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Star Trek: Discovery Recap: Into the Spore-Verse

Star Trek: Discovery

Saints of Imperfection
Season 2 Episode 5
Editor’s Rating *****

Star Trek: Discovery

Saints of Imperfection
Season 2 Episode 5
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Michael Gibson/CBS

It’s times like these, dear Trekkies, that I miss Counselor Deanna Troi. Growing up watching The Next Generation, I was always a bit puzzled that the ship’s therapist (played by Marina Sirtis) would be sitting at the captain’s left hand on the bridge, right at the heart of the action. Troi’s empathic gifts as a half-Betazoid were crucial to the well-being of the crew, of course, but they didn’t seem — at the time, anyway — like they warranted such front-and-center placement in command.

Now I get it — and frankly I’m bewildered as to why a counselor like Troi doesn’t even seem to exist on Discovery, let alone on the bridge. For a season and a half, this crew has been emotionally battered in a way that feels relentless. They’ve been in battles, seen their crewmates blown to bits; dimension-hopping right into the laps of doppelgängers who commit hideously fascist atrocities; betrayed by their own fascist captain and a brainwashed/transformed Klingon spy. And that’s just the crew at large — characters like Michael Burnham have survived even more intimate trauma within that matrix of horrors. Even with therapy, no one having had a mental breakdown yet would have been a miracle of the highest order. Feelings on this show — on this ship — are always at an 11, a fact that is especially obvious this week, as the seemingly PTSD-free Burnham monologues about yet another trauma: Tilly’s disappearance into the mycelial network.

Of course, she’s not dead, as everyone seems to fear; she’s just been dragged into jahSepp territory by “May” to save the species from the “monster” that has been ravaging their ecosystem since the Discovery started jumping. Bear with me as I explain what comes next, as it involves a fair bit of extremely complicated, pseudoscientific reasoning that “explains” a massive, seemingly insane plot point — let’s call it sci-fi-backflipping.

So, good news: The “monster” is Dr. Hugh Culber! Sure enough, he’s alive in the mycelial network. Trouble is, the jahSepp, much like an immune system, have a habit of attacking foreign bodies on their turf; to protect himself, the brilliant Culber has been covering himself in tree bark that is poisonous to them. I guess that’s how their home has been getting messed up: Culber stomping around the network wearing poison bark and screaming as his mind and “body” — reconstituted by the jahSepp, somehow, for some reason? — disintegrates. Stamets has to convince him he and Burnham and Tilly are, in fact, real, by telling him another lovely story about their relationship. Seeing as I ship the hell out of Culmets, I’ll allow this particular backflip. Happy Valentine’s Day, Culmets!

How did Culber get here, though, you ask? Well, recall the first law of thermodynamics: Matter can neither be created nor destroyed in an isolated system. And I guess in this explanation we’re going to assume consciousness is energy, since energy is matter. So, remember last season when Stamets was mentally lost in the mycelial network, and he was having flashes of lucidity? When he found Culber’s body after Tyler-as-Voq snapped his neck, apparently Culber’s consciousness used his plugged-in body as a conduit to travel from this universe into the mycelial dimension. Very cool and totally normal!

But let’s back up. How did Stamets and Burnham even get to the mycelial dimension to rescue Tilly, and now a Bonus Culber? Ho ho, are you ready for this? Stamets actually convinces Pike to put the entire ship’s crew at risk to save Tilly by taking the Discovery into a weird sort of half-jump, wherein the ship is basically suspended between dimensions like an anchor, allowing Stamets and Burnham to rappel into the mycelial dimension via Stamets’s spore-safe cube, while its minimally protected hull gets furiously attacked by the jahSepp. Pike briefs the crew mere minutes before they jump, explaining that “nobody gets left behind” and Tilly — an ensign, let’s remember, no matter how brilliant and wonderful — “would put her life on the line to save any of us.” Putting aside the fact that the premiere established that mansplainers are the new redshirts, can you imagine being a redshirt hearing this announcement?

Anyway, it works, albeit barely, with help in the eleventh hour from Section 31 boss Leland, whose ship has been spying on the Discovery and grabs hold of it on its other side to keep it from getting sucked into the network. Culber initially isn’t able to travel back to this universe, on account of being made of jahSepp matter; he and Stamets have another deeply heartbreaking moment of “Oh my god, are they actually gonna make us go through this agony again?” But then Tilly convinces “May” to send him back the way she took her in the first place, through the giant blob. I’m still iffy on the blob; I was under the impression the blob was May’s corporeal form in this universe, grown from Tilly’s own body matter like a tumor. Apparently, however, it was actually an inter-dimensional transporter, with only one round trip for an Ugly Bag of Mostly Water — to take Tilly to the network, and then to send Culber back — before the “gateway” collapsed, potentially forever. Seems a bit needlessly dramatic, considering the Discovery crew seems to understand exactly how May managed to get from the network into Tilly in the first place, but I’m just a recapper, not an inter-dimensional spore being, what do I know?

As for Section 31, we learned this week that they’ve been trailing Spock, too. Turns out he had already abandoned the shuttle Discovery has been chasing, and when they finally caught up with it, it was being piloted by none other than Emperor-I-Mean-Retired-Starfleet-Captain-Turned-Section-31-Agent Philippa Georgiou, who also seems personally invested in catching Burnham’s brother. It would appear Georgiou will be taking the capricious-villain role occupied in previous series by characters like Gul Dukat or Q, and I am into it. She keeps trying to insist that Burnham “have a little faith” in her, despite the fact that she’s given her negative reasons to do so, and despite the fact that she’s a literal Space Nazi and barely anyone knows it. (She blackmailed Leland into de-cloaking and saving the Discovery, but only because it would give her leverage with Michael after the fact!) Pike doesn’t appear to know anything whatsoever about her being from the Terran dimension, either, which is somewhat troubling for a number of reasons, including the fact of Burnham’s original mutiny. Assuming the Enterprise was still in contact with Starfleet, even when they weren’t able to assist during the war, and assuming he knew Georgiou fairly well before they left, how did he just not hear that she had died in that battle? Does he just not know that Burnham was at one point stripped of rank and sentenced to life in prison for betraying her boss? Yikes!

After the whole inter-dimensional cave-diving rescue — which, according to my notes, was “FUCKING COOL” — Admiral Cornwell shows up, and she is furious with both Leland and Pike, who have been all up in each other’s faces about Spock since they discovered the empty shuttle. She’s got news, first of all: After Discovery rescued Reno off the asteroid, Starfleet sent a research vessel to the spot where the signal disappeared and discovered “a trail of tachyon radiation,” evidence that could suggest a cloaking device, a transporter, or — I knew it — TIME TRAVEL. Cornwell (who has tragically dyed all the salt-and-pepper out of her hair this season!) orders the pair to “cut the manlier-than-thou bullshit” and kiss and make up so they can investigate this thing together. The boys apologize to each other in such an absolutely correct way (minus Leland’s “that’s an understatement!” cheap shot at the end) that my #MeToo-shriveled heart grew a half-size to witness it.

Oh, and one final thing to mention: Tyler has been successfully recruited to Section 31 (Did Georgiou blackmail him? Manipulate him some other way? It’s a mystery) and is now the division’s ongoing “liaison” aboard the Discovery, which is going to be all sorts of fun for Stamets and the newly resurrected Culber (who Tyler-as-Voq murdered), for Pike (who has been positively bitchy to him since he came aboard), and especially for Burnham, who certainly doesn’t have enough emotional whiplash to deal with right now! Though I suppose if they get together again, she could cut his man-bun off in his sleep and put us all out of our misery.

Personal Log, Supplemental:

• Mary Wiseman has been doing a stupendous job this season as Ensign Tilly, but she even bested herself this week with her extremely convincing hysteria upon arriving in the mycelial dimension. Every single one of those weird shrieks and sarcastic screams is absolutely something I personally would do in that scenario, and I appreciate that.

• It’s kind of weird, though, that Tilly’s sad about being cut off from “May” and the jahSepp after they literally violated her down to her very molecules. Sure, she’s a good person and helps them once she understands the stakes, but I dunno, I would personally be pretty relieved to get some space between me and them for a while.

• A direct copy-and-paste from my notes, without comment: “I love Pike being mean to Tyler for some reason? Is that a sexuality?”

Star Trek: Discovery Recap: Into the Spore-Verse