Monday, October 23, 2017

Combat Sarek And Throat-Cutting On Star Trek: Discovery: "Lethe" Is Another Disappointing Episode!

The Good: Most of the acting is fine
The Bad: Acting is terrible for the emotional and racist Vulcans, Forced character development, Simple and ridiculous plot
The Basics: "Lethe" continues to undermine Sarek, Spock and Star Trek when Star Trek: Discovery tries to be edgy with its murderous captain and graphic on-screen throat slitting.

This weekend, I had my first chance to discuss Star Trek: Discovery with fans of the Star Trek franchise, which was very interesting. One of the people I spoke with had fallen behind on the show, but said he generally liked the first three episodes (his income is also dependent upon developing products for CBS, though). The other person with whom I discussed the show had given up on the new Star Trek works after Star Trek: Voyager and he had a lot of questions for me about Star Trek: Discovery. With virtually every objective answer I gave him, horror and shock registered on his face and he shook his head ultimately and said, "That's why I stick with Star Wars now." For all the issues with the Star Wars franchise, the people who continue to work on the franchise seem to care a great deal about how the new works fit in with the works that came before. With "Lethe," Star Trek: Discovery continues to illustrate that the writers and executive producers of the show do not care much about franchise continuity.

"Choose Your Pain"(reviewed here!) led into "Lethe" and it is impossible to discuss the new episode without referencing the events of that episode. While "Choose Your Pain" introduced Harry Mudd into the Star Trek Discovery narrative, the more significant aspect of the episode was that Captain Lorca broke out of a Klingon prison ship with another inmate, Lt. Ash Tyler. After losing its Tardigrade (the navigator alien that interfaced with the spore displacement drive) and rescuing the StarFleet officers, the U.S.S. Discovery was left in Klingon space. . . though Lt. Stamets appeared affected by his experience interacting with the drive.

Opening on Vulcan, Sarek and V'Latak wait for a shuttle. While Tilly and Burnham run around Discovery, Ash Tyler and Lorca participate in a holographic training simulation. Lorca promotes Tyler to Security Chief. Sarek is in the shuttle when he recognizes V'Latak as a fanatic, who blows himself up. That recalls Burnham to him through his katra and when Burnham wakes up in sickbay, she informs Lorca that Sarek is near death. Lorca contacts a Vulcan who informs him that Sarek was on a mission to meet with two ousted Klingon houses when his ship was ambushed.

While searching the nebula in which Sarek's shuttle is lost, Burnham re-establishes telepathic contact with Sarek. Meanwhile, Admiral Cornwell visits Discovery and she and Lorca share a bottle and discuss Lorca's position on Discovery. Burnham discovers the truth about her rejection from the Vulcan Science Expedition and in the process, she is able to locate Sarek. Cornwell sees scars on Lorca's back and she makes plans to relieve him of command. Lorca suggests to Cornwell that she finish Sarek's mission, knowing it is likely to get her killed and eliminate his problem of being forced to step down from commanding the Discovery.

"Lethe" continues to undermine the concept of the Vulcans . . . by trying to flesh them out more and make previously simple and fairly-well executed concepts complicated. The katra is redefined in "Lethe" as a long-distance homing beacon/simulator. "Lethe" illustrates the fundamental problem with using a known character like Sarek and trying to retcon a character into his backstory. As Sarek lays dying, his mind calls out to Michael Burnham . . . not Amanda. Really?! Sarek, who never mind-melded with Spock, uses Burnham as a katra receptacle, which seems ridiculously risky given Burnham's position, as opposed to his wife.

The Vulcans are characterized in "Lethe" as being willing and able to murder for a philosophy that is very much anti-IDIC. The food replicators make judgements on the food they serve and there is a holodeck on Discovery, making "Lethe" yet another episode that illustrates a complete disdain for Star Trek continuity.

The characterization of Michael Burnham continues to be muddied and made ridiculous in "Lethe." In order to give Ash Tyler more airtime, Burnham forms an inorganic relationship with him. Burnham has been slow to trust and untrusted by most of the Discovery crew and she and her roommate are finally getting along. So, of course, instead of unburdening herself to Tilly, she tells her deepest emotional revelation to the guy who still could easily turn out to be a Klingon spy.

Saru continues to be undermined in "Lethe" as well. Lorca's plan - letting the Admiral who is prepared to remove him of command finish a dangerous negotiations that is very likely to get her killed before she can pass that recommendation on to anyone at StarFleet Command - is instantly obvious. While Saru should have no specific knowledge of that, his plot-convenient "threat ganglia" are not activated by visiting Lorca when Lorca refuses to rescue Cornwell and has a phaser behind his back.

Sarek continues to be presented as far more emotional in "Lethe" than he ever was (outside his death arc on Star Trek: The Next Generation. This is especially problematic in the fight sequences in his own mind. In "Journey To Babel" (reviewed here!), Sarek is a suspect in the Tellarite ambassador's death because he knows a Vulcan martial art that can kill a person in a single move. How does Michael Burnham hold her own against a guy who knows a fighting technique like that? Come to think of it, doesn't the whole "Michael Burnham retcon with Sarek's katra" thing either completely undermine the peril of Sarek's heart condition or mean that Michael Burnham must die before "Journey To Babel?" In "Lethe," Sarek is laying near-death from an explosion and Burnham psychically saves him . . . a little heart issue ought to be no problem for her to keep him alive through with her newfound powers.

Even without all of the continuity issues, "Lethe" is a dull episode. An Admiral visits Discovery to do a clandestine psychological exam and Michael Burnham goes on a rescue mission for a character who the viewers know must survive. This is hardly exciting or compelling television on its own . . . and when the problems with how it relates to anything else that has come before, "Lethe" is downright terrible.

For other works with Mia Kirshner, please visit my reviews of:
The L Word
Not Another Teen Movie


Check out how this episode stacks up against other Star Trek episode, movie, and seasons by visiting my Star Trek Review Index Page for a listing from best to worst!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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