“That’s the easiest way to explain it.” — Star Trek Discovery review, “If Memory Serves” s2e8

Pike and Vina across time
Star Trek: Discovery, season 2, episode 8
“If Memory Serves”
Review by Clinton

I’ve come to accept that “Star Trek: Discovery” doesn’t like the traditional approach of having an A (primary) and B (secondary) plot in each episode of the show. The show usually features two primary story lines and gives them equal time on a show that averages a run time of around 45 minutes. From my perspective, although things can feel very rushed, each plot tends to hold up its half of the episode rather well. Such was not the case this week.

In “If Memory Serves”, written by Jay Beatti and Dan Dworkin and directed by TJ Scott, one plot revolves around the complicated dynamics encircling Dr. Hugh Culber, Lt. Paul Stamets and Section 31 liaison Ash Tyler (Wilson Cruz, Anthony Rapp, Shazad Latif). While the other finds Mr. Spock and Lt. Michael Burnham (Ethan Peck, Sonequa Martin-Green) on the forbidden world of Talos IV.

First, l will speak about the more interesting of the two storylines, that of the events happening aboard Discovery. Returned from the dead, via a journey through the mycelial network, Dr. Hugh Culber has been having difficulties that neither he nor anyone else can fully explain. He feels detached from everything. His senses are virtually non-existent. That is not to say they are not present, but seem to exist only as points of data. He has a memory of enjoying certain foods, he recognizes his personal belongings, but the connection between knowing and feeling is simply not there. Nowhere is this more apparent than his relationship with his partner, Paul Stamets.

Although Stamets makes every effort to make Culber comfortable and be supportive, it only makes things more frustrating for the doctor. Culber ultimately lashes out, not so much at Stamets, but out of his own inability to understand what his own existence means.

Culber and Tyler

Readers of these reviews know that I have been wondering what might happen when Hugh Culber finally faces his murderer, Ash Tyler/Voq. It does not go anything like I had envisioned. The primal aggression Culber uses against Tyler is painful to watch. Culber is desperate to confront Voq, but no volume of punches can break through Tyler’s personality. Which is ironic, since Captain Pike (Anson Mount) still distrusts Tyler, partially because of the liaison’s Klingon personality.

When Culber fails in his attempts to force Voq to appear, he looks Tyler in the eyes and angrily proclaims his own torment.

Hugh Culber:
I don’t even know who I am anymore.

Ash Tyler:
Who do you think you’re talking to?

These two men are now both strangers in a strange land. With no one else capable of understanding their personal nightmares.

Wilson Cruz should be commended for pulling off a part that has been as much, if not more, a study in facial expressions and body language, lending much-needed gravitas to Culber’s torment.

But, as I said, “If Memory Serves” has a second main story, and it is a hot mess.

Where to start? There’s no better place than the opening of the episode. Here, we see clips from the original “Star Trek” pilot, “The Cage.” The montage gives us a well-edited, fast-paced summary of some key points of Enterprise’s first visit to Talos IV. Something that, in the timeline of “Discovery,” took place just three years prior. It is slick, well done, and presents a major problem. It sets up a direct comparison between the 1965 pilot and this 2019 follow-up.

To me, this is the first major blunder “Discovery” has made. It showed the original series (TOS) incarnations of Spock, Pike, Vina and the Talosians (Leonard Nimoy, Jeffrey Hunter, Susan Oliver, Georgia Schmidt, Barker, Serena Sande). We are taken out of the story “Discovery” has been telling, because we now see different actors in the same roles, with no reason to connect them with the 2019 cast.

The second tactical error was the portrayal of Vina (Melissa George). Much like Susan Oliver, the actress who originally portrayed her, the 1965 Vina was not a shrinking violet. She had overcome the most horrific conditions on Talos IV, but still retained a spark of life. Yes, there was sadness, but she was a three-dimensional character. This new portrayal of Vina is lifeless. She hardly moves, speaks in whispered tones and, for goodness sake, even sports a different hair color and style. I might have let some of this pass, had we not seen actual footage of Vina at the top of the episode. If the production wants me to go there, they need to commit to going there, too. They did not.

They failed on the look of the Talosians as well. While the garb had some nods to the original outfits, the similarity ended there. Why show what a Talosian looked like in 2254, only to have them appear completely different in 2257? If anything, they appeared healthier here, even though we were told in “The Cage” that they were dying.

Then there is the pacing. The slow, slow pacing. Everyone and every thing moves as if it were stuck in molasses. And, keep in mind, this is the plotline that reveals a lot about the red signal, the Red Angel, and even shows the destruction of all sentient life in our galaxy. It all falls flat.

Young Spock

But the most egregious error of all is the big reveal of the origin of the rift between Spock and Burnham. What was it that Burnham did that so scared Spock that he withdrew from his emotions and has not spoken to his adoptive sister in years? It amounts to little more than a few seconds of taunts the average teen girl hurls at her little brother on any given day of the week. That’s it. Period.

I’m not saying that young Burnham’s words did not sting, but if you spend half a season building up to a revelation like this, it really needs to be big, like Burnham giving Spock a seemingly angry shove. Or the breaking of a shared gift. Maybe the telling of a secret, made up on the spot, that crushes the child. The alternative to that would have been to see much more of the relationship between young Spock and young Burnham, so that we could understand that connection and feel it deepen, only to have it ripped away. But this scene, as it stands, does not pay off its setup.

I rarely fault “Discovery” for the choices it makes. But this plot was wrong on virtually every level. Had it not been for the accompanying Culber story, the episode would have collapsed like a shuttle entering a black hole.

Next episode: Project Daedalus

Random Thoughts and Observations

It was a nice touch to use the classic “quiet howling” sound effect on the surface of Talos IV. The effect was used on virtually every eerie planet Enterprise visited in the original series.

Saru’s (Doug Jones) desire to see the Culber/Tyler confrontation play out shines a small light on where things stand with the evolved Kelpien. His subsequent conversation with Captain Pike confirms that Saru is possibly having difficulty adjusting to his new feelings of confidence.

“Captain, I’m not the enemy here.” — Star Trek Discovery review, “Light and Shadows” s2e7

Tyler and Pike in shuttlecraft.
Star Trek: Discovery, season 2, episode 7
“Light and Shadows”
Review by Clinton

I’ve spoken before about relationships on “Star Trek: Discovery.” In fact, it was the basis of my review of the “Saints of Imperfection” episode. In “LIght and Shadows” the emphasis seems to be on testing the limits of these connections, pushing for answers and reconciliation.

Discovery and time rift

First, a bit about the episode overall, which has a story by Ted Sullivan and Vaun Wilmott, teleplay by Ted Sullivan and was directed by Marta Cunningham: While Discovery remains at Kaminar, studying residual decay that appears to be connected to the appearance of the red signal and the so-called Red Angel, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) travels home to Vulcan. Burnham believes her adoptive mother, Amanda Grayson (Mia Kirshner) knows more about Spock’s (Ethan Peck) whereabouts than she is telling.

Naturally, things do not go according to plan when Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) and the crew of Discovery approach the “residual decay.” They find it has an impossibly high density of tachyon particles. Why is that important? In the “Star Trek” universe, tachyons have moved from the realm of theory to an actual faster-than-light particle that can be detected. Their presence is associated with temporal distortion (time travel). And as Discovery moves closer to the particles, a massive rift in spacetime opens before the ship.

We have already been peppered with suggestions that time travel could be involved in the mystery of the signals and the Angel. The appearance of the rift would appear to confirm all the speculation.

It is when Pike announces that he will pilot the shuttle tasked with launching a probe into the rift that conflicts begin. Section 31 liaison Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) insists on accompanying Pike on his mission. Pike has an understandable distrust of Tyler, since Tyler’s Klingon personality killed Dr. Culber. And Tyler is growing increasingly frustrated at having his authority as a Section 31 operative marginalized by the Captain.

Once in the confined space of the shuttle, Tyler is determined to confront the captain. Even when the shuttle is pulled into the temporal anomaly, where other matters should take priority, the liaison baits Pike. Tyler accuses him of taking dangerous missions to atone for the fact that Enterprise was ordered to sit out the Federation/Klingon war. This type of psychoanalysis does not sit well with the captain.

On Vulcan, Burnham is also making accusations. She believes Grayson knows exactly where Spock is and is hiding the information from everyone, including her husband, Ambassador Sarek (James Frain).

Grayson also has some unresolved relationship issues. She confronts Sarek, accusing her husband of casting a blind eye at the humanity that resides in both their son and adoptive daughter. She reveals that the Vulcan Learning Center had no desire to help Spock overcome his human learning disabilities. As a result, the former teacher took on the responsibility of guiding their children through the looking glass world of outsiders attempting to survive in Vulcan society. She also rejects the notion that she is simply using Sarek’s position to protect Spock, virtually demanding Sarek see the truth.

Amanda Grayson:
I don’t live under your authority. I’m your wife. And I’m your partner. Try again, husband.

In all three cases, the accuser is correct. After the liaison saves his life, Pike confides to Tyler that he might, indeed, be taking dangerous assignments to absolve himself from the guilt he feels over being forced to sit out the war. Amanda Grayson admits to Burnham that she, in fact, is hiding Spock in order to protect her son from what she knows in her heart to be false accusations of murder. And Sarek, feeling the weight of the unwinding of his family structure, reveals, with as much emotion as he dare show, that his family is tremendously important to him.

And still there are confrontations yet to be had. Burnham must reconcile with Spock, for whatever act she committed to drive her brother away. We learn that Captain Leland (Alan Van Sprang) apparently must deal with his involvement with the death of Michael Burnham’s birth parents. And Ash Tyler must still face the man he murdered, the now very-much-alive Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz).

Burnham and Spock

But Burnham setting course for Talos IV, as well as a glimpse of some familiar-looking aliens in the preview for the next episode of “Star Trek: Discovery,” may mean we put these issues on the back burner. For now.

Next episode: If Memory Serves

Random Thoughts and Observations

It was interesting to see it raining on Vulcan. I would imagine it needs to rain on the planet from time to time, as we have no indication that Vulcans can survive without consuming liquids. Still, it was a bit odd to see a storm outside Sarek’s home. Or was that a metaphor for the storm brewing inside the dwelling?

Apparently they have been there since the shuttle first appeared in the first season, but I was noticing the number of physical switches and knobs on the consoles in the pod. It is odd to have such a predominance of tactile controls here and seemingly nowhere else on Discovery.

It is odd that once the crew finds out the Red Angel appears to be humanoid, everyone immediately believes it is from the future. Why? Starfleet must have encountered several civilizations with advanced technology. And, as we see, virtually all of them are humanoid.

Lt. Rhys (Patrick Kwok-Choon) says that igniting the shuttle’s plasma to alert search parties is a trick that is taught in flight school. Which makes one wonder why, in the the original series episode “Galileo Seven,” Spock, or some other crew member aboard the shuttle, didn’t outright suggest it as a way of signaling Enterprise?

Spock disappeared in the Mutara sector. Presumably this is where the Mutara nebula, seen at the end of “Star Trek II: The Search for Spock” is located.

Airiam's eye

Something appears to have taken over Lt. Commander Airiam (Hannah Cheesman). Hopefully, when we find out what has happened to her, we will also have the opportunity to learn a bit about her.

Discovery engages maximum warp while in proximity to Kaminar, to avoid the time tsunami. That’s bad enough, but we don’t know how the temporal waves affected the planet itself. I would hate to think it rolled back time to the point where the Ba’ul still had the means to control the Kelpiens.

What has been happening on Qu’Nos all this time? Have the Klingon houses accepted Chancellor L’Rell (Mary Chiefo)?

If Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) is quickly gaining so much power over Leland, could this be the reason Section 31 eventually goes back “underground” and is unknown to the majority of Starfleet later in history? Does she force it into the background, where it answers to no one?

“We’re here to gather information…Not start a war” — Star Trek Discovery review, “The Sound Of Thunder” s2e6

Siranna and Saru
Star Trek: Discovery, season 2, episode 6
“The Sound Of Thunder”
Review by Clinton

Before I address the element of this story that fascinated me the most, I wanted to acknowledge an intriguing secondary plot line that appears to be playing out over multiple episodes. Namely, what is up with Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz)? We know, from a past incident in “Star Trek,” that coming back from the dead can be a bit disorienting, to say the least. After all, Spock needed 1.1 movies to rebuild his memory. But memory loss does not seem to be the issue here. Culber remembers, in great detail, the incident Lt. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) is recounting to Dr. Tracy Pollard (Raven Dauda). Culber appears preoccupied by something he can’t quite identify. Pollard feels this is simply Culber coping with adjustments. But there is something about the way Culber recoils from Stamets’ touch and tries hard to not look completely distressed that tells us otherwise.

Culber

Perhaps it was the months he spent attempting to survive in the mycelial network that has pulled the good doctor’s emotions inward. Or it is the lingering memory of his death at the hands of Ash Tyler/Voq (Shazad Latif)? We have yet to see the confrontation between Culber and Section 31’s on-board liaison. Will that trigger something deep within Culber’s subconscious? More on this as things develop.

Now, on to the subject at the heart of this episode, insofar as far as I am concerned — General Order One.

It is well known that “Star Trek” has a love/hate relationship with this set of rules, also known as the Prime Directive. I would love to list that directive here, but it has actually never been quoted in its entirety in any iteration of the show or movies. Which is odd, because the Prime Directive has been a part of the franchise since early in the run of the original series. In fact, because the series “Star Trek: Enterprise” takes place before the founding of the Federation, Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) muses on the necessity for such regulations:

“Someday my people are going to come up with some sort of a doctrine, something that tells us what we can and can’t do out here; should and shouldn’t do. But until somebody tells me that they’ve drafted that… directive… I’m going to have to remind myself every day that we didn’t come out here to play God.”

In “The Sound of Thunder”, written by Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt, Discovery needs to do intelligence gathering on the planet Kaminar. One of the mysterious red signals recently appeared above the planet. Upon Discovery’s arrival, one of the two sentient species on the planet, the Ba’ul, strongly resents the appearance of a Starfleet vessel. They demand that the starhip exit Kaminar. That leaves the other species, the Kelpiens, as the point of contact. There is one problem — the Kelpiens are a pre-warp culture. The Prime Directive has rules about such contact. Essentially, Starfleet can not divulge anything about space travel, other worlds or the existence of other sentient beings to such a culture.

Message from the Ba'ul

To get around this predicament, Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), uses the following logic: Kelpiens have seen warp technology in use by the Ba’ul. And the Kelpiens know about space flight. She and Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) reason, therefore, that they can bend General Order One a little and contact the Kelpiens.

The issue I see here is that we have no idea why the Kelpiens would know about space flight. The Ba’ul are native to Kaminar. Kelpiens would have no reason to assume the Ba’ul are taking trips to the stars, unless the Ba’ul are bragging about it. The same holds true for knowledge of warp technology. Why would the Kelpiens know about this? How would they see it? As a general rule, in “Star Trek,” you don’t engage warp near a planet..

Next, Captain Pike assigns Burnham, a human xenoanthropologist, to be the one to beam down and make first contact. Again, there is that damned Prime Directive. Pike does not wish to openly break first contact protocol, yet he is prepared to send a non-native species to the planet to initiate conversations. This appears to make no sense. We do, however, get to understand why Pike is reluctant to send Kelpien Lt. Commander Saru (Doug Jones) on the mission. The confrontation between the two officers borders on outright insubordination. Still, Pike finally agrees to allow Saru to accompany Burnham on the mission.

Once on the planet, Saru introduces Burnham to his sister, Siranna (Hannah Spear). The commander identifies herself as being a human from Earth. That sharing of information is not a surprise. Burnham looks and sounds nothing like a Kelpien, so there would be no reason not to do so. Still, this does now make our pre-warp society aware of 1) warp technology, 2) space flight and 3) other worlds with other intelligent life forms. By Starfleet’s own definition, this mission has thrown the Kelpiens into the pool of species they can now freely contact.

How much does this border on Starfleet creating a self-fulfilling prophecy?

But we are not finished here. After Saru returns to Discovery, the Ba’ul demand that the Kelpien be returned to them. We know, at this point, that the Kelpiens are spirited away from their villages by the Ba’ul when they experience vaharai — a transition believed by the Kelpiens to be fatal. Saru knows that this is a lie. Discovery refuses to surrender Saru, causing the Ba’ul to activate devices that could wipe out the entire Kelpien population. This chain of events is one of the reasons the Prime Directive exists in the first place. When Starfleet inserts itself into the affairs of others, things have the potential of going very, very badly.

As it turns out, the Red Angel also intervenes, avoiding outright genocide against the Kelpiens. But we only have Saru and Siranna’s feeling that Kaminar’s two sentient species can work things out to create a new balance rather than engage in all-out war. That seems a thin thread to hang one’s hopes on. Especially since Saru returns to Discovery and will not be present to help temper the understandable rage of his fellow Kelpiens toward the Ba’ul..

This type of scenario is not unique to “Discovery.” Other iterations of “Star Trek” have wrestled with the issues General Order One creates. And the solutions have often proved muddy at best. If we return to Kaminar at a later date and see the aftermath of this intrusion, that will be a fascinating addendum to one Prime Directive dilemma.

Next episode: Light and Shadows

Random Thoughts and Observations

In the “Short Trek” episode “The Brightest Star,” we clearly see “SHN 03” on the bow of the shuttle Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) uses to land on Kaminar. That would indicate it was a shuttle from the Shenzhou (the shuttles aboard Discovery have a “DSC” prefix). “Wait,” you say. “In this episode they say that the Archimedes was the starship that first made contact.” And, indeed, in the flashback scene, the image of the shuttle now simply sports a large “03.” Not sure why they felt it was necessary to do all that extra work.

Comparison shots

In the last few episodes, I have noticed that Dr. Pollard has graduated from the role of a walk-on character dishing out disgruntled one liners, to a regular player. I look forward to learning more about her.

Ash Tyler is hugging his paranoia over the red signals and Red Angel extremely tightly. At first glance, it might seem this is simply because he has fully indoctrinated himself into the threats-are-everywhere mindset of Section 31. However, in the last scene with Pike, where the Captain shares Saru’s description of the Red Angel, Tyler’s motivations are made a bit clearer. He seems to live in fear of the outbreak of war. He tells Pike, “The last war, sir, took a toll on those who fought it. Some of us are still torn apart.” Given the fact that Pike had orders to keep Enterprise out of the war, this hits the Captain hard. In addition to still feeling his own scars, does Tyler feel that someone who did not participate in the conflict has no business being the one in charge of this threat assessment?

The data collected from the dying sphere proved to be of value to the crew of Discovery in this episode. However, the writers would be wise to not dip into that well too often. What Tilly (Mary Wiseman) calls “a delicious slice of galaxy pie,” could turn into a writer’s magic bullet to provide Discovery with answer to all sorts of difficult questions.

“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.

“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.

“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?