CHARACTER COUNTS this season on STAR TREK: DISCOVERY (editorial review)

FOUR OUT OF FIVE REVIEWERS RECOMMEND SPOILERS FOR THEIR PATIENTS WHO CHEW GUM

STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s fifth episode of the season, “Die Trying,” was pretty strong. There were, of course, a couple of annoying aspects of absurd writing, like a 1,000-year-old “seed ship” floating defenseless in space with no protection and a crew of four (two of whom were children)—why not build more than one seed ship, or locate the seeds safely on a planet, or use a ship that isn’t a millennium old?—and Empress Georgiou knowing how to “blink-off” 32nd century holograms. That would be like a 10th century Viking showing up today and somehow knowing that he could clap his hands twice to turn off a light when he shouldn’t even know what a light is!

But hey, nobody’s perfect…and Discovery‘s writers aren’t the first in Star Trek history to come up with unrealistic and absurd ideas. “Spock’s Brain,” anyone? How about “The Royale” or “Threshold”?

What I’d really like to talk about in this blog, however, is an aspect of this episode that elevated to a much higher level—and that was the handling of the various characters, both old and new. The strength of “Die Trying” wasn’t an amazing story (’cause, frankly, the plot itself was pretty predictable: Discovery‘s homecoming wasn’t what they expected, future Starfleet was suspicious, and the crew had to prove themselves by completing a mission that only they could accomplish).

No, what made this episode such an effective success was that viewers got introduced to new, intriguing characters while also being treated to wonderful scenes featuring the characters we already know getting to strut their stuff. Let’s discuss…

GIVING THE EXISTING CAST SOME LOVE

For the first two seasons of Discovery, it seemed as though, if your name didn’t appear in the opening credits, forget about your character doing much other than pushing buttons and saying the occasional “Aye, sir.”

This season, however, we’re seeing a bit more of the Discovery‘s bridge crew and even a few of the “lower decks” officers. This was particularly evident this episode with two scenes. The first was the teaser, where the wide-eyed crew members of the time-displaced U.S.S. Discovery gape in wonder at the marvels of the future. And thank the Great Bird that their reactions weren’t just silent staring like we saw in Star Trek: The Motion Picture as the Enterprise traveled ever-so-slowly through the insides of V’ger.

Nope, this time they commented on what they saw, smiled, even laughed. Granted, some of the things they commented on were thrown in by the writers just for the heck of it to make the future look incomprehensibly awesome…even if those tidbits made little sense. For example, why have a ship’s hull made out of holographic containment walls? If you lose power, you lose, well, everything! And detached nacelles? Why are there nacelles at all if there’s no dilithium?

But never mind that. It was still cool to see a not-so-brief glimpse of the Voyager-J, and fans are already applauding the brief glimpse of the USS Nog, honoring the character played by the recently deceased and much beloved actor ARON EISENBERG.

However, the best segment of the entire episode was, hands down, the “debriefing” scenes with Culber, Reno, Stamets, Tilly, and Nhan. Each actor was able to really live inside their characters for those bring snippets, showing the range of their personalities—from Culber’s finding his own inner peace to Reno’s just not giving a crap to Stamets’ obnoxious insecurities to Tilly’s manic recounting of season one’s trip to the Mirror Universe to Nhan’s instinctive security officer distrust of the same people who are not trusting her. Let’s watch that entire segment because it was so much fun…

KIRK AND SPOCK SWITCH PLACES?

Something that I haven’t seen mentioned in other reviews of this week’s episode was the new dynamic being set up between Captain Saru and his first officer Michael Burnham. Let’s compare this “odd couple” to other dynamic duos of Star Trek

  • Picard and Riker – While Riker was definitely more the swashbuckling adventurer of the pair (like Burnham), Picard was no Saru. The latter lacks the experience and self-assuredness of Picard, and to be honest, Picard was a bit of an adventurer himself. Saru isn’t.
  • Sisko and Kira – While early Sisko might have shown the calmness of Saru, Sisko also had a hot fire burning quietly inside of him. Saru doesn’t have that fire in his gut; he has kelp. And Kira’s passion came from a combination of religious belief simultaneously at war with deep anger and resentment. Burnham’s passions come from somewhere else.
  • Janeway and Chakotay – If anything, Chakotay’s even temperament was more akin to Saru, and Janeway was more the kick-ass like Burnham. So that doesn’t really work.
  • Archer and T’Pol – Archer might be a little Saru-like (barely), but despite the Vulcan upbringing that both share, Burnham ain’t no T’Pol and vice-versa!

That leaves Kirk and Spock, the prototypes, the pairing that set the standard for all others that followed. Now, obviously Saru is no Kirk and Burnham (despite being Spock’s adopted sister) is no Spock. But what about the reverse?

In this episode, we saw the first real hints of what this command relationship will be like. Saru is proper and always by-the-book…just like Spock. Kirk has the book—somewhere—he’s read it a few times and knows what it says. But he treats it more as a “suggestion” than a set of rules and guidelines…trusting his gut most of the time (and being frickin’ lucky more often than not!). Doesn’t that also sound a little like Commander Michael Burnham’s modus operandi?

So in a strange way, I think this newest Star Trek pairing is a reverse Kirk/Spock team-up…which I suddenly find quite intriguing. It’s usually a good idea, for dramatic reasons, to have a captain and first officer who don’t always agree. It allows the writers to present multiple sides of the arguments and to explore the potential ramifications of challenging command decisions. Star Trek has always thrived on these intellectual and emotional conflicts between the person in charge and his or her trusted adviser. And while we know exactly how the dynamic works with Kirk and Spock when the passionate, lead-from-gut-intuition adventurer is in change—what happens when the calm and rational brainy guy gets the last word? Will the headstrong maverick want to listen and follow orders the same way the by-the-book logical one would have?

We’ve never had a true captain/first officer conflict dynamic with Discovery before, as Lorca kept his own council, and Pike’s Number One was on a whole different starship.

MEET THE NEW BOSS…

Now let’s start talking about the three new characters who were introduced. The first was future Starfleet’s commander-in-chief Admiral Charles Vance (played by Israeli actor ODED FEHR). As I said, it was 100% predictable that future Starfleet wouldn’t exactly welcome the Discovery crew with open arms. This show almost never takes the “Disney” path (granted, these days, even Disney doesn’t usually take the Disney path!). But Admiral Vance had the potential of being played in a dastardly, malevolent way—arrogant and suspicious of strangers and doing whatever it takes to keep what’s left of the Federation safe.

And to an extent, that’s what he does. But it’s also clear that Vance WANTS to trust the Discovery crew. He’s conflicted because he’s a good man in a bad situation…and that came through in both the writing and in Fehr’s subtle performance. Granted, he also needed to play the heavy and order the crew to be split up or else there would be no dramatic tension and need for Discovery to complete their “quest.” But in the end, Vance becomes an ally and, in fact, the person who will decide what the Discovery does and where it goes from here on out.

That said, if this were really happening, there’s no way that Vance would have let that ship or crew go anywhere! It’s a thousand year old technology that can certainly be analyzed and copied by future tech in a matter of days…weeks or months at the most. Put a spore drive in every starship (or just build new ones), and suddenly the Federation is a thing again! Sure, there’s only one Stamets to do the jump calculations, but the computers of a thousand years ago weren’t nearly as powerful as the PCs and Macs of today (because they didn’t even exist yet!). Heck, the computers of 40 years ago were the Apple II Plus and the TRS 80! So I’d imagine that the computers and A.I. of the 32nd century wouldn’t break a sweat navigating through Mycelial Space…and maybe not even tear it to pieces while doing so (anyone else remember that plot twist?).

Oh, last point about Vance…is it just me, or does it seem like the relationship between him and Admiral Senna Tal might have been more than just friends? Too bad Adira Tal was rushed out of the episode so quickly, but I suspect their previous relationship will get some attention soon enough.

THE BEST CHARACTER ON DISCOVERY SO FAR?

Up until now, I would have to say that the best character introduced in Discovery‘s three seasons was Christopher Pike…mainly due to ANSON MOUNT’s incredible performance. After that, it’s probably Saru, once again due to actor DOUG JONES. And if you really want a third place winner, I’ll say Engineer Jett Reno (played brilliantly by TIG NOTARO).

But now I find myself completely enraptured by the mysterious new character of Kovich. Actually, the character’s name isn’t even revealed during the episode (much like The X-Files‘ “Cigarette Smoking Man”), although the IMDb page for actor DAVID CRONENBERG lists him as “Kovich.”

Finally, Empress Georgiou has met her match…and then some! Kovich not only remains completely unfazed by her arrogant contempt and aloof sarcasm, but he seems able to actually faze Phillipa herself! This stranger appears to know more about the Mirror Universe and the Terran Empire than Georgiou herself, and that’s obviously something which disturbs her. Good!

We see Georgiou later on in the episode staring off into the distance, unresponsive. What did her conversion with Kovich do to the former empress/Section 31 operative? Is she bothered by the fact that the Terran Empire fell…or that there hasn’t been a crossover in 500 years and she’s likely trapped here forever due to the increasing distance between the Mirror Universe and this one? And was Kovich even telling her the truth to begin with?

I’m not sure whether or not to trust this guy either, but who cares? He’s arguably one of the most compelling characters this series has introduced so far. Put him in a room with Michael Burnham, and my eyes and ears would never leave Kovich because he’s so naturally mesmerizing. His look, his line delivery, even those unnecessary glasses…everything is perfect thus far. I want to know SO much more about him! What is his role in Starfleet? Is he even in Starfleet? Is he Section 31? Is he from the Mirror Universe? Did he put a whammy into Georgiou’s mind? Is he a good witch or a bad witch? Is he even human? More Kovich! (Not to be confused with Morrie Povich!)

A NHAN-STARTER?

Okay, the one thing that really pissed me off about this episode was the sudden Nhexit from the series of the Barzan security officer Commander Nhan. I actually wondered if actress RACHAEL ANCHERIL had, for some reason, asked to leave the series. But no. According to interviews, she knew from the beginning of season three that her time on the show would be coming to an end a few episodes in. She figured, as the first character on Discovery to ever be seen wearing a red shirt (back in season two), that Nhan would probably be killed. But instead, she simply gets to ride in a slow boat (well, ship) to Barzan…catching up on reading and counting seeds, I guess. Have a nice trip, Nhan.

Now, it’s obvious (at least to me) what happened. The show-runners needed to get someone from future Starfleet to join the crew in a significant position. Of course, you can’t get rid of Saru or Michael, so the new “transplant” won’t be the CO or XO. Culber’s the doc, can’t ditch him. Jett Reno is the chief engineer, and her character is way too priceless. Gotta keep her. Stamets does the mushroom maneuvers, and Detmer flies the ship (and she’s up-and-coming, so don’t ditch her!). Owosekun comes attached to Detmer, so not her. Tilly is Tilly; she’s safe. You could probably get rid of Rhys, Bryce, or Nilsson, but no one’s really sure what any of them do on the bridge in the first place, and the new transplant needs an important role and position.

And so, that left Nhan as the one to go because chief of security is a recognized and important position, and the ship can’t have two uptight security chiefs. Enter: Lieutenant Audrey Willa, played by VANESSA JACKSON, a hard-ass security chief at future Starfleet who starts off as a “mean girl” to Michael and company but ultimately finds herself impressed with the crew and their ability to operate in spite of their dysfunction. (In fact, one of the best lines of the episode—acknowledging what has been obvious about this show from the third episode—was the following from Jett Reno: “Dysfunction is the team.”)

But really, that “character arc” (going from obnoxiously belligerent to sweetly pleased) seemed to be the one function for Willa this episode. Michael and the crew got to look all cocky and self-assured at their stations, knowing they could do no wrong. And Willa just had to look mean and dubious until she finally warmed up.

But for me, despite loving the introduction of the other two new characters, I feel the series has traded down from Nhan to Willa. I was really beginning to like Nhan. Aside from Saru and Linus (and the guy with the giant head that looks like a deformed pumpkin), she’s the only non-human in the recurring cast. Also, she’s the only other full commander in the crew besides Michael and Georgiou (who should have the rank of captain, dammit!) Nhan would have made a great second officer and even a possible first officer. Willa is way too young and inexperienced. And finally, as an actor, Rachel Ancheril has 11 years more experience than Vanessa Jackson, and it shows. Willa just doesn’t impress me…yet


But all in all, another fine episode of Discovery during a season that is doing more to impress than to depress fans. And now that we’ve got most of the set-up and exposition out of the way, and most of the pieces are on the chess board, we can finally get this show on the space-road and see what she’s really got.

Please don’t screw this up.

8 thoughts on “CHARACTER COUNTS this season on STAR TREK: DISCOVERY (editorial review)”

  1. About the “1.000 years old seed ship”, it seems that the Tikhov registry is briefly visible on Tilly’s display, and it says “NCC-1067-M”, so it is quite possible that this is not the original Tikhov, but the fourteenth ship with the same name (which keeps the original mission of being a seed-ship), although this should have been made clear, instead of saying “the Tikhov is still around”, implying it is the very same ship of the 23rd century.

    Also, I always roll my eyes and threw my arms up with the unnecessary technobabble that the writers seem to think that it is a fundamental requirement of a Star Trek story, specially because it is technobabble just for the sake of technobabble; Georgiou’s “blinking out” of the holographic interrogators, the “chimeric strain in the subatomic level in the Terran stem cell” (are we going to see some future plot in which the USS Discovery travels to the Mirror Universe and cures the Terrans from their innate evilness by erasing that “chimeric strain”?), these bouts of technobabble doesn’t add anything to the story, they don’t make much sense if you start to think about them, and muddle the episode for the casual viewer.

    1. The only place the technobabble was appropriate to the story was in engineering where Stamets, Tilly, and Reno work out the “science” so quickly and impress Security Lt. Willa (who is hopelessly clueless on what they’re saying).

      Aside from that, yeah, it was the technobabble episode for sure. As for the Tikhov, I’m a little better with it being the “M,” but why is there only ONE of these kinds of ships? I mean, it’s frickin’ seeds! It’s not one-of-a-kind priceless artifacts. Plant a few, grow some more, get more seeds, and send out more ships. Oh, and store a few million seeds on planets, too, where there’s more room and the occasional ion storm, spatial anomaly, space pirate, or stray meteor doesn’t threaten to wipe out the entire 1000-year project!

  2. Two things that caught my attention about the episode:

    The “Starfleet debriefings” scene, with quick cuts of different characters being interviewed, remembered me to a similar scene of the “Bushwacked” episode of “Firefly”, in which Serenity’s crew is interrogated by an Alliance captain.

    Also, the mysterious song that seems to be known by everybody reminds me about how the “All Along The Watchtower” song was used in “Battlestar Galactica”. And it could be coincidence, but the next “Discovery” episode, (titled “Scavengers”), is written by Anne Cofell Saunders, who wrote five episodes of “Battlestar Galactica”, and she is also co-executive producer of “Discovery”.

  3. Having caught up with the series my 2 cents is I agree! This is a show I want to watch purely for enjoyment, not because it’s linked to Star Trek. I like the setup very much. So far, episodes have their own story that fits within the larger arc, which was my biggest beef with what had gone before. There seems to be more sense of wonder too. Sure, there’s always stuff that could be better but CBS is delivering very watchable content now, it makes me happy. As you say, let’s hope they keep this up.

    1. Yep. I’m not obsessively excited about Star Trek as I was in my younger days (and as I am about shows like “The Mandalorian,” “The Expanse,” “The Boys,” “Watchmen,” and “Lost in Space” (to name but a few!). But it’s an enjoyable show and not at all a waste of time. So here’s hoping it gets better and not worse. šŸ™‚

      1. The Boys is a top show. I’ve got 4 more episodes of season 2 to go, I’m trying to make them last. Totally outrageous. Off topic I know, but it’s one of the best things I’ve seen. I love the Marvel Universe films but it’s great to have an antidote too.

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