“You may still choose to walk away from this future.” — Star Trek Discovery review, “Through the Valley of Shadows” s2e12

Star Trek: Discovery, season 2, episode 12
“Through the Valley of Shadows”
Teleplay by Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt
Directed by Douglas Aarniokoski
Review by Clinton

Upfront, I will state  tha I try to stay as spoiler-free about yet-to-be-aired episodes as possible. As such, by the time you read this, some of my speculations may be proven to be completely false.

On the verge of the final two episodes of season two, I want to focus on two aspects of this episode that struck me in unusual ways.

The first area I want to discuss involves an inanimate object — a simple piece of crystal. That is to say, a time crystal. There are so many questions I have about these structures. Why would the Klingons abandon research on them? How are they actually guarded on Boreth? And how reliable is that protection method? After all, Harry Mudd somehow “got his hands on” a crystal. And so did Gabriella Burnham.

However, the biggest question I have about the crystals is, how early were they conceived as part of the “Star Trek: Discovery” universe? You see, since “The Vulcan Hello,” I have wondered about the crystals that flowed around U.S.S. Discovery in the opening credits. They fly about the screen like snowflakes as the starship takes form. Why?

I never thought the objects were dilithium crystals. Even though Discovery has a warp engine, its primary method of propulsion is the spore drive. Besides, we have seen pieces of dilithium a few times on “Star Trek.” It is usually depicted as a milky white or amber color, not emerald green.

Were the hovering crystals simply random graphic elements added to give the title sequence some kinetic energy? Possibly. But most everything else shown in the credits is either a literal or symbolic representation of an event or concept on the show.  So, that explanation seemed unlikely.

These crystals gave me pause every time I saw them drift by on the screen. What were they?

Crystals.

In “Through the Valley of Shadows,” I may have received an answer. Which only leads to more questions. During his mission to Boreth, Pike, along with the time keeper Tenavik, enter a chamber filled with time crystals, or, as the Klingons call them, poH qut. When we see them in closeup, they looked exactly like the floating crystals in the opening credit sequence. Discovery is literally surrounded by time crystals.

Coincidence? Possibly. But I suspect they indicate something more. The question is, if they are time crystals, how long has that “something more” been lurking in the background? Is this a long game, where a clue has been right in front of our faces the entire time? It gives me pause to wonder about the possibilities. Has time travel always lurked around the corner on this show? Has the production team been telegraphing a message that we can only now decrypt?

Here’s hoping the final two episodes of this season provide clarity to the crystal mystery.

The other thing that struck me about “Through the Valley of Shadows” was the turn Pike’s character takes — by not taking a turn — in that very same chamber.

In a recent interview, actor Anson Mount, speaking about the script for this episode, said “It turns Pike’s third act, which we already know about and have established, it makes it more of a triumph than a tragedy.” I agree. But it’s not just this episode that does that. This is just the culmination of that newly-illuminated second act.

Going into his appearance in “Discovery,” we knew little about Pike. We saw him as an exhausted, frustrated, even angry Captain in “The Cage,” the very first pilot for the original “Star Trek” series. Then, in “The Menagerie,” we saw him as a figure locked inside his own mind, trapped in a body that no longer functioned. We, of course, did have sympathy for the man. After all, he dove into danger, charging into a chamber flooded with radiation to rescue cadets trapped inside. But, as Mount points out, that’s Pike’s third act. For the past 50 or so years, it lived in a bit of a vacuum.

Over the course of this season, we have gotten to know more about Christopher Pike. We have seen him as a man of principle, ideals, flaws, and compassion. He has human doubts, but always tries his best to find his way back to his moral compass and his belief in his duties. Admiral Cornwell sums it up when she has to confess why the Enterprise was not recalled from its five-year mission during the Klingon war.

“You sat out the war because if we’d lost to the Klingons, we wanted the best of Starfleet to survive. And as this conversation makes clear, that was you and all you represent.”

Now, with Pike’s inevitable departure from Discovery at hand, it has been a bit harder to accept the fate that awaits him. That is what is brilliant about this episode. It snatches victory from the hands of defeat — a defeat that has not yet happened, but has been written in stone.

Pike

In the vision of the future, Pike sees the accident that leaves him disfigured and helpless, but he does not get to focus on the lives he will save by pulling survivors out of danger. Then, he is told he can alter this fate by simply leaving the crystal behind. As horrified as Pike is by what he has seen, he knows that to walk away without the crystal would mean he had failed his mission and turned his back on everything he believes in, everything we have seen him demonstrate time and again. That is something he simply can not do.

Intellectually, we always knew that a Starfleet captain would risk their life to save their crew. But now we fully understand why Pike will make the choice to expose himself to delta-rays in order to rescue those cadets. It is in the core of his very being. It is who he is. It is the embodiment of “The needs of the many.”

The fact that the time crystals and Pike interact in this episode, in this way, is amazing..

Next episode: Such Sweet Sorrow

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