It’s a no-win situation
I don’t believe in those
I understand why a lot of hardcore Trekkies and Trekkers don’t like nu-Trek. It’s too fast. It’s too Star Wars. It’s too actiony. Plot gets sacrificed to action, and what makes Trek Trek gets lost in the mix. Instead of long scenes discussing Treknobabble solutions to problems around a conference table, all discussion is had in the middle of firefights or running down corridors.
All of these criticisms are valid. And yet, I, as an ardent Trekkie (I can’t claim the title of Trekker because that belongs to a special class of superfans) actually really like Discovery, and not in spite of these differences with classic Trek, but in some cases, because of them.
In some way, though, Kurtzman and crew have their own Kobayashi Maru to confront when making this show – please the hardcore fans while trying to appeal to what they think modern TV audiences demand. Discovery has struggled with that balance since the beginning. I’ve been alternately infuriated and enthralled by the show since Season 1, but in my opinion, the show succeeds far more than it fails, especially since season 2. Except for the Mirror Universe stuff. But let’s not talk about that. Hopefully all that’s done with, although the show will be slightly lesser without Michelle Yeoh.
On to this episode. Instead of doing a full recap here, I want to instead analyze what works and what doesn’t work.
In short, a lot of this episode works well, but some of it fails pretty hard, in a lot of the ways that nu-Trek has an unfortunate tendency to fail.
- The scenes on the Dilithium planet, in particular between Saru and Su’Kal. Doug Jones may be the best thing that has happened to Trek in a very long time. His tender and empathic work trying to help Su’Kal deal with his trauma is so very real and touching, and the way Su’Kal alternately warms to and rejects Saru’s attention just works. Su’Kal’s gradual opening to Saru, and how that is mirrored by his need to approach and open the literal door to reality – it’s all just so, so well done.
- And then there’s Adira and Gray. I’ve adored these two and their authentic chemistry since we were first introduced to them. Adira is such a kind and complex soul, and their struggle to deal with Gray’s ephemeral presence and what it all means is just astoundingly good. As a gay married man with a trans teen, I really identify with the Stamets-Culber-Adira-Gray dynamic. I believe this relationship is one of the best ways that Trek could have possibly made up for 60 years of LGBTQ erasure in its shows and movies (much better than the Abramsverse’s tokenizing of Sulu), and I seriously applaud the showrunners for building something so authentic and beautiful. And this episode – with Culber finally able to see Gray, and embracing him…and then at the end where Gray realizes he’s going to disappear again…I’m not ashamed to say I got a little misty.
- The way the episode tries to give the whole crew some focus and shine, especially when they’re all struggling to breathe and to reach the nacelle to blow the ship out of warp. Each character gets a good moment here, even those we don’t see very often. Owo, in particular, is just great here, but let’s not give short shrift to Tilly and Detmer. The plot they’re working with may not make a ton of sense, but all of the actors are acting the hell out of it, and that makes it work.
- The ending. Damn right, Burnham should be captain. About fracking time. And the scene of her walking onto the bridge with everyone wearing the new uniforms, and how they all look at her, and how she sits in the captain’s chair – yes. Yes yes yes. And let’s not forget to give a grin to the TOS theme playing over the credits.
On to what doesn’t work.
In contrast to the tender and thoughtful scenes on the Dilithium planet, much of the rest of the episode plays like a Bond film on fast forward. I know in a lot of my reviews I call the baddie a Bond villain, but that’s because so many of them are. They’re one-dimensional, power-hungry, head-waggling cliches with maybe a tiny bit of flavor thrown in for a little variety. In the last episode, Discovery got so close to giving Osyraa more than one dimension, but this episode throws all that out the window. Once again, she’s just a generic bad guy bent on power for power’s sake, and not afraid to hurt anyone she needs to in the process. Yawn.
There are just way too many moments in this show that are so…so very bad. I won’t list them all, but here are a few:
- The interior of the Turbolift shafts being the size of a damn city. No, sorry, there’s just no way the interior of the ship looks like that. Also, why are so many of the Turbolifts moving? How many of Osyraa’s regulators really need to get from one part of the ship to another in that moment? Blargh.
- What the hell did Osyraa push Burnham into in the data core? It looked like one of those push-pin things you’d mash your hand into to get a push-pin hand. And then Burnham’s just like “whatever, bam, you’re dead, and I’m out of the push-pins?” No. Dumb.
- The idea that Osyraa is stupid enough not to know that Burnham can create a force field in sickbay and then use that to somehow escape. Blargh.
- Ok, this one really pisses me off. In the last episode, we learn that the Sphere Data has been saved in the little “dot 23” robots, and the cute little Wall-E guys are going to help the crew take back the ship. In this episode, those robots are relegated to running around shooting stuff and then getting shot themselves, with absolutely no reference to the Sphere Data. What happened to that? Dropped plot threads, especially big ones like this, really annoy me. Ok, sure, the end scene where the one little robot saves Owo from the explosion, calling back to the adorable animated Short Trek from a while ago – that was really a cool touch.
- The continuing criminal underutilization of Tig Notaro. I adore Tig, and I want to see more of her all the time. In this episode, she’s relegated to the end scene montage. Blargh.
- Saru and crew being rescued seconds before the crashed ship explodes. Can I just once have someone be rescued like, a few minutes before the thing they’re on explodes? It’s such a cliche that it’s a cliche to say it’s a cliche.
Bottom line: Discovery is a damn good show with some huge problems, and I for one am excited for Season 4. Nu-Trek is Trek now, and we really just all have to embrace that fact. It’s not like TNG was perfect (ghost sex anyone?) And may I remind you of the OUTRAGE that Trek fans had when the new ship and uniforms were unveiled way back in 1987?
Trek evolves, and if we really love it, we need to embrace what works, call out what doesn’t, and continue to push the showrunners to make it ever better – always constructively, and always with a love for everything that makes Trek great.
Live long and prosper, friends. And a special shout out to any FODs reading this.
7/10 – The stupid is outweighed by the good in this episode, but that doesn’t mean the stupid gets off scot-free.