“All library computers are processing at 20% above maximum.” — Star Trek Discovery review of “An Obol for Charon”, s2e4

Star Trek: Discovery, season 2, episode 4
“An Obol for Charon”
Review by Clinton

In “New Eden,” Discovery saved the inhabitants of the planet Terralysium by drawing away radioactive debris through the use of an extremely dense asteroid. It’s a shame. If they had been able to wait a bit longer, the crew could have used this script instead. To put it another way, there is a lot going on in “An Obol for Charon.”

Consider what happens in the cold open — a common name for the action that takes place before opening credits. Enterprise’s first officer, referred to simply as “Number One,” (Rebecca Romijn) beams aboard Discovery. The officer is there to brief Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) on the status of his malfunctioning ship. Number One has also been doing some unauthorized digging into the murder charges leveled against Mr. Spock. Presumably the sensitive nature of this information is the reason for her visit, as all other news she shares with the captain could have been handled via subspace communications. She physically gives Pike a PADD containing data that will allow Discovery to pursue Spock’s shuttle.

That would normally be just about enough for a teaser. But next we move to Engineering Test Bay Alpha, where Lt. Paul Stamets and Ensign Sylvia Tilly (Anthony Rapp and Mary Wiseman) have quarantined the organism previously removed from the ensign. The organism has grown to resemble an undulating  six foot cocoon. Without warning, the mass reaches for Tilly’s hand, forming its own human-like digits. Tilly recoils in shock.

Again, we could cut to opening credits here, but the story setups continue. We move to a command staff briefing where we are reminded that not only is Discovery attempting to solve the mystery of the red signals, it has now taken on the secondary challenge of determining the purpose of the so-called Red Angel. During the briefing, Enterprise’s Commander Nhan (Rachael Ancheril) appears, as if from nowhere, saying she has rejoined the crew of Discovery. Also, First Officer Saru (Doug Jones)  is not feeling well. One can guess that Saru’s condition will continue to play a part in the episode.

But wait. There’s more. Without warning, Discovery is violently plucked out of warp by a giant glowing red sphere. Not to be confused with the red signals. The starship is trapped.

Okay, now we cut to opening credits.

If that seems like a lot, it is. With a story by Jordan Nardino, Gretchen J. Berg and and Aaron Harberts, and a teleplay by Alan McElroy and Andrew Colville, “An Obol for Charon” is so solidly packed, it’s hard to absorb everything in a single viewing. This has the unintended consequence of making an important story taking place in the test bay feel more like a throwaway subplot.

Tilly’s excruciating experience feels like a concept grafted onto another script. It appears to have little to no connection with everything else taking place on the ship. The entry of Commander Jett Reno (Tig Notaro) does not change that vibe. Her sudden appearance and subsequent sparing with Stamets feels forced. Her jabs seem a bit hollow and her “trippy” encounter with Stamets is awkward, It’s as if the writers felt she needed to be there to add something to the scene. But I still can’t tell what that “something” was supposed to be. We simply end up with one more person in this rambling series of events. When Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) attempts to enter the lab, she almost seems like part of a different universe.

None of this should be the case. Tilly is just collateral damage in an episode overflowing with plot. Think about that. Tilly is consumed by an interdimensional organism, has a hole drilled in her head, and then vanishes. And yet, that is not the main thrust of this episode.

Truth be told, the connection between the stories of Saru and the sphere would be more than enough for a single episode of this show. We should see the crew constantly coming up with clever plans that almost allow them to break free from the sphere — but in ways not too reminiscent of the TOS episode “The Corbomite Maneuver.” It would also have been nice to get more of a sense of connection between Saru and the sphere, since their fates are so intertwined. That would make the divergence of each resolution all the more poignant.

Speaking of Saru, did I mention that in the process of his not dying, we pick up a new story thread to track? Now that Saru realizes his people are living (and possibly dying) under a false assumption, I’m sure the commander will attempt to communicate with his homeworld.

It’s time for “Star Trek: Discovery” to stop picking up new plot lines and mysteries like it was a giant katamari rolling through Agatha Christie’s library. We need to start getting some answers.

Next episode: Saints of Imperfection

Random Thoughts and Observations:

The story is making a habit of having characters simply appear in a scene. First there was Tilly’s “ghost,” May Ahern and now, in this episode, Commander Nhan and, to a large extent, Commander Jett Reno.

We get one more reminder that there is no place for holograms on Enterprise. It makes me begin to wonder just how extensive the “repair work” will be while the ship is in spacedock.

The writers are too dependent upon reference to 20th century Earth music. Last season Stamets said that his uncle played in a Beatles cover band. In this episode Reno mentions Prince and we find out that Tilly’s favorite song is “Space Oddity” by David Bowie. Not only would that song be more than 280 years old, but it’s hard to believe that both Tilly and Stamets know the lyrics. The show needs more original songs, like “Beyond Antares” and references to Kasseelian opera.

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