Brief Thoughts On Star Trek: Discovery, Episode 6
by Erik Amaya
Star Trek, as a format, was about consistency. Sometimes that rule drove writers crazy and one series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine proved you could skirt the need to maintain the consistency of character and format while still making good Star Trek. This week’s episode of Discovery proved you can allow the characters to change and still stay true to format. Even if the changes presented lead two characters closer to an eventual confrontation.
The main story centered on Burnham’s attempts to rescue Sarek (James Frain) by using their katra link (for lack of a better term) to find his damaged spacecraft in a troublesome nebula. How Sarek got their in the first place reflects the episode’s core issue: his relationship with Burnham. It’s an interesting place to go as Sarek is a complicated individual. He married a human woman, sired a half-human child and adopted a human orphan; raising both in the Vulcan manner. From the standpoint of Vulcan society, he is an anomaly. And though his logic is questionable, Sarek does have a long game vision in his thinking: integrating societies is better for the Federation in the long run. Unfortunately, not everyone sees it that way and Sarek finds himself a victim of Vulcan extremists who see purity as the most logical course of action.
Never mind that purity leads to evolutionary bottlenecks, but a culture can rarely see its own precarious situation as it is happening.
All of this is the backdrop for Burnham’s personal story. And unlike the character building of the last few weeks, her story takes us back to the very issues behind her mutiny aboard the Shenzhou: the conflict between her “logical” upbringing and her innate human emotions. Curiously, it is the presence of both which allows her to locate Sarek. It also gives her a special insight into his greatest regret. Not that she comprehends it as such when she sees it. Instead, she sees his memory of the day she was rejected by the Vulcan equivalent of Starfleet. She assumes her human nature was a factor against her and asks Sarek to forgive her for this shame. He does nothing to dissuade her of this assumption; and thus Burnham enters Starfleet believing she must atone for a great sin.
At least, that’s how she presents the memory to Tilly and Tyler (Shazad Latif). The latter, claiming to known a thing or two about near-death thinking, suggests Sarek is not zeroing in the greatest shame done to him, but his own greatest regret. Burnham reestablishes the meld and learns a heartbreaking truth: Sarek, for all his hope of integrating humans, was told he can only place one of his children in the program. He chooses Spock. And, as he begrudgingly explains to Burnham, Spock’s decision to enlist in Starfleet meant the choice was ultimately meaningless. He should have chose Burnham. Allowing her to know this helped them establish a more powerful meld, waking Sarek so he could turn on the ship’s emergency transponder.
Why an emergency transponder doesn’t automatically switch on at signs of distress is an issue for another day.
Later, Burnham tells Tyler the experience has freed her from the need to make Sarek proud. It also helped her realize that he will never be able to offer that fatherly support to her. While it’s a shame Burnham had to explain these things in dialogue, it’s still a big step for the character. Looking back on her interactions in the previous episodes, you see a person defined in one moment. Her need to perform as a Vulcan comes from this place of apparent shame. Hopefully, it means Burnham will begin to grow as a human in the remaining episodes. I, for one, would love to see her relax.
Meanwhile, Lorca has been exposed as a broken man.
Admiral Cornwall (Jayne Brook) comes aboard to talk about his methods of late and his recent abduction by the Klingons. He manages to distract her with an offer of sex, but she nonetheless picks apart the deep and unsettling change within him. As we all ready know, he wants this fight with the Klingon Empire. It may all stem from what occurred on his previous ship, but it may reach back farther. Those events, however, laid bare a man who wants blood on his hands. That’s definitely the sort of man the Federation does not want in command of any ship, let alone its most advanced vessel. And once Cornwall presented this hypothesis to him, Lorca found a way to delay her report to Starfleet.
She takes Sarek’s place at a proposed peace meeting which turns out to be a trap. When Saru tells Lorca about it, he changes his usual MO and orders his first officer to contact Starfleet Command for orders. While part of his explanation to Saru is sound — the abduction could be another trap to get hold of the Discovery — it also reflects Lorca’s desire to stay in command. Letting Cornwall remain in Klingon custody means no one else knows about his true mental state. I wonder if he will allow her to die so he can keep control of the center seat. Such an action suggests he has been the true antagonist all along.
Both plotlines also suggest an almost logical conclusion to Discovery‘s first season: Burnham will have to mutiny again. But it will be interesting to see if the relationships she’s forged with characters like Tilly, Stamets and Tyler — assuming he’s not Voq, Son of None, of course — will aid her in deposing a commanding officer no longer fit for command and, one imagines, a real threat to the Federation.
Star Trek: Discovery streams Sundays (with increasingly terrible lag) on CBS AllAccess.