Sunday, October 22, 2017

REVIEW: 'Star Trek: Discovery' - Michael Deals with Father Issues While Lorca's Judgment is Questioned in 'Lethe'

CBS All Access' Star Trek: Discovery - Episode 1.06 "Lethe"

The U.S.S. Discovery crew is intrigued by new addition, Lt. Ash Tyler. Sarek seeks Burnham's help, rekindling memories from her past.

I wouldn't say that Star Trek: Discovery is lacking for creative ideas. The setup for this season was pretty impressive. The way the show introduced Michael and Saru was strong. Several of the performances are solid. And yet, many of the creative decisions as of late have been really questionable. Yes, there are certain elements to "Lethe" that are enjoyable and I'm intrigued to see how they will develop in the future. Michael and Tilly's relationship exists outside of the immediate urgency the main plot is typically operating within. There is a spark there between Michael and Ash Tyler. Those character relationships are promising and receive more focus in this episode. That's very much appreciated. However, the main plots of this episode are full of questionable decisions. There is nothing all that original about the stories themselves or the twists that happen. Plus, there's no sense of how any of this will impact the greater narrative. This season has basically lost the thread with the ongoing war with the Klingons. There's just no sense of what is happening in this world outside of the Discovery. Moreover, the Discovery crew still feels very small and intimate. That's not inherently a bad thing. But when so much of the story is about Captain Lorca doing whatever is necessary because of the war and him clashing with Starfleet because of those decisions, then the show needs to have a greater sense of this world the characters exist in. So, it's ultimately a case of the balance not being right just yet even though there are still some very promising developments and relationships.

Additionally, I don't believe Discovery needs to be beholden to all of the rules and canon established in previous Star Trek shows. Yes, fans can argue about where and how this show fits in the timeline respective to everything else. The Klingons look different. The spore drive is a technological advance that is lightyears ahead of everything that seemingly comes afterwards. The tone is significant darker here. And yet, the show just needs to tell a compelling story. If the narrative as a whole works, then these issues don't really mean anything. I just want to be entertained by this show. And right now, it's just not doing that for me. It's again for all of the issues I've laid out already. But the creative team also seems to be struggling with its own connection to the larger Star Trek universe. It wants to be set apart from everything that has come before it even though it is set ten years before the original series. But it also wants to have this immediate connection to the canon by having Spock's father, Sarek, as Michael's adoptive father on Vulcan. That ultimately feels like a fan service moment that doesn't really have a true understanding of the history of this world. That creates problems for the people who adore Spock and his story in this franchise.

Again, it's not problematic in the scope of this show that Michael was raised on Vulcan by Sarek. Her identity is very much similar to that of Spock's. That's not an inherently bad idea for the central character of this show. But there's mimicking that iconic character to be effective in a new story. And then, there is being closely connected to that character in a way that feels like an ineffective add-on. Right now, the show is playing on the audience's understanding of the canon. "Lethe" spends a significant amount of time in a past memory on Vulcan where Michael isn't accepted into the Vulcan Expeditionary Force. Michael using her special connection to Sarek to sense that he is in trouble only to repeatedly fall into this memory of his highlights that it's going to be personally significant for both of them. And yes, there is pain that comes from that final reveal where the Vulcan leaders made Sarek choose which of his children could be accepted into the academy only for his choice of Spock to leave for Starfleet later on. It makes Sarek a character full of regret or at least the closest Vulcans can get to that emotion. But it's a story all wrapped around the idea of a main protagonist having father issues. That's nothing new. Moreover, this show does nothing to change up the formula or make it all that exciting.

It's clear that Michael goes through an emotional journey over the course of this episode. When she and Tilly are first running, she believes there's only one way to go from cadet to captain. By the end of the episode, she accepts that there are multiple ways to doing so even though her mentorship has inspired Tilly to approach things a certain way. It's basically Michael accepting that she is human and not Vulcan. She's feeling peace over the fact that she was never capable of giving Sarek what he wanted while he is incapable of being what she needs him to be. It's a complicated relationship that the show does a solid enough job in the execution. It's just not that new or exciting. Sarek refuses to share with Michael that he remembers any of what has just occurred after he is rescued. He would rather have all of this remain a secret of his own mind. But that characterization doesn't particularly track well. In the second episode of the season, Sarek felt the need to use this connection to motivate Michael into action during her dire circumstances. And now, this connection only serves to highlight the tension and animosity between the two of them. They don't understand each other. They serve difficult agendas. They have regrets over trying to be something they aren't. Again, that's potentially a compelling story. It just feels so tangential and not as engaging as what should be the main focus of the narrative right now.

Sarek is only injured and requiring a rescue because he's in the middle of a journey to address the Klingons about a potential treaty in neutral territory. He doesn't make it to the summit. Instead, the subplot of the episode with Lorca and Cornwell picks up that plot thread. But the story between the two of them is just so predictable. Lorca continues to be the one note characterization of a guy with questionable motives who is allowed to maintain power because he gets stuff done during times of crisis. But again, it's hard to understand why he is given this leeway because the war with the Klingons is still an ill-defined thing. More importantly though, this is just a story of Cornwell boarding the Discovery, questioning Lorca's judgment, sleeping with him, realizing that was a mistake and deciding that he's not mentally fit to hold his rank. It does nothing to better define Cornwell as a character. It's probably smart of Starfleet to see the Discovery as their secret weapon in this war with the Klingons and thus they need to be very careful when and where they deploy it. It just feels like a very lame and repetitive story though. It's one that doesn't add up to much. In the end, it seems like Lorca has learned his lesson and will stick to what Starfleet orders him to do. But he's still carrying his gun afterwards which proves that he's still an unstable individual who probably shouldn't be captain. Plus, it's unclear if Cornwell gets her message to Starfleet questioning his abilities before she goes to the summit with the Klingons only to get captured. It was a trap. But that was such a predictable moment. There was no surprise or suspense to it. It's just shocking that she isn't killed immediately. There's no reason for that other than Starfleet needs to mount a rescue mission because a seemingly important character has been taken by the enemy. That makes sense in theory. The execution just hasn't made it feel earned.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Lethe" was written by Joe Menosky & Ted Sullivan and directed by Douglas Aarniokoski.
  • Nothing is really further teased about how Stamets was changed by going into the spore chamber last week. Of course, his personality has shifted a little bit. It feels like course correction instead of a plot thread the audience should be intrigued by though. Last week he was off-putting and this week he's very accommodating and using the word "groovy."
  • Lorca has no problem with Ash Tyler becoming his new chief security officer on the Discovery. Of course, Cornwell points out to him that Ash was a prisoner of war for seven months. There's no sense of him having any lingering effects because of that though. It's right to question that. But his interactions elsewhere show no consequences whatsoever with him. He's right back in the middle of this war.
  • Furthermore, Lorca promotes Michael to chief science officer on the bridge by the end of this episode. She shows appreciation to Lorca for allowing her to save Sarek when he didn't have to. Of course, it's for selfish reasons because he sees her as a valuable asset during this war. And now, she's quickly rising through the ranks of this ship once more. 
  • This isn't a big week for Saru at all which is a little disappointing considering how fantastic a character he already is. His big moment comes when he notes a change of behavior in Lorca. He sees a huge difference in him wanting to get orders from Starfleet instead of just chasing after the Klingons that took Cornwell immediately.
  • It's a little too on-the-nose when Michael goes into this big speech about not understanding these contradictory feelings she's having only for Ash to say she's feeling human. It's a somewhat cheesy moment meant to foster intimacy and understanding between the two. It's a relationship that isn't inherently bad. It's just incredibly forced in this episode.
  • Sarek was almost killed by a group of Vulcans known as "logic purists." They are a group of terrorists that want to keep their race as pure as possible. So even though Sarek is a well-respected ambassador, they still see him as a traitor because of his human wife and the children he has cared for over the years.