Star Trek Discovery: The Episode “Lethe” and Relationships


Actors Sonequa Martin-Green, Mary Wiseman, and Shazad Latif in a promotional image from the Star Trek Discovery episode “Lethe” (2017)

I wasn’t going to review the first season of Star Trek Discovery episode by episode, but show 6 Lethe, aired almost two years ago, got my attention.

I’m not going through the whole thing, I just wanted to talk about some of the relationships and a few surprise reveals.

It’s no surprise that Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Cadet Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) have become “odd couple” friends. Thrown together as roommates in a cabin aboard Discovery, Burnham’s dour moods and overly serious Vulcan demeanor is counterbalanced by Tilly’s almost oppressive optimism and cheerfulness. Tilly is the kid sister Burnham never had (she had a “kid brother,” but I won’t discuss that here), and the one she tries to mentor, especially in this episode. Of course, Burnham’s telepathic/hallucinatory interactions with Sarek (James Frain) change that. It’s an unlikely friendship until you realize how complementary Burnham and Tilly are.

After Captain Lorca (Jason Issacs) escapes from the Klingon prison ship with fellow Star Fleet inmate Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) in the episode Choose Your Pain, Lorca offers Tyler the position of Chief Security Officer, replacing the recently killed Commander Landry (Rekha Sharma). It’s my understanding that Tyler has a secret that will be revealed in subsequent episodes, but I won’t discuss that here either.

If Burnham is Tilly’s older sister, then Lorca seems to function as Tyler’s Dad. Tyler admits that he never knew his Dad, and that his Mom was killed while he was a cadet. Tyler had been held prisoner ever since the Battle at the Binary Stars seven months earlier, but only survived because the female Klingon Captain took a “liking” to him. He’s young, talented, courageous, tortured, but seemingly able to bounce back from his lengthy ordeal effortlessly. We see this both in his initial meeting with Tilly and Burnham, and again at the end of the episode when he and Burnham “reintroduce” themselves. What’s not to like?

My first real surprise was the relationship between Lorca and Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook). She gives him a formal dressing down in front of other officers at an official meeting about his unorthodox and reckless use of Discovery’s “spore drive.” But when she visits him later in private, it turns out the two were formerly lovers. After sharing some whiskey in his quarters, they revisit that romance, or at least the sex.

This, however, may have been a ploy on Cornwell’s part to get Lorca to let his guard down. Apparently, Lorca’s previous command, the USS Buran, was lost early in the Federation/Klingon war. Lorca’s eyes were damaged during the battle leading to his severe photosensitivity. However, he was the only one to escape his critically damaged ship, and rather than let his crew be captured by the Klingons and suffer slow torture and humiliation, he deliberately blew up the Buran. No wonder he was the only survivor.

For some strange reason, he wasn’t court martialed, subsequently passed every physical (except for his eyes) and psychological test, and was given the command of Discovery.

After sex, while Lorca’s sleeping, Cornwell touches some odd scars on his back. He abruptly awakes, grabs her by the throat and points a phaser at her, which he’d kept hidden under his pillow. He shows all the signs of PTSD, which triggers Cornwell’s response. She accuses him of somehow faking his psych eval and threatens to remove him from command of Discovery. In a rare moment, he breaks down and begs her not to do this. The ship is all he has and he admits he needs help. His pleading does no good, and he knows it’s only a matter of time until he is relieved of his command.

Later, a diplomatic mission to two minor Klingon houses that the now injured Ambassador Sarek was to undertake, falls to Admiral Cornwell at Lorca’s recommendation. He launches her on a shuttle with a small delegation, and I couldn’t help but believe he deliberately sent her into a trap. The trap part was confirmed when it turned out the two houses were trying to win favor with the Klingon unity by capturing a high ranking Vulcan (Sarek). Their ambitions are abundantly rewarded when instead, a Star Fleet Admiral becomes their prisoner. Lorca appears conflicted when he hears the news, but when Saru (Doug Jones) asks if they will attempt a rescue, the Captain surprisingly orders him to report the information to Star Fleet command. He said if he is ordered to, he will take Discovery on a rescue mission, but otherwise, his superiors can devise a way to free the Admiral.

Actors Jayne Brook and Jason Isaacs in a scene from the Star Trek Discovery episode “Lethe” (2017)

Saru is such a toady, that he accepts this without argument. If it had been Burnham, she’d have fought Lorca’s uncharacteristic comment tooth and nail, especially given the Captain’s record of taking insane risks with Discovery in the past.

Speaking of which, Sarek is involved in the first place because he and an aid V’Latak (Luke Humphrey) leave Vulcan for a secret peace meeting with the aforementioned Klingon houses. Unfortunately for Sarek, V’Latak is a member of a dissident logic group that believes any alliance with the Federation and especially with humans betrays Vulcan. He injects himself with something that turns him into a living bomb. Sarek manages to beam him off the ship, but the subsequent explosion damages the spacecraft and critically injures Sarek. His mind in disarray, he reaches out to Burnham through the part of his Katra they share (when she was a child and injured in a raid by the dissidents when she was a child, the only way to save her life was for Sarek to share part of his “soul” with her).

On Discovery, Burnham starts having painful visions of Sarek and convinces Lorca to let her attempt a rescue. Sarek’s shuttle is inside a radioactive nebula. The only solution is for Burnham to take a shuttle into the nebula, piloted by Tyler, and attempt to locate Sarek telepathically. She asks for Tilly to come along to monitor her meld and act as emotional support.

In the meld, she returns to the day of her graduation from the Vulcan Science Academy. For years, she believed that her application to the Vulcan Exploratory Mission was due to her failure because her human emotions got in the way. That’s what Sarek had told her. However, in the vision, Sarek confesses that his superior stated that while his “experiment” with humanity, including marrying a human, raising a half-human son, and adopting a human, was laudable, it was also getting out of hand. Although Spock was still too young to attend the Academy, Sarek was offered a choice of allowing only one of his “human” children to join the mission, Michael now, or Spock later.

Sarek chose his son, which was ironic and tragic, since later Spock turned the appointment down in favor of Star Fleet. Sarek’s sending Michael off to Star Fleet and Captain Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) was his alternative to dealing with Michael and preserving a place for Spock (which he later abandoned) on Vulcan.

Michael saves Sarek’s life and he is brought to Discovery, but is too injured to continue his mission. This is the first time Michael calls him “father,” and she finally comes to terms with not only her “failure” to him, but his failure to her.

Michael: “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?”

Ash: “It’s just being human.”

The last surprise was the relationship between the temperamental bioengineer Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz). On the outset, it seems Stamets can’t stand Culber (but then again, Stamets acts like he can’t stand anyone), but it turns out the two men are gay partners. They are seen brushing their teeth in the bathroom together, and while they don’t kiss, Culber touches Stamets’ hair and face in a very intimate way.

It seems that Star Trek has finally got it’s first official gay couple in an ongoing television series, something many fans have clamored for these past decades.

I’ve been wondering if Tilly is the representation of the vision Roddenberry had for Star Trek. J.J. Abrams once called the original series “campy” and certainly Tilly could be considered such. However, she’s also friendly, compassionate, loyal, adventurous (even though she’s timid), and endlessly curious. At this point, the cadet is nowhere near what I’d call “Captain” material (which is her ultimate ambition), but if she preserves her sense of wonder beyond her future experiences, she may end up being the most “Star Trek” element in Star Trek Discovery.

6 thoughts on “Star Trek Discovery: The Episode “Lethe” and Relationships

  1. becoming boring story lines devoid of any screen interest.
    i switched off when it became as enjoyable to watch as the latest doctor who.
    damn i wanted this to be good.


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