I’LL SEE YOUR BET AND RAISE YOU SPOILERS!
“All In” won’t go down as the best STAR TREK: DISCOVERY ever made, but it succeeded on a number of levels. It also failed on a number of levels. Let’s take a look at both sides now, win and lose, and still, somehow…
In many ways, “All In” was the “A Fistful of Datas“/”Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang“/”Bride of Chaotica” episode of Discovery. What each of these stories has in common is a sense of “fun and games” where the cast and production crew can just kinda let themselves go in an episode that’s lighthearted and funny, has a little pizzazz, and isn’t simply filled with melodrama, angst , tension, and gravitas. The first three of those episodes took place mainly on the holodeck/holosuite in settings far removed from the path that Star Trek usually treads. “All In” does essentially the same thing…just without the holoemitters.
For me, despite other obvious weaknesses of the episode, the humor and lightheartedness were the most welcome and refreshing aspect this time around. Admittedly, there’s still some serious shat going down in the galaxy, as billions, if not trillions, of lives are at risk. And worse than that, Michael and Book aren’t seeing eye-to-eye. But maybe that’s why we need a little vacation on a floating barge hidden behind a holographic sea serpent (hey, maybe this episode DOES have holoemitters!) to do some relaxing gambling and mixed martial arts ring-fighting.
But seriously, folks, let’s start with what, I believe, was the inherent strength of the episode…
ONE A-STORY MEANS LOTS OF TIME TO DEVELOP IT
Throughout most of the early episodes of season four, Discovery suffered from what I’ve decided to call “plot ADHD.” People with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder tend to jump around from thought to thought, getting easily distracted and often lacking focus. Most of my reviews of the first few episodes this season commented how there wasn’t just an A-story and maybe a B-story but often a C-, D-, and even E- story!
This episode—with one strange and notable exception that I’ll discuss in a moment—was “All In” on one story: Michael and Book both trying to obtain the MacGuffin and, through that, getting a chance to come together in a way that explores both what their relationship used to be as well as the conflict currently challenging that relationship.
There were, of course, certain scenes leading up to and following Michael’s and Book’s major interactions during the poker game. Among those were the framing sequences with President Rillak and Admiral Vance, Owo’s chance to finally get off the bridge, and Paul and Hugh’s scene in their quarters (where they did NOT kiss, just in case your mental salience hadn’t noticed!). But with the exception of the scene where Hugh is stress-cleaning, all of those other scenes fed the main plot.
As this point, I’d lie to take a quick detour into the outlier scene with Paul and Hugh. It stuck out like a Betazoid standing all alone in a Nieser cage and was probably added on after a staff meeting n the writers’ room. The scene didn’t belong in the episode, and yet, this is the only ongoing plot line right now that could realistically be addressed. The only other ongoing plots the show currently has (after starting out with SOOOOOO many!) are Adira and Gray, who are off to Trill and will probably get their own episode in the next few weeks leading to (I predict) Gray taking some of the pressure off of Hugh, and Saru’s budding connection to Vulcan President T’Rina, which doesn’t need to be touched on in each episode right now.
As such, the only remaining “soap opera” plot line was given its lone two-and-and-half minute scene and then back to the A-story. (By the way, doesn’t Starfleet have any other counselors it could assign to Discovery? It’s not like they don’t have room on the ship—they jumped to the future with a skeleton crew.)
Anyway, with only one story to tell, the writer and directors had a luxurious amount of time to develop the plot and the characters that went with it. Let’s take a closer look at who got some nice spotlight time this episode…
ADMIRAL VANCE: THE REBEL?
Apparently, Michael Burnham is rubbing off on the good admiral, as he gave her the green light to be her sneaky, roguish self. Essentially, her ordered Michael to do what she always does anyway and break the rules. I’m not exactly sure how I felt about that scene, but it made me want to talk to someone about it. Is this Michael starting to turn Vance into a rule-breaker, too? Or was he always this way and just never before had a “tool” he could use when he disagreed with orders from above? Or is there a third factor in play in that Vance has finally been pushed too far by circumstance, and desperate times call for desperate Burnhams? Whatever the case, Vance just got a LOT more interesting as a character, so score one for the writers and for actor ODED FEHR, who plays him superbly…even in a short scene like this one.
ROUN TARKA: SUPER-GENIUS!
There are a million reasons this character should NOT work. He’s an annoying, arrogant S.O.B. who’s petty, manipulative, contemptuous, and only interested in himself. He could easily have been played by a less skilled actor as a one-note heavy or a crafty, mustache-twirling bad guy. Instead, SHAWN DOYLE has imbued this loathsome scoundrel with a certain charm and depth of character that I find intriguing. Granted, I still can’t stand him—he’s “corrupted” our hero Book and could end up being responsible for starting a war with a superior power that could decimate the Federation tear apart subspace—and yet, I’m mesmerized whenever he speaks.
In fact, while I’m still mostly rooting for “Team Michael” when it comes to asking questions first, shooting later in regard to Unknown Species 10-c (the things we do for love!), I have to say that Tarka has sure got me thinking. Not everyone in outer space is “just a friend we haven’t been introduced to yet.” And if these guys generating the DMA really are that powerful and they turn out to be a bunch of bullies and jerks, they might obliterate the Federation while we’re still trying to shake their hand. If so, using Tarka’s weapon for a surprise attack might be our only chance at survival.
Admittedly, it was revealed at the end of this episode that Unknown Species 10-c isn’t so much a bunch of would-be conquerors as they are a species of fracking miners, tearing up the fabric of space like a cosmic conglomerate of oil and gas corporations. So maybe we should change their name to Unknown Species ExxonMobil.
And speaking of actors who steal the show…
HAZ MAZARO: THE GODFATHER OF CHARM!
Actor JOHN DE LANCIE once said that the character of Q wasn’t initially intended to appear on Star Trek every season…possibly not even a second time after the pilot. But the writers couldn’t resist playing with the unique “voice” that De Lancie gave to the character and desperately wanted to have their turn at all the fun.
I suspect that actor DANIEKL KASH might get the same treatment in the future, as Kash’s portrayal of the most charming and lovable gangster this side of the galactic barrier captivated many fans (based on reviews and Facebook comments). The character of Haz Mazaro was very paradoxical, as one would typically expect such a crime lord to actually be quite cold and intimidating…although I’d imagine that, as upbeat and charming as Haz is, you really don’t want to cross him. But instead, he came across as a likable-but-no-nonsense businessman with a lighthearted nature, which is even more intriguing, as such an easy-going personality would seem to invite others to take advantage of him. So how did Haz get to be the imposing black-marketer that he is? As I said, I suspect we haven’t seen the last of him!
Haz also provided a fun way for the writers to sneak in a bunch of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Star Trek references from nearly all of the series. Thanks to the folks at Trekmovie.com, I can just copy-paste what he said…
- A swamp cat could’ve learned the Hortan Hustle since I last saw you.
- I had to scurry like a spider cow.
- I have missed you like a Cardassian misses cake.
- It’s true what the Elasians say. Give a man a tor-bak, and you are warm in the desert.
- I’m a banta tree either way.
- What in the katterpod and Calaman sherry is going on here?
- While you two were strutting around like Klingons in a disco…
- Act like an Armus, swim the Poranthian Ocean with weighted boots.
Obviously, Hortas are from TOS (as are Elasians). Klingons and Cardassians are standard across multiple Treks. Bantan was a spicy vegetable that Neelix served on Voyager, katterpod was a Bajoran farming crop, and Calaman sherry was from the TNG episode where Data gets a girlfriend and they start dating. The spider cow is actually from STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS, the first reference to that show from a different Trek series. And speaking of mysteries, how is it that the black oil evil entity known as Armus (the one who killed Tasha Yar) has become a common synonym for jerk 800 years after “Skin of Evil“?
If they gave Hax his own TVseries, I’d watch it just to find out where he gets all of these great sayings!
JOANN “OH WOW” OWOSEKUN: THE NEW MICHAEL BURNHAM?
I can only imagine the yelp of excitement that actress OYIN OLADEJO must have shouted when she read this script. Not only does Lt. Cmdr. Joann Owosekun get to leave the ship, but she actually gets a fairly decent part to play in the adventure. Granted, she’s quickly becoming the ship’s newest “superhero” (a distinction previously held by Michael Burnham, who did anything and everything the plot required and did it to perfection), having revealed last season that she can hold her breath for ten minutes (which is 97 seconds longer than the current women’s world record, by the way). This time, “Owo” (now “Oh Wow”) gets to defeat a large male opponent in hand-to-hand combat. Give this woman a batarang and her own television series on the CW network, folks, and I think we’ll have a hit.
That said, Owosekun also got a scene with Ruon Tarka that showed she could go toe-to-toe mentally with a super-genius as well as physically with a strong fighter. And she could also hustle, purposefully throwing the first two fights while making it look like she wanted Michael to give her just one more chance (and get the odds up to 45-1 against to ensure a big win). So basically, yes, she’s a superhero.
However, maybe this will prove to the writers that, yes, the “minor” bridge officers don’t simply need to be glued to their seats and consoles or given quick, throwaway lines. Owo and Detmer have had their turns, Bryce, Rhys, and Nilsson…hopefully you’re up next.
GLOW-WORM and RIGHT HOOK
I was going to try to “ship” Michael and Book for this sub-heading: Bichael? Mook? Bookham? (Too Hawaii Five-Oh.) Book Burn? (Too Fahrenheit 451.) But ultimately, I decided on their Haz-given nicknames: “Glow-Worm” and “Right Hook.”
Whether by design or simply luck (casting the magnificent actor DAVID AJALA as Cleveland Booker), the relationship between Michael and Book is by far the most interesting on the show. Not only is there great chemistry between the actors (something completely missing during Michael’s scenes with former significant other Ash “VoQ” Tyler), but there is an extensive shared history between the two characters. Watching the often-cluttered Star Trek: Discovery plots, it’s easy to forget that Michael arrived in the future twelve months BEFORE Discovery, meeting Book almost immediately. Although we didn’t see most of their adventures together, Book/Burnham enjoyed a year of living dangerously, developing a deep bond of friendship and trust rather than just being smitten with each other (which they didn’t start out being).
Granted, considering the slowness of ships without warp during the post-Burn period, one would assume the pair spent most of that year just sitting in Book’s spaceship traveling weeks or months between nearby star systems. However, this is sci-fi, and we’re not supposed to think about things that much. So we’ll instead assume that the couple was zipping hither and yon engaging in frequent legally-questionable capers like a space-age Bonnie and Clyde.
Those same capers are often referred back to during friendly banter (“Remember that time back on [insert planet name] when we…?”), but we haven’t actually seen the hustlers in action—until now, that is. Of course, one wonders how a woman raised in Vulcan society where candor and honesty are paramount (pun unintended) became so good so quickly at deceiving other people. But again, we aren’t really expected to think much during this show lest we ruin it (detached nacelles and turboshafts, anyone?).
Anywhoo, we get to see this hustling aspect of Michael and Book’s (once and future?) relationship in action during the card game, and it’s a lot of fun and wonderfully revealing. That said, those two other players in the game were the plot equivalent of disposable redshirts. It was obvious from the beginning that they were only there to be defeated and/or humiliated by “Book Burn” (let’s go with that one) in order to show the sting in action. But it was a little sloppy/lazy/uninspired the way the two other players were brought in only when the plot finally needed them.
And to be honest, this episode relied on plot contrivance quite a bit. Book just happened to be going to the same place where Michael could get the information on the location of Unknown Species 10-c. How convenient! Michael just happened to take along the ship’s best fighter (imagine if she’d taken Stamets!) in order to pull off the hustle with the “takes on all challengers” match. Perfect coincidence. Book and Tarka find the Changeling cheater (what are changelings doing in the alpha quadrant in the 32nd century???) just in time for Michael to arrive with the money for Haz! And of course, Book beats Michael in Leonian poker…which just happens to be the same poker as we play here on Earth in the 21st century where a flush beats a straight. This way the viewers understand that Book won by a hair…assuming they play poker.
On the other hand, such “coincidences” are what made the hit movie Ocean’s Eleven so much fun. They just did it much better and much more smartly.
BACK WHERRE WE STARTED?
In the end—literally and figuratively—the episode deposits all of the characters right back where they were after the end of the previous episode: Book and Tarka are about to build their weapon while Michael and the Discovery crew have to find and stop them. The only major difference is that now Michael has a tracker on the isolyneum and can find them. One wonders exactly why she had to waste time coming back to HQ to slowly and dramatically tell President Rillak rather than simply following Book’s ship, transmitting a coded message to Starfleet Command, and waiting for reinforcements. Actually, one doesn’t need to wonder, as “Michael smugly triumphant” scenes are not only a staple of this series but seem to be written into SONEQUA MARTIN-GREEN’s contract!
There was also the little “oh, by the way…” revelation tucked at the very end that Unknown Species 10-c are miners, not conquerors. But beyond that and the scene with Paul and Hugh, the episode did exactly what it was supposed to: show Michael and Book, together and separately, as the hustlers we’ve heard so much about; give Michael a chance to talk to Book once again and fail to change his mind (Democrats and Republicans have the same problem!); and then place the characters back in their previous positions where Book and Tarka are about to do something bad and Michael must stop them.
In other words: a mostly meaningless episode that did enough fun things to be surprisingly enjoyable. But ultimately, what happened on Haz Mazaro’s Karma Barge will stay on Haz Mazaro’s Karma Barge…