FORECAST: Moderate chance of SPOILERS
In season one, many readers wondered if I was just a “hater” and wouldn’t like anything I saw on STAR TREK: DISCOVERY no matter how good it was. But so far in season two, Discovery has been batting .667 with me, with four positive reviews and only two episodes so far that I felt warranted criticism.
So now that we’ve reached the halfway point of season two and the search for Spock has finally moved into the “found him!” stage, what did I think of the seventh episode, “Light and Shadows”?
I’ll let Spocko sum up my feelings…
Yep, I loved this episode. For a second week in a row, I watched through the entire episode without stopping or stepping away. I was completely engrossed, and the episode seemed to pass so quickly!
Of course, I should note that this was also the SHORTEST episode of the season so far, with a run-time of just 40 minutes. For comparison, the season premiere was a full hour, episodes 3-5 were about 50-52 minutes each, episode 6 was 56 minutes, and only episode 2 was under 50 minutes (only 44 minutes). So this latest episode was definitely a short one (which also means less expensive to make…but don’t tell anyone!).
Okay, before I get to reviewin’, I wrote some song lyrics after watching this episode—as a tribute to Michael Burnham’s “trek” through the two seasons of Discovery. If you don’t want spoilers or have any loyalty whatsoever to the Steve Miller Band, skip this next part…
I went from Shenzhou to the Disco all the way to the Mirro…
then Kaminar down to Vulcan and more…
Section 31 where the things they have done are taking me to Talos IV.
So keep on Spockin’ me, baby! Keep on Spockin’ me, baby!
Ahem. Okay, let’s dive in…
KEEPIN’ IT SIMPLE…
Once again, there was no “everything plus the kitchen sink” crammed into one episode. We had two main stories, and that was it. No sign of Doctor Hugh (still recovering from his regeneration); Tilly is now May-less and spore-free; no Klingons in sight (except Voq-Tyler); and the Red Angel was discussed but didn’t actually appear.
This allowed the main two stories of this episode to breathe and develop. Characters were given a chance to talk, interact, challenge each other, learn about each other, connect, and develop. This episode did more to help define so many characters than any other single episode so far. It’s not simply that things “slowed down”—Michael’s story was mostly slow (until the end), but Pike’s was fast-paced. Nope, it was just the basic lesson of KISS: Keep It Simple, Scriptwriters!
The first main story was Burnham’s trip back to Vulcan. Now, I’ll leave aside the obvious question of how she made it back to Vulcan so quickly if Discovery was way out on the edge of Federation space at Saru’s home planet Kaminar. Such questions are best answered by repeating to yourself: “It’s just a show—I should really just relax.”
What I’ve noticed, however, is that we’ve had a LOT of “homecoming” episodes on both Discovery AND The Orville so far this season. These are stories where characters return to their home planets and family members. Last week, Saru returned to Kaminar. Two weeks earlier, we saw Voq-Tyler on the Klingon homeworld Qo’Nos. On The Orville, Bortus went home to pee, Security Chief Alara went home to leave the series and hang out with Voyager‘s EMH, and last week, Isaac returned home…and it wasn’t pretty.
Homecoming episodes are great, but they only work after you’ve established who your characters are when they are NOT home. It took TNG three seasons to take Worf back to the Klingon homeworld, and four seasons to take Picard back to France. But most of the Trek series have had these episodes along the way, and they do a lot to help develop the characters who travel home. In this case, the super-tense interplay between Michael, Amanda, and Sarek were some of the most powerfully “emotional” scenes of the series so far…played without emotion! I mean, just take a look at this…
Despite the seemingly alien culture of pure logic, Sarek and Amanda come across very relatable as afraid—which is precisely what they are: worried parents not exactly sure how to help their son. It was a truly powerful visit home!
WHAT’S UP, SPOCK?
Okay, we finally found Spock—but now what? I’ve actually been wondering this for nearly a year…ever since we found out that Spock would be appearing in season two. What is there left to do with this character? We’ve seen him go through his pon farr, get emotional, lose his logic, fall in love, leave Starfleet, return, take command of the Enterprise, die, come back to life, find his marbles, finally accept his human side, and age into the clandestine “reunifier” between Vulcan and Romulus. We’ve seen him in a Mirror Universe and in a Kelvin-verse. We even saw Spock as a child in the animated episode “Yesteryear.” What else can Discovery show us that hasn’t already been shown in 50 years of episodes and movies???
Well, I need to give a point to Discovery for surprising and impressing even this cynical old Trekker! While I certainly expected to see a portrait of the Vulcan as a young man, what I didn’t expect was such a deep dive into kid-Spock (man, the puns just keep on comin’!) I’ve accepted that Spock has a big sister (adopted) because that’s a core component of this show. And so far, I’ve been rewarded for that acceptance with the story of a touching sibling connection followed by tragic separation.
I also didn’t expect to find out that Spock was dyslexic. My mother specializes in teaching reading to dyslexic children, and so I am well aware that there are MANY very successful people out there who have overcome the challenges of the condition. But finding out that Amanda herself was dyslexic (or whatever they called it in the episode) and likely passed it on to her son—and that she worked with him to overcome it when the rest of Vulcan couldn’t be bothered—only served to add a new dimension to their obvious connection. Amanda has become such an amazing character, moving so far beyond her 3 or 4 previous appearances in Trek canon lore. Kudos to actor Mia Kirshner for knocking this role out of the ballpark!
On a yet another level, the introduction of Lewis Carrol’s Alice books (read by Amanda to her children) carries on a proud Star Trek tradition of bringing in classic literary works. Shakespeare has always played a role in Trek, as did Milton’s Paradise Lost, Meville’s Moby Dick, and of course Horatio Hornblower. Picard’s love of detective pulp fiction, Data’s fondness for Sherlock Holme’s, Janeway’s love of Bronte-ish Victorian romance novels, and even an appearance by 19th century authors Mark Twain and Jack London have graced the Star Trek of series past. Now we have another piece of classical literature to enrich our favorite sci-fi franchise.
Most of all, though, I felt the pain of these people through their frustrations with themselves and each other. In other words, I found myself CARING about Spock and his family (even Michael Burham) in a way I never have before…not on Discovery nor in any other Trek story except maybe TNG‘s “Sarek.” For a show that has suffered from me feeling little-to-no connection to the characters, this trip to Vulcan really surprised me!
PIKE AND TYLER’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE!
After multiple episodes of me wanting to shove Rabbi Tyler/Voq out an airlock, I was surprised (again!) and relieved to find myself actually enjoying his “buddy road trip” with Captain Pike this episode. And of course, according to Tilly, everything is cooler when you put “Time” in front of it: Time Rift, Time Bends, Time Tsunami, Time Bomb, Time Tunnel, Time Sandwich, Time Winnebago, Time Ferret…actually, Tilly, no—“Time” does NOT make everything cooler. But we’ll go with it anyway.
So Pike and Tyler’s little “Time Out” (of the starship , that is) worked on two levels. First, Timey-Wimey stuff—when done right—is just fun and exciting…on both Star Trek and elsewhere/elsewhen. It was neat seeing their probe come back aged 500 years (and trying to kill them). Another temporal cold war? While I hope not, the idea of bad guys from the future messing with things isn’t a bad idea in and of itself. Who knows? Maybe THIS will explain the canon-contradictions of the Discovery/Prime timelines.
Second, and more importantly, the one-on-one moments between Pike and Tyler helped to better define both of their characters and bring these two officers closer together. Now Tyler can start playing on Pike’s team (we hope…although you know there will come a tense moment where Tyler has to choose between his loyalties to Section 31 and to Discovery). And while Tyler’s “insights” into Pike’s guilt for having sat out the war kinda came out of left field and had a “How the heck does Tyler even know what Pike is feeling?” quality, again I just went with it. Why? ‘Cause I LIKE PIKE! I wanna know more about him. If he’s feeling guilty for having sat out the war, then let’s throw that ingredient into the Pike soup and see what flavor it adds.
Oh, and while I’ll probably elaborate on this more in a future blog, I finally figured out what it is that makes me like Pike so much: he’s VERY patient. And with a zany crew like Discovery‘s (c’mon, you know they’re zany), patience is not only a virtue, it’s a survival skill!
SECTION 31 IS BEING DONE RIGHT…SORTA!
Okay, insert Jonathan’s weekly complaint comparing Section 31 to Fight Club and kvetching about how the only way they could be LESS covert is if Section 31 launched its own video on-demand streaming channel and opened up a theme park! That said…
I think Section 31 is working for this show. Without them, the serialized storyline would lack a foil and, therefore, a real sense of urgency or peril. Sure, you don’t always need a Snidely Whiplash to twirl his mustache and hiss at, but it does help. And just look at how quickly the Burnham/Spock storyline went from slow to fast when we discovered from Georgiou that Leland’s plans for Spock weren’t exactly kosher.
Of course, there are still some places where this ongoing plot line is suffering…
- Why did they hire the Empress? Are there literally no better covert operatives out there whose loyalty is a little more, shall we say, reliable?
- Who’s on whose side? I realize that part of the plot here is to keep us constantly guessing, but it feels like the writers are trying too hard to make the clues and the head-fakes equally obvious, which is leaving me more confused and frustrated than intrigued.
- Speaking of stupid writing, we’ve now crossed into daytime soap opera territory by revealing that Leland not only is Pike’s old buddy from the Academy but was also responsible for the deaths of Burnham’s parents and fears her finding out. Next week, I suspect, we’ll learn that Leland is secretly Tilly’s father and Stamet’s second-cousin twice removed.
- And finally, who leaves the damn shuttlebay doors open on a black-ops ship??? Seriously, what part of “SECRET” are you people not understanding???
GET THE “F” OUT OF HERE!
As you know, I have an 8-year-old son…and he’s a Trekkie. Each night while I do cardio, we watch an episode of Trek. We’ve watched all of TOS, the animated series, the first five movies, and we’re up to “Who Watches the Watchers” on TNG. But Discovery is off-limits because you never know when you’ll see a severed baby head or hear an F-bomb dropped out of nowhere…usually from Tilly.
Sure, I know the world is full of swear words and those who say them. But PLEASE let me keep my kid innocent just a little while longer. Also, Star Trek survived for five decades with minimal swearing. But every so often on Discovery, a gratuitous “F*CK” would work its way into an episode. And it usually wouldn’t even be germane to the scene…simply a “Hey, look, we can curse on this show!” gesture from the show-runners. My friend’s wife watches some of the other All Access series and told me that they’re all littered with swear words…almost as if that somehow makes the shows better or “more grown-up.”
But this time, Tilly purposefully says “freaking” and comments how Saru told her not to swear on duty. Frankly, I think that’s another “Discovery recovery” course correction, as the show-runner(s) have now realized that, no, the fans haven’t been waiting 50 years for F-bombs on Star Trek!
MORE FACETIME ON THE BRIDGE!
Just a quick acknowledgement that, once again, the bridge crew members who aren’t listed in the opening credits got some nice dialog and close-ups this episode. THANK YOU!! Now we just need to also get them OFF the bridge and onto other sets where we can observe these folks off duty and begin learning a little more about them. Sure, Sulu, Chekov and Uhura spent most of their scenes on the bridge, but not all of their scenes.
That said, it looks like Airiam has picked up a little bug or virus or something nasty. (Hey, at least it wasn’t a mushroom spore named May!) Anyway, this bodes well for an Airiam episode, dontcha think?
I’M GOIN’ BACK TO TALOS, TALOS, TALOS…
Last week, the meme was “I’m going back to Vulcan, Vulcan, Vulcan…” But now it’s Talos IV, and I find myself excited. Sure, General Order 7 is the only death penalty left in Starfleet, but this ain’t the first time Burnham’s played fast and loose with the rules.
In past episodes, I’ve been bothered by some of the random canon “breadcrumbs” tossed into the Discovery salad, like tribbles and Gorn skeletons and Pike mentioning the “alligators on Cestus III” (all years before those creatures should have been encountered for the first time). But Talosians…they work. Pike visited Talos IV about three years before he boarded Discovery. So going back to Talos, Talos, Talos doesn’t violate canon…even if it does violate General Order 7.
SEE? I TOLDJA DISCOVERY WASN’T BEING CANCELED!
Man, did I get raked over the coals four weeks ago when I included at the end of my review of the third episode a reference to the recent rumors that Discovery would be canceled. I felt I couldn’t simply ignore what was exploding through the Internet in early February, but even so, some folks felt I was doing little more than rumor-mongering.
I felt bad about that, and after I chatted with my CBS friend two weeks ago, I relayed that person’s sense of confidence that Discovery would NOT be canceled and how positive CBS is feeling about the show and about Star Trek in general. (Funny story: it turned out my friend found out the very next day that Discovery was renewed for a third season but couldn’t tell me—it was VERY hush-hush!) Nevertheless, I reported at the bottom of last week’s blog that Discovery was not being canceled. Glad I decided to include that!
Anyway, I know that some people out there who really hate Discovery are saying that CBS’s decision to renew the series was made out of fear and wanted to save face, since Star Trek is the only solid “franchise” property that CBS has that can go up against Star Wars and Marvel when Disney launches their streaming service next year. And CBS can’t keep the NFL forever (since the league is thinking of launching their OWN streaming service). If CBS doesn’t keep Star Trek front and center, what else do they have to offer on All Access…Big Brother???
This supposition isn’t wrong. In fact, it’s probably the case that CBS sees Star Trek as their biggest asset right now and their best hope (in addition to the NFL) of staying competitive in the upcoming “Streaming Wars.” But I don’t think this is a bad thing at all! Star Trek is finally sitting in the catbird seat! A show that was canceled in 1969 and brought back in 1987 was flying high in the 1990s for sure. But by the time Voyager was flying alone each week and Enterprise was canceled after just four seasons, Star Trek became an afterthought. Even when Discovery was first announced, Trek was handled sloppily, with Bryan Fuller’s firing and repeated delays in production. And don’t even get me started on the mishandling of the 50th anniversary!
As my friend Rob Burnett said in 2015, “There’s no Kevin Feige of Star Trek” (he’s the guy in charge of all the Marvel movies). Well, now there is! Alex Kurtzman has taken the conn, and he’s being given free rein to move Star Trek boldly forward as he sees fit. Sure, some fans have worried about this, but based on his first two episodes as show-runner, I think Kurtzman knows what works and what doesn’t. So I’m willing to give him a chance.
Meanwhile, Star Trek has gone from being something the former chairman and CEO of CBS didn’t really like to being the “belle of the ball.” Star Trek has moved up in the pecking order and is currently getting a lot of love from its owners. For me, that’s aVERY good thing!