Once again, Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) is proving to be a hard man to keep rooting for. Last episode, he left a man behind to be tortured and killed in a Klingon prison. Granted, we all know he’s an established character who will not meet his end there, but that’s beside the point.
Now in the Star Trek: Discovery episode Lethe, the show gives us even less reason to care. All Star Trek captains have their moments or even arcs, of weakness and torment, but for the most part, they have been beacons of a kind. They are people of integrity and compassion, committed to their crew and the greater good, who each serve as a source of the hope this franchise has been built on since the beginning.
In Lethe, Burnham’s link to Sarek leads her to realize he’s in danger, and sure enough, he’s been attacked by a member of a Vulcan extremist group who see humans as inferior and wishes to end Vulcan involvement in the Federation by any means necessary. Sarek is able to save himself and the ship, but he’s injured in the process. He’s been stranded in a section of space that makes him almost impossible to track down (of course), and further complicating matters is the fact that he was on a secret mission to meet with a group of Klingons who claim to be interested in peace.
Burnham has to explore a whole new set of issues about her and Sarek’s past, as this time their connection is a lot less controlled and way more combative due to Sarek’s wounds and his guilt over an injustice he’s kept a secret. But the realization it leads Burnham to after learning the truth is a surprisingly adult one. She’s able to embrace him as her father (metaphorically of course) while allowing herself to feel all the complicated emotions this act brings out in her. She’ll never be the logical representation of the successful integration of humanity and Vulcans, but Sarek is likewise unable to give her what she needs. It doesn’t make for a warm reconciliation, but the future might just have better things in store for their relationship.
As for Lorca, he is predictably dismissive of all those pesky regulations that hinder him from searching for Sarek. It means another word from Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook), this time in person. After she questions him, their encounter gets a lot more personal, which seems like something of a disservice to her, but it gets even worse when that closeness brings out the extent of the trauma Lorca has kept hidden. It leads Cornwell to inform him that she will be removing him from command for the good of Starfleet and the war effort.
However, Lorca might have an out when Cornwell goes to the peace meeting in place of the injured Sarek, which turns out to be a trap. After he learns of her capture, Lorca shows a remarkable change of heart in contrast to his usual maverick style. And any doubts or hopes we have that he’s doing it out of his better instincts are quickly put to rest. This would be unfortunate if Cornwell hadn’t slept with Lorca, and as it is, it feels like a disappointing fulfillment of a common trope regarding female characters. Couldn’t the show have taken a different route?
It’s incredibly disappointing, as this incarnation of Star Trek seems dangerously close to supporting Lorca’s point of view. Discovery had a such a promising start, and it had a long history to guide it in showing audiences a better way in times of turbulence. Why does it seem unable to do so now, especially when we are in desperate need of a little optimism? At least the next episode will feature the return of Rainn Wilson, and if the promos are any indication, less of a self-serious tone.