Star Trek: Discovery – Season 1 Episode 6
Star Trek: Discovery explores the connection between Michael and Sarek during a race against time to rescue him.
One of the earliest things this show did was establish that Sarek raised Michael as if she were a Vulcan and that relationship helped define the person she would become. In the second episode it was revealed that she has a piece of his Katra –the Vulcan soul- inside her and that allowed them to share a metaphysical bond allowing them to communicate over long distances. It’s something that immediately runs the risk of being a lazy plot contrivance but there’s also a lot of potential in there as well.
The potential allows for the characters to be connected on and intense and intimate level that could be used to introspectively reveal something profound about either of them. This is how it is used in this episode and it’s a really effective mechanism for character development. Michael’s family situation is a really complicated one as she was raised by Sarek who had to deal with two -actually three- children who weren’t textbook examples of what Vulcan society wants. Michael followed the rules to the letter and earned her academic credentials but is held back by the fact that Vulcans don’t want Humans attending their prestigious academy. No matter how hard Michael works and what she achieves she will never be considered good enough to be considered truly Vulcan and can’t get by on her own merits.
Interestingly, there is an undercurrent of racism to Vulcan society here which is consistent with what we have seen of them in Star Trek: Enterprise. Sarek’s ship is damaged by a “Logic Extremist”; A Vulcan isolationist movement that believes in the purity of the Vulcan people. They want to kill Sarek because he has a half Human child, has adopted a Human and represents the Federation as an Ambassador. All of these are signs of an inclusive attitude on his part which obviously gets their attention. The “logic extremist” movement are actively radicalised but the fact remains that Vulcan society isn’t entirely inclusive when it comes to their organisations. This is framed as a bad thing which ties into the overall theme of “isolationism = bad” previously explored through the Klingons. Not much is done with the Vulcan angle but there’s a sense of a wider tapestry starting to appear which gives the universe scope.
Sarek’s standing in Vulcan society allows him some influence on the matter and he is asked to choose which of his children are granted a position. It should be an impossible choice but Sarek is able to make it and chooses his son Spock over Michael. He does this for reasons that aren’t explained but the implication is that he favours his biological son over a non biological daughter so thinks he has an obligation to ensure that Spock is granted every opportunity.
The irony of the situation is that Spock chooses to join Starfleet instead of the Vulcan Science Academy where Michael is forced to join Starfleet. The end result for Spock would have been the same regardless of Sarek’s decision therefore creating the rift between him and Michael. Sarek spends the episode near death and Michael thinks that his final thoughts are filled with Sarek’s worst moment. It turns out that he relives this memory because he regrets it deeply and being near death awakens that within him. Ash Tyler points out that when he was near death his mind wandered to defining points in his life where he wished he had made a different choice. This is exactly what happens with Sarek and he admits to feeling the emotion of shame when thinking back on these events. It’s a powerful admission for such a proudly dispassionate man and offers some insight into the troubled relationship he has with Michael.
What doesn’t work about this revelation is that it somewhat relies on prior knowledge of the franchise to make it work. The plot details are well explained but Spock not being present in the memory means that Sarek’s relationship with him can only go so far. We know that he’s estranged from Spock but it basically amounts to being something that is mentioned rather than shown. As a devoted follower of the franchise I am able to fill in the gaps as I’ve seen how Sarek’s relationship with Spock plays out and thanks to Star Trek (2009) I’ve seen a version of Spock’s decision to join Starfleet instead of the Vulcan Science Academy. Perhaps an appearance by Zachary Quinto as Spock would have enhanced Sarek’s internal conflict somewhat as we would have been able to see how he interacts with both of his children. What we got on screen was really good and the emotional weight was achieved but there was so much more that could have been achieved.
The final scene that Sarek and Michael share was really well done as it showed their relationship wasn’t magically repaired by their shared head trip. Greater understanding was achieved but the level of estrangement can’t be fixed by a single emotional revelation. Sarek is still unwilling to open up to her and Michael is somewhat frustrated by that but she also feels that an improvement has been made and tells Sarek that there are still conversations to be had. It’s one of the better estranged father/daughter relationships that I’ve seen on television and I like that there is no magic fix.
Michael also develops in different ways. The opening scene where she takes Tilly on a run around the ship and reminds her of the standard that will be expected of her if she is to be considered Captain material. Tilly would rather get by on her intelligence than her physical attributes but Michael assures her that more will be required and pushes her to do better. The rapport developing between these two characters works really well and the banter they share feels very natural. I especially liked the banter about nutritious breakfasts. Tilly is definitely a good example for Michael and Vice Versa. The scene where Michael admits that she gave bad advice and encourages Tilly to find her own way to the Captain’s chair was a wonderfully played humble moment where Tilly shows that Michael’s advice is important to her by committing to her training without her supervision.
Last week brought a new crew member onto the Discovery in the form of Lieutenant Ash Tyler. He quickly slots into the crew by being easily approachable and very personable. Tilly and Michael both warm to him in their own ways and his behaviour during the shuttle mission suggests that he’s a very compassionate person who cares a lot about those he works with. He’s also an effortless action hero as we see from his combat situation with Lorca. He is offered the role of security chief from Lorca who definitely takes a shine to him and there’s the suggestion that he might be Lorca’s new “project” that runs concurrently with whatever he has planned for Burnham. It’s all typically mysterious for him but he is certainly impressed with Tyler’s skills
Lorca remains a fascinating character in this episode. He is somewhat drunk on the power he has been given as Captain of Discovery. He has previously mentioned that Starfleet has given him special dispensation to do pretty much whatever he wants when it comes to winning the War with the Klingons. Examples of this so far are reinstating a mutineer into active service and looking to weaponise a dangerous creature. This is the episode where he pushes that latitude just a little too far and cuts an Admiral off after declaring that he will mount a rescue mission for Sarek. He is explicitly told not to as the Discovery is too important an asset to Starfleet to risk on a simple rescue mission. Lorca’s reason for doing this is for a member of his crew showing that his loyalty goes both ways.
The arrival of Admiral Katrina Cornwell is a direct challenge to Lorca’s authority but not in the way that we are used to. Instead of laying down the law and forcing him to follow orders she appeals to him as a friend and tries to get to the root of his behaviour. It was established last week that Lorca lost a ship with all hands save for himself and the guilt is something he carries with him. When he was debriefed after the loss he passed all psychiatric evaluations so was able to return to active duty but the Admiral sees a difference in him that she wants to get to the bottom of. This approach from a visiting Admiral is refreshing to see as normally superior officer characters take on an antagonistic quality. That does happen here to a degree but it’s handled differently coming from a place of friendship and concern.
It turns out that Lorca and Admiral Cornwell have a romantic history together that presumably stopped once she was promoted. It reignites here at his request and puts Lorca in a situation where his guard is lowered. He has a really violent reaction to her presence which confirms her suspicions. Lorca is so devious that he was able to lie on his evaluations and be cleared for duty when he clearly isn’t fit to be in command.
The consequences to this is that Lorca will lose his command. Admiral Cornwell doesn’t want it to be a public shaming as she still holds a great deal of respect for him but she also can’t allow him to continue risking the lives of his clue when he isn’t mentally fit. She is waylaid by taking on Sarek’s diplomatic mission but promises to talk about how he steps down when she returns.
Lorca shows some -what appears to be- genuine vulnerability when she threatens to strip him of his command. He begs her not to take Discovery away from him because the ship is all he has. It’s believable and Jason Isaacs completely sells it but the Admiral believes that it could be another trick to emotionally manipulate her. Given what we know of Lorca it’s certainly possible but I’m inclined to believe that his plea is genuine considering how proud he is of what has been accomplished so far. It’s possible that losing his command will be the thing that breaks him though we have to wait a while for an answer to that question since Admiral Cornwell is taken captive by the Klingons.
I had somewhat misjudged Lorca prior to this as part of me thought he might sabotage the Admiral’s shuttle and have her killed to preserve his command. In all honesty I would have believed him capable of that considering how morally murky he generally is though it appears that he draws the line somewhere. It’s also notable that his attitude completely changes after this point. Instead of rushing straight into a rescue mission despite his personal connection he decides to hang back and wait for orders. It’s possible that the experience is something of a wake up call for him and he realises that simply doing what he wants it raising some eyebrows at Starfleet Command. It’ll be interesting to see what happens once the Admiral is rescued but I wouldn’t put it past this show to send the Captain packing.
An excellent episode that focuses on Michael’s complex relationship with Sarek. The irony surrounding Sarek’s decision to favour Spock over Michael in terms of who to recommend for the Vulcan Science Academy was really well played and offers a solid justification for the strained relationship he and Michael share. Forcing him to deal with that as he is near death while allowing Michael to gain some insight into what drove the wedge between them is excellent character work but would have been better served if we saw Sarek’s relationship with Spock rather than being told about it. Michael’s friendship with Tilly continues to evolve through endearing banter and mutual lessons. Michael takes on the mentor role but also learns a lot as she goes.
Ash Tyler is proving to be a decent addition to the cast and already has meaningful dynamics with Tilly, Michael and Lorca who has definitely taken a shine to him. This was a good episode for Lorca who shows some vulnerability at the risk of losing his command and has an interesting conversation with Admiral Cornwell revealing that his psychiatric evaluations were faked as well as a romantic history with the Admiral herself. It’s a refreshing take on how Admirals are used in Star Trek episodes as she behaves more like a concerned friend than a disapproving superior. Her kidnapping creates complications but it is also convenient as it means Lorca gets to keep Discovery for a while longer.
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