Last night’s episode of Discovery was a whole new animal. The show’s two episode prologue was pretty standard action fare, but it’s proper storyline seems to have made a left turn into mystery/horror. It’s a jarring shift that leaves me guessing about where this show will be going, which, I’m assuming, is the point.
Hijacked enroute to a new prison facility by bugs I’m assuming were placed by Discovery‘s devious Captain Lorca, our newly jailed hero, Michael Burnham, is brought aboard the titular ship and put to work in a mysterious lab debugging a mysterious experiment involving what looks like a biological weapon. A screw up on Discovery‘s sister ship, the USS Glenn, involving that very experiment may have killed its crew. Burnham is sent as part of a team to check it out when they find that everyone onboard, including some invading Klingons, has been twisted inside out. There’s also a giant, hungry tick on board, though I’m not sure if it’s the same thing that corkscrewed the crew. The team gets out mostly alive with the Glenn’s logs and the ship is scuttled, however, shortly afterward, we learn that Lorca has transported one of the ticks to the Discovery.
It’s a much more interesting episode than the two that preceded it simply because the action and the drama are on a so much more personal scale than the grand pew-pews we got last week. The longer we stay off the front lines, the happier I’ll be. There was also no grinding Klingon language soliloquies to drag things down leading to a much faster pace.
I’ve been ranting a bit in one forum or another that the positions of Lorca and Georgiou should have been switched. Georgiou’s relationship with Burnham was too interesting to only spend two episodes on. Now I’m wondering if Lorca isn’t an another mentor for Burnham, but rather a villain she’s going to need to expose. If Discovery really is the rise of Burnham through the ranks, and all this talk about her being so close to making captain seems to support that, then Lorca meeting his end when the season wraps up makes a lot of sense. Though, I still would have preferred to see more Michelle Yeoh over Daddy Malfoy even as a big bad.
Besides its sudden switch from epic space battles to close quarters scares, Discovery‘s plot line is also going places I wouldn’t have figured. I imagined that the ship’s ultimate mission would be to use some good old hippy-dippy Roddenberryisms to human condition the war to its conclusion. Instead the Federation seems to want to tech this war to death with a good old fashioned one-button-kills-all ultimate weapon. This would mean Discovery is a story about the lone individual rooting out the hidden evil society has let brew. That seems just a little too cynical for Star Trek‘s utopia. Plus, we’ve already seen this type of deconstruction done in Deep Space Nine and Into Darkness. Also, an out of control, blue glowy, spore bio weapon coming between two hostile forces sounds an awful lot like The Expanse. I’ll be more than happy to eat my words if things go a different way as the series continues. With twelve more hours to go, goodness knows it can’t be done surprising me yet.
If I can say one good thing about Discovery it’s that it makes me laugh in all the right places. It’s not a comedy, like Orville says it’s not, nor is it a nonstop snarkfest like Firefly. It just has the right amount of humor to punctuate a scene and not kill the mood. Besides several great jabs and the introduction of Burnham’s new neurotic roommate, there’s a great moment Burnham’s team is surprised by a live Klingon on board the Glenn and his first reaction is to shush them. It’s nice moment where we see Klingons in a different light than their usual gungho, brutal, kamikaze selves. I hope we see more of this.
I’m also pleased that, while there was tech talk, it was interesting and even thought provoking, unlike some of the stilted technobabble that haunted the first two episodes. Engineer Stamets’ description of his experiments were almost poetic, and I’m glad to see how unhappy he is about all these hostilities biting into his peaceful research. He’s obviously a complete dick, but he’s not an incompetent or morally bankrupt one. Tilly may be a nervous wreck, but she’s also the first to point her gun and yell at whatever was hiding in the Glenn’s corridors, so she’s also not a one-dimentional “type”. In fact no one really is. A lot of the conflict between Discovery‘s crew is over who’s the smartest, but not necessarily the most “clever”, in the room, which is mildly refreshing. At this point I like the entirety of the crew sans Lorca, which again, is probably the point. I hope they don’t squander that.
What I’m not happy about is the level of gore in this episode. I’m not saying Star Trek should be a kiddy show, but seeing all those crew members graphically mutilated and dismembered was over the top and unprecedented in a Star Trek property. We’ve seen plenty of dead crews before and there is a way to invoke horror without making it look like a John Carpenter production. I thought this was a cheap attempt at taking advantage of streaming’s lower standards and it makes family viewing more difficult.
In the end, I keep finding reasons why this show really should be a reboot and not a prequel. The tech being researched on the Discovery and the Glenn are major leaps over what we know in The Original Series and beyond. It’s going to be a shame when the reset button is hit at the end of this story to make things line up with the other shows instead of taking the universe into a whole new direction.
Other thoughts and observations:
• I was as confused to see that people still program in C++ as I was to learn that polyester still exists in the future. A friend of mine actually found the on-screen code Burnham was working on. It’s from a project to reverse engineer a military virus that attacked Iran’s nuclear facilities several years ago. Fitting, considering what Discovery is working on.
• The fanwank was off the charts in this one, with a tribble in Lorca’s office and several recognizable Original Series locations in Burnham’s teleportation sequence including the Preserver Monolith, Starbase 11, and possibly Janus 6. Lorca’s statement about a starship not being a “democracy” also echos Kirk’s same statement in “The Corbomite Maneuver”.
• I couldn’t pin down Lorca’s accent, but it sounded mildly Southern. Making fortune cookies his family business was an odd choice.
• Another odd choice was a breath-a-lizer security system that never ever had a chance of being secure. I’m assuming the writers sat down and said “how can we make this a bio-lock but not need Burnham to assault or dismember someone to get passed it?”
• Stamets’ discussion of a merger between biotics and physics is reminiscent of The Traveller’s philosophy of mind and space, just more grounded and less new-agey.
• It’s funny that Burnham mentions the Geneva Convention when lecturing Lorca about his possible bio-weapon considering this take down of Georgiou’s desecration of a Klingon body in the previous episode.
• Where’s the Klingon raiding party’s ship? Did it just bug out without them?