SPOILERS WITH A CAPITAL “A”!
Remember last week when I said the eighth episode of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY season two was the best one yet? Well, the ninth episode, “Project Daedalus” just blew the eighth one away! I mean…WOW!
After the announcement last June of the firing of Discovery‘s previous showrunners, GRETCHEN BERG and AARON HARBERTS, fans were nervously awaiting the sixth episode of season two, the first to be produced entirely under the stewardship of new showrunner ALEX KURTZMAN, who was also officially named the Tsar of Trek (actually, only I named him that). Would Kurtzman save Discovery or ruin it? And once the sixth episode (which took Saru back to his home planet) showed a return to Star Trek values of hope and optimism, the next question became: was this one episode just a fluke, or is this the new normal for Discovery?
Well, it wasn’t the new Discovery normal; it was the starting point of a turbolift that has been ascending ever higher with each successive episode—with a trip home to Vulcan for Burnham (where she finds Spock), a trip to Talos IV (where we find Vina, and Spock finds himself), and now a trip to the very heart of Section 31 where we find…um, I did mention there would be spoilers, right?
Anyway, for a third week in a row, I watched the episode all the way through without stopping. I couldn’t look away! And with four episodes in a row that have each been, in succession, the best of the series, I feel that I can finally feel confidence in Alex Kurtzman. YAY!
Of course, a show-runner doesn’t work alone. But he does determine which people to hire and who does what. This episode was written by MICHELLE PARADISE (yes, she was born with that name) and directed by JONATHAN FRAKES. I don’t need to tell you about Frakes, as he’s done a little work in Hollywood before. But Paradise was just named as co-showrunner for Discovery in season three…and fans were again worried that this newcomer Paradise not be up for making Star Trek. Well, after this episode, as with Kurtzman—I’m not really worried anymore!
Okay, let’s start talking about this little gem…
A TRUE ENSEMBLE EPISODE!
Okay, everyone wants to talk about Airiam, and I will, too, in a moment. But first, I want to point out something I found remarkable. This was an ensemble episode with nearly every character given decent screen time, a good amount of lines, and opportunities to act as opposed to simply shouting things out from their bridge station after Pike gives them an order or asks a question.
The only characters we didn’t see this episode (at all) were Dr. Hugh (not really necessary), Rabbi Tyler-Voq (who would’ve made the bridge too crowded with actors), and Engineer/Comedienne Jett Reno (who seems to only appear when you say her name three times…or am I thinking of Michael Keaton?).
And best of all, it wasn’t all about Michael Burnham this time! Oh, sure, she gets the most screen time (as usual), and she’s there at the end of the climactic scene to receive or deliver the crucial piece of information. But a good deal of the “meat” of this episode on the bridge happens while she’s down in her quarters with Spock seeing which sibling can out-bitchslap the other.
And in the midst of all this, we get little more information about a bunch of the minor characters. Security Chief Nhan breathes a different atmosphere through those thingies on her cheeks. Stamets might be reading Dr. Hugh all wrong. There’s a girls clique on the Disco. Rhys knows martial arts. Cornwell thinks so highly of Pike and his crew that she wanted the Enterprise to survive even if the Federation didn’t.
And then there’s Airiam…
AH, AIRIAM—WE BARELY KNEW YE!
No, really, we barely knew her. As such, I was looking forward to this episode very much. That said, they did a lot to finally explain who this “robot chick” was…and it turns out she’s not a robot at all. She’s a human who tragically lost her newlywed husband in a shuttle accident and was herself saved only through cybernetic augmentation.
And like having too many apps or photos on your smartphone, she has to decide which memories to erase once a week so she still has space available for new memories. It’s a fascinating and somewhat mind-blowing concept. I would have loved to have explored it for more than just one episode.
And therein lies one of my main frustrations with this episode. It wasn’t a case of “too little, too late” because it wasn’t too little. In fact, thanks in large part to actress HANNAH CHEESMAN’s brilliant performance through a ton of make-up, this one episode was enough to get me caring about Airiam so that by the end, I felt the pain of her loss. (Of course, she’s not really lost…more about that at the end.)
But it was, unfortunately, still too late. In order for Airiam to have really mattered to most viewers, her back story (or at least pieces of it) should have been revealed long before this. But the writers simply didn’t bother over the previous 22 episodes…not even once. They made me care about her over the course of one episode, but only as much as I would have cared about a guest star character like Edith Keeler. Sure, I felt Edith’s loss and the emotional hit it had on Kirk. But compare that to how fans felt about the death of Jadzia on DS9.
IT’S TIME FOR P.M.S.—PREACHY MEAN SPOCK!
So Spock has anger-management issues, and he’s a total dick? I read a review in the New York Times (of all places!) complaining that “…I find it hard to believe that even a younger version of Spock would let himself get like this, even under extreme duress.”
Well, maybe. Maybe not. Sometimes people mellow as they get older, and the anger of youth doesn’t always carry on. Such might be the case with Spock. In fact, Alex Kurtzman has pretty much guaranteed it..
Were the Discovery Spock to be just like “good ol’ Spock” only younger, I don’t think I’d be nearly as engaged with the character on this show. I’ve seen “good ol’ Spock” for fifty-plus years. I pretty much know what he’ll do and what he won’t do. For example, “good ol’ Spock” would never knock over a 3D chess set in anger—unless he was pon farring, and that’s not due for another 3 or 4 years.
But by having the PMS (Preachy Mean Spock) on board, we get to see scenes like the one in Burnham’s quarters where he calls her out like no one else ever has on this show for thinking she is the center of the universe (which, unfortunately on this show, she is!). But one of Burnham’s most annoying traits is thinking that she is the reason bad things happen to good people—her birth parents, her adopted parents, Spock, the original Georgiou. But PMS schools her and says the Logic Extremists were NOT targeting Sarek’s family because of her. It was because of HIM, a half-human “abomination.” So stop feeling all that self-pity that’s only thinly disguising your need to be self-important and wind up the hero, Michael! It is not all about you!
Powerful stuff…and it made me want to give PMS a great big hug. GOS (good ol’ Spock) wouldn’t have had that effect on me.
NO BADMIRALS AFTER ALL…HOORAY!
Last week, one of my few complaints was what I called the “Badmirals” (bad admirals). Considering that Star Trek is about hope and being the best humans (and other Federation races) that we can be, it’s disappointing and a bit demoralizing to see the leaders of Starfleet not only having questionable morals but actually doing bad things and almost seeming to revel in it. And since season one already kinda went there, have we (and the admiralty) learned nothing from Michael Burnham’s high-falutin’ three-minute speech after winning the Klingon war?
But thank the Great Bird of the Galaxy, there actually weren’t any Badmirals after all (well, there might have been, but they’ve all been dead for two weeks)! Instead, the real enemy is Skynet…er, I mean Control, the central Starfleet computer that’s never been mentioned ever before (or since) but is obviously jealous of all those sentient super-computers in the galaxy and wants to gain consciousness itself so it can eradicate all other sentient life and finally have some time alone to binge-watch everything on Netflix. (No, wait, that’s me.)
Anyway, Skyne…er, Control is the big villain, and the Badmirals were only holograms. Whew! That said, evil/self-aware/killer super-computers are nothing new to Star Trek or even science fiction, in general. On the other hand, after five decades of Trek and more for general sci-fi, there’s not really much that’s new in 2019 anyway. So evil/self-aware/killer super-computer it is!
So, does this get Section 31 off the hook…Nazis just following orders? I’m not so sure. We’ve still seen some of them twirling their mustaches and sneering while they make their nefarious plans. Will Section 31 finally be “shut down for good”…and then re-emerge in its own series as a true super-secret organization that finally stays secret (at least up through DS9)? If so, I totally won’t miss those black badges!
THANK YOU, JONATHAN FRAKES, FOR NOT SPINNING THE CAMERA!
Last week, while I loved the episode, I hated the spinning/tilting camera. HATED it! It was bad enough seeing the camera tilted all the time in the 1960s Batman TV show. But it’s 50 years later!!! Directors should know better! Well, Jonathan Frakes knows better, at least.
There seems to be a feeling among some of the Discovery directors that, artistically, “anything goes” with this show—especially when it comes to weird camera movements and lens flares. Take a look at this sequence from three episodes ago and tell me if you don’t get a little dizzy…
That was director DOUG AARNIOKOSKI. Here’s an equally dizzying opening from T.J. SCOTT from last week…
Now, I get it; it’s a cool shot. It’s meant to make things exciting and fast-moving and create the feeling that, with Section 31, you never know which way is up. But was it really necessary for Scott to slowly rotate the camera in this turbolift scene…?
Scott also used that tilting motion on a few other scenes in the episode: in Pike’s ready room, on Talos IV, and briefly in the Section 31 ship. Sometimes, like during a mind-transmission from Vina, the tilt made sense to make things feel dreamlike. But in other places, it was just distracting. And for the flashbacks to Vulcan, Scott noticeably did not use the rotating camera, even though it would have made those memories dreamlike, as well.
And don’t get me started on Scott’s use of lens flares…!
Now, you might be saying, “But that’s the way this show is shot. When you’re on the bridge in climactic, exciting scenes, there’s always lens flares.” But are there really?
Take a look at how JONATHAN FRAKES handled his climactic bridge scene…
Sure, Frakes throws in a few lens flares, but not nearly as many as Scott chose to. And that’s what directing is: a series of choices. I don’t always agree with the choices that some of the directors of Discovery make. It doesn’t ruin their episodes for me (usually), but it still can have an impact. However, the episodes Frakes has directed feel steadier and less distracting. I appreciate those choices, and I just wanted to thank the guy with the awesome first name.
STILL SOME SLOPPY WRITING, THOUGH!
As good as this episode was, it wasn’t perfect…and the imperfections were sometimes glaring. Almost always, though, they came down to rushed or sloppy writing—or more specifically, not taking the time to fully consider the logistics and parameters of a scene.
Let’s go through a few examples…
The one glaring oversight that nearly everyone noticed was, when the landing party was trying desperately to stop Airiam from finishing her download on the Control station, no one on board Discovery thought to simply beam Airiam back and directly into the brig. Or maybe beam a heavily armed security team to the station to take down Airiam?
Of course, that wouldn’t have allowed the scene to play out, which the script required. However, simply adding a line from Rhys on the bridge, “Captain, shields just snapped on around the station! We can’t beam them out!” would have plugged the plot hole in 5 seconds. And since Discovery doesn’t have a set runtime limit like regular broadcast TV, there’s no excuse not to include the line.
Speaking of the final fight, again we’ve got the tail wagging the dog…or rather, the scene dictating the script. Cmdr. Nhan gets her breathing thingy ripped out by Airiam and goes down, about to suffocate. There’s a couple of things that popped into my head following this…
1) Doesn’t Nhan have a space helmet she can activate? One would think her pressure suit would be specially rigged for someone breathing Barzan standard atmosphere, right? She used to be an engineer; shouldn’t Nhan have made sure her Discovery pressure suit would provide the kind of air she was able to breathe…especially if something went wrong with her breathing augmentation?
2) I understand Burnham ignoring Nhan in the thick of the fight. But once Airiam is in the airlock, shouldn’t Burnham have gone to check on the injured (possibly dying) security chief? Of course, Burnham ignoring Nhan was necessary so the scene could end with the “surprise” of Nhan pressing the eject button while Burnham was still trying to get information about Project Daedalus. But really, ignoring Nhan just made Burnham seem either heartless or incompetent.
SOMEBODY TELL THE CAPTAIN!!!
So Nhan suspects Airiam might be compromised. Airiam suspects Airiam might be compromised. Saru suspects Admiral Patar is a hologram. Nobody thinks to mention any of this to Pike??? You would have thought, after Tilly stayed quiet about Mushroom May, that the crew would learn NOT to keep things to themselves! Granted, I did like that Airiam told Tilly to stay with her until she finished and not leave for any reason. But, “I think I might be compromised,” would have worked so much better! Or maybe, if Airiam’s three-red-light computer virus wasn’t letting her, then Nhan saying, “Captain, may I have a word in private…?” would’ve been fine, too. But again, the tail needed to wag the dog.
DR. SPOCK, ARMCHAIR PSYCHOLOGIST
I get Spock psycho-analyzing Burnham. That totally worked. But when he does the same for Stamets and Dr. Hugh…isn’t that a little odd? Of course, the Discovery doesn’t really have a ship’s counselor, and Stamets’ only confidant is the guy with all the resurrection dejection (yep, that joke’s your reward for reading this far, folks). So in order to move that plot line forward, Spock had to play Sigmund Freud. Not awful, just strange.
Back in the days of TNG, DS9, and Voyager, the writers used to insert the word “technobabble” into scripts when they needed to say something science-y like “We have to modulate polarity on the EPS conduits,” or ‘Chronoton radiation levels are causing a deuterium drain on the main antimatter injectors!” No one knew what it meant, but it sounded good.
Now, apparently, we have a new item added into scripts just for scenes where Ensign Sylvia Tilly needs to sound all flustered and annoying. I call it Tillybabble…
I really wish the show could move beyond this sort of thing. It’s become as predictable and annoying as Gilligan ruining whatever plan the castaways had to get off the island that week. Tilly doesn’t always need to be the comic relief on the bridge.
IS AIRIAM REALLY DEAD?
Star Trek in general, and this show in particular, has brought back dead characters before in various ways: Dr. Hugh, Philippa Georgiou, Security Chief Landry (granted, the latter two weren’t resurrected so much as their counterparts showed up in the Mirror Universe).
So, will we be seeing Airiam again?
According to IMDb, the answer is no. Actress Hannah Cheesman is not listed for any of the remaining five episodes this season (yep, only five left, folks!). And let’s face it, for a series needing to tighten its budget, eliminating the character who requires the most time in the make-up chair will save quite a bit of money each episode. That’s one of the reasons we haven’t seen much of Airiam up until now—if you’d hadn’t guessed.
But remember this little snippet…?
Airiam’s memories, her HUMAN memories, are now part of Discovery‘s computer…the same Discovery computer that gains consciousness in 1,000 years. So if, as I believe, the Discovery computer is somehow the Red Angel, that could be how Spock sensed human thoughts from a computer.
Now, I could still be wrong. Some fans are suggesting that the Red Angel might be Michael Burnham herself, somehow sent back from the future. Considering that, according to Airiam, Control wanted Burnham in particular out of the way (just like Skynet needed to kill John Connor), we now know that Burnham is of key importance.Then again, when is she ever not???
Seeya next week!