Greek mythology infests Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 Episode 6: Lethe. It deals with the themes death, forgetfulness and pain. Sarek experiences all five emotions associated with death in this episode which reflects the five rivers of Hades in Greek mythology. There are Styx-the river of hatred, Acheron-the river of pain, Cocytus-the river of wailing, Phlegethon-the river of fire and Lethe-the river of forgetfulness. Okay Burnham wailed but the meaning was meant to translate over to Sarek and his feelings during this episode.
CHARACTERS, WRITERS, DIRECTORS
Cadet Sylvia Tilly
Captain Gabriel Lorca
Dr. Hugh Culber
Director: Douglas Aarinokoski
Writers:Joe Menosky and Ted Sullivan
Airdate: October 22, 2017
On Vulcan Sarek boards a ship with L’Vatak, a pilot. They leave headed to a certain location. In the corridor, Burnham and Tilly jog for exercise. Burnham reveals to Tilly in a convincing Kirk speech how she can make fast track to the captain’s chair by shaving 6.5 seconds off her time today. Tilly will have none of this and wants breakfast.
Lorca and Ash fight a battle sequence with the Klingons on the holodeck. There Lorca quizzes Ash on his birthplace, his father that he never knew and his deceased mother who was a school teacher. Lorca, satisfied with the job interview offers Tyler the chief security officer position previously held by Laundry.
On the ship, V’Latak exposes himself to be a logical extremist and that the Uridia nebula they are near is not the destination for the discreet Cancri IV diplomatic mission Sarek is on. Vulcan blows himself up almost taking Sarek with him.
In the mess hall, Burnham and Tilly debate breakfast. Tilly desires a green tea, but Burnham decides on three egg white burritos. There they meet Ash Tyler. There Sarek calls to Burnham. She falls to the ground unconscious. Sarek guides her through space in a Vulcan mind meld to a place resembling Vulcan. People populate the background as well as artwork. Then, he casts her out. The place Sarek called Burnham to his a painful memory of the time she was rejected to the Vulcan Expeditionary Group.
Recovering in Sickbay, Burnham asks Lorca to find Sarek. She confesses that she was dead for three minutes after an explosive detonated by logical extremist attempted to kill her and Sarek’s katra was embedded in her to save her life. Now, they have a special connection that everywhere she goes somehow he is there with her. She knows he is in trouble. In his quarters, Lorca communicates with Vulcan Admiral Terral about Sarek. He is informed by the Vulcan that Sarek was on a discreet mission of diplomacy meeting with two Klingon houses who are against Klingon Kol’s ruling council. Lorca launches an unauthorized rescue mission to save Sarek.
Just outside the Uridia nebula, Burnham volunteers herself as a human probe to locate Sarek. But how? Lt. Stamets tools a synthetic mind meld enhancer which will boost impulse signals to Sarek’s katra. Lorca wants to move the ship into the Uridia nebula, but Stamets cautions against it. Instead, they send in a shuttle craft with Burnham’s suggested Tilly to operate the neural device. Ash’s duty is to pilot the craft.
Cornwell enters the USS Discovery to approach Captain Lorca about his decisions as of late. In the shuttle craft Burnham bemoans her memory of her biggest failure and the reality that Sarek is contemplating it to near death. She requests Tilly not to remove the neural enhancer if her vital signs decline. This is the result of Sarek’s shelling against her. But when the time comes, Ash orders Tilly to detach the device and it revives Burnham.
On Discovery, Admiral Cornwell confronts Lorca on an unauthorized rescue mission, engaging in eugenic manipulations with Stamets and the tardigrade situation, ignoring orders and the USS Buran incident spoken of in episode 5 “Choose Your Pain.” However, through all this, Lorca manages to be cleared for duty. Lorca dislikes the attack on his character and offers a drink instead.
Ash Tyler rallies that Sarek is not reliving Burnham’s mistake, but his own and to question him on it. When Burnham enters the Vulcan like mind space Sarek admits his mistake of choosing his own son over Burnham for the Vulcan Expeditionary Group. The Vulcans were very interested in Burnham. Sarek never lost faith in Burnham. He lost faith in himself. With this secret off his chest, Sarek instructs Burnham on how to perform the mind meld to save his life. He is able to active a transponder to reveal his location in the nebula.
In his quarters, asleep, Cornwell reaches for Lorca. He, near unconscious himself, puts a phaser to her head. She blurs out that she cannot let a “broken man” head the Discovery. Meanwhile, Saru, informs Lorca that Sarek is in Sickbay severely wounded.
Sarek refuses to acknowledge the event with Burnham, she declines to let the event subside. Outside, Lorca congratulates Burnham on her new Science Specialist” position on the bridge. Sarek needs someone to send in his stead to the diplomatic mission. Lorca has an idea.
In the corridor, Burnham meets a jogging Tilly. She confides to Tilly that there are many ways to the captain’s chair and to find her own. Tilly says she has and keeps on running. Admiral Cornwell agrees to go in Sarek’s stead.
In the mess hall, Burnham orders a green tea and encounters Tyler again under more amicable conditions.
Admiral Cornwell meets with the two Klingon houses on Cancri IV in neutral territory, but it is a trap. Kol appears as a hologram and instructs Dennas to kill the hosts. Kol celebrates his high ranking hostage. Later, Saru reports to Captain Lorca about Admiral Cornwell’s situation. He declines to execute an unsanctioned mission.
THEMES AND OTHER LITERARY DEVICES
Death is a recurring theme in this series. The title, “Lethe,” advocates the message when Sarek is near death close to the beginning of this story and Burnham’s life signs deteriotating when she confronts Sarek in his consciousness. The threat of the death of Lorca’a captaincy maybe another symbol of this.
Lethe is a river of forgetfulness in Greek mythology and Sarek does wish to forget his sin committed against Burnham. Ethically, she is the only person who can “save” him from the dire situation by forgiving him and save his life in the nebula. Sarek has to accept forgiveness which he does in his ill-stricken state, his subconsciousness. Once fully awake, he denies remembering the incident, but this may be the first steps of Sarek forgiving himself. He also may feel responsible for the Federations present condition with the Klingons and the war. I believe his gamble for peaceful negotiations with the pair of Klingon houses at Cancri IV testifies to his shame. Had Burnham been accepted to the Vulcan Expeditionary Group maybe none of this would have happened. Count the concrete happening that Spock chose Starfleet over the Academy then you have a remorseful Sarek who believes this is his fault. Spock may have only ventured into Starfleet after he saw how Burnham excelled and was headed to captaincy before this incident. That had to be the talk at the table on Vulcan. He may have seen his own future at Starfleet. Spock would have a logical reason for entering Starfleet. Sarek may have sealed it.
Intimacy is another theme for this episode. The Sarek/Burnham relationship and the Cornwell/Lorca relationship mirror each other in certain ways and counter each other in other ways. Sarek and Burnham fight in broad daylight in his consciousness. Cornwell and Lorca are in dimly lit quarters with stars shining through Lorca’s windows and sipping on champagne. The Sarek/Burnham relationship is resolved, the Cornwell/Lorca relationship takes a nasty hit with a phaser.
The choicest metaphor to explain Sarek’s condition mentally and physically was the radioactive nebula. The reality that the ship could not travel into the nebula and that only a select few could was brilliant writing. Burnham as the human probe set inside the nebula to find Sarek and the metaphor for her probing Sarek’s consciousness sets up the next pivotal scenes beautifully. Sarek leading Burnham to his mental condition using the Vulcan scenery then he drives her off is parallel to the series of events describing Sarek bringing Burnham to Vulcan as a child only to expel her later and therefore she boards the USS Shenzhou starting her Starfleet career.
The “broken man” metaphor describes Lorca and Sarek. Both are living with mistakes and actively striving to correct them. They both have a woman in their lives who is struggling to help in their own way. Neither interprets these women’s actions as aid although Sarek appreciates the assistance of Burnham much more than Lorca does of Admiral Cornwell.
Sonequa Martin-Greene’s acting was stellar. Her Burnham to Sarek mind meld was beautifully hypnotic.I The sets of Vulcan were simple and aesthetic. I did not get lost or bored with them. Star Trek: Discovery works well with the settings in this episode. The lighting on Vulcan was also noteworthy. And in the background of this pivotal setting with Burnham, I believe it is possible that a younger version of Spock was present. Remember, it is Sarek’s consciousness. He has other Vulcans in the background and each serves a purpose for being there.
The writers completed the episode ending with Tilly’s routine jog in the corridor and accepting the best course to becoming a captain one day. This lets the audience know that she is serious about her dream. There is a toughness emerging from Cadet Tilly through her connection with Burnham. Burnham trusts Tilly for emotional support which is why she wanted Tilly on the shuttle with her when Burnham entered the nebula. That relationship is blooming well. She hints to fancy Ash Tyler who seems to give Burnham the benefit of the doubt.
I would have liked Burnham to have met with the Klingons instead of Admiral Cornwell. That would have spun the plot in another direction. The plot was so deep, the writers could have taken it down many avenues. It’s good to have that choice. Speaking of writers, Joe Menosky’s experiences with Star Trek like The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager, not to mention 2009 Star Trek, really adds strength to the plot. You can tell that the story meets your expectations and surprises you as well. He also has a rumored fetish with the number 47.
Jayne Brooks acted well as Admiral Cornwell. You may remember her as a doctor on Chicago Hope or in Kindergarten Cop with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Shazad Latif, London born actor is settling into the Star Trek: Discovery cast He played in the movie “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” alongside famed actress Dame Judi Dench.
This Star Trek episode was one of the best of the series thus far. Full of imagery, metaphor and themes, Lethe is sure to please every die hard Trekker.