Star Trek: Discovery
Today I ran into some friends who saw John Cho at New York Comic Con, which means that in a very real and very meaningful way, I watched the latest Discovery episode with nu–Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu. In another, truer sense, I watched it with my friends Matt and Jaya, who kept asking why the Klingons looked so different.
“Remember that episode of DS9 where Odo and Worf end up on the original Enterprise, and Odo doesn’t understand why none of the other Klingons have forehead ridges, and Worf just says, ‘We do not discuss it with outsiders?’ Just … imagine that happened again, on this episode, but without Worf.”
“God, I miss Worf.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“Wasn’t that episode called ‘Trials and Tribble-ations’?”
“It was, which makes me inclined to treat tonight’s title — ‘The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry’ — with a bit more generosity than I otherwise might.”
“Why didn’t they just call it ‘Silence of the Lambs’? That’s what they’re going for, right?”
“I assume so. I don’t think it’s a famous expression, or anything.”
The episode opens with another shot of a lightning storm turning into a galaxy turning into a freshly synthesized Starfleet uniform (Burnham’s, natch. The computer unnecessarily reminds her that her Starfleet rank is “none” before dispensing her a new shirt). I know I promised I would never tire of those galaxy-cum-everyday-objects, and I suppose I can’t fault the show for delivering something I specifically asked for.
Something I did not ask for, because I have failed to sufficiently enlarge my dreams, but also received tonight, was an amazing scene featuring Klingon rom-com dialogue and a strategically significant “coupling device.” My beloved Voq and his devoted XO L’Rell board the remains of the Shenzhou to harvest its dilithium processor and very nearly meaningfully touch hands in the process.
Matt: “God, the Klingons even put ornate beadwork on their EV suits.”
Jaya: “Well, we put nipples on Batman.”
Matt: “We didn’t send Batman into space.”
(NB I feel it incumbent upon me to mention that we kind of did send Batman into space at least once.)
As they try to remove the processor without blowing up, L’Rell tells Voq, “I have always known you as astute — more astute than I,” which is the most charming bit of reserved Klingon flirting I have ever seen in my life, then pledges her total devotion to him as T’Kuvma’s anointed successor. “Standing behind you, I am free to move.”
“She wants to kiss him,” Matt said.
“She loves the freedom of being an XO,” I maintained.
“She wants to kiss him!” Matt said.
Then L’Rell asked, “Shall we uncouple?” and from literally any other character, I might have interpreted that as suggestive. I am not above telling you, gentle reader, that I giggled, and then cheerfully conceded that she loves the freedom of being an XO and wants to kiss Voq.
Meanwhile, the crew of the Discovery get put through a Kobayashi Maru–style simulation, complete with sarcastic clapping from Captain Lorca when they fail to survive the test. They’ve been running nonstop sims because once the spore drive (Jaya: “Is that what we’re calling it?” Me: “It’s what I’m calling it”) is online, they’ll be the only ship capable of materializing anywhere in the known universe, which means they’ll be operating without backup. (Jaya: “Does that explain why ten years from now all the women’s uniforms will suddenly transform into miniskirts?” Me: “We do not discuss that with outsiders.”)
In a “why don’t they make the plane out of the black-box material” sort of moment, Captain Lorca assigns Burnham to study the beast, now-christened Ripper, rescued from the Glenn in last week’s episode to figure out whether they can utilize its seemingly indestructible hide, then assigns Landry to criticize and undermine her. Landry is subsequently and ignominiously killed when Ripper is released from his cage, presumably to illustrate the dangers of not approaching mysterious beasts with sufficient open-minded curiosity. This particular beat feels more than a little clumsy and heavy-handed; it’s also noticeable and distressing that two of the only significant crew deaths thus far have been women of color.
Saru continues his uninterrupted reign as the deliverer of each episode’s most exquisitely painful burns after Burnham tricks him into standing near Ripper and testing his involuntary fear reflexes (“threat ganglia”!). “I was wrong to question your place on the crew,” he tells her. “You will fit in perfectly with Captain Lorca.” I cringe from the mere secondhand fallout.
The rest of the Klingon plotline vaguely parallels Burnham’s redemption arc. Voq is undermined and abandoned by rival Kol, who steals away his crew with, essentially, Homer Simpson’s motivational technique of “doughnuts, and the possibility of more doughnuts to come.” L’Rell immediately hands over the dilithium processor to Kol and then tells him not to bother killing Voq, because she can think of a “much better fate than death for him.” Kol somehow falls for this, but I am strongly of the opinion that if the fanatically devoted second-in-command to the dude you just ousted says, “Oh, no, Great One, I can think of a much better, unnecessarily elaborate thing to do to him than kill him, even though killing him would solve all of your problems,” that you should not believe them. So Kol maroons Voq on the wreckage of the Shenzhou instead. (Where, sadly, L’Rell fondly reminisces about having eaten the ship’s captain, which I suppose tanks my “Maybe Georgiou is still alive somewhere, since we never saw her body” theory/delusion.) L’Rell beams aboard a few minutes later, and promises to take Voq to the matriarchs of her house, the “Deceivers and Weavers of Lies,” before coming up with a comeback plan. God, the mottos of all the great Klingon houses sound like really solid mid-’90s metal albums. “You’ll have to sacrifice everything,” she tells him, which I can’t imagine is a challenging prospect for a dude who’s currently sitting on a burned-out ship with exactly nothing to his name.
With the realization that Ripper is not a predator but in fact a sort of giant tardigrade-slash-space-truffle-pig-slash-supercomputer, Burnham is able to get the spore drive up and running. (What a sentence! Matt: “Star Trek’s technology is basically best understood as ‘magic that needs another piece of magic to actually work.’”) In a legitimately lovely design moment, the ring around the saucer starts spinning and they do a wonderful, wobbling sort of twirl before jumping to Corvan 2, a mining colony that’s under attack by Klingon Birds-of-Prey. There’s some on-the-nose screaming children, followed by a brief and successful shoot-out, followed by some more on-the-nose whispering children: “Who saved us?” Spores, children. Spores, and a magical truffle pig named Ripper.
Also, I must note that horribly jarring mention of “Elon Musk and the Wright Brothers” in a brief list of inspiring figures from scientific history. That, and the smash cut between one character saying, “I have no doubts” and another saying, “There’s no way we can do that,” and the fact that Burnham receives a robo-version of Captain Georgiou’s final will and testament that keeps pinging under her bed like a Closure Alarm, went a long way toward making this episode feel both rushed and clunky in several spots. It’s going to take me the entire week until the next episode to get over that Elon Musk thing. But now the Discovery can twirl, which is just objectively awesome. Until next week — always twirling.