What STAR TREK: DISCOVERY just got very RIGHT…and WRONG! (editorial review)

AND THE REVIEWER SAID UNTO THE READERS: “LET THERE BE SPOILERS!”

Reviews for STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s second episode of season three, “Far from Home,” have been mostly positive (with a few dissatisfied clunkers that I skimmed here and there). Speaking only for myself, though, I think it was my most enjoyable episode of Discovery so far.

Now, “enjoyable” doesn’t mean best or strongest or most amazing. But I very much ENJOYED the experience of watching it. It was an “easy” episode to watch—not too dark or broody, funny in a lot of places, not too convoluted or filled with exposition, decent character interplay, and a pretty straightforward bad guy to root against.

But that’s just the view from orbit. Let’s get closer to the surface and discuss WHY this episode worked so well and was so enjoyable to watch. Let’s look at what they got right and what they got wrong…

AND THE AWARD FOR BEST STARSHIP CRASH INTO AN ICE WORLD GOES TO…

Visual FX are no substitute for good writing and acting and directing and all the rest, of course, but you do need to give credit where it’s due. And while I detested most of the over-cluttered “epic” battle at the end of season two and found most of the VFX in season one too dark and undefined, I now have a favorite Discovery CGI sequence…by a wide margin.

This episode opened with a very exciting sequence where the Discovery crashes into a strange, new world. You might remember that, a week ago, Michael Burnham in her time suit also emerged from the temporal rift and immediately crashed—twice!—once into Book’s ship and then into the world with the Orion and Andorian Mercantile. Perhaps it’s just a pet peeve left over from when I was taking Astronomy 101 back at Cornell in 1987, but I do hate it when writers forget how big and empty space actually is. In this show, however, space is as crowded and as tightly packed as a Trump campaign rally. (Sorry, no politics, Jonathan! Bad blogger! Bad!)

Be that as it may, I’m not going to hold any of that against Discovery. So space is crowded—if it weren’t, the show would be super-boring. Anyway, Discovery emerges and then this quickly happens…

I did find it amusing that, once again, so many lives could have been saved from injury through the use of a 20th century invention known as the seat belt. But hey, at least they can always shout, “Brace! BRACE!!”

However, all kidding aside, that is one awesome sequence! And it shows how far Star Trek has come visually from 1998 when Voyager previously won the award for best starship crash into an ice world…

AND THERE WAS MUCH REJOICING

Over and over again during the first two seasons, I’d complained about how the characters never seemed to truly react to things emotionally. They just rushed from one plot “beat” to the next one, barely giving the audience a chance to see who these characters really were through the way they handled all of the horrendous stuff that was thrown at them.

Well, take a look at this…

Many fans are talking about this scene, and it’s obvious to me why. It’s a REAL emotional reaction. Sure, there’s more beats to come in this episode, but let’s take a moment to applaud the pilot who prevented us all from looking like what’s left of Leland. And hooray for calling her “Detmer”! In fact, that leads me to the next thing I’d like to praise…

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Can you name all of the officers on the Discovery bridge? I bet you can’t! (And if you can, you’re probably working for central casting as CBS.) Do you even remember Tilly’s or Detmer’s first names? (Silvia and Keyla, by the way.)

There’s a reason you can’t remember most of their names: NOBODY EVER USES THEM! Oh, sure, they say “Michael Burnham” and “Saru” and “Stamets” all the time. But what about the black navigator of Discovery? Okay, her name is kinda tough: Joann Owosekun. But what about the Asian guy or the black guy on the bridge? Any guesses?

Back in TOS, you’d always hear Kirk address his officers by name…so would Picard and the other shows’ captains. Repetition results in familiarity. But on Discovery, fans barely knew the name of the “robot chick” on the bridge until Ariam had her spotlight episode where she sacrificed herself and died.

I mentioned last week that the writers are beginning to course-correct a number of things that weren’t working from the previous two seasons. In my opinion, avoiding including character names in the dialog was something that definitely needed fixing.

Well, take a look at what I noticed from this episode…

That’s a LOT of name calling…and in a good way! Now, granted, it could have simply been that the writers felt that this was the first episode of the season featuring the Discovery characters (last episode was all Burnham, all the time). So maybe the writers were simply trying to make sure the audience remembered who was who. But I’m hoping that this is a taste of things to come and not a one-time adjustment.

WHAT THE F—???

Tilly was the first Star Trek character to ever speak the F-word in an episode or even a movie. Prior to that, the worst we’d had was a “no ma’am, no dipsh*t” from Admiral Kirk and a second S-bomb from Data in Generations. But somehow the movies were different and perhaps forgivable.

But to hear a Starfleet officer drop an F-bomb on televised Star Trek made many fans’ collective jaws drop. By season two of Discovery and season one of Picard, the dialog of televised Star Trek was beginning to sound more like a football locker room—of a losing team!

But then, in Discovery‘s latest episode, this happened…

My friends, I stood up and cheered. But then I sat down and moaned as, just minutes later in the episode, both Georgiou and Reno each used the word “sh*tty.” So…one step forward, two back. But I appreciated the one step forward.

By the way, I’d like to point out that the bad guy, who killed someone in cold blood and threatened the lives of both Saru and Tilly, never once uttered a single swear word. At least someone is watching his language on this show!

LONG LIVE BANTER!

You know how I feel about banter! It helps to define characters and allows the audience to relate to them better. Also, it never hurts to have a little comedy dropped in every so often…even in the middle of otherwise serious and life-threatening situations. In fact, especially then! Don’t take my word for it. Think of “The Doomsday Machine” (my favorite episode of TOS). This invincible planet-killer destroyed the crew of the U.S.S. Constellation and chopped whole planets into rubble. Then Commodore Decker commandeers the Enterprise for a suicide run. That’s serious stuff! And yet we have those little sparkles of humor with lines like, “Scotty, you’ve just earned your pay for the week…” and “Not with my ship you don’t!”

Granted, this latest episode of Discovery was more loaded with comedic moments than most—and many of the best lines went to Engineer Jett Reno (played perfectly by TIG NOTARO) and, of course, Tilly (MARY WISEMAN has her character down, but Tilly actually needs to be more than just a court jester and, fortunately for her in this episode, she was elevated quite a bit). But some of the other characters got their funny lines, too…

And yeah, I included one of Tilly’s lines at the beginning because that one’s kinda become an instant classic. And honestly, I found all of the comedic moments to be very refreshing and, as I said at the beginning of the bog, enjoyable. That said, they might have overdone things just a bit with Jett Reno’s back complaints…

On the other hand, there have been times when I’ve thrown my own back out, and I’m pretty sure I sounded just as whiney.

WHEN BURNHAM’S AWAY, THE CAST WILL PLAY!

For most of the first two seasons, if you were an officer on the U.S.S. Discovery and you were in a scene, chances are that Michael Burnham was in the same scene…and probably was the main focus. Not always, but more often than not, characters on the show were primarily defined by how they interacted with Michael Burnham.

But Michael has been separated from her crew mates. She had the last episode all to herself, and this week, the Discovery crew is on their own. FINALLY!!! What this allowed the writers to do was to mix-and-match other cast members into new and character-expanding scenes to help tell us who they are…and not just who they are when Michael Burnham is standing next to them.

You’ve already seen many of these wonderful mix-and-match pairings in the above clips, including Georgiou and Saru, Stamets and Culber, Georgiou and Tilly, Stamets and Reno, and Georgiou and Nhan. But one pairing in particular worked out perhaps the best of all of them, and that was the “odd and strange couple” of Saru and Tilly, which produced this heartfelt scene…

SO WHAT WAS WRONG WITH THE EPISODE?

Two words: parasitic ice.

No, I’m kidding. If we can accept cosmic strings and quantum filaments (not the same thing, mind you!), spatial anomalies that can shrink a runabout and super-fast shuttlecraft engines that mutate the captain and helmsman into giant salamanders, we can give a friendly pass to “angry” ice…

(Angry ICE not eyes!!!)

Anywhoo, there were a few misfires in this episode, too. The first was the hint of things to come with Detmer. I realize it’s important to plant plot seeds that grow and blossom in later episodes, but this was way too obvious. And worse, it stretched credulity a bit. Noticing Detmer’s shakiness on the bridge, Saru orders her to Sickbay. That’s fine. But send someone with her!!! If Detmer passes out in the turbolift and dies of an aneurysm, Saru is never gonna be able to live with himself! I realize the ship is in trouble, but so is Detmer. Order someone to accompany her to Sickbay and then come back to the bridge. Not only that, but once she’s in Sickbay with a head wound, no doctor there gives her at least a quick exam to make sure there’s no dain bramage? C’mon, people!

I understand that, had the writers given Detmer a fuller medical exam—or even had a doctor or nurse ask, “Hey, are you really okay?”—then the upcoming Detmer subplot (whatever it is) would be impossible to pull off. So maybe find a different or better way to do it? I dunno.

My second big issue is Georgiou. Granted, I realize that every “Lost in Space” themed sci-fi series needs a Dr. Smith character—someone nefarious and untrustworthy, brilliant, out for themselves but often with a soft spot for one of the crew, cocky and arrogant…and yet also somehow lovable and even charming at times who occasionally surprises viewers by actually saving the day. The Dr. Smith character is a trope. Voyager had Seska in the first season. Farscape had Rygel. The Battlestar Galactica reboot had Baltar. So it’s not a surprise that Discovery has Georgiou.

I suppose I’m really just disappointed that the writers felt they needed to have their own Dr. Smith character. I mean, it’s obvious what they’re doing. Saru needs a sparring partner and a foil. If he’s the acting captain, then someone has to challenge his authority and decisions and present an alternate course of action perhaps less “diplomatic” and more “kick-ass”—and Michael apparently is no longer that voice on the show (she used to be). Anyway, I never liked the original Dr. Smith (despite loving the actor who played him, the late JONATHAN HARRIS), and Rygel annoyed the living daylights out of me. On the other hand, who didn’t fall in love/hate with JAMES CALLIS’ Gaius Baltar? So maybe I just need to give Georgiou more time to grow on me.

I also had a teensy problem with how “back to normal” Paul Stamets and Hugh Culber are…almost as if their relationship issues after Hugh’s rebirth never happened. However, considering that I loathed that forced-drama storyline from season two to begin with, I’m actually happy to put it in the rearview mirror and pretend it never happened. I prefer seeing these two men in a committed relationship…just like Ross and Rachel except that they’re on a starship a millennia in the future (and yes, they’re both guys…nothing wrong with that!).

But perhaps most egregious to me personally was the ending. Although exciting, the Deus Ex Michael was an insult to the rest of the cast. They all worked so hard throughout the entire episode to get Discovery working again. All they needed to do was escape from the “angry” ice and get back into space. But they couldn’t do it. They failed and had to be rescued by the too-big-to-fail Michael Burnham.

Granted, it was a suspenseful “reveal” (that I completely saw coming as soon as the tractor beam hit) and a flashy way to (re)introduce the older and wiser(?) Michael 2.0. But for me, it just said—in bright, shiny lens-flare letters—that Discovery is once again “The Michael Burnham Show.” I was really enjoying seeing the crew solve their problems without her. But I guess they just can’t. So…yawn…Michael to the rescue (again).

But hey, I still enjoyed the other 49 minutes. And the important thing is that I did, indeed, enjoy the episode. So Discovery gets me for at least another week…maybe more!

7 thoughts on “What STAR TREK: DISCOVERY just got very RIGHT…and WRONG! (editorial review)”

  1. I gotta be honest, the one thing that did annoy me was the Parasitic Ice. To me that implies that the ice is alive and has a intent (be it conscious or instinctual). And the Deus Ex machina, aka Burnham is getting old. You are right since season 1 she has been responsible for starting and ending a war, throwing a empire into disarray, forcing a empire under one leader and let’s not forget finding out a giant Tardigrade was the key to “skipping across the universe on a highway made of mushrooms”, and also figuring out that firing it to do that was also oppressing the creature. And then figuring almost everything out about the red angel, then finding out not only is her mother the red angel, she is also a red angel that is the sister of Spock and apparently the most important person of the show, to the point they can do anything without her.

    I have just one question, why isn’t she the only person on Discovery? She apparently can do anything up to and including being the Star Trek Messiah.

      1. It would be nice to have it back to the way they did it on TNG, DS9, VOY and ENT. Not one person solved all the issues, it was a group effort that seems real and fulfilling. Now it is like, I wonder what will happen that will confuse everyone that only Burnham can fix.

  2. Having seen all those clips, I’m not convinced that Reno isn’t actually the Doctor Smith character. All the writers had to do was “I can’t pull Stamets out of the Jefferies tube–my back is especially delicate today” or “A drink for Detmer, and a neuroblocker for me–my back is a disaster area.”

  3. Still not convinced, but not as bad as I feared. I thought it unlikely that the Disco could smash through giant asteroids without shields and crash-land without a single dent – even the Enterprise E broke a few windows when ramming the baddies in Nemesis. And the parasitic ice (oh puh-leeze…) was just dramatic nonsense that enabled yet another Deus Ex Michael, as you so amusingly put it.

    Georghiou’s scenes were refreshing, and reminded me of what you said the other day about The Lower Decks – how you saw each of the four main characters as different types of ST fans. I wonder if the role of ‘Critical Fan’ has fallen to Georghiou, who seems to voice the same crew criticisms as some of the less-than-happy fans. I do hope this continues, though I have a bad feeling she will become a pantomime baddie to Burnham’s over-virtuous and rather tedious hero.

    1. I also fear that the Georgiou/Burnham relationship won’t develop into anything that will truly surprise or intrigue us.

      And yes, I was quite proud of “Deus Ex Michael”…thanks for noticing it. 🙂

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