I want to get one statement on the record: I didn’t despise ‘Lethe’. ‘Discovery’s latest episode did not offend me with every second of its screen time, and therefore races to the head of an incredibly lacklustre pack.
What I really want to talk about is the phrase that’s on everybody’s mind with this show, and that phrase is “missed potential”. What do I mean by that? Let’s have a look.
Punch Her Again, Sarek
In some magic space elf magic bullshit, Michael Burnham must enter a dying Sarek’s mind and help him fight his inner demons so that he can get up off his bleeding arse and press a button. Which, okay, fine, every appearance Sarek makes in any series serves as a reminder of how batshit and nonsensical Vulcan culture is, and this is all fine. Psychic psychic yadda yadda, something something my mind to your mind. Cool. As the obedient improviser I am, I accept that premise.
So Michael ventures into Sarek’s mind and immediately he twelve-metre-punches her back into reality. He’s an old man, and these kids need to get off his mind-lawn, god damn it.
So she approaches him again, and this time they fight. There’s some cleanly choreographed Vulcan martial arts on display, but he gets the upper hand and beats the metaphysic out of her.
So she tries a third time, and they fight again, and there’s more choreography, and more swipes and punches and kicks and I’m already bored.
Here’s my contention: the Vulcans are, to all intents and purposes, a race of great mental focus. No doubt their minds are particularly capable of the focus required to expertly punch someone – but they’re thinkers first and foremost. They’re students of the universe, philosophers of the ether, ninjas of the mind.
And I get that the fights we see between Sarek and Burnham are metaphorical, I understand that they represent a battle of wills. But given that this is literally occurring in Sarek’s barely-conscious mind, couldn’t we have seen something a little more… interesting?
What if, after getting her arse handed to her by Sarek’s neural karate, she re-focused, and the two combatants found themselves on opposite sides of a game of three-dimensional chess? Or maybe Kal-toh?
Or maybe they see each other as children, sharing a skill dome, competing to provide the most answers to the computer?
What if they were each on the bridge of a ship, trying to gain the upper hand in a space battle? Or maybe in a lab, trying to analyse some new form of star or weird molecule? Or behind easels, each trying to paint the most beautiful work of art? Or even just performing some kind of Vulcan yoga, each trying to hold a difficult pose for the longest?
Any of these would have been possible, and yet the creators decide that they have to fight. And fight. And fight some more. Punch and kick and beat and slap and nerve-pinch. Because apparently, the only metaphor for competition in this new Trek is violence, the supreme metaphor from which all other metaphors are derived. Or so it would seem.
This is a really quick article, because there’s plenty more to write about ‘Lethe’, and the series to date. But I just wanted to throw out this recurring issue of the show’s creators constantly turning to violence to tell their story. It would be nice, for once, if they could try something a little more original – but that’ll just get me pre-emptively ranting about another aspect of the series, so let’s leave it here for now.
So, I found out after watching this episode that it was written by Joe Menosky, the writer of one of my favourite pieces of science fiction ever, ‘Darmok’. Darmok was wonderful in many ways, which is why I was surprised he was behind ‘Lethe’ – as passable as ‘Lethe’ is, it barely rates alongside an average episode of Season 1 TNG. Hell, it could easily be a first-season episode of ‘Enterprise’.
Then I was reminded that Menosky also wrote ‘Masks’, and suddenly, well, yeah, I guess some things do make sense.