In which diplomacy can be tough when you don’t have a fish-headed admiral to offer you advice.
Establishing shot: Vulcan. Sarek and his assistant are heading out to the Cancri system, and the mission parameters are on a need-to-know basis. At approximately the same moment, Burnham is doing laps with Tilly, There’s a physical fitness standard to make captain, but Tilly is sure that her personality will make up for missing the time by six seconds. This is in service of getting a commendation, which could lead to a transfer to a Constitution-class.
Lorca and Nash Tyler appear to be commando training in a Klingon scenario. It looks like a holoprogram, and they’re breathing easy enough to chat about their pasts, and how Tyler’s mom died to a rogue comet. You wouldn’t think these things could sneak up on the Federation even at this time, but you’d evidently be wrong – the universe is never really ‘safe.’ Lorca also knows quite a lot about Tyler – he’s done the research, and he’s offering Tyler the job of security chief to replace the one who turned off a force field and antagonized a horrifying bugbear. A bit unorthodox that Lorca would give this guy command of a team he doesn’t know, but I do get the sense that unorthodox is Lorca’s middle name.
Sarek’s flunky appears to be a traitor of some kind – during the flight and near the end he injects himself with some substance that makes his blood glow. In fact, the assistant is a Logical Fanatic, and that faction is not happy with Sarek’s fascination in humans. To the point where they find suicide bombers to be a ‘logical’ means to compel a withdrawal from the Federation.
Burnham is also teaching Tilly how to eat right, and Tilly is drooling over Nash Tyler’s war story rumors. Michael Burnham’s introduction to Nash is, typically of her interactions, more awkward, but Nash s the type of guy who is determined to make his own assessments. However, since during this time Sarak is in trouble and doing the mind-link-across-distances thing, it makes the meeting end more quickly than it might have. Burnham finds herself at a moment in her past when she had been rejected from the Vulcan Exploratory Services due to low ratings in spiritual discipline and martial arts. When Sarak notices present-Michael, he boots her out of his mind with… something resembling anger.
Burnham wakes up in sick bay and explains the problem. Starfleet-trained doctors don’t start off by believing in this, but aren’t openly skeptical. Turns out the logic extremists were also behind an earlier bombing of the logic center Burnham was trained in. Burnham clinically died for three minutes, and that’s when Sarek did the infusion. Good thing for Sarek that his soul is fused to a person aboard a ship that uses sentient minds as guidance for a blink drive. The admiralty confirms Burnham’s suspicions, and also explains that Sarek was on his way to treat with underdog Klingon houses that aren’t part of Kol’s new ruling coalition. They know roughly where Sarek is, and Lorca decides to go, against the admiral’s… requests? He signs off before Lorca can get a firm ‘no.’
Indeed, Burnham spots the obvious straightaway, and takes the idea to Stamets of building a synthetic mind-meld to locate Sarek. Stamets has physically recovered from the mycelium navigation-stabbing, and seems to be way into the research now. He’s also gotten very California about the whole concept of another network binding things together instantaneously at a distance. Burnham’s plan is to use the meld to wake up Sarek long enough to activate his transponder. The Discovery can’t go in close enough because the nebula will blow up the spores, so they’re taking a shuttle, with Nash as pilot and Tilly as mission specialist. Burnham remains the payload. Lorca’s final advice is bring Burnham back intact or don’t bother coming home.
I’d love to know just when free-floating holograms with gestural interfaces went out of vogue and got replaced with padds and wallboards, but before we can speculate too deeply on that Lorca has round two with the admiraly – Cornwell’s cruiser just dropped out of warp and she wants a Word. Nobody’s thrilled with Lorca using a convicted mutineer, a just-reclaimed POW, and an engineer who just did eugenic manipulation. To get past this, Lorca has bourbon.
Burnham is dwelling on her failure to live up Sarek’s expectations, and that this failure is Sarek’s last thoughts. Burnham puts on the augmentation device and straps in. We get the memory again, with a tilt-shift effect, and some advice from Amanda about maintaining her human side as well – that’s where the Alice in Wonderland book came from, and tis leads into the memory. This time, Michael is prepared for Sarek’s attempt to reject her, and they have a mind-fu fight, and Tyler orders Tilly to pull Burnham out based on the bioreadings.
Cornwell shares with Lorca some of the concerns everyone has with his stability. She has training as a psychologist, but their history is not, I think, strictly platonic. And speaking of a rough ride, Nash gives Burnham some insight in what-you-think-of-when-you’re-near-death that might help her understand where Sarek is, mentally. Burnham had been thinking of this memory as her failure to live up to Sarek’s expectations, whereas for him it’s about his own failure. Specifically, the Expeditionary fleet is okay with slowly integrating non-Vulcans, but Sarek has two wards with human lineage, and they only want one. Sarek chose Spock over Burnham, and then Spock chose Starfleet instead regardless. They do manage to move past it, and Sarek is able to activate the beacon.
Lorca is even a shallow sleeper… afterwards. And he sleeps with a phaser under his pillow. Seems unlikely that this will do anything to assuage anyone’s fears about his mental fitness. This might be an event that gets the ship taken away from him, and he knows it and may or may not dive into the kind of behaviors addicts go through.
Sarek is stable, but can’t meet with the Klingons. Cornwell might be able to step in. While Burnham and Lorca discuss this outside sick bay, Lorca also makes it clear that he didn’t go rescue Sarek for Sarek – he did it for Burnham. Having a small team of personally-loyal officers that Lorca has personally groomed and raised up outside the strictures of Starfleet regulations might suddenly become important for a captain that the Admiralty doesn’t think can handle his supership. Particualrly if Cornwell doesn’t make it back from meeting the Klingons. To that end, Lorca has just promoted Burnham to bridge-dwelling science specialist. This is insufficient to put Burnham in a good enough mood not to confront Sarek over it.
Tilly seems to be following in Burnham’s footsteps, even after Burnham admits she might’ve been thinking too narrowly. Michael and Nash get a little bit warmer – it’s tough to have your pedestal-living hero knocked off of it, but it can lead to epiphanies.
At the secret meeting with the Klingons on Cancri IV, Cornwell shows up, greets the two envoys, and gets her guards killed and herself captured. Also the elders of Cancri IV murdered, for whatever political fallout there will be there. This was all a ploy by Kol to try to get Sarek, but he’s cool with this result too. When Saru notifies Lorca of this, Lorca’s response is petty and malicious compliance. In the time it takes them to ask for orders, the Klingons will be long gone, but of course going off without orders is part of what got them in this mess. Also, Lorca’s taking to wearing a gun more often.