WE HAVE SPAM, SPOILERS, EGGS, SPOILERS, BAKED BEANS, AND SPOILERS!
As I watched the 3-minute teaser and opening scene of act one of “Through the Valley of Shadows,” STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s twelfth episode of season two, I was dreading having to write another critical blog. It’s not that I have anything against (of for) being negative about Discovery; I just don’t like having to sit through weak or boring episodes that don’t live up to the potential of the series.
We open on Michael Burnham (of course!) whose review of her mother’s time-logs is interrupted by a call from her adopted mother, Amanda Grayson. Yay, I thought! I love Mia Kirshner‘s portrayal of the character. But my hopes were quickly dashed as I saw Burnham yet again falling into self-pity and blaming herself for everything that goes wrong in the universe.
Amanda gets to complete her second short line of dialog just as she is interrupted by a Spock-knock at the door. Still not in uniform, Spock apologizes for the interruption, but the captain needs them. Amanda gets nine more words, and then the scene that began with such potential is over 63 seconds after it began. Sigh…
Then it’s a cut to a briefing—again! What episode this season hasn’t kicked off with some kind of briefing? But at least this one wasn’t interrupted by Tillybabble. In fact, Mary Wiseman doesn’t appear in this episode at all (she wasn’t available the week of filming)…and to be honest, I didn’t really miss her. The episode felt more “grown up” without Tilly stealing her scenes. The briefing itself wasn’t bad, although every time I hear Tyler or another Klingon say “Kay-lesh” (Kahless), I cringe. Worf managed to get through two different Star Trek series pronouncing it “Kay-less”—is it really that hard for this show to be consistent with canon???
Then we come back from the opening credits with a scene between Burnham and Tyler that, as usual, showed almost no chemistry between the two actors and characters. Some quick exposition, a passive-aggressive zinger from Tyler, and then Tyler hears a beep that starts the real episode.
And that’s when everything started getting really good (and not so really good)…
In most episodes of Star Trek from TNG forward (and for television in general), there is usually an A-story, a B-story, and potentially a C-story. Discovery usually follows this formula, occasionally adding in and smaller D or even E-story, but not often.
This episode, interestingly, had two A-stories, a B-story, and a C-story that was more of just an extension of the A-story. Let’s look at these stories one at a time…
PIKE’S PEEK (INTO THE FUTURE)…
By far, the most talked-about scene of the episode (and possibly the series so far) is when Captain Christopher Pike gets a glimpse into his future thanks to touching a time crystal. More on those glowing green McGuffins in a moment, but for now, let’s all just take a moment to appreciate the precious gift the writers have given us.
For five decades, Star Trek fans knew only two significant things about Kirk’s predecessor: what we saw in flashbacks during “The Menagerie” and the tragedy that happened to Pike shortly after he turned over command of the Enterprise. We heard Commodore Mendez tell Kirk about an accident on a Class-J training starship while Pike was doing an inspection. A baffle plate ruptured, and Pike heroically brought out all of the cadets who were still alive, receiving a near-lethal dose of delta rays that left him little more than a vegetable.
Discovery‘s second season has presented the writers with a unique opportunity to not only develop this important-but-mostly-unknown Trek character but to tie in with what little we already knew. This has already manifested a few episodes ago with Pike’s visit to Talos IV and encounters with Vina. But with the impending Anson (dis)Mount from this series, there didn’t seem much time left to tie in with the other iconic image of Pike: a scarred invalid confined to a mobile wheelchair that allowed him to say only BEEP or BEEP-BEEP (yes or no).
I’d thought we’d already had our nod Pike’s tragic fate last episode when Mommy Burnham hinted that Pike wouldn’t want to know what’s in store for his future. But this episode actually shows us the scene of the accident happening in real time, and Pike’s reaction to it, which is an amazing piece of acting.
By the way, I noticed that the uniform Pike wears in the flash-forward is reminiscent of the gray Starfleet dress outfit worn in Star Trek Into Darkness, tying Discovery‘s universe directly into the Kelvin timeline. (I’m sure Midnight’s Edge will argue that the two uniforms are 25% different, but why make them similar at all if you’re trying to avoid a separate license? Don’t get me started here, folks!)
Anyway, Pike shows his nobility in accepting his fate even if it means saving the lives of every sentient being in the universe. And Anson Mount‘s performance of all of his scenes is so magnificent that I find myself now praying to the gods of spinoff television that CBS will green-light STAR TREK: PIKE to tell the adventures of the USS Enterprise in the B.K. (Before Kirk) years. This is the most obvious no-brainer in the history of TV, folks!
TIME CRYSTALS – THE BIGGEST THREAT TO STAR TREK CANON EVER?
Ah, time crystals. In any other sci-fi or fantasy franchise, they’d be a really awesome idea. But in Star Trek? We’ve already seen Harry Mudd use a single time crystal to kill everyone on the USS Discovery countless times. Now we learn that the Klingons have been sitting on a planet full of these things…and never used them???
The reason given by L’Rell is kinda unconvincing: “The power to manipulate time is a weapon unlike any other…and the very reason we no longer exploit the crystals.” Um, when do the Klingons shy away from using any weapon (other than the sacred Sword of Kahless…or Kahlesh)? These are the same folks who mined the moon Praxis so much that it exploded. They don’t seem like they’re all that squeamish about pushing the envelope.
And of course, a previous episode of Discovery even revealed that the Klingons HAD tried to use the crystals during the war. Sure, they ultimately failed to stabilize them (or whatever it was), but they still TRIED. So L’Rell is wrong even by Discovery‘s own internal continuity!
The reason I say time crystals are a threat to Star Trek canon is that, if the Klingons have always sat on a planet full of these things, I can’t believe they’d never try to use them…even if the monks operate autonomously from the Klingon leadership. At least once before, during the war, the monks seem to have acquiesced. Who’s to say they wouldn’t do that again when fighting with the Federation, or the Romulans, or the Dominion? Heck, why not just use the crystals, not as a weapon, but simply to save Praxis from exploding and preserve the Empire?
And then there’s Worf.
Worf? Yeah, we know he spent a bunch of time on Boreth both in the TNG episode “Rightful Heir” and just before he joined the crew of Deep Space Nine. So how come when his wife Jadzia was killed did he not even consider going back to Boreth and seeking out a time crystal? He couldn’t have NOT known about them…even if only in legend. Of course, the reason Worf didn’t consider going back to Boreth was because, prior to April 4, 2019, time crystals never existed in Star Trek lore. But that’s what happens when you mess around with continuity by introducing something as powerful and significant as time crystals and giving them to one of Trek‘s most well-known warrior races.
So now the Discovery can go anywhere in space and the Klingons can (potentially, if they figure out how to do what Dr. Burnham did) go anywhere in time. Congratulations, Star Trek is now Doctor Who.
THAT SAID, THE TIME CRYSTAL CONCEPT IS STILL COOL…
As dues ex machinas go, the time crystals are actually a compelling plot device for me. I just wish it wasn’t revealed they were as common as mushrooms on a monastery world within the Klingon empire. But they produced a couple of interesting scenes. One, of course, was the aforementioned glimpse into Pike’s future. The other was the aging up of Voq and L’Rell’s baby into adulthood.
Granted, he looked like someone out of Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones (I’ve read reviews citing both franchises), and if Tenavik looks familiar, it’s because you’ve seen him before…twice. Or rather, you’ve seen the actor Ken Mitchell playing Kol in season one and Kol-sha in “Point of Light” in season two. Now, I don’t mind recasting the same actor multiple times (I loved Jeffrey Combs as Weyoun, Brunt, and Shran); it just seemed strange that Voq and L’Rell’s baby grew up to look just like their greatest enemy. Maybe it’s not Voq’s kid? Oh, please don’t go there!
Now, what I’m relieved about is that the time crystals didn’t work in the way they did for Harry Mudd last season (another inconsistency) in that they don’t seems to actually transport people physically through time. If they did, then the Klingons could have just traveled back to 2063 and blown up Zefram Cochrane and the Phoenix (no, wait, wrong bad guys). Instead, they acted a little more like the Bajoran Orbs of the Prophets (although the Orb of Time did actually transport people through time…oh, man, my brain hurts!).
Anyway, aging up Tenavik provided for a nice scene of closure at the end of the episode for L’Rell and Voq.
THAT A.I. IS A REAL S.O.B.—BUT NOT MUCH MORE…
Now let’s take a look at the other A-story: Burnham and Spock fall into Control’s devious “trap.” This was the action storyline, and in that way, it was quite exciting and watchable. And it’s nice seeing the sibling tag-team finally doing and not just talking…although the two actors work well together and play well off of each other’s dramatic strengths no matter what the scene is.
But beyond the action and tag-team dynamics, I found this second A-story to be predictable, uninspired, and ultimately disappointing. But first, let me tip my hat to a very good scene: the one between Burnham and Saru where she’s all ready to fight to convince him to let her go check out the Section 31 ship, and Saru simply agrees immediately. Granted, the first thing I thought was, Way to get rid of the annoying main character, Saru! With Burnham gone, the rest of you get more screen time! But I quickly understood that the new Saruperman had grown a pair (after losing his ganglia), and now he’s all balls to the wall. Good scene.
That said, this whole Section-31-is-a-part-of-Starfleet where all the ships check in every hour is hard to wrap my head around. My Section 31 operates completely in the shadows and would never agree to checking in every hour if only to protect their covert status.
And I’ll say it here simply because I’ve got nowhere else to put it, but angry/bitchy Michael Burnham really turns me off. So her whole “stand-off” with Spock when he shows up to join her on the mission made me think: Has she learned nothing???? Wasn’t her whole speech at the end of season one about Starfleet being a team and a family? Spock is both, and she’s not letting him come along? Bitchy Burnham just really rubs me the wrong way…which is not necessarily what you want in a main character.
Okay, onto the mission itself. Now, maybe I’m a bit psychic, but as soon as I saw all of the bodies floating in space, I said to myself: One of them will still be alive and it’ll be another one of those Control-controlled drones like Leland. And lo and behold!
Now, Star Trek has been predictable before (even in past series), so I can’t really complain about predictability. But I can complain about the bad guy himself/herself/itself. Control just bores me. Oh, the action scenes in last episode and this were very exciting (just like they were in Terminator 2: Judgement Day 28 years ago). But the “character” of an A.I. who thinks it knows better and then gets all in-your-face about it has been done to death. And while I’d hoped Control’s rationale for wanting to destroy all sentient life in the galaxy would be original and compelling, it was basically little more than what Isaac Asimov had done nearly 70 years ago: an artificial intelligence programmed to protect humanity sees no other option than to protect humanity from its greatest threat—humanity itself—by destroying humanity. Wow…how deep. And once all sentient life is gone, only the purest sentience is left: Control. Not very inspired.
And we basically “hate” Control because the couple of times that it’s inhabited/assimilated/rebuilt humans, those characters become all eeee-veeel. And of course, it’s killing ships full of Section 31 agents and it’s trying to assimilate Michael Burnham. And speaking of which, why Michael Burnhm? Why not kill her and assimilate Spock instead? He’s just as capable of downloading the Sphere archive once he’s back on Discovery. Why does it always have to be about Michael Burnham???
And finally, Control sets this elaborate “trap” that requires so many things to happen. Why is Burnham the only one sent to check out the late-reporting Section 31 ship? Doesn’t Starfleet have other ships to check it out? How could control have been that certain it would be Burnham that he/she/it decided to assimilate the one crewman on board the ship that Burnham would recognize and trust? Is it because Control is so smart that it can see all possible futures? Good grief, Charlie Brown!
STAMETS AND RENO AND HUGH, OH MY!
The B-story of the episode was Stamets working his way back to Hugh, babe, with a burning love inside. The story starts out great. I loved seeing the secondary characters just hanging out eating and chatting and playing word games. (By the way, best auto-antonym ever: “dust.”) And it got even better when Stamets, still moping over the loss of his pajama buddy, sees Hugh with another group of friends, laughing (something Hugh had not been able to do with Stamets since Dr. Hugh regenerated).
I’ve been there. I felt the pain Stamets was feeling after breaking up with a girlfriend, and it hurt like hell. In hindsight, I know we were never meant to be together, and with that insight, I saw the scene of Hugh moving on and thought, “Well, good. I’m glad to see him laughing again. It sucks to be Stamets, but eventually he’ll move on like I did.”
And then came Reno.
I love the character, and I wish they’d used her more this season. I suspect it’ll be “all hands on deck” for the 2-part finale, and we’ll see Reno in the next two episodes. But Reno deciding to duct-tape Hugh and Stamets back together felt very forced. If this is how Hugh goes back to Stamets, it’s very disrespectful to Hugh’s character. If Hugh lost that lovin’ feeling, then it’s gone…gone…gone. Maybe it might come back eventually, but for heavens sake, let Hugh be Hugh! Remember what they say: “If you love something, set it free. If if comes back to you, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, hunt it down and blast it into atoms.”
Anyway, it was nice hearing about Reno’s late wife, and it’s more backstory than nearly all the other non-main characters on the show have received so far. And Tig Notaro played her scenes extremely well with both Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz (dude, shave the scruff!)…and vice-versa. But if Hugh Culber goes back to Paul Stamets just out of regret for taking away their “second chance,” that’s just not honoring his character. Perhaps Hugh’s second chance is to move on to a new relationship. After all, he’s not the man he used to be…at least, not on a molecular level. If he goes back to Stamets for the wrong reasons, the relationship could be doomed anyway.
AND SPEAKING OF DOOMED RELATIONSHIPS…
The last story was very minor…only three scenes, really. But L’Rell and Voq/Tyler finally got their closure. And to be honest, they had three very well-acted, well-written scenes. My only complaint is that there was so little of it. Mary Chieffo actually does a really good job as L’Rell, but this is likely her final appearance this season. Oh, well. As for Rabbi Tyler, Shazad Latif continues to do almost nothing for me. His character seems to be little more than a doormat for the women in his life. It doesn’t matter what Ash Tyler might want, the women in his life won’t let him have it. Voq would never have stood for it, but Voq’s gone…gone…gone.
DESTROY THE SHIP? WHAT A FANTASTIC IDEA!
At the end of the episode, Burnham (it’s always Burnham!) suggests that they self-destruct the Discovery in order to destroy the Sphere archive that they can’t erase. Brilliant! After all, Discovery is just a starship; it can always be rebuilt. (NCC-1031-A anyone?)
So why didn’t someone think of this before? Hey, wait…I did. At the beginning of the episode, I thought, If they destroy the ship, the data is gone forever, right? And for Pike, it’s a no-brainer…as Discovery isn’t even his ship. He’s willing to sacrifice his own fate to a tortured, hideous existence…why not just blow up a bunch of metal after evacuating the crew? No one even has to die or get confined to a wheelchair blinking “yes” or “no” for the rest of their lives.
So, yeah…let’s blow up the ship! Or even better: set the autopilot to ram it directly into the nearest star. Of course, that would mean the beautiful Short Trek episode “Calypso” never happens…and I’m still not giving up on my theory that the Discovery from 1,000 years in the future is responsible for the seven signals.
I guess we’ll find out in the next two weeks…