SPOILERS? WE’VE GOT A FEW. BUT THEN AGAIN, TOO FEW TO MENTION…
Along with much of the United States this past week, hell has frozen over yet again as Jonathan Lane writes a THIRD consecutive mostly-positive blog about STAR TREK: DISCOVERY! Granted, my first blog of season two was more noncommittal…yet hopeful. But my second blog was 100% raving praise.
So what about the third episode, “Point of Light”?
I wasn’t prepared to like it. In fact, after watching the manic first three minutes where the camera NEVER ONCE STOPPED MOVING (seriously, watch it again), I was feeling carsick…or maybe starship sick. I knew the Klingons were coming this episode, and I really hated them and their incessant subtitles in season one.
So I was prepared to write a blog titled “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad…” or “Well, that Didn’t Last Long…” full of disappointment that Discovery had stumbled and slipped back into the same old problems. I began to mentally compose my opening complaint that saying, “Attention: trainee half-marathon approaching!” should NEVER be followed by turning OUT the lights so you can’t see what’s coming! “Starfleet stupidity or just idiotic writing?”
Yep, I was totally gonna write a blog like that—but then Amanda happened…
AMANDA, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE???
When it came to Michael Burnham’s adopted family, season one was dominated by Sarek, played by JAMES FRAIN. I didn’t hate his portrayal…nor did I love it. Like most of the characters on the show, I just didn’t really care about him at all. Granted, it’s hard to play a Vulcan and not seem like you’re a tree. But Leonard Nimoy, Mark Lenard, Tim Russ, Gary Graham, and a few others have managed to pull it off…so it’s not impossible.
On the other hand, MIA KIRSCHNER did more to make me care about Amanda Grayson, Spock’s human mother, in just 12 minutes of scenes from this one episode than Frain did for Sarek in the seven episodes he appeared in. Kirshner’s Amanda is an impressive woman—smart, resourceful, confident, cunning, focused, charming, and most of all, dedicated to her son and adopted daughter. And yet, at the same time, Kirshner’s Amanda carried a vulnerability, a guilt and regret about letting down and damaging her son by not being more emotionally available to him as he grew up.
Of course, when (SPOILER ALERT!) Burnham admits she was the one who wounded Spock emotionally (if such a thing can be done to a Vulcan), Amanda’s response was intricate and nuanced. I’ve watched the scene four times now and am still peeling the layers from the onion of it. The subdued shock (from years practicing how not to show emotion?), the pain of realization, the kiss (a kiss of forgiveness, of understanding/support, or a kiss goodbye to their relationship as mother and daughter?), and Amanda’s decision to find Spock without Michael’s help…all of this played in such complexity through an amazing performance. If only SONEQUA MARTIN-GREEN could find the” handle” on her character of Michael Burnham, but it’s still eluding her as an actress (more on than in a future blog).
Amanda has rapidly become my second-favorite character on the series after Pike. And I now care about her search for Spock (yeah, I went there) because I now care about her. And speaking of Spock, I’m now almost buying the implied explanation of why Spock in the prime universe never mentioned his adoptive sister in 80 live-action TOS episodes, 22 animated episodes, six movies, two TNG episodes, three Kelvin-verse episodes, and countless novels and comic book stories.. If Michael did wound him that deeply, then the resentment might keep him from discussing her even with his captain and crew mates. On the other hand, isn’t resentment a human emotion? We’ll see…
DISCO KLINGONS 2.0
Okay, I titled this blog with “Klingon Kourse Correction” and just spent four paragraphs talking about Amanda…although this was also a course correction to prepare for the arrival of Spock (who AKIVA GOLDSMAN once said would never appear on Discovery).
But of course, Discovery‘s most kontroversial decision was to completely redesign the Klingons from the make-up to the armor to the battlecruisers. I remember cringing when I saw this…
That looked NOTHING like a Klingon D7. For all the desperate promises to fans from the writers and producers that “This is the PRIME TIMELINE…we swear to you it is!”—this was perhaps the crown jewel of the “no it’s not!” movement (well, until the USS Enterprise showed up).
But now in season two, with the 20/20 hindsight that many production design decisions from season one were, shall we say, ill-advised, the creators have decided to do a little RE-rebooting and gave us our first Klingon scene of the new season with this “Gee, we’re REALLY sorry about the whole D7 thing” opening …
And that’s not the only Klingon kourse korrection the show-runners have provided to the fans. The Klingons now have their hair back! Apparently, if you can believe it, they shave their heads during times of war. Of course, since the Klingons are a warrior race, one might safely assume they should be bald ALL the time ’cause, D’UH, warrior race! (If anything, the last four seasons of Deep Space Nine now need some major digital hair-removal to remain in canon.)
But hey, at least the Klingons are hairy again…which looks SO much more savage and menacing. Similarly, the Klingon costumes have been toned down quite a bit from their elaborate armor that made it nearly impossible for any warrior to raise their arms higher than shoulder length. Now the Klingon attire looks much more practical…and therefore believable!
Also, although it’s much more subtle, the make-up has been adjusted slightly to make the head ridges look a little smoother and closer to what we’ve seen from Star Trek: The Motion Picture onward. You can see this most clearly in the above image showing a side-by-side comparison of L’Rell from Season 1 and Season 2. Her features are a bit “softer,” and like a number of the other Klingons featured this episode, her skin color is less gray. That colorless skin tone was perhaps the most dissonant of all the non-canon changes to the Klingons. They all looked albino! But now, at least some of them are becoming more flesh-toned…including L’Rell. She’s still got more of a brownish/beige pallor, but at least she’s finally got SOME color!
But for me, the BEST change to the Klingons—the one thing I’ve been waiting for since the pilot—was THIS moment…
Nothing bothered me more during the first season than having to read those damn ALLL CAPS translations of the spoken Klingon for two or three minute scenes! And the producers were well aware that I wasn’t alone. Also, the actors were not thrilled having to learn pages and pages of dialog in a completely made-up language.
This episode actually did a couple of “head-fakes” with the language barrier by first starting the episode with “Previously on Star Trek: Discovery” spoken in Klingon and subtitled in English. Ha, ha…very clever. Then during one of the early scenes, an angry Klingon disgusted by Voq/Tyler being a human (or just disgusted by the worst beard ever!) decides to speak in Terran Standard (English) as a form of insult. Thank God for insulting Klingons! But by the end of the episode, we had the above scene putting the final bat’leth (I hope) into those aggravating subtitled scenes.
THERE IS A FUNGUS AMONG US!
Ah, Tilly, Tilly, Tilly…
The “imaginary friend” plot went from intriguing to aggravating to excruciating VERY quickly. Last episode, it was fun figuring out that May was more of a May-not, and that Tilly was seeing dead people. I figured it had something to do with the Mycelial Network, but I’d completely forgotten about the (SPORE-ILER ALERT!) stray spore that landed on Tilly’s shoulder last season. So good on the writers for surprising me…which is hard to do on this show (I saw Georgiou coming a mile away).
However, before the surprise reveal, we had to endure scenes that were increasingly more reminiscent of I Love Lucy (the other “crazy redhead” of Star Trek). Although it was fun watching Tilly trying to ignore the May-nefestation (someone stop me!) and doing a decent job of it, I just knew there was gonna be an outburst right in front of the captain and everyone else. And I knew she wasn’t gonna say anything to explain it and that the crew would all react with disgust and scorn rather than wondering what was wrong with Tilly. The gag scene had to happen, and I accept that. I just didn’t like it. In a galaxy full of entities that control people’s minds (something Pike has had personal experience with by this point), an outburst like Tilly’s should result in an order to go directly to sickbay…for the safety of the ship.
Fortunately for me and for the episode, the next Tilly scene moved the plot forward quickly rather than stretching it out. Yes, May is a mushroom…a walking, talking mushroom. Fortunately for Sylvia Tilly, Stamets isn’t just a fun guy, he’s also smart enough to build a Ghostbusters proton gun and suck that ‘shroom right outta her hair.
THE EMPRESS’S NEW BADGE
Sooooo…Section 31, huh? I’ll admit to thinking it was an ultra-cool idea back in the final two seasons of Deep Space Nine. And it was handled well in the last season of Enterprise. But as for Discovery, I’m still on the fence.
The thing about a super-secret organization that runs clandestine missions for faceless, nameless puppet-masters in unmarked rooms with mysterious, arbitrary agendas is that such super-secret organizations are supposed to be, y’know, SECRET! Having a special codeword or secret handshake, I can totally get onboard with that. But having your own black badge that everyone knows means “Section 31”? That’s kind of like wearing this T-shirt…
Also, I’m a little wary of the super-tech. A little James Bondage (oooo, that doesn’t sound right) is fine. A car that turns into a submarine? I’m totally down with that. A care that turns invisible? That pushed it a little far for me.
So it is with Section 31. As long as their tech doesn’t get too far ahead of the mid-23rd century, I’ll be able to accept them. (Granted, the Discovery has a magic mushroom drive that takes you anywhere in the universe in zero seconds. So there’s that.) This episode began pushing the envelope a bit with the synthesized neuro-mapping and genetic coding at the end, but I’m going with it…for now, at least.
Oh, and did anyone notice this…?
Yep, the new Section 31 spy-ship is just a redress of the bridge of the USS Shenzhou from the pilot and also the Mirror Universe Shenzhou episodes. Way to save money, guys! (Seriously, this show is WAY over budget! People got fired for that. Saving money is a good thing.) Also, since the Shenzhou was a Starfleet ship and so is the Section 31 spy-ship, it makes sense that they’d share the same tech…although the Shenzhou was an older vessel, implying that Section 31 might not be quite as advanced as we’re meant to think.
And then there’s the Empress. Don’t get me wrong; I love Michelle Yeoh as a actor. And I loved her Captain Philippa Georgiou—despite the Greek name for an obviously Chinese character. (No need to be ethnically “predictable” 240 years in the future; I was fie with that.) But the decision to make her Mirror Universe doppelgänger the sadistic dictatorial leader of the Terran Empire—that I always thought was idiotic and annoying, despite the opportunities for conflict and drama with Burnham.
So now, whenever I see the evil Empress walk on screen with her sneer and swagger, I’m reminded how much I detest the character. And it’s not an “I love to hate her” kinda thing. I sincerely detest the character, despite adoring the actor.
So what do I do? For now, I’m giving her scenes a chance. Maybe Empress Black-Ops will grow on me. Already, there was a quick (albeit clumsily done) glance into Georgiou’s humanity with her brief smile at Voq/Tyler’s baby before he turns and she puts her poker face back on. If the show can figure out how to handle this character—and if they trim Tyler’s rabbinic beard—I might just be able to handle that new Section 31 TV series.
TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE?
I hate to end on a down note, but this week’s rumors that Discovery might be canceled can’t be ignored. If true, then it can be argued (and has been all over the Internet) that CBS has no one to blame but themselves. And I’ll probably chime in about that topic in another blog (as this one’s getting pretty long).
But I will say that, if Discovery‘s second season is its last, I will mourn the series. I would NOT have said that last season! As such, that’s a huge step forward for this series. I still don’t think of Discovery as “Star Trek,” per se—despite last week’s “New Eden,” which was definitely Star Trek. But for me, Star Trek doesn’t show decapitated baby heads. And as good as this episode was, and as many nods to Trek trivia as there were (Vulcan’s ShiKar, Klingon monks on Boreth), it just didn’t feel like Star Trek as it’s been.
That doesn’t mean I don’t like where Discovery is going. If this is the new direction of Star Trek—or a new direction, at least—I now want to see more. As the old saying from Robocop goes: “I’d buy that for a dollar!” Well, with the 20% off discount I’m currently getting for the first three months of my All Access subscription, I now AM buying each episode of Discovery for a dollar. Is it worth it? Last season, I would have said no. This season, so far, I say yes.
So it would certainly be a shame if there will only be eleven more episodes of Discovery. But at least other new Star Trek projects have been announced. The last time a Star Trek TV series was canceled, we got nothing new for four long years!