Star Trek Discovery (DIS) Season 2
Season 1Season 2
Captain Pike beams over from the Enterprise with two of his officers, to take command of the Discovery on Starfleet's orders. The Enterprise has been investigating seven red bursts that have appeared across 30,000 light-years, and of which all but one are gone. The ship's systems were somehow damaged by the incoming signals. Pike orders the Discovery to proceed to the location of the last signal. It turns out to be on an asteroid that is surrounded by a debris field and heavy gravitational distortions that don't allow to beam down. There is no sign of the red signal any more. The interaction of the ship with the asteroid causes its course to change, and a collision with a pulsar is imminent. However, there is a crashed Starfleet ship on the surface whose crew may be alive. Pike asks his bridge officers for options, and Burnham comes up with the plan to use landing pods to navigate through the debris. Lt. Connolly, the science officer of the Enterprise, dies when a rock collides with his pod. When Pike has to eject and his thruster pack fails, Burnham saves him by grabbing him and using her thrusters to land safely on the asteroid. On the crashed ship, the USS Hiawatha, they find Denise Reno, an engineer who has managed to keep some heavily injured crew members alive by means of engineering. The landing party sets up transport enhancers to beam the survivors to the Discovery. Burnham doesn't make it in time. She is about to become unconscious when she sees a winged figure. But Pike has returned to rescue her. On the Discovery, Stamets and Saru arrange for a rock from the mysterious debris field to be captured and confined in the shuttlebay. Pike's mission is over, but the Enterprise needs more extensive repairs, so he stays aboard the Discovery. He tells Burnham that her foster brother Spock has taken leave. In Spock's quarters on the Enterprise, she discovers that Spock's sudden disappearance is related to the strange red lights.
Although he would never openly admit that anything was wrong with it, we could notice in Alex Kurtzman's various announcements for season 2 that it is his intention to fix at least some of the issues of Star Trek Discovery, to make it feel more like the Star Trek we used to know. One aspect in this regard is the transformation of the crew to one that is characterized by trust and cooperation and not by intrigues and animosities any longer. The determined yet thoughtful and open-minded Captain Pike (Anson Mount) is the key character to reunite the remaining crew and also to reconcile the fans with the show. When he comes aboard, it is almost like the makers of the series speak through the fourth wall, telling us that everything will be all right again.
I like Anson Mount's Pike very much. He gives the crew more encouragement in the course of "Brother" than Lorca did in nine episodes of season 1 combined. And we can notice how grateful everyone among the bridge crew is that their service is appreciated, that the captain cares for them and not only for the mission. He explicitly refers to Lorca's misdoings to that end, which seems somewhat superfluous though, and is another instance where he breaks the fourth wall. The first ten minutes are heavy on exposition anyway, most of which is not particularly skillful but comes across as contrived. We have got remarks about the colorful new uniforms, on Pike's career and on the splendidness of the Enterprise, that the ship is a "beauty", one of the "most prominent ships" and that "only something catastrophic could knock her out". Overall, some less boasting about Pike and the Enterprise would have been desirable.
It is perhaps more interesting what is totally missing from the exposition. The episode begins with Burnham's flashback about her first encounter with her foster brother. Young Spock rejects her. He creates some sort of dragon hologram to scare her (or because he himself is scared?) and then closes the door right in front of her. It is very clear at this point that the two still or again have some unfinished business. When Pike beams over from the Enterprise with two officers, Spock is not among them, but some other guy in blue, Connolly, is the ship's science officer. We can see Burnham's disappointment. Now would be a good time to ask Pike about Spock, but she doesn't. She later talks with Sarek, but the two neither address what drove the family apart nor Spock's current whereabouts. At the end of the episode, Burnham finally asks Pike, only to learn that Spock is on leave. And yet again, Burnham only insinuates that the two have some sort of problem. I don't like the continued secretiveness about Spock, the mystery that is built around him just because no one bothers to ask or to answer obvious questions. In an episode with otherwise so much exposition it's just not a good balance.
Speaking of not talking with each other, it is surprising that Saru and Burnham don't know about the respective other person's siblings, although they have served together aboard the Shenzhou and the Discovery for quite some time. This is symptomatic of the state of Discovery (the ship and the series). It's nothing like the family feel we know from previous Star Trek crews. But as already mentioned, with Pike's arrival this is subject to change. It changes quite suddenly in the case of the so far mostly silent bridge officers. If I'm not mistaken, Detmer has more lines in this one episode than in the complete first season combined. This bodes well for possible further adventures of the crew.
Stamets remains the same weird person he was for most of the first season, and there is a first foreshadowing of Culber, who will somehow return from the dead. He will be a welcome addition. I am only curious how the series will accomplish this feat. Tilly, on the other hand, is a major nuisance in this episode. It seems she leaves out no opportunity to make a fool of herself. Every single scene with her is rife with silliness, although we have to admit that it is only realistic that a rarely performed procedure like a command transfer is awkward. Yet, she appeared much more serious towards the end of season 1 and in her Short Treks episode, so this is a real setback. I like how Mary Wiseman portrays the character, but with the lines written for Tilly she should rather do stand-up comedy. Speaking of stand-up comedy, Tig Notaro as Reno is a pleasant surprise. She shows, rather paradoxically, how a character can be comic relief without the semblance of a comedian. Reno's sarcasm and her engineer's attitude to things at hand resonates with me. Her Frankenstein lab is quite eccentric. Although her role isn't and probably won't become big, my impression is that she will stick around.
Some things don't change in season 2, however. Burnham is still a know-it-all. Well, it is laudable that she notifies Pike of his mistake when, for a moment, he doesn't heed his own principle to listen to his crew. But her immediate disdain of Connolly, just because he replaces Spock, is unwarranted. As some sort of retroactive justification for her negative opinion, Connolly is consistently shown as a jerk. When the four officers climb into the landing pods, it is clear that he would be the one who doesn't make it. Burnham, the prodigy, on the other hand, does not only steer the pod through the asteroid field all manually, she also predicts that a boulder would hit Connolly. I like how Burnham cares for Pike's life when his thruster pack fails, upon which Pike returns the favor when she has to stay behind on the Hiawatha. But I doubt she would have done the same for Connolly.
I don't like the pod ride anyway, although I must admit it was a highlight of the episode and not in any way less exciting than the spacedives in the first two Abramsverse movies and especially in "Into Darkness". But that is just the problem. In "The Vulcan Hello", Burnham's excursion to open space still had a human dimension, we could notice that she was in a hostile environment and in an unpleasant situation. All this realism is gone in "Brother" where she mutates to a superhero like Kirk and Khan before. It is no surprise that "Brother" feels like a movie, considering that Alex Kurtzman directed it and probably had more influence on this episode than in the first season (although it was purportedly still written and produced by the meanwhile fired Aaron Harberts and Gretchen Berg). This includes the stupid movie screen format that wastes precious screen time for no benefit except for giving Kurtzman the semblance of working on a movie.
On the bright side, the visual effects of this episode are definitely the best of the whole series so far, at least in a technical and artistic sense. I hope that the silly neon-colored space is gone for good. I don't like many of the visualizations of the Discovery interior though. Especially the turbolift ride through huge open spaces and the rollercoaster-like pod launch are totally unrealistic and were included just for some unnecessary extra thrill. The voice-activated helmet and the quick-unfolding gravity simulator too are implausible. These technologies definitely don't exist in the 23rd century we used to know, not even in the 24th century. If Kurtzman is so into visualizing ultracool technologies, he should save them for the Picard series. The way it happens now, there will be hardly anything even more advanced left to show.
As exciting as everything pertaining to the asteroid is, it is one of the most contrived amassments of strange phenomena in the history of Star Trek that appear one by one in rapid succession. We have got a debris field that surrounds an interstellar asteroid, which surprisingly has an atmosphere. Then the Discovery somehow interacts with a field around the big rock and is pushed away. The asteroid is now on a collision course with a previously unmentioned pulsar. Then a strange chasm and a Starfleet vessel are discovered on the surface. Also, dark matter is involved in some fashion. At least, it was mentioned at a point I couldn't really follow any longer. It is to the story's benefit that it tries to refer to real scientific principles, rather than to particles that don't exist (although the frequent statements that a phenomenon is "strange" or "never encountered before" mean pretty much the same). But it is simply too much at once. And even the good intent to use actual science is annihilated by linking all this to the spores and suggesting that the rocks could be a "100% efficient power source".
In what seems to be a hallucination, Burnham sees the figure we already know as the "Red Angel". Normally we wouldn't give this little experience much weight. It is a bit unfortunate that the trailers already anticipated the kind of threat the Discovery would face in season 2. I think it would work a bit better if the nature of the story remained more of a mystery. The teaser with the Cassini mission footage (in black & white, with an ancient NASA logo!?) and the mention of the African creation myth too complies with previous observations in the trailers, that someone or something influenced mankind in its history. This part of the mystery is much like in 2001: A Space Odyssey, especially since in Arthur C. Clarke's book, unlike in the film, the destination planet of the mission is Saturn. My apprehension is that the writers are fond of building this big puzzle, but may not be able or willing to solve it sufficiently, and to keep it in line with canon.
Overall, "Brother" is a promising start for the second season. I like that some of the Starfleet spirit is back. I look forward to further adventures with Anson Mount as Captain Pike. While Alex Kurtzman's directing could have been more light-handed, especially at the beginning, I have praise for the visual effects sequences. Rather than the silly ultrawide screen ratio, the visualization of the space action makes this episode feel very exciting, like a blockbuster movie. Not everything in this regard resonates with me, however. For instance, I dislike that Kurtzman more or less repeats the superhuman spacedive scene from "Star Trek Into Darkness", and the moronic CG sequences of the Discovery interior only signal that the series still doesn't want to be taken seriously. Also, the scientific ramifications are too complicated and most likely still won't make sense when the crew eventually solves the mystery about how dark matter, mushroom spores and the "Red Angel" are related to each other. Last but not least, Spock appears as unnecessarily mysterious. The unasked question of what happened to him distracts from other topics.
- The "lovely" new colorful uniforms of the Enterprise crew, or at least something similar to this particular style, shouldn't be around for another seven or eight years. We still see the uniform shirts from "The Cage" in "Where No Man Has Gone Before", set in 2265. The statement in "Brother" also implies that so far the uniform on the Enterprise was the same all-blue one as on the Discovery.
- As could not be expected otherwise, the interior of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701 (at least the small portion with Spock's quarters) looks totally different than in TOS. In this light, the fact that his quarters has the same number as in TOS is just the opposite of continuity. It precludes the two otherwise possible explanations, that he either simply moved to another section of the ship that looks different or that the ship was radically rebuilt to the interior configuration we know from TOS. In the latter case, room numbers definitely wouldn't be the same any longer.
- It seems that in a few years from now, Starfleet will have forgotten the technology of spacesuit helmets that are replicated on voice command, and will never have anything remotely as advanced again, not even over 100 years later.
- We see young Michael Burnham at the time when Sarek first introduced her to his family. But the Michael Burnham shown in the flashback in "Battle at the Binary Stars", who was already a member of his family and who was saved by a mind meld after the bombing at the Vulcan Learning Center, was definitely several years younger.
- When the turbolift moves through the ship, we can see that Discovery consists of tens of thousands of cubic meters of empty space without a deck structure and apparently even without structural support. This is utterly unrealistic and has to be taken as huge artistic license. The interior of the Hiawatha too is a large open space, but that is still excusable because it is an extension of an actual set and because the ship may have been scavenged.
- In the same vein, the launch channel system for the landing pods is totally over the top, if not physically impossible. It must be several hundred meters long. And why is it that the exit is at the aft end of the ship, although the pods are stored close to the aft end? Is there a 180 degree turn somewhere? Even if we assume it somehow fits into the engineering hull, the question arises if it was built specifically for the pods or if it also has a normal purpose. Why is it necessary at all to accelerate the pods inside the ship? Doesn't Starfleet have thrusters? Or tractor beams? When I saw the cool design of the submersible floor, it still looked like the pods could be simply launched through the normal shuttlebay door, but we probably shouldn't expect technology to be simple in Discovery. Finally, the pods are ejected successively through the same exit, less than one second apart. What happens if one of the first three gets stuck?
- Burnham says that the landing pods (and the launch channel on the Discovery?) were specifically built for a mission on Kim-Tara, and that she herself was one of the test pilots. How is that possible? It can hardly have been during the war. And "Will You Take My Hand?" indicates that that the peace treaty and the departure of the Discovery to Vulcan to pick up a new captain take place almost immediately after the events on Qo'noS. Otherwise there would have been enough time to assign a new captain to this important ship.
- Why does the debris still come as a surprise after the pods have been launched? The ship has been amidst the debris field for already quite some time.
- The ride through the debris field is over the top. With rocks of such a density and moving in all directions, there is realistically no chance to make it through in one piece, much less with manual controls. Even if there were possible flight paths without unavoidable collisions, human beings just don't have 360 degree vision, and would not to be able to process such information if provided by cameras. In light of this simple fact, it is unfair to show the ill-fated Connolly, who trusts in his calculations, as an idiot. Burnham may have been hit by that large rock just as well (even though she claims to have seen it several seconds earlier).
- Detmer has set a countdown for the thrusters, in order to slow down Burnham and Pike at the right time for a soft touchdown. But she can't possibly know if the attitude is correct too at that time. When she pushes the button, the thruster could just as well accelerate them towards the asteroid.
- The seven red bursts appear across a distance of 30,000 light-years. But one of them, and accidentally the only one that is still active, is at a distance of just a few light-years that the Discovery can reach in at most one or two hours, without the spore drive. (Pike is evidently still unfamiliar with the bridge crew when they arrive, and has not yet talked with Burnham in private.) This may be explained later but comes across like a huge coincidence here, just like the fact that a Starfleet ship crashed on the very same asteroid.
- What happened to slowing to impulse at a safe distance from the destination, and to sensors that are operational at warp? The Discovery runs into the debris field without any warning. Had the FTL sensors been blinded by the asteroid, it would have been one more good reason to drop out of warp well ahead of it. But in Discovery, like in the Abramsverse, it seems to be a regulation to stop just meters in front of the danger zone.
- The Discovery follows the red light to an interstellar asteroid, which apparently is its origin. This asteroid travels at 5000 kilometers per second, according to Saru. Its surrounding gravitational field interacts with the Discovery in a way that its course is altered and now it is about to collide with a pulsar in 5 hours. The speed doesn't seem to be different after the course has been changed, at one point it is mentioned to be still 5000 kilometers per second. We may be tempted to calculate the distance as only 0.6 AU, based on the speed and time, but that would not take into account the (unknown) acceleration owing to the pulsar's gravity. Still, with a nearby pulsar (that no one previously mentioned!) there would be a much more plausible explanation why there are gravitational and other anomalies. And considering that the interaction with the Discovery has most likely altered the path only a little bit, the asteroid would realistically have been on a collision course with that pulsar from the start.
- Does Denise Reno really expect the Klingons to follow her ship into this extremely hostile environment? Agreed, she is very careful and resourceful, but realistically the Klingons simply wouldn't care.
- Couldn't Stamets find a smaller rock to pull in? One that doesn't fill the whole shuttlebay? Well, it would have been less of a challenge to accomplish it.
- Remarkable dialogues:
- "Tilly, you are incandescent. You'll become a magnificent captain because you do everything out of love. But... I need you to repeat after me..." - "Okay." - "I will say..." - "I will say..." - "Fewer things." (Stamets and Tilly)
- "We've been rocking and rolling for hours. Can someone tell me what's going on?" - "This asteroid is on a collision course with a pulsar. The gravitational pull is going to tear this place apart." - "What a relief. Thought we were all gonna die." (Reno and Burnham)
- Remarkable quotes:
- "You have really beautiful nail beds." (Tilly, to Pike)
- "Hit it." (Pike's command to go to warp)
- "Not every cage is a prison, not every loss eternal." (message from a fortune cookie that seems to be left over from Lorca)
- Remarkable fun(?) scene: In the turbolift, the Saurian crew member sneezes on poor Lt. Connolly.
- Remarkable sets:
- The Sareks have an awesome family home. Very clean yet spectacular architecture.
- Michael Burnham has holographic candles in her quarters.
- The landing pods are stored in the lower level of the main shuttlebay, accessible through a submersible floor.
- Remarkable prop: A crew member in the transporter room of the Discovery wears a device that looks conspicuously like Geordi's VISOR (plus a metallic headgear).
- Remarkable facts:
- Pike's taking command of Discovery happens under Regulation 19, Section C. It applies in the case of any of three contingencies: "When an imminent threat is detected, when the lives of Federation citizens are in danger, or when no other officers of equal or higher rank are present." Pike invokes all of them.
- An "F" grade in astrophysics is the only stain on Captain Pike's record as it seems.
- The Enterprise was on a five-year mission in a remote region of space and was not called back when the war broke out. Pike says that being away from home "took a toll" on his crew, on himself and on Spock.
- With the spore drive deactivated, Tilly is in charge of rearranging engineering to standard specifications.
- Stamets was offered a teaching position by the Vulcan Science Academy that he is going to accept because everything on the ship reminds him of Hugh Culber.
- The USS Hiawatha NCC-815 was a medical frigate that was thought to be destroyed by the Klingons ten months ago.
- Lt. Nhan, the female officer that comes aboard with Pike, is obviously a native of Barzan II. The make-up and the breathing apparatus are like in TNG: "The Price". So Saru is not the only member of a pre-warp civilization in Starfleet after all.
Spock sketched up the seven light bursts two months before they actually appeared. Michael Burnham wants to meet her foster brother to find out more about this mystery, but Pike reveals that Spock is in a psychiatric unit on Starbase 5. Then another red signal appears. Since it is located in the Beta Quadrant as far as 51,450 light years away, Pike authorizes the use of the spore drive. The Discovery arrives at an Earth-like planet that is inhabited by 11,000 humans. Pike beams down with Burnham and Owosekun to investigate. They find an old-style church building in a settlement called "New Eden". It turns out that the ancestors of the humans living here were saved from World War III as long as 200 years ago and taken to the planet "Terralysium". This was the work of an unknown entity that is now worshipped as a deity. On the Discovery, Tilly takes a sample from the dark matter asteroid that may help to develop a non-human interface for the spore drive, but she almost gets killed by an energy discharge. The crew of the Discovery is alerted by radioactive debris in orbit of the planet that is about to destroy the atmosphere. Encouraged by a young female crew member named May, Tilly leaves sickbay against her orders and suggests to use the asteroid to drag away the radioactive debris. The plan succeeds. In the meantime on Terralysium, Jacob, a descendant of scientists and a sceptic of the planet's religion and of the myth that Earth was destroyed, has incapacitated the landing party and taken their technical devices. He wants to prove that the visitors are not inhabitants of the planet as they claim but came all the way from Earth. Yet, Pike, Burnham and Owosekun try to maintain their story. When a child plays with a phaser, Pike reacts instinctively and the blast discharges into his chest. Burnham and Owosekun carry him into the church from where they are beamed up. Tilly suddenly remembers that she met the young crew member before. She is May Theresa Ahearn from her high school. Tilly, however, is shocked when she finds out that May actually died several years ago. Although the General Order 1 forbids to interfere with the culture on the planet, Burnham convinces Pike to beam down again, to obtain a helmet camera from a WWIII soldier that shows how the people in the church were saved. Jacob receives an energy cell in return that he uses to illuminate the church. On the video, a figure appears in a bright light. It is the same that Burnham already saw on the asteroid.
This episode doesn't have a good start because it continues with the unnecessary secret-mongering about Spock. It looks like it will take Burnham several more talks with Pike to finally worm the complete truth about Spock out of him. This time, she learns that her foster brother has been committed to a mental institution. But there is definitely still more about the story that will be revealed bit by bit, only to reassure us that this season is all about "the search for Spock". I think that the longer it is protracted, the more likely meeting Spock in person may end up in a disappointment.
The rest of the story is a pleasant surprise. I would go as far as calling "New Eden" the first Discovery episode that really feels like Star Trek. We have got a crew that works together and among whom almost everyone contributes something important in terms of dialogue and action, almost like with the ensemble casts of the four preceding TV series. After Kayla Detmer in last week's episode, this time it is Joann Owosekun's turn to receive more attention than in the whole first season, and I really like that.
Micheal Burnham is pleasantly cautious in this episode. She has a different opinion about the people on the planet than Pike. She would like to reveal the truth about her own identity, that she came with a starship, and to demonstrate the superiority of science over religion. But although she repeatedly calls the faith of the people of Terralysium into question, she refrains from trying to prove it. She follows Pike's orders not to interfere, even as he is severely hurt by the overloading phaser. Pike, on the other hand, is rather impartial about his mission. He has the General Order 1 (the Prime Directive) to go by, and he doesn't seem to need anything else. Overall, his involvement could and perhaps should have been a bit more personal, maybe even emotional. The way Pike appears here is more like a model officer and not like an interesting character with rough edges. But it is only his second appearance, and we will likely see a lot more of him this season.
After her conduct in last week's episode "Brother", I didn't expect that Tilly could annoy me even more. Well, I was mistaken. She awkward as never before and talks way too much. Nothing she says or does is coordinated. Still, as chaotic as it seems, against all reason it all makes sense in the end, up to a point that it is simply ingenious. Tilly comes up with the idea to use the asteroid to drag away the radioactive debris from the planet, and I will be damned if the sample she unwisely took from the asteroid won't solve the problem of navigating the spore network. Of course, the fact that she is out of her mind (as evidenced by the dead schoolmate she hallucinates) may excuse her behavior. And all this may be related to that spore that conspicuously entered her body in "What's Past Is Prologue". If being connected to the spore network is the explanation, Tilly's character may be fixed in a way to become more agreeable again. But we have to remember that essentially the same already happened to Stamets in the first season, and the feat neither becomes more plausible nor more interesting by just being repeated.
Speaking of Stamets, he too is a bit mysterious again. He first mentions that he met the real Hugh Culber, and not just an illusion, in the spore network, as already seen in "Vaulting Ambition". But after he has connected himself to the spore drive again, he seems to be very disillusioned. It appears that he was looking for Culber but didn't find him in there. We may speculate at this point that Tilly is the key to him finding Hugh.
Another reason why the story feels so much like the Star Trek we used to know is because the concept of an unknown or forgotten Earth colony on an alien planet is a cliché as old as the first season of TOS. Every series so far had at least one or two stories of this kind, such as TOS: "This Side of Paradise", TOS: "The Paradise Syndrome", TNG: "Up the Long Ladder", TNG: "The Masterpiece Society", DS9: "Children of Time", VOY: "The 37's", ENT: "Terra Nova" and ENT: "North Star", to name only the most obvious examples. Moreover, at least three of these episodes already involved an abduction by aliens. While it is unnecessary that Discovery adds yet another unknown Earth colony to the list, at least it happens with the good intent to prove that Discovery can be Star Trek, and is successful at that. Also, this story is embedded into a bigger context where it may make more sense than previous instances of the cliché.
It is obvious that the so far two occurrences of the red signal have a common pattern. In both cases Discovery ran into humans that were stranded in unlikely places and that urgently needed help. It now looks like the "Red Angel" is not an enemy but indeed some sort of guardian angel who appears whenever someone is in danger. At this point of the ongoing arc, the red lights appear to be just another strange phenomenon but not really a threat.
Star Trek has a long history of dealing with questions of religion. TOS depicted a secular world in which religion may have existed but was simply not mentioned. TNG included outspoken criticism of religion on a couple of occasions. In DS9 and Voyager, there was something like an ongoing competition between science and faith, one that overall ended almost in a tie, with only slight advantages for science. "New Eden" continues in the tradition of DS9 and Voyager. I like the idea that the inhabitants of Terralysium combined all their different religions into one, which is a new concept, at least in Star Trek. In a way, they have accomplished the same degree of unity in their small community as the rest of humanity by the 23rd century. I also like the reconciliatory outcome in which Jacob, the sceptic, supports religion by using science, when he connects the power cell to illuminate the church.
Overall, it still seems that Michael Burnham, who only believes in science ("Faith is a lie!") and invokes Clarke's third law is right. Not a god but still unknown aliens must have transferred the church along with the people inside to the remote planet. But after the vision of the "angel" and in the light of the ever growing mystery it looks like she may have to struggle to keep up her stance. I'm looking forward to this aspect of the story.
One more thing that I dislike about "New Eden" is that it is ridden with facts and figures, as well as with an unmanageable amount of technobabble. In particular, the first 10 or 15 minutes of the script disregard the principle "show, don't tell", as they are all about discussing signal strengths, galactic distances, Earth history and other details, many of which should have better been illustrated in some fashion. I also didn't really understand, even after rewinding three times, what exactly Tilly was trying to accomplish by taking a sample from the asteroid, how black matter, metreons and spores are possibly related and if it will ever make sense in hindsight. My expectation is that it won't and that it would have been better anyway to bury the idea of the spore network for good before it can do even more damage to our sanity.
It also feels a bit out of place how Tilly and Saru assure each other of their being special, with all kinds of superlatives. "The youngest candidate ever in the command training program", "the only Kelpien in Starfleet", "learned 90 Federation languages". As I already wrote in last week's review, the bragging needs to be cut down.
The second episode is another important step on Discovery's journey in a more agreeable and more Trek-like direction. "New Eden" continues to show the characters as a Starfleet crew and not any more as a bunch of people who are driven by selfish goals. I like the idea of making Discovery an ensemble cast show, although in this particular episode the consequence is that no one truly stands out (at least, not in a positive sense). Director Jonathan Frakes does a good job to maintain the flow of the story, even though the A-plot on the planet and the B-plot about Tilly and the asteroid are largely isolated from each other. The episode includes some decent action that does not feel out of place and like on steroids as in "Brother". On the other hand, the script is very verbose and should have dropped at least some of the exuberant facts, figures and technobabble. While the episode is still far from perfect, this is the perhaps first time in Discovery that I truly look forward to the next adventure.
- Burnham says that World War III cost 600 million lives, just as Riker in "Star Trek: First Contact".
- Burnham does not call Spock's portable computer a "PADD" by the name that it would have in the 24th century, but a "tablet" just as we would refer to it in the early 21st century. This definitely makes sense, although it doesn't help to explain why the 24th century PADDs are so primitive in comparison.
- It is very odd how the English language is referred to as "Federation Standard" in this episode. First of all, it is a term never used in canon before but only in fandom and in licensed works. "Federation Standard" usually denotes a language of the future that differs from English in some unspecified ways but happens to sound and look like English for readers and viewers to understand it. Even if "Federation Standard" were canon, it does not make sense to use this term for the people on Terralysium. If something like "Federation Standard" existed besides English in the 23rd century, they would be identified as speaking "(old) English", if anything.
- After the new red light has suddenly appeared, the question is how to pinpoint it. Burnham says it is too far away to use any kind of sensors. She suggests a short jump at high warp to take advantage of gravitational red shift. However, I don't understand how gravitational red shift could possibly help if recorded from two random points, both of which may be very far away from a massive star that could cause such a red shift. Also, considering that the red burst must travel at high superluminal speed (otherwise it would have taken 51,450 years), there is little reason why it would be subjected to red shift at all.
- In "Brother" the impression was created that the spore drive was inactive and was just about to be dismantled. But although it was effectively outlawed, in "New Eden" it is obviously just on standby and can be activated in only 20 minutes (and clearly without a previous order from Pike to keep it ready).
- If the enormous mass of the asteroid can be shielded with the small device in the shuttlebay and if the tractor beam of the Discovery is very well capable of towing the asteroid, there is no reason why the ship couldn't generate and apply enough power to deflect or disperse the radioactive debris without the help of that asteroid.
- It is hard to believe that five adults don't notice in time that the little girl has taken the phaser, and that the kid plays around with it so carelessly, although she should be old enough to recognize that it is no toy.
- Joann Owosekun is said to have been raised in a Luddite community. This is odd, since the Luddites were a pre-Marxist movement opposed to the exploitation of workers by means of technology. Although there have been various technophobic (or "simple life") trends throughout the 20th and early 21st century, those people were almost never referred to as Luddites, and such a narrow historical context likely wouldn't be chosen for a future community either.
- The seven influential religions that were merged on Terralysium are: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddism, Shinto, and Wicca. Wicca? Seriously?
- Remarkable dialogue: "You read my mind." - "Your mind is so much fun." (Tilly and May)
- Remarkable quotes:
- "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." (Arthur C. Clarke's third law)
- "If x doesn't work, try y. If y doesn't work, try z. If z doesn't work, try drowning your ineptitude in a Risan Mai Tai." (Tilly)
- Remarkable scenes: The flight of the Discovery through the brownish clouds and the planet with its ring system are beautifully animated. I also like the location shoots, of which there should have been even more in the episode.
- Remarkable facts:
- The figure that looks like an angel appeared in the church in 2053 and somehow transferred it to the planet now known as Terralysium, some 50,000 light years into the Beta Quadrant.
- Christopher Pike's father was a science teacher who also taught comparative religion.
- Sylvia Tilly went to the Musk Junior High School, class of 2247.
- May Theresa Ahearn was on born April 30, 2236 and died on June 9, 2252.
- To cross the distance of 51,450 light years to Terralysium, the Discovery, at top speed, would need 150 years. This corresponds precisely to Warp 7.
Stardate 1029.46: A diplomatic ship of Vulcan origin requests a person to beam over to the Discovery. To Michael Burnham's surprise, the visitor is not Sarek but Amanda Grayson. Spock's mother says she tried to visit him in the facility on Starbase 5 but was not admitted. She then stole his medical file and asks Burnham to decrypt it. Burnham, however, seeks Captain Pike's permission in this delicate issue. Pike contacts Starbase 5, only to learn that Spock is wanted for murdering three of his doctors. The captain now orders Burnham to find out what is on the file. Amanda admits that she never gave her full love to Spock because she agreed to him being raised the Vulcan way. When a winged figure appears in the data, she recognizes it as the "Red Angel", an apparition that dates back to the day that young Michael ran away from her home. Spock claimed that the Red Angel led him to her. Michael tells Amanda that she is determined to find him, also because she once hurt him in good faith that through the separation she could protect him from the Vulcan extremists, who already tried to kill her. Amanda leaves hastily, saying that she, not Burnham, would find him. Captain Pike offers Ensign Tilly, who is in her Command Training Program, to sit in his chair on the bridge. But she screws up because of the "ghost" of the dead schoolmate May that is haunting her. Tilly announces that she quits. In the meantime on Qo'noS, tensions rise between Chancellor L'Rell and Kol-Sha, the father of the late Kol. Kol-Sha accuses L'Rell of being a puppet of the Federation, and he has only contempt for her Torchbearer Voq (in the guise of Tyler), whom he calls a "plaything". Kol-Sha refuses to remove his "war paint", upon which Voq assaults him, trying to wipe it away. Voq, on the other hand, is under the impression that he doesn't have the full trust of L'Rell and her House of Mo'Kai. He confronts her uncle, Ujilli, who eventually shows Voq the secret: L'Rell's son, whose father he is. Kol-Sha, however, learns of this secret too because there were sensor implants in his paint that got transferred to Voq when the two struggled. He kills Ujilli, kidnaps the child and demands L'Rell to abdicate. L'Rell and Voq try to fight their way out, but Kol-Sha erects a stasis field around them. Just when he is about to kill them, Philippa Georgiou appears to their rescue. L'Rell uses the opportunity to kill Kol-Sha. Georgiou calls herself a "Starfleet security consultant" and says that it is in her interest to maintain the peace with the Klingon Empire. But she wants L'Rell to get rid of Voq and of her son, who weaken her position on Qo'noS. After talking to Burnham, Tilly becomes aware that "May" is not a ghost of a teenage girl, but a parasite that entered her body from the spore network. Stamets uses the dark matter sample to extract the parasite and contains it in a forcefield in engineering. In the High Council on Qo'noS, L'Rell calls Voq a traitor and presents his head as proof that he is dead. She also shows the head of her son who was allegedly slain by Voq, a crime that Kol-Sha was going to prevent but got him killed. The real Voq and his son are on a Section 31 ship on the way to Boreth, where the still nameless boy will be raised as a monk. Georgiou plans to recruit Voq for Section 31 just as she herself was recruited by the secret organization.
I had low expectations for this episode because the trailers indicated that Discovery would switch to a serial format again, and would, besides the search for Spock, continue with the unfortunate storylines and characters from the first season. I was definitely ready for a positive surprise, but it didn't happen.
I never liked L'Rell. Sure, I hated the Discovery Klingons from the day the extreme makeover in defiance of canon was made public. But despite the lack of facial expressions through thick layers of latex and despite the distorted voices I hoped that one or two of the new-style Klingon characters could grow on me, whether they would be heroes or villains or anything in between. Maybe my mistake was that I was spoiled by DS9. However, with T'Kuvma and Kol just being cookie-cutter villains that were killed off soon and Voq being transformed to Tyler, it was now up to L'Rell alone to defend the reputation of her reimagined race. She utterly failed. And this was not just the fault of the make-up that didn't allow Mary Chieffo to act. The character and her story was written to show her as a punching ball, who gets beaten and captured all the time, and whose alleged triumphs and power are fake because someone else is always pulling the strings. So far the culmination of her miserable career was that in "Will You Take My Hand?" she was handed over the button to destroy her home planet.
L'Rell's make-up was revised for the second season. Not only did she get hair, like most of her people. Her skull was considerably shortened, quite possibly in an attempt to make her more relatable. But with her facial make-up still being extremely thick and her voice still being noisy, she doesn't feel any more like a real person than in the first season. Discovery has reclaimed a little bit of its visual consistency with Star Trek, which I appreciate. But it doesn't become a better series by revising a few of the most obvious continuity errors.
It is only realistic that the Klingons wouldn't accept a woman as a chancellor whose only legitimation comes from the Federation. And Kol-Sha is totally right with his opinion of L'Rell and Voq, at least from a Klingon viewpoint. It is clear that rather sooner than later he or someone else would try to overturn her regime. I like anyway that, at times in this episode, the Klingons talk and fight like the Klingons we know, and Kol-Sha is particularly convincing in this regard. The strange thing is that when he first threatens and then attacks the two, it doesn't look like L'Rell still has the power to blow up Qo'noS or that she was negligent enough not to take precautions for the case she would be ambushed. In any case, "Point of Light" adds another chapter to her sad story, that she is saved only at the grace of the woman who hates Klingons the most and who was determined to destroy the planet in "Will You Take My Hand?". And that she is forced to present the head of her "dead" lover Voq at the High Council as proof of her worthiness to rule. She even calls herself the "Mother" of the Klingons in that scene. It all gets so smarmy that it becomes unintentionally funny. Everything about L'Rell is fake, and in some way symptomatic of the whole show.
Speaking of Emperor or "Captain" Georgiou, if one character is even more fake than L'Rell and Voq, it's her. The former genocidal dictator was allowed to pose as her Prime Universe counterpart, she was free to leave in "Will You Take My Hand?", she has been exonerated and now works for a secret agency, the only justification being that she has certain "skills". (This feels a bit like in a trashy secret agent movie where the line "He/She is the best." is usually the signal for me to switch the channel.) It is all so much against common sense that it almost hurts. Her appearance with the cloaking suit is very comic-like, which can ultimately be said about her whole role. I still liked Michelle Yeoh as Captain Georgiou. But as soon as she began to play Georgiou's evil counterpart, which is the much more significant role by now, I don't know what this character is about. She doesn't give me the impression there is a real person behind her often very stiff face, a problem she shares with L'Rell even without thick make-up as an obstacle.
As I already predicted, the mystery about Spock will be revealed to us bit by bit, and his situation will appear more dramatic each time. I am afraid that this happens in a way that the solution to the whole puzzle can only be disappointing. This time, we learn that Spock allegedly murdered three of his doctors. Shocking! Shocking? Not really. Since it is obvious that this can't be true, it is not really a big deal. And this is not the only revelation about Spock. It seems that everyone keeps a part of the story secret. Pike has to admit to Burnham that after his report to Starfleet Command Sarek may know about Spock's whereabouts. Amanda confesses that she didn't give enough love to Spock because he was supposed to be raised the Vulcan way and also that Spock already saw the "Red Angel" in his childhood. Burnham, finally, says that she avoided contact with Spock to protect him. Perhaps the lack of love for Spock from his family is supposed to make the idea of him as a murderer more plausible. But overall the "family" aspect of the whole story about Spock and the Red Angel remains weak in my opinion, in spite of the continued efforts to involve Sarek, Amanda and Michael. It's just the big "Let's talk about Spock" day, which serves to further raise expectations that very likely won't be fulfilled. I'm still curious what the "Red Angel" is about. But while it may be fascinating, I doubt that it will fit into the timeline without wiping the life-changing events from everyone's brains and particularly from Spock's brain. The writers of Discovery have a bad track record in this regard, seeing how they ended the Klingon War with a sledgehammer approach.
In Discovery's first season, Amanda (Mia Kirshner) was shown as a kind but overall unremarkable character. I liked her, but because it was easy to like her. My impression is that the writers wanted to give her a more active and an overall more significant role, to allow her to step out of her husband's shadow. However, I don't think that it suits her to steal Spock's medical file, to take Sarek's ship and secretly approach the Discovery. Conversely, thinking about what we should expect from Amanda, there is not much of a mother-daughter relationship between her and Burnham, the chemistry doesn't feel right. And while it is perhaps understandable that, after learning that Burnham is to blame for the estrangement with her brother, Amanda leaves in a kneejerk reaction, a woman who loves her children would think twice and take any help she can to save Spock. Actually, I think that after confessing to each other what each of them did to disappoint Spock, the two should be even now.
Tilly already got on my nerves in the last two episodes. Now the hallucinated "May" has joined her in an effort to annoy the hell out of me. It was foreseeable what would happen as soon as Tilly sat down in the captain's chair with "May" standing behind Pike, that her story would reach a low point. But although I was glad that the worst part was over and that Tilly did not have to join Spock on Starbase 5, I didn't really enjoy the rest either. Tilly finally speaks to Burnham about what tortures her mind. I have always liked their interaction, as one of the few instances of a genuine and credible friendship on the show. If only Burnham, with her superior knowledge and life experience (uhm, but she's never been in love?) wouldn't know everything better. After being tormented for days or even weeks, Tilly says just two sentences about her imaginary friend, and Burnham immediately concludes that a girl in Tilly's mind who doesn't cry is actually a mycelial parasite. Wow. Stamets doesn't hesitate either. He just grabs the black matter sample container and, in something like an exorcism, sucks out "May", who then grows to some ugly slime cloud.
I already anticipated that "May" was actually the spore that entered Tilly's body during the return to the Prime Universe, and I won't be surprised if the brownish slime ball gives birth to Hugh Culber next week. Bad science may be justified to tell fascinating stories that develop in unexpected directions. But the spores are an omnipotent concept that can be twisted to work in any possible way and serve as a deus ex machina.
Like already in "Brother", where Pike, the Enterprise and the new uniforms were praised, this episode too speaks through the fourth wall. L'Rell advertises the "new" D7 cruiser as a symbol for the unity of the Klingons, and thereby as a symbol that Discovery tries to reconcile its ship designs with how they used to look in Star Trek. I appreciate that Discovery's makers have recognized they have gone way too far with their obsession to reboot just everything, but couldn't the true D7 have been introduced in a more casual fashion?
"Point of Light" comes with yet again redesigned Klingons and with the promise to show a familiar ship that was sadly missing from the series. I also like that the Klingons in this episode talk and act more like the Klingons we used to know. The graphic violence in this regard crosses a line but is tolerable once in a while. But all this can't save the farcical story about L'Rell. "Point of Light" continues to show L'Rell as a weak and whiny villain that I simply don't care for and whose appearances are cringeworthy. The other two plot threads are not convincing either. Everything about the visitor in Tilly's mind is just annoying (and predictable anyway). The search for Spock continues with more revelations that are meant to raise the expectations. But the fact that Sarek's family is broken has no consequences in the bigger picture. Aside from harking back to the characters and storylines I already didn't like in the first season, this episode feels like it was squeezed in to keep things going, much like already "The War Without, the War Within". Its pace was nervous, and it made me nervous. After seeing in the two preceding episodes how Discovery can do better, it is even more disappointing. I'm still looking forward to learning more about Spock's mission to find the "Red Angel" (and less from other people talking about him). But other than that, "Point of Light" is a setback that unpleasantly returns with almost everything that was wrong about the series, in terms of characters and storylines.
- L'Rell presents the D7 design as a symbol of the unity of the Klingons. The "new" ship looks like a slightly redesigned K't'inga, which therefore also has much the same proportions as the D7 we know from TOS. This is an attempt of the makers of the series to create some visual continuity with the rest of Star Trek in a field where there was previously none at all. None of the Klingon ships that appeared in the first season looked remotely Klingon. With two of the strange new ships being called "Bird-of-Prey" and "D7", Discovery even defiantly acted against the canon. It is good that the series tries to revise this disastrous error but at the price of more questions. If Discovery is not a visual reboot, whose ship designs we may ignore if they don't fit in, how come that all ships without exception looked totally different in just one era of Klingon history, and even bore the names of familiar designs?
- The arguably even more obvious backpedaling shows up in the form of the revised Klingon make-up. As already announced a couple of months ago and shown on publicity photos and in trailers, we can now see the new Klingon hair in all its glory. The rationale that Mary Chieffo suggested is mentioned in the episode too. Michael Burnham says: "I heard, post-war, the Klingons are growing their hair again." But the notion that all Klingons without exception are bald during a war is absurd, considering that classic Klingons were more or less always at war in the 22nd, in the 23rd and in the 24th century and all of them always had hair (the only exception being General Chang). All Klingons of the different houses of Discovery, in contrast, had no hair even before T'Kuvma made the surprising suggestion to go to war against the Federation. Klingon children had no hair in T'Kuvma's flashback, and Mirror Voq was hairless as well. Perhaps the political changes brought about by L'Rell are the actual reason why Klingons grow hair again and never give up this custom again. But this conflicts with the uninterrupted continuity of classic "hairy" Klingons, and quite paradoxically Discovery postulates that the Klingons have totally conformist traditions at a time when they are said to be totally divided. It is good that the Discovery Klingons look at least bit more like the race did in other Star Trek incarnations. But Alex Kurtzman should stop pretending it was the original intention to give them back their hair for season 2. If anything, it was an unauthorized loophole that make-up designers Glen Hetrick and Neville Page came up with to make a little bit sense of what they were told to create for the show, probably by Bryan Fuller.
- It is even more striking how L'Rell lost about a third of her skull volume in the most dramatic revision of a make-up of a specific character. Of course, unlike the hair, this it not explained in the episode. It is clear that it is part of the effort to make her character more relatable. The makeover is even more remarkable in light of the fact that other "longheads" still exist in season 2, so nothing was changed about Klingon biology except in her particular case.
- Captain Vela explicitly mentions that communication in the universe of Discovery is normally not done using a screen (implying that everyone uses holograms). Even if we are fine with the idea that Discovery is a "visual reboot" that "reimagines" how Starfleet communicates, the verbal reference to screens as outdated clashes with a thousand mentions of screens in classic Trek of any era.
- Voq speaks English with L'Rell, as he explicitly says, but humans from a time predating the Federation speak "Federation Standard" (as mentioned in the previous episode)?
- It has been rumored since the beginning of the series that Voq could be related to the Albino from DS9: "Blood Oath". Now that we know that Voq has a son (who is nameless just like the Albino) and that there is a feud between his family and the House of Kor, it seems likely that Voq's son will leave the monastery and take revenge some day. But one fact from DS9: "Blood Oath" is that the Albino was known as a criminal before he actually encountered Kor (as well as Koloth and Kang) in battle, which sounds like Kor was involved by pure chance. Anyway, only a time travel could confirm what is just a theory at this time.
- Why are the corridor lights flashing during the half-marathon, other than for some superficially scary effect?
- Why would Amanda choose not to hail the Discovery, so the ship would go to yellow alert? Her intention was to raise as little attention as possible, which is the opposite of what she actually does.
- Why would Kol-Sha heed the tradition to grow back his hair as a sign of peace, but refuse to remove his "war paint" in defiance of L'Rell? Sure, we may argue that for some reason the previously unseen Kol-Sha was the only Klingon never to shave his head in the first place, or that for some other reason the "war paint" that also his son Kol held in high regard is something special in his family that outweighs having hair or not (which is why he can expect Voq to wipe away the paint he modified with the sensor implants). But overall, the symbolism doesn't really work.
- Sure, Burnham is a genius. She may not mind that she jeopardizes her position and that Voq-Tyler risks his life. Yet, the idea to maintain an unauthorized holographic communication channel between Qo'noS and the Discovery is a stretch. But considering that Burnham managed to contact Voq-Tyler on Qo'noS, wouldn't an unmonitored link to Vulcan be enormously helpful as well?
- L'Rell says that she couldn't activate Voq-Tyler on the Discovery while she was carrying a child and that the gestation occurred ex utero, which is the reason why he is so small. This almost sounds like, after getting the child out of her womb, everything went according to plan - that Kol discarded but did not kill her and that she got to the Discovery only by a totally unlikely coincidence.
- When it is clear that a mycelium spore entered Tilly's body, Stamets takes the sample container with the black matter and simply sucks out the parasite, seemingly without any preparations or precautions. He seems to be very confident that the enormous forces wouldn't tear Tilly apart, that he himself could hold the container in his hands and that he could find a means to contain the parasite.
- What is the significance of the mycelial parasite being "transdimensional" if it can be held in place with a standard forcefield?
- It is clear that L'Rell's opponents take offense by Voq and the son she has with him. But after getting rid of them, would they forget that "Mother" L'Rell is a "puppet" and is still carrying a device that was given her by the Federation to blow up the planet?
- Remarkable quote: "The freaks are more fun." (Philippa Georgiou)
- Remarkable gruesome scenes:
- After Kol-Sha has killed her uncle and abducted her child, L'Rell threatens: "I will rip off your entrails with her bare hands." Some time later, when Kol-Sha is dead, we can see his entrails protruding from his body.
- L'Rell presents the head of Voq and then the head of her baby to the leaders of the houses.
- Remarkable ship: Section 31 has its own ships in this new interpretation of the "secret" organization. The ship we can see in the episode is rather small, has foldable nacelles for some reason (probably because it looks cool) and some sort of cloaking device.
- Remarkable sound: Burnham and Voq-Tyler use a Tribble purring sound to announce a call in their communication channel.
- Remarkable set: The bridge of the Section 31 ship is a re-use of the Shenzhou bridge, with a new lower level.
- Remarkable title: "Point of Light" appears to refer to the monastery of Boreth that was built near a star that Kahless pointed at in the sky (TNG: "Rightful Heir").
- Remarkable fact: Tilly had gone to Musk Junior High School for only six months before her mother was moved to another post.
"Number One", Captain Pike's first officer, arrives from the still inoperative Enterprise and hints at inconsistencies in the files about Spock. Pike continues the pursuit of Spock's shuttle, which is about to leave the sensor range. Suddenly the warp field breaks down, and the Discovery faces a huge sphere composed of organic and anorganic matter. The ship is caught in a stasis field and the universal translator gets infected with a computer virus, turning the communication on the bridge into a Babylonian chaos. The polyglot Saru temporarily activates a backup system but the virus begins to affect other systems as well. In engineering, Reno is about to support Stamets and Tilly, when an electromagnetic discharge sets the organism known as "May" free. "May" attaches itself to Tilly's body yet again. In the presence of the sphere Saru sees flashes of UV light, a sign that he has entered the vahar'ai, the final stage of his life. Saru and Burnham develop "digital antibodies" to slow down the virus in the Discovery's systems, but the ship is running out of time since Spock's shuttle is at the edge of the sensor range. Pike wants to break free using photon torpedoes, but Saru feels that the sphere is dying and actually wants to establish "last contact". So Pike agrees to stand down and wait for a transmission from the sphere. The sphere sends the data and finally explodes, but not before reversing the polarity of the stasis field to allow the Discovery to escape. In engineering, Stamets and Reno work on a way to let "May" speak through Tilly, using a makeshift cortical implant. "May" says that she is a member of the jahSepp, a species native to the mycelial network and that their realm is threatened by an alien intruder. She identifies Stamets, who repeatedly navigated the ship through the network, as the intruder. After Reno has freed Tilly of "May", the entity transforms herself into some sort of cocoon that completely envelops Tilly. Saru goes to his quarters to die, accompanied only by Burnham. He asks her to cut off his threat ganglia to end the suffering. When she finally agrees, the ganglia fall of by themselves. Saru lives, now without the fear that was apparently induced by these organs. He calls the whole idea of the "Great Balance" on his home planet Kaminar a lie. In the meantime, the Discovery is on a pursuit course for Spock's shuttle again, thanks to sensor data obtained from the sphere.
After last week's unfortunate setback, Discovery is now back on the new course, with another installment that is reminiscent of classic Trek. Of course, we know the kind of story all too well, in which an alien entity tries to communicate but actually is not understood and only inflicts damage. V'ger from "Star Trek: The Motion Picture", the Whale Probe from "Star Trek: The Voyage Home", the D'Arsay archive from TNG: "Masks", "Pup" from DS9: "The Forsaken", the Saltah'nan virus from DS9: "Dramatis Personae", the spatial distortion from VOY: "Twisted" and the obelisk from VOY: "Memorial" are just the most noteworthy examples. Rather than being realistic (which it isn't, despite the frequency of occurrences), this common trope serves to illustrate one of Star Trek's most important principles: Not everything that we don't understand must be harmful, and not even everything that harms us does this harm on purpose. In this regard, "An Obol for Charon" is a successful episode, although just a few aspects about it are particularly interesting, such as the translator malfunction and Saru's connection to the sphere.
The pace of the episode is breathless, which may be appropriate regarding the dramatic circumstances on the bridge and in engineering. But overall, it is too hectic, consisting of 40 minutes of more or less uninterrupted action. The only notable exception is the sequence in which Burnham accompanies Saru to his quarters, where is he is going to prepare for his death. One important reason for the rush is that the story tries to accomplish too much. It has to deal with the ongoing search for Spock, with the emergency caused by the sphere, with the nature and intentions of the sphere itself, with Saru's apprehension that he is going to die and with the struggle with "May" in engineering. Most classic Star Trek episodes include only half as many different topics, and take accordingly more time for each them.
After "Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum" and DST: "The Brightest Star", this is the third Saru-centered episode. It is interesting to observe how the importance of his character gradually grows in the course of the story. At first, it is just his rhinovirus that he hints at. Then he puts his language skills (that were mentioned last week) to good practice and fixes the universal translator. In the presence of the sphere, Saru senses the coming of his death, which at this time does not appear to be more than a vague feeling (although Saru himself seems to be pretty certain). It is nice how Saru subsequently recognizes the link between the sphere and his own condition and comes to the conclusion that the sphere is about to die itself. The rest about the story is all about Saru. When his condition (somewhat unexpectedly) doesn't improve after the explosion of the sphere, he leaves the bridge in a very touching scene, accompanied only by Burnham. In his quarters, it becomes rather melodramatic when Burnham hesitates to take the knife to relieve him of his pain. Then the threat ganglia suddenly fall off by themselves, leaving Saru without the fear that has always determined his own life and the lives of his whole race.
Something that bothers me about the Saru story is that Burnham is suddenly shown as a person who is very close to him. This simply doesn't comply with my memory of the first season and of the three preceding season 2 episodes. On the Shenzhou, Burnham and Saru were at odds with each other, perhaps a bit like Spock and Bones, but without an amiable undertone. When Burnham came to the Discovery on Lorca's behest, Saru's reaction was quite acerbic. Neither he nor Burnham did anything to change that, except on the purely professional side. The fact that they never talked about their siblings (as of DIS: "Brother") and that Saru never really told Burnham about life on his planet and the "Great Balance" further corroborates my impression that the two are not particularly close. If anything, they form a community of fate. And considering that her actual family is falling apart, Burnham may want to be as close as possible to her new family aboard the Discovery. Still, the impression the story tries to give us, that she and Saru have been friends for a long time, just isn't right.
Another issue to discuss about the Saru story is that his death is foreshadowed in every possible way until his deathbed scene, only to be averted in a dramatic plot twist. I generally dislike this kind of a red herring, and it is particularly inappropriate in light of Discovery's previous character deaths (or rather, lack of deaths). We also should keep in mind that Discovery was announced as a "modern" series that would be more daring and more consequential in this regard (and even a bit like Game of Thrones, where anyone may be killed off any time). But Discovery turned out the least consequential of all Star Trek series. Except for a few minor characters that were written as unlikable so no one would miss them, such as Landry and Connolly, everyone so far has survived against all odds or has even returned from the dead! Culber will be resurrected next week, and it is safe to predict that we will also see Lorca again. The saving grace of Saru's falsely foreshadowed death is that the unlikely twist really surprised me and makes sense in terms of further character development (Saru without fear). I only hope that it takes a long time until a Star Trek episode resorts to such an awkward plot device again.
Regarding the lasting change to the character of Saru after the loss of his threat ganglia, it remains to be seen if the writers remember that his character is not so apprehensive any longer and which practical consequences this will entail. One obvious opportunity (that I imagined before actually seeing the trailer for "The Sounds of Thunder") is that Saru returns to his homeworld to expose the lie about the "Great Balance". Yet, two things still bother me about how the idea that fear is induced into the Kelpiens is handled. The first is that Saru already did lose his fear on the planet Pahvo in "Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum" and that the events of the episode neither had any consequences nor were hinted at in any fashion. The second beef is that Saru knew all along that the Ba'ul manipulated and probably even killed his people, as seen in "The Brightest Star". The assumption that the threat ganglia are a further means to make them obedient is no more than the icing on the cake in this regard. It seems like the fear of the Ba'ul has so far impaired Saru's judgment, still many years after joining Starfleet, and that it is more like a personal epiphany that he finally recognizes the obvious truth.
There is yet again very little progress regarding the Spock mystery. At least this episode doesn't make a big deal of facts that a character kept back without any good reason.
"An Obol for Charon" also marks the first appearance of Rebecca Romijn as "Number One". However, she only appears in a cameo at the beginning of the episode and contributes next to nothing to the search for Spock or any other aspect of the story. Bearing in mind the big fuss that was made about this character, she is underwhelming so far. We will have to wait and see if and which role she may play in future episodes.
As an engineer, I enjoyed the dispute between science (represented by Stamets) and practical engineering (represented by Reno). And as already mentioned, I would have liked this part of the episode even more, had it been conceded the due time. The way it actually happens, the two come up with makeshift solutions within seconds, which sort of misrepresents both sides of the medal. It would have worked better in an episode of its own or with some more time. One more thing of note in this regard is that when psilocybin released by "May" blurs their senses and Stamets and Reno are on drugs, it is like an innuendo to the criticism of the science of the series. The characters are literally on the oft-cited "magic mushrooms" here.
One topic that Reno and Stamets clash about is how the allegedly dirty warp drive (according to Stamets) that requires dilithium mining and hence devastates whole planets can be replaced with the clean spore drive. It is ironical how his idea is more or less destroyed just minutes later when "May" claims that the spore drive damages the mycelial network. This, however, is not really a surprise because at latest since the excursion to the Mirror Universe Stamets should be aware that the network is affected by his jumps. Anyway, while the revelation that the spore drive is dangerous is primarily an attempt to retroactively align the series with canon, it also demonstrates that no technical innovation is without harmful side effects.
As I already noted about the previous season 2 episodes, Discovery resorts at least as often to technobabble as Voyager, the series that is customarily criticized the most for it. A phenomenon that is unique to Discovery, however, is the additional abundance of analogies. TNG and Voyager were fond of analogies as well, but used them economically, and only if they contributed to the story (such as "souring the milk" in TNG: "Galaxy's Child") or if they otherwise served to get across a point (such as when Data didn't understand them). In Discovery, they are probably meant to make the technobabble more digestible, and ultimately they sound like they are aimed at the viewers, rather than at 23rd century Starfleet personnel. "An Obol for Charon" brims over with such analogies. There is one for seemingly each and every phenomenon or technical trick. Pike's reference of the Discovery being caught in a spider's web is still reasonable. But "digital antibodies" that are "like an army of ants eating a water buffalo"? Come on! This ostentatiously breaks the fourth wall and takes the viewers for fools. Well, the good thing is that the writers seem to have been aware of it themselves, so much that they let Reno ironically comment on Stamets's analogies.
Summarizing, the new and improved Discovery is back with another story that focuses on the crew, rather than on shady characters, and that presents genuine science fiction, rather than generic intrigues. This isn't a reason for particular praise, as it is something I expect from a series that wants to be Star Trek. "An Obol for Charon" may not be the most original story of its kind but it is exciting for the most part. Unfortunately it is also very rushed, and everything related to the sphere or to Tilly falls short of the Saru story. The foreshadowing of his death and his interaction with Burnham becomes very melodramatic and does not work on all accounts. On the other hand, it provides welcome breaks in a story that otherwise consists of almost uninterrupted action. The mystery mongering about Spock continues, albeit in a less obtrusive fashion than last week.
- The holographic communicators on the Enterprise are going to be replaced after the cascade failure, according to "Number One". Pike says he never liked them because "they looked too much like ghosts". It is obvious that the abolishment of holographic communication in favor of "primitive" viewscreens is a further attempt to fix the so far disregarded continuity with the pre-existing Star Trek.
- The apparent fact that the spore drive damages the mycelial network readily serves as an excuse why it wouldn't ever be used again (in another sledgehammer approach to repair the continuity). But it definitely doesn't explain why it would never even be mentioned again, especially in hundreds of cases where the network may be responsible for a spacial or temporal phenomenon.
- Three maneuvers we know well from previous Star Trek installments are referred to: routing impulse power through the deflector dish (as in several TNG and Voyager episodes), detonating the warp core to ride the shockwave (as in "Star Trek (2009)"), as well as the good old reversal of polarity (known from TOS).
- Why does the transporter operator of the Discovery refer to it as a "teleporter"?
- After the failure of the universal translator on the bridge, wouldn't it have been the first option to turn the universal translator completely off, so that at least the English speaking crew members could talk to each other again? Or is the universal translator an inseparable component (which I would rate as dangerous)? Considering that the crew members notice themselves that they speak a foreign language, does the translator tap directly into their brains and control their voices? Wouldn't that drive everyone mad, even under normal circumstances, when talking to people in a different language?
- Why did it take "May" so long to say what her mission is about? She could have told Tilly what is actually going on any time in the last two episodes. Being in her mind would have absolutely sufficed as a bargaining chip, one that she already gambled away once in last week's episode. There was no reason to wait for something like the perfect moment.
- Reno explicitly refers to the "chief engineer", who sent her to support Stamets. So why have we never seen this mysterious person before, and why do we get the impression that in all other episodes Stamets has the ultimate authority in all things engineering?
- Remarkable dialogue: "They have as much in common as a grease monkey and me." - "I could fix that analogy with duct tape too." (Stamets and Reno)
- Remarkable quotes:
- "I'm just a gearhead, not a farmer." (Reno, to Stamets)
- "I am uninsultable, especially by a guy that thinks he can run a ship on mushrooms that I pick off my pizza." (Reno, to Stamets)
- Remarkable scenes:
- As he doesn't have a laser scalpel, Stamets drills a hole into Tilly's head. In order to distract her, he asks her to sing her favorite song, which turns out to be "Space Oddity" by David Bowie. A great choice! It's one of my favorites too.
- The other crew members rise from their seats as Saru leaves the bridge, seemingly for his final journey.
- Remarkable set: Saru has many plants in his quarters and a bed made of moss.
- Remarkable title: "An Obol for Charon" refers to the coin that serves as the payment for Charon, the ferryman, to convey souls to the world of the dead.
- Remarkable 47: At one point, life support is said to be at 47%.
- Remarkable facts:
- Saurians like Linus have six nasal canals.
- The sphere has a diameter of 565 kilometers and weights 6.39e20kg. It is estimated to be 100,000 years old.
The Discovery pursues Spock's shuttle to a nebula. The pilot ignites the gas, thereby blinding the ship's sensors. Pike orders to disable the shuttle by detonating a photon torpedo in its vicinity. The shuttle is tractored into the shuttlebay, where the pilot turns out to be Philippa Georgiou. She says that she found the shuttle adrift in space, with no sign of Spock. Pike does not know that she is the Georgiou from the Mirror Universe, and Burnham does not let him in yet. In his ready room, he is already welcomed by a holographic message from Leland, who says that Section 31 takes care of the issue, rather than Pike or Burnham. He also announces that he will send a liaison officer. This liaison turns out to be Ash Tyler. Tilly is not in the cocoon any longer, she was somehow transported to the mycelial network. Stamets comes up with the plan of a partial jump that would submerge the port section of the ship in the network. Although it means a high risk, Pike agrees because it is his firm stance never to leave someone behind. In the spore network, "May" wants Tilly to find a "monster" that threatens the jahSepp. After the Discovery has arrived, the two proceed to the weapons storage. They run into Stamets and Burnham. And they find the "monster", who turns out to be Hugh Culber. Culber was transferred there through Stamets and has survived only by using the bark of a tree that is poisonous to the jahSepp. Stamets can convince the intimidated Culber to come back with him. But Culber is unable to cross the barrier to normal space. This is because he is not composed of normal matter. "May" agrees to help him return, using the mycelial transporter on whose other end real DNA would help to reconstruct Culber's body. In the meantime, the Section 31 ship has arrived to tractor the Discovery out of the barrier between normal space and the mycelial network. As the ship sinks deeper into the network, Leland wants to act, but Georgiou buys the crew more time until everyone is safe. In the cocoon in engineering, Culber rematerializes. On the Section 31 ship, Admiral Cornwell reminds Leland and Pike that they work for the same goals.
Michael Burnham doesn't get any rest. Just after the life of Saru has been saved, she needs to worry about her other friend, Sylvia Tilly. Unlike it was the case with Saru, her friendship with Tilly is well-established in the series, and so it feels right how desperate she is about the disappearance of the ensign.
Burnham's contemplative, almost whiny voice-over at the beginning and the end of the episode is rather odd. It would make more sense in a season finale, as already in "Will You Take My Hand?", or in the conclusion of a story arc. It feels out of place in an episode like "Saints of Imperfection" that is action-oriented and otherwise takes little time for contemplation and that does not have a definite beginning or ending either.
Just as I don't like Mirror Georgiou, I don't like the attempts to rehabilitate the character ("She's not so bad after all, she bought the Discovery more time."). And the continued deception about her true identity gets on my nerves. It unnecessarily extends a character conflict that did not work in the first place, since the masquerade began in" The War Without, The War Within". I concede that for Burnham it is a personal matter because she used to be close to Prime Georgiou and because she brought Mirror Georgiou to our universe. Burnham is understandably torn between her sense of duty (perhaps she was ordered to keep the secret?) and her sense of right and wrong in this regard. And so she exhibits an open hostility towards Georgiou that makes Pike suspicious, yet hesitates to reveal the reason. But the story makes it look like she were the only person to know the truth, the only person who would be entitled or expected to reveal it to Pike and the only person who is troubled by the presence of the former dictator. Saru, Tilly and probably some other crew members are aware of the deception as well but no one seems to have a problem with Georgiou. It is Pike and Nhan who are concerned, rather than Saru or anyone else of the old bridge crew. In this episode their mindlessness is still excusable because there are more pressing problems at hand. But I would expect Saru and Burnham to discuss the issue as soon as possible, especially now that we know how close the two are.
Another thing that doesn't quite work is the return of Ash Tyler. I think the timing for his arrival on the ship has symbolic reasons, to coincide with the resurrection of his victim Hugh Culber, rather than being in any way instrumental for the plot. There is a little bit of interaction with Burnham and with Pike, but nothing particularly important. It is just as anticlimactic as the much-anticipated cameo of "Number One" last week. In both cases a big opportunity was made into a insignificant side story.
Captain Pike is only formally in charge of this week's mission. Section 31 knows more about Spock than he does, Burnham knows more about Georgiou, Stamets takes charge of Tilly's rescue and only Leland's interference saves the Discovery. He rarely acts on his own, and his experience and integrity is not an advantage. Considering how edgy everyone else is, Pike simply has a hard time as the nice captain who listens to the crew and who has their respect. His character is symptomatic of the things that still don't go together in the Discovery universe. On a further note about Pike, it is odd that he knows Georgiou as well as Leland, which seems gratuitous and reminds me of the time when Kirk used to know everyone in outer space. It ultimately just allows him to deliver a few more lines. At least, Pike has one good scene when, after noticing Burnham's reaction to Georgiou, he reminds her to be honest to him. Well, he himself didn't tell her the whole truth about Spock either, at least not immediately. But we may just say it was the captain's prerogative.
I like Tilly in this episode. Although she is still agitated (who wouldn't be after being abducted to a hostile realm?), she remains reasonable and skillfully keeps "May" in check whose only intention is to kill the "monster". Tilly profits from the fact that after quite some time in her mind the otherwise very alien "May" has adopted to some extent a human way of thinking and has picked up some aspects of May's friendship with Tilly. The "Pinky swear" is hilarious and does not come across as too silly.
In the course of the episode, the focus shifts away from the search for Tilly to the rescue of Hugh Culber. The doctor was killed by Ash Tyler in "Despite Yourself", was transferred to the spore network through Stamets and has managed to survive there with the help of a tree bark that is lethal to the jahSepp that attacked him. It is very touching how Stamets approaches his intimated friend, and tells the story of their date in the Met Museum of Art to prove that he really is Stamets and not some deception. But Culber's ordeal is not over yet. He is composed of a different kind of matter, and while he himself is ready to stay behind so Stamets can save himself, Tilly and Stamets come up with a way to rescue him too. Everything about Stamets and Culber is emotionally strong and does not fall short of the action despite the fast pace of the episode. I admit I am glad to have him back.
Still, everything about the mycelial network, the jahSepp and Culber's rescue is only enjoyable as long as we ignore the awful treatment of science, especially regarding the new findings of this episode. The spore network already had a very bad reputation from the first season. It is a realm that encompasses the whole universe and that was allegedly created before galaxies even existed, which vehemently clashes with everything we know from real-world astrophysics. It enables instantaneous travel from one place to any other, the only small condition being that a compatible "navigator" and a supply of mushrooms is available. The spore drive also allows to travel to other universes and to travel in time. The possibilities are nearly unlimited and let every scientific or technical discovery of the following 130 years pale in comparison. "Saints of Imperfection" adds even more miracles to the list. We learn that the mycelial network somehow took over Culber's "soul" when the delirious Stamets was somehow still connected to it and discovered Culber's dead or dying body. There is a precedent in the form of the famous katra transfer in "Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan". But as if this were not fantastic enough, the spore network creates a body for Culber without having his DNA, and still knows exactly what the good doctor looked like and how his body is supposed to work! Considering that in "Vaulting Ambition" it looked like Stamets was wandering around in an illusory realm, it is incredible anyway that the spore network is suddenly an inhabitable environment, with gravity, breathable air and plants. Agreed, we learned in TNG: "Schisms" that something similar applies to subspace, but the existence of a realm that would allow indigenous lifeforms as well as human to survive there is a big stretch. Moreover, this depiction does not let the spore network appear particularly alien, not like a phenomenon that would allow ultrafast space travel but rather like a fun terrain for an ATV ride.
We don't know much about the jahSepp at this time, and perhaps it is the last time we have seen them. Everything pertaining to them can be classified in just two categories. One one occasion they are dumb creatures who don't know anything about the outside world and who are only driven by their instinct to eat everything they encounter. Yet, "May" knows how to manipulate normal matter in many ways and how to transport Tilly to her realm. Maybe "May" has learned quite a bit during her "away mission", still it is totally over the top how a naive and primitive organism becomes an ingenious genetic engineer and particle physicist. Like with the spore network itself, the writers have imposed no limitations on the jahSepp, who are allowed to have (or lack) any abilities they deem useful for the story. They don't recognize that constraints are beneficial, and even essential on long term. I know that some fans will interject that the Q are omnipotent too. But there are three decisive differences that effectively limit the concept of the Q. The Q never show up except for one specific member of his kind. They can't be invoked the way it is possible with the spore drive. Finally, it has never been attempted to explain the Q with science because they are beyond Starfleet's understanding, whereas everything related to spores seems to be rather well understood and becomes Trek lore (that for some reason will fall into oblivion).
In "Saints of Imperfection" the mycelial network becomes an omnipotent concept without any limitations. The writers twist it in any way they want. I was prepared that the announced return of Culber would not make much sense, and it was obvious that it would have to do with the spore network. But the way it was written it is not just implausible but totally incredible unless I set my suspension of disbelief to the level of "pure magic". My prediction is that many of those who currently still praise the episode for its story will change their minds after a second viewing. VOY: "Threshold" still keeps the prize for "Worst Science in an Episode", but "Saints of Imperfection" is the new runner-up, with the spore network winning in the category of "Worst Scientific Concept".
Just like in last week's episode, the pace is mostly breathless, but there are a couple of calm scenes as well. As I already mentioned, "Saints of Imperfection" gets the emotional side of the reunion of Stamets with Culber right. But it is simply not the right time for it. We have to remember that the ship is being rocked by the anomaly and is being eaten up by the jahSepp. Pike and Saru repeatedly order the away team to return immediately, but instead hurrying to the exit they wallow in memories and engage in discussions about the nature of Spore-Culber. So it's not only the science that doesn't work, also the timing is not appropriate.
Like last week's episode, "Saints of Imperfection" too suffers from an overkill of analogies. Less would have been more. And once again, several of them are inept. For instance, Stamets as a "lightning rod" for the mental energy of the dead Culber (curiously one week after Stamets and Reno used a real lightning rod) and the jahSepp as "healthy cells that attack cancer" are so crude as analogies that they only work for an early 21st century viewer who is not expected to ask further questions.
The Weekly Spock News is rather scarce this time. The red signal is said to have left a trail of tachyons, which could indicate a time travel, a cloaking device or a transporter. This doesn't tell us anything new, as it could already be deduced from what happened in "New Eden".
Overall, "Saints of Imperfection" brings us the much-anticipated return of Hugh Culber, whose reunion with Paul Stamets is well played and very touching. But it is overshadowed by the bad science in the writing that invokes one deus ex machina after another and that ultimately turns the spore network into a ludicrous concept that can accomplish just anything, from resurrecting the dead to brewing the perfect craft beer. The episode was thrilling to watch but at the cost of a nasty hangover.
- Pike makes a remark about Leland dealing with alligators on Cestus III, after which he transferred to Starfleet Intelligence. We know that the outpost on Cestus III will be attacked by the reptilian Gorn in 2267, who are unknown to Kirk's crew at that time and who claim the planet for themselves. This may be a cue that the "alligators" are in fact the Gorn, and that their existence and their claim on the planet was kept secret.
- In the 22nd and in the 24th century, Section 31 is a secret organization that almost no one is aware of. In Discovery, Section 31 is commonly known, operates ships and has agents who are easily recognizable because of their black badges.
- Ash Tyler has a black comm badge similar to the ones of TNG. Yet, this is probably more like a tip of the hat, rather than being relevant for continuity (well, unless this technology actually comes from the future).
- We don't know how much time has passed since "Point of Light". But it seems odd how Georgiou could find Spock's shuttle far out in space, more or less directly after her mission on Qo'noS (or, alternatively, not so far away at all?).
- Regarding Georgiou and Section 31, the question is also why they would lay a false trail at all, no matter whether the story about it actually being Spock's shuttle is true or not. In order to just tell Pike to stand down it would have been absolutely sufficient to use holographic communication or to intercept the Discovery with their own ship. It may be clarified later but currently it does not make sense.
- How did Culber get into the spore network in the first place? Stamets was still connected to the network in some fashion, and he somehow channeled Culber's energy or "soul". Then Culber materialized in the network. We know that Culber did have a physical body the whole time. But we also learn that the concept of DNA is unknown in the network and that the copy of Culber was made of an entirely different form of matter. Even if we accept that it can create life from scratch or revive the dead, how could the spore network possibly know how Culber looked like and how his body worked? This is a totally implausible miracle.
- Stamets cites the conservation of energy (or matter) after Tilly has disappeared, concluding that if she was not decomposed or transformed inside the cocoon, she has to be somewhere else. When he muses about how Culber was transferred to the mycelial network, he refers to the same principle. But this time it makes no sense because the dead Culber was still aboard the Discovery. Without an additional effort to explain how a "soul" or "mental energy" can be transferred to the spore network, considerations of energy conservation are useless. If anything, they would only prove that the person in the network can't be Culber.
- Culber is restored with neatly cut hair. It's amazing how the DNA also holds the information about a person's most fitting or most recent haircut.
- In "An Obol for Charon", "May's" principal concern was that the repeated jumps through the network endangered her species. She made no mention of a specific current threat or even a "monster". This may be because "May" has been disconnected from her realm for quite some time, yet it comes too much out of the blue.
- Adding further to the confusion about "May", she obviously identified Stamets as the very person who is responsible for the jumps and for damaging the spore network. But she doesn't recognize that the "monster" is of the same species?
- It appears that the jahSepp are a species driven by instinct, seeing how they eat everyone and everything that enters the network. It is possible that "May" has evolved and is open to reason. But that still doesn't explain how she could build the "mycelial transporter". Why should a species that does not even know there is a world outside the mycelial network possess any technology to travel to this world or back?
- Remarkable dialogues:
- "Is that gray hair I see?" - "It's one of the tradeoffs of having actual hair." (Leland and Pike)
- "Mr. Stamets, are you ready to execute this very bold, deeply insane plan of yours?" - "'Execute' might not have been my choice of words. But I am, sir." (Pike and Stamets)
- "I'll try to remember that my path is sometimes clearer than yours." - "Well, that's the understatement of the millennium." (Pike and Leland)
- Remarkable quotes:
- "Shuttlebay's through there. I'm sure you need to get back to your snake pit." (Burnham, to Georgiou)
- "Call me provincial, but I prefer people, whose truth I can take at face value. So what truth are you keeping from me?" (Pike, to Burnham)
- "Starfleet is a promise. I'd give my life for you, you'd give your life for me. And nobody gets left behind. Ensign Tilly is out there, and she has every right to expect us. We keep our promises." (Pike, to the crew)
- Remarkable technology: The Section 31 ship uses tractor rigs that attach themselves to the hull of the Discovery and that act as the targets of the tractor beams, rather than the ship hull itself. This is quite possibly the first realistic technology introduced in Discovery.
- Remarkable title: The quote "Monsters are patron saints of imperfection." is ascribed to Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro.
- Remarkable facts:
- Six years ago on Deneva, Leland's mission went awry when he did something "to the wrong ambassador", according to Georgiou.
- Stamets and Culber were in the Met Museum of Art on their third date. Culber was walking fast because he was excited to show Stamets the de Koonings.
While Tilly and Airiam are investigating the data obtained from the ancient sphere, Dr. Pollard examines her two patients that recently underwent transformations. She finds that Hugh Culber has been restored to a "pristine" condition, up to an old scar that is gone. Regarding Saru, she confirms that he has changed on the psychic side. She also discovers that some sort of teeth are growing after the loss of the threat ganglia. The Discovery receives a new signal related to the Red Angel, this time from Saru's homeworld Kaminar. When the ship arrives, the signal has vanished just as on the two previous occasions. Pike tries to contact the Ba'ul, the advanced race that dominates the planet, but receives no reply. He then sends Burnham to establish first contact with the Kelpiens and, at Saru's insistence, allows him to join her. The two beam down to Saru's old village where they encounter his sister Siranna, who is now the priest of the village. Siranna is happy to see her brother again after 18 years but she also reproaches him with not caring for her. Siranna says that she too saw a "fiery sign" in the sky. Suddenly the pylon built by the Ba'ul, the "Watchful Eye", is activated, frightening Siranna. Saru and Burnham ask to be beamed back immediately. The Discovery gets surrounded by Ba'ul ships that demand Saru's return. Otherwise they would destroy his village. Saru beams down to the surface to surrender himself. The Ba'ul also abduct Siranna to the unknown place where he is being held. On the Discovery, Tilly and Burnham analyze the data the sphere recorded about Kaminar. At one point, 2300 years ago, many Kelpiens entered the vahar'ai, and the Ba'ul were almost extinguished. They conclude that the evolved Kelpiens were the actual predators and the Ba'ul were their prey. A Ba'ul appears and tells Saru and Siranna that they have to die because they know the truth and pose a danger to the Ba'ul. But Saru breaks free and smashes the drones that attack him. He builds a communicator from the debris and contacts the Discovery. On Burnham's suggestion, Captain Pike decides to help the Kelpiens and trigger the vahar'ai in all of them, isolating the frequencies of the sphere transmission that were responsible for Saru's evolution. The Ba'ul expose a huge stronghold and transmit energy to the pylons in all Kelpien villages, enough to destroy them. Pike orders to arm photon torpedoes, but the ship couldn't possibly target all 4056 pylons at once. The Ba'ul energy network is then disabled by someone else. It is the Red Angel, who also appears to Saru and Siranna. The Discovery leaves Kaminar in the hope that the Ba'ul and the now evolved Kelpiens find a peaceful new balance.
"The Sound of Thunder" would have had the potential to become my favorite Discovery episode. It tells a classic Star Trek story and ties in with the very personal unfinished business that the newly enlightened Saru has with the state of his homeworld. I like the continuity with DST: "The Brightest Star" which, in hindsight, was a successful appetizer, although it established that the ship Georgiou arrived from was the Shenzhou, not the Archimedes as stated in "The Sound of Thunder". I don't like at all that the shot from the Short Treks episode was retroactively changed to comply with the new script. Anyway, another positive aspect is that for "The Sound of Thunder" the writers abstained from packing various B- and C-plots into the story as in the preceding three episodes that were marked by a hastiness that almost made me nauseous.
Overall, this Saru-centered episode started with a voice-over by Saru that didn't feel out of place, with great character interaction (involving the so far mostly silent Airiam) and with an overall contemplative mood that reminded me of the best times of TNG. It was a pleasant experience and was beginning to grow on me. But after about 25 minutes things started to go south. I don't mind the decent amount of action after the Ba'ul show up and abduct Saru and his sister. But I don't like how the story presents a "truth" that is actually just the result of a chain of swift conclusions and reckless actions. As I further explain in the annotations, there is not sufficient reason to believe that the "evolved" Kelpiens are predators who would hunt the Ba'ul. There is actually no reason to assume that they "evolve" at all. But if they do, why in the world would a Starfleet captain release the predators? And why would the person who suggested just that, namely Burnham, be surprised that the prey fights back? And how do they think the allegedly ferocious primitive Kelpiens and the technologically advanced yet fearful Ba'ul would ever come to terms? The second half of the episode is unfortunately marked by rashness like in James T. Kirk's worst days in episodes such as "The Apple" or "A Piece of the Action".
After seeing the trailer, my expectation was that the Ba'ul would turn out the same race as the Kelpiens, and that no Kelpiens were ever actually "culled" but, on the contrary, selected for one of the limited places in a society of elders. Well, perhaps I am a bit disappointed that my prediction didn't turn out right. But the actual outcome leaves me dissatisfied for the above reasons and because of several other questions that remain unanswered or that the writers deem sufficiently answered by the fact that it's just the other way round and the Kelpiens are the actual bad guys (at least if they don't manage to restrain themselves). Maybe a future episode will revisit Kaminar and will show if and how the two races work on a common future, but right now there are more questions than answers if we are honest.
Another letdown in this regard, albeit "only" in terms of style, is the hissing voice of the Ba'ul (to insinuate they have to be evil, in what seems to be a last-minute attempt at a red herring) and their look that unpleasantly reminds me of the tar pit creature that killed Tasha in TNG: "Skin or Evil".
The episode also establishes that Kelpiens, after losing their threat ganglia, "evolve" to predators that can shoot some sort of darts from their heads and are incredibly strong. I don't think this is beneficial for the further character development of Saru. It would have absolutely sufficed to establish him as a more courageous man, one that stands up for his views and his interests like he does at two points in the episode, although the second time it has to be rated as insubordination. The idea of Saru as a person who, when angry, may become some sort of Hulk (with new superpowers in addition to the ones he already had, such as the superior eyesight and MacGyvering skills) does not sit well with me. Saru tells Siranna not to be afraid of the change, but shouldn't she actually be very afraid, not only of a conflict with the Ba'ul but also of who or what she is becoming?
After seeing how suddenly he departed in DST: "The Brightest Star", I initially enjoyed the reunion of Saru with his sister Siranna very much. Their chemistry is very good, and ultimately the Kelpiens prove that despite extensive latex appliances it is possible for actors to relay emotions. The make-up designers should ask themselves why this wasn't possible with their new Klingons. I like anyway how Siranna is much more than the usual one-dimensional alien stock character. She is happy to see Saru again after so many years, yet quickly recognizes that he has not returned because of her, which upsets Siranna. She believes in the "Great Balance", yet she is open to reason and open for new possibilities, just like her brother. It is a pity that her role in the further course of the episode is quite passive because, as already mentioned, it is determined by the inconsiderate actions of the Starfleet crew.
Last week, Paul Stamets's tearful reunion with Hugh Culber was inappropriately shoehorned into an action story. It is good that "The Sound of Thunder" takes time for a wrap-up of these tumultuous events and a proper "Welcome back, Dr. Culber". It is a nice touch how Hugh Culber is understandably a bit frightened when Saru approaches him, who himself has lost his fear. Yet, the eerie score in the scene when he speaks about his accident many years ago foreshadows that not everything is right about this new Culber, although Dr. Pollard says it is just his nervous system that still has to stabilize. We will have to wait and see whether there is still something going on with Culber and whether it will entail yet another excursion into the awful spore network.
Like already in the two preceding episodes, there is no real news about Spock in "The Sound of Thunder". But the wait is almost over anyway, as he will appear in person next week. Anyway, in a status meeting Pike, Burnham and Tyler finally discuss two of the questions that have been bugging me all along. The first is why the Red Angel leads the Discovery to places that are somehow related to them and now to a specific crew member. The second is whether the Red Angel is a savior, or rather the entity that created the emergencies in the first place. The three don't come any closer to an answer but it is a good idea to finally ask these questions.
Regarding the Red Angel, however, it is a letdown that the entity appears like the cavalry or a deus ex machina. We already know that the Red Angel did save the people from WWIII, but on the so far two other occasions of the Discovery coming to rescue people in need the Red Angel remained passive. We will probably learn more next week, but for now it seems like the Red Angel can do just anything, anywhere and any time.
As I mentioned above, "The Sound of Thunder" could have become my favorite Discovery episode because it is the first of the series to take the due time to tend to a specific character. But overall it turns out to be just okay. It is a pity that much of what was built up in terms of character development and of ethical principles is thrown overboard in the course of the episode. Perhaps it was a mistake in the first place to visit Saru's homeworld so soon after his transformation in "An Obol for Charon". He should have been given time for intermediate character development and not return to his homeworld in anger, almost immediately after recognizing the bitter truth.
- Continuity: In DST: "The Brightest Star", Lt. Georgiou arrived on Kaminar in a shuttle with the registry SHN-03 (obviously for Shenzhou). But now it is suddenly the USS Archimedes, and the "SHN" part was erased from the shuttle to that end.
- When the Discovery gets surrounded by Ba'ul ships, these are many times bigger than the Federation ship. When they withdraw a few minutes later, they look about the same order of size.
- Saru beams down to the planet during red alert.
- The lifesign recordings of the sphere are said to be "statistical", which means they must have been reduced based on certain criteria and are not chronological records of individual lifesigns. Yet, Tilly retroactively manages to distinguish "non-evolved" and "evolved" Kelpiens. Moreover, this distinction takes place on what little Dr. Pollard could find out about one single individual, which does not seem trustworthy enough to be applied to a whole population.
- Tilly and Burnham have no knowledge at all about the biology of the mysterious Ba'ul. It is just an assumption that the lifesigns not belonging to the Kelpiens are actually the Ba'ul.
- The conclusion that the "evolved" Kelpiens are the predators and the Ba'ul are their prey, just based on the population statistics, is far-fetched and very unscientific. There are countless factors that could have led to the decline of the Ba'ul population, such as diseases, war, pollution, famine, sterility or excessive birth control.
- The "Great Balance" imposed on the Kelpiens by the Ba'ul was a lie and a new balance must be found in negotiations. This raises the question if and which form of balance was the natural one on Kaminar, before it went out of control 2300 years ago. Did the "evolved" Kelpiens really hunt and/or eat the Ba'ul, who must already have possessed technology at that time, enough to eventually keep the Kelpiens under control?
- Where are the Ba'ul after Saru has broken free of his cuffs? Perhaps it is their nature to go into hiding if something goes wrong, but with all their technology they should still have something up their sleeves. The same applies to the huge patrol ships that don't reappear after the vahar'ai has been triggered in the Kelpiens.
- There are 4056 villages on the planet, but Saru's is conveniently in walking distance from the usually hidden Ba'ul stronghold.
- Beginning at some point in the episode, the vahar'ai is consistently called an "evolution". This is wrong in a scientific sense, although in Star Trek it is almost a tradition that evolution can happen all of sudden, and/or in single individuals. Rather than that, it has to be a stage of maturation. Unfortunately the population statistics support the wrong science, as they show a decrease of the "non-evolved" Kelpien population to zero.
- Even if it is a judgment call to contact the Kelpiens in the first place, the decision to trigger an "evolution" in them is reckless and definitely breaks a large number of regulations, not to mention General Order One.
- Remarkable dialogue: "You're aware we're not longer at war?" - "And we don't want to end up in one again. This last war, sir, took a toll on those who fought it. Some of us are still torn apart." (Pike and Tyler)
- Remarkable quotes:
- "We all come from somewhere. We carry that place with us wherever we go. That never leaves or hearts. Not entirely. But none of us can predict where our voyage will lead. We may suffer losses along the way. But we can hope to learn and grow from those experiences. And from those who accompany us on our journey." (Saru, in a voice-over)
- "Your species does not deserve a second chance." (Ba'ul, to Saru)
- Remarkable scenes:
- When Saru speaks to Captain Pike about the Ba'ul, he instinctively grabs his head in the place where the threat ganglia used to be.
- On Kaminar, Siranna greets Saru in the native language. Burnham flips open the communicator, and the language switches to English.
- Saru stands on the transporter pad, ready to beam down to the planet. Burnham anticipated what he would do and draws her phaser. Saru says, "Would you not do the same for your own brother?", upon which she lets him go. This may be a bit melodramatic but is clearly a highlight of the episode.
- Remarkable set: The interior of the Ba'ul stronghold is a redress of the Discovery transporter room.
- Remarkable title: "The Sound of Thunder" seems to refer to the short story A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury, which describes the possibly catastrophic consequences of a time travel to the past.
- Remarkable facts:
- When Hugh Culber was 16, he was hiking the cliffs of Cabo Rojo and fell down between 15 and 30 meters. His shoulder was punctured. Dr. Kashkooli risked her own life and climbed down. She stopped the bleeding and stitched the wound up with a fishing line. This left a scar that Culber decided to keep, and inspired him to go to medical school.
- Saru's father Aradar died when his vahar'ai came, two years after Saru left the planet.
- The Ba'ul developed warp drive 20 years ago. But they were rated hostile by the Federation.
Michael Burnham heads for Vulcan, while the Discovery remains at Kaminar to investigate the temporal phenomenon related to the Red Angel. Probes can't be controlled near the anomaly and it proves too dangerous for the ship to get close to it. So Pike, who used to be a test pilot, and Tyler take a shuttle to launch a probe from there. A temporal shockwave occurs, and the shuttle vanishes from the sensors. On Vulcan, Michael arrives at Sarek and Amanda's home. She suspects that Amanda knows where Spock is. Amanda leads Michael to a cave where she hides Spock, who is in a delusional state of mind. He always repeats the number 841947. Sarek appears and persuades Michael to take Spock to Leland of Section 31, in his view the only organization that could possibly help him. Inside the anomaly, Pike orders Tyler to vent plasma from the shuttle's nacelles as a signal that could help locate them. Then the probe returns, but with upgrades that allow it to break through the hull and access the computer. After arriving 500 years in the future, it was sent back by someone on purpose. Stamets, who can navigate the anomaly thanks to his connection to the mycelial network, beams over to the shuttle. While Tyler and Pike try to keep the probe in check, he can almost steer clear of the anomaly, but the shuttle runs out of fuel. After initiating the self destruct, the three officers are beamed out. On the Discovery, the intrusion of the probe into the computer system can be stopped, but something happens to Airiam in the course. On the Section 31 ship, Leland prepares a procedure on Spock and tells Burnham to leave. But Georgiou warns her that Leland is going to use a mind extractor that would kill her brother. After Burnham has escaped together with Spock, Leland suspects that Georgiou helped them and warns her that her position is not safe. But Georgiou knows about a secret, that Leland is responsible for the deaths of Burnham's parents. In the meantime, Burnham has figured out what the number means that her brother was repeating. As a child, he suffered from a condition that let him confuse spatial orders. The actual number is reversed, 749 mark 148 - the coordinates of Talos IV.
"Light and Shadows" is just 40 minutes long, and it begins yet again with a voice-over by Michael Burnham. But unlike it was in "Saints of Imperfection", the voice-over really fits in here because it comes in the form of a classic log entry and describes what is going on, rather than being a philosophical digression superimposed on an action sequence. It also very efficiently replaces the "previously on Star Trek Discovery" recap that I usually skip anyway because it is distracting.
The search for Spock is over! Michael Burnham finally finds her brother on his home planet, rather than somewhere far out in space. We already know from the teaser trailers and from several statements in previous episodes that Spock is deranged. It seems that the makers of Discovery have used every opportunity to prepare the fans for a very different Spock. But that doesn't mean I have to like the idea. I will reserve my judgment about the storyline as well as about Ethan Peck's portrayal of the character for later because so far we could not see much of Spock aside from a person who runs around apathetically and repeats a number.
My apprehension was that this episode would digress and delve further into the family secrets of the Sareks, rather than tending to the problems at hand. I am glad that, aside from the revelation that young Spock suffered from l'tak terai, some sort of dyslexia, everything focused on the question how to help Spock here and now. And even l'tak terai didn't turn out an unnecessary new mystery but provided the key to the decryption of the strange numbers that Spock kept repeating (which he reversed because of his condition).
As I mentioned in previews reviews, I am appalled by the depiction of Sarek in Discovery in general. I don't think that Sarek would be such a cold proponent of reason of state, much less that he would condone secret ops or even genocide. And I also don't like that James Frain plays the character with a spiteful undertone. In this Sarek's narrow-minded view, a harmless children's book like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland brings "chaos", whereas a disorder like l'tak terai is something not to worry about because the highly advanced Vulcan education can cure it. The tok'mar ritual that he performs every day, apparently a Vulcan form of prayer for Spock's return, is the only sign in the episode that he really cares for his son. Other than that, Sarek once again leaves a bad impression. In light of how Sarek appeared in Discovery so far, it seems to make sense that he would trust Section 31 to find the right treatment for his son. But we have to wonder what kind of connection Sarek has to Leland and his secret organization. He either does not know much about them, or he is aware of their dark secrets. In neither case he should entrust them with taking care of his son. His logic is that Section 31 is the best for Spock, and that it is best for Michael not to disobey her orders again. But since when is Section 31 officially responsible for legal prosecution, or for taking care of mentally ill patients? And under whose authority, except Sarek's, is Burnham to turn over her brother to Section 31?
Amanda, on the other hand, cares for her son more than everyone else. She hides him on Vulcan, and thereby most of all hides him from his own father. She risks a confrontation with him that actually occurs when Sarek follows her and finds the hiding place. It becomes obvious at this point that Amanda and Sarek are in a harmonious relationship only because Amanda acknowledges Sarek's lead in practically all matters. And even though Amanda has likely been more active than ever in her efforts to save Spock, she once again yields to Sarek's authority.
Everything related to the temporal anomaly is just classic Star Trek as I love it, perhaps even the best of its kind in Discovery so far. I especially like the temporal hiccups that are a bit like in TNG: "We'll Always Have Paris" but definitely more exciting in the DIS episode.
The Discovery crew once again works like a well-oiled machine. Saru shows leadership when, after the disappearance of the shuttle, he encourages the bridge crew to try the impossible and locate it somewhere in space-time. I only wonder if and how Saru is fit for duty so soon after the ordeal in "The Sound of Thunder". We have to keep in mind that he mutated to a monster who shoots darts from his head, together with his whole people that may now be on the verge of a war with the Ba'ul. Some sort of wrap-up would have been necessary, especially since the Discovery is still in orbit of Kaminar, but the spatial anomaly is apparently the only concern. Anyway, Saru remains level-headed all the time. Stamets proves his unique abilities once again, this time without overstressing the capabilities of the spore network. And Rhys makes his first valuable contribution to a story when he spots the plasma trails that Pike left behind as a beacon.
Only Pike and Tyler initially don't get along. Pike has two good reasons not to trust Tyler, because he is a Section 31 agent sneaking around on his ship and because he used to be a Klingon agent who killed a crew member. Pike explicitly mentions this to Tyler. Still, I don't get what Pike is worried about in particular. The two are at odds for already four episodes now, but it's all just about a feeling. It may have been a good idea for Pike to talk to Saru or Burnham about Tyler at some point, but he seems to keep his apprehension to himself, just like he didn't talk to Burnham about Spock and just as he is not curious to learn why Burnham is so hostile towards Georgiou. The people on the Discovery generally, and Pike in particular, talk too little. They would only discuss a problem once it has become so big that it's not possible to ignore any longer. Well, in the case of Pike's mistrust of Tyler, they seem to have come to terms. After their mission in the shuttle, they are almost like best buddies. We will have to wait and see if this persists, because character conflicts are (unfortunately) the spice of the series, and the starship has been without a spy or saboteur for only brief periods so far. But perhaps rather than Tyler, Airiam is the next crew member who will stir up trouble, seeing the red light in her eyes in an ominous shot.
Speaking of spies, after buying the Discovery more time in "Saint of Imperfection", Mirror-Georgiou continues to play nice when she warns Burnham that Leland's procedure will likely kill Spock and helps them to escape. I think Michael Burnham should have noticed herself that something is wrong about Leland's kindness, but for some reason her otherwise infallible instinct fails her this one time. Anyway, as I already mentioned in a previous review, I don't think it is a good idea to try to bring the Georgiou of our universe back and grant a cruel dictator easy redemption. And one more thing that bothers me is that once again Georgiou uses her knowledge of Leland's past against him. This feat doesn't become more realistic by just repeating it. Georgiou may have certain "skills", but she is new to this universe in which things work differently. She can't possibly know more than people who have been living in our universe and working for Section 31 for much longer.
The probably biggest bummer about "Light and Shadows" is the revelation that Leland is somehow responsible for the deaths of Burnham's parents. This is utterly implausible. We already know that Klingons attacked her family on Doctari Prime, and that later Vulcan extremists tried to kill her in the learning center. As if it were not unlikely enough that Michael Burnham would be the victim of two terrorist attacks within a few years of her early childhood, we are now supposed to believe that both attacks were selectively aimed at her or her family! For some reason, little Michael was such an enormous threat that just everyone in the galaxy wanted to kill her.
With their attention to detail and the pleasant colors, the CG visuals of season 2 are quite a contrast to the cartoonish effects of season 1. "Light and Shadows" shines with several beautiful CG sequences, such as the temporal anomaly, the surface of Vulcan or Burnham's shuttle approaching the NCIA-93. Unfortunately the episode also recycles the preposterous turbolift sequence from "Brother".
After a pause of one episode in which the characters largely refrained from breaking the fourth wall, it's analogy time again on Discovery. "Light and Shadows" comes with gems such as Stamets's "catching a grain of sand in a hurricane, using a pair of tweezers".
"Light and Shadows" is a solid and very efficient episode that manages to tell two stories despite its length of only 40 minutes. The plot about the anomaly is classic Trek as I love it. The end of the search for Spock is at least a satisfying preliminary conclusion to the overextended big mystery story of the season. I am still opposed to the idea of deconstructing Spock by showing him as a delusional person but so far I can live with the way it is handled. Rather than that, I have gripes with some of the characters and with the revelation about Leland, but overall I liked this episode and I am very curious what will happen on Talos IV.
- Continuity: Talos IV previously appeared in "The Cage" and in TOS: "Menagerie". In the latter episode the impression was created that Talos IV was off limits because of the events in the first. "Light and Shadows" takes place between the two classic episodes. Considering that Burnham does not find anything wrong with going there, we can conclude that the ban does not exist yet and will be instated only after her and Spock's visit to the planet. It remains to be seen whether Discovery can establish why these events would never be referred to in "Menagerie".
- Isn't it far-fetched to conclude that the Red Angel must come from the future just because his exosuit uses a technology that Saru doesn't know? And that the tachyon density in the anomaly can only be generated with a technology that doesn't yet exist? If anything, the new evidence only supports the hypothesis of time travel that is mainly based on the non-random appearances of the tachyon trails.
- Stamets says that thanks to his tardigrade DNA and his being connected to the mycelial network as a fixed reference, he can track the shuttle through space time. But how does that help while he is already standing on the transporter pad and Tilly has to operate it?
- Remarkable dialogues:
- "You are amused by your own error. That is illogical. Emotions confuse me." - "Me too." (Young Spock and young Burnham)
- "Where is she taking Spock?" - "They're family. Maybe they are going on a picnic." (Leland and Georgiou)
- Remarkable quotes:
- "It's freaking amazing." (Tilly)
- "Everything's cooler with 'time' in front of it." (Tilly)
- Remarkable scene: In a flashforward, Pike sees how he fires at Tyler. But it turns out that he will target the tentacles that have wrapped around Tyler.
- Remarkable scenery: We can see Vulcan only briefly during Burnham's shuttle flight, but what little we can see looks stunning.
- Remarkable prop: The illuminated pyramid in Spock's cave looks much like the Kir'Shara in the Enterprise episode of the same name.
- Remarkable facts:
- Pike's first assignment in Starfleet was as a test pilot. That is where he learned the trick to vent plasma to facilitate the search for a missing shuttle, which Rhys correctly recognizes as a maneuver typical of test pilots.
- Since Spock's disappearance, Sarek has been practicing tok'mar every day. It is a technique that is said to bring lost souls back home.
- Amanda took Spock to a cave with katra stones that would block telepathic links.
- As an ambassador's wife, Amanda would have had the right to refuse Spock's extradition - unless the ambassador himself objected.
- L'tak terai is a learning disability of Vulcans roughly comparable to dyslexia, and comes with a problem to get a spatial order right.
- The standard probe returned from 500 years into the future with considerable upgrades, such as tentacles that penetrate the hull of the shuttle.
- Leland's section 31 ship has the registry NCIA-93.
- Talos IV is located at spatial coordinates 749 mark 148.
Stardate 1532.9: Michael Burnham and Spock are en route to Talos IV, a planet that the Enterprise with Pike and Spock visited a couple of years ago and that is off limits since then. Spock correctly recognizes the black hole that suddenly appears as a Talosian illusion and steers the shuttle right through it to the actual planet Talos IV. Here, the two are welcomed by Vina, the only human survivor of a survey ship that crashed on the planet many years ago. Vina leads Spock and Burnham to the Talosians. In return for the healing of Spock's damaged mind, the Talosians demand access to Michael's personal memories about Spock just as well, to learn from it. Spock recounts that he was in a mind meld with the Red Angel, who didn't reveal his identity but showed him the destruction of all civilizations of the galaxy some time in the future. He believes that the Red Angel is human. Spock was then confined in a hospital. He ran away when he was about to be delivered to Section 31, but without killing anyone. On the Discovery, Pike wants to find Burnham and Spock before Section 31 does, although his orders are to remain at Kaminar and investigate the debris of the probe. There is no debris left, however. Everything salvaged belongs to the shuttle. In the meantime, Culber confronts Tyler in the mess hall. The two fight out their conflict, and Saru decides not to intervene. Culber tells Stamets that he can't connect to his past and can't continue their relationship. Vina appears to Captain Pike and announces a transmission from Talos IV, in which Burnham asks him to come for them. Pike sets a course and Stamets tries to activate the spore drive but it shuts down. Someone sabotaged the drive and also sent out secret transmissions to an unknown recipient. It appears that this person used Tyler's access codes. Pike then heads for Starbase 11, only two light-years from Talos IV, using the conventional warp drive, with the intention to change the course mid-way. On Talos IV, Burnham fulfills her part of the deal and lets the Talosians read her mind. It turns out that the night she ran away to protect her family from Vulcan extremists, she insulted young Spock so he would not follow her. On the way to Talos IV, the Section 31 ship is on Discovery's tail. Upon their arrival, both ships have locked their transporter beams on Burnham and Spock, until Pike gets a cue from Vina to release them. The two materialize on the Section 31 ship, or so it seems. In reality, they approach the Discovery with the shuttle. After assuring himself of his crew's support, Pike decides to continue his insubordination and to run from Section 31.
As could be expected after Burnham and Spock set course for Talos IV last week, "If Memory Serves" is much like a direct sequel to the very first Star Trek pilot episode, "The Cage". But this comes with a big caveat. In order to forge the ties, the Discovery episode starts with a "Previously seen on Star Trek" recap that uses footage from "The Cage". This old footage, however, is not edited the normal way as it is done with previous Discovery events, but is flipped through in the fashion of a pop-up book. This way, the recap looks technically sophisticated yet very stylized. In other words, it does not appear like something that happened in the "real" world of Discovery but as some sort of tale. In fact, the technique is much the same as the customary one in fantasy movies that begin with someone opening a fairy tale or comic book, upon which an illustration in the book gives way to a live-action scene.
I concede that stylization of classic Trek is the only way to handle the visual discrepancies with Discovery regarding the characters, the technology and the ship. "If Memory Serves" does an excellent job within these limitations, and I really like the final cut from Jeffrey Hunter's Pike to Anson Mount's. The resemblance of the two actors in their role is the arguably best visual link between Discovery and "The Cage" that still exists. But overall the style of the recap clarifies that the old look of Star Trek is not endorsed any longer, unlike it still was in DS9: "Trials and Tribble-ations" or ENT: "In a Mirror, Darkly". As much as "If Memory Serves" is meant as a homage of "The Cage", it only corroborates Discovery's depreciation of the look of the old Star Trek.
After the recap has already done a solid job to reintroduce the viewers to the events of "The Cage", the rest of the exposition takes place in the form of a recording that Michael Burnham plays during their flight to Talos IV. We learn that travel to the planet is prohibited, albeit there is no mention of the death penalty established in TOS: "The Menagerie". "If Memory Serves" shows how an exposition can be done better than in the contrived dialogues of the first two episodes of this season, and how it particularly improves the flow of the story.
The story of "If Memory Serves" is largely predictable, but mostly not to its disadvantage. We could expect that the Talosians would heal Spock with their psychic powers, that he would reveal a little bit more about the Red Angel and his agenda and that Burnham would eventually disclose the reason for her estrangement with Spock. The general certainty about the course of the episode makes the little surprises even more enjoyable, the most notable of which is the appearance of Vina. It is remarkable how Vina was kept out of the announcements and trailers. And although it was a no-brainer in hindsight to include her, it pleasantly surprised me when she appeared on the planet and in Pike's ready room.
There is one aspect of the story that utterly disappointed me, however. Since the beginning of the season the question has been lingering what Michael could have possibly done to alienate her brother so much that they wouldn't talk for many years. Michael feels very guilty about whatever she did to Spock, and so ashamed that she wouldn't talk about it with Pike or even with her mother. But we also knew that she did it in good faith, to protect her brother from Vulcan extremists that might have targeted him in case there had been a close bond between the siblings. Actually, with these facts already established we already knew everything. In "Point of Light", when Michael told of her attempt to leave her home on Vulcan, I envisioned what she could have said to little Spock at that very moment in order to repel him. And even the wording that I had in mind, including a racial insult and a remark that he is not capable of love, was much the same as it eventually turns out in "If Memory Serves". I'm definitely not prophetic, I only recognized the obvious connections. But it never made sense to me how this argument between two children could have such a long-lasting effect. Much less would it explain why Spock would never even mention his sister to anyone, even after they eventually come to terms in "If Memory Serves". But what bothers me most about it is that the big family secret of season 2 has such a banal reason. Like hardly anything else in Star Trek, it exemplifies what "anticlimactic" means.
Regarding Michael's reluctance to let the Talosians read her mind and her intention to leave immediately, it was probably meant to add a last chapter to her history of being defensive of her "big secret". Realistically, however, isn't it a comparably small price to pay if she can save Spock? And considering that the Talosians may manipulate her mind in nearly every possible way (as they already demonstrated to her with the black hole in the flight path), her resistance may be futile anyway. Burnham should have shown the same skepticism when she decided to hand over Spock to Section 31.
"If Memory Serves" successfully keeps up the suspense pertaining to the origin and agenda of the Red Angel. We learn that the Red Angel is likely human. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if he or she is a character we already know. The pending destruction of all sentient life in the galaxy was already teased before the start of the second season and does not come as a surprise, although it would better have been one. Without even having the element of surprise, the way the apocalyptic event is shown in "If Memory Serves" is almost casual. It happens all the time in Star Trek (at least, regularly in the movies and occasionally on Voyager and Enterprise) and does not appear as a real threat, especially after having seen a teaser of the foreshadowing of the possible catastrophe.
I am very pleased by Ethan Peck's performance as Spock. When I close my eyes, it is almost like listening to Leonard Nimoy in TOS. I understand that from an actor's viewpoint it is not desirable to imitate all facial expressions and intonations of someone who played the role before. But as a fan I am glad to see that the old Spock is back (I'm confident the beard will go away too) and is not reimagined the way it was done with Sarek. Ethan Peck's Spock is closer to the original than Zachary Quinto's, even though we have to keep in mind that the Discovery Spock is still recovering from a trip that tortured his mind.
The A-plot is about Spock, Burnham, Vina and the Talosians, although my impression is that more of the screen time is set on the Discovery. The story about Culber, who is struggling with continuing his old new life, strikes a chord with me. Culber says that he can't connect with his old life any longer, that he remembers everything but is emotionally detached from it. In Star Trek, a franchise that has people restored after mutilations and even return from the dead all the time, this sentiment is something new. As much as I still dislike the extremely implausible way that Culber returned, the aftereffects of his resurrection feel very realistic to me. Kudos that the story manages to get across what Culber feels by just letting Wilson Cruz act, without any effects to visualize his condition! It also feels right that Culber would attack the man who killed him and that the two would fight out their conflict, only to recognize that they both have a problem with their identity. Culber says, "I don't even know who I am anymore.", and Tyler retorts, "Who do you think you're talking to?" This is perhaps a bit formulaic but it really touched me.
The conflict about the spy and saboteur aboard the Discovery, on the other hand, does not sit well with me. Saru discovers that someone sent three unauthorized transmissions, and Pike has no idea who could have done that? With a Section 31 agent on board? We know that he and Tyler are besties since their shuttle ride last week, but does his support on one occasion generally exonerate Tyler? Only after Saru presents the evidence that the transmissions were sent with Tyler's codes, Tyler becomes a suspect in Pike's eyes. From a purely legal viewpoint Pike acts correctly, but with so much at stake for Spock and Burnham and with the knowledge that Section 31 is up to no good, he is very negligent. Of course, this all is a red herring anyway because most likely Airiam is the one who sent the transmissions and also deactivated the spore drive. At least that is what I expect, seeing how the manipulation is conspicuously shown as red lights in her eyes.
On a final note about the characters,
Emperor Captain Georgiou continues her redemption tour. This time she helps Burnham and Spock by not warning Leland of the Talosian hallucinations. Overall, Section 31 once again appears as an uncontrollable secret organization that may do harm just as it can avert harm from the Federation, and I don't like how all this is officially endorsed by the same people who run Starfleet.
"If Memory Serves" stands out from season 2 because it is a homage to "The Cage", but with the big caveat of downgrading the existing visuals as if they were inaccurate illustrations in a book. The certainty that the old Star Trek is lost diminishes my fun with this episode, although otherwise it is more respectful. I can live with the reimagination of the Talosians, and it is fair that the death penalty for going to Talos is not mentioned. The story of Spock and Burnham on Talos IV works well, only the revelation that the big family secret was in fact a trivial incident in the two siblings' childhood is very disappointing. Culber's struggle with his new life is a highlight of the episode, while everything related to Section 31, Tyler and Georgiou continues to be contrived. Like in last week's "Light and Shadows", the pace is agreeable and not as hectic as in most other Discovery episodes. Overall, "If Memory Serves" is a good episode but not a perfect one.
- Vina tells Pike that after his departure the Talosians created an illusory Pike for her. We could actually see the fake Pike at the end of "The Cage", and so did the real Pike. It shouldn't be news to him.
- "If Memory Serves" establishes that Talos IV is a prohibited planet after the visit by the Enterprise in "The Cage". There is no mention of General Order 7 or even of the death penalty for visiting Talos. This may still be established in the course of the series. But as much as Discovery tries to adhere to canon in its second season, the death penalty is one thing that is simply not desirable to have in Star Trek.
- The reimagined Talosians are relatively close to those of "The Cage". The characteristic large heads still look much the same. The horizontal bulge above the eyes was replaced with a vertical one, however. This is unfortunate because there are already dozens of other races with pronounced nasal bones as the new Talosians have them. The computer-generated pulsating veins are very subtle and pale in comparison with the 50-year-old effect in "The Cage" that is more impressive. Finally, in "The Cage" all Talosians were played by petite women with male voices, a distinguishing mark the DIS episode doesn't reproduce.
- Starbase 11 will be the future home of the disabled Captain Pike after his accident, conveniently only 2 light-years from the planet where Spock would take him (TOS: "The Menagerie").
- The admirals disregard Leland and seem to be more interested in what Georgiou has to tell about the search for Spock. The question is, does anyone in the admiralty besides Cornwell even know who Georgiou is? If no, it would partially exonerate the admirals because they would prefer a highly decorated former Starfleet captain over a shady secret ops guy. If yes, then Starfleet has a serious problem.
- Spock tried to mind-meld with the Red Angel and attained some form of connection despite the Red Angel's protection suit. How can he be sure that the suit blocked certain thoughts, rather than some form of mental training? It is possible that a configurable "thought filter" technology exists in the future, but it is not the most obvious conclusion. And if such a technology exists, couldn't it just as well be used to create false thoughts to mislead Spock? How can he know that what he received was authentic?
- Starbase 11 is only 2 light-years away from Talos IV. It is a bad choice for the location of a major Starfleet hub if a directly adjacent planetary system is prohibited, especially since Starfleet is aware of the very long range of the Talosian mental powers.
- When it turns out that Tyler's access codes were used for the secret transmissions and Tyler claims to be innocent, isn't the idea that Section 31 may have tempered with his mind far-fetched? Isn't it a much more reasonable assumption that he spied for Section 31 of his free will, which is essentially the reason why he came aboard in the first place?
- Since when is Captain Pike to take orders from Section 31? In "Saints of Imperfection", it was established that Section 31 is not completely outside the chain of command and has to report to Admiral Cornwell. Even if Leland himself acts under Starfleet Command's explicit orders to intercept the Discovery, he has to tell Pike before giving him a direct order.
- Burnham says that the mind probe Leland wanted to use on Spock is a Terran technology. Emperor Georgiou couldn't bring anything along with her to our universe. So is she not only a cruel dictator and a formidable secret agent but suddenly also a gifted engineer who could reconstruct such a device? In "Vaulting Ambition" she was still unfamiliar with the technology of her own flagship.
- A deadly predator is on the loose just outside the city of ShiKahr?
- Remarkable dialogues:
- "I don't even know who I am anymore." - "Who do you think you're talking to?" (Culber and Tyler)
- "Is that a smile I see on your face?" - "I believe it is. Yes." (Pike and Spock)
- Remarkably cheesy dialogue: "Say goodbye, Spock." - "Goodbye, Spock." (fake Burnham and fake Spock)
- Remarkable quotes:
- "Where I come from, the one with the phaser asks the questions." (Burnham, to Vina)
- "The Starfleet manual offers no regulatory guidelines for the interactions between humans with Klingons grafted to their bones, and a ship's doctor returned from the dead." (Saru, to Pike)
- Remarkable scene: Michael Burnham approaches and enjoys the "singing flowers" much like Spock did in "The Cage". The humming of the plants is the same as well.
- Remarkable sceneries:
- The illusory black hole created by the Talosians looks like the one from "Interstellar", which is supposedly a more accurate depiction of the phenomenon than just being a plain black disk.
- The location shots of Talos IV were filmed in the same Ontario quarry used for the planet Harlak in "The Wolf Inside".
- Remarkable technology: After Culber has caused a mess in the mess hall, we can see hovering cleaning robots similar to the devices that helped Jett Reno on the crashed ship. She may have brought the technology aboard, but it is also possible that these are standard devices we usually don't see.
- Remarkable facts:
- Talos IV surface conditions: 18% oxygen, 75% nitrogen, 4.6% carbon dioxide, 24°C.
- Quilliam is a facility in the Beta Quadrant that is equipped to treat Vulcans.
Admiral Cornwell arrives on the Discovery with a shuttle and demands to speak with Spock. She has visual evidence of Spock killing three people in the mental institution, but he passes her lie detector test. According to Cornwell, the decision making of Starfleet was transferred to Control, the artificial intelligence of Section 31. Cornwell herself was locked out of the system. The transmissions that were secretly sent from the Discovery went to an abandoned penal colony, which Cornwell identifies as the Section 31 Headquarters. While Airiam is working on the decryption of the messages, the ship proceeds to the Section 31 Headquarters. But something is happening to Airiam, which makes her transfer her complete memories to the Discovery computer. The station is protected by mines that attack the ship and that are apparently controlled in a way that anticipates any movements that are not random. Cornwell contacts the station, and the hail is answered by Admiral Patar, who is known for being a Vulcan logic extremist. Patar says that the order to attack the Discovery comes directly from Starfleet Command, and orders the ship to stand down to be boarded by Section 31. Cornwell and Pike, however, decide to send a team consisting of Burnham, Nhan and Airiam to the station to restore Cornwell's access. For some reason, life support is down. Then the team runs into the corpses of the station personnel, including Patar. The transmission from the admiral was a hologram, as was the recording of Spock murdering his custodians, as Saru finds out. On the station, Airiam does not act on her own. She continues to transfer data collected from the sphere to Control. The AI wants to gather this data to become more powerful. It is possible that Control will be responsible for the destruction of all sentient life in the future. Tilly tries to send back the personal memories to Airiam but it is of no help. Pike then gives Burnham the order to blow out Airiam through the airlock. Airiam still gives Burnham a cue to search for a "Project Daedalus" and then dies in open space.
After the nostalgic excursion in last week's "If Memory Serves", the new episode "Project Daedalus" leads us back into the dark Discovery-style 23rd century. "Control", an artificial intelligence constructed by the shady Section 31 was entrusted with deciding about the destiny of the Federation. Moreover, this happened under the orders of Starfleet Command, which includes Admiral Patar, a Vulcan extremist according to Cornwell. We also learn that Section 31 faked the evidence of Spock killing Starbase personnel. And this all is just the tip of the iceberg, considering that it seems that the admirals and Section 31 were only useful idiots in Control's plan to kill every sentient being of the galaxy. It makes sense now why the probe sent back from the future looked so much like the "squid ships of doom" that Spock saw in his vision, and why Airiam would secretly send huge amounts of data to the station where Control is located. Regarding the bigger picture, "Project Daedalus" satisfies our need to get some more facts and not just rumors and premonitions.
I like the intense interaction of Spock and Michael Burnham during the chess game, although Spock gets overly emotional and although we don't learn anything really new about their difficult relationship. But it is good that the two finally talk about their differences instead of just blaming a particular ominous event in their childhood for all that is wrong with them. It turns out that after so many years Spock doesn't really resent how nasty Michael was to him. Rather than that, he criticizes how she always tends to overrate her own importance - regarding the killing of her parents, being a target of Vulcan extremists and the reason of the Klingon War. In his view, she has a feeling of responsibility or guilt for all the disasters in her own or in her family's lives, by which she offends him and ultimately only chastises herself. I think this assessment of her personality is spot-on. Yet, as unrealistic and also undesirable it is that a single person is the focal point of the universe, the whole series is more or less built on this premise. Discovery is not tired of corroborating Burnham's feeling of being very special. People used to blame her all the time for the war she allegedly caused. We already knew that Klingons, Section 31 as well as Vulcan extremists tried to kill her as a child. And Airiam adds fuel to the flames when she warns Michael that she is Control's main target. In a way, the very concept of the series defies Spock's logic.
Spock himself may have been a different person when he was younger, or still before the second appearance of the Red Angel. Having been healed by the Talosians, Spock now embraces his life or at least wants to, unlike Michael does. As detrimental as it is for him as a "half-human abomination" to be accepted by Vulcan purists, it may be instrumental in other regards. Spock says that he enjoys his emotions, which is a statement we would rather not hear from a Vulcan, whereas for humans emotions are so normal that there would be nothing special about it. For now, I can accept how the series deals with the character. Yet, we know that in Spock's development it is only an intermediate step and that he will start suppressing his emotions again. One promise of the Discovery producers was that they would show how Spock becomes the person we know. But I'm not sure if I'm interested to see this development of the character, other than being a necessary correction with regard to canon.
The arguably oddest conversation of the whole episode takes place between Spock and Stamets in engineering. In just two or three minutes, the two move from banter to giving each other other relationship advice! They address the current power outage, Spock's engineering skills, Spock's connection to the Red Angel, Stamets's connection to the spore drive, Spock's trouble with his sister and Stamets's trouble with Culber, in rapid succession in about that order. The two may be weird characters, and they may take a certain pleasure in reminding each other of just that, but it feels totally out of place.
The cybernetically enhanced Airiam finally gets a backstory, which seems too late for the viewers to become emotionally attached to her character. Her story is in a rather sad tradition that a TV series would focus on a minor character only if the intention is to kill them off. Yet, the belated effort to introduce the character and her relationships works for me, and it is remarkable how Hannah Cheesman manages to convey emotions despite the thick make-up. The only thing I don't like is how Airiam mutates to a superhero when it would have absolutely sufficed to show her as somewhat stronger than Burnham. Well, and while Airiam is given a touching death scene, it irritates me how everyone just stands by and watches, without even trying anything. In a series that otherwise relies heavily on the deus ex machina, like only recently in "Saints of Imperfection", it is not even considered to use regular technology such as the transporter in "Project Daedalus".
For some time I thought Nhan would be the one to die in the episode, considering how ominously Airiam asked about the apparatus that Nhan needs to breathe. Furthermore, she was suspicious of Airiam's actions, which in my impression foreboded that Airiam would get rid of her soon. Regarding Nhan, there is also an omission because after trying to get hold of her breathing apparatus again on the station, we don't see her for a couple of minutes while Burnham is still struggling with Airiam, which insinuates that Nhan is dead.
A couple of elements of the story don't work at all the way they were probably intended and just frustrate me. I'm aware it's in character, but Tilly's extremely silly defensiveness ("I'm not a fugitive.") when Cornwell enters the bridge is just awful, especially considering that she was not surprised but already knew of the admiral's arrival. Landmines are banned in most present-day countries, and there may be noble reasons to outlaw space mines likewise, but I think the crew's outrage about the latter is too much driven by the real-world analogy. We already knew that Pike wondered why his ship was kept away from the war, but is it really necessary for Cornwell to break the fourth wall yet again and reveal that the best of Starfleet were supposed to survive? Finally, it turns out that Admiral Patar was killed by Control anyway, so her being a Vulcan extremist has no bearing on the story, except for further damaging the reputation of her people (and of Starfleet Command).
"Project Daedalus" is a rather straightforward action episode with decent horror elements that fortunately does not attempt to tell multiple stories at once the way it was tried in season 1 and in a few episodes of season 2. Once again, the pace is pleasant. We learn more about the threat that the Red Angel warned Spock about. But other than that, the introduction of Airiam and her eventual death is the only memorable aspect of the story. The various smaller plot points don't work so well, several of them are even plain annoying.
- Unlike on other occasions in Discovery, the flight to the Section 31 Headquarters takes a couple of hours, rather than only minutes. But Cornwell briefs the bridge crew on the station and its defenses just a few minutes before the arrival and doesn't warn them of the mines until everyone sees them! Moreover, when the ship has already arrived, Burnham is still in her quarters, playing chess with Spock! Well, Pike may have ordered her to take a back seat and talk to her brother, but at the first (foreseeable) sign of trouble with the mission he calls her anyway.
- Saru speaks of a heat signature that should be in the alleged recording of Spock murdering Starbase personnel, and then switches to "ultraviolet". What he meant was "infrared".
- If surveillance sensors usually record infrared light, and if it was originally recorded in Spock's cell, then it is a very stupid error not to include the IR signatures in the fake version. Yet, since we wouldn't expect normal viewscreens to emit IR, even Saru wouldn't recognize the forgery unless he replayed it with an according spectrum shift. So the question is what actually made him suspicious in the first place.
- What about shooting at the mines with the phasers, preferably set to wide beam? Maybe there are just too many of them or maybe they have impenetrable shields, but it should have been mentioned as an option.
- What about rescuing Airiam with the transporter? There was no mention that the transporter was offline or for some reason couldn't get a lock.
- Remarkably awkward quote: "Admiral, hello. Lovely to see you. I just wanted to tell you that I'm, I'm not a fugitive. I've never been a fugitive before, except when, well, I was 16, I went through a rebellious phase and I hacked into..." (Tilly, to Cornwell, interrupted by Pike)
- Remarkable Vulcan humor: "If there's a logical reason to sacrifice your rook, I fail to see it." - "Perhaps I simply dislike rooks." (Burnham and Spock)
- Remarkable scene: Airiam's death, which is visualized by her augmented field of vision going black
- Remarkable facts:
- Airiam was human. Just after her marriage, her husband was killed in a shuttle crash, which may have been the reason for her to be cybernetically augmented in order to survive. Airiam used to decide on a weekly basis which memories to keep and which to delete.
- Kadis-kot, as shown and mentioned on Voyager, is a popular board game already in the 23rd century.
- Mines are outlawed in the Federation.
- The particular mines around the Section 31 Headquarters seem to consist of two types: mines that attack the hull and are attracted when the shields are up, and "blackout mines" that interfere with the navigation.
After destroying Control, the crew assembles for Airiam's memorial service. Tilly investigates the bioneural signature of the Red Angel from Airiam's files and comes to the conclusion that it's Michael Burnham. Since every appearance of the Red Angel opens a micro wormhole that also allows the future AI to infect someone or something in the present, as it happened with Airiam, the crew decides to set up a trap. Captain Leland has to admit that Section 31 is responsible for the creation of the time travel suit in the Project Daedalus 20 years ago. At that time the Federation was in a temporal arms race with the Klingons. Leland also tells Burnham that her parents were working on the project, and that the suit contained a time crystal stolen from a Klingon black market, which was the reason for them to raid the outpost and kill her parents. Spock discovers a pattern of the appearances of the Red Angel, which happen whenever Burnham is in danger. The future Burnham has to save her because of the grandfather paradox. So Michael Burnham agrees to be exposed to the deadly atmosphere of Essof IV, the former test site for Project Daedalus, as a bait for the Red Angel. The planet is rich on deuterium, which is used to power the necessary stasis field. As she is about to suffocate, Pike orders to stop it, but Spock raises his phaser and insists on carrying on. The Red Angel eventually appears to resuscitate Burnham, and can be confined in a coordinated effort of the equipment installed on the outpost on Essof IV, and the Section 31 ship from where the collapse of the wormhole is initiated. When Michael regains consciousness again, she recognizes that not she herself is the Red Angel, but her mother!
The episode title was a dead giveaway that the identity of the Red Angel would eventually be revealed. When Michael Burnham was identified as the Red Angel, it didn't surprise me at all because that was what I expected all along, most definitely since Airiam's last words that it was all about Michael. Yet, it is remarkable that Tilly found it out as soon as in the teaser of the episode and that it entailed clear statements and actions instead of more mystery mongering. Especially the latter should have made me suspicious because on every other occasion in Discovery a revelation was followed by doubts, denials or distractions. With my knowledge about how the series works, I should have smelled the red herring. But it took me until the Red Angel actually showed up that I thought by myself that someone else might climb off that suit. In terms of keeping up the mystery, it is a successful episode.
Any comment of if and how Michael Burnham's allegedly dead mother can be the time traveler has to be postponed for now. I like time travel as a plot device, and although there is no satisfactory solution to the grandfather paradox (at least none that makes for a good story), I still hope that at least the goals and circumstances of the people who created the temporal mess will make some sense. Regarding the continuity with the rest of Star Trek, it does not seem to bode well. But it should be noted in Discovery's favor that time travel is shown as something still rather uncommon in the series, and that no one knows of ready-made solutions to fix a contaminated timeline, the way it was customary in the later years of the TNG era.
On the downside, after being temporarily consequential with Airiam's death last week, Discovery resurrects yet another dead character. As diverse as the reasons or excuses may be (time travel, spore network, Mirror Universe, Klingon genetic magic), Discovery has the by far worst track record of all Trek series in this regard. It is also the one series in which the destinies of single characters are all strangely entangled with each other and with the whole galaxy, which ultimately appears like a village. Besides occasionally exploring the unknown, the series draws too heavily and too frequently on family mysteries in a literal sense.
As could be expected, the story of "The Red Angel" is all about Michael Burnham. Pike muses that she "is going to wake up one day, access time travel technology that doesn't exist yet, and take it upon herself to save the galaxy." Spock confirms this as a quite precise description of her character. He repeats his assessment from last week that she feels a responsibility for situations beyond her control. I agreed with Spock, but with the reservation that the statements and events of the series give Burnham a good reason to believe that she is the focal point. And when she agrees to be exposed to the atmosphere of Essof IV to suffocate, she takes the ultimate responsibility by making the ultimate sacrifice. Under the assumption that she were the Red Angel, she would evoke her own responsibility in a predestination paradox. But as already mentioned, we will have to wait and see what the actions of the actual Red Angel, her mother, were about, also in particular with regard to Michael Burnham.
Besides Burnham, everyone else among the cast has one or two notable scenes as well. In this regard, "The Red Angel" reminds me a lot of last week's "Project Daedalus". Both episodes focus on one main plot, in a way that is still unusual for Discovery and that I appreciate, and both include a lot of character interaction, some of which doesn't work well or even feels out of place. In "The Red Angel", it seems that everyone talks with some other person that he or she did not have any business with so far. In the case of Burnham and Nhan, who wrap up their mission on the station, it makes sense. It is also understandable that the Discovery crew is suspicious of Leland and that Pike may have ordered Saru to watch over him, but their discussion is inefficient and looks like a mere attempt to give Saru a greater role. Considering Cornwell's past as a therapist, it seems like a good idea for Culber to seek her advice, but it is just not the right time for it, and the few words she says to him before being interrupted can hardly be rated as something that could encourage him.
The arguably oddest incident, however, takes place in engineering where Georgiou exposes her kinky side, an unfortunate stereotype of the Mirror Universe since DS9, and flirts with Stamets (who she says is pansexual in her universe although in season 1 she barely knew "her" Stamets). With her conduct she embarrasses Stamets as well as Culber, blows her own cover and leaves everyone baffled. (We have to keep in mind that Pike apparently still doesn't know who she is because he, Burnham and Saru don't talk with each other!) After Georgiou has left, Tilly asks, "What just happened?", and that is exactly what I asked myself. Other than that, Georgiou continues her path to redemption. Although it is possible she has other reasons, it seems she cares a lot for Michael Burnham and she is the first who demands to stop the mission to trap the Red Angel. The plan for Georgiou is to become a lead character in the planned Section 31 series. But the in-universe reasons for her to know or anticipate just everything, to behave like she does and for everyone else to put up with it escape me.
The character that pleasantly surprises me in this episode is Leland. Other than the former Mirror Universe dictator who works for him, he feels like a real character. He has a motivation to work for the greater good and he has accepted for himself that it may require to ignore some rules that everyone else is bound to. He feels sorry for the things that have gone awry because of his fault, for the AI of his organization that went out of control but much more personally for Michael's parents that were killed because he failed or neglected to protect them (which makes a lot more sense now than it did when Georgiou first mentioned it to Leland). Leland knows that he deserved the punches on his nose. Everything about him is so much more believable than what we see of Georgiou, also because Alan van Sprang's convincing performance. Well, all this comes with the caveat that Leland may face the same fate as Airiam.
"The Red Angel" is the fourth episode in a row with straightforward storytelling and with a pleasant pace. The story successfully keeps up the mystery but also overextends it by ultimately turning it into a mere family affair. Just like last week's episode, "The Red Angel" feels very uneven in its character interaction. Overall, I think it would have been much better to focus on a few of the many guest characters that are all aboard the Discovery in this episode, and create a small B-plot instead of lots of inefficient isolated scenes. Leland is a positive surprise among the guests, whereas Georgiou continues to be a nuisance.
- Continuity: In "Brother", Pike still mentioned seven signals that appeared simultaneously and later disappeared. Then, a new signal showed up, leading the Discovery to the asteroid with the Hiawatha. Two more signals that were explicitly referred to as "new" were detected in "New Eden" and "The Sound of Thunder", respectively. According to "The Red Angel", however, there are only seven signals altogether, of which three were investigated, and four still to go.
- Leland says that 20 years earlier, the Federation was in a "temporal arms race" with the Klingons. According to "The Vulcan Hello", this would have happened at a time when the Klingons were in isolation and were most likely rather concerned with their many inner conflicts.
- Why should the AI from a time 500 years into the future have to use the wormhole created by the Red Angel like a stowaway? Time travel technology should be readily available in that era.
- Other than that, the comment on the temporal phenomena has to be postponed to a later date, considering that we don't know yet in which direction Michael's mother traveled through time and whether or not the grandfather paradox is relevant.
- It is also too early to comment on why the Red Angel was identified as Michael Burnham or why the data was falsified in that way.
- It is mysterious why a retinal scanner would be equipped with a needle that punches the eye of the operator. It appears to be the result of a manipulation that will likely still be explained but it doesn't look like something caused by a computer virus.
- Remarkable quote: "She said once, without a hint of self-pity, that the paths of trillions of particles had been forever changed simply because she and her husband smiled at each other. She was happy that together they made the universe a little less orderly." (Stamets, about Airiam)
- Remarkable Vulcan humor: "I'm sure captain Leland appreciates your choice of high-density urethane foam in lieu of his nasal cartilage." (Spock)
- Remarkable scene: Before Airiam's memorial service, all data is erased from her brain. The ship is set to auto pilot, so everyone can attend. Saru sings a dirge in his native Kelpien language.
- Remarkable props: The forcefield dishes built on the Discovery and used on Essof IV were previously seen in the transporter room of the Shenzhou.
- Remarkable facts:
- The time travel suit is used to build a protective membrane that would attach itself to the other end of the wormhole in the future, and then snap back like a rubber band. It is protected by tetryon radiation, which limits radio and sensor communication, and also explains Spock's difficulties to mind meld with the Red Angel.
- According to Leland, Michael Burnham's parents were working on Project Daedalus for Section 31. They built the suit, and incorporated the time crystal that Section 31 operatives stole from the Klingons. The Klingons then tracked the crystal to their outpost on Doctari Alpha. The suit itself is said to incorporate technology from the future.
- Burhams's father was a xenoanthroplogist, her mother an astrophysicist but also an engineer.
- Essof IV, the former test site for Project Daedalus, has wildly fluctuating temperatures and an atmosphere of carbon monoxide, making it lethal for oxygen breathers.
- Lieutenant Nilsson acts as a coffin bearer for Airiam, and later takes over her station on the bridge. This is particularly curious because Sara Mitich, who plays Nilsson, appeared as Airiam in the first season.