The past two installments of Star Trek: Discovery placed science at the forefront, as the titular ship’s crew attempted to understand and manipulate their captive tardigrade and mycelium spore drive. Thrilling as they were, the episodes felt mildly lacking in the interpersonal department. “Lethe,” the show’s sixth installment, assuaged doubts about the show’s emotional edge, putting science on the back-burner in favor of a tense psychological drama between Michael Burnham and her adoptive father Sarek. It’s as good an hour as the show has produced yet.
“Lethe” begins troublingly. Sarek, Spock’s biological father and Burnham’s surrogate parent, is departing Vulcan with a companion, Adjunct V’Latak. It’s later revealed that the pair is en route to engage in secret negotiations with the Klingons — but in the initial scene, Sarek only alludes to a diplomatic mission in the Cancri system. V’Latak blindsides the eminent Vulcan when he declares that Sarek’s “fascination with humans can no longer be tolerated.” An ideological extremist, V’Latak expounds the superiority of Vulcans and the necessity for the race to withdraw from the Federation; he injects himself with a chemical that causes him to detonate as “a rallying cry to those who value logic above all.”
The explosion rocks Burnham, literally. In the series’ two-part premiere, viewers learned about Sarek’s transfer of part of his katra — his spiritual essence — to Burnham to help revive her during a near-fatal bombing she survived in her teens. Something of a mind-meld on steroids, the event forged a permanent mental connection between Burnham and Sarek.
When V’Latak detonates himself, Burnham is in Discovery’s mess hall enduring an uncomfortable encounter: She’s meeting Lt. Ash Tyler, the prisoner of war Lorca rescued from the Klingons in “Choose Your Pain,” and dealing with the awkwardness that comes with revealing yourself as the mutineer who precipitated a war. Rocked by Sarek’s injuries, Burnham goes woozy and passes out.
In unconsciousness, Burnham travels to a memory from her teenage years on Vulcan. She relives the painful moment where Sarek relays to her and her adoptive mother, Amanda Grayson (Mia Kirshner), that despite Burnham’s phenomenal test results, the elite Vulcan Expeditionary Group has determined not to accept the culturally Vulcan human. Sarek then realizes the contemporary Burnham is observing the scene, strides over to her, declares “This is my mind!” and punches her into oblivion.
When Burnham comes to in Discovery’s sick bay, she explains to Lorca, Culber, and Tilly how Sarek’s katra has remained with her. She also provides some instructive context: The bombing that Sarek saved her from was staged by “logic extremists,” and Sarek’s action was a “frowned-upon procedure” that acted as a “soul graft” and helped revive her after she was dead for three minutes. Burnham asks Lorca to help her find Sarek and, somewhat unexpectedly, the firebrand captain agrees.
Strategy always reigns supreme for Lorca, though, who subsequently determines a more significant reason for pursuing Sarek’s rescue. Admiral Terral (Conrad Coates), a Vulcan Starfleet officer, appears by hologram to privately explain to Lorca (and viewers) Sarek’s covert diplomatic mission. The leaders of two Klingon houses who had been ousted by the domineering General Kol had decided they wanted to undermine his authority, Terral says, and Sarek seemed the right fit for the meeting because of his history in forging relationships with races not following “logic-based ideology.” Terral shares that Sarek is lost in a nebula — and that’s all Lorca needs to hear before terminating the call and cracking one of his fortune cookies. Keeping Sarek alive and able to negotiate is key for Lorca.
Click HERE for the rest of the recap, “Lethe (S1 E6)”