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Star Trek Discovery: Labyrinths

“Can you at least tell me what the test was? Before the lights go out.”

Socrates is believed to have said that to “know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” If so, then it would seem that Michael wasn’t the only one being tested.

In some ways this episode is a commentary of the value of self-reflection. And the contrasting philosophies of Michael and Ruhn are the exhibits. It should be noted that this is a comparison of individuals, since it is evident that Ruhn is not a good representation of Breen culture or values. Additionally, avatar Book is quick to point out that Michael is being judged on her personal fitness to be the protector of the Progenitors’ technology and not as a representative of the Federation.

The authoritarian nature of the Breen has been firmly established. However, this episode makes it clear that they value their art and culture and they have a strong moral code. The first is evidenced by their longstanding relationship with the Archive of which, by contrast, the Federation as a whole was unaware. The second by the regard with which the Breen hold both the Erigah and the Tergun.

While Ruhn may subscribe to the Breen views of power and subjugation, his regard for the other tenets of Breen culture is practically nonexistent. He is so blinded by his quest for power that he cannot take the temperature of his own soldiers, let alone accurately predict the reactions of the other Breen flights. Why did he believe L'ak's death would galvanize the other Breen around him? Maybe L'ak's supposed murder at the hands of the Federation would unite the Breen in war. But that doesn’t mean the other flights would consider Ruhn their de facto leader. Given his short-sightedness, I suspect that even if he had managed to obtain the throne, his reign as Emperor would have been short-lived.

In contrast, Michael has demonstrated repeatedly her willingness to put the mission and the needs of others above her own desires. That is such a fundamental part of who she is that it takes most of the episode for her to realize it, or at least the potentially negative aspects of it. She, like many of us I suspect, fears that she is not measuring up and that in so doing she will fail her crew, her mission, and the Federation at large.

These fears are some of the reasons that have led to the demise of Michael and Book’s relationship. She resents that he doesn’t have to bear the burden of her obligations. Not to mention he is one more person she could potentially fail.

So why was this the test that Dr. Derex has created? The location of each clue hasn’t just been a reflection of each scientist’s area of expertise or interest. It has also included a lesson or test based on what each scientist valued. Dr. Vellick valued multi-cultural appreciation. Jinaal wanted to ensure that the seeker had a peaceful intent, and he was prepared to let them die should they prove unworthy. The trip to the ISS Enterprise was a lesson in perseverance and the importance of hope, even when faced with impossible odds.

Halem'no might have been the exception that proves the rule. To engage with the Halem'nites was a violation of the Prime Directive, and it was never Dr. Kreel’s intent. However, Michael’s perspective on technology versus religion has been fundamentally altered and I suspect it will color her approach to dealing with this technology once it’s been found.

As the keeper of the final clue, Dr. Derex, like Jinaal before her, wanted to ensure the worthiness of the seeker. But where he tested their empathy for unknown species, she tested their self-awareness. Derex appears to have believed only someone humble enough to admit their vulnerabilities has the judgement needed to be entrusted with a technology this powerful. If we use Ruhn and Michael as our guide, Derex was a very wise woman.

This is demonstrated by the fact that Michael chose to defend the Archive when she could have abandoned them to continue her search. And she handed over the map rather than see the Breen escalate further. Though it probably helped that there’s a step to retrieving the Progenitors’ tech that she failed to share. Oops...

Ruhn’s indifference to his subordinates is not what doomed him, but it created a crack in their loyalty. It was his disregard for Breen values that led to his demise. Not only was he willing to damage the Breen’s relationship with an institution that housed many valued cultural artifacts and start a war with the Federation, but he deliberately, and unnecessarily, broke a sacred vow. I’m sure he believed that it was invalidated because it was made to a lesser species. However, his subordinates did not share his view. And despite L'ak's claim that Breens don’t think as humans do, Moll knew them well enough to exploit Ruhn's poor judgement. This was exacerbated by his lack of respect for the scion through which his authority came.

In this scenario, Moll becomes the X factor. Where Ruhn crashed and burned, Moll soared. I’m convinced Moll was simply playing the cards she was dealt. She wasn’t lying when she said she tends to wing it but she’s always been adept at maximizing her opportunities. Though I doubt even she realized it would lead to a coup of the Sixth Flight. Moll is less likely to provoke a war with the Federation than Ruhn, but with L'ak's resurrection on the line, I wouldn’t put it past her.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss Book. He has grown so much since last season. Regardless of what Michael believes, he no longer thinks only of himself. If she could have seen past her fears, she would have realized that he was offering her an olive branch. He understood the reasons the Federation let Moll go and he wasn’t holding it against her that she agreed with the call. He may have the luxury of putting his needs first, but he’s spent the last year doing the Federation’s bidding. Book has a better understanding of why Michael has made the choices she’s made. That and Hy’Rell offering the cutting of the World Root to Book was just heartbreaking.

While I stand by my belief that this episode advocates for the beneficial power of self-reflection that doesn’t stop this episode from focusing more on setting up the pieces needed for the finale than in making a thematic argument. Either way, I’m down for it.

3.5 out 5 Oubliettes

Parting Thoughts:

It turns out that Cherenkov radiation is a real thing. You learn something new every day.

I thought Ruhn would leap at the opportunity to resurrect his connection to the throne. My bad.

I love that the Archive consider it a sacred duty to ensure that cultures that are lost are never forgotten. If only more people felt that way...


Moll: “I’ll fix this. I promise.”

Hy’Rell: “As this is your first visit into the Archive, please follow my instructions precisely and do not deviate. The Archive is not responsible for any damage, dismemberment, or death that may result in your failure to do so.”

Hy’Rell: “We serve everyone as long as everyone follows the rules.”
Book: “And if they don’t?”
Hy’Rell: “Why, we send them to the dungeon, of course. Just kidding.”

Book: “Shh. I’m at a really good part.”

Book: “The mind doesn’t lie.”

Rayner: “We can’t just wait around and hope she passes the test.”

Moll: “L'ak told me the Breen had great reverence for their culture and history. Not you though.”

Michael: “Or, maybe I should go even more psychobabble here.”

Reno: “Hysperians really know how to party, by the way. But that’s another story.”

Stamets: “Great idea!”
Reno: “I live to serve.”

Ruhn: “To save the few, they will risk the many.”

Michael: “You don’t mess around, do you?”

Shari loves sci-fi, fantasy, the supernatural, and anything with a cape.

1 comment:

  1. I finally got to this one (a bit late) and really liked it. And of course, it's partly because they didn't diss librarianship or the reason why archives exist. I also liked that the Breen were revealed as more than conscience-less villains.

    And all those scenes with Michael and "Book" in those incredible stacks. Wow.

    Two to go!


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