Episode six, “Lethe,” contains many storylines, each satisfying in its own way. In one of the more minor storylines, Captain Lorca realizes his own psychological trauma when talking with Admiral Cornwell, who also happens to be a psychologist. Lorca’s post-traumatic stress isn’t given much screen time, but Lorca does take a major step by admitting that he has a problem and planning to get help. Unfortunately, the episode’s final scene casts doubt on whether Lorca is sincere or is just saying those things to get Cornwell off his back. Regardless, it was refreshing to see Admiral Cornwell confront Lorca’s behavior by trying to get him to see his need for help rather than simply condemning him.
The majority of episode 6 focuses on Michael Burnham’s unique relationship with her adopted father, Sarek. Through a flashback of sorts, we relive Michael’s greatest disappointment: the day she was declared not good enough to become an official part of Vulcan culture. Sarek also relives his own regrets from that day, serving as a powerful reminder of just how endangering dishonesty and regret can truly be to our soul.
Michael and Sarek have completely different reactions after Sarek reveals the truth about his deception to Michael. Sarek puts up his defenses, closing himself off in true Vulcan fashion to the emotional impact of his shame. Michael, however, chooses to not push Sarek into discussing his emotions and instead gives him space. This difficult choice helps her to move on, no longer worrying about measuring up to her father’s impossible expectations. Instead, she can now focus on becoming a better person.
Sarek’s flashback introduced Vulcans who hold strong beliefs about keeping their culture pure and free of any outside influences. In their eyes, the human Michael Burnham represented this threat of perceived impurity, as did Sarek’s other child Spock, a half-Vulcan half-human hybrid. Their attitude has continued to grow amongst some of the Vulcans, to the point that Vulcan extremists are even willing to turn themselves into suicide bombs in an effort to fight against the interracial integration they oppose so vehemently.
Most of the Klingons feel the same way about their culture, stressing the importance of remaining pure and free of outside influence. They chant their now familiar refrain, “Remain Klingon,” rejecting all outsiders and foreigners lest their influences take away any of the things they feel make Klingons great.
The idea of racial purity is incompatible with Scripture. In Deuteronomy 7, the Hebrews are instructed by God to remove all cultural elements from the nations that were in the land of Israel before them. This was not because of any racial superiority on the part of the Hebrews, but because those influences were centered around worshipping other gods. It had nothing to do with race; it was a spiritual issue. Galatians 3 reminds us that Christianity is all about inclusion under the unity that Christ brings: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” There is neither Vulcan nor human, Federation nor Klingon.
Star Trek: Discovery has been and likely will continue showcasing characters that hold strong beliefs about the necessity of racial purity. It’s good to know that in the future of this timeline that will not always be the case. Starting with Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Klingons are able to move past these desires for extreme racial and cultural purity, joining with the Federation for the common good of both and contributing to a more hopeful future.
Towards the end of this episode, Michael Burnham reaches a major turning point for her character. She introspectively describes her response to Sarek’s frustrating actions to Lt. Ash Tyler: “I want to cry, but I have to smile. And I feel angry, but I want to love. And I’m hurt, but there’s hope. What is this?” Tyler responds, “It’s just being human.”
Michael Burnham is beginning to understand the same wisdom spoken by Qoheleth in Ecclesiastes: “There is a time for sorrow and a time for joy.” Life is about both the beauty and the tragedy, the highs and the lows, the big moments and the small ones, the hope and despair, the joy and the sorrow. The episode’s title, “Lethe,” references the mythological river of forgetfulness. Forgetting the past is something that helps Michael tremendously. Yet in embracing the forgetfulness of Lethe, Michael also learns anew the wisdom of Qoheleth about the beautifully tragic nature of life itself. Where will that realization take her next?