Lethe – An Illogical Family Dispute in Star Trek: Discovery

Monkeys Fighting Robots

This week’s episode of Star Trek: Discovery entitled Lethe, after the river of forgetfulness of Greek myth, showed viewers a lot but continued to suffer from the issues that have plagued the show since its premiere. Flashbacks featuring the first Discovery appearance of Sarek’s human wife Amanda Grayson, mentions of Spock, and a dangerous trip into a nebula couldn’t hide the show’s clunky dialogue or the actors’ often wooden performances. In addition to these problems, the creative team behind Discovery seems intent upon simplifying the characters, giving the battle-hardened crew of an experimental military/exploration vessel the emotional depth of sit com characters.

Although every version of Trek has involved some amount of comic relief, this version manages to be, somehow, both silly and cold at the same time. That said, viewer ratings are apparently on par or exceeding Discovery’s competitors, so if viewers are upset with the direction Discovery is headed then they haven’t let their complaints stop them from tuning in to the bug-infested CBS All Access service every week.

But bugs or no, CBS All Access has already renewed Discovery for a second season, so, like it or not, after this season is over it’ll be back for season two next September. One can only hope that by then viewers will have some clue as to why the Klingons depicted in Discovery look like giant space-cockroaches rather than either version of the alien race we’ve seen in previous Trek shows.

Lethe – Illogical Logic Extremists

I tried in a previous article to highlight the lack of logic that Discovery’s creative team has imbued the Vulcans with since Discovery’s premiere. The so-called “Vulcan Hello” provides an example of Discovery’s Vulcans taking an illogically racist and war-mongering attitude toward the Klingons. Unfortunately, the addition of Vulcan “logic extremists” to Discovery’s mix keeps with this formula while simultaneously recycling ideas that are best left alone.

Any half-interested viewer of Star Trek: Enterprise remembers the arrogant Vulcan-first attitude that prevailed among the pointy-eared aliens in that show. And since Discovery is set 102 years after the Vulcan Reformation, also featured in Star Trek: Enterprise, one would think that the eminently logical Vulcans would have risen above xenophobic concerns about humanity messing up the Milky Way by now. For the sake of argument, though, let’s say they haven’t and instead try to address the idea of what a “logic extremist” even is.

Lethe – “I know! Murder!”

Based on what we’ve seen so far, logic extremists, like a number of Vulcans depicted in Enterprise, are racist and xenophobic. Logic extremists fear that humanity will foul up the galaxy, and they take drastic action, such as suicide bombing a fellow Vulcan’s ship while he’s on a diplomatic mission to broker peace with the Klingons, in order to keep humanity down. Now, I’m no logic expert but suicide bombing a fellow Vulcan in order to promote Vulcan values seems to run against the aim of helping Vulcans.

Sure, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few but, even from an extreme viewpoint, trying to murder one of your own in order to promote your own represents a contradiction, something logic devotees generally try to avoid. Instead, as a concept, extreme logic should probably look pretty much like the regular version. Since the aim of a society based on logic is to always be logical, an extreme version of that society doesn’t make any sense. “Hey! Don’t just always be logical! Always be logical always … all the time!!!”

Lethe – Vulcans as Ham-handed Analogy

Instead, the point of these illogical logic extremists appears to be to act as a paper-thin analogue for real-life violent extremists. And though it’s good to know that the creative team is interested in being topical, it’s unclear to this reviewer what the payoff is meant to be. In a Vulcan society where the moderately logical Sarek approves of firing on Klingon ships before opening dialogues with them, it’s difficult to figure out what criteria make Sarek and other Vulcans logic moderates rather than extremists themselves.

Lethe – An Admirable Admiral

One thing I have liked about Discovery is the positive spin the creative team has put on Starfleet’s admiralty. Unlike Star Trek or Star Trek: The Next Generation, in which admirals tend to be prickly, and in one case involved in a conspiracy to overthrow the Federation, Admiral Cornwell is one of the most sympathetic characters to appear on Discovery so far. Her genuine concern for her friend and sometimes lover Captain Lorca showed viewers that not everyone in Discovery’s version of Starfleet is a sarcastic jerk. That said, it was a bit strange that it took Cornwell so long to realize that someone she’s so close to was unwell.

The only other emotional connections shown in Discovery so far have been between Tilly and Burnham and between Stamets and Culbert. But, the tooth-brushing scene between Stamets and Culbert, rather than seeming genuine, just seemed like a vehicle to get viewers to worry about Stamets who, after modifying his own genes, is suffering from mirror-itis.

Lethe – “Like Spock always says, ‘Live Long and Deny the Existence of Your Adopted Sister for Your Entire Life.’”

“Don’t you sass me, Michael and Spock! Dad put me in charge while he’s at the pon farr orgy!”

Call me a continuity pedant, but the revelation that Spock and Michael grew up together bothered me. Viewers are meant to believe that during Spock’s 162 years kicking around various realities and pocket universes that he never once mentioned the existence of his adopted sister Michael Burnham, Starfleet’s first mutineer, to anyone? When the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise A journeyed to the centre of the galaxy with Spock’s half-brother Sybok neither brother mentioned their adopted sister. Even Captain Picard, who briefly shared a mind with Sarek, never brought her up.

And yeah, I know Star Trek V is a bit of a stinker and, as a part of Star Trek canon, probably better forgotten than made reference to, but what about Sybok? If he’s Spock’s elder half-brother, one would assume that a young Michael Burnham would’ve had some dealing with him. Instead, like other aspects of Discovery, the creative team seems more interested in making the world of the franchise work for them rather than working within the already established world of the franchise. This is a strange choice indeed since the history and world of Star Trek is a key component of what makes it unique as a franchise in the first place.

Lethe – Final Thoughts

Viewers who saw the preview for the next episode know that they’re in for a classic Star Trek predicament next time. But because I like to avoid spoilers whenever possible, I won’t say what that classic predicament is. Let’s just say that as with other aspects of any franchise reboot, the events in the next episode represent a kind of proving ground for the show. I continue to retain my cautious optimism about Discovery, and I hope that the problems I outlined in this article only represent a few early fumbles for a show that gets better with age.

Star Trek: Discovery - Lethe
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Under intense scrutiny by the Temporal Authorities, I was coerced into actualizing my capsule in this causality loop. Through no fault of my own, I am marooned on this dangerous yet lovely level-four civilization. Stranded here, I have spent most of my time learning what I can of the social norms and oddities of the Terran species, including how to properly use the term "Hipster" and how to perform a "perfect pour." Under the assumed name of "Michael Bedford," I have completed BA's with specialized honours in both theatre studies and philosophy, and am currently saving up for enough galactic credits to buy a new--or suitably used--temporal contextualizer ... for a friend.
lethe-illogical-family-dispute-discoverySome interesting ideas executed kind of poorly, which seems to be a theme with this show. I can’t get beyond how little I like most of the characters, and I don’t like how the show’s creative team strategically cannibalizes previous Trek shows in order to give their show fan cred. I know continuity doesn’t matter to some people, that was proven by the warm reception that the new Star Trek movies got when they came out, but the references made to previous Trek properties in this show seem opportunistic rather than faithful to the franchise.