This week’s episode of Star Trek: Discovery gave us a deep dive into the Vulcans and the Sarek/Burnham relationship, with many cool call-backs to the previous Star Trek canon.
These articles are a lot of fun to write each week, because they help us peel back the expertise that the writers room and production staff are demonstrating in their knowledge of Star Trek. Let’s dig into “Lethe” now!
1. Vulcan Has No Moon, But…
In Vulcan’s sky we see the same celestial bodies above the planet first showcased in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Though Spock tells Uhura that “Vulcan has no moon” in “The Man Trap” — and the TMP Director’s Edition removed these orbiting bodies — other visits to Vulcan, such as the animated episode “Yesteryear,” have shown the spheres.
Licensed works such as the famed 1988 novel “Spock’s World” and 1999’s galactic planetary guide “New Worlds, New Civilizations” have categorized it as a ‘sister planet’ to Vulcan, an airless world called “T’Khut.”
2. ‘Wee Bairns’ Whisky
One of Miles O’Brien’s drinks of choice, ‘Wee Bairns’ brand Scotch whisky was a mainstay liquor aboard station Deep Space 9 in the 24th Century, and we now know the alcoholic beverage has been served in the Federation since at least the days of ‘Discovery’ — and is a favorite of Captain Lorca.
3. Vulcan Long-Range Shuttle
The Vulcan shuttle that Sarek boards for his trip to the Cancri system is a great design link between the Vulcan ships seen in ‘Star Trek: Enterprise’ and those seen in 24th century, such as the Vulcan ships that carried Romulan soldiers in “Unification, Part II.”
The shuttle has elements of the circular warp drive and the same color scheme as the 22nd century ships, with a move towards the blockier design seen in the 24th century.
4. T’Plana-Hath-type Starship
Also known as the Vulcan ship from the end of “Star Trek: First Contact,” this three-legged Vulcan spacecraft which made first contact with humanity apparently remained in service until at least the age of ‘Discovery,’ as one of the ships is parked on Vulcan near the Science Academy grounds.
There is also a small T’Plana-Hath-type vessel seen parked aboard the Narada in the 2009 film.
5. Starfleet Academy and the Enterprise
First USS Enterprise shout-out! Burnham is talking to Tilly about her path to command, and includes that she needs to serve on a Constitution-class starship, like the USS Enterprise, to advance her career on a command track. The implication here is that the Constitution-class starships are the pride of Starfleet, an idea that carried through into TOS.
We also get our first reference to Starfleet Academy in the series, the institution that launched the careers of many of Star Trek’s main characters. A notable exception, however, is Michael Burnham, who did not attend Starfleet Academy but graduated from the Vulcan Science Academy.
6. Logic Extremists
The group of Vulcan extremists who try to destroy Sarek’s shuttle, and who we find out later in the episode were responsible for the bombing at the Vulcan Learning Center when Burnham was a child, call themselves Logic Extremists.
Though that term makes its first appearance in the Star Trek canon, the motivations of the Logic Extremists are similar to Administrator V’Las from the Vulcan trilogy in Star Trek: Enterprise and the separatists revealed as trying to reassemble the Stone of Gol in the Star Trek:The Next Generation episode “Gambit Part II.”
7. The Vulcan Katra
The Vulcan katra, the living spirit of a Vulcan, has made several appearances in Star Trek canon. Spock transferred his katra into Doctor McCoy before his death in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which led to his eventual resurrection, and for a time Captain Jonathan Archer carried the katra of Surak.
In Discovery, Sarek performed a katra transfer to Burnham to revive her following the bombing at the Vulcan Learning Center when she was a child, and has given them a form of psychic connection ever since.
8. Holographic Target Practice
Captain Lorca and Lieutenant Tyler begin the episode engaged in a battle drill, in an environment that looks similar to what we’ve come to understand as a holodeck.
Given that technology was not fully refined and introduced into starship operation until the 24th century, we can surmise that this may be an advanced virtual reality simulation but not a true holodeck simulation.
Lorca and Tyler do not interact significantly with either the Klingon holograms or the environment they are in, and episode co-writer Ted Sullivan confirmed this was not intended to have a holodeck-level of complexity.
Though its place in canon is contested, a similar device also appears in The Animated Series as the Recreation Room board the Enterprise.
9. Amanda Grayson
Amanda Grayson, wife of Sarek and mother to Spock, has previously been referenced in Discovery but this is her first appearance on the series.
Amanda and Burnham clearly have a close relationship, which is also given more depth in David Mack’s tie-in novel, Desperate Hours.
Sarek’s ship is lost in a nebula near Yiridia, home to the Yiridian people who appeared on several occasions in Star Trek: The Next Generation, such as “Birthright, Part I” and “Gambit, Part I” as traders and information merchants.
11. Vulcan Architecture and Culture
The Vulcan cityscape seen in the episode’s opening moments continues the architectural trends previously seen in “Star Trek: Enterprise” and the 2009 “Star Trek” film, from the tall towers of the city to the arched opening of the building from which Sarek’s shuttle departs.
Vulcan Starfleet admiral Terrell also namechecks the Vulcan High Council, the ruling body of the Vulcan people that has been referenced most notably in Star Trek: Enterprise, and Burnham wears a traditional Vulcan IDIC pin when graduating from the Science Academy.
12. Spock and the Vulcan Expeditionary Group
“Lethe” gives us our first named reference to Sarek and Amanda’s biological child, Spock. The Vulcan Expeditionary Group gives Sarek the choice of admitting either Burnham or Spock due to their mixed heritage, and Sarek chooses Spock over Burnham.
As a result, Burham joins Starfleet. Ironically, Spock then declines to join the Vulcan Expeditionary Group and follows Burnham into Starfleet instead, creating a rift between father and son that lasts for 18 years (as detailed in “Journey to Babel”).
We can’t wait to see what else Star Trek: Discovery’s writers bring to the table in this weekend’s new episode, “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad.” Keep your eyes peeled for more canon connections in the future!