SPOILERS – THEY’RE PART OF THIS COMPLETE BREAKFAST!
Last week, I wrote what was only my second negative review for an episode of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY for season two. And the blog resulted in surprisingly passionate responses on Facebook, particularly in the “big” (107K member) Star Trek group and the (40K member) Star Trek: Discovery group. Some folks agreed with what I said. Others didn’t. But a disturbingly high number of posts were just plain mean and confrontational.
While I won’t harp on this point too much—because complaining about nasty posts on Facebook is like complaining about the smell of animal poop at a zoo—I’d just like to point out a few examples of how to respectfully disagree with someone…
And here’s some examples of how to be a mean person…
All of this vitriol simply because someone has a different opinion from you??? When I was growing up, not everyone thought “The Doomsday Machine” was the best TOS episode like I did. But if someone thought “Spock’s Brain” was the best episode, I might quietly think they were weird, but I wouldn’t call them an “irrelevant shrub” (what odes that even mean???) or tell them to “PISS OFF” or suggest someone blow them out an airlock.
It seems lately that Star Trek: Discovery (like so many things in this world) has polarized us. And for some people, any criticism of this show is seen as an “attack” that must be defended with a counter-attack. It’s ridiculous…and so discordant with everything Gene Roddenberry ever tried to teach us.
The irony here is that I’ve actually written seven very positive reviews this season (you can read them here). I’m not a Discovery “hater” and happily praise the show when I think it’s been a decent episode. And when I don’t enjoy an episode, I share those thoughts, too. My opinion might not match yours, and that’s OKAY. We’re allowed to disagree.
There’s nothing wrong with feeling strongly about Star Trek and Discovery. But I challenge anyone to defend being obnoxious to someone simply for writing a blog review that they didn’t like.
All right, let’s move on to reviewing this week’s episode, “Perpetual Infinity”—which many of you will be happy (relieved?) to learn that I felt was a much stronger and more watchable episode than last week, and here’s why…
TALKING VS. TALKING AND DOING
Exposition as a concept is not a bad thing, and I certainly don’t mind it in reasonable doses and when handled well.
Where I had my problem with the previous episode (and not with this one) is that last time, the exposition scenes were just isolated and disjointed: the funeral, the briefing, the other briefing, Burnham gives Tyler the cold shoulder, Geoegiou talks to Burnham, Georgiou makes everyone feel awkward about their sexuality, Nhan talks to Burnham, Saru talks to Leland, Hugh talks to Cornwell, Leland tells Burnham about her parents and then gets sucker-punched (twice!), Burnham rips into Tyler, Spock comforts Burnham. These weren’t bad scenes (except the cringe-worthy pansexual nonsense). But they felt disconnected and jerky…like driving through an urban area and hitting a succession of red lights.
This week, people didn’t just stand around while talking and explaining (and occasionally punching superior officers) for three-quarters of the episode. Sure, there were still many scenes with complex exposition and explanation during this episode, but while people were talking, they were ALSO doing things that advanced the plot—hiding their daughter from Klingons and traveling through time, looking through Mommy’s mission logs, borgifying Leland, convincing Tyler to do something nefarious, figuring out how to keep Control from getting the sphere data, Control trying to get the sphere data, Georgiou sniffing out the truth…and then the climactic action sequence.
This latest episode was just as densely packed with talking and information as last week’s (perhaps even more so!), but the scenes were all interconnected and fit together, bringing the episode forward into a narrative where we could follow along with what was going on, see the pieces moving on the chessboard, and watch the game develop.
BRILLIANT CASTING OF BURNHAM’S MOM!
Pretty much every review I’ve read and every fan I’ve spoken with has raved about SONJA SOHN (from The Wire) as Michael’s mother, Doctor Burnham. (Did anyone catch a first name?) I am no exception. Her performance was outstanding and helped the already-talented SONEQUA MARTIN-GREEN bring out some of her own best acting. SMG is still struggling at times to “find” the character of Michael Burnham, as the writers are throwing every ingredient into that soup: strong, vulnerable, serious, funny, determined, uncertain, hard, tender, put-together, falling-apart, cold and logical, hot-tempered and impulsive…all at the same time! In other words, Sonequa, just make Michael Burnham be every person who’s ever lived. Easy-peasy.
But in this episode, Michael’s relationship (or lack thereof) with her mother allowed Sonequa to focus singly on just one aspect of Michael’s persona: the abandoned daughter given a chance to reconnect with (and save?) her mother. And her performance was equally as powerful as Sonja’s.
In fact, both actresses played off each other to bring out the best in both, as Sonja intricately matched certain elements of her own delivery to corresponding aspects of Sonequa’s character to draw the link between mother and daughter. And while it must be challenging to find the “handle” of playing Michael Burnham, imagine how much more difficult it is for an actor to connect with a character who is trapped beyond time and has witnessed the death of her own daughter on hundreds of occasions while she struggles in vain to save the galaxy over and over again. How do you play a character like that? What personal experiences do you call upon? Somehow, Sonja not only found the “handle” but managed to make Doctor Burnham into one of the most compelling and intriguing characters to appear yet on Star Trek: Discovery (including Pike and Spock)…and she did it all in just one episode!
EMPRESS/AGENT GEORGIOU FINALLY(?) DONE RIGHT!
I think I’ve been most frustrated this season watching Empress-turned-Agent Philippa Georgiou—mostly because MICHELLE YEOH is such a gifted actress, and the writers just can’t decide if she’s clever and evil or if she’s inherently good and nurturing because she loves Michael. I know they want to play it BOTH ways simultaneously, but up until now, it’s been mostly a tug-o’-emperor between two extremes…like mixing ranch dressing and chocolate.
But this time, the writers and Michelle finally got the intermix ratio correct. By toning down both the conniving swagger AND the nurturing “mom” aspects of Georgiou and only hinting at both, the character has stopped being a caricature and is settling in on a more intriguing (as opposed to annoying) player in this drama. This came through particularly well in Georgiou’s intriguing dialogue with Michael’s “other” (real) mother, but also in general throughout the episode.
That said, not all was perfect with the ex-empress this episode, but I’ll get to that shortly.
Sure, there was still some Tillybabble—I think there’s now some contractual requirement for it to appear at least once per episode—but at least it was over early and quickly…this time thanks to Saru cutting Tilly off; last week, it was Pike. (Remember back when someone always had to cut off Data when he started rambling? Yeah, same gag, different character and century. Crazier hair.)
Anyway, I think it’s good that we now know that Tilly’s second favorite law of physics is Newton’s Third Law of Motion. Good future trivia question at conventions. (And if anyone’s curious, my second favorite law of physics is the Second Law of Thermodynamics. My favorite law of physics is: “Ropes don’t push.”)
MINIMAL USE OF LENS FLARE!
THE EPISODE DID HAVE ITS PROBLEMS, THOUGH…
Although I certainly enjoyed this episode immensely, watched it through in one sitting, and had a lot of glowing things to say…it wasn’t perfect. Few things are in today’s world.
Fortunately, the things I had problems with were more “little details”—places where the script wasn’t completely thought through or where what might have seemed like a “good idea” didn’t turn out (for me, at least) as well as the writers intended.
Let’s pick a few nits, shall we…?
“STRUGGLE IS POINTLESS”? REALLY???
Okay, raise your hand if you DIDN’T notice that Control’s “Struggle is pointless” comment to Leland is just the synonym version of “Resistance is futile”? Yep, that and the injection of nanites (I assume they were nanites) to link Leland’s mind with Control’s “collective” seemed very Borgy (Borgish? Borglike? Borgdacious?). And like our favorite 24th century drones, the “new” Leland is now super-strong and suddenly phaser-resistant.
For me, this whole aspect of the plot was a “necessary evil” (literally). In most sci-fi where you’re fighting a sadistic computer intelligence, you need to give the computer hands and legs of some kind. SkyNet had the Terminators. The Matrix had agents. Landru had the lawgivers. Control now has Leland. And of course, it’s easier to focus the audience’s emotions on a walking/talking “personal” computer than a disembodied “impersonal” computer. That said, it was all very predictable and not particularly inspired to discover, “Well, here we go again with a computer controlling a human.”
And for a computer consciousness who said it was having trouble getting the nuances of human interaction correct, it sure picked them up quickly after assimilating Leland! Y’see, what I’m having trouble with is that Control is trying to “become sentient,” but as far as I’m concerned, it’s already there! It’s certainly intelligent, and it’s definitely self-aware. So is it conscious? Those were Bruce Maddox’s three criteria for sentience during Data’s hearing in “The Measure of a Man.” Pinocchio wants to be a real boy and get rid of all the wood? Well, Control is now walking around in a human body of flesh an blood. I think the Blue Fairy is no longer needed, folks.
Anyway, I know it’s necessary to have the computer turn into something that can show emotional intensity on its face and be intimidating with its body and strength, so I get turning Leland into a robo-drone. But why go all “Borg” on us? Are the writers planning to make Control the origin of the Borg Queen? Please don’t. The Borg were around 200 years before this episode, or else the Borg Queen’s message sent in 2063 in Star Trek: First Contact was intended for a race that wouldn’t exist for another two centuries.
WHY EXACTLY DOES GEORGIOU AGREE TO HELP ROBO-LELAND?
No matter how many times I watch the following scene, it just doesn’t ring true to me…
I realize that the writers need to convince the viewers that Georgiou has been talked into helping the Control-controlled “Robo-Leland” download the Sphere data and kill Doctor Burnham. And while she certainly looks suspicious, she nevertheless goes down the to planet with the intention of doing the deed. But why? Simply because she doesn’t want to be the SECOND-most powerful woman in the universe (like being Tilly’s second-favorite law of physics)?
That doesn’t make sense to me. If Georgiou were really after such power, then she’d find a way to manipulate Doctor Burnham and turn her into a tool for acquiring such power for herself. After all, a person who knows the future could be VERY useful for such purposes. In my mind, Georgiou would only eliminate Doctor Burnham if Plan A didn’t work.
YOU CAN’T SAY “PRIME UNIVERSE *IN* THE PRIME UNIVERSE!!!
Thor doesn’t say, “By Odin’s beard, Thanos just erased half of everyone in the Marvel Cinematic Universe!” So when Georgiou tells Dr. Burnham, “You have obviously confused me with my sentimental Prime Universe counterpart…” I say, “OH, NO YOU DIDN’T!”
Sorry, writers, but we Trekkies get to call it the “Prime Universe.” You writers get to call it the “Prime Universe.” But the characters who live in it don’t. What has one universe even done to earn the right to be considered “Prime”? Wouldn’t Georgiou be equally justified in calling her own universe the “Prime Universe”? After all, for her, it is! But she calls it the “Terran Universe.” So wouldn’t she naturally call this other universe the “Federation Universe” or the “Wussy Universe” or something? Anything but “Prime!” For all anyone knows, the real “Prime” Universe could be Red Dwarf or Lost In Space or even Captain Video!
WHERE’S ADMIRAL CORNWELL?
And for that matter, where the heck is Jett Reno…and that other Discovery doctor who isn’t Hugh? I understand the problem. There’s only enough budget to hire a certain number of guest actors each episode. Once Hugh is back in uniform (or Hughniform—hey-yo!), there’s no reason to show any other doctors on board. And TIG NOTARO is probably really expensive. So we don’t see sarcastic Engineer Reno unless it’s an episode written specifically for her.
And the fact is that you can do this with these characters because, when all is said and done, they’re not major players. They can easily be stationed far from the central action.
Not so with Cornwell. She’s an admiral, and for the past two episodes before this, she’s been a involved in all strategic briefings and stood on the bridge in the climactic sequences. Not so in this episode. It’s not like she left the ship to return to Starfleet in the time between Michael suffocating to death and her being revived five hours later. So where’s Cornwell? Obviously, JAYNE BROOK was left out of this episode for budget reasons, but that’s the problem with doing such tight, serialized television. The fans notice when a main character suddenly goes missing and no one explains.
LT. SPOCK, YOU’RE OUT OF UNIFORM!
And finally, I just need to ask: Why is Spock NOT wearing a uniform??? I mean, he’s a Starfleet Officer currently stationed on a Starfleet vessel. Sure, it’s not the USS Enterprise, but just because a naval officer goes to visit a different ship, he doesn’t suddenly wear a T-shirt and jeans or even a pinstripe suit.
Now, I suppose you can argue that Spock took a temporary leave of absence and hasn’t yet returned to duty. Maybe. But for a guy on a leave of absence, he sure seems to be helping out a lot on board the Discovery.
Sure, I like the stylish black suit that ETHAN PECK wears. But each time I see him wearing it, my mind gets distracted wondering why the guy on the ship who would be most likely to follow protocol has decided not to.
WHAT’S AHEAD IN THE LAST THREE EPISODES?
Well, we know there will be no Jett Reno or Airiam (at least according to IMDb). But aside from that, it’s hard to tell. Which is good! Last season, I and many others predicted a lot of what was to come. And what I didn’t predict, I didn’t much care about. (Actually, I didn’t much care about what I did predict either!)
But this season, a lot is surprising me: the Red Angel is Michael’s mom, Spock has dyslexia, the seven signals were NOT associated with the Red Angel. And I am actually quite eager to discover the answers. In fact, for the first time, the name of this television series seems very appropriate! (Not much discoverin’ back in season one.)
Anyway, there are certain things we know. Next episode we’re headed to the Klingon monastery on Borath, which is good because it’ll hopefully give Tyler something to do other than look conflicted and mopey. And considering what a significant role the Klingons played in season one, they’ve had only one episode of attention so far in season two. Don’t you kinda miss them?
As for the rest of the mysteries, I’m hoping we get a good explanation of what made Control suddenly spring to consciousness with an urgent desire to gain sentience and wipe out all intelligent life in the galaxy (as opposed to, say, taking up knitting). That needs to be explained.
Also, we now know that the seven signals weren’t from the Red Angel. So who and where were they from? As I said last week, I’m still not letting go completely of my “Calypso” theory that the sentient Discovery from 1,000 years in the future is somehow tied into this complex plot line of having Doctor Burnham tethered to a point 950 years in the future. Too coincidental, folks!
And finally, Trek Tsar ALEX KURTZMAN has said that this season will finally “sync up” with established canon. So far, it hasn’t. Oh, they’ve gone a long way toward trying to—growing hair on the Klingons, showing the Enterprise crew with the “new” style of uniforms, and bringing in Vina and Talos IV. But with time travel and all the alternate timelines it tends to create, is there a chance that what we’ve seen previously on TOS, TNG, DS9, and VOY will somehow emerge as another viable universe/reality from all of this? Personally, I’d love for that to happen. But I’m not betting the farm on it.
Before I go, just a quick heads up that the family and I will be skiing in the Rockies this coming week. (Well, actually, I’ll be snowmobiling, since I don’t ski so much as plummet uncontrollably.) But that means I might not have a chance to review next week’s episode at my usual time…if at all. We’ll see how the wi-fi is up there.
In the meantime, keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for that temporal vortex that just sucked your mother 950 years into the future!