Star Trek: Discovery
All creative-writing instructors worth their salt will tell you that the use of “breadcrumbs” — the strategy of subtly peppering important plot points throughout your story with the intention of coming back and using them for an explosive twist ending — is one of the most reliable storytelling skills writers can have in their arsenal. Breaking Bad did it, famously; so did Gone Girl and The Prestige and Get Out. Sure, it can verge on gimmicky if done too conspicuously, but leaving “clues” almost always gives a story the air of intentionality, the idea that, yes, the writers thought about every inch of this story; they’re not wasting your time with random, meaningless side plots.
We knew from the beginning of this season that Star Trek: Discovery was going to deploy breadcrumbs almost literally with the red signals, but I think its track record at that point inspired very little hope, at least on my part, that it would deliver a reveal that would indicate everything the Discovery crew had to do this season was for a sufficient reason. By the end of tonight’s explosive(ly excellent) finale, we may not have answered the question of why the seven signals appeared simultaneously before appearing again one by one, but we did learn that the seemingly random signal-driven adventures we’ve had over the past three months were connected, after all. Every signal was set by Michael, as predicted, but she goes back in time to set them from the thick of the final boss battle for the fate of sentient life in the galaxy, each signal a beacon to lead Discovery to a person or place they and the Enterprise crew would need to defeat Leland and Control.
The whole hourlong shebang is unabashedly Star Wars–grade cinematic (all the way down to the goddamn repair droids), but given that the series has always been likened to J. J. Abrams’s Star Wars audition reels, a.k.a. the Star Trek reboot films, Trek fans had to accept that new reality a long time ago. (Past Trek series have always been almost domestic in their measured approach to drama, the bridge functioning as a sort of living room from which a ship’s crew explored rather than constantly battled strange new worlds; Star Trek: Discovery has never been that, but that’s an unproductive gripe for another time.) Suffice it to say that given the parameters of the show, the final battle hits all the right to-do list items, dealing out some truly iconic dialogue while delivering answers that are satisfying, exciting, and most important right for the future of the show and these characters. The episode’s homages, intentional or not, to various other sci-fi vehicles like Interstellar (see: the awesome visual effects of Michael and the crew’s time-jumps), The Matrix, and The 100 (“My ship, my responsibility”? A reach, perhaps, but I believe it) are pops of self-aware flair that no Trek show has ever really been able to pull off, be it for technological, financial, or cultural reasons. And while it’s a bit overwhelming to watch it all go down in a franchise that has always prized progressive intellectualism over pop-cultural timeliness and flashy action sequences, the franchise seems extremely serious about adapting that legacy to compete in this era of TV.
So everyone in Starfleet is suddenly an X-wing pilot: Using Number One’s combat-outfitted shuttles, the Enterprise crew is running aggressive interference between Control’s Section 31 fleet — the sole mission of which is to obtain the Sphere data — and the Discovery, whose crew is rushing to complete Michael’s Daedalus suit and subsequently follow a suited-up Michael into a time-traveling wormhole.
This is a solid plan when it seems like there are only a handful of Section 31 vessels, but then Leland deploys hundreds of remotely operated fighter drones, which put the crews at a grave disadvantage almost instantly. This swarm of space-robot bees go to work wearing down Discovery’s shields (something that maaaaybe the Enterprise could have tried when the plan was “destroy the data”? But I digress.). Additionally, part of Michael’s time crystal vision (*Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” starts playing somewhere*) comes true here: Leland makes it onto the Discovery bridge and starts shooting, and a Section 31 ship fires an undetonated torpedo into the Enterprise’s hull. Luckily it was a possible future, not the only one; a couple people are shot, but no one dies — on the bridge, at least.
As shields fail and the ships are on their last limbs, however, Tyler’s secret mission is suddenly and gloriously revealed: L’Rell’s massive Klingon battleship shows up smack-dab in the middle of the fight, flanked by a fleet of Ba’ul fighters piloted by Kelpiens and led by none other than Saru’s sister, Siranna. (I’d echo Saru’s disbelief at his people’s ability to learn to fly, let alone fight, within a matter of days, but then again, Saru knows 90-something languages, so maybe they’re just good at learning stuff?) I’m not sure which is hotter, secretly rallying your ex-girlfriend/baby mama’s entire warrior contingency to save the love of your life and showing up just in time to save the day, or crying freely and constantly without so much as a smidge of toxic-masculine hesitation, but wow, y’all, Tyler has come a long way from that man-bun. I don’t know if I would have just handed him the reins to Section 31, even after all this, but sure, go with Kahless, you adorable ingenue.
Anyway, if there was one thing I had missed in Discovery’s Klingon reboot to date, it was their unabashedly joyful bloodthirst. Even though Starfleet literally went to war with them last season, we didn’t get a whole lot of the raucous exaltation in battle that made Klingons such a fun species, particularly on The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. But this week, L’Rell became more fun at the helm of this megacruiser than she’s ever been; I wanted so much more of her and her crew roaring “TODAY IS A GOOD DAY TO DIE” and “WE WILL WADE KNEE-DEEP THROUGH THE RUIN OF OUR ENEMIES” in Klingon.
Meanwhile, engineering on Discovery goes full-blown competence porn shouting and coordinating the 3-D printing and launching of the suit. Tilly ends up repairing the shields with her eyes closed (because she’s only ever done it as a drinking game), but not before Stamets gets fully impaled in a direct hit as they rush it to the shuttle bay. Voilà, a perfect moment for Culber swing in and save his man’s life, delivering a lovely monologue in which he announces that he’s staying with Discovery (!) and apologizes for not seeing that their relationship “is home” for him, all before sending his beloved into a nice, medically induced coma to heal. Congrats on your redemption, Culmets shippers!
The torpedo in Enterprise’s hull is a ticking time bomb, and the blast doors that would protect the rest of the ship from the blowback has been knocked offline, which leaves Boss Lady Team Number One and Admiral Cornwell to either diffuse the torpedo or fix the blast doors. Long story short, none of their ideas end up working; Pike orders Number One back to the bridge while he takes over, and the women do an armshake thing, saluting each other (an overt feminist moment that still got me slightly verklempt, I’ll admit).
Pike’s ideas don’t work either, of course, leaving the final option, as Cornwell has evidently suspected: operating the blast door manually, from the inside. An absolutely heinous design flaw! Pike tries to sacrifice himself, believing his Beep-Beep fate to be sealed and thus inoculating him from harm here, but Cornwell convinces him it’s too risky, and he relents, leaving her to explode in service to her Federation. So goes Cornwell, an exemplary character whose dryly witty management style I’ll miss quite a lot, with a brutally poignant farewell to Pike: “Whatever your path may be, you can handle it.” (I’m not having an existential meltdown, you’re having an existential meltdown.)
At some point hereabouts, my heart rate is so amped that my smartwatch is fully convinced I’m exercising. Leland has come aboard Discovery in search of the data, but the spectacularly savvy Georgiou has siphoned it to a secret location, using one of the very Section 31 Bluetooth upload thingies Leland had her use against the Discovery. As the gravity system onboard goes creatively haywire, she and Nhan (*feminist delight intensifies*) engage the “AI sausage” in true, Matrix-style hand-to-hand combat.
Control seems to be winning robohand-over-fist, and finally correctly concludes that Georgiou has hidden the data in the spore drive panel. But in its (apparently?) smug moment of triumph, Georgiou manages to push him into Stamets’s cube and lock the doors. She anticipated all of this, and preprogrammed the cube to be magnetized, yielding both the end of Leland and a few seconds of sadistic glee for her personally, as she watches the nanites that have overtaken his body scream and crumble. (Please note: The faceless Starfleet investigator at the end of the episode who claims Control has been fully eliminated is full of shit, not only because of this remaining pile of deactivated nanites on Discovery, but also because that’s too clean and corporate an ending, and Control is the Borg, and I shall not accept any other explanation.)
Finally, to the breadcrumb reveal. Guarded by Spock’s shuttle escort, Michael discovers her Iron Man suit refuses to aim for the future. She panics until Spock makes the connection — in order to make the jump (and I have no idea how this is supposed to work technologically speaking), she has to “close the loop” by going back to set the signals in the past before they can jump forward.
Cue the gorgeous — narratively, visually, musically — montage in which Burnham reviews the season’s breadcrumbs: to the Hiawatha, where they picked up Jett Reno, who had to work the time-crystal tech; to Terralysium, where they now know they can safely hide as Luddites in the future; to Kaminar, to liberate the Kelpiens so they’ll come assist in battle; Boreth, to get the time crystal; and to Xahea, to pick up Po and her dilithium incubator. The sixth signal, then, ends up being a beacon for the Discovery to follow Burnham through the wormhole (because regular scanners can’t deal outside the space-time continuum).
At some point in the present mêlée, Spock’s shuttle’s engines are hit, and he’s unable to return to the Discovery (they’d have to lower shields to beam him aboard, and they can’t afford to drop their defenses even for a millisecond). The Enterprise will retrieve him once the drones are deactivated by Leland’s death, leaving him where he needed to be all along. The siblings thus share an unbearably sad farewell scene, in which Spock dispenses with every ounce of resentment and Vulcan pretense and admits that she has been “his balance,” that she showed him how to be straddle both identities all along. She calls him “little brother” (sorry, who does this?) and imparts her final advice: “There’s a whole galaxy out there full of people who will reach for you. You have to let them. Find that person who seems farthest from you, and reach for them. Let them guide you.” Spock says “I love you” in Vulcan (either because it would be wildly out of character for him to even attempt this in English, or because such an emotional, un-Vulcan sentiment can’t be directly translated by universal translators), and she promises that she’ll send the seventh signal back in time to let him know they made it safely to the future.
Now Control has been neutralized, and the suit has decided to cooperate and jump 930 years into the future to rendezvous with Dr. Burnham on Terralysium. Pike, Po, Siranna, Tyler, and Spock all wistfully stand witness to Burnham guiding the ship in a psychedelic, Willy Wonka–ass journey through the wormhole.
So the USS Discovery and its crew is gone, on a new journey into the far-flung future. The leftovers all tell the same lie when debriefing with Starfleet: In order to secure the data and Discovery’s safety in the future, they all affirm that the Discovery blew up, they all saw it go down, everyone aboard is dead.
And here’s where the annoyingly clever retcon comes full circle: The “survivors,” from the Starfleet records, all the way down to Sarek and Amanda, unanimously agree to never, ever speak of the existence of Discovery or any of its crew, ever again. And sure, for all intents and purposes, they are dead, because what is death but a liberation from the space-time continuum?
This shoehorning perfectly lines up the end of season two into the beginning (ish) of the original series (the end of Spock’s beard was another clever breadcrumb, given the only comment he ever got about it was Michael’s jab), while simultaneously giving Discovery an almost completely clean slate on which to work (which, frankly, they should have gotten from the start). I can’t decide whether this choice is impressive or deeply annoying. But the more I think about it, the more I think it can be both. Either way, we’ll be exactly where we need to be at the outset of next season — not a single Trekkie could possibly know what’s in store, and I couldn’t be more elated at the prospect. We’re going to the final frontier for real this time.
Personal Log, Stardate 864199.5 (!)
• Bitch, of course Saru knows Sun Tzu, you Space Nazi cannibal. We should NOT have had time for Georgiou to realize that maybe her bigotry-fueled eating of other species was unfounded. Back up, ma’am.
• Xahean Queen Po commandeers a shuttle (knowingly invoking diplomatic immunity) and takes command of the mini-fleet when she figures out the Section 31 ships are remotely operated drones that will shut down when Leland does. Sad that we won’t actually get to see her genius added to the Discovery crew next season — and a little resentful of the tease there, if I’m being honest! At least we knew Spock was never going to make it aboard, canonically.
• Spectacular smack-talk dialogue this week, especially for Georgiou and Nhan (though again, Georgiou doesn’t really deserve it). Greeting Leland with, “We were just talking about you. Everybody hates you, congratulations!” and calling him “a couple of batteries and a data core stuffed in a meatsack” were a delightful infusion of the clever personality that Discovery has experimented with and would do well to keep leaning into as it evolves.