“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.

“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.

“Frankly, I’m still stuck on the ‘not dead’ part.” — Star Trek: Discovery Review — What’s Past Is Prologue

Star Trek: Discovery, Season 1, Episode 13
What’s Past Is Prologue
Posted by Clinton

“Perhaps we could cover a little philosophical ground. Life, death — life. Things of that nature.”
Dr. Leonard McCoy speaking to Captain Spock, “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”

Lorca falling into the orb
source: burnhamandtilly.tumblr.com

Death is no stranger to “Star Trek.” Neither is rebirth. In this episode of “Discovery,” written by co-executive producer Ted Sullivan, we get more than our share of both.

Certainly mirror Lorca’s (Jason Isaacs) demise is the most spectacular death in this episode. However, long before the battle in the Emperor’s throne room, the mutineer had already sealed his fate. At no point did he show any sign of redemption. There was no moment of remorse. Gabriel Lorca had been given a chance to start his life anew when he crossed over into the prime universe. He squandered that opportunity by using the time to plan his revenge. As he disintegrated, ripped apart by his fall into the mycelium orb, he was already long dead.

Mirror Stamets
source: burnhamandtilly.tumblr.com

Elsewhere in the story, life and death play out in no less significant ways. For instance, when Lorca rescues his band of loyal followers from their imprisonment, the act signals the rebirth of the mutiny against the Emperor. Yet something tells us that most of the Terran soldiers will not survive to fight another day. Lorca had proven time and again that he had little regard for others, including those most loyal to him. They may not have been wearing red shirts, but the troops who followed Captain Lorca and his blind ambition were destined to join the ranks of those nameless minions killed in battle.

Mirror universe Commander Landy (Rekha Sharma) is a bit more of a mystery. Earlier, her prime universe counterpart had been killed on board the Discovery, mutilated by the tardigrade, Ripper. It was a senseless death, the result of Landry’s desire to follow her Captain’s orders without question. Would the scales of justice attempt to even themselves by allowing this version of the Commander to live? When Lorca helps her out of her agonizer booth,  one might say she is reborn. Perhaps so, but her resurrection is short lived. She dies in the fiery explosion that destroys the I.S.S. Charon. It seems her devotion to Lorca sealed her fate in both universes.

The elimination of the Emperor’s palace ship undoubtedly also sent political shockwaves throughout the Terran Empire. The news that the throne is empty will most likely result in a bloody battle for power by countless factions. The Emperor is dead. Long live the Emperor.

Terran Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) is another character whose future is at first unclear. Points in his favor are that he previously betrayed Lorca and he worked to help prime Stamets escape entrapment in the mycelial network. Escaping the network himself at the end of the previous episode, it’s conceivable that his rebirth has made him a survivor. Unfortunately, we soon discover that he is developing a bioweapon for the Emperor, and that it is his reckless abuse of the mycelial network that is threatening the multiverse. He is also far too quick to cave to Lorca’s demands, placidly aiding the Captain in his fight against Georgiou. It is simply an attempt to prolong his own life. Eventually, Landry’s request, “Can we kill him now?,” is granted and she vaporized the hapless Terran.

Burnham

Mirror Georgiou
source: first-officer-michael-burnham.tumblr.com

But there is also rebirth that offered a glimmer of hope. To us, the death of Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) at the battle at the binary stars feels like a lifetime ago, but not to Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green). Burnham’s mind tells her that Emperor Philippa Georgiou Augustus Iaponius Centarius is not her Captain. However, Michael’s heart sees Philippa reborn in the Terran Emperor. Likewise, Philippa can not help but see some of her beloved Michael in the prime universe Burnham. This is made crystal clear when the two women sit across from one another and speak of their lost companions, all the while holding treasured mementos of the their departed friends.

In the end, Georgiou is willing to buy Michael time to escape, paying with her own life. It is an act of love. Burnham, however, also leads with her heart and rescues the fallen Emperor. For now, mirror Georgiou is in limbo, no longer the ruler of a savage empire, yet also not comfortable with the tenents of the Federation and Starfleet. Will she take better advantage of her second chance? Or will she scheme to return to her side of the mirror?

It is not only Philippa who experiences a successful rebirth in “What’s Past Is Prologue.” As mentioned, we learn that the mycelial network is dying. The Terran Empire has been exploiting it for their own selfish needs, not only depleting the mirror universe’s network, but also threatening all life in multiple universes. Working together, the crew of the Discovery and Emperor Georgiou are able to destroy the Charon’s mycelium orb. This allows the network to live anew; replenish itself at amazing speed. At the same time the network sweeps the Discovery towards home.

Mycelial network
source: greenjimkirk.tumblr.com

In fact, the Discovery itself is also reborn. Once the crew is made aware of Lorca’s true nature, they shake free of his influence and begin to function as an effective team. We see an open, honest discussion of the mission to destroy the mycelium orb. When the crew comes to realize that the plan could mean the destruction of the Discovery, Commander Saru (Doug Jones) forcefully states his belief in the competence of the team, “The Discovery is no longer Lorca’s,” he explains, “She is ours. And today will be her maiden voyage. We have a duty to perform, and we will not accept a no-win scenario.”

Of course, the no-win scenario is a riddle that Spock once solved by sacrificing himself to save the many. Only to find himself reborn.

Next episode: The War Without, The War Within

 

Random Thoughts and Observations:

  • It was a cheat to have the floor in the throne room open early in the episode. Yes, it established that the “trap door” gave direct access to the mycelium orb, but it was also obvious that we were seeing it to foreshadow its use later in the episode.
  • Why is Lorca able to fall through the containment field of the Charon’s mycelium hub? That would seem to imply that anything can penetrate the containment field, including photon torpedoes.
  • A leap of nine months places “Star Trek: Discovery” that much closer to the time of Kirk and Spock. I estimate we are now within 8 and a half years of the 10-year gap separating “Discovery” and TOS.
  • It was nice to see the use of screens rather than holograms not once, but twice, in this episode.
  • Where is prime Lorca? In the mirror universe? Did he die on the Buran?

“You don’t know me.” — Star Trek: Discovery Review — Vaulting Ambition

Star Trek: Discovery, Season 1, Episode 12
Vaulting Ambition
Posted by Clinton

Mirror Georgiou with sword.
source: greenjimkirk.tumblr.com/

“Vaulting Ambition” exemplifies the duality of this first season of “Star Trek: Discovery.” Not just in terms of its characters who continue to shed their hidden identities, but also the way in which it handles story elements. When things are handled with care, the show is magic. When pieces are slapped together, the end product suffers.

Let’s start with what is good.

The acting is this episode is excellent. It is clear that the cast is now very comfortable with their characters. Over these many episodes the idiosyncrasies of each role have been refined. Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman) has become a just a wee bit less chatty. Commander Saru (Doug Jones) is a bit more in control. And Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) is…well, Lorca has pretty much always been on point. More on that in a second. The supporting players in “Vaulting Ambition” were also tone-perfect. Dwain Murphy’s turn as the torturous Captain Maddox left us with mixed emotions when he was ultimately slain by Lorca.

A long-game character plot line also came together beautifully this week. Last week, we dealt with the revelation that Tyler and Voq (Shazad Latif) are two personalities that share the same modified body. This week, we learn that Captain Lorca is, as some fans suspected, actually from the mirror universe. This is the type of twist that sends you reeling. Part of what made the reveal so satisfying is that Jason Isaacs knew where this character was headed from the very beginning. His discussions with the producers meant he knew things about Lorca that perhaps even individual episode directors did not know. This allowed the acting to reinforce the character’s backstory. Isaacs’ performance differs from Shazad Latif’s portrayal of Tyler/Voq because Lorca was always well aware of who he was and what he wanted. It is the kind of twist that makes you want to go back to the beginning of the season and closely watch the character in every scene.

We are treated to a lovely moment where Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) gets to say goodbye to Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz). It helps soften the blow of the doctor’s untimely death and leaves us wondering if this truly is the end. It brings to mind Spock’s words, “There are always possibilities.”

Stamets and Culber
source: twyllodrus.tumblr.com/

“Discovery” also continues to shock and surprise in other ways. We recoiled when we learn that the Kelpien that Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) had selected in the Emperor’s throne room was the main course at her dinner with Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh). Bonus points to Martin-Green for her reaction to being offered the Kelpien’s ganglia. In addition, Georgiou’s use of a flying disc as a killing weapon was inspired.

Then there are the elements that seem to fall off the rails.

Shall we begin with the I.S.S. Charon? The Emperor’s palace is a ship ridiculous in both size and design. It dwarfs virtually everything we have previously seen in “Star Trek,” save the occasional starbase. Its dimensions only serve to reinforce the belief that the people in charge of “Star Trek: Discovery” think that bigger equals better, and that insanely bigger is best.

I.S.S.Charon
source: twyllodrus.tumblr.com/

Meanwhile, after last week’s brilliant revelation about Tyler’s true identity, L’Rell’s (Mary Chieffo) reaction to Tyler/Voq’s torment feels unnecessarily rushed. It plays out like something we simply need to get through in order to hit the next plot point. All the elements are there — love, regret, sorrow — but we ultimately get too little of any of them to justify her actions. Likewise the medical procedure that L’Rell uses to supposedly “kill” Voq is another low point. It feels too simple. The process to merge Tyler and Voq was long and painful. This operation took mere seconds.

Then there is the laziest piece of writing in the episode: the reveal that mirror universe humans have eyes that are sensitive to light. This characteristic immediately informs Burnham that Lorca is not who he claims to be. The only problem is, we have been in this mirror universe several times and light sensitivity has never before been an issue. It is simply not true. There were other ways in which the same failing of Lorca’s eyes could have been used to reveal the Captain’s deception, but writer Jordon Nardino chose the easy way out. Nardino simply made something up, even if it contradicted what we already know to be true.

The duality of “Star Trek: Discovery” is diminishing over time, as both the characters and production crew find their way to their true selves. But episodes like this demonstate that there is still some room to improve.

Next episode: What’s Past is Prologue

“One last jump then.” — Star Trek Discovery Review — Into The Forest I Go

Star Trek: Discovery, Episode 9
Into The Forest I Go
Posted by Clinton

The Discovery spore drive in action.

I loved where this show arrived by the end of “Into The Forest I Go.” Yet, I hated some of how we got there.

First, the love.

This episode, which concluded what the producers are calling “Chapter One,” was paced to a T. During the critical 133 jumps, editing perfectly drew out Stamets’ (Anthony Rapp) ordeal. A sequence that involves this many repetitive steps would typically move from jump one to somewhere around 60, then to jump 131. Not in this case. We cut from from exterior views of the spore drive in action to closeups of a disoriented Stamets, to a readout of the jump numbers, then the loading of more spore canisters. The action is chaos in motion. Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz), monitoring Stamets’ deteriorating condition, asks, “Tilly, how many jumps do we have left?” Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman) replies, “96 more.” We are heartbroken. Tyler’s (Shazad Latif) PTSD flashbacks are also expertly done. They seem to reveal everything, but don’t necessarily tell us all we need to know. The entire episode slipped seamlessly between frenetic action and slow, quiet character moments. Special shoutouts to episode writers Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt, as well as episode director Chris Byrne and editor Jon Dudkowski.

Coupled with last week’s “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum,” this part of the story was sweeping in its scope. We joined a planet-side exploration, made first contact, battled the Klingons, uncovered revelations about major characters and ended up someplace completely unexpected.

We are left to wonder if Discovery had a chance to transmit the cloak-defeating data before her fateful jump. Captain Lorca (Jason Isaac) makes a point of telling Admiral Terral (Conrad Coates) that it will take eleven hours to refine the equations for fleet-wide use. It is unclear how long after that the ship disappears. Has Starfleet’s secret weapon vanished with the one piece of information that would turn the tide of the war? That would be rather devastating, wouldn’t you say?

The main characters on “Star Trek: Discovery” are slowly reaching that point where we think we know what makes them tick. We feel accustomed to the way Gabriel Lorca, Saru (Doug Jones), Sylvia Tilly, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Ash Tyler behave. Dr. Hugh Culber hasn’t had enough screen time to foster this sense of familiarity, but one gets the feeling that will change sooner rather than later. Imagine if we had had a chance to spend this much time with Captain Georgiou or T’Kuvma. How much more of an impact would their deaths have had on us?

Stamets in chamber saying "I love you."
source: lesbianphilippa.tumblr.com

“Discovery” has clearly started to hit its stride. That’s a good sign. Chapter Two now has the task of raising the bar even higher.

Now, about that hate I mentioned…

While the main characters have been fleshed out over the course of these first nine episodes, we know virtually nothing about most of the bridge crew. Yes, it’s true that we didn’t get to know every crew member who took a station on the bridge in classic Trek or “The Next Generation,” but those were mostly interchangeable extras. The bridge crew on board Discovery has been a constant. We also know nothing about the Discovery’s Chief Medical Officer. Remember, Dr. Culber is not the CMO.

We also did not get a chance to really know the Klingons to any great extent. Much like his makeup, Kol (Kenneth Mitchell) was painted with a pretty broad brush. In the end, he came across as simply a villain interested in power. He was not even the Klingon who killed Captain Georgiou. In fact, Kol points out that he never met the Captain. This made his defeat less satisfying than it could be.

There were also plot points in Chapter One that seemed to go nowhere. What happened to those mysterious security personnel who wore black delta shield insignias. We saw them momentarily in episode three, but never again. What happened to Harry Mudd when he left Discovery with knowledge of how the ship works? Is he going to try to sell that information? Every moment of screen time should mean something. If it is not paid off, we feel cheated.

L’Rell’s (Mary Chieffo) long game is another sticking point with me. At the mid-season break, we still are very much in the dark as to what she is planning. While it is fine to have some mystery left, her motives are so vague, it is hard to either love or hate her. Or love to hate her. She simply exists.

L'Rell in brig saying "Soon."
source:: klchaps.tumblr.com

The producers have promised that as we get closer to Kirk’s five year mission, there will be a bit more dovetailing with the aesthetics of classic Trek. It is unclear where we are in that timeline. If the battle of the binary stars took place ten years before “The Original Series,” and Burnham arrived on Discovery six months later, once you add in the amount of time it took to get to the incidents at the battle at Pahvo, we are roughly 9 years out from TOS now.

Overall, I think the pluses far outweigh the minuses with regards to Chapter One. We know that virtually every Trek series has had an awkward start; each struggling to find its unique voice. “Discovery” is no different. The characters are evolving as the writers and actors get more familiar with how this particular part of the Trek universe works. I think the rushed nature of Chapter One is something that will smooth out in future episodes. Of course, that vision may not be fully realized until season two, but that only give us one more thing to look forward to 2019.

Next episode: Despite Yourself

 

Random Thoughts and Observations:

  • I loved the huge sensor devices Tyler and Burnham had to place on board the Ship of the Dead. The fact that they lit up and talked felt so classic Trek.
  • Very happy that Admiral Cornwell survived. In a previous article, I wrote about women of power on “Discovery”. Nice to see this one could possibly return.
  • Why is it always so easy to sneak around on Klingon ships? Why are there so many corridors and rooms for so few crew members?
  • Speaking of Klingon ships, why do their commanders always just watch, dumbfounded, while torpedoes hit their vessels at the end of a battle?
  • Lorca clearly has no desire to return to Starbase 46. Did his desire to avoid that option cause him to feed new coordinates into the spore drive controls?

“Is this what harmony and balance look like?” — Star Trek Discovery Review — Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum

Star Trek: Discovery, Episode 8
Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum
Posted by Clinton

Saru interacts with the Pahvans.

In this episode, Saru (Doug Jones) succumbs to the call of the Pahvans, and Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) must try to convince him to complete the landing party’s mission. Two things struck me about the story: first, the episode reminded me of another classic “Star Trek” adventure and, second, it made me ponder the likelihood of achieving happiness in the “Star Trek” universe.

In “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum,” Saru, Burnham and Tyler (Shazad Latif) beam down to the surface of the planet Pahvo in an attempt to figure out how to utilize the planet’s unique resources in the war against the Klingons. Trying to communicate with the planet’s essence, Saru has a transformative experience. He abandons the mission in favor of his his own agenda.

You might be tempted to draw parallels between this story and the classic “Star Trek” episode “This Side of Paradise.” In that story, the crew of the Enterprise is affected by spores native to the surface of Omicron Ceti III. The crew abandons ship and plans on living in virtually eternal harmony on the planet surface.

Saru is similarly affected by contact with the native entities on Pahvo. Or is he? It does not appear that Saru is actually under any type of spell. Instead, he has been freed from the genetic burden carried by every Kelpien. For the first time in his life, he is no longer afraid. Clearly he can still reason for himself. He can lie to his fellow crewmen or even attack them and destroy their communications equipment.

Burnham sets her phaser to stun and attempts to subdue Saru. This is not the same as Kirk provoking Spock in order to free the Vulcan of the Omicron Ceti spores. Burnham’s goal was to immobilize Saru. Attempting to reason with the Kelpien was secondary.

I submit that Saru’s actions are more like those of another “Star Trek” character: Dr. Tolian Soran from “Star Trek: Generations.”

Saron at the energy ribbon.

In “Generations,” Soran was exposed to a place outside of normal space-time called The Nexus. Guinan, who had been inside the Nexus at the same time as Soran, describes it is asa place of pure joy. “As if joy was something tangible and you could wrap yourself up in it like a blanket. And never, in my entire live, have I been so content.” Guinan, Soran and others were then unceremoniously ripped away from the Nexus. While Guinan realized the impracticality of attempting a re-entry, Soran pressed on. He was driven by a singular desire to regain that bliss. Eventually he devises a way to get back to the Nexus. The fact that his plan includes destroying suns and would mean the deaths of hundreds of millions of souls was of no importance to him. That was just collateral damage.

It might seem to be a stretch to equate Soran’s actions with those of Commander Saru, but is it? After all, as Tyler pointed out, if their mission on Pahvo was unsuccessful, the Klingon-Federation war would rage on. Saru was well aware of this. He purposely prevented Burnham and Tyler from contacting the Discovery, crushing their communicators and smashing the uplink device.

Later, in sickbay, Burnham tries to comfort the First Officer. “You weren’t yourself.”

“But I was,” Saru replies, with sadness in his voice.

Emotion, not infection, drove both Soran and Saru to do what they did. And Saru must now live with that knowledge.

But the second question raised here is, can anyone in the “Star Trek” universe actually be happy? Saru realizes that he cannot have both his freedom from fear and do what is needed of him to save the Federation. Likewise, Captains Picard and Kirk prevent Soran from reaching the bliss of the Nexus. The same Nexus Picard begrudgingly ripped himself from, convincing Kirk to do the same.

Kira and Odo saying their goodbyes..

This is a repeating scenario in “Star Trek” – a character or species or civilization seems to achieve peace only to have it taken from them. McCoy finds happiness on the asteroid spaceship Yonada, but loses it due to the actions of Kirk and Spock. Kirk finds happiness with Miramanee, only to see her stoned to death while carrying their unborn child. Picard finds fulfillment on Kataan, then discovers it was all in his mind. Benjamin Sisko loses his wife in the battle at Wolf 359. He finds happiness again with Kasidy Yates, but must leave her and and his son, Jake, because the prophet in the Celestial Temple still has much left for him to do. Kira loses Odo. T’Pol loses Tucker. And they both lose their child. Data also loses a child. And so on and so on.

The loss of paradise is such a recurring theme in “Star Trek,” one begins to wonder if anyone in this universe can truly be happy? So much so, that when a character does ultimately find happiness, it seems to be an extraordinary event.’

Is the lesson that the only way to be happy is to struggle towards that as an unobtainable goal? Or is it just a reminder that the human adventure is just beginning?

Maybe Kirk was right, in “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier,” when he told McCoy, “Damn it, Bones, you’re a doctor. You know that pain and guilt can’t be taken away with the wave of a magic wand. They’re the things we carry with us. The things that make us who we are. If we lose them we lose ourselves. I don’t want my pain taken away. I need my pain!”

Saru sad in sickbay.

Or was it best summed up in the musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”?

“For us there can be no happiness.”

“We must learn to be happy without it.”

 

Next episode: “Into The Forest I Go”

 

Random Thoughts and Observations:

  • Is Admiral Cornwell dead? A slip of the tongue during “After Trek” seems to indicate we will see the character again.
  • Was L’Rell’s interest in knowing how the Federation treats prisoners, and her desire to be brought aboard Discovery, related in ways we have yet to see?
  • Pahvo and Pandora: separated at birth?
  • We see Tyler getting a medical exam in sickbay at the end of the episode.
  • Burnham is well aware that her ultimate fate still leads her to a prison cell.
  • Is this Tyler and Burnham’s second first kiss? Time is so wibbly wobbly.
  • At first, I thought Stamets was having visions of the future when he referred to Tilly as “Captain.”
  • Several Klingon ships that survived the attack on the Gagarin have now seen Discovery simply spin and vanish. What Discovery is doing is certainly no longer a secret.

“Tilly, what the hell is going on on this ship?” – Star Trek Discovery Review – Context Is For Kings

Star Trek: Discovery Season 1, Episode 3
“Context is for Kings”
Posted by Clinton

Source: Giphy.com

In a series where flawed heroes will either rise or fall, the U.S.S. Discovery may be the most flawed of all.

The U.S.S. Discovery is a doomed ship. At least its mission appears to be. After all, the biotechnology research that Lt. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) is conducting bears no resemblance to anything we have seen before, or since, in the “Star Trek” universe. That would indicate one of two things: the experiment is a catastrophic failure, or the experiment is a resounding success which places the ship out of this universe, if not time itself. Either way, Discovery, or at least members of its crew, are most likely doomed.

Discovery’s sister ship, the U.S.S. Glenn, has born witness to the volatile nature of the so-called “spore drive.” That ship’s attempt at a “Speirein 900” displacement apparently propelled it to the edge of Klingon space, but also killed every crew member on board. Stamets’ friend and colleague, Straal (Saad Siddiqui) spoke of the advantages of “not growing your own,” possibly hinting at the involvement of the creature that rampaged through the corridors of the Glenn. That creature is now aboard Discovery.

And what do we know of Discovery? We know that she is “right off the assembly line” new. We see that her Captain, Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) not only wants to win the Federation-Klingon war, he is willing to do anything at all to make that happen. We see indications that Discovery’s security officer, Comdr. Ellen Landry (Rekha Sharma) has no use for Vulcans. And there are indications that the science being conducted aboard Discovery is probably not something the United Federation of Planets would approve.

trekgate.tumblr.com

As we learned in episodes one and two, each character on “Star Trek: Discovery” is presented to us with a potentially fatal flaw and will be defined by how they act over time. That could very well include the Discovery herself.

Last week I spoke of the journey of Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green). How far she had fallen, and what heights she must scale to reach redemption. In “Context is for Kings,” she had to run the gauntlet of scorn, ridicule and rejection to finally begin the long climb up, both figuratively and literally.

It has been six months since Burnham was sentenced to life in prison for her crimes. Crimes she confesses to Saru (Doug Jones) that she thinks about every single day. She has withdrawn into herself, defaulting to her swallowed-emotions Vulcan upbringing. She is so far removed she does not even struggle against the impending destruction of her prison transport shuttle. In fact, she seem calm in the face of near-certain death.

It seems nothing in this universe can break through that wall. Nothing, save one thing: the relentless, unbridled, enthusiasm of Cadet Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman). Not at first, of course. This relationship starts off as icy cold as space itself. Then tension turns to an uneasy truce. By the end of the episode, Burnham shares not only a book with Tilly, but something more precious — a memory. It seems that Tilly will play a key role in Burnham’s journey.

Source: ezrisdax.tumblr.com

TIlly, in return, offers Michael Burnham something the others can not, an actual connection with her humanity. Saru can offer an alien’s cautious respect and Captain Lorca can give Burnham purpose while still hiding secret agendas. But Tilly cares. Yes, she wants to be mentored, but she is honest and up-front about it. She is not afraid to admit she is wrong. Her wide-eyed optimism is an exaggeration of what many have come to associate with “Star Trek.”

So now we must also carefully watch Cadet Sylvia Tilly. She may be our canary in the coal mine. If her enthusiasm sours, or something untoward happens to her, Michael will surely stumble.

And on board the U.S.S. Discovery, a stumble can be a very, very dangerous thing.

Next week: “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry

Random thoughts and observations:

  • Is Lorca so badass he can actually stop a tribble from reproducing?
  • We have our first two “red shirt” deaths, as “unnamed prison shuttle pilot” tumbles away in space and non-speaking role security office Kowsky is killed by the creature on the Glenn
  • The [threat ganglia] on the back of Saru’s neck have flipped open again, this time as the prison shuttle departs. The first time we saw this, the Klingon ship decloaked in front of the Shenzhou.
  • Captain Lorca is very into standing desks and stand-up meetings
  • We continue to see eye close-up shots
  • Is a black badge special ops or something else? I don’t believe it’s Section 31, as they are more discreet about their operations
  • Nice re-imagining of the TOS square data tape
  • The engineering test bay has a vibe that actually feels like a step towards the TOS aesthetic, with hints of “Enterprise”
  • Nice collection of twisted memorabilia in Lorca’s science lab

“To think I knew you so little.” – Star Trek: Discovery Review – The Vulcan Hello | Battle At The Binary Stars

Star Trek: Discovery Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2
“The Vulcan Hello” & “Battle at the Binary Stars”
Posted by Clinton

Michael Burnham received a mind meld.
source: burnham-michael

I have a confession to make. Back in 1993 I made a mistake. I watched the first few episodes of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” then gave up.

Sisko shakes his head in disbelief

Hey! I had some pretty common complaints: The show didn’t take place on the Enterprise. Heck, it didn’t take place on a starship at all! The surroundings looked all wrong. The “action” took place on a space station someone else built and vacated. These people weren’t going off exploring new worlds every week. They just sat there, spinning, reacting to things that came to them. The show was dark, not uplifting. Starfleet was not the hero. The Cardassians were one dimensional. And the pacing was. so. damned. slow.

It wasn’t until years later that I went back and gave the show a second chance. I pushed through episodes like “Move Along Home” and kept going. I was rewarded with probably the best overall Star Trek series of them all (at least so far).

I mention this because I watched the first episode of “Star Trek: Discovery” on CBS network television and was almost tempted to stop watching. I was not overly impressed. Yes, there were aspects that were intriguing and familiar, but things were moving much too slow. Some of the actors in Klingon makeup appeared to be struggling to speak through their appliances. There were tech aspects that were bothering me — the holographic technology being the biggest head scratcher. And Captain Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) did not seem to have the gravitas I felt a starship captain should have. I began to feel like people were right when they said “The Orville” was a better reimagining of “Star Trek” than this new CBS series — even though, in my heart, I knew that Seth’s series was really a loving look back at a specific point in Trek’s 51-year history. Trek had grown since TOS and TNG, much like The Empire Strikes Back shed the simple Buck Rogers feel of A New Hope.

T'Kumva says "You dishonor only yourself."
source: annasgif

When the episode ended, I had to switch to the CBS All Access service to watch episode 2. I did. And, thankfully, things got better.

In many ways, “Battle at the Binary Stars” is a better pilot episode than “The Vulcan Hello.” Not only do we get the prerequisite opening battle out of the way, we get backstory on our lead character Michael Burnham  (Sonequa Martin-Green). We learn that she is the victim of one (and possibly two) alien attacks. We learn about her special connections with Sarek and Captain Georgiou. And we see why she has such an internal conflict between logic and emotion. It is not the same as Spock’s dilemma. Or even, dare I say, Sybok’s. .Instead of struggling to repress one path of existence, she is trying to integrate both. In fact, this revelation helps define the essence of “Star Trek: Discovery” — how do you make utopia interesting?

It appears that “Star Trek: Discovery’s” answer to this question is to have heroic figures with major flaws. T’Kuvma (Chris Obi) and his dedicated follower Voq (Javid Iqbal) are outcasts, obsessed with the notion of Klingon identity and passionate visions of the legendary Klingon unifier, Kahless the Unforgettable. Lt. Saru’s (Doug Jones) genetic instinct to flee danger too often appears to hold him back. And Michael Burnham is the most damaged of all. She enters our story already damaged by an attack that killed her parents and by the cultural disorientation.

I would expect our characters to work through their flaws over the course of the season. What they learn, or do not learn, will alter or simply affirm how we defined them. And, once again, Michael Burnham has the farthest to go. She has now been stripped of her rank, sentenced to life in prison and bears, rightly or wrongly, the weight of beginning the Klingon-Federation War of 2256.

Michael Burnham looks around the brig.
source: talk-nerdy-to-me-thyla

Regarding the overall story, we have only seen the prologue. I don’t believe we will get a true sense of the scope of what we are dealing with until episode 3, “Context is for Kings.” Yes, we know there is a great war in progress, but how does the U.S.S. Discovery figure into this conflict? Is she some sort of prototype ship from Section 31? Episode 3 is often referred to as a second pilot for “Discovery.” I think it may be more a case that it is Chapter 1.

Does all this complexity and intrigue overcome the fact that the starships don’t look quite right for this point in the timeline? Or the fact that the delta shields are in use across Starfleet too soon? Not entirely. There will always be a part of me that wishes the look of “Discovery” meshed better with the 1966 series. But I also wish the look of the uniforms in Star Trek: The Motion Picture meshed better with the ones in The Wrath of Khan and “The Next Generation.” How important those aspects are to you will definitely affect your ability to enjoy “Star Trek: Discovery.”

I made a mistake in 1993. I gave up far too soon. I did not have faith that things can get better when everyone is more secure in their roles, both behind and in front of the camera. I am not about to repeat that mistake in 2017. I am all in on “Star Trek: Discovery.”

Next episode: “Context is for Kings”

Special thanks to the whole gang at Head Over Feels for guiding this noob through the world of episode blog posts!