“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


“Your fascination with humans can no longer be tolerated.” — Star Trek Discovery Review — Lethe

Star Trek: Discovery, Episode 6
Lethe
Posted by Clinton

Animated GIF of V'Latak raising hand with caption "Logic above all."

In Greek mythology, it is said the river Lethe flowed through the underworld. The souls of the dead would drink from its waters and forget their past. In the episode “Lethe,” it appears Sarek (James Frain) has also attempted to forget his past. Years ago he lied to Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green). It is a lie that still haunts him. He wishes to drown this memory in the river of logic — but he can not.

Based on a discussion I had with a friend about the actions of Vulcans in this episode, I think it is important that we, the viewers, also not forget the past when it comes to Vulcans and “Star Trek” canon.

If one were to use a single word to represent Vulcans, it would be “logical.” It is only when we expand that vocabulary, that other, potentially disturbing characteristics begin to show through: cold, calculating, repressed, condescending, primal.

With that in mind, the fact that Sarek finds himself unwittingly in the company of a “logic extremist” who attempts to kill him, should not come as a total surprise. Vulcans can most certainly be fanatical. We need look no farther than Sybok, Sarek’s son by his Vulcan priestess first wife. Sybok is also the only fully-Vulcan child nurtured by Sarek.

In “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier,” we meet Sybok, a Vulcan who is filled with an all-consuming desire to reach Sha Ka Ree — the planet which Vulcan mythology claims is the source of all life, the Vulcan equivalent of Eden. It is a planet the location of which he claims came to him in a vision from God. To achieve his goal of reaching Sha Ka Ree and meeting God, Sybok takes hostages, steals a starship (the U.S.S. Enterprise) and threatens the safety of the crew of the ship by passing through the Great Barrier at the center of the galaxy. We eventually learn that Sybok was being manipulated by an evil entity. Nevertheless, the fact remains — Vulcans can be driven to do questionable things by their passions.

Animated GIF of Kirk and Sybok

Speaking of passion, let us not forget pon farr. This is the primal mating drive all Vulcans experience. During the height of their blood fever, plak tow, a Vulcan can blindly kill. While this most often involves another Vulcan, we see in the original series episode “Amok Time” that the target can be anyone — even a human.

Both of these instances are the result of internal or biological conflict. What about ideology? Admiral Terral (Conrad Coates) tells Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs), “Ambassador Sarek’s ship was sabotaged by logic extremists.” On board the shuttle, Adjunct V’Latak (Luke Humphrey) tells Sarek “Your fascination with humans can no longer be tolerated. Your obsession has blinded you to the truth — humans are inferior. My sacrifice will be a rallying cry to those who value logic above all. Vulcans will soon recognize and withdraw from the failed experiment known as the Federation.”

Woah! Where did that come from? Can Vulcan emotions run that deep? Are they willing to kill for such a xenophobic cause?

This sentiment is actually a direct outgrowth of the overwhelming Vulcan position we see demonstrated in “Star Trek: Enterprise.” After Vulcans made first contact with humanity and offered assistance, it appears they began to question their decision. They withheld their technology, holding back humanity. They did not even bother to mention the Klingons until one was killed in Broken Bow, Oklahoma in 2151, forcing their hand.

Soval speaking to Forrest

This Vulcan attitude towards humans was an undercurrent throughout “Star Trek: Enterprise.” It culminated in the bombing of the United Earth Embassy, just as the Vulcan High Command was preparing to render a decision on operating joint missions with Starfleet. The bombing killed 43 souls, including Vice Admiral Maxwell Forrest.

Just prior to the explosion, Ambassador Soval and Forrest walked the corridors of the embassy, discussing the upcoming High Command decision. When Soval explained some of the Command’s concerns, Vice Admiral Forrest replied, “Are Vulcans afraid of humans? Why?”

“Because there is one species you remind us of.”

“Vulcans.”

Soval states that, as we know, Vulcans had a savage past. They nearly destroyed their own civilization. Logic saved them, but it took almost 1500 years for them to rebuild their world and then travel to the stars. Humanity accomplished the same feat in less than 100 years. “There are those on the High Command who wonder what humans would achieve in the century to come. And they don’t like the answer.”

In addition, not only were Vulcans responsible for the embassy bombing, they fabricated stories to first blame the Andorians and then a fellow group of Vulcans, whom they later attempted to destroy.

But that’s “Enterprise,” you say. After 100 years the Vulcans settled down; humans and Vulcans were inseparable. Well, yes and no. Consider “Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country,” which is set some 140 years after “Enterprise.” In that film, it is revealed that a group of humans, Romulans, Klingons and at least one Vulcan were involved in the assassination of Klingon Chancellor Gorkon. The group then framed the crew of the Enterprise for his death and attempted to assassinate the Federation President. In addition, the Vulcan, Lt. Valeris, is discovered to have hired, then killed the two human Federation operatives who assassinated Ambassador Gorkon. And all this was done because there was mistrust of impending peace between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. “Klingons can not be trusted.”

It might also be of interest to point out that Valeris was a protege of Captain Spock. The same Spock who was once court martialed for unlawfully taking control of the Enterprise. This would mean that Spock, Burnham, Sybok and Spock’s trainee were all responsible for acts of mutiny, treason or high crimes against the Federation. Clearly this is all Sarek’s fault.

As we continue to explore the world of “10 years before the time of Kirk and Spock,” keep in mind that “Star Trek’s” history is not flat colors, but subtle shades. It is not a shallow river, but a deep ocean.

Next episode: “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad”

Random Thoughts and Observations:

  • Those remaining powerful women I spoke of in my review of episode 4? One of them, Admiral Katrina Cornwell, is purposefully sent into a trap by Captain Gabriel Lorca.
  • How is Dr. Culber dealing with “groovy” Stamets?
  • Speaking of Culber, he is the doctor we always see on Discovery, even though he is not the Chief Medical Officer (CMO). Why is that?
  • I appreciate how the look of Vulcan has remained fairly consistent through all the series and movies.
  • The “holodeck” is described by the computer as a “holographic battle simulation.” In the “Practical Joker” episode of animated “Star Trek” series, the Enterprise had a holographic projection room.
  • Lorca says that Ash Tyler “checks out.” Did Tyler get a physical examination, or was the extent of his exam Lorca’s questioning during the battle simulation?
  • Nice effects for the transition from Discovery, through the mind meld, to Vulcan.
  • The scene in sickbay, when Burnham first comes out of the mind meld, felt very “Trek.”