“Always.” — Star Trek Discovery review, “Saints of Imperfection,” s2e5

Star Trek: Discovery, season 2, episode 5
“Saints of Imperfection”
Review by Clinton

“Star Trek” has always been about family.

At first, family was implied. The relationships between Kirk, McCoy, Spock, Uhura, Chekov, Sulu and Scotty defined an unbreakable unit that transcended shipboard comradery. It led them, at various times, to sacrifice virtually everything for their friends. Then, with “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Deep Space Nine,” the introduction of characters such as Wesley Crusher, Alexander Rozhenko, Jake Sisko, Rom, Nog and Molly O’Brien, the association of “Star Trek” and family became grew stronger.

This is one of the reasons that season one of “Star Trek: Discovery” felt “off.” Captain Lorca did little to promote family. He was only interested in fostering, or downright demanding, loyalty and devotion to his mission. We did not get a sense of how all the other characters were bound together. We barely even met many of them or knew their names. Yes, there were isolated connections, such as Stamets and Culber, Burnham and Tyler, but there was no underlying feeling that Discovery was a single, extended family.

With Discovery under the temporary command of Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), season two is finally beginning to bring out that element of family. Even if the show can be heavy handed about driving the point home.

In “Saints of Imperfection,” written by Kristen Beyer and directed by David Barrett, virtually every action is predicated on feelings of connection. Burnham and Stamets (Sonequa Martin-Green and Anthony Rapp) know they must try to rescue Tilly (Mary Wiseman), even if the risk is high. Tilly’s connection to “May” (Bahia Watson) binds her to the promise to not only slay the monster that threatens the JahSepp, but to “pinky swear” she will find a way to reach May again someday. Even Section 31 operatives Leland and Philippa Georgiou (Alan Van Sprang and MIchelle Yeoh) give indications that they would sacrifice something for the greater good.

But the strongest way this sense of family is brought home is not the struggle to return Culber (Wison Cruz) to “normal space,” as powerful as that is, but the sacrifice Discovery herself appears to be willing to make in order to save Ensign Sylvia Tilly. The ship and her crew will literally be digested alive if the decision is made to enter the mycelial network. Pike ponders the risk. Then he, Stamets and Burnham encapsulate all that being a “Star Trek” family means in these three lines:

Pike:
From what I know of that young woman, she’d put her life on the line for any one of us.

Stamets:
That she would, sir.

Burnham:
In a heartbeat.

Pike goes on to address the crew, speaking of the promise of Starfleet. But it is almost a mute point. The connection between Tilly and the rest of the crew is already made. It is the key.

Of course, we are also reminded that family is complicated. While Burnham is pleased to see Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) aboard Discovery, there is major distrust by Captain Pike of the Klingon Torchbearer who now works as a Section 31 agent. And Tyler has yet to confront one of his darkest moments, facing the man he murdered — Dr. Hugh Culber.

Emperor Georgiou is also problematic to the concept of family. She is literally not from this universe and often exhibits, at the most, mild amusement over the creatures in our galaxy. But there is that spark, that underlying urge to protect Burnham, and, by extension, Discovery that makes a part of us want to believe she is family, too.

There is also a danger in showing how the crew is connected. And that is our reaction to the appearance of an outsider. In the previous episode, “An Obol for Charon,” Engineer Jett Reno (Tig Notaro) figured prominently. She was there when Tilly went through her torment. She even eventually worked with Stamets on solutions. But now, she is nowhere to be seen. Perhaps she left the ship for another assignment, but her obvious absence rings of someone who said “Wow. That’s a tough break. Good thing it’s not my problem. Later!”

The creative team behind “Star Trek: Discovery” has done a good job so far of reversing the damage Lorca inflicted on Discovery’s crew. My only request is that they begin to back off a bit on having the characters say that they are family and use the overall story to simply show it. It’s how we grew to love the TOS family, and it can work here, too.

Next episode: The Sounds of Thunder

Random Thoughts and Observations:

Pike demonstrates that he is no fool. We witness Burnham’s understandable reactions upon seeing Georgiou, and then Tyler. Some scripts would have that as more of a moment for us, the audience. However, Pike tells the Commander that he made note of both of her reactions and that he knows she is keeping something from her Captain.

We also avoided a predictable set up to prolonged confrontation between Leland and Pike when Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) tells them “Come on, fellas, cut the manlier-than-thou bullshit.” To their credit, they appear to do exactly that.

How do you portray the concept of being half-in and half-out of the mycelial network? Hats off to the effects team for giving a visual voice to the concept.

Tyler’s use of a badge-based communicator did somehow feel appropriate. Section 31 is not very open to sharing secrets. I think they might even find it amusing that Starleet needs to work though handheld communicators, and even ones worn on the wrist (“Star Trek: The Motion Picture”) before they figure out how to put the tech in a badge.

My wife, Bonnie, pointed out that Burnham’s first encounter with Tyler in this episode takes place in the mess hall, which is the same place they first met in season one.

“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.

“This regret you have for what you did, it weakens you.” — Star Trek: Discovery Review — The War Without, The War Within

Star Trek: Discovery, Season 1, Episode 14
The War Without, The War Within
Posted by Clinton

Emperor Georgiou as Captain.
source: spockvarietyhour.tumblr.com

In the “Star Trek” universe, the galaxy is teeming with life. In fact, on one planet, Gideon, overcrowding is such a problem, the inhabitants attempt to become deathly ill to reduce their own numbers. Despite this, in “The War Within, The War Without,” we find a universe filled with little more than isolation and loneliness.

The war has not gone well for our side during Discovery’s nine month absence. Without the information that would have rendered the Klingon cloaking device useless, the Federation finds itself in retreat and on the verge of collapse. Vice Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) orders the Discovery to Starbase One, calling that outpost Starfleet’s last remaining sanctuary. Unfortunately, upon arrival, we learn that the station has fallen to the Klingons. The Discovery must flee, isolated in its own universe.

In a  way, the same can be said for the Klingons. The 24 houses that T’Kuvma hoped to unite have once again fractured. Each house is now acting in its own best interests, not for the benefit of the Klingon empire. In this context, the Federation has become little more than collateral damage in the fight for faction dominance. T’Kuvma’s dream of unification, a vision shared by Voq and L’Rell, is now a distant memory.

Of course Voq the Torchbearer is also now little more than a shadow. The Klingon’s essence has been disconnected from the body that also houses the personality known as Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif). Stripped of this dual identity, Tyler finds himself a stranger in his own body. He is left to wonder who he is and how he can move forward, knowing the horrific things he has done. He tries to apologize to Lt. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) for the death of Dr. Hugh Culber, but Stamets offers no hint of absolution. Worse still, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), who had become his tether to humanity, no longer feels comfortable in Tyler’s presence. “I know in my head that you couldn’t be responsible for Voq’s actions,” Burnham explains, “but I felt your hands around my neck, and I looked into your eyes, and I saw how much you wanted to kill me.” She tells Tyler that he must work his way through his pain on his own, facing the demons of his actions as she once did.

Tyler speaks to Burnham
source: talk-nerdy-to-me-thyla.tumblr.com

The one person who feels compelled to connect with Tyler without judgement is Cadet Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman). She sees that Tyler is being shunned by the crew the same way Michael Burnham was shunned when she first came aboard Discovery. Tilly, however, has grown in the months since Burnham arrived. While the Cadet first tried to distance herself from Burnham, she now makes the effort to sit with Tyler. This act draws out the compassion in others, who come to sit with Tyler.

Meanwhile, alone in her cell, L’Rell (Mary Chieffo) must reflect on the fact that she has lost Voq, her lover and inspiration, and that her dream of a unified Klingon empire appears to be crumbling around her.

The only visitor L’Rell receives is Vice Admiral Cornwell, a commander who has also lost practically everything. On a personal level, Cornwell is trying to come to terms with the loss of Gabriel Lorca. As a commander, she is facing the collapse of Starfleet and the Federation. Her inability to respond when she sees Starbase One laid waste signals how alone and desperate she feels.

Fortune Cookies
source: pixiedane.tumblr.com

In the end, only one individual seems to be functioning normally: Emperor Georgiou Augustus Iaponius Centarius (Michelle Yeoh). Plucked unceremoniously from her own reality, the Emperor is well aware of her isolation in this universe, but she never resigns herself to her fate. She acknowledges that she is now on her own, then begins looking for a way out of her situation. Georgiou pokes, looking for weaknesses in those around her. She maneuvers like a figure totally accustomed to the idea of operating solo. It is how one survives in the Terran Empire. By the end of the episode, she has managed to manipulate those around her into giving her what she needs to feel whole again: Power. She is still alone, but she doesn’t care.

It would seem that Discovery may have escaped the unbearable isolation of the mirror universe, only to bring it with them.

Next episode: Will You Take My Hand?

 

Random Notes and Observations:

  • Dr.Pollard! At last, another doctor on the Discovery. All it took was the death of Culber. Oh, and is Pollard the CMO?
  • Once again we have a ship approach the Discovery (the one carrying Cornwell and Sarek) and we never get a glimpse of it.
  • Starbase One is said to be 100 AUs from Earth. That places it outside our solar system, but not by much. It would take the Klingon fleet almost no time at all to arrive at Earth from that location, yet our home world has apparently not yet been approached.
  • Also, why were fighter ships not immediately deployed to intercept Discovery when it appeared at Starbase One?
  • Nice touch to have Cornwell vaporize the bowl of Lorca’s fortune cookies.
  • How does the rest of the crew feel about the appearance of “Captain Georgiou”? They have all just returned from the mirror universe, so you would imagine their first thought is, “That’s Emperor Georgiou!”
  • While it was subtle, we did see the “I” on “I.S.S. Discovery” being restored to a “U.”
  • Was there any practical reason story-wise for the Discovery to be in such a poor state of repair when it arrived back in the prime universe? That did not seem to play out as a plot point.

“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

“Can you continue to pretend to be one of them?” — Star Trek Discovery Review — The Wolf Inside

Star Trek: Discovery, Season 1, Episode 10
The Wolf Inside
Posted by Clinton

Burnham speaks to Tyler
source: startrekdiscoverysource.tumblr.com

Given sufficient time and clues, the hive mind of the internet will solve virtually any mystery. In this case, it involved two “Star Trek: Discovery” characters.

The idea that Lt. Ash Taylor (Shazad Latif) and Klingon Torchbearer Voq were one and the same entity became a widely held theory on the Web long before the episodes “Despite Yourself” or “The Wolf Inside” premiered. Some argued that Voq had been modified to look like a human. Others asserted that Tyler had been brainwashed. In either case, the online world knew something was up. They felt they had outsmarted the people behind “Star Trek: Discovery.”

But did the production team actually want to keep this plot line a secret? Or did they surreptitiously encourage us to figure it out ahead of time? After all, one of the first clues to this mystery was not even contained in an episode of “Discovery.” It was found just sitting there on imdb.com. The actor credited with playing the role of Voq was one Javid Iqbal. Except it appeared that Javid Iqbal’s only acting credit was playing Voq. Was he new to the profession? It was hard to tell, since Iqbal was conspicuously absent from the “Star Trek: Discovery” press junkets.

The internet was suspicious.

In episode four (“The Butcher Cares Not For The Lamb’s Cry”), L’Rell (Mary Chieffo) tells Voq that in order to win the war he must sacrifice “everything.” At which point, the Torchbearer is spirited away to house Mo’kai, a Klingon house composed of watchers, deceivers and weavers of lies. Then, in episode five (“Choose Your Pain”), Lt. Tyler appears on board a Klingon prison ship. Tyler tells Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) that he has survived seven months of captivity by allowing himself to be the subject of L’Rell’s torture and desires. Through it all, he remained strong and never gave up hope of rescue. He even helps Lorca escape the prison ship. He is Starfleet, through and through. Just what you would expect if the spy theory was to be believed.

Lorca speaks with Burnham.
source: v-e-l-v-e-t-g-o-l-d-m-i-n-e.tumblr.com

The internet was obsessed.

It was hard to deny the evidence. How had Tyler survived so long on the Klingon ship? After all, we know that L’Rell had not been on board the vessel during his entire captivity, so that alone could not account for the lieutenant’s ability to escape death. What was the full story behind Tyler’s hazy, violent flashbacks? Had the medical staff on board Discovery run any scans on the Lieutenant? Why was Lorca cutting Tyler so much slack? Was the Captain so enamored with Tyler that he had developed a blind spot to possible sabotage? And the Tribble on the desk in Lorca’s ready room. Surely that would play a part in unmasking the Klingon spy.

Eventually, as the Tyler/Voq theory began to take hold, Javid Iqbal appeared to open his own Twitter account, filled with pictures doctored to place Voq’s head on other actors bodies. Someone was having fun with all this. Maybe we were being played. Perhaps it was all some guerrilla marketing scheme.

But, as this game of cat-and-mouse played out, there was a danger. You see, not only was Lt. Ash Tyler proving to be a lifeline for Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin Green), tying her to his humanity, he was also being portrayed as a survivor of torture and sexual assault. He was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), trying to fight his way back from darkness. If the lieutenant was actually only experiencing the effects of some type of Klingon brainwashing, as the theory suggested, that could marginalize his medical condition. Those in the audience suffering from the horrors of PTSD would feel betrayed.

The Internet was watching.

When all the pieces finally came togethe, both last week and this week, we were lucky enough to have four scenes which slowly unraveled Voq from Tyler. In the first, L’Rell attempts to awaken Voq using trigger phrases. But all does not go according to plan, and Tyler exits the brig, confused and concerned. In the next incident, Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) hypothesized that Tyler’s personality was an overlay on some other consciousness. That could mean that all of Tyler’s memories of abuse were real. They simply had not all happened to this particular body. Without warning, as we were beginning  to process that information, Tyler breaks Culber’s neck. The breakdown of the wall within Tyler had begun. Next, Tyler had an episode of cognitive dissonance while hearing “Mirror Voq” explain how Klingons, Vulcans, Andorians and Tellarites were all working as one unit. This concept was so diametrically opposed to the belief system preached by T’Kuvma, Tyler snaps again and attacks the parallel universe Voq. The character is literally at war with himself. Later, as Tyler tries to explain his actions to Michael Burnham, the Klingon Torchbearer claws his way up from the depths of his slumber, fully reasserts himself and tries to kill Burnham.

Tyler in the transporter room
source: burnhamandtilly.tumblr.com

The four scenes helped the anticipated reveal not feel like we were watching Scooby Doo and the gang simply rip the mask off the villain of the week. We saw the duality of this situation. It was some sort of complicated ecosystem contained in one body. It left us wondering who this hybrid creature really is. Do we consider it half human, half Klingon? Is Lt. Ash Tyler still alive within that body? Is the “real” Tyler alive somewhere in the prime universe? Is this body and mind loyal to L’Rell or Burnham? Or both. And which memories are real, and to which personality do they belong?

The internet is waiting to learn more.

Next week: Vaulting Ambition

 

Random Thoughts and Observations:

  • That look on Lorca’s face as Burnham bows. It clearly means something. Is the internet right again about the Captain?
  • The good guys always seem able to locate a secure channel, no matter how well monitored the environment might be.
  • The doors on the I.S.S. Shenzou sound like they are opening and closing a bit more violently than ships in the prime universe.
  • Tyler survived for a few seconds in the vacuum of space, but the crew members beamed out earlier in the episode appeared to die instantly.
  • Cadet Tilly continues to impress. Will Saru actually give her a recommendation?
  • The new take on Tellarites shown in this episode is a bit jarring. The aliens now have tusks. Given the tradition of portraying the species as having pig-like features, this is an understandable addition, but it is still a bit radical.
  • It was nice to see Detmer get something to do other than simply sit at a station on the bridge. Let’s hope prime universe Detmer also gets more to do.
  • Javid Iqbal’s separate imdb.com credit no longer exists on the Star Trek: Discovery page. Independent credits for other industry professionals with the name Javid Iqbal do still exist on imdb.

“I’m going to have nightmares about myself.” — Star Trek Discovery Review — Despite Yourself

Star Trek: Discovery, Season 1, Episode 10
Despite Yourself
Posted by Clinton

Tilly as Captain Killy
source: burnhamandtilly.tumblr.com

A friend of mine recently Tweeted “Going to a mirror dimension in the first season is a terrible idea because we barely know these characters.”

If the crossover had happened earlier in the season, I might have agreed. But I think we now have some basic ideas about each of our lead characters. To me, it is the familiarity with this crew that is actually the issue when it comes to the so-called “Mirror Universe.” With one exception.

Up until now, we’ve seen how stoic, seasoned characters handle being thrust into this unfamiliar universe. Whether it was Kirk and company or the crew of Deep Space Nine, our heroes have been quick to ponder, analyze and adapt. That is to be expected. It is why they hold positions of authority. We’ve also seen how “the other half” lives, particularly aboard Archer’s I.S.S. Enterprise. (RIP Archer, All hail Empress Sato!) But what about the crew of the Discovery? The ship is captained by a man with questionable morals, it is seconded by a Kelpian who lives with constant fear, watched over by a chief of security who may be some sort of spy, and has a specialist convicted of mutiny. It all sounds pretty dark even before they go to the mirror universe.

Lorca speaking to the crew.
source: greenjimkirk.tumblr.com

Enter our surrogate “every person,” Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman). Tilly is, we must remind ourselves, still a cadet. She has been serving as a theoretical engineer on board the Discovery, working with Lt. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp). It has certainly been quite a unique internship. For starters, she was given a mutineer as a roommate. Then she had to watch as Starfleet officers knowingly harmed a lifeform (the tardigrade) to serve their own purposes. She has been forced to accept the fact that she has died — multiple times (“Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad”). And she struggled to keep the knowledge of her superior officer’s illness a secret, only to have that illness eventually lead to catastrophic consequences for Stamets and the entire crew.

But, through it all, Tilly has remained wide eyed and optimistic. She confesses that she loves feeling feelings. When she, Stamets and Burnham (Sonequa Martin Green) discuss finding an alternative to using the tardigrade in the spore drive, she enthusiastically exclaims “You guys! This is so fucking cool!” She also played matchmaker between Burnham and Lt. Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif).

Tilly and Stamets.

Cadet Sylvia Tilly’s eyes are also focused on the future. In “Context is for Kings,” she tells Burnham, “I’m going to be a captain someday. The thing is that there are still some things I need to learn.” At which point. she takes on Burnham as a mentor. And when Burnham has reservations about the advice she has been giving Tilly, she tells the cadet to seek her own way to the Captain’s chair. Tilly smiles and replies “I have.”

So, when the Discovery finds itself in the Mirror Universe, and it is revealed that its Sylvia Tilly is the bloodthirsty Captain of the I.S.S. Discovery, her world is turned upside down — as is ours. Lorca’s advice is to “Defy your every instinct.” Which is all too true.

Our avatar, our surrogate, has met her darkest side. And she takes it about as well as we would. She does not enjoy any aspect of her “Captain Killy” counterpart.

As Tilly prepares to communicate with Captain Connor of the I.S.S. Shenzou, Burnham comments, “You are a captain now.” But Tilly realizes this situation is a mockery of her goals. Tilly rejects the statement. “No, I’m not. She is. I’m nothing like her, Michael. She’s terrifying. She’s like a twisted version of everything I’ve ever aspired to be. I’m going to have nightmares about myself now.”

Tilly has to put on the same show as the rest of the prime universe crew, masquerading as cutthroat servants of the Empire. Reluctantly, nervously, she sits in the Captain’s chair, but there is no satisfaction in her ascent to this position. She wants nothing to do with this universe. Which is as it should be. We need Tilly to stay true to herself.

Others on board the Discovery may be on the road to redemption (or ruin), but Tilly needs to stay on the path to greatness. Let’s hope the darkest timeline does not claim her.

Burnham talking to Tilly
source: twyllodrus.tumblr.com

Ultimately Michael Burnham does offer one insight that helps Tilly, and can help us hang on, too: “I’ve been trying to understand them better. And Terran strength is born out of pure necessity, because they live in constant fear. Always looking for the next knife aimed at their back. Their strength is painted rust. It’s a facade. But you have the strength of an entire crew that believes in you. Fortify yourself with our faith in you. That’s what a real captain does.”

Next episode:  The Wolf Inside

 

Random Thoughts and Observations:

  • Yes! I called it on the cloak-defeating data. The Discovery did not transmit the information before it was pulled into the mirror universe.
  • Saru is supposed to trust his threat ganglia, but seems to pay it little mind when it reacts to Ash Tyler’s appearance on the bridge.
  • How loyal is Lorca to Ash Tyler? Tyler is late to the bridge for yellow alert, freaked out in the work bee, and takes his time getting to the transporter room, but Lorca lets all that slide.
  • My prediction is that Philippa Geourgiou is the mysterious Emperor
  • Stamets is clearly giving clues as to events unfolding around the crew. But are the clues always as literal as we think they are?
  • Why is there never anyone else in the brig? Or sickbay?
  • Why wasn’t Culber wearing a Terran version of a medical delta shield?
  • Spoiler: There is a theory floating out there that Lorca is actually from the mirror universe. Nothing that happens in this episode would negate that theory. In fact, putting emphasis on the fact that Lorca plucked Burnham (his would-be killer in the mirror universe) out of prison and bringing her on board the Discovery, then ultimately into this dark universe could clearly be part of a plan.

“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.