Airing in the US on CBS All Access Sundays at 8:30 pm ET and at 12pm on Mondays in the UK on Netflix
Written by: Bryan Fuller & Alex Kurtzman
Director: Douglas Aarniokoski
Incoming spoilers from Starfleet Captain…
Since the is-Tyler-really-Voq rumours started flying about the internet in the middle of last week, it’s safe every single person watching Star Trek; Discovery is studying every movement he makes and every single thing he says. Incidentally, Lethe was the name of the Greek spirit of forgetfulness and oblivion, with whom the river was often identified. In Classical Greek, the word lethe literally means “oblivion”, “forgetfulness” or “concealment”. However, it is not anything that Lt Tyler (Shazad Latif) is hiding that we are focussed on with this episode, but instead something that Sarak (James Frain) has hidden from Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green).
We begin on Vulcan as Sarak prepares to board a long-range shuttle to attend a conference with members from several Klingon houses and an independent alien race presiding, to discuss the possibility of peace with the Federation. Unfortunately for Sarak, his pilot has been hanging out Aldrich Killian from Iron Man 3 and takes a shot of Extremis, turning his body into a bomb and preventing the conference as per the wishes of the Logical Extremists faction on Vulcan who believe they shouldn’t have to clean up “the human’s mess”.
Seriously, it’s Extremis – it’s the same visual effect and everything.
Sarak, being younger and a bit more nimble that we’re used to seeing in The Search for Spock et al, manages to duck, roll, dive and cover – and use the shuttle’s transporter somehow – to get himself to a different compartment in the shuttle and avoid at least some of the blast. He is a pretty bad way though.
Turns out that many years ago after the bombing of a learning centre on Vulcan, where Burnham was being educated as a child, Sarak melded with her mind and saved her life, hence she carries a tiny part of his katra. Sarak unconsciously calls out across deep space to Burnham and so she knows he’s in trouble.
Meanwhile Captain Lorca (Jason Issacs) is male bonding with Lt Tyler, you know, like guys do – running around with guns, getting hot and sweaty and killing Klingons in a cool-looking game of Laser Tag on a holodeck-of-sorts. Yeah, holodecks. So, we’ll just have to look past that one particular piece of massive Trek discontinuity.
Lorca is more than happy to drop everything and mount a rescue mission to find Sarak’s drifting shuttle, despite orders not to from Starfleet Command. It’s clear that Lorca needs to – and will inevitably – build a bond with his crew and especially Burnham, but this decision feels…rushed. It just feels a little like he’s jumped a couple of episodes ahead of where the pace was taking us.
At this point we see that clearly Stamets (Anthony Rapp) isn’t firing on all cylinders, as he wipes the rapid foam from his mouth and spouts off a load of meaningless technobabble about how the…polarity must be reversed, generating 1.21 gigawatts, or something.
“You’re talking about building a synthetic mindmeld augment. We boost your neural impulses to reconnect with his katra then pump those same signals into your noggin and viola, Sarak Vision.”
Starfleet isn’t best pleased with Lorca going off-mission so Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) pays him a visit, personally. This is one of the two best bits about this particular episode. We see them arguing as Starfleet officers over Lorca’s ability to remain in command of the Discovery. Then the good captain produces a bottle of single malt scotch and they talk as friends, distracting her from the topic of conversation. And then…as Lorca expertly seduces Cornwell by gently rubbing her thigh, she takes off her Starfleet insignia and they cozy up under the sheets.
She’s still not convinced about Lorca’s ability to make command decisions, he was after all being tortured by Klingons only a few weeks ago. She looks over Lorca’s scars on his back as he gently sleeps next to her. She reaches out to softly touch them…and he jumps up, grabs a phaser – that he clearly keeps under his pillow – and pins her down by her throat, pointing the armed pistol in her face. Talk about ruining the moment. That does it for Cornwell, now she’s convinced that he’s not fit to command the Federation’s flagship. He begs her not to take away his ship…and that we can believe. He lives for it, that much is certain.
The other best bit in this episode is a really nice idea…almost perfectly executed. Sarak’s last thoughts seem to be about the moment he tells Burnham that she hasn’t been selected by the High Commission for the Vulcan Expeditionary Group, despite coming first in her class at the Vulcan Science Academy. One assumes the VEG is a frontier research organisation, qualified for first contact situations – much like the one that landed on Earth in 2063 after Zefram Cochrane’s warp test flight – and exploring relatively uncharted space.
The same scenario is played over and over again as Burnham explores these thoughts to learn why Sarak is focussing on them. Each time, she confronts him and tries a different strategy, much like say…Dr Strange’s battle of wits with Dormammu, or better still, Edge of Tomorrow (2014) and it’s almost carried off as well, almost. Burnham eventually discovers that the Vulcan High Commission has given Sarak a choice: since he has recently had a child (Spock) with his human wife, Amanda (Mia Kirshner) they will allow only one of these two to join the VEG and he must choose.
Sadly, this lets down this whole plot. Why on Vulcan would he have to choose? And surely, logic itself would dictate that he should give the honour to Burnham, since there’s no 100% guarantee that his son would want to join – as in fact he doesn’t. He enlists at Starfleet as we all know. Moreover, in say 25 years, when Spock arrives at this juncture, perhaps the High Commission might have been more understanding if Burnham had excelled. Anyway, being the douche that he is, Sarak denies Burnham the chance and saves his single opportunity for Spock instead. Burnham learns this and is understandably pretty upset since the whole time she thought she had been rejected.
In other news, Starfleet Command has ordered that while the Discovery is engaged in rescuing Sarak, Admiral Cornwell will lead a small party to the conference that Sarak was originally going to attend to attempt to begin peace talks. Yeah, she’s just threatened to take Lorca’s ship away from him and now she’s boarding a shuttle with only two other Starfleet personnel and heading deep into Klingon space. Uh-huh, just give her a red shirt right there.
And waddaya know, within 10 seconds of disembarking, the other two Starfleet crewmen unceremoniously have their throats cut and even the three neutral aliens meant to be presiding over the conference are disemboweled by a Klingon bat’leth. Only Admiral “Deadmeat” Cornwell remains. And the Klingons are happy they have a high-ranking prisoner. So maybe she’s about to experience what Lorca recently went through. That’ll shut her up.
We’ve given this the worst rating of any episode so far, simply because of being already bombarded with speak of spores, horizontal gene transfer, mycelium, mushrooms and the like in the past few episodes, the idea of telepathic communication between Vulcans over long distances is a little like the straw that broke the camel’s back.
When Lorca spoke to Tyler about how Tyler “fights like a Klingon” and how he “needs someone he can trust” it feels like an obvious foreshadowing about Tyler being a Klingon spy. However, regardless of whether he is or not, Tyler kicks ass. And he shows a deep understanding of human behaviour when he suggests to Burnham that Sarak was not focussing on her failure to be accepted by the VEG, but his failure to make the correct decision. And if Tyler is Voq, then he’s done his homework and he understands human nature better than many humans do. Consequently, we want to postulate a new theory: Tyler might be a Klingon spy, but perhaps he’s actually forgotten he’s Klingon and believes he’s human. Or been programmed that way. Something similar in principle to say, Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) in Terminator Salvation (2009).
It was also nice to see Lorca chose his command of Discovery over his feelings toward Admiral “Deadmeat” Cornwell as he declines to mount a rescue mission upon hearing news of her capture without approval from Starfleet first. Even Lt Saru (Doug Jones) is surprised at this, saying, “In the past, we have engaged in alternative thinking in these matters.” Lorca knows exactly what he’s doing and he knows Starfleet Command won’t authorize the Discovery to go in after her. Always nice when a starship captain displays a dark side.
Execute trans-warp drive ✓
• Tilly and Burnham have “Disco” written on their t-shirts, lucky they weren’t on the USS Crazy Horse
• Amanda’s subtle Alice in Wonderland reference was nice
• The replayed senario in Sarak’s mind between him and Burnham was a nice idea
• Klingon spy or not, Tyler is cool and kicks ass
• Lorca choses his command of Discovery over his relationship with Cornwell
Thrusters at station keeping ✗
• Holodecks on the Discovery? Artistic license with some tech is one thing, but that’s pushing it too far
• Mindmeld-based messaging over subspace?
• Sarak is a douche for denying Burnham the chance to join the Vulcan Expeditionary Group
• The Vulcan High Commission is shockingly shortsighted
• Extremis making its debut in another franchise
• Massive Mirror Universe hint at end of Star Trek: Discovery S01E05
• Star Trek: Discovery S01E05 “Choose Your Pain” REVIEW
• Star Trek: Discovery S01E04 “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry” REVIEW
• Star Trek: Discovery S01E03 “Context is for Kings” REVIEW
• Star Trek: Discovery S01E01-E02 “The Vulcan Hello” & “Battle at the Binary Stars” REVIEW