When it comes to summing up the bold, new vision of Star Trek that Discovery offers viewers, point them in the direction of this episode.
Not only does 'Lethe' put Sonequa Martin-Green's Michael Burnham squarely back in the series spotlight after a few episodes of lingering on the fringe, but it also brings together all the elements of this darker, grittier reboot while not straying too far from its original franchise roots.
Basically, 'Lethe' is a great example of everything that Star Trek: Discovery can do well.
The main arc delves deep into Michael's background, building on the mind-meld connection between the one-time mutineer and her adoptive father Sarek (James Frain) - and highlighting one of the biggest defining moments in their relationship, giving Discovery its first Spock name-drop in the process.
Michael and Sarek's relationship therefore proves to be a lot more fraught than it first appeared during the series premiere, but Sarek's revival of her after an attack on the Vulcan Learning Centre left a piece of his katra, or soul, in her mind, so it's Michael he inadvertently comes to for help when his ship is destroyed by a Vulcan logic extremist.
And, considering the Vulcan logic extremists are a group of people who aren't afraid to use violence to those who threaten the Vulcan order, it also gave the series a prime opportunity to tap into one of its recurring themes: social division, in all of its forms.
It's an idea the series is beginning to explore in depth and, considering the Vulcan logic extremists' reasoning doesn't sound too dissimilar to Kol's Klingon army as they fight for a United Klingon Empire, there's no doubt we'll return to it.
For now though, the extremists' attack on Sarek's ship gave Michael an opportunity to once again sort through her conflicting Vulcan/human ideologies by reliving a key memory, sharing snippets of her relationship with Sarek's human wife (and Spock's mother) Amanda (Mia Kirshner) and giving Michael an opportunity to confront her own expectations of what she wanted from her relationship with Sarek.
What's more interesting though is that the person helping Michael learn to understand and control her human side is none other than recovering prisoner of war Lt Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif). Six episodes (four with the current cast set-up) may not be enough to warrant a fresh face in the crew, but it seems Tyler is already finding his place and proving his worth, impressing Captain Lorca enough that he's offered the position of Chief of Security (on the basis that he can shoot and that he understands war).
Granted, bringing unconventional crew members on board the ship is becoming Lorca's favourite thing to do, but although Tyler has earned both Lorca and Michael's approval by the end of the episode, there still feels like a mystery to be solved there. His recollection of his background doesn't quite add up and Lorca notes that he "fights like a Klingon" (which makes the fact Lorca met him in a Klingon prison cell all the more suspicious).
Right now, however, Tyler seems likeable and appears to be a good ally to have – and it looks like Michael is taking full advantage of the fact that Tyler is likely the one person who hasn't spent the last seven months seeing her as a traitor.
Captain Lorca, on the other hand, spends the episode with Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook), who is apparently the one person in Starfleet willing to call him out for his reckless behaviour. Lorca's motives remain murky and unpredictable, no more so than when he suggests the Admiral goes on the peacekeeping mission with the Klingons in Ambassador Sarek's place.
Despite their shared (and romantic) past, the Admiral declares that she wants to remove Lorca of his command, saying that she "can't leave Starfleet's most powerful weapon in the hands of a broken man". Cornwell makes it clear she knows he's been manipulating all of his mental evaluations and it's clear that Lorca is suffering from some severe PTSD too.
And yet, the Admiral agrees to take on the mission and soon finds out it's a trap when she's taken hostage by the Klingons. Whether or not Lorca suspected the mission was dangerous remains to be seen, but the Admiral's incapacity does mean the Captain conveniently doesn't have to worry about the Discovery being taken away from him anytime soon – and last week made it clear that he'll do whatever he has to in order to protect his interests.
Discovery's full-speed-ahead approach doesn't always pay off, and that was felt this week in some disjointed storytelling steps and the assumption that most viewers have a working knowledge of the Star Trek universe, which isn't necessarily the case. But for all the warp speed plotting, Discovery is excelling at its slower character beats, from Michael and Cadet Tilly's growing camaraderie, to Lorca making it increasingly clear that Michael is someone who holds a lot of value to him.
The series-long arc approach means we were left hanging when it came to certain developments – like explaining Stamets' creepy response to becoming a human spore drive, or even how Discovery is still jumping through the galaxy with no tardigrade to power it – but, as a standalone episode, 'Lethe' had a lot of good things going for it.
It was incredible to look, for one, whether the characters were simulating battle with Klingons on the Discovery's holodeck or driving straight into a radioactive nebula as part of an unauthorised rescue mission, with sharp dialogue and intriguing connections to continue teasing out in upcoming episodes.
And just because the world 'Lethe' can mean forgetfulness, or concealment, it doesn't mean the writers are hiding anything from us, right?
Star Trek: Discovery airs on CBS All Access in the US and Netflix in the UK.
You Might Also Like