Sarek returns this episode - this would be Michael’s Vulcan foster father (and the father of Spock). He’s on a top secret diplomatic mission along with an aid - unfortunately that aid belongs to a Logic Extremist cell which believes in Vulcan purity, Vulcan superiority, how all humans need to get the hell away from Vulcan and Vulcans themselves need to leave the federation. And the best way to achieve these goals is to become a suicide bomber
This is… logical? Of course, Sarek is known to be a major advocate for humans, hence the ward and the half-human son.
On the Discovery Michael is now training Tilly to help her become a captain, focusing on nutrition and physical fitness - though Tilly suggests she has a personality to make up for it. Michael dismisses personality as irrelevant which is just bizarre - the charisma and ability to inspire loyalty that comes with leadership is vital. Michael is waaaay too Vulcan here.
Ash has joined the team as security chief - which is a hefty promotion but Lorca has done a full background check on him and he seems to check out (which means the fandom theory that Ash is really Voq in disguise is probably wrong. Or the Klingons are really good at creating human back stories.) Ash is also really good at shooting stuff so he appears to be qualified in combat at least.
Tilly’s also interested in him - and quickly pushes Michael towards him, noting how the Captain has practically adopted both of them (much to Michael’s surprise). Of course human interaction is still not Michael’s strongest point - and it isn’t helped when she collapses in sudden pain due to the Katra she shares with Sarek
The Katra as she explains from her sickbed when she regains consciousness, is Vulcan mind-mojo (I’d say “soul” but no doubt get many illogical frowny reactions) - Sarek shared his with her when he saved her life after Logic Extremists killed her parents and tried to kill her in their attempt to drive humanity off Vulcan. She now has a psychic connection and wants to use it to rescue Sarek
Of course Lorca says yes and the Magic Mushroom Drive takes them close to his location. To get closer they need to use a shuttle (the Magic Mushroom Drive doesn’t like nebulae because of REASONS) and Michael’s mechanically enhanced psychic connection
That psychic connection enhancement is provided by Stamets who is… disturbingly chipper. In fact he’s so cheerful I would say he is actually high. No-one seems suspicious of one of their chief offers apparently huffing some of his Magic Mushroom Drive.
Lorca tells Ash to be Michael’s pilot - warning him to keep Michael safe, or not return (which is faintly creepy) and Tilly goes along for moral support because she’s Tilly and adorkable and awesome.
But when Michael makes contact with Sarek’s mind they keep returning to the same memory - when she was denied entry into the Vulcan Expeditionary Group despite her superlative test scores. Michael considers it one of her most humiliating memories, and a moment when she utterly failed her step-father (we also see Amanda, Sarek’s human wife, Michael’s step-mother outraged on her behalf and passionate in her defence: she also urges Michael not to lose sight of her humanity). Every time she appears in the memory, Sarek attacks her, determined to drive her from his mind.
Michael can’t fight back effectively because of the emotion of the memory - her failure - and how, in his dying moments Sarek must be remembering that because she’s his biggest regret. Ash has a surprising pep talk - since he can’t convince Michael to leave without Sarek - when you’re dying you think of people you love. If Sarek’s memory is of her then it’s because he loves her.
Newly inspired she returns to his memories to confront Sarek - and when he hears she thinks this is her failure he shows her the truth: the Vulcan Expeditionary Group was expanding to include non-Vulcans… but slowly. Including 2 non-Vulcans, Michael and then Sarek’s half-human son Spock would be too many… they asked him to chose: a decision he became almost emotional about (and kudos to the performance here - Sarek’s clear emotion and clear emotional control are well presented). He chose his son - which backfired anyway because Spock chose Star Fleet. Michael didn’t fail Sarek, Sarek failed Michael.
Michael asks why he never told her - but he doesn’t seem to understand why it would have helped Michael to know she hadn’t failed. Either not understanding her shame, self-doubt and humiliation or pretending not to.
It is enough to get through to him, wake him up and have him guide them to his ship and rescue him, from there back to the Discovery and sick bay and for Sarek to deny any of the mind stuff ever happened. Michael is pretty awesome this scene, she doesn’t press him but doesn’t back down either: she isn’t even wounded when he says she’s not family. One day they will talk, she is clear - and she calls him father. She has a nice little denouement with Ash afterwards, unpacking her very very complex feelings towards her father - but also seeming to embrace her humanity more. I don’t think this is rejection of her Vulcan parentage, but letting go of the shame of being human
While they were away adventuring Lorca was doing things his way. Firstly no-one approved the Magic Mushroom Drive being used which is supposed to be on lockdown. He was also a complete arsehole to the Vulcan bigwigs for no good reason (Is this a Star Trek thing? Be an arsehole to Vulcans to show what a maverick you are?)
Admiral Cornwell arrives on a personal visit to ask Lorca why he’s ignoring orders. Why he’s deciding the best force for saving a high profile vulcan ambassador includes a mutineer and recently rescued tortured prisoner of war. Also why is your science office performing eugenic experiments on himself?! Also what the fuck Lorca, srsly man?!
Lorca decides rules are just not that important and he’s above such petty things. Cornwell disagrees and she’s also concerned that Lorca himself has not recovered from both the loss of his last ship and then the trauma of being tortured by Klingons (she has a background as a psychiatrist). Since they are old friends they decide to drop the formality, drink some whiskey and have sex. Please make your debrief puns here.
But when she wakes up the next morning and touches one of his scars he rolls over, grabs her and holds a phaser to her head
She’s horrified that he sleeps with a phaser (I’d be more horrified that he apparently took the time to tuck a phaser under his pillow while having sex with her) which… I honestly don’t find that horrifying per se? I mean, he’s a captain at war often in war zones with a gun close to hand in case they’re boarded etc?
I think urban Fantasy where your tough protagonist sleeping with a small arsenal and a stuffed penguin is virtually a requirement has rather twisted my viewpoint.
She is convinced that he is not psychologically stable and he needs to step down and get help - they cannot have Star Fleet’s most powerful weapon in the hands of “a broken man”. To which Lorca… collapses and begs utterly begs her not to take his ship off him.
Cornwell doesn’t know if he’s telling the truth or if he’s just that good at manipulating her. She is firm, she will make him step down.
Back to Sarek -he was going to a meeting with two Klingon Houses who were trying to make peace as they’re not big fans of Kol. Of course Sarek is injured now, so they need another bigwig to go into this Very Obvious Trap with minimal support and backup.
Enter Admiral Cornwell. She goes. It’s a trap. No-one is shocked. She is captured. Saru gets notice of this and runs to Lorca asking if he wants to use the Magic Mushroom Drive to stage a daring rescue
Lorca says… no. He’d rather wait until he gets Starfleet’s official input. He thinks the trap is a trap - or claims to.
Oh, Lorca just went full on dark side. Remember he destroyed his own ship and crew rather than have them be tortured and killed by the Klingons and now he’s leaving Cornwell to her fate….
So Lorca has gone full dark side - but it is interesting that Lorca’s villainess stems from a place of desperate vulnerability rather than glory seeking or ambition or even hatred of the Klingons. We’re clearly dealing with a man who has ongoing major issues from traumatic experiences and is investing heavily in the Discovery to avoid that. It’s more nuanced than many depictions and I can appreciate that - but I can’t avoid that we have a potentially powerful and layered depiction of mental illness that, nevertheless, depicts the mentally ill as DANGEROUS. This is a problem
It also makes me leery of his relationships of the people under him, especially those closest to him - Michael, Ash and even Saru. All of them are people who have, in one way or another, been “rescued” by Lorca, or at least advanced by him. Ash literally, Michael from a life sentence and, more to her, a chance to serve the federation again. Even Saru we’ve seen is deeply insecure in his role. Lorca surrounds himself with deeply talented people - we can’t doubt that. But they’re also people who are vulnerable and people he can secure to his side.
We keep touching on themes of assimilation, culture and separatism in this series - we’ve seen the Klingons chanting over and over to “remain Klingon” and resist the humans on this level. And now we have the logic extremists, resisting the human influence, using extreme action to remove external influences on their culture and philosophy while maintaining an insistence in their own supremacy. In some ways the Federation represents, at its most ideal, a rejection of this individual supremacy for a greater understanding of unity through mutual worth and diverse strength. Of course, at it’s least ideal, it represents homogenisation as species lose their own cultural identity to be subordinated to a the dominant (human?) whole.