Admiral, there be SPOILERS here!
At first, I was going to title this blog “Has STAR TREK: DISCOVERY Finally Got Its Groove Back?” Then I realized that it never really had a grove during season one…at least for me.
But the series does seem to have found a new groove that began with the first episode of season two and has continued now into its fourth episode, “An Obol for Charon.” And for anyone wondering what the heck that means, an Obol is an ancient Greek coin that was put in the mouth of a corpse before burial to be taken down to the underworld and used to pay Charon, the Ferryman, for a trip across the River Styx. (Speaking of which, how awesome was this song from 1982?)
Now, the episode itself wasn’t as good the second episode of season two, but it was better than the third episode. And it felt infinitely more Star Trek-like than nearly the entire first season. In fact, let’s take a look at how Star Trek is working its way back into Discovery…
CANON RESTORATION TOUR 2019
The Star Trek: Discovery “Canon Restoration Tour 2019” continued this week as we watch the writers valiantly trying to extricate themselves from many of the headaches they created for the show in season one by asking the innocent question, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?”
For example, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we had holograms for communications? No more just seeing a face on a flat view screen; we can have the whole person standing right there on the bridge!” Cool? Yes. Canon? Um, no.
Now, I doubt all but the most hardcore Trekkies would have objected to a little reasonable “updating” of what 1966 considered to be future tech. But while some Trek fans had no problem with holographic communications ten years before Kirk, others felt like it was an unnecessary introduction of a communications technology that wasn’t seen even a century later in TNG, DS9, or Voyager. Dare I say it…a bridge too far? (Ouch! Sorry.)
And so now the writers are trying to write themselves out of these apparently failed attempts to “future up” the past (the past from Kirk’s perspective). For instance, the familiar TOS three-color uniforms with the black collars are apparently Starfleet’s “new” uniforms, which Enterprise crewman get to wear while Discovery is stuck wearing the old style. “Uniform problem fixed! Now to tackle the next anachronism.”
While I appreciate their effort putting right what once went wrong, I do still have the occasional “Man, but that is just so dumb!” reaction from time to time. So please indulge me a brief airing of the grievances before I let it go and move on…
Last week, we discovered that the Klingons cut their hair when they go to war and let it grow back when they stop fighting. Really? Unless battles are fought by pulling hair, this seems like a lot of wasted effort to shave all body hair and wax during wartime. Me? I’d cut my hair when there’s NO fighting going on and, therefore, more free time. Also, we’ve seen the Klingons of TNG and DS9 go to war with lots of hair on their bumpy noggins.
This week, it was those darn holographic communications. Pike said they looked too much like ghosts; and he prefers view screens. (Hey, I prefer a computer mouse and satellite TV. But I’m old.) So the writers tried to explain away a century of Starfleet not using holograms for communications…or rather, just the original USS Enterprise from TOS. T’see, apparently the holographic communications system cascaded through ALL of the systems on the Enterprise and “Old Man Pike” didn’t like holograms anyway and had them permanently removed. (Yep, just like my telephone breaks my microwave and shuts down the power to my refrigerator! We’d all better stop using phones, people!!)
Of course, we now ALSO have to believe that Captain Kirk was the same kind of technophobe and never asked that bungling engineer Scotty to reinstall the holograms to keep up with the latest technology. And the brand new Galaxy-class flagship of the Federation a century later…Picard didn’t like holograms either? Oh, wait, he loved the holodeck. Man, don’t get me started!!!
Anyway, the storytelling contortions aren’t all quite that ridiculous. The fact that Burnham was so awful to Spock during his developmental years could conceivably explain why he never talked about his human adopted sister in over 100 hours of Star Trek episodes and movies. Hopefully, they don’t kiss and make up by the end of this current season…although I actually want them to.
Also, I pretty much expected a “the magic mushroom drive is tearing apart the mycelial network” plot line to explain why Starfleet in future centuries doesn’t use the most effective form of interstellar and intergalactic travel EVER! Although one might still wonder why, once the Voyager was found, Starfleet didn’t build one more Discovery-class ship (ancient tech by that point) to mount a one-time rescue mission? Maybe they could have found a way to ask the mushroom beings for permission for just two quick jumps to the Delta Quadrant and back.
As you can see, violating canon for a show with nearly 700 hours of established episodes and movies is rife with a cascade of plot holes. If only they’d set Discovery in the future, like they will with the new Picard series….but they didn’t.
However, this episode did do something positive for Trek canon that I didn’t even realize needed fixing. Remember all those episodes of TNG and DS9 where the library computer has records of planets and civilizations and empires that existed hundreds of millennia ago? How exactly does the Federation database have such thorough information? I mean, sure, archaeologists of today can tell us about societies from 5,000 or 10,000 years ago. But 100,000 years? That’s a looooong time. Well, now we know where all that Federation historical information came from. So score one for the writers.
Oh, and did folks notice that this latest episode finally establishes that Stamets is NOT the chief engineer of the Discovery. That kind of makes sense (although I think many of us had assumed it) because Stamets was originally brought into the project only to develop the spore drive, not because he was an expert in warp propulsion or fixing the turbolifts. That said, one wonders why, after 17 episodes (not counting the first two), we have NEVER once seen or heard from the chief engineer of the USS Discovery. Shouldn’t he have been talking to Stamets and Captain Lorca constantly…just like Scotty or Geordi did to their captains?
And speaking of engineers…
BANTER’S BACK BIG TIME, BABY!
In my opinion, the following scene could NEVER have happened last season…
This is not to say that Discovery needs to become a comedy or even try for gags as often as The Orville does. But Star Trek has always had at least one EPS conduit plugged directly into humor. Whether it was “The Trouble with Tribbles” or simply making fun of Spock at the end of an episode—whether it was “Mr. Adventure” locked in a closet or “A double dumb-ass on you!”—whether it was Data growing a beard to look like Riker, Q’s latest quip, Quark’s latest scam, or Neelix’s latest culinary experiment, Star Trek was always able to laugh at itself, giving the audience a chance to laugh along.
Now, I understand that season one was all about a hard-fought war (although we saw surprisingly little of it in the show)…but then again, so was M*A*S*H. In fact, some might say that humor is one of the ways soldiers have of staring down the soul-crushing horrors of war. Just watch Good Morning, Vietnam. Heck, even Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers had at least a little bit of light banter between the shooting and explosions. Keeping banter mostly out of season one was, I feel, a huge mistake by the writers, and I am ecstatic that they’ve not only brought it in for season two, but they’ve embraced it and injected into the life support vents of the ship itself.
CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?
Why, yes…yes we can! Remember back when Michael Burnham first came aboard Discovery and everyone hated her? No one would talk to her except Tilly…mainly because no one talked to Tilly either. Ah, look at all the dysfunctional people. The chief of security was a heartless witch (not much different than her Mirror Universe counterpart, come to think of it). Saru had deep-seeded issues with Burnham, blaming her for Captain Georgiou’s death, the loss of his mentor, the major speed bump in his expected career path, etc. Saru didn’t trust Burnham, and he was actually rather afraid of her (as he seemed to be afraid of almost everything–although at least we now know what that whole “my people sense the coming of death” mishegoss from season one was all about).
Compare those screwed up officers from last season to the crew in this episode and the ones just before it. With the exception of one snarky comment from Stamets to Tilly when she tires to talk to him about his dead lover/doctor, Pike’s misinterpreting the bridge crew’s reaction when he wants to mount (pun unintended) a rescue attempt in the asteroid field, and Saru’s irritated scolding of Tilly when she went all May-nic (manic) on the bridge and yelled at Pike…there have been no harsh confrontations or frictions between any two crew members this season. No interpersonal angst, no social dysfunction. It’s so unlike season one as to be an almost unrecognizable show now!
That’s not to say that everyone is a shining, happy person all the time. Burnham still mopes and frets about Spock. Saru had his whole “I accept I am going to die” storyline this episode. Tilly needed to deal with her May-levolent May-nifestation, and Stamets is still getting over the murder of his pajama buddy.
But the show has evolved. That resentment that Saru had for Burnham seems to have all-but-disappeared…to be replaced with a brother/sister closeness so intense that Saru even asked Michael to euthanize him because Saru himself was too weak. Granted, I’m not exactly sure when those two traded in their swords for plowshares—must’ve happened sometime between the episode where Saru had his freak-out and the end of last season—but I much prefer crewmates helping and supporting each other (even if that support means filleting them with a ritualistic knife). The same thing goes for Stamets’ tender moment with Tilly (also involving a sharp instrument next to her head—what IS it with this episode????). But their musical Bowie duet was a magical moment that would have seemed like an alien language to the writers of season one.
Granted, it’s not as though the crew doesn’t occasionally have their little tense moments or disagreements. The difference is that this season, they don’t last long. Just 45 seconds after the above scene where Stamets and Reno get into a short flame war, the following happens…
Snarkiness and resentment quickly turn into teamwork and mutual respect. And really, isn’t that what we want to see on a starship? Isn’t Star Trek the ideal we all want to aspire to?
IT’S BEGINNING TO FEEL A LOT LIKE STAR TREK…
Well, I should probably say “feel a lot MORE like Star Trek.” Although no one wants Star Trek to just be the same all the time, it’s still nice to touch base with the familiar from time to time. And this episode had four VERY familiar storylines…all woven into one.
The first, of course, was the sick or dying main character, like Spock in “Amok Time” or McCoy in “For the World Is Hollow…” The second was the ship being slowly destroyed by a spatial anomaly or a cosmic string or an alien entity. Much like the TNG episode “Disaster,” parts of the ship were cut off, forcing characters into crisis situations where they had to work together or call on their inner strength to save themselves and each other. Third, there was the misunderstood alien lifeform who appears to be attacking the ship but is really just trying to communicate or something. And fourth, there’s the mysterious alien entity trying to take over the mind of one of the main characters.
The first three ended in typical Star Trek fashion. The dying officer drew on his inner strength to help save the day…and he ultimately survives. The crew manages to save the ship through a combination of ingenuity, bravery, and some technobabble. And finally, the crew needs to overcome their impulses to simply shoot and kill the alien entity because we’re better than that, right? Granted, Pike was ready to pull the trigger, but once confronted by Burnham and Saru, Pike chose to trust his crew and make his ship vulnerable to avoid killing. It was total Star Trek.
Then again, the fourth plot line did NOT end as typical Trek. Rather than rescuing Tilly from the Mycelial May-ssenger of May-hem (seriously, I need ti stop with the May-puns!), Stamets and Reno fail, and the spores Tilly-nap our second-favorite Star Trek crazy red-head. So 75% familiar and expected, and 25% unexpected. That’s a healthy ratio.
The last thing this episode did that made me say, “Now THAT’S a Star Trek!” was the focus on Saru. Discovery usually just focuses on Burnham (or maybe Tilly), leaving many, MANY other characters mostly unexplored. At best, they’d get a B-story or else be a part of Burnham’s A-story. But back in the other Treks, there would be a Scotty episode or a Troi episode or an O’Brien episode or a Tuvok episode. Each character got their chance. And this time it was Saru, with magnificent performances by Doug Jones (yet again!). Perhaps there were a touch too many slow-talking scenes with Burnham, but the actors carried them. And not everything on this show needs to flash by at ludicrous speed…unlike season one!
My one complaint about this episode was very minor: “We interrupt our search for Spock to bring you another captivating episode of Star Trek: Discovery.” I realize it’s only been four episodes—and not even that—but doesn’t it feel like we’ve been tracking down Spock for much longer? I know we’ll see him in episode 7, but will there be yet another two Spock-less episodes? I hope not!!!
So this season, we’ve now gone four for four as the series fixes more and more things that were so wrong in season one. The Discovery Recovery continues…!