“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.

“Now, you are my children.” — Star Trek Discovery review, “Point of Light”, s2e3


Star Trek: Discovery, season 2, episode 3
“Point of Light”
Review by Clinton

“No language can express the power and beauty and heroism of a mother’s love.”
-Edwin H. Chapin

It is not unusual for “Star Trek” to put an emphasis on family. Most often, it is not about blood relations, but the emotional connections that bind a group together. In this episode, written by Andrew Colville and directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi, the more intimate connection between mother and child is front and center.

While still in pursuit of the red signals, USS Discovery receives an unexpected visitor — Amanda Grayson (Mia Kirshner), adoptive mother to Lt. Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green). We learn that Grayson failed in an attempt to see her son, Spock. The half-Vulcan had committed himself to a psychiatric unit on Starbase 5 for reasons unknown. Denied access to her son or his condition, Grayson unashamedly steals his encrypted medical file and needs Burnham to unlock it. The lieutenant’s reaction to this act of thievery reads like a child embarrassed by the behavior of a parent.

Burnham is reluctant to violate orders. But Grayson presses forward. With the lieutenant by her side, Grayson meets with Captain Pike (Anson Mount):

Pike:
I can’t open this file. If I did, I’d be in violation of the rules and my mother wouldn’t like that.

Burnham:
There is precedent; in Starfleet case law, for a captain to invoke —

Pike:
Was she this bossy as a kid?

Grayson:
On Vulcan we call it “persistent,” and yes, she was. She learned that from me.

Contacting Starbase 5, Pike is told that Spock fled the facility after killing three of his doctors.

Her son is in trouble. Grayson presses forward.

Sitting with her adoptive mother, Burnham decrypts the files. The records state that Spock has exhibited signs of “extreme empathy deficit.” It is in this moment that we learn of Grayson’s regrets over the upbringing of her half-human son.

Grayson:
I can’t deny that possibility. He didn’t have a normal childhood. Sarek wanted Spock raised in the Vulcan manner, and any display of emotion was strongly discouraged. And in order to not confuse my son, I began to hide my own. I was not a real mother. I wasn’t what he needed.

Burnham:
You gave us love — every second.

Grayson:
It was different with you, Michael. I gave you all my joy and my affection that I was not permitted to give to him. But Spock is half human. If he’d have been permitted to embrace the human feelings that I know he has inside of him, it would have saved him from all the trouble that he’s in now.

Of course, family dynamics are hard. In the files, the two women come across Spock’s drawings of the so-called “Red Angel”. Grayson reveals that when Burnham ran away from home, young Spock claimed the angel came to him and told him where Burnham was. Grayson says that Spock changed after that day. He withdrew into himself. This revelation hits Burnham hard.

Burnham:
It wasn’t because of a vision. It was because of me. My presence was a danger to the family. If the logic extremists couldn’t get to me, they would try to get to him. And he was my little shadow. So I had to wound him deep enough to keep him away from me.

Burnham tries to tell Grayson what she did, but she cannot bring herself to say the words. Amanda now realizes that her family is broken and it is up to her to pick up the pieces. Taking the data disk, she leaves to find her son.

Grayson pressing on.

This, of course, will not be the only time Grayson has to confront Spock’s upbringing. In the classic “Star Trek” episode “Journey to Babel,” a transfusion from Spock can save Sarek’s life. But Spock is in temporary command of Enterprise and refuses to relinquish his post to assist.

Grayson:
Nothing is as important as your father’s life.

Spock:
Can you imagine what my father would say if I were to agree? If I were to give up command of this vessel — jeopardize hundreds of lives, risk interplanetary war, all for the life of one person.

Grayson:
When you were five years old, and came home stiff-lipped, anguished, because the other boys tormented you, saying that you weren’t “really Vulcan,” I watched you, knowing that inside, the…the human part of you was crying. And I cried, too. There must be some part of me in you. Some part that I still can reach. If being Vulcan is more important to you, then you’ll stand there, speaking rules and regulations from the Starfleet and Vulcan philosophy and — and let your father die, and — and  I’ll hate you for the rest of my life.

Years later, it appeared the House of Sarek was still in need of some repair.

Meanwhile, on Qu’noS, things are not going well for newly-appointed Chancellor L’Rell (Mary Chieffo). She is struggling to unite the 24 Klingon houses as one family, as T’Kuvma envisioned. However, the patriarchy is resistant to her radical ideas. They are also openly hostile towards the Torchbearer, Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif). The warriors do not see the Klingon, Voq, buried beneath Tyler’s human appearance. And none is more combative than Kol-Sha (Kenneth Mitchell), whose son, Kol, died at the hands of the Federation during the war. He sees the red signals as a sign that L’Rell’s changes will bring the empire to doom. But L’Rell presses on.

The chancellor defends Tyler against all that oppose him. Voq, in Klingon form, was her lover. But now, she senses that Tyler is conflicted; that his feelings for Michael Burham are stronger. This is born out in a subspace communication Tyler has with the lieutenant. Then Tyler reveals that he associates L’Rell with his gruesome transformation, making her every touch feel like a violation.

To make matters worse, we learn that while Voq was undergoing his surgery, L’Rell gave birth to a son. It is a son she has never seen and also kept secret from Tyler. To her own sorrow, she wished to give Tyler the freedom to return to the human world without him feeling racked with guilt.

But all these sacrifices amount to nothing. Eventually, to save them, L’Rell must let Tyler and their son flee Qu’noS. She is left with no lover, no child. But the Klingon presses on, and vows to serve as mother to the entire Klingon race.

Next episode: An Obol For Charon

Random Thoughts and Observations:

This episode also gave us partial resolution on the mysterious crewmember, May Ahern, that only Tilly has been able to see. Tilly is put through the emotional ringer, to the point of jeopardizing her path towards command, before she seeks help from Burnham. We still do not know why the inter-dimensional fungus wanted to speak with Stamets. Tilly also mentions that it was grooming her for something. There is more to this organism than meets the eye.

It might just be me, but I swear I keep hearing a tribble in the background of various Discovery scenes. Is that Lorca’s tribble? Is it multiplying?

We get at least two acknowledgements of the discrepancies between “Discovery” and classic “Star Trek.” First, the Klingons now sport hair, apparently because they shave their heads in times of war (I guess that custom faded long before the Dominion War). And two, Pike prefers flat screens to holographic images.

I am sure that many will appreciate the Klingons expanded use of English, rather than Klingon with subtitles.

Playing his Klingon father, Kenneth Mitchell has now died twice on “Star Trek: Discovery.” Apparently you are required to die twice to remain dead on this show. Also, having one actor play two characters in a Klingon bloodline is not unheard of. In “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,” Michael Dorn played the role of defense attorney Colonel Worf, grandfather of his TNG/DS9’s character.

That Klingon baby model really did not hold up well in close ups.

Is this the last we will hear of the child of Voq and L’Rell? I doubt it.

It looks like Tyler has found a home in Section 31. However, the scenes with Georgiou now feel like a backdoor pilot for her spinoff series.

“Context…can alter our perspective” — Star Trek Discovery review, “New Eden,” s2e2

Burnham, Pike and Owosekun on Terralysium
Star Trek: Discovery, season 2, episode 2
“New Eden”
Review by Clinton

This week’s offering, “New Eden,” feels like a story severely hobbled by arbitrary time constraints. Conversations are truncated, introductions are brief or non-existent. However, even with a running time more than 15 minutes shorter than last week’s episode, the script does deliver on many levels.

In what I would call the “A” story, Discovery attempts to intercept a second red signal. This involves using the spore drive to jump to a location over 50,000 light years away, in the Beta Quadrant. When the ship arrives, the signal has once again disappeared. However, Discovery does find something at the location — an M-class (Earthlike) planet, surrounded by rings comprised of radioactive debris. Even more intriguing, the planet is inhabited by humans who have been on the planet 200 years, long before Earth discovered warp drive.

The Red Angel appears on Earth.

At this point, the viewer might begin to wonder if the signals are leading Discovery around the galaxy on some “Quantum Leap” type adventure. Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), meeting with First Officer Saru and Commander MIchael Burnham (Doug Jones and Sonequa Martin-Green), wonders much the same thing. And thus begins an impromptu debate between science and faith.

Pike:
Why did that second signal want us to come here?

Burnham:
As science officer, I would advise restraint in ascribing motivation to what are now simply unidentifiable energy bursts.

Pike:
There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio…

Burnham:
I know my Shakespeare, Captain. Are you suggesting that some kind of divine intervention put those people on the planet?

But there appears to be more to Pike’s musings than he lets on. When the Captain learns that the “First Saved” were transported from Earth to the planet, which the inhabitants call Terralysium, he seems transfixed by their decision to combine all of Earth’s major religions into one doctrine. Later, even though he holds fast to his decision that General Order One (AKA, the Prime Directive) applies to Terralysium, meaning Starfleet cannot interfere with the natural development of the society, he beams down to the surface. Dressed in his Starfleet uniform, he speaks with Jacob (Andrew Moodie), a New Eden citizen whose family had always sought to learn the truth about the events surrounding the First Saved. Pike tells Jacob, “I lied, to protect the others from the truth. The truth is, you were right about us. I know what it’s like to live with doubt, and I guess I didn’t want that for you.” Pike hands Jacob a power source that allows the truth seeker to, once again, fill the town’s church with light.

Is the doubt Pike lives with something about his command? His relationships?  Or, perhaps, it is an internal conflict concerning science and faith? Earlier we learn that Pike’s father was a science teacher who also taught comparative religion. As Pike puts it, “It was a confusing household and we didn’t agree on a lot.” Did the debates in the Pike household mirror his conversations with Burnham?

Tilly working to slice off asteroid section.

In the episode’s “B” story, Ensign Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is struggling to find a way to use the metrion-charged asteroid Discovery captured to develop an alternative interface for the spore drive. Lt. Commander Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) has confessed to her that he had previously seen his deceased partner, Dr. Hugh Culber, inside the mycelial network. The experience shook Stamets, who is now very reluctant to interface with the drive.

When Tilly slices off a piece of the asteroid, she is hit by a charge of unknown energy, knocking her unconscious. Later, in sickbay, Tilly is greeted by an unfamiliar woman in a Starfleet uniform. We later learn that the woman, May Ahern (Bshia Watson), was a junior high school classmate of Tilly’s. And Ahern died in 2252.

The fact that Stamets and Tilly have both seen manifestations of the departed should not be a surprise. At the end of season 1, we saw a small particle of spore material land on Tilly’s shoulder. It would seem that whatever connection is allowing Stamets access to another realm is also affecting Sylvia. Stamets tells Tilly, “Astromycology has taught me that nothing is ever really gone. Fungi are the universe’s recyclers. This is how termination begats creation. It’s why life is eternal. And my place is on this side of that cycle.”

The “manifestation” appeared to be pushing Tilly forward, acting as a catalyst to help the ensign realize how she can use the asteroid to save the planet. Whatever the entity’s purpose, it appeared genuinely delighted to observe Tilly’s unorthodox thought process.

Do the two main stories create a unified theme for this episode? Not quite. But they may yet intersect as the season progresses.

Discovery releases the asteroid.

Elsewhere, this episode continued last week’s trend of letting secondary members of the bridge crew shine. Lieutenant Junior Grade Joann Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo) joined the landing party and showed that she is more than capable of improvising solutions to problems. We also learned that she was raised in a luddite collective. How she found her way to Starfleet could be an interesting story. Meanwhile, on the bridge, Lt. Keyla Detmer (Emily Coutts) demonstrated her outstanding piloting skills. Her “Donut” maneuver with Discovery was impressive.

Next episode: Point of Light

Random Thoughts and Observations

The inhabitants call their planet Terralysium. This is a reference to Elysium. In Greek mythology Elysium is the final resting place of the souls of heroes and those of great virtue. Those deemed worthy were conveyed there by the gods.  Could the name have been chosen by the settlers as a non-Christian way of saying a heavenly version of Earth (Terra)?

Favorite bits of dialog —

May (appearing as if from nowhere):
Can I help you with something?

Tilly:
Yes. Yes, thank you. I’m supposed to be on bed rest, but that is practically an affront to my very existence, ’cause the ship’s in high alert, the captain, Burnham, Owo, not to mention an entire planet might be nuked, and that is not happening! Why are you looking at me like that? You’re May, right? Am I talking too fast? I’m problem solving. I’ve had espressos.

May:
In sickbay?

Tilly:
Yeah!

*****

Burnham:
You wanted to see me?

Pike (nursing broken ribs):
Yes. And don’t make me laugh.

Burnham:
Fortunately for you, I was raised on Vulcan. We don’t do “funny.”

Pike laughs, then winces in pain.

Burnham:
Maybe I should just shut up.

“An enormous letter in a bottle, made of space and time” — Star Trek Discovery review, “Brother”, s2e1

Burnham at Spock's cabin door.
Star Trek: Discovery, Season 2, Episode 1
“BROTHER”
Posted by Clinton

With “Brother,” we find ourselves off on a whole new set of adventures with the crew of U.S.S. Discovery. And there are a few “new” characters along for the ride as well. How does this premiere compare to last year’s opener, “The Vulcan Hello”? This episode appears to go by faster, even though it is a whopping 61 minutes, compared to the 43 minute run time of “Hello.” It is brighter, wittier and more accessible. It lights up every inch of the new cinematic 2:35 : 1 aspect ratio of the frame. But it does rely on a series of standard “sequel” setups that it has to work its way through.

One of the fastest ways to get a sequel rolling is to shake up the lives of the characters in the story. In some cases, that means the people we saw together are now far apart and someone has to “put the band back together.” Admiral Kirk had this task in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.” He needed to reunite with McCoy, Spock and Enterprise itself.

Of course, the distance between does not have to be a physical one. It can be an an emotional chasm that needs to be crossed. At the beginning of “Jewel of the Nile,” Joan Wilder and Jack Coulton do not appear to be living the carefree life that was promised at the end of “Romancing the Stone.”

Another way to jumpstart the story is by having things not turn out as we assumed they would. For instance, at the beginning of “Ghostbusters II,” the guys are not living the life of fame and fortune we assumed they would. They find themselves performing at children’s birthday parties. Or what about Sarah Connor? After defeating the Terminator, she finds herself in a mental institution, believed to be insane. And wait, we thought Luke and friends defeated the evil empire in the original “Star Wars.” Sorry. “The Empire Strikes Back” nixes that assumption.

In the season two premiere of “Star Trek: Discovery,” all these challenges, and more, are brought into play. And it is the job of “Brother” to set all the wheels in motion.


For starters, Dr. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) has decided to leave Discovery for a position at the Vulcan Science Academy. The ship is simply too full of painful memories. “Hugh is everywhere I look, Tilly,” Stamets tells Ensign Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman). “How much am I supposed to take?” Then there is the issue of Spock, who, we learn, is not on board Enterprise. He has taken an extended leave. Pike is sad. Burnham is sad. Oh, no! Someone needs to get the band back together!

Speaking of our favorite Vulcan, the backstory about his childhood encounters with Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) paints a picture of less-than-ideal sibling relationships within the house of Sarek and Amanda (James Frain, Mia Kirshner). Although we already knew that this was not the most fun-loving of households, the chasm between Burnham and her foster brother appears to be extremely wide. That needs mending.

And then there is the status of the ship itself. One might have assumed that Discovery would only be rendezvousing with Enterprise, or maybe going on a joint mission. Instead, we learn that Enterprise has experienced a sudden series of ship-wide systems failures and will be towed back for a full set of diagnostics. Captain Pike (Anson Mount) takes temporary command of Discovery to investigate one of a series of seven mysterious red bursts that have appeared in the galaxy.

That’s a lot of setup. But Director/Co-Creator/Executive Producer Alex Kurtzman and teleplay authors Gretchen J. Berg, Aaron Harberts (both former Executive Producers) and Co-Executive Producer Ted Sullivan manage to put all the pieces into place.

Pike asks Detmer to "fly good."

As the episode ends, Captain Pike has donned a Discovery uniform, we have been properly introduced to the bridge crew for the first time, and Burnham is on a personal mission to save Spock. Looks like it’s time to book an arena tour. The group is getting together again!

Random Thoughts and Observations:

The fortune Pike finds on the floor of Lorca’s ready room reads, “Not every cage is a prison, nor every loss eternal.” This seems too on point to be taken literally. As you may know, the character of Christopher Pike was in the original pilot of “Star Trek.” The episode was titled “The Cage.” And it was not a prison. Then there is the loss of Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz). Is that the loss that will not be eternal?

The producers have mentioned that this season will touch on various matters, including religion. The so-called Red Angel appears to be a manifestation of this theme. It is noted that, unlike other iterations of Trek, this episode in particular was conspicuous in its use of dialog such as “I bless you, Michael,” and “Oh, thank Christ you guys are here.” Trek has had takes on religion in the past, in fact it was a major factor on “Deep Space Nine.” It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

There were a few scenes that appear to indicate all is not as it seems. For instance, Pike is genuinely confused by the way Enterprise experienced system-wide failures while attempting to investigate the red signals. Then there is the fact that, in the middle of a hectic situation, we specifically hear Pike ask Commander Jett Reno (Tig Notaro) if she knows anything about the signals. She says she knows nothing. I doubt that is true.

In the opening voiceover, Burnham recounts the ancient African story of the girl who stuck her hands into the wood ash and threw them into the sky to create the Milky Way. Burnham says that there was a message hidden there, among the stars. “An enormous letter in a bottle, made of space and time, visible only to those whose hearts were open enough to receive it.” I was able to track down the story, but could find no reference to this secret. You are welcome to read the story yourself and draw your own conclusions: The Girl of the Early Race, Who Made Stars

Next episode: New Eden