Star Trek: Discovery
Whew. You’ll have to forgive me; I’m a little out of breath after this week’s episode, which had the cajones to ask, “What if Discovery mythology, but also The Next Generation — at the same damn time?” This is the second episode of the new series directed by The Beard Himself, Jonathan “Two Takes” Frakes, who directed the half-season premiere last year — the one where the crew has to pretend to be Space Nazis to get by in the mirror universe’s Terran Empire. That episode moved along at what appears to be his signature all-killer-no-filler clip. In the former case, it worked: coming back from a holiday hiatus and realizing you’re in a parallel universe both seem like just the cause to jolt your audience’s heart rates.
When your breakneck pacing is born of necessity, however — to pull off a procedural throwback to the days when the Starfleet gang would time-travel or get stuck in a sentient holodeck, while also introducing new exposition and subplots into the mix, all while hewing to the episode’s hour-long runtime — that’s how you get an episode like this. What even happened here? Let’s discuss.
So Spock has had himself committed to a psychiatric facility at a nearby starbase — and expressly forbid Starfleet from notifying his family — which goes a long way toward my anxiety suspicions from last week. That revelation is swiftly abandoned for the remainder of the episode, though, much like Tig Notaro’s Jett Reno, whose introduction last week would have been a perfect addition to the group dynamic had she not disappeared immediately thereafter.
Stamets, meanwhile, seems like he’s inching closer and closer to giving himself over to the mycelial network entirely (read: killing himself) to be with Dr. Culber, whose lingering presence there is absolutely going to bite us in the collective ass very soon, since it implies that the fungi — or the dark matter it interacts with, I guess? — functions like a purgatory where even people who need to stay dead (Lorca) can continue screwing with the living. This is more or less confirmed when Tilly is attacked by a tiny, very angry sample she tries to extract from the dark-matter asteroid being haunted by her dead friend from middle school.
The second Damned Red Thing™ brings them, courtesy of an unsanctioned spore-drive jump, to an M-class planet in the Beta Quadrant, where — despite the fact that it’s so remote it would take a typical ship 150 years to reach — 11,000 humans just randomly live, along with a little chapel that was clearly built on Earth. The Discovery picks up a distress signal that’s been on a loop for two centuries (since about a decade before Zefram Cochrane invented the warp drive, for those obsessively following the timeline at home), which leads them to believe that this little colony was transported here … somehow. Another away team is formed: Pike, whose father, he happens to have just mentioned, was a teacher of both science and comparative religion; Lt. Joann Owosekun, who grew up in a Luddite community and knows how to blend into low-tech environs; and Burnham, who just gets to do whatever, because she’s the best.
Dressed in their best 21st-century cosplay, the trio beams down to explore the church. Its congregation are descendants of a group of World War III soldiers (?) who were hiding in this church back on Earth to escape nuclear bombs (??) when they were suddenly transported by an “angel” (???) to this new planet, which they named New Eden. That rapture experience inspired them to combine all the Earth religions they could think of — Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto, and Wicca — into one Unitarian Universalist-esque mega-faith, complete with new scripture, which looks like a cut-and-paste serial-killer scrapbook, and a vaguely threatening Galadriel-type leader they call All-Mother. This could have been a very Star Trek: First Contact adventure … except for the fact that we end up spending roughly five minutes with them.
While Pike and Co. are religion-LARPing on the surface, a bunch of radioactive debris has suddenly broken away from New Eden’s rings and is headed for the planet, threatening an imminent, extinction-level nuclear winter, and also jamming comms and transporter locks on the away-team. The rest of the crew has one (1) hour to figure out how to stop it all from happening. Fun! And, one might say, extremely too coincidental! Lucky for everyone, Tilly doesn’t know what self-care is, and devises a solution from sick bay, where she’s recovering from the angry asteroid accident alongside her ghost friend May: Drag and fling the asteroid like a shotput to create a gravitational pull that’ll drag the debris out into space. And yes, Lt. Detmer does indeed do a donut, in space, in a Federation starship, to make this happen.
Speaking of coincidences, this angel: last week, I didn’t bother mentioning what even Burnham refers to as her “hallucination” back on the asteroid. That was clearly our bad, though, since the giant moth-man that both she and I took to be a weird concussion-induced halo effect on Pike’s silhouette as he returned to rescue her seems now to be the same winged humanoid form that rescued-slash-teleported the New Eden congregation’s ancestors. Combined with the fact that the second signal just so happened to have revealed its location immediately after the Discovery concludes the first Damned Red Thing™ mission — and just so happened to mark the location of another crisis wherein Discovery has to save some people using Extreme Science — this body of evidence has effectively convinced Pike and Saru, at least, that the bursts and the “angel” apparitions are absolutely the work of something, or someone, sending the Discovery on a cosmic quest to prevent the freak deaths of a bunch of people across the galaxy.
Burnham, for her part, still insists there has to be a scientific explanation for the signals rather than a divine one, but to quote Pike interpreting Arthur C. Clarke, “Any sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial intelligence is indistinguishable from God,” which strongly suggests they’re one and the same, and we’re about to meet some sort of unknown, super-humanoid species. (Correct me if I’m wrong in the comments, but this “angel” would be the first-ever winged humanoid in the Trek canon, no?) Whether that species is still alive and pulling the Discovery’s strings, or the ship is following some sort of radioactive echo trail connecting these beings’ past travails, would a revelation like these be enough to induce Spock into a full-blown breakdown? I know my brain is already on the fritz trying to parse all of this stuff.
Personal Log, Supplemental:
• Why are we so obsessed with magnets this week? First Owosekun uses one to spring the away-team from the basement where Jacob, the scientist non-believer of the colony, traps them; then Tilly’s asteroid-flinging maneuver. It’s like this is the only scientific solution metaphor — ahem, I mean simile — that regulars like us will understand.
• I got a kick out of the fact that Owosekun grew up in a “Luddite community.” The Mennonites and Amish are still going strong in the 23rd century, bless their technology-blighted hearts.
• Speaking of which, is Discovery on a rumspringa, or something? Casually ordering Stamets to operate the spore drive after its use was expressly forbidden post-Klingon War? Allowing an ensign to operate, unsupervised, on a giant dark-matter asteroid and escape any sort of disciplinary action for it? (I know Tilly is supposed to be our Wesley Crusher, but come on. Give her a babysitter, at least, Saru! You were just quoting Starfleet regulations at Pike!) And that’s saying nothing of Pike’s inconsistent interpretation of the Prime Directive, referred to now as “General Order No. 1,” which can be translated, as Daniel Ortberg astutely put it last season, to “Kind of do whatever you want as long as nobody sees you do it!” He tells Jacob about the Federation and how transporters work (even though frankly by 2053 we all would have known about transporter theory, at least), and then — unlike what we saw with Saru’s Short Trek episode, wherein a galactically curious Saru is spirited away on a Starfleet ship — they just leave him there with a 23rd-century super-battery for the church? Hmmmm.
• …Ghost May is totally in love with Tilly, right?