Star Trek: Strange New Worlds review, Season 2, Episode 4 – Among the Lotus Eaters

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds review, Season 2, Episode 4 - Among the Lotus Eaters

Referencing a tale dating back millennia, this adventure offers a fresh take on a well-worn theme.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
Season 2, Episode 4
“Among the Lotus Eaters”
Written by Kirsten Beyer and Davy Perez
Directed by Eduardo Sánchez
Review by Clinton

Note: This article will concentrate on the adventures of the Rigel VII landing party. Some of the same observations could be made about the events unfolding aboard the Enterprise in this episode. But, for the sake of article length, I will let you, the reader, make those comparisons for yourself.

In Homer’s “The Odyssey,” there lived a small community of people who dwelled on a distant island. Perhaps they had been swept there during a storm at sea, or maybe they had been explorers seeking new lands. Not one of them could recall the story. They sustained themselves on the main foods available to them – the fruits and flowers of the lotus tree. While the supply was plentiful, there was a price to be paid for eating from this bounty. A narcotic in the lotus would cause every eater to fall asleep in a kind of blissful apathy. When they awoke, they would only have distant, fading memories of their homes and loved ones. Gone was all desire to do anything more than stay, eat of the fruits and flowers and sleep in peaceful lethargy.

Spock and Leila on Omicron Ceti II

This tale has been retold many times, including adaptations for “Star Trek.” The original series episode “This Side of Paradise” is the most obvious parallel. In that story, a team of scientists, who have set up an agricultural colony on Omicron Ceti III are affected by spores from a native plant. The team becomes content with their simple life, abandoning their research. While visiting the planet, the same fate nearly befalls the entire crew of the USS Enterprise.

While “Among the Lotus Eaters” clearly shares some basic DNA with these two stories, it also departs from the norm in some interesting ways. 

The script, by Kirsten Beyer and Davy Perez raises the disturbing issue of someone, rather than something, exercising control over those affected by memory loss. We learn that one crew member, Yeoman Zac Nguyen (David Huynh), listed as killed in action during the Enterprise’s first mission to Rigel VII five years earlier, had actually survived. Nguyen found himself falling victim to the memory-wiping effects of radiation emanating from asteroid fragments scattered across the surface of the planet. He managed to work out the fact that radiation-blocking ore had been used to build the huge castle which had featured so prominently in that ill-fated mission.

Yeoman Nguyen as Lord High Zacarias

But ingenuity and self-preservation soon gave way to more nefarious plans. In clear violation of the Prime Directive, Nguyen armed some of the locals with Federation-issue weapons, making them his de facto guards. He declared himself Lord High Zacariasa and did not share his knowledge about the radiation-blocking ore with those outside the castle. He knew that the material could be fashioned into helmets that would shield everyone from memory loss, but chose to keep that knowledge to himself, thereby consolidating his own power and safety. He reinforced the belief among those still affected by the radiation that they were meant to live by simply surviving day to day, while those inside the castle walls were different by nature.

This variation from “The Odyssey” places Yeoman Nguyen in the role of a callous god. He knows the cause of the misfortune the worker Kalar must endure and has the means to end it, but chooses instead to shield himself from such concerns, staying within his walled kingdom.

“Among the Lotus Eaters” also delves into the details of how a group that must survive without memories finds ways to cope with each new day. One of the stone cutters, Luq (Reed Birney), offers to help Captain PIke, Lt. Noonien-Singh and Dr. M’Benga (Anson Mount, Christina Chong and Bab Olusanmokun) adjust to life in this unfamiliar world. Through Luq we learn that the nightly “forgetting” robs the Kalar who live outside the castle of their long-term memories, while basic knowledge, like language, motor skills and “other things deep inside” remain. They use colors to know which type of work they usually perform; tattoos to recall their names. Each “field Kalar” lives in a hut, which can be identified by a marking that matches their name tattoo. 

Luq seems to be content with this life and urges the landing party to also accept their new future. The acquiescent Kalar believes that the inability to remember the past is a blessing. This way sorrows pass quickly and burdens are few. However, when Lt. Noonien-Singh is injured while protecting Pike, Luq sees Dr. M’Benga instinctively rush in to provide basic aid. And, despite the dangers, Pike “knows” that he must find a way to restore his memory, save his friends and return to the someone who gave him the small totem he wears around his neck. Luq realizes this is Pike’s truth. He agrees to help, even though it will put him in danger, too.

Once inside the castle, Pike corners Nguyen, knocking the yeoman to the ground and continuing to beat him while demanding a mythical cure for his memory loss. In desperation, Pike points a phaser rifle at Nguyen, seemingly ready to pull the trigger. But the radiation-blocking effects of the walls begin to clear Pike’s mind. He lowers the phaser and sits, knowing what he has done and had threatened to do.

“I told you Rigel VII changes people.”

 “No. It doesn’t,” Pike replies, “It shows us who we really are.” The captain points out that he was motivated by a need to protect his crew, while everything Nguyen did once he found himself stranded on the planet revealed a different, darker motivation.

“Among the Lotus Eaters” then asks the question, if you were given the choice to have your memories – both joyful and sorrowful – restored or have them buried forever, which path would you choose? This takes the story in a different direction than “The Odyssey” and “This Side of Paradise,” where those affected by a “forgetting” had little to no say in this matter.

While Pike assumes Luq is anxious to recall the past, the Kalar expresses a desire to remain blissfully ignorant. He shows Pike inked out names on his arm. He does not remember why he did it and he doesn’t want to know. His tone reveals his belief that the names were those of his family, including a child.

Dr. M’Benga gently presses the point, sensing Luq is an individual of compassion. “If you still carry the weight, don’t you want to know what it is?” 

“Would that make it any better?  You’re searching for your lost memories, but do you really know what you will find?…You are brave to face it. I am past the need to remember. I’m too afraid of the pain.”

But Luq has a change of heart. When he helps bring Lt. Noonien-Singh into the castle he decides to stay. The memories come rushing back. With tears in his eyes he acknowledges to Pike that he once had a family, including a son. He is grateful for the memories. 

“The story of your life. The details. They matter.” 

Which brings me to the last point about this variation on “The Odyssey” story of the Lotus-Eaters. The lives of the affected field Kalar was not one of blissful ignorance like that experienced on that long-forgotten island in the Mediterranean or that distant colony on Omicron Ceti III. It painted a picture of memory loss as a daily struggle; a battle against a silent enemy that must constantly be challenged. It was a fight that wore them down, memory by memory. It is a struggle that millions of people grapple with every day of their lives. 

“The story of your life. The details. They matter.” 

Yes. They do.

Next episode: Charades

Star Trek Websites and podcasts come together to fight for justice, and invite fans to lend a hand.

Trekkies Together

Dear fellow Star Trek fan,

Star Trek was born in the Civil Rights era and the message of freedom for all peoples has been at its core for over five decades.

Recent events have demonstrated that the struggle for this future continues. During these difficult times, it is important to stand up for what you believe, and many in the Trek community are doing just that.

To that end, each member of the team here at “The Topic is Trek” has donated to a collection of organizations through this portal, which was first brought to our attention by the team at

Others around the Trek-verse have been contributing to a variety of organizations. Here are some examples, along with links to the appropriate donation sites. and their associated Shuttle Pod podcast team, as well as the Reddit’s Star Trek subreddit, have all donated to the ACLU. Meanwhile, the team at Women at Warp have chosen to concentrated on donations to the East of the River Mutual Aid Fund . Other outlets involved in this joint effort include Priority One Network, Mission Log, Portal 47 and Memory Alpha, with more sites and podcasts sure to join.

Gene Roddenberry once said, “until we can value the diversity here on Earth, then we don’t deserve to go into outer space and encounter the infinite diversity out there.” Together we hope as members of the extended Star Trek community, we can help move towards a just and equal future. We ask our fellow Star Trek fans who have the means to do so, to join us in making a contribution to any one of the organizations listed above.

Together the fan sites and podcasts stand with official Star Trek, as articulated on and on the official Star Trek Twitter account.

Live long and prosper.

Clinton, Kreg and Chuck



“Because you could not save everyone, you chose to save no one.” — Star Trek: Picard review, season 1, episodes 3 and 4

Picard sits alone.
Star Trek: Picard, Season 1, Episode 3
“The End is the Beginning”
Teleplay by Michael Chabon & James Duff
Directed by Hanelle M. Culpepper
Star Trek: Picard, Season 1, Episode 4
“Absolute Candor”
Story by Michael Chabon
Directed by Jonathan Frakes
Review by Clinton

In my review of the first two episodes of “Star Trek: Picard” I likened the story to a Dixon Hill holonovel. Now, this additional pair of episodes has added another element of mystery. Specifically, why has it taken four episodes to gather the crew that will set off on this mission?

Is it so we could have the startling reveal of Seven (Jeri Ryan) in the last minute of hour four? As interesting as that was, I don’t think it was the motivating factor.

Perhaps we need the time to get to know Cristóbal Rios (Santiago Carbera), his ship, the La Sirena, and his multitude of Emergency Hologram (EH) avatars, each prone to bursts of psychoanalysis. But no, that isn’t the reason either.  

Picard, Rios and the EMH.

I think the primary reason we plodded along so slowly is so that we could get the full picture of where Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) exists today. After all, this is a man we have not seen for twenty years. We bring certain assumptions with us. How he speaks. How he thinks. His honor and his integrity. But, as this story has unfolded, it seems that most of those traits have fallen by the wayside. He is as broken as he believes Starfleet and the Federation to be.

It is not just Admiral Clancy who calls out Picard for his hubris. Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd) does it, too. Twice. Once when Picard expresses surprise that Starfleet calls his bluff when he threatens to resign if the Romulan rescue mission is halted. He says that he never would have believed they would accept his resignation. Raffi, a look of harsh disapproval on her face, replies, “Of course you wouldn’t.” That is followed, years later, by Raffi’s comment to Picard when he comes to her tiny shack, asking her for help.  Raffi, her life ruined by Picard’s actions, listens to his story about wanting to rescue someone he has never even met. Then, again, with that disdain in her voice, replies, “Wow, I don’t even know what to say. The obvious way to go would be ‘You’ve got some goddamn nerve.’ But I gather you’ve already heard that from your buddy, Clancy.” Picard never even came once to visit her. But now that he needs something, he appears as if out of thin air. She sees a flaw in Picard. A hubris that is beyond reason.

Raffi judging Picard.

Then there is the matter of Elnor (Evan Evagora). The young Romulan evacuee who looked up to Jean-Luc Picard. Then, when the Romulan rescue mission was halted, Picard never returned to Vashti. Elnor continued to be raised by the Qowat Milat warrior nuns, who were unable to find the young man a more suitable home. When Picard does return, he is hoping to enlist Elnor, who has now grown to be an outstanding warrior, on his quest to locate Dahj’s android sister. But when Elnor asks, “Why do you need me?” Picard replies with explanations of needing someone younger and stronger along on the mission. And Picard feels his need to locate a woman he has never met is criterion enough for Elnor to bind his sword to Picard’s quest. Elnor replies, seething with anger, “Now that I have use to you? Now that I have value to you? You left me on my own, old man. I see no reason not to do the same.” 

Feelings were often hard for Picard, but, over time, we had seen him open up. He has collapsed in on himself.

And what are we to make of the fact that when Picard dreams, his thoughts do not turn to the people he has wronged. No. He dreams of Data. He grieves for Data. And has done so for two decades. It is as if making the ultimate sacrifice for Picard is the only way to get his attention now. That is not a healthy frame of mind. 

The story chose to linger on these things. We will, presumably, see a change in Picard’s attitude. But this level of damage is distressing. 

Next episode: Stardust City Rag

Random thoughts and observations:

  • After a more than 50 year association with “Star Trek”, it was nice to see Vasquez Rocks finally get on-screen credit. Somewhere the Gorn Captain is shedding a tear of joy. Or maybe that’s just sand in his eye.
  • Seeing Soji Asha and Narek do a variant of the “young lovers ice skate at Rockefeller Center” rom-com trope was interesting.
  • As if there was any doubt, we learned that everyone in Starfleet believes that Commodore Oh is a Vulcan. Apparently the protocols that surely are in place to protect against dual personas, like Ash Tyler/Voq, or shape-shifters, like the Founders, don’t work well enough to distinguish a Vulcan from their distant cousins, the Romulans.
  • I have grave reservations about Dr. Agnes Jurati. It seems odd that Commodore Oh simply asked a few questions about the doctor’s meetings with Picard and then walked away, letting Jurati head straight to Picard. Raffi even points out that no one has run a security check on her.
  • Also, do you get the feeling that the producers are banking on the fact that some of us look at Dr. Jurati as a version of Dr. Gillian Taylor, the marine biologist in “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”? Even a little?
  • Wow! There are a lot of good, old fashioned books still around in the 24th century!
  • I don’t know what to make of Asha’s comment “The idea that former Borg might be able to create a…shared narrative framework for understanding their trama, rooted in deep archetypes, but as relevant as today’s news. That’s just what I’m hoping to do.” I assume that is important, but it sounds like New Age word scramble.
  • It looks like the Romulans are as incestuous as ever.

“I need your help, Mr. Hill. Someone is trying to kill me.” — Star Trek Picard review, “Remembrance” s1e1, “Maps and Legends” s1e2

Picard and Data play poker in 10 Forward. with an image of the two characters from a "Dixon Hill" episode of ST:TNG superimposed in background.
Star Trek: Picard, Season 1, Episodes 1
Teleplay by Akiva Goldsman and James Duff
Directed by Hanelle M. Culpepper
Star Trek: Picard, Season 1, Episode 2
“Maps and Legends”
Story by Akiva Goldsman
Directed by Hanelle M. Culpepper
Review by Clinton
Explosion throwing Picard back.
Someone doesn’t want Picard snooping around.

I don’t know what I was expecting from “Star Trek: Picard,” but it certainly wasn’t a Dixon Hill holo-novel. 

Still, that is what I got.

The first two episodes of this series feel like the opening act of some hard-boiled detective story, just substitute Admiral Jean-Luc Picard (Sir Patrick Stewart) as the retired gumshoe who has all but given up the will to live. Through circumstances we soon come to understand, Picard has lost his fire. He is now as disheartened as a Ferengi locked inside a root beer factory. He is a ghost of the figure we once knew. This Picard is easily winded by a flight of stairs. He sleeps ’til long after sunrise. He dreams of the past, obsessed by visions of the late Commander Data. At one point he even pines, “The dreams are lovely. It’s the waking up that I’m beginning to resent.” And yet, when presented with an intriguing puzzle to solve, Picard slowly begins to energize himself. The detective within him awakes. By the end of episode two, he is clearly a man on a mission.

Looking at it through that lens, these first two episodes in the freshman season of “Picard” have offered up more twists and turns than the Dixon Hill novels “The Big Good-bye,” “The Long Dark Tunnel” and “The Curse of the Black Orchid” combined. Or at least I imagine they do. After all, the Dixon Hill holographic novels do not actually exist. Yet.

First, there is the mysterious Dahj Asha (Isa Briones), a young woman who learns that she is an android. What’s this? A confused synth? Jean-Luc may need to pull in Detective Rick Deckard from “Blade Runner” to consult on this one. After being accidentally “activated,” Dajh instinctively seeks out Picard for protection. Why? This is the first mystery Picard must unravel. In fact, Dajh is the catalyst for this entire journey. She is Picard’s Maltese Falcon. When she is literally blown to pieces before his eyes, all seems lost. That is, until he learns there is another — her twin, Dr. Soji Asha. If Picard can only find her, he believes the mystery can be solved. However, like any good film noir tale, there are powerful forces at work behind the scenes. There are lies and truths, and blurred lines that barely separate the two. These are the things that will truly test Picard’s rejuvenated mettle.

Next, consider the story’s duplicitous Romulan, Narek (Harry Treadway), a covert operative for the Zhat Vash. This cabal is so ancient, it predates the dreaded Romulan secret police, the Tal Shiar. Landing at the unlikeliest of locations, a damaged Borg cube, Narek quickly uses his “bad boy” charm to seduce Dajh’s twin, Soji Asha. Why is Narek so interested in Soji? More importantly, will Narek ultimately stay true to this yet-to-be-revealed mission? Or will he develop feelings for the synthetic life form and find himself pitted against his sister, double agent Lt. Narissa Rizzo (Peyton List)? We must read the next chapter to find out more.

Narek and Soji Asha in bed.
Narek and Soji Asha

Then there is Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill) of the Daystrom Institute. She appears to be an expert that Jean-Luc can count on in his quest to locate Soji Asha. But wait. Dr. Jurati once worked with Bruce Maddox, the man obsessed with deconstructing Commander Data in an attempt to create similar androids. Can she really be trusted? After all, the “synths” that destroyed the Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards on Mars were created in her department at the Institute. Is she an undercover agent for Maddox? Think about it. Isn’t it the character you suspect the least the one who often ends up stabbing the hero in the back? Trust no one, Dix. Uh, I mean Jean-Luc.

Speaking of which, let’s not forget the Romulans Laris and Zhaban (Orla Brady and Jamie McShane). These household helpers at Chateau Picard have a past shadier than a cave on the Moon during a total eclipse. Yet the couple seems very eager to help Picard. Maybe a bit too eager. In Dahj’s apartment, Laris goes so far as to reveal a host of Romulan tricks while she attempts to locate Dahj’s twin. Is the long game of earning Picard’s trust part of some greater plan? After all, Laris and Zhaban are known to have once been agents of the Tal Shiar. Anything they say may be a lie. Any assistance they offer may ultimately lead Picard into a dead-end alley of pain. 

Laris with Romulan forensic molecular reconstruction device.

And Picard, like any good dime-novel detective, is out of favor with the authorities. We learn that years ago he bucked the system, trying to force the Federation in general, and Starfleet in particular, to do the right thing. Nevertheless, the Federation virtually abandoned the Romulans in their hour of need, leaving Picard no choice but to resign. Now, in an effort to get the resources needed to solve the mysteries of Dahj, the rogue synths and the Zhat Vash, Picard returns to Starfleet Command. It is here that the retired Admiral is given a profanity-laced dressing down by Admiral Clancy (Ann Magnuson). It’s a scene that plays out like a police captain telling a rogue copy “Turn in your badge and your gun. As of now you are off this case. Go home.”

Ultimately, Picard turns to a former ally, Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd) for assistance. Can she be trusted? Let’s hope so. Picard can’t do this alone.

Raffi Musiker, looking displeased.
Raffi Musiker

For good measure, there is even a potential time bomb planted in the story. Picard has a brain abnormality, also referenced in the “All Good Things” episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Dr. Benayoun (David Paymer)  tells Jean-Luc that the defect in his parietal lobe could ultimately lead to disaster. Is this a red herring? Or will Picard’s condition have an important part to play in this story?

In the Dixon Hill holosuite novels, like any good pulp fiction, it seemed you could always expect shifting alliances, shadowy figures, plans within plans and the occasional dead body. The same might be said of this new story. There is much to be revealed over the remaining eight episodes of “Picard.” But at the end of the journey will Picard’s Maltese Falcon be made of gold and jewels, or will it be a simple lead decoy that propels the quest onward into season two? 

Next episode: “The End is the Beginning”

Random thoughts and observations:

  • In Ten Forward, Data wins the game of poker by revealing a hand made up of five Queen of Hearts playing cards. Qualities attributed to the Queen of Hearts are too plentiful to discern if there is any special significance here.
  • While the graphic novel “Star Trek: Picard – Countdown ” clearly shows Geordi LaForge working at the Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards on Mars, it appears he did not die in the attack. Zhaban mentions the engineer by name when listing the people who can possibly help Picard
  • Why was Dahj applying to the Daystrom Institute for a fellowship in A.I. and quantum consciousness? She would obviously have an advantage in these fields, but was there some pre-programmed motivation drawing her to that specific destination?
  • Anniversaries have played a significant role in these two episodes. Both “First Contact Day” and a 10th anniversary “Day of Remembrance” ceremony, marking the date of the loss of the Romulan homeworld, are observed.
  • Unlike past glimpses of men’s fashions on Earth, Picard’s wardrobe is rather traditional. Usually “Star Trek” future civilian fashion lacks elements such as visible buttons and traditional collars. However, for his interview with FNN, Picard sports a fairly common shirt, tie, and jacket combination.
  • The ticking clock in Picard’s study evoked memories of Admiral Kirk’s apartment, where that deskbound officer was also living a melancholy life of semi-solitude. 
  • It was hard to not be pulled out of the moment when Picard visited the Starfleet Archives and Starfleet Command, as the buildings are structures at the Anaheim Convention Center, located across the street from Disneyland.
  • Soji knows she has a twin, but Dahj made no mention of it.

“You may still choose to walk away from this future.” — Star Trek Discovery review, “Through the Valley of Shadows” s2e12

Pike and time crystal
Star Trek: Discovery, season 2, episode 12
“Through the Valley of Shadows”
Teleplay by Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt
Directed by Douglas Aarniokoski
Review by Clinton

Upfront, I will state  tha I try to stay as spoiler-free about yet-to-be-aired episodes as possible. As such, by the time you read this, some of my speculations may be proven to be completely false.

On the verge of the final two episodes of season two, I want to focus on two aspects of this episode that struck me in unusual ways.

The first area I want to discuss involves an inanimate object — a simple piece of crystal. That is to say, a time crystal. There are so many questions I have about these structures. Why would the Klingons abandon research on them? How are they actually guarded on Boreth? And how reliable is that protection method? After all, Harry Mudd somehow “got his hands on” a crystal. And so did Gabriella Burnham.

However, the biggest question I have about the crystals is, how early were they conceived as part of the “Star Trek: Discovery” universe? You see, since “The Vulcan Hello,” I have wondered about the crystals that flowed around U.S.S. Discovery in the opening credits. They fly about the screen like snowflakes as the starship takes form. Why?

I never thought the objects were dilithium crystals. Even though Discovery has a warp engine, its primary method of propulsion is the spore drive. Besides, we have seen pieces of dilithium a few times on “Star Trek.” It is usually depicted as a milky white or amber color, not emerald green.

Were the hovering crystals simply random graphic elements added to give the title sequence some kinetic energy? Possibly. But most everything else shown in the credits is either a literal or symbolic representation of an event or concept on the show.  So, that explanation seemed unlikely.

These crystals gave me pause every time I saw them drift by on the screen. What were they?


In “Through the Valley of Shadows,” I may have received an answer. Which only leads to more questions. During his mission to Boreth, Pike, along with the time keeper Tenavik, enter a chamber filled with time crystals, or, as the Klingons call them, poH qut. When we see them in closeup, they looked exactly like the floating crystals in the opening credit sequence. Discovery is literally surrounded by time crystals.

Coincidence? Possibly. But I suspect they indicate something more. The question is, if they are time crystals, how long has that “something more” been lurking in the background? Is this a long game, where a clue has been right in front of our faces the entire time? It gives me pause to wonder about the possibilities. Has time travel always lurked around the corner on this show? Has the production team been telegraphing a message that we can only now decrypt?

Here’s hoping the final two episodes of this season provide clarity to the crystal mystery.

The other thing that struck me about “Through the Valley of Shadows” was the turn Pike’s character takes — by not taking a turn — in that very same chamber.

In a recent interview, actor Anson Mount, speaking about the script for this episode, said “It turns Pike’s third act, which we already know about and have established, it makes it more of a triumph than a tragedy.” I agree. But it’s not just this episode that does that. This is just the culmination of that newly-illuminated second act.

Going into his appearance in “Discovery,” we knew little about Pike. We saw him as an exhausted, frustrated, even angry Captain in “The Cage,” the very first pilot for the original “Star Trek” series. Then, in “The Menagerie,” we saw him as a figure locked inside his own mind, trapped in a body that no longer functioned. We, of course, did have sympathy for the man. After all, he dove into danger, charging into a chamber flooded with radiation to rescue cadets trapped inside. But, as Mount points out, that’s Pike’s third act. For the past 50 or so years, it lived in a bit of a vacuum.

Over the course of this season, we have gotten to know more about Christopher Pike. We have seen him as a man of principle, ideals, flaws, and compassion. He has human doubts, but always tries his best to find his way back to his moral compass and his belief in his duties. Admiral Cornwell sums it up when she has to confess why the Enterprise was not recalled from its five-year mission during the Klingon war.

“You sat out the war because if we’d lost to the Klingons, we wanted the best of Starfleet to survive. And as this conversation makes clear, that was you and all you represent.”

Now, with Pike’s inevitable departure from Discovery at hand, it has been a bit harder to accept the fate that awaits him. That is what is brilliant about this episode. It snatches victory from the hands of defeat — a defeat that has not yet happened, but has been written in stone.


In the vision of the future, Pike sees the accident that leaves him disfigured and helpless, but he does not get to focus on the lives he will save by pulling survivors out of danger. Then, he is told he can alter this fate by simply leaving the crystal behind. As horrified as Pike is by what he has seen, he knows that to walk away without the crystal would mean he had failed his mission and turned his back on everything he believes in, everything we have seen him demonstrate time and again. That is something he simply can not do.

Intellectually, we always knew that a Starfleet captain would risk their life to save their crew. But now we fully understand why Pike will make the choice to expose himself to delta-rays in order to rescue those cadets. It is in the core of his very being. It is who he is. It is the embodiment of “The needs of the many.”

The fact that the time crystals and Pike interact in this episode, in this way, is amazing..

Next episode: Such Sweet Sorrow

“It was unexpected.” — Star Trek Discovery review, “The Red Angel” s2e10

Burnham and Spock
Star Trek: Discovery, season 2, episode 10
“The Red Angel”
Episode teleplay by Chris Silvestri and Anthony Maranville
Episode directed by Hanelle M. Culpepper
Review by Clinton

This episode contains a number of revelations. But do they make sense? Do the “shocking twists” grow out of things we’ve been told, or do they come out of left field and leave us feeling cheated. I’m going to try to figure this out. Let’s begin.

To start, let’s admit that we really don’t know anything more about the red signals than we did in episode one. This episode speculates that the Red Angel is creating them and then using them to get Starfleet’s attention. That seems to be a stretch. The Red Angel does not appear to be present every time the signals appear. The signals are still a mystery.

Okay, what about the Red Angel? After all, it pretty quickly began to supercede the Red Signals in the story.

As the episode begins, we find out that Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman) has come across code that was implanted in Airiam’s system by a digital parasite. It is here she finds a file labeled “Project Daedalus.” The file contains a bio-neural signature from the Red Angel, which is a match for Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green). That’s a shocking revelation.

Side bar: Was Tilly working in a sandbox environment? Given the nature of the future AI, it would seem that any trace of its code would be be extremely dangerous. In fact, Saru (Doug Jones) points out that Section 31 ships had all performed scans to make sure that the future AI had not infected their systems. Presumably Discovery ran the same scan. Apparently those diagnostics couldn’t detect code injected by a digital parasite. And Leland  (Alan Van Sprang) might agree. If he survives being stabbed in the eye.

But, back to the Red Angel. Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) performs tests on Commander Burnham and says that every test shows a 100% match between Burnham and the bio-neural signature found in the Project Daedalus file. He assures Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) that he could detect if the signature had been artificially created. This assures us, the audience, that this is a fact we can build on. Yet, the information we have by the end of the episode would lead us to believe it was not Michael Burnham’s signature, but that of Burnham’s mother. Was Culber incorrect? Is the signature so broad that it covers both parent and child? That would certainly make the tests next to useless. Or have we been mis-directed once again?

Analyzing information supplied by Section 31, Stamets (Anthony Rapp) explains that the time travel suit works by creating a micro wormhole that the suit can go through. He explains that, because wormholes are inherently unstable, the suit generates a protective membrane that travels with the suit. Essentially, the suit is tethered to its starting point — a point in the future. And that this is how the future AI is slipping through to the past. We also learn that Michael Burnham’s parents created the Red Angel suit. But, since the suit was created several years in the past by Burnham’s parents, just how far in the future could its origin point be?

As mentioned, Leland reveals to Burnham that her birth parents were the ones who developed the Red Angel suit. He also says that he was inadvertently responsible for their deaths at the hands of the Klingons on Doctari Alpha. For years, Burnham has lived with the belief that she was responsible for their deaths, as she had begged them to stay on the planet to see a nearby supernova explode. Burnham has, in the past, recounted the story of how she, hiding in a closet, had heard the Klingons kill her father, then her mother, then sit down to enjoy the dead family’s meal. So, we, the audience, should accept the fact that young Burnham actually heard her mother being killed. In fact, she recalls the Klingons taking their time to commit the crime. But now that may not have been true.

Finally, Spock (Ethan Peck) believes he has uncovered the secret to determining when and where the Red Angel will appear. The Vulcan surmises that Burnham is the variable. Spock and Burnham explain to Captains Pike and Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) that the Angel appears when Burnham is in danger. Therefore, putting Michael in mortal peril will cause the entity to appear. However, this conclusion does not appear to have any logical backing.

Consider the Angel’s first appearance to young Spock. Burnham was in danger and the Angel appeared to show Spock the young girl’s gruesome end, then showed him where to find young Burnham in order to save her. This would have been the least efficient and even least maternal route to take. Since the Forge creature was scared off by the light and sound of the Vulcan shuttle, there’s a very good chance it would have been scared away simply by the appearance of the Red Angel.

But, you say, perhaps Spock reasoned that the person in the Angel suit thought it would be best if Burnham did not see them. Why, then, did it appear to Burnham when she is injured and trapped on the asteroid?

The Red Angel Burnham falls from the suit.

Another thing odd about the appearance to Burnham on the asteroid is that Captain Pike instantaneously appeared in that same spot where the Commander was looking at the Angel. He would have seen the Angel, too.

But, you say, perhaps it can, for some reason, only be seen by one person at a time. This is not the case. Everyone in the church on Earth saw the Red Angel. And it was seen by both Saru and Siranna when it appeared on Kaminar to disable the Ba’ul ship. Speaking of that appearance, there was also no indication in this appearance that Michael Burnham was in any immediate danger. She was on board Discovery.

In the end, when the Red Angel is trapped on Essof IV and Michael Burnham’s mother (Sonja Sohn) emerges from the suit, it is shocking. But I don’t see how it was earned. Perhaps, in the remaining episodes, we will see the pieces turn in a different direction, so they can ultimately fit nicely into place.

Next episode: Perpetual Infinity

Random Thoughts and Observations:

  • The Red Angel guided Spock to a remote planet and showed him a vision of armageddon on a galactic scale. Why the long trip?
  • During the funeral scene, we see that Discovery is capable of running on autopilot. Is this a foreshadowing of the events in the “Short Treks” episode “Calypso”? There, the unmanned ship has maintained position for a thousand years.
  • Aspects of Airiam’s funeral were very reminiscent of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” That movie continues to be a major touchstone for Trek productions.
  • Are we stuck in a time-travel loop? The AI sneaks in from the future, infects Airiam and used her to upload information from the sphere into Control, so that Control can evolve. Does that mean the future AI is an evolved Control? If so, why does it need to come back to get information into this version of the system?
  • Saru says that Control was only used by Section 31. In the previous episode Admiral Cornwell said Control was not accepting her input. She said that once the red signals started to appear, Admiral Patar lobbied Starfleet to have decision-making turned entirely over to Control. One would assume that Control was issuing threat assessment decisions to Starfleet. If it were not, wouldn’t all of Starfleet be concerned?
  • What is Georgiou up to with Stamets and Culber? Is she just amusing herself?
  • It was a nice beat to have Spock forgive Burnham and watch her take a breath, as a weight is lifted from her shoulders.
  • Burnham’s parents believed that certain technological leaps, including ones on Earth, were not the result of happenstance, but time travel. That sounds like an Erich von Daniken “Chariots of the Gods” line of reasoning.

“My memories aren’t going anywhere.” — Star Trek Discovery review, “Project Daedalus” s2e9

Airiam and her husband on their honeymoon
Star Trek: Discovery, season 2, episode 9
“Project Daedalus”
Review by Clinton

If you’re like me, you’ve long wondered who, or what, is Lt. Commander Airiam (Hannah Cheesman). This episode gave us answers. Just enough answers to serve the needs of the story. That may seem frustrating, but it’s actually a very good thing.

Chekhov (the Russian playwright, not the Russian Enterprise officer) wrote “One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn’t going to go off. It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep.” Essentially, if you show or say something in your story, it should be there for a reason. If not, remove it. In “Project Daedalus,” author Michelle Paradise and director Jonathan Frakes don’t waste a single beat on information that does not fit into the story they need to tell.

By seeing Airiam in her quarters, perform her weekly review of recordings to delete or save, it immediately tells us two things. First, that she has limited storage capacity. And second, she values certain things above others. We also see what appears to be her most precious memory, that of her with her late husband on a beach, just before he was killed and she was severely injured. When Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman) arrives at the commander’s quarters, the two friends discuss a small bottle of sand that sits on a table. The sand does not specifically come into play in the story, but, as “Chekhov’s Gun” suggests, it serves a purpose. It indicates that Airiam is changing. Perhaps it is because she is becoming more comfortable in her new “skin.” Or maybe whatever is wrong with the commander is affecting her in other ways. We don’t get all the answers here. We have learned just enough to serve the story. Anything more would be nice, but not essential.

To the bigger question of what Airiam is, we get limited information here, too. She tells Tilly that she is “cybernetically augmented.” Do we need to know by how much? No. (Although the actress says she was told that Airiam is sixty-seven percent human). By knowing that she is human, we can assume certain things, including the fact that she is still subject to all the failings and emotions of our species and that she is not invincible.

Perhaps the height of this need-to-know aspect of the story is Airiam’s conversation with Commander Nhan (Rachael Ancheril). Airiam observes that the Barzan security chief requires apparatus to breathe in a human atmosphere. The inquiry pays off during the battle on the space station.

Meanwhile, in the parallel, but seemingly unrelated story, Spock (Ethan Peck) continues to seethe like an animal trapped in a maze. He has become obsessed with attempting to understand why the so-called Red Angel chose him for a mind meld. He wonders why he was selected to receive a horrific vision of the end of all sentient life in the galaxy, and what he can possibly do to prevent the apocalypse.

Spock and Burnham play chess.

Disengaged from logic, Spock lashes out at Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), who is only trying to help Spock think clearly. Spock reminds Burnham that she is responsible for the Federation/Klingon war and makes her relive the death of her parents while she, a young child, was trapped behind a door.

You were unable to save them. It is illogical for you to think otherwise, yet you do. As you believed you could save my family from logic extremists. When, in truth, they despised us because of me — the half-human abomination. Your presence was beside the point.

Spock also makes an observation about Stamets’ (Anthony Rapp) relationship with Dr. Culber that is a thinly-veiled reference to the Vulcan’s own attitude towards his adoptive sister.

I submit that your assessment of the situation may be inverted. Perhaps he needs distance from you not because he no longer has feelings for you, but because he no longer knows how to feel about himself.

Spock is currently a sort of mirror version of his half-brother Sybok. Whereas Sybok found his leap beyond logic to be freeing, Spock appears to see it as being untethered from reality. This is also quite true of much of Nimoy’s time as Spock. Only later in the Vulcan’s life did he come to appreciate all that being both Vulcan and human had to offer.

All these elements come together in the climax of the story. Airiam, attempting to upload data that must not reach its source, has to have her emotional defenses broken by Tilly with memories of all that it means to be human. Then, faced with opening the airlock to jettison Airiam, Burnham rages against the prospect and tries to find some way to save the commander. Spock realizes his sister must face that which she dreads most of all. For the sake of everyone, he pleads with Burnham to surrender to Airiam’s wishes and open the airlock.

As the commander drifts off in the vacuum of space, all the chaotic sounds from a few moments before quickly fade away. The last thing we see is Airiam looking at the most important memory Tilly sent to her friend — Airiam’s last day with her new husband. Her last day in the sun.

You knew all you needed to know to have it all pack an emotional punch.

Next episode: The Red Angel

Random Thoughts and Observations:

  • Once again, Nhan dons the security red shirt and lives to fight another day.
  • Is this the first time the words “Vulcan nerve pinch” have been used on “Star Trek”? I don’t have an answer to that one. It just seemed to stand out.
  • If Control can alter the information on a video to make it appear one hundred percent accurate, there is an issue.
  • It seems odd to have a logic extremist, like Admiral Patar (Tara Nicodemo), in such a high position at Control.
  • Tilly seemed oddly self-centered in her awkward comments to Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) about not being a fugitive.
  • Speaking of Tilly, while she is refraining from swearing on the bridge, Pike (Anson Mount) is all “shitstorm.”
  • We finally get Admiral Cornwell’s explanation of why Enterprise was sidelined during the war. Do we buy it?
  • I enjoyed Spock’s line “Let’s play chess.” played up like he and Burnham were about to have a duel to the death.
  • Peck’s Spock may seem inconsistent with that of Nimoy’s original Spock. However, at its core, it is very much in line with Sarek, as portrayed by James Frain. This mirrors the attitudes displayed by Nimoy and TOS’s Sarek, Mark Lenard.

“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.


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.