SPOILERS…GET YER SPOILERS HERE!
Okay, before I get to my review, please indulge me as I provide my own introduction to the sixth episode of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s second season, “The Sounds of Thunder.” And if you haven’t seen the episode yet, you totally will NOT understand this…
Faster than a speeding human…
More powerful than a Ba’ul wrist restraint…
Able to take command when Pike or Lorca aren’t around…
Look, up on the bridge!
It’s a kelp!
It’s a tall, thin alien!
Yes, it’s SARUPERMAN…
Strange fugitive from another planet
Who came to Starfleet and proceeded to learn 90 different languages.
Who can sense the coming of death…
Crush ominous floating robots in his bare hands…
And who, disguised as Commander Saru,
Mild-mannered first officer of the USS Discovery,
Fights a never-ending battle for balance, blueberries, and the Starfleet way.
Okay, now that’s out of my system. On to the review…
Ever since last June when Discovery show-runners Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts were reportedly fired because of cost overruns and also for mistreating the staff writers, fans have been waiting to see what new showrunner and Trek Tsar Alex Kurtzman would do to the series. Would he be the savior who finally straightened out all of the problems with Discovery that made it feel, to many fans, like the show was NOT Star Trek?
Or would Kurtzman proceed to screw things up even worse? Does Kurtzman even “get” Star Trek (as he claims to be a true Trekkie)? After all, this was one of the three writers of Star Trek Into Darkness, a film many fans felt was the worst and weakest of the three reboot Trek movies.
Was Kurtzman to be Discovery‘s salvation or ruination? We would all find out with the sixth episode of season two, Kurtzman’s first episode as showrunner….
I WATCHED IT STRAIGHT THROUGH!
While I can’t speak for other fans, I have been reading several reviews over the past few days, and the verdict seems to be a general thumbs-up for Kurtzman’s showrunner debut…as well as for writers Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt, who will be the co-showrunners on the new Section 31 spinoff series starring Michelle Yeoh. So right there, I now have hope because I, too, very much enjoyed this episode.
Oh, it wasn’t without its problems. But my complaints this time were relatively minor and more the kind of thing that fanboys and girls debate at conventions: like was this episode a violation of the Prime Directive and was Saru’s decision to essentially violate and mutilate every one of his people without warning or consent appropriate or justified as the painful means to a greater end? These are the same kinds of questions Trekkies have been asking about Kirk’s decision to arm the Hill People of Neural with flintlocks or Picard’s decision to tell the Mintakans the truth about the “watchers” who had been watching them.
But despite my little “issues,” I noticed myself doing something this episode that I had never done with ANY Discovery episode so far: I watched it straight through!
As I entered the final act of the episode, I suddenly realized that I’d never before watched an entire episode of Discovery straight through without pausing or taking a break. Sometimes I’d jot down some notes or write a few sentences for the blog. Sometimes I’d go make Jayden dinner or answer some e-mails or IMs, pausing the episode and coming back to it later. Sometimes, I just needed a mental break from either too much input coming at my brain or just an episode I wasn’t enjoying and couldn’t continue watching without some time away.
But this latest episode kept me watching the entire time. Why was that?
SOMETIMES, THE OLD WAYS ARE BETTER…
Despite this latest plot line being mainly about breaking free from old traditions and beliefs, the episode was very much a “traditional” Star Trek formula: focusing the A-story on a single character (and NOT Burnham…thank goodness!), their backstory, and family as they return home. This was Picard going back to the vineyard in France, Worf going back to Qo’Nos, Spock going back to Vulcan for his pon farr, Sisko going back to New Orleans.
Episodes like these are great for developing a single character, especially when there’s a strong actor in the role. Doug Jones did a fantastic job playing a Saru who, while still grounded in the Kelpien persona we knew and loved, was also evolving into something new and intriguing (and perhaps a little scary). I now care more about Saru, even though this new aggressive “Kelpien without fear” might take some getting used to (for me, Saru, and the starship crew).
This episode was also reminiscent of the classic plot where a generally happy planetary society is being controlled by a “bad guy” instilling forced beliefs, forcing the “happy” civilization to stagnate and not achieve their true potential. So Kirk (or Picard or Sisko or Janeway) “solves” the problem and “frees” the planet. Think Kirk destroying Landrau or Vaal or the plant spores on Omicron Ceti III.
Now it’s Pike and Discovery‘s turn…with a twist at the end where we wonder, “Was it really a good idea?” Have Pike and Saru just unleashed a bunch of Kelpiens pumped up with steroids onto an unsuspecting galaxy? Hopefully, they and Saru will learn to control their rage and not turn into an even greater threat than the Ba’ul. (And God help the Ba’ul, am I right?) On the other hand, hope and believing things will work out for the better is exactly what Star Trek is all about…and one of things this series has been sorely lacking.
SOMETIMES, SLOWER IS BETTER!
Last week, I kvetched how the episode had boxes to check off (Chekov?) and proceeded to throw everything plus the kitchen sink and all the spores down in Sporeville into one manic, May-nic episode. This week, however…
Spock who? Section Thirty-what? Who cares?
While those two ongoing subplots were still briefly referenced, the boxes were checked with a small mark, not a huge “HEY, LOOK AT THIS!!!!” So we got the obligatory mention of the ongoing search for Spock, and a few short scenes with Stamets and the regenerated Dr. Hugh (get it?). And Rabbi Tyler-Voq made only short cameos
But aside from that, this episode was all about Saru…and Burnham, of course, because—well, I really have no idea, to be honest. It’s not like she’s even the first officer! Speaking of which, did anyone else notice that this episode finally it official that Saru, not Burnham, is the first officer? Some fans weren’t sure, especially with all the heart-to-heart talks Burnham has with Pike (which he doesn’t have with Saru) and the fact that she always seems to be bossing people around.
Sure, there was still ample Red Angel this episode…the latest dues ex machina to help the writers solve all problems with magic. But this was really Saru’s episode to carry, and the pacing was much more subdued. We got a chance to really see—without a lot of frenetic distractions—Saru’s ascent/descent into super-confidence and roid-rage as he finally grew a pair. (Well, actually, he lost his ganglia…same thing, I guess). We got to meet a new character (Saru’s sister) and a new alien race (not many of those in this series) that finally makes up for the misfire that was Armus in TNG‘s “Skin of Evil.” Now, if only they hadn’t over-distorted the Ba’uls’ voices so much. Man, I almost found myself wishing for Klingon dialog so at least they’d give us subtitles! But I digress…
One of the reasons, I suspect, that I was able to watch this episode all the way through without interruption was because the pacing wasn’t overwhelming. I didn’t need a brain break before watching more. This is not to say that the episode was slow or boring. Things were very exciting in places. But in other places, there was time to breathe, and a chance for the characters to breathe, too. Most of season one and some of season two was completely missing this.
I’D LIKE TO RECOGNIZE ALL THE LITTLE PEOPLE WHO MADE THIS EPISODE POSSIBLE…
Specifically, I want to recognize Lieutenant Commander Airiam and Lieutenant Gen Rhys. And when I say “recognize,” I mean doing more than simply calling them “the robot chick” and “the Asian guy” on the bridge.
Throughout the first season and even into much of the second season, the bridge officers who weren’t listed in the opening credits seemed to be little more than talking props on the bridge, getting a line or two (at most) during an emergency just to show how busy everyone was. Seldom if ever was one actually addressed by name. So we fans had virtually NO IDEA who anyone was or even what to call them. At best, we knew Detmer (the helmswoman with the weird eye). And some of us remembered that the robot chick was Airiam (although few knew how to spell it properly). And don’t even get me started on the tongue-twister Owosekun (now “Owo” for short).
Detmer and Owo finally got their “moments” in the first few episodes of season two, and I think I heard the black guy with the beard get called Bryce at least once. Now we’re getting somewhere! So to continue honoring Pike (or someone else) calling a character by their name so we fans can finally get to know who they are, I’d like to give a tip of the blogger hat to Lt. Rhys (“the Asian guy”) and Lt. Cmdr. Airiam (“the robot chick”).
Actually, actor Patrick Kwok-Choon was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada to parents of Sino-Mauritian origin. What’s that? Click the link and read the Wikipedia page; they have a fascinating history! By the way, Patrick is also a skilled martial artist in Taekwon-Do, Muay Thai, Boxing, and Krav Maga. He’d probably have made a cool security chief, but he seems to be tactical officer.
As for Airiam, raise your hand if you knew that the character was recast from season two. Yep, in season one, the robot chick was played by actress Sara Mitch. In season two, Airiam is now Hannah Cheesman. Too bad for Mitch, though, because Airiam finally got a decent 17 words to say this episode during a brief scene with Burnham and Tilly in the computer lab. Mitch is still with the series, though, having appeared (without make-up) as the human Lt. Nilsson who helped set up the gravity-thingie device in the first episode “Brother.” The character will be back in episode 12, by the way.
THE EPISODE WAS STILL PREDICTABLE, THOUGH…
This isn’t really a criticism. To be honest—Orville SPOILER ALERT!!!—on this week’s episode of The Orville (which also brought a character back to his distant home planet for the first time, so it’s not just a Star Trek thing…although Orville is very Star Trek), I wasn’t surprised that Isaac’s people turned out to be evil cyborgs dedicated to destroying all organic life in the galaxy. (I also predict that next week’s Orville episode will show Isaac being the hero, having joined his people in their aggression in order to help sabotage them and save Earth and the Orville crew. We’ll see if I’m right in a few more days.)
As for Discovery, I wasn’t surprised at all to learn that roid-rage Kelpiens were really the predators, which is why the Ba’ul keep them effectively neutered and “thin the herd” when the cows become wolves. This was effectively foreshadowed with Saru’s disturbing aggressive behavior, and the big reveal seemed pretty obvious (at least to me). The reason this isn’t a criticism this time—even though I’ve previously complained about predictability with Lorca being from the Mirror Universe and Tyler really being Voq—is that this “surprise” wasn’t dragged out across multiple episodes, giving viewers too many clues that began turning into flashing neon signs. At worst, I solved the Kelpien mystery only 15 minutes or so before the crew did. No big deal.
By the way, speaking of predictions—and STOP READING THIS PARAGRAPH if you don’t want to know who I think the Red Angel is!!!—I read an intriguing theory by Kayti Burt of Den of Geek in her episode 6 review. Remember the Short Treks episode “Calyspso”? Unlike the other three stories, “Calypso” was set 1,000 years in the future. We already know (according to TNG in “A Matter of Time”) that Federation historians and anthologists use time travel regularly by the 26th century. And by the 29th century, according both Voyager and Enterprise, part of Starfleet’s mission is that of “time cop”—putting right once once went wrong (no, wait, that was another Scott Bakula show!). So by the time of “Calypso” in the 33rd century, time travel should be a snap. And since we’ve now been told that the Red Angel is likely a time traveler, maybe he’s that guy Craft from the second Short Treks episode, sent back in time by Discovery to do all the things the Red Angel was supposed to do. While “Calypso” was very enjoyable as a stand-alone story, it makes MUCH more sense if it ties in with this season’s main plot line, just as Saru’s “The Brightest Star” Short Treks episode has now done.
And my prediction from last week did come true: “most of episode six will come and go, but we will FINALLY see our first glimpse of Spock in the very last moments of the episode.” Turns out it was the very VERY last moment, as the final scene from next’s week’s episode gives us our first glimpse of Ethan Peck as Spock.
OH, BY THE WAY…DISCOVERY IS NOT BEING CANCELED!
Take this with a grain of rock salt, people, because I won’t reveal my source at CBS, and so I could just be making this all up (although I’m not).
Discovery is NOT on the cancelation chopping block…at least not for now. Those decisions aren’t even made for another 2-3 months. And right now, the feeling about Star Trek at CBS is very, very, VERY positive—almost hysterically so. CBS now considers Star Trek a golden goose that’s very capable of laying golden eggs (not just laying an egg). There’s no one in the company right now that isn’t seeing Star Trek as some kind of lynchpin/bridge to the future and a sacred cow to be adored and praised at every possible opportunity. It’s actually kinda “ridiculous,” says my friend, how enthusiastic CBS is about the property at the moment.
So his/her (I won’t say which) general feeling right now is that Discovery will likely be back for a third season—although it’s still too early to know for sure—for a couple of reasons. First of all, so much money has already been invested into the show in building sets and infrastructure that episodes can cost significantly less going forward than they have been. That’s also the general directive being given to Kurtzman: don’t go crazy with budgets like the last guys did. My friend noted that episode six, from a production perspective, was significantly simpler and less expensive than many of the previous five this season.
Second of all, CBS’s goal is to eventually have new Star Trek episodes on all year long to ensure that subscribers (like me) don’t cancel and wait another 8 months to come back. There’s 52 weeks in a year, and Discovery is only on for 15 of those weeks. Assuming the Section 31 and Picard series are also 15 episodes each, now we’re getting closer to year-round coverage. Add in the animated Lower Decks, and you’re across the finish line. Cancel Discovery, and you lose 15 weeks.
Take from that what you will, my friends.