SPOILERS ARE JUST A REVIEWER’S WAY OF SAYING: “I LOVE YOU”
Before anyone thinks that I didn’t like STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s sixth episode of the season, “Scavengers,” I did very much enjoy it. I simply had to get past the stupid stuff that really annoyed me. So let’s get that out of the way first…
Okay, I just need to say it: DETACHED NACELLES ARE RIDICULOUS!!! Seriously, who thought of that? I want to see some fan with VFX skills take a CGI model of Discovery, cut to Saru ordering the ship to warp, and then have both nacelles whoosh forward and out of sight while the rest of the ship just sits there motionless. (You reading this, SAMUEL COCKINGS???)
Likewise, the NCC-1031-A was completely unnecessary…and wrong. When the U.S.S. Enterprise was refit in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, it remained NCC-1701. The “A” came later on a different ship because its predecessor had been destroyed over the Genesis planet. Same with the bloody B, C, D, and E…and any other letters that came later.
Those personal site-to-site transporter badges might not be stupid, but they’re annoying as anything…just ask anyone who is trying to make out in a turbolift just as Linus shows up and announces, “This isn’t the science lab!” just before disappearing again. Yeah, hooray for the comedy relief, but the gag got old really fast and brought up a lot of very disturbing questions:
- Does everyone on the Discovery suddenly have the superpower of teleportation? (Suddenly, Nightcrawler of the X-Men isn’t particularly impressive anymore.)
- What about privacy on board? Can you materialize inside someone’s bathroom and go, “Oops”? I actually might not feel particularly safe on a ship full of people who can suddenly appear anywhere at anytime.
- Isn’t there a danger of materializing inside of someone else…or something else? One would hope there’s a “shove” function built into the beam, but what if two people transport simultaneously into the same spot?
- How do people doing delicate tasks requiring steady nerves and concentration guard against the sudden, unexpected pop-ins that now happen regularly?
All three examples come under the heading of “just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean that you SHOULD do that thing.” The writers decided that the future has some amazing stuff. But perhaps they went a little too amazing with things like personal transporters and “programmable” matter and detached nacelles. When technology becomes more like “magic,” you might have jumped a shark or two.
Just one more kvetch before I get to the good stuff: while I’m more of a dog person, I like cats, too…and fat-shaming a feline is not cool (unless it’s Garfield). The jokes about Grudge’s size bother me—perhaps because I have a weight problem myself. It wouldn’t be appropriate to make those snarky comments about Tilly’s shape, so why is it okay to mock the cat?
Okay, I’m done complaining. Let’s start saying some nice things…
As most reviewers noticed, this was the “standard” prison break episode that we’ve seen a million times before on Star Trek and elsewhere. The formula is the same: someone important gets captured and must be freed, the heroes infiltrate the prison pretending to be someone they aren’t, we meet a prisoner on the inside who is “good” and makes us care about the plight of the other prisoners (so now the jail-break has to be everyone), something goes wrong and the heroes are discovered, but with the help of the prisoners, the good guys succeed and everybody escapes with only one death or injury (usually the “good” prisoner we met inside who made us root for everyone to escape).
So yeah, all the boxes checked on that.
But the prison break was only the catalyst to bring in two other much larger story points for the episode (and for the series), and those are going to be my focus because they’re both actually very solid dramatic choices by the show’s creators.
THE EMPRESS’ NEW (LACK OF) GROOVE
The first of the two plots is Georgiou’s newfound “whammy” (likely put on her by Kovich last episode—although who knows?—maybe it’s just her increased distance from her universe of origin). The reason this particular twist worked so well is that it takes the former empress far away from her comfort zone as a character. This is a solid tool of storytelling, as explained first to me by the great J. MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI discussing the second season of the series Babylon 5: “What you need to do,” he said at a con back in 1995, “is establish the ‘rules’ of your universe so people know what to expect. Then, once they’re comfortable, then you start breaking those rules in unexpected ways. That’s how you keep them interested and excited.” And he certainly was right!
With Georgiou, we know who she is by now: snarky, arrogant, nefarious, merciless, cocksure, and always in control of herself and the situation (even if she isn’t the one in command). And as long as this “Dr. Smith” character keeps playing her one note, she’s part of the symphony but ultimately not a character who will stand out much. Oh, sure, we get the occasional “Georgiou the ass-kicker” as we did in the second episode of the season, and she’s always good for an obnoxious comment to add in some comedy relief for a scene. But we really weren’t expecting much else with her besides, “Well, she really does care about Michael, so she’s just a softy at heart.”
But this episode deconstructed nearly all of that with two key scenes (plus one from last episode). Early on, we see Geoegiou hesitate enough that Michael notices. But of course, Georgiou won’t admit weakness or ask for help…ever. So the moment passes. But later on in the episode, Georgiou is taken out of action by her mental debilitation at a critical moment, and the mission almost fails. This time, Michael can’t simply “let it go,” and Georgiou is gonna have some ‘splainin’ to do…and maybe even get some quality time with Dr. Hugh.
Whatever happens, this episode was obviously the set up, moving the chess piece into place, and the payoff will begin coming (hopefully) next episode. What I applaud about this is how quickly this storyline developed. Last episode, Georgiou began showing her first sign of the “whammy.” An episode later, and it’s reached the point of needing to be dealt with. Compare the speed of this development with the glacial pace of past plot elements like Tilly’s “Mushroom May” imaginary friend and Ash Tyler’s struggle against his own inner Klingon demon.
Speaking of Ash, I need to interrupt this train of thought to mention how much more satisfying Michael’s relationship with Book feels than anything that ever happened with Tyler. That “romance” felt as natural as a Twinkie. Book and Burnham (or Book Burnin’ as I like to call them), feels like twue wove…that dweam within a dweam. And to be honest, I can’t understand why the two of them had to wait a year to start gettin’ it on in a turbolift. Seems that being alone in Book’s Lego Millennium Falcon for twelve months would have provided plenty of opportunities for doin’ da nasty, if you know what I mean. (You can always put the cat in a different room for privacy—unless Grudge has a personal transporter, too.)
Oh, well…I guess absence and a prison break made the heart grow fonder. But at least the creators moved this “will they or won’t they?” plot along quickly, too. Let’s hear it for speedy service!
NUMBER ONE STEPS IN SOME DEEP NUMBER TWO!
But the most welcome plot that the writers moved along quickly was my favorite aspect of this episode, and that was Michael’s betrayal of Saru and of her crew…and its consequences. Three weeks ago, I complained about how I felt that Michael Burnham was a lousy choice for first officer because she’s such a loose cannon. “How many second chances is this headstrong woman gonna keep getting???” I shouted through the Internet. Then last week, I compared the Saru/Burnham dynamic to Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock…only with the roles reversed. I mused: “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?”
Well, we now know the answer…and it didn’t take very long, did it? Granted, the writers set up an almost impossible choice for Michael: disobey direct orders or save a beloved friend. Yeah, there was also the McGuffin of getting the last black box (more on that shortly), but we all know why Michael really went to the salvage planet. There was a Book she just couldn’t tear herself away from.
Now, in Star Trek III, Kirk disobeys orders, steals the Enterprise, and blows it up…all to save Spock. His friends help him. In the end, he saves Earth and gets a mild slap on the wrist along with command of the Enterprise back. In “Scavengers,” Burnham does mostly the same thing (with help from Georgiou but without blowing up a starship…and she only saves some prisoners, not an entire planet), and yet her punishment feels MUCH more severe than Kirk’s.
And I say…about frickin’ time!!!
Granted, I do love Star Trek II-III-IV, and I believe in what Kirk did. But as this latest episode of Discovery explained (very well, in fact!), Michael’s decision did not only affect her and Georgiou. It had the potential to impact the lives and careers of her entire crew…without their consent! At least Uhura, Chekov, Sulu, Scotty, and McCoy all agreed to help Kirk get Spock. This was a delicate period where Discovery and her crew were trying to earn the trust and respect of future Starfleet. Having their XO disobey the orders of her captain and go A.W.O.L. at a time when the Discovery was standing by to be sent on an important mission at any moment…this was the epitome of selfishness and (if I may be so bold) sheer friggin’ hubris. Not only did Michael betray her captain’s trust, she betrayed all of her friends and shipmates.
And honestly, just taking her out of the position of XO was the LEAST that should have happened! I know that Michael (maybe I should go back to calling her Burnham?) is needed to triangulate the black boxes, so keeping her on as science officer and not simply putting her into the brig for a month (like Tom Paris had to endure in the Voyager episode “Thirty Days”) makes sense. But how about at least confining her to quarters for a month and demoting her back to lieutenant?
When Michael, tears in her eyes, tells Saru that he’s doing the right thing, I wanted to smack her with a Starfleet officer’s manual! Saru doesn’t need HER blessing to discipline his crew. And she got off easy. Be happy they’re letting you stay on the darn ship, Michael, ’cause you could just as easily analyze the black boxes working from the future Starfleet space station HQ…or even from their brig!
In fact, why is Michael even needed to analyze those black boxes? Doesn’t anyone else in the galaxy know how to triangulate? And hey, why was Michael the only person to ever think of looking at the black boxes in the first place? Is everyone in the future an idiot? Starfleet (even what’s left of it) should be full of smart scientists. The idea that the wave that destroyed all of the dilithium in the galaxy originated from some central location seems like something that SOMEONE would have thought to look at in the last century, right? But I guess Michael Burnham always needs to be the one to save everyone and everything.
Oops, that was another “stupid and annoying” complaint sneaking into the blog. Back to the good stuff…
I do want to tip my hat for the scene where Admiral Vance chews out Saru for not bringing Michael’s information directly to him (Vance) in the first place before telling her “no” on the rescue mission. Vance was 100% right, and Saru should feel properly chastised. But it’s an interesting dynamic here, as well. Saru is the “new kid in the fleet” and wants to fit in, and it’s hard to know what and how much to bring to the admiral’s attention before becoming too annoying and appearing helpless. So I also get where Saru is coming from. This scene needed to happen, and I’m glad that it did. Now Saru knows that Vance wants to be informed—and hopefully, next time, Saru won’t be so skittish.
LAST TWO THINGS…
All right, one more stupid thing and one more good thing to cover. Coin flip time! Okay, stupid thing goes first…
Why isn’t future Starfleet building a new fleet of Discoverys? I mean, it would be one thing if the ship were some kind of indecipherable alien technology that they had to figure out first. We’ve seen that trope about a thousand times in various sci-fi, from Stargate to The Expanse. But not only does Discovery have its own specs and blueprints in its computer banks, but the guy who frickin’ DESIGNED the spore drive is right there on the ship! Yes, I know that, right now, Paul Stamets is the only person who can “drive” the ship through the magical mushroom tour, but the Discovery crew is already working on that problem, and I’m sure the smart people from the future would be happy to help.
And finally, the last of the good things—which was kinda tacked on at the end anyway as a tagged on C-story—and that was Stamets reaching out to Adira Tal with the hand of friendship. Granted, it was interesting that one of the two main gay characters would reach out to the non-binary character (with the trans boyfriend), but I don’t think there was any hidden message there…liberal or otherwise. It’s simply that every other main character has major things going on and would overwhelm Adira plot-wise:
- Saru is captain and has his issues with Michael.
- Michael is, well, overwhelming to any character.
- Tilly is her own supernova and already was the “I’ll be friends with the new kid” character when Michael first came aboard.
- Hugh is pretty busy being everyone’s friend and therapist.
- Jett Reno isn’t really tocuhy-feely.
- Georgiou doesn’t make friends.
I suppose one of the interchangeable bridge officers, Linus, or that cleaning guy Gene could have befriended Adira, but why would we care? So that left Stamets…and it was a good, positive scene to lighten up an otherwise heavy episode of tension, suspense, conflict, and consequences. I’m not sure where this new friendship is headed, nor what’s going to happen with “Trill ghost” Gray, but not every subplot needs to move forward at warp speed.
As a final side-note, looking back from the point of view of a 53-year-old married man, I’m not not sure how thrilled I’d be having my girlfriend from back when I was sixteen be living inside my head as a talking imaginary friend for the rest of my life. Just something to think about…
Okay, I’ve written enough for the week. Next week, as we give thanks here in America, we can also be thankful for crossing the halfway point in the third season of Discovery!