After over a month hiatus, Star Trek: Discovery is back to let us know what was such a big deal about their midseason non-cliff hanger. “Into the Forest I Go” left us with the Discovery sitting in normal space in no immediate danger with only their exact location as a real mystery. In the premiere we now know what that big deal is. They’re in the Mirror Universe! Yawn!
I’ve been grading this show on a curve so far because so many, many people who have probably never seen it hate it on mere principal. It doesn’t look like their Star Trek! There’s minorities and gays! Orville is the real Star Trek! There’s a lot to like about Discovery when given a chance, but when it fails, damn does it fail hard. And this episode is beyond my ability to make excuses for. With the exception of Captain Tilly using the dismembered tongues of her enemies to lick her boots, it’s just plain bad.
There’s a lot here I could dwell on:
• Escaping from the main plot into the well-worn fan-wank of the Mirror Universe is an obvious attempt at padding.
• Tyler is so obviously Voq, and that’s fine. It’s the worst kept twist in the history of television, but it’s fine.
• Cutting out of “Into the Forest I Go” after the Vulcan ship opened fire would have been the proper place to splice this two-parter in half with any amount of tension.
•Every new Star Trek property seems to be really keen on breaking away from the established canon in all the previous shows with the exception of Enterprise. What is it about that show that made most of us bail on the franchise but that producers and writers love so much? Discovery and the JJ film runners have had the courage to change the Klingons, the aesthetics, the technology, characters’ histories, but Enterprise is some kind of sacred cow?
• Are elbow joints really the best they could do to update the Defiant to Discovery’s aesthetic?
• Can’t anyone else get in the spore-drive chair? There was nothing particularly special about Stamets. I’m assuming anyone willing to have their limbs punctured could make a jump.
But all of that is really secondary to the enormous disappointment that turns this episode from a standard “where are they going with this?” annoyance to full-on garbage: the murder of Dr. Culber. This senseless act was obviously done for shock value alone. And when I say “shock” I don’t mean surprise. It was the obvious cliché thing to do. I mean the shock that they actually thought we’d buy it.
A lot of mental gymnastics had to take place in order to kill poor Doc Culber. He’d have to be stupid and incompetent on a number of levels. First, he reports a huge diagnosis concerning the security of the ship to the patient directly. That’s something we’ve never seen before on Star Trek. This isn’t a hospital, it’s a military ship on high alert. A patient with a possible secondary personality implanted by the enemy is something Culber should have reported to the captain first. Think of all the times Bone’s whispered a diagnoses to Kirk over the comm or in person. There should have been security in the room. Barring all that Culber should have read Tyler’s obviously desperate body language. There was a force screen around Stamets. I kept expecting Culber to raise the one around Tyler. He had all the time in the world to do so.
But even worse than that is the problem of the Discovery’s convenient and baffling emptiness in key stations around the ship. The only time Discovery looks like a well staffed ship is during meals and parties. Otherwise it’s deserted. This includes the engine room and sickbay, two places that should be swarming with people all the time. And yet any idiot can sneak into either of these deserted areas and do whatever harm at will. In the case of Culber’s murder there are no nurses or lab techs present to witness it or intervene. No one is there to discover the body in the hours that Burnham is on her mission with Tyler. All this while Stamets, an extremely high-priority patient who’s status is in constant flux and is vital to the ship, is being tended to. Are you kidding me?
All in all, “Despite Yourself” had the series’ usual good pacing, decent action, and fun character moments. I’m especially relieved they ditched the Mirror Universe’s bare-middrift outfits. Burnham’s pep talk about what it means to be a captain is spot on. Lorca smacking his face on the wall before being presented as a fake prisoner is pretty hardcore. But the episode’s plot was pure trash. So much so that nothing in the second part could possibly save it. Not even if Culber’s death is somehow reversed by Stamets’ spore powers. Not even if Captain Tilly left Lorca behind in the agony booth, single handedly won the war, and returned Discovery to an exploratory mission with herself at the helm.