he lost his prior ship and put his entire crew to death, then was captured and held by the Klingons. Now she sees for herself that Lorca shows disturbing changes in his personality. His volatile and paranoid reactions convince her that he needs time off. Forced time off.

With help from Stemets’ latest trippy tech innovation Burnham successfully melds with and saves Sarek, but he is too injured to attend his secret meeting. Unfortunately, Admiral Cornwell unwisely lets Lorca know her concerns about him before she takes Sarek’s place at the Klingon negotiations. The Klingons at the meet logically conclude that if they can claim a high ranking hostage, they can regain their lost status. Klingon logic always concludes that violence is the answer. They intend to take Sarek, but when Admiral Cornwell shows up instead, they are delighted. She makes an even better bargaining chip.

Oddly enough, despite Lorca’s usual instinctive jump to action, he does not immediately mount a rescue mission for her like he did for Sarek. He waits for orders from Starfleet, knowing that they will not put their secret weapon, the Discovery, at risk. The final scene shows Lorca walking around his own bridge with a phaser tucked in his back pocket. It seems that admiral Cornwell’s logic was impeccable.

Is violence ever logical? Vulcan logic suggests that violence may win a war, but by resorting to violence you’ve lost the argument. Or at least, it used to. Klingon logic says: attack. Burnham always felt conflicted between the violence of her human emotions and her Vulcan logical discipline. This week’s episode leads her to believe that perhaps these two things can meld together and both serve a higher good – kind of like Plotline Number 7 and the mind meld work better together than apart.

Grade: A

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Amy Anna was raised by wolves. She spends all her time eating and watching movies while lying on the couch . Her animal totem is the velociraptor.