SPOILERS ARE JUST AN UNAVOIDABLE FACT OF LIFE
Last week, I truly LOVED the second-to-last episode of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s third season, “There Is a Tide.” With so much happening going into the final episode, my hopes were high. Tilly and the bridge crew, along with the DOT-bot “army” still had to retake the ship from Oysraa. Michael had just been captured by Zareh while Book was already a hostage on the bridge. Osyraa was cornered, outnumbered by Starfleet vessels that could blow Discovery out of the sky (well, space) but holding the most valuable bargaining chip: the spore drive. But she couldn’t jump away because Stamets (against his will) was ejected from the ship by Michael…setting up lord-knows-how-many future fireworks between the two! Meanwhile, Saru, Culber, and Adira were stuck on the dilithium planet with the Kelpien equivalent of Black Bolt, trying to save the galaxy before dying of radiation poisoning. The clock was ticking!!!
With a set-up like that, what could possibly go wrong with the finale?
It’s hard to know where to start…or stop…or start…or stop again. I say it that way because that’s kinda how I felt as I watched the full 60-minute episode (the longest of the season). Have you ever ridden with a teen just learning to drive a car and they speed up and slow down and speed up and slow down over and over so much that it’s all you can do to hold down your last meal? The finale was kinda like that.
There was ample action—AMPLE!!!—lots of running and shooting and explosions and fighting and kicking people out of elevators and crew members suffocating and people running out of time and gosh darn it…things just moved at maximum warp.
And then there was Su’Kal. Gotta keep that kid calm lest he scream and destroy the galaxy again! So everything in the holo-chamber on the dilithium planet was super serene and slow, with lots of empathy and understanding from Saru and the others. Nothing necessarily wrong with that.
But the two types of scenes switched back and forth so that you were either rushing along at warp speed or else you were crawling at one-tenth impulse. And as a viewer, that unevenness didn’t work at all for me. Compare it to last episode, which also had differently paced scenes. There was Michael doing the Die Hard thing while the hostages tried to get free while Stamets talked to the Emerald Chain scientist while Vance negotiated with Osyraa. Why did that episode work and this one didn’t? Because the fast-paced scenes weren’t constantly super-fast, the hostage scenes were mostly medium speed, and the Vance and Stamets scenes, while slow, had tension and an air of not knowing what would happen.
Compare that to “That Hope Is You, Part 2.” (And by the way “That Hope Is You, Part 1” was the first episode of this season. I hadn’t even realized that there never was a Part 2 the following week! Well, twelve weeks later, now there is.) Anyway, as I said, this episode had only two speeds, and it jerked us back and forth. The fast was almost too fast, which made the slow feel too slow.
But unfortunately, that wasn’t the only problem that I had with the season finale…
TIME TO TURN OFF OUR BRAINS
Alas, I have an even deeper problem with the action scenes: they required turning one’s brain off to truly enjoy, and I just couldn’t do that this time. Perhaps it was because the previous night I’d been watching the last week’s episode of The Expanse (the fifth of season five). If you’re not watching that show, then you’re missing one of the best sci-fi series on television. I never have any complaints when I finish an episode of that show, but sadly, I can’t say the same for Discovery.
This episode of The Expanse I watched the night before had some really awesome action sequences along with some really slow parts, just like Discovery. But with The Expanse, the two types of scenes meshed perfectly (as they had with the previous episode of Discovery). What’s more, the action scenes on The Expanse make total sense and even follow the laws of physics incredibly closely in a way that few sci-fi shows ever have. And I love that!
Unfortunately, my head was still in The Expanse “mode” when I started watching the Discovery season finale, and instead of being impressed with believable action sequences, I was distressed and almost constantly annoyed and frustrated with sloppily-written, implausible, almost-mindless action sequences that made no sense.
I had this same problem back in 2009 when I sat in a theater watching things like a rebooted ZACHARY QUINTO Spock ejecting CHRIS PINE Kirk inside a valuable escape pod (just before taking the Enterprise into battle when an escape pod might have come in handy) rather than just putting Kirk in the brig or at least tranquilizing him in sickbay. Inane plot holes like that pretty much ruined the first JJ ABRAMS Star Trek movie unless I turned off my brain and didn’t think. And that shouldn’t be how Star Trek works.
Let’s discuss just a few of the most glaring examples of sloppy writing that didn’t make any sense…
Why is it so hard for the entire Federation fleet to destroy, or at least disable, Discovery? I mean, I understand that if the titular ship is blasted apart, the episode and series abruptly ends. But writer (and co-showrunner) MICHELLE PARADISE is asking viewers and fans to suspend a lot of disbelief when a dozen or more starships, shooting a constant barrage at a trapped sitting duck, can’t mange to at least disable the shields, weapons, or propulsion of a 940-year-old space vessel. I understand that Discovery was upgraded and refit, but the fleet has the latest weapons. I watched the opening minutes of the episode just shaking my head thinking “no way.”
Threatening to shoot pesticides at starships in space would be a good idea if—and only if—they weren’t in space! Space is a VACUUM. That means that it’s filled with—wait for it—nothing (well, other than stars and planets and stuff). Therefore, there is nothing for an “intake valve” to take in. As for hangar decks and airlocks, unless the doors are open (during a battle?), exploding a pesticide just outside would NOT result in the ship being flooded with poison. And if somehow the hangar or airlock doors were breached, pesticide would not suddenly flow in, air would rush OUT. And that’s assuming that the canisters don’t just bounce off the shields and that the pesticide isn’t totally denatured and rendered inert by the heat and dispersion of the torpedo blasts. I realize that the writers needed to give Osyraa some “teeth,” but again, you need to turn off your brain in order for the plot point to work.
Wait, Tilly was depressed on her birthday and went to hide out in a warp nacelle??? That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard on Star Trek! It is totally and completely unrealistic and unbelievable!! Don’t the writers realize that Tilly doesn’t get depressed??? She’s the ship’s cheerleader and chief hugging officer!
I’m kidding, of course. But seriously, folks, I would imagine that crew members are discouraged from ever hiding in a warp nacelle (unless they need to repair it) for a number of understandable reasons. First of all, it’s a frickin’ WARP NACELLE, not a bathroom stall or janitor’s closet! Those things create stable warp fields to take the ship at faster-than-light speeds through subspace. They’re located as far away from where the people are as possible. If the captain decides to go to warp and you’re hiding inside a nacelle, I doubt it would be a pleasant experience to be hanging out in there (heat, radiation, warp plasma…that sort of thing). Second, crew members shouldn’t “hide” on a starship. If you need some alone time and have quarters that you only share with one other person, just hang out there while your roommate is on her duty shift. Crew members who “hide” might get hurt (like if they’re hanging out in a frickin’ WARP NACELLE!!!), and if no one knows where they are, that could lead to all sorts of bad.
I’m all for a good suffocation sequence, but let’s remember that Discovery is a SPACE ship. Space has NO AIR. Therefore, one would assume that every corridor of the ship is filled with emergency breathing masks should an unexpected loss of pressure/oxygen happen. I mean, if we already have oxygen masks in our time over every seat in a passenger jet plane, I can’t believe that, at some point in the future when space travel began, someone suddenly decided, “Nah, we don’t need oxygen masks in a space ship!”
Okay, you knew I was gonna get to the turbolifts eventually. I call this next one: “For the ship is hollow and I have had enough!” Yeah, the turbolift sequence was cool to watch…assuming that they all live in a ship the size of a small city! Remember that every deck from 6 down had no oxygen. So that meant this entire sequence happened in the saucer section. So even if you believe that somehow those turbolifts can travel straight for that that long in a curved primary hull, you shouldn’t be able to look down into an abyss that stretches out as far as you can see. At most, the floor should be only a deck or two down…unless you’re right above the dorsal “neck” of the ship. But if you are, and the hollow part of the ship is pressurized with oxygen, then all the suffocating bridge crew would need to do is open the back of a turbo lift and let all that wonderful oxygen fill the corridors!
But really, this whole “Discovery is really a TARDIS” thing drives me nuts! I mean, look at this shot of Michael’s turbolift approaching the ship’s computer core…
Does it make any sense to put the ship’s computer core in a place that is not accessible in any way other than a single turbolift traveling through a completely open area??? And why is there gravity in that wide open area? Oh, and one last thing to point out: why are there so many other turbolifts going hither and thither? Sure, it looks “cool,” but there’s no one else on the ship except for the Regulators chasing Michael and Book (plus the suffocating bridge crew down below). And the Regulators know exactly where Michael and Book are. So where in heck are all those other turbolifts going???
I thought nothing could be worse than turning the Enterprise engine room into a pipe-filled Budweiser brewery that looked more like Willy Wonka’s factory than the interior of a starship. I thought wrong.
Okay, would you buy a computer that could literally eat you? The Discovery has a computer core that sucks in Michael and nearly suffocates her. I consider that a significant design flaw—especially if there aren’t any “Don’t eat the crew” safety protocols in place to prevent just such an occurrence from happening. That alone is hard enough to swallow (ouch…sorry!). But then Osyraa, who is not stupid, hears something behind her and then stares and waits to be shot? Did she suddenly forget that Michael was holding a gun?
Michael orders the rebooted computer to “Beam all Regulators off of Discovery.” Um, where to, Commander? Are they being beamed into space, or is the computer compassionate enough to beam them onto the Viridian? Of course, that’s only gonna buy them a few more minutes of life, as the warp core will shortly kill everyone on that dreadnought.
So Book’s magic “Dr. Doolittle” superpower also makes him a Spore Drive pilot like Stamets? Oh, how wonderfully convenient. And Dr. Auelio determined this in the few minutes he had prepping Book for a truth serum injection? Even more convenient! This episode almost writes itself!!! (Maybe that was the problem!)
Let’s get the following sequence of events correct. Discovery sets its warp core to explode. The ship then dumps its warp core into the belly of the Viridian. Then Discovery jumps away just before the core explodes. Very dangerous, very suspenseful! But in the same vein as “What does God need with a starship?” let me ask the following humble question: Why did Discovery need to dump and detonate its warp core? Wouldn’t it have been infinitely safer to simply jump away without risking being obliterated by a warp core explosion? Now, if Michael had said, “We have a chance to destroy the Viridian for the good of the Federation,” I’d be totally down with that. But no, they need to destroy it in order to escape? And yet they have to escape anyway BEFORE it’s destroyed? Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy!
I realize that it sounds like I’m just nitpicking my way through exciting storytelling…and that it’s only a show, so why not just go with it? And most times, I can. Star Trek isn’t always perfect, and not every law of physics has been followed to the letter over the past 54 years. But this episode went beyond the ridiculous and unbelievable far too many times (as you can see from my list) for me to truly enjoy what I was watching. I mean, the episode LOOKED fantastic (this show almost always does), the acting was top-notch, the VFX were awesome, music great, lighting, camera angles, make-up, costumes…technically, this episode was flawless.
But the sloppiness of the writing, the convenient plot contrivances and ludicrously laughable and lazy lapses in logic overwhelmed my enjoyment of this season’s finale–the same as happened in the finales of the past two seasons, and just like JJ Trek 2009.
OTHER SLOPPY STUFF
Sorry, not finished yet; there’s a lot to get off my chest. So meanwhile, back on the dilithium planet, not everything made sense there either. For example, we know that the holo-chamber is changing the appearance of Saru, Culber, Adira, and (surprise!) Gray in order not to freak out Su’Kal. (Actually, it’s because they wanted to give Doug Jones a chance to finally act with his face not buried and hidden completely by latex.) Apparently, Su’Kal’s too fragile to see two humans, two Trill, and a Kelpien. So instead, the program turned them, respectively, into a Trill, a Bajoran, a Vulcan, a Xahean, and a human. Whatever…I went with it. But if the computer was altering what they each person looked like in order to not cause Su’Kal so much stress, then why did it show Saru’s and Culber’s skin peeling off? That’s gotta be even more disturbing!
But the big “convenient” writing moment came when Culber says this…
Oh, goody! All we’ve got to do is get Su’Kal away from all this dilithium and his powers go away? No more walking-talking-ticking galactic time-bomb? And Dr. Culber determined all of this without ever once giving Su’Kal any kind of medical examination…even with a tricorder? Again, how wonderfully convenient that the writers don’t have to deal with the question of whether or not it’s better for the galaxy to simply end Su’Kal’s existence with either a phaser on full or a lethal dose of a sleep drug (probably safer to over-sedate him). Sorry to sound so callous, folks, but I just don’t know if I’d trust that Su’Kal will lose the subspace dilithium whammy simply because he’s off the planet.
Hmmmm, one last thought: why didn’t Su’Kal’s original scream upon losing his mother—a kind of predictable and disappointing cause of the Burn after such a big season-long build-up—why didn’t that first outburst also destroy all of the dilithium on the planet, as well? After all, it was kinda “ground zero” and there was sure a LOT of dilithium there. I guess the answer is: it didn’t destroy the planet because then the writers wouldn’t have had anything to end the season with!
WHAT A WASTE OF SUCH GOOD MATERIAL
With so much crammed into this episode (the longest of the season), I felt frustrated that way too much potentially powerful stuff was left undeveloped. To wit…
Stamets appeared twice. Once he was being dragged out of the command center kicking and screaming, and then he wasn’t seen until the end when he gave Michael the stink-eye. (Actually, Stamets is also on the bridge at the very end in a spiffy new uniform…the only one not really smiling.) This is a plot that is obviously going to need to be explored next season. Michael jettisoned Stamets, preventing him from saving Hugh. But ultimately, she did save Hugh, so everything is okay, right? And Michael made the right decision after all…or so everyone keeps telling us. (Actually, she got very, very lucky.) Paul Stamets and Michael Burnham have some difficult times ahead, but if you blinked, Paul’s uncomfortable glances were easy to miss. So this very potentially explosive dramatic conflict from last episode didn’t really pay off in this episode and will have to wait a year to develop. I’m not sure it wouldn’t have been worth another 30 seconds to show Michael trying to approach Paul and being turned away with malice…establishing that not everything came up roses for her after all.
Engineer Jett Reno also appeared twice, and had no lines! One of the most intriguing, compelling, and entertaining characters on the series said nothing at all. Instead, she just fixed a DOT-bot and then stood at attention when Michael walked onto the bridge. This entire season, we’ve seen Reno a frustratingly few number of times, and her last two episode appearances were minimal. BOO!!! Now, rumor has it that actress TIG NOTARO, who is 49 and one of the oldest actors on the show (DOUG “Saru” JONES is 60 and ODED “Vance” FEHR is 50) and also a breast cancer survivor, wanted to minimize her time on set once the pandemic started. So it’s possible this lack of Reno wasn’t the writers’ fault. But once the vaccine is out there, season four really needs to show more of Reno…especially now that the only other voice of sarcasm on the show disappeared through the Guardian of Forever, a.k.a. Carl.
Kovich. Best unused character ever. Imagine how much more awesome he’d have been if he actually, y’know, got to DO something! Vance was developed wonderfully. Kovich was completely neglected.
Dr. Aurelio was actually a intriguing character, as well. I was really looking forward to him standing up to Osyraa and possibly even helping to engineer her downfall. But of course, Michael Burnham always has to save the day, so instead Aurelio just argued in sickbay, almost got choked to death, and then showed up on the bridge just in time to tell us that, hey, Book can jump the ship just like Stamets.
Another plot line that kinda went nowhere this season was the “Gray ghost” and Adira. Both actors did a fine job, but the Gray story was almost as immaterial as Gray himself. I kept wanting to see more of this, and I’ll admit to being intrigued by the holo chamber “showing” Gray (not sure how that was possible, but I had enough other pieces of plot contrivance to deal with). But in the end, this was a story line of the season that went almost nowhere and felt very unsatisfying to me.
The Ni’Var fleet…they came, they saw, they blocked the exit. Did I miss anything? What a waste!
And last and sadly least, there was the adorably cute Sphere Data/Zora/DOT-bot army. Or rather, there wasn’t. The cliffhanger to last episode was kinda awesome, as Tilly gets an unexpected ally (possibly dozens or even hundreds) to help retake the ship. And then…what? The bots become whack-a-moles for the Regulators in one scene and then aren’t heard from again until one of them saves Owosekun. How about if they’d helped Michael? (Oh, wait, Michael needs to save the ship all by herself…almost forgot!) How about if they’d helped repair the oxygen leak so that the crew didn’t suffocate…or bring them more oxygen masks? What if the super-intelligent Zora/Sphere Data came up with the idea of blowing the nacelle instead of Michael thinking of it? (Oh, wait, sorry. Michael needs to single-handedly save the ship…even if she’s just telling others how to save it.)
Anyway, a total wasted opportunity to do something truly interesting and exciting with this new “character” that is the personified Sphere Data and will likely become Zora and right now is living in a DOT-bot. And hey, isn’t the Sphere Data so massive that it needed the entire Discovery‘s computer core to contain it? Now it fits into a single DOT-bot? Hmmmm, I guess 930 years would see better computer memory storage, so this time, I won’t kvetch about it.
AND SO THE SEASON ENDS…
I gotta tell ya, I’m going to enjoy NOT seeing new Star Trek for a while ’cause these blogs are a bear to write every week! I started doing it for the ten episodes of Picard, then I wrote two for Lower Decks, and now thirteen for Discovery. That’s probably more than 60,000 words…the length of a decent-sized novel! Why do I do it? Because each one I publish gets TRIPLE the views (on average) as my regular fan film blogs. Go figure! But give the people what they want, I always say.
So what do we have going forward into season four? Well, Michael the Mutineer is finally Captain Burnham…just like Kirk at the end of Star Trek 2009. Mutiny sure ain’t the career-ender it used to be! Is Michael ready for the center seat? Despite every character except Stamets telling us viewers over and over and over again that yes, Michael should be captain, I’m still not convinced. While I would have given anything to serve under Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway, or Archer…I’d be scared shipless to have Michael Burnham as my C.O. It just seems like she gets by more on dumb luck (or plot contrivances) than from making truly rational and informed command decisions.
Fortunately, for the time being, Michael will only be commanding the equivalent of a FedEx (Federation Express) delivery truck, jumping back and forth to and from the dilithium planet, delivering crystals to all the good little boys and girls while enjoying gelato. In the meantime, Saru is taking R&R on Kaminar (hey, that rhymes!) and making sure that Culber was right and Su’Kal isn’t about to devastate the galaxy again. By the way, yes, it’s been confirmed that Doug Jones will be retuning as Saru next season.
Okay, the longest episode of the season has produced the longest blog of the season. I don’t know about you, but I’m sure exhausted. I guess it’s time to cancel by subscription to All Access until Star Trek comes back…