This week on Star Trek: Discovery, we got back into Vulcan territory with “Lethe.” Michael (and Tilly and Ash) had to save a stranded Sarek in a remote nebula, thanks to a “logic extremist” (read: Vulcan terrorist) who was against Sarek’s love for humanity. We got some much-needed backstory on Michael and Sarek’s relationship, but I can’t help but feel like there are some…inconsistencies with how the relationship is being presented. To go along with the episode’s theme of nature versus nurture, perhaps the social and political environment that this very modern show was birthed from just doesn’t mesh with the original series’ nature, which is to present an allegory for humanity at its finest. Walk with me on this mental journey. As Sarek and Michael would say: my mind to your mind, my thoughts to your thoughts.
War, War, War
Maybe Sarek and Michael’s relationship should have been what this show was about in the first place, instead of the war with the Klingons. If you’ve read my recaps up until this point, you’ll know that this is something I’ve been struggling with (and writing about) after every episode. The more I watch the show, the harder to swallow the war angle becomes.
I stand by my original reviews: I love this show. Because of Michael, I’ll always have a soft spot for this series. But, as a reviewer and Star Trek fan, I’ve got to question if a show about war is what we need right now. Don’t we deserve some sort of levity from the barrage of insanity we’ve had to live through on a daily basis? In a time of horrific division, wouldn’t it make much more sense — and be much more influential — to have a Star Trek show that harkened back the series’ original ideals of togetherness, teamwork, and relationships that connect across cultures and races? Seems like a little injection of “What the World Needs Now (Is Love)” in the form of a fun sci-fi show would be cool instead of a war with the Klingons. In fact, that’s the type of show I thought I was getting from how it was marketed, with both Sonequa Martin-Green and Michelle Yeoh in tons of promo.
Sarek and Michael (and Spock)
The show could still be that come-together show if it chose to focus more on Sarek and Michael’s father-daughter relationship. But even with how it was presented in this episode, it seems like there are slight inconsistencies. I thought we were past the notion of whether or not Sarek believed in Michael’s abilities. Remember the second episode, when Sarek told her that he does realize that he’s failed her and, to paraphrase Space Jam, the magic stuff was inside her all along? What happened to that touching moment of realization and the proof that, yes, Sarek definitively cares for Michael regardless of whatever failings she thinks she has as a human? Somehow, we’ve regressed from that bit of character-building back to Michael and Sarek at an impasse, despite Sarek revealing to Michael his feelings of guilt and shame over choosing Spock to go to the Vulcan Expeditionary Group.
In truth, Sarek’s decision to deny Michael a spot in the illustrious group was illogical. Because as Sarek himself said in his memory, Spock hadn’t even entered the Vulcan Science Academy yet, which must mean that Vulcan is basically on the cusp of being a college freshman in human terms. If Sarek’s son hadn’t entered the Academy yet, why would the Vulcan Expeditionary Group head make Sarek choose one kid over another? What would be the point? What I’m getting at is that if Sarek was given such a ridiculous ultimatum — choose the son who hasn’t even graduated anything yet over the daughter who has, even though both aren’t full Vulcan and would be discriminated against anyway — why wouldn’t Sarek fight that outright and make it so that either both of his kids get in or else? Seems like the Sarek from the pilot would have done that. This current Sarek, however, is full of illogical choices — he chose Spock over Michael, and in the end, Spock served Sarek just right by choosing to enlist in Starfleet.
Stuck in the Trenches Instead of Looking to the Stars
However, diving into what emotionally connects Sarek and Michael together as family would have been a neat exploration for a Star Trek series. If Discovery had progressed with Georgiou still at the helm and Michael still under her tutelage, maybe we would have seen more of a focus on just what it means to be at the crossroads of two different cultures, ethnicities, races, etc.; something like could have a deep effect on people who face these challenges in their own lives.
Spock himself helped viewers who were biracial and cross-cultural; a biracial girl sent Leonard Nimoy a letter asking for advice on how to navigate through life at a racial crossroads, and Nimoy pulled from his character a salient message that applies today: “Spock learned he could save himself from letting prejudice get him down. He could do this by really understanding himself and knowing his own value as a person.” Unlike Discovery, which is all about Michael, Star Trek wasn’t all about Spock. The reason Spock was able to resonate in an impactful way was because the series wasn’t about war — it was about how peace can be achieved if we choose to learn more about each other. A series about war doesn’t allow for much positive learning, and that’s where Discovery fails its protagonist (who could make just as big of an impact on viewers as Spock has) and many Star Trek fans who just want some fun exploring in the stars to start their week.
Perhaps the show can prove me wrong. But the more Discovery delves deep into war without providing any possible end to the conflict, the more it only makes me depressed and reminds me of another war that currently seems to have to end in sight, a war that has lasted nearly 17 years.
On the positive, at least Michael’s got a love interest, right? Ash and Michael seem like they’ll be good for each other. And Michael is also now a fully-fledged member of the Discovery crew as science specialist. Also, the best bit of writing was when Michael realized that she doesn’t have to fight her logic and her emotions; she can use both to be even better than she was before. But the war, though…the war bugs greatly. If only Starfleet’s peaceful negotiations still carried the same weight they used to back in the day.
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