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‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Review: The Surprises of ‘Lethe’ Include Friendly Replicators and Unfriendly Vulcans

Season 1, Episode 6, exposed a few big secrets in an episode rich with political relevance.

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CBS All Access

The title of this week’s “Star Trek: Discovery,” “Lethe,” is perhaps a reference to Greek mythology, specifically one of the rivers in Hades’ underworld, the water from which would cause forgetfulness. Appropriate given that a major part of the story is about faulty memory.

[Editor’s note: Spoilers for “Star Trek: Discovery” Season 1, Episode 6, “Lethe” follow.]

Vulcan Fanatics

So, it appears that at least for one subset of Vulcans, suicide bombing is not an illogical concept. The reveal that within Vulcan society there are “logic extremists” who aren’t afraid to use violence to protest the “failed experiment” that is the Federation might not seem all that Vulcan. In fact, it flies directly in the face of IDIC, the central tenet of Vulcan philosophy: “infinite diversity in infinite combination.”

But it does fit with one of “Discovery’s” evolving themes: The more we get to know each of these worlds, it becomes clear that this is a universe struggling with the conflict between (in the most basic and general sense) national pride and international cooperation, unsure how to make peace between the two concepts.

Not at all relevant to our current political climate, nope.

Officers Vs. Friends

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Casual sex on “Star Trek,” hmmm? While there’s a proud tradition of officers hooking up, going all the way back to Kirk, that’s typically been with civilians — every series has also featured romantic relationships between crew members, but those have tended to be more long-term affairs.

Meanwhile, an admiral sleeping with a captain under her command probably isn’t the most kosher thing, especially with the twist that at least part of the reason Cornwell slept with Lorca was to more closely evaluate his emotional state. Though, she did get the information she was looking for. “I can’t leave Starfleet’s most powerful weapon in the hands of a broken man,” is a brutal statement, but if you were awakened by the man you’d just slept with pointing a phaser at your head, you’d probably react in a similar way.

Klingon Troubles

If you were seriously concerned about the well-being of Admiral Cornwell as she headed off to take Sarek’s place in negotiating with the Klingons — well, you’ve seen a movie or TV show before. After the Klingons spring the trap they’ve set, it becomes painfully obvious how optimistic (or, to use another word, foolish) Starfleet was to trust that this chance at peace had a real shot. The question is, did Lorca see through that trap… and in a moment of self-preservation, suggest Cornwell for the mission anyway? If the answer is yes, that’s an exceedingly dark, but believable, twist.

What we can also take away from “Lethe” is the fact that Kol has succeeded in uniting the Klingon houses, if only by promising cloaking devices in exchange for loyalty. We know from past weeks that there is dissension in the Klingon ranks, but the concept of a unified Klingon empire (as we know will eventually happen) feels like it’s very much on the horizon.

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Nothing Like a Single Malt…What?

For those who don’t know a ton about whiskey (shout-out to the folks on Facebook who helped fact-check this), it’s worth noting that while Cornwell praises Lorca’s choice of beverage offering as “a single malt straight from the motherland,” that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re drinking scotch. While it might seem odd that Lorca (who, based on his accent, has Southern roots) wouldn’t prefer bourbon, there is the possibility that they’re drinking rye — while bourbon cannot legally be categorized as a single malt due to being 51 percent made of corn, rye malt can be and would be a believable choice for someone with his origins.

At least they’re not drinking synthehol. That stuff is weaksauce.

Serving Up a Boost of Morale

It’s maybe a bit silly, but the fact that the replicators deliver food with an encouraging message and some fun facts is a sweet touch. (Though on the flip side, what would the replicators would say if you ordered up a bacon cheeseburger? “You sure about that?”)

Also, we get to see a new take on the holodeck — one that’s focused on combat training right now, though perhaps we’ll get to see some of the crew use it for recreation down the line. Holodeck episodes, in other “Trek” series, could often be a fun change of pace.

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Father Figures

One dynamic that “Discovery” seems to be leaning into pretty heavily, week after week, is the idea of mentor/mentee relationships. From Tilly actively declaring Burnham to be her mentor, to Tyler getting “adopted” by Lorca, and of course Burnham confronting Sarek over their own complicated past.

None of these relationships are exactly the same, of course, and there’s an interesting component to how in some ways, Sarek did more harm than good with the choices he made during her upbringing. He’s the closest thing she has to a father, but their bond (while literally able to span the galaxy) may not be a healthy one for her.

Meeting Amanda Grayson

In flashbacks, Mia Kirshner becomes the fifth actress to play the mother of Spock and the adopted mother of Burnham, and offers up a spirited performance as she aims to connect with Burnham on a human level. One thing made clear by “Lethe,” though, is that despite Amanda’s best efforts, being raised among Vulcans had a profound impact on the future science specialist.

Quote of the Night

“I think about him and I want to cry. But I have to smile. I feel angry but I want to love and I’m hurt but there’s hope. What is this?”
“It’s just being human.”
— Burnham and Tyler

Up until this week, to be honest, Burnham has felt a bit inscrutable — we met her in the thick of the action during the pilot, and then following her court-martial, her shame and disappointment seemed to be all-consuming, not really letting us get to know who she really is. However, “Lethe” made one thing explicitly clear: Burnham’s upbringing on Vulcan has left her very uncertain about what exactly it means to be human. Given that she spent seven years serving under Captain Georgiou, who didn’t lack a human spark, it seems like a bit of a stretch for her to be completely clueless about emotions.

Final Thoughts

On a character level, an awful lot here worked well. Tilly and Burnham’s morning jog, Tyler and Lorca’s shoot-out, the further exploration of Sarek and Burnham’s connection, and even Stamets’ brief appearance (“Groovy!”) served to further our knowledge of who these people are, slowly but surely building out the ensemble. They don’t feel like a fully unified crew yet, but we could be getting there…

…except, of course, for the fact that their captain is unstable and borderline dangerous. “Discovery” isn’t screwing around when it comes to exposing Lorca’s inner darkness, which is bringing true edge to the series. But this show still also needs heroes.

Grade: B+

New episodes of “Star Trek: Discovery” stream Sundays at 8:30 p.m. EST on CBS All Access.

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