Star Trek: Discovery
As we turn the bend on the last stretch of this season, one thing has become pretty clear to me: Making Star Trek: Discovery a prequel was a mistake.
The reasons behind the decision make sense on paper: New Star Trek series, especially in this era, are going to be expensive and risky by nature, so it makes sense to hedge your bets wherever you can. Making Discovery’s star the adoptive sibling of the original series’ most beloved character is a perfect, if annoying, way to offer fans a few familiar faces while venturing into the final frontier.
But as this series has progressed, its design — both visual and narrative — has proven time and again that its creativity and capacity for risk-taking deserves a show set in the far future, a future where the story wouldn’t have to justify absolute nonsense like Pike’s beep-beep machine. Where nanites puppeteering a dead body could be a technological villain’s evolution rather than its origins. I mean, how is it fair to ask writers to justify how we went from high-tech, reconstructive nanites to this?
As we’ve discussed in this space before, this is a ship full of nerds — on camera and off. At no time has this show not been champing at the bit when it comes to trying newer and wilder ideas. The science behind each problem is always researched, often to a fault; the redesigned costumes and sets are beautiful, but very obviously suffer from the limitation of needing to hew to their comparatively rinky-dink counterparts from the original series — which, despite the show having a massive budget, were famously cobbled together with literal cardboard and sweatshop labor. I submit that when Discovery takes a risk and it fails, that failure is almost always rooted in the fact that the show has to literally live up to TOS. This is all to say I really hope the crew gets sucked into one of those Daedalus-suit wormholes at the end of this season and we get to see what happens to them in a far future, completely un-curtailed by decades-old predictions about a future we in 2019 are all but living in now. The show deserves something fresh, we deserve something fresh. Can we live?!
Anyway, this is a recap, so let’s get into the two main plots this week.
In the first, a fourth signal — Spock now posits the signals might be the work of a second time traveler — has appeared above Boreth, the Klingon planet home to the monastery where L’Rell and Voq sent their infant son earlier this season. (NB: Boreth and the monastery have appeared in both The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.) Turns out this monastery, in addition to housing the monks who follow Kahless, also protects a vast mine of time crystals, around which they’ve constructed a veritable Temple of Time. L’Rell, when she arrives on the Discovery to help them secure passage to the monastery to obtain a crystal, says the Klingons “no longer exploit the crystals” because “time manipulation is a weapon unlike any other.” Kind of a weird explanation, given that just 20 years ago the Klingons were supposedly developing time-travel technology, and Tyler himself admitted they would have relished traveling back in time and wiping out the human race, and considering the Klingons just fought a very enthusiastic war against the Federation that could have been won with time manipulation, but okay. As Chancellor, L’Rell has no authority in the monastery, and Tyler is supposed to be dead, so to be respectful, Pike is the only one who can go.
At the monastery, Pike meets Tenavik, Son of None, an elder albino Klingon priest who also turns out to be Voq and L’Rell’s son despite their having left his infant self there like a week ago — because “time flows differently for those who protect the crystals; the past the present the future are equal in their presence.” Initially Tenavik flat-out refuses to let Pike even enter the temple, let alone take a crystal (poH qut in Klingon, if you wanted to know), but Pike says “hey, but we really need it tho?” so Tenavik changes his mind. In exchange for obtaining a poH qut, though, Pike must learn how this decision will change his future … which is how we finally, horribly, are forced to reckon with the Beep-Beep Machine.
As we learned in TOS double episode “The Menagerie,” he ends up in this iron-lung-style Vader wheelchair, his face mauled beyond recognition and his only means of communication a binary yes-or-no beeping, after saving some cadets during a training exercise gone wrong. (Only God knows what kind of insane training exercise requires such violent radiation risks, but what can you do?) Our beautiful, perfectly chiseled boy Anson Mount is forced to face his future countenance, a melting heap of completely immobile flesh, and takes the crystal anyway, knowing that doing so will (somehow?) seal that eventual fate.
Watching this all go down is a bit upsetting, really — not unlike seeing your dad cry for the first time. Mercifully, the vision only lasts a minute, and Pike collects himself fairly quickly; with luck, we’ll never have to watch it happen for real. But I have a question: Do we really have to pretend that this is the only technology available to radiation-burned quadriplegics in the future? This is one of the few canonical events I’d be happy to see relegated to the dustbin of time. I’ll limit my complaining about weirdly ableist continuity, given how much I’ve already done in past recaps this season, to one statement: We have the technology to rework a person’s entire body into a completely different species, so we should certainly be able to deal with some radiation burns.
Onto the second plot: Another Section 31 ship has missed its regular “check-in” with Starfleet Command by ten minutes. Michael really wants to investigate, convinced it has to do with Control, but when Dad says no — for good reason, considering that would mean delivering the Sphere data contained in Discovery’s systems right into the AI’s waiting arms — she waits until Dad’s out of town on business to ask Other Dad Saru, whose post-vahar’ai outlook has put him in a real “fuck it” mood, and he authorizes her to take a shuttle. Spock joins her despite her protests. (When she huffs, “UGHH” as he took to the helm? I felt that!) They catch up with the ship to find that Control has jettisoned every crew member into space, and just one is still alive, Burnham’s former Shenzhou colleague Kamran Gant (Ali Momen).
This should’ve been the first red flag, of course, given how quickly a person usually dies in space. Nevertheless it takes them a good hour — in which the trio returns to the Section 31 ship to look for clues about Control and its nature — to realize, oh, right, evil body-snatching AI, this is a trap, probably should have been a little more careful about that. Gant is dead, but he lives on as the second-ever assimilated Borg (if I keep saying it, it couldn’t possibly not happen, right?).
Having blocked Spock’s tricorder scans (??) from registering the nanites in Gant’s Frankenstein body, Control locks Spock in another room and attempts to assimilate Burnham. (This is another Borg-y moment — remember, they do the same with Captain Picard, recognizing him as the ultimate threat to their success, and therefore the ultimate asset to acquire.) Following the requisite saloon shootout, the siblings manage to defeat him, Burnham literally shooting a giant hole in Gant’s torso, releasing a wave of nanites that Spock then de-activates by magnetizing the floor.
All three wayward characters get back to Discovery just in time to brief each other and then, mere seconds later, be surrounded by the entire Section 31 fleet. They could run, but Control will catch up. They have a time crystal, but (ironically) no time to figure out how to power it, even if they had a supernova to work with. They can’t let Control have the data. You know what that means?
That’s right, it’s that time again — time to blow up an extremely expensive ship to stop evil robots from getting what they want. Feels good to be back.
Personal Log, Supplemental
• I know a lot of fans are still questioning why Burnham was able to get back with Tyler so quickly despite the fact that he tried to kill her, but I’m just relieved that he was able to simply tell her about Tenavik’s existence without it causing another major emotional falling out. The Spock stuff must have really taken it out of me, because I don’t know how much more dramatic interpersonal conflict I can take this season.
• Also important: when Pike tells him Tenavik’s name and gives him back the torchbearer’s badge he sent his son to Boreth with, Ash cries a little, and Shazad Latif earns his salary again. It’s looking like this is the last we’ll see of L’Rell for a while, as the divorced couple basically said goodbye earlier. That means — shippers, on your mark — when Tyler gets emotional about his son going forward, Burnham might be able to comfort him, but Pike will be the only other person around who’s ever met Tenavik. *purple devil grin emoji*
• Not as important, but everyone catch that perfectly lit shot of Gant’s butt as he crouches down to Burnham’s level? Just me?
• Jett Reno is back, and she’s putting forward a very good Guinan as she visits Culber in sick bay to convince him to get back with Stamets. Her reasons are twofold: (1) because Stamets is the only other person even slightly qualified to figure out how to use the time crystal and his distraction could cost the universe all sentient life, and (2) because, as she reveals to Culber, her wife — whose neuroses seem to match Stamets’s pretty well — was killed in the Klingon War. She doesn’t want them to waste their chance to be together on such a silly thing as one of you being murdered and then resurrected in a reconstructed body and suffering a full-on existential breakdown as a result.