Graduation Day: “Lethe” vs. “Tapestry”

With 700-plus hours of Star Trek in the can, it’s inevitable the franchise might revisit familiar territory. The Temporal Loop blog plots a course each week, examining the influences of the latest episode of Discovery.

By Tyler Orton

“There are many parts of my youth that I’m not proud of. There were loose threads, untidy parts of me that I would like to remove. But when I pulled on one of those threads, it’d unravel the tapestry of my life.”

-Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, “Tapestry”

So much trauma our lead characters must endure when it comes time to graduate.

While most of us might struggle with finding our mortarboard caps after tossing them to the sky, the perils facing Michael Burnham and Jean-Luc Picard are far more existential in “Lethe” and “Tapestry.”

“Lethe” reveals Michael Burnham’s convocation from the Vulcan Science Academy forced her to rethink her very nature after the Vulcan Expeditionary Group seemingly rejects her application.

“Am I incapable of measuring up to my peers?”

“Am I an utter failure in the eyes of my adoptive father?”

“Will my mom’s obsession with Alice in Wonderland force my sorta-brother Spock to face off against a giant White Rabbit in 20 years?”

The impact this rejection has on her both from a career and existential perspective calls back to perennial Next Gen top 10’er, “Tapestry”, where Jean-Luc Picard and his newly minted ensign buddies await their first assignments after graduating from Starfleet Academy.

No long-distance mind meld conceit of “Sarek vision” required here.

Instead Q sends Picard back to relive the days leading up to a fateful bar brawl that left the callow ensign with a Nausicaan dagger poking through his rib cage.

So what would an older, wiser Picard do?

Measure the odds and back down like any overly cautious captain with decades of experience under his belt would.

But what happens if you miss out on all those impetuous decisions that helped inform who you are today?

Picard ends up as a blue-uniformed junior lieutenant stuck on PADD-delivery duties.

For Burnham, reliving this trauma and uncovering the truth — that Sarek was facing a Spocky’s Choice and ultimately went with his own flesh and blood when told only one child would be permitted entry into the Vulcan Expeditionary Group — was a mixed bag.

While it resolved some of the self-doubts that were hanging over her for nearly a decade, it also created new obstacles in her relationship with Sarek.

This guy isn’t disappointed in her … errr, mutineering aside … but instead he’s the father figure who ultimately chose her foster brother over her.

And all it took was some Vulcan martial arts to find that out.

So let’s talk about hand-to-hand combat in Star Trek.

The Vulcan martial arts dance between Burnham and Sarek proves the franchise has come a long way since the double-fisted punch was the standard method of attack for Federation citizens.

And the Subspace hosts most certainly crack wise this week about just how proficient a diplomat like Sarek is at martial arts — this is Sarek’s own imagination after all —  but it’s not as if a young Starfleet officer like Picard was killing it in his own throw-down with the Nausicaans.

And one last fun parallel between “Lethe” and “Tapestry” before we go: post-coital regrets in the wake of intimate encounters with close friends.

Lorca’s story isn’t really connected to Burnham’s existential journey in “Lethe.” But after the captain and old flame Admiral Cornwall renew their previous physical relationship, a PTSD-stricken Lorca pulls a phaser on his friend in the bedroom when she startles him.

His rattled mental state will cost him his ship, the admiral tells the captain.

Recall Picard’s own efforts to get intimate with Ensign Marta Batanides.

The two eventually feel more apart than before and their relationship crumbles. Oh, and Picard wakes up in bed the next morning with Q playing with his ear.

Either way, Star Trek: Discovery is still carrying the torch when it comes to the franchise’s (unconsciously?) puritan views on the dangers of sex.

Subspace Transmissions is a weekly podcast tackling the best, worst, weirdest, wildest and everything in-between that Star Trek has to offer.

Click to download our review of “Lethe.”

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