You Mean There’s More?! The Wolf Inside Review

The diversion continues as Discovery wraps up the middle part of what’s turning out to be a Mirror Universe trilogy of episodes. I’m not really wild about this. While the story is definitely pushing forward, it’s hampered by the tedious anxiety of people who don’t want to be found out. Does the inevitable revelation of Tyler/Voq and Burnham’s utter betrayal really work that well when it needs to be whispered under the threat of an even more evil third party? What is the Mirror Universe getting us that couldn’t have been done better in the proper one?

The answer is an almost adventure game-like hint at how this show will wrap up the Klingon war. When Burnham makes her head scratchingly quick and easy way to the rebel leadership, it turns out it’s headed by Mirror Voq. When he tells her the Klingon people will only open themselves to outsiders once its own internal factions are unified I could hear the little “ding” that lets you know you’ve scored a point.

Let’s talk about this rebel meeting for a moment. It’s a “federation” of aliens made up of Klingons, Vulcans, Tellarites, and Andorians. Burnham wonders aloud how such disparate aliens could get along, and in doing so shows us one of the major problems of science fiction and fantasy genres: the one note race. Vulcans, Klingons, Dwarves, and Elves– they all have a single trait that defines them as a species. In the real world this would be incredibly racist, but in genre fiction it’s some how ok. Burnham walks through the rebel group like a Klansman on an episode of Jerry Springer calling out everyone there based on stereotypes: the warrior, the peacenik, the willful jerk. The Andorian literally has a look on his face of “what did she just call me?” When Burnham starts picking apart Mirror Voq it gets even worse with her interrogating him on why he’s not all the things she personally expects from a Klingon. Happy Martin Luther King Day!

Meanwhile, back on Discovery, we get another glimpse at the empty corridors of the heroic ghost ship. Tyler didn’t bother to hide poor Doc Culber’s body. He just let Stamets out of the force field so the two could have some posthumous cuddle time. Several hours later some tech assigned to replace a broken lightbulb accidentally spots them. We’ve seen these very corridors before on Burnham and Tilly’s Disco run. They were packed. So why does it now look like the Glenn after the tardigrade got loose? Also, why doesn’t anyone suggest they review the sickbay video log we all know would exist by now? If it’s tampered with that alone points to a murderer other than Stamets.

I hate to be upset with any scenes involving my beloved Tilly whose light shines a beacon of joy and hope on everything it touches, but her technobabble attempts to wake Stamets up are the very reason I stopped watching Star Trek in the 90’s. Seeing people push buttons and talk out their asses is not fun to watch. There are so many ways bringing someone back to reality could be sexed up. I kept thinking, “show me what’s going on in Stamets’s head!”, but the writers refused until the end scene where we see a mental avatar of Stamets meet his Mirror doppelgänger. Why wasn’t this seen through the whole episode? Instead of Tilly button pushing, why weren’t we privy to a Stamets fighting madness, grappling with his husband’s death, and trying to find out for himself how he got trapped in this fugue state until he stumbles upon the Mirror Stamets? That would have been interesting to watch. The very fact that the writers give us this at the end makes me even more annoyed. They obviously knew what to do, they just didn’t.

All in all, this was another filler episode with not much going on. The Mirror Universe schtick is such a distraction from the main plot. The writers seem too invested it in, though, to give us any real drama back on Discovery. Now the faceless Emperor of the Galaxy is Captain Georgiou? She sure is well recognized by the Shenzhou for someone so secretive.

One great thing about this episode? Andorians don’t have ears again!

Long Live Captain Tilly – “Despite Yourself” Review

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.

Happy Holidays – Temporary Single Strip per Week

Hope you’re all enjoying your holiday festivities. I know I am. So much so that, like last year, I’ll be moving the strip to once a week on Wednesdays for the next two weeks. Expect a strip on the 27th and one on the 3rd of January. The comic will move back to two a week starting on January 9th. In the mean time check out my review of The Last Jedi, and explore the comic’s Archives. Also remember that characters and dialogue are searchable in the field on the bottom of every page. Merry Christmas!

I’m Totally Burnt Out After Seeing The Last Jedi

This could be an odd place to do this. I mean, a Star Wars movie review on a Star Trek site? Blasphemy! But I did see this film, and I have an opinion on it, and I have this soapbox to speak from. Plus, this film has some loose connection with the comic, so why not?

First, as always, let’s talk about the good. It’s always best to play up the things you like about a product before you tear it to ribbons, that way you don’t seem like too much of a dick. I enjoyed the exact same things about this movie that I did about the The Force Awakens: the characters. I don’t usually “ship” characters, but Poe and Finn have a sexy chemistry that I wish would have blossomed more in this film. Rose was a wonderful addition and I appreciate that, for once, a female character is motivated by her devotion to another woman and not her daddy, brother, or boyfriend. I love Rey. She is a bit aimless and without any real goals in the first film, but she shapes up well in The Last Jedi, having clear desires and allegiances befitting a franchise carrying hero. Seeing Rey as a “Mary Sue” is a true nerd litmus test, and I have always fallen on the side that does not consider her one at all. Her incredible powers and abilities have clear roots, and every one of her victories is earned. If farm boy Luke can raid a space city, blow up tie fighters, master a fighter he’s never been in, and take a shot no one else can make, then Rey can fix a few mechanical issues, hypnotize a dumb stormtrooper, and best a guy with a bleeding blaster wound, and a shoulder burn.

Kylo Ren is probably one of the best villains in modern fiction, with a background and depth even more worthy than Darth Vader. Betrayed by those he loves as well as those he follows, he is an anarchist with a strong desire to not just rule the galaxy, but to tear down and replace its well constructed paradigms and dichotomies. This is not your farther’s Force. He and Rey create something completely new based, not on feelings and seductions, but on philosophies and politics. Rey has her rage and her raw power, but she has a clear sense of where to use it. Ren is not a “Sith” and Rey is not a “Jedi”. They are something else altogether. That’s exciting.

Beyond the characters I enjoyed the humor and a lot of the action, especially on the casino world, which was a highlight of the film. I also liked everything that happened between Luke and Rey on the Jedi Temple island. I think we were all ready for a Rocky-style training montage, and I was utterly relieved that it never took place.

Where “Last Jedi” smacks hard into this comic is the struggle between Leia and her heir-apparent Holdo, and the testosterone-poisoned Poe. Both Leia and Holdo are no-shits-giving leaders who have logical plans that are carefully crafted to save their respective crews. Poe is a maverick in the vein of all movie mavericks who thinks he knows better than the higher ups. He goes as far as mutinying to carry out his overly complex plan, and in the end, when it utterly, and, against all movie logic, fails it’s quite satisfying to see him blasted into a bulkhead. He does all of this because he’s an entitled ass who thinks leadership owes him an explanation of their ever move. This, of course, was the exact same plot of “Basis of Proof”.

Unfortunately, where this film fails it fails really, really hard. Ground-shatteringly hard. Like a lot of modern genre fiction I’ve reviewed in the last ten years, including all three J.J. Star Trek films, Discovery, Battlestar Galactica, Lost, and The Force Awakens, the characters and ideas are beyond criticism, but the situations these character are tossed into are the absolute pits. Everything in The Last Jedi that isn’t directly character driven makes zero sense. Zero.

For one thing, the film is too long. At two-and-a-half hours, it’s a total slog to get through. This could have been easily fixed considering the film has three flipping endings. The film ends when Snoak is unexpectedly killed, the two force-abusing kids beat the red knights, and then have as stalemate in which Rey escapes. Ending two has Holdo turn her cruiser toward the First Order fleet and ram them at light speed allowing the transports to escape. The third happens after a huge salt flats battle I was too exhausted to give a crap about. The fix is simple. Cut two of them. Leave a cliff hanger. Put Leia and company in the base calling for help that comes in the next film. Then we’ll see how Ren’s new, off kilter leadership philosophy leads to the First Order’s collapse. As it is, I don’t know what’s left for this cast to do in a third installment, but I’ll address that in full later.

None of the space combat in Last Jedi made a drop of sense. What the hell were those bombers in the opening scene? Even when compared to the World War II-in-space aesthetic Star Wars (and every other space opera) revels in they’re too slow and stupid. And gravity bombs that need to be dropped directly down on their target? Are you kidding me? There’s no flipping gravity in space. and everyone has guided missile tech. We don’t drop bombs anymore. Why do people with hyperdrives?

But everything moves stupidly slow in this film. Whoever’s idea it was to have a chase scene that was so slow people actually left to do something more interesting and came back later should be shot with a stun ring into a bulkhead. For a film that enjoys playing with Star Wars tech and tropes one has to wonder why the First Order don’t just hyper jump around the resistance and head them off or call in another ship to jump in front of them and block them from continuing. I mean, Leia expected allies from the Outer Rim to get to them in time on the salt flats. Certainly, the First Order could have had people fly in equally fast. They literally had days.

Holdo’s entire ending is utterly pointless. No one I watched this with could understand why they killed off Laura Dern, the living actress, and left in the one that can’t be in any more films no matter how beloved every inch of celluloid she’s on may be. For one thing, there’s no reason why Holdo needed to act out the whole “someone needs the pilot the ship” trope that was equally silly in Star Trek 2009. This is a futuristic space ship with autopilot and Droids. It just needs to go straight. Even when we see Holdo on the bridge after the transports have left she’s just standing there doing nothing because there’s nothing to do.

Adding insult to injury, Holdo’s ramming solution could have been done days earlier without her sacrifice. They had two other ships they just let get blown up with their captains on board. Why not turn those around and use them as missiles? Hell, I was thinking about it while watching them slowly drudge through the film. And I only had a few hours to consider it. They had days.

But worst of all, the film is utterly bleak. So bleak I couldn’t eat my lunch afterward because I was in a total funk. Here we have all these characters I really love and the film makers keep beating them with a stick over and over again until they are all but broken. It’s Empire Strikes Back times three. There’s a very good argument to be made that this new trilogy is a pointless exercise in cynicism. Luke fails to reëstablish the Jedi. The New Republic fails. Han and Leia suck as a couple and as parents. These were all things we just assumed would work themselves out after Return of the Jedi, but, apparently they didn’t and we find ourselves simply rebooted into the same situation we saw in A New Hope. That’s really, really bleak.

To make things worse, we still know nothing about the New Republic, what it was, and why we should be sad it’s gone. Critics complained about the tell-not-show nature of the prequels, but we’re faced with the same thing with the New Republic. What about this system made it prone to a new fascist order worse than the previous one? How does an imperial remnant build a star sucking planet? How do they continue to be economically feasible after it’s destruction? You’d think the New Republic, having lost only a handful of planets, would still be on the same level as the defeated First Order, but they’re not. Why? I’m glad Rey’s JJ mystery box was killed dead in this film, and I don’t particularly care about where Snoak came from, but the story of how we got from a celebration on Endor to this utter mess needed at least a little fleshing out for me to give a crap. We know how Luke failed and we’re better for it. How did Leia fail? What does she have to answer for in forming a new government based on “hope”?

On a final note, it’s been said that this should have been the last Star Wars film ever. I disagree with the reasons Techcrunch gave – that being these new characters can’t carry a film without the original cast propping them up. That’s complete BS. This new cast is in every way as lovable and endearing as the previous. But I do agree with the statement itself. After The Last Jedi’s ending what else is there to do with this new, young cast? We’re bluntly told the rebellion is over. Allies have refused to join in. What’s left fits on the Millennium Falcon. Our only hope is the next generation of oppressed kids who want more. They won’t be ready to rise up for another twenty years. So where does that leave us? The Last Jedi’s ending leaves no room for a sequel with this cast except as aged sages helping the stable kids make a name for themselves. They certainly have no story left to tell as the stars. It’s quite a corner for them to paint themselves into, and I’m not sure I’m willing to see how they write their way out of it.

Need Help With Arduino Stepper Motor Control Programming

Hello all! I am working on a Star Trek related project involving Arduino and stepper motors. I can’t say much about it right now except that it’s really exciting stuff that hasn’t been done before in an amateur production. I’ve built a few computer controlled contraptions and all I need is help with the programming. If you or someone you know is experienced with Arduino and (optionally) Mac C programming and would like to help a pseudo fan film project, please let me know. In return I’m offering a set of hand signed prints of my ship recognition charts which would include the Enterprise, Klingon D7, Rompulan Bird of Prey, Tholian, Shuttlcraft, and DY-100.

You can contact me directly at: blog(at)trekcomic(dot)com

Happy Hannukah!

Star Trek: Discovery – The Verdict So Far

Discovery‘s first half a season was certainly an interesting experience. It’s gone from a show I initially wrote off before it even started to something I actively look forward to watching each week. I know I am going to miss it the next two months that it’s on hiatus. But that doesn’t mean it’s been a completely satisfying ride. I’ve said more than once that Discovery‘s cast is the best Star Trek ensemble since The Next Generation. Their individual personalities as well as their chemistry with each other is off the charts. In fact, it surpasses other genre shows I enjoy like The Expanse, Supergirl, and Doctor Who. In that way it’s very similar to shows like Lost and the Battlestar Galatica reboot. But like those two shows, Discovery puts those characters into a lot of half-baked situations that I have a hard time wrapping my head around.

For instance, the first part of Discovery‘s finale, “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum”, is a complete and total mess. While I sort of got what was happening planet-side, the subplot on the Klingon ship was utterly indecipherable. I have no idea what L’Rell’s plan was, if she was really willing to work with Admiral Cornwell on an escape, or if Cornwell was even alive at the end. The second part sheds absolutely zero light on anything but the admiral’s medical status, and considering she’s paralyzed, the blow she received could well have been intended to be fatal and just wasn’t.

Even the more straight forward mission on Pahvo was a strange set back for everyone involved. I really appreciated that it was an old-school Original Series style first contact mission, even though the aliens were basically Final Fantasy VII‘s life stream that created a giant, magical Materia spire and look way too much like the star drive spores. The struggle over including a third party in a war and the discussion about the misuse of native people’s resources is a valid one. That’s colonialism 101, and Star Trek has always grappled with this issue. The Prime Directive is, at it’s heart, a direct reaction to colonial abuse. However, Saru’s turn was completely out of character. He’s been busting Burnham’s chops all season about the mutiny, and yet, with very little provocation, he beats up his crew mates in nearly the identical way to get what he wants. You could argue that there should be an understanding between Burnham and Saru now. He now knows that there are personal convictions that warrant mutiny, but it’s not addressed or explored at all. He’s just a big old hypocrite now.

As weird as the whole, Pahvo mission was, it opened up the opportunity for a non-battle related encounter with the Klingons in part two, “Into the Forest I Go”. IO9’s review saw it as a similar situation to the Organians’ peace overtures in “Errand of Mercy”, and I looked forward to seeing how that might play out with a different set of characters and circumstances. What would it have been like if the Pahvans had given Lorca and Kol the same treatment they gave Saru? What would their philosophy make of these two? Who would they have decided was the “good guy”? Unfortunately, the whole plot line was dropped in it’s entirety in favor of a complicated and empty technobabble solution involving algorithms, scanners, and blinky, Starfleet branded pedestals. Not that the technobabble completely took center stage. We did have some great character moments between the two romantic couples of Burnham/Tyler and Stamets/Culber. But, as Paul McCartney once said during a demo session where he was only half satisfied with the results, “It would be nice to have those bits AND the other bits.” Ah, Paul. He was the eloquent one.

“Into the Forest I Go’s” cliffhanger is also pretty low stakes and uninteresting. Sure, Stamets is all Gary Mitchell eyes and that’s something to agonize over. Did Lorca do this to him on purpose? Was the medal ceremony a Starfleet ploy, and is Lorca going to be arrested on Starbase 43? If not, is Admiral Cornwell still gearing up to strip his command? This is all tangentially interesting, but the big mystery about Discovery’s location is not tantalizing at all. They’re in normal space. There are some debris. And…?

Oh, and Tyler is totally Voq the albino.

Thoughts on the season as a whole:

• Lorca is the character I like least, and not in the way the show wants me to. I don’t get him at all. I don’t understand the logistics of him blowing up a ship under his command with all hands on board and surviving, nor do I understand how he could get a second shot at a command after such a horrible and unexplainable event. What crew would trust him enough to be effective?

• Through half the episodes I considered Sarek being Burnham’s adoptive parent to be pure fanwank, but the show actual made a good case for it. If you see Sarek as putting on a grand cross-species experiment with his half-human kid and now a full human raised in Vulcan society, he’s really the only Vulcan that would fit the bill.

• Between Commander Landry’s death, the interrogations and rape implications in “Choose Your Pain”, the disembowelled Klingons corpses in “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum”, and the explicit torture/rape/surgery scenes in the finale, the violence on Discovery was off the scale in a bad way, and I really resent it. I was looking forward to some PG-13 level action with my kid in the first live Star Trek show of her generation, and I was robbed of it. I didn’t think any of the violence was necessary other than to capitalize on the on-line distribution’s lack of standards. It’s just not sophisticated enough of a show to warrant it.

• If you’re wondering if I care equally about the swearing, I would have to say “fuck no”.

• The Klingons are really stupid. Like really, really stupid. They aren’t an interesting or nuanced enemy, and I think the fact that they’re not even in many of the episodes is because the writers know this. Kol is a complete moron who’s bereft of any personality beyond the Klingon stereotype of a growling, knife wielding troglodyte that Klingons have all been since Gowron and Duras first butted heads. I mean, the guy completely lost interest in an intense space battle to have a duel with Burnham. L’Rell could have been interesting, but her subplot has been way too confusing to get excited about. And how could any of these mental midgets hold our attention when they talk…. so….. slow….. ly. Even in english their dialog is ponderous. This is another problem with late-era Berman Klingons. They grunt their language instead of speaking smoothly like the The Original Series film Klingons did. You can be harsh and guttural and speak quickly. Just look at Hebrew or German. You just need a good language coach to help you do it.

• “When I took command of this vessel, you were a crew of polite scientists. Now, I look at you. You are fierce warriors all,” is the saddest line ever uttered in a Star Trek production.

• “Dance with me… for science”, might be one of the best.

Star Trek: Discovery Cast Wallpaper

Discovery’s midseason finale is tonight, but you don’t have to wait until January to get your fix. Decorate your desktop and mobile devices with this wallpaper of Discovery’s crew in the style of the show’s unique opening credits. Click the header image to embiggen and download.

Why “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” is Better than “Cause and Effect”

I haven’t been reviewing individual Discovery episodes, despite really wanting to, because I’ve been insanely busy as of late. I may do a mid-season break review, so look forward to that. But I wanted to take a moment to comment on last night’s episode, “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad”, and The Next Generation’s “Cause and Effect”, Discovery’s implementation of the “time loop” device being thousands of times more entertaining than the episode than most likely inspired it.

“Cause and Effect”, like many later Berman-era Star Trek episodes no matter the series, is a puzzle, plain and simple. It does nothing and says nothing. A lot of people remember it fondly because the Enterprise blows up several times and Frasier shows up at the end. But between all that mishegas the crew painstakingly acts out the same boring card game over and over, the Enterprise’s entire propulsion system fails catastrophically due to a minor knick of its engine, and the answer to the whole thing comes down to a choice between two random actions. Nothing that happens says anything about the crew and their personalities or their ability to cope with their situation. We learn nothing about these people even as we follow them through their daily lives over and over again. If there is a personal conflict in the episode it’s Picard’s ridiculously long inaction as he asks for and has solutions explained to him. Both the tractor beam and the shuttle decompression would have worked fine if they’d been enacted thirty seconds earlier. But that’s never addressed because mindless discussions during a crisis are a feature of TNG, not a bug.

“Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad”, which is a repulsively long title, kicks the whole concept up a notch by bringing in very real, personal stakes. Each time the 30 minute window loops we learn more about Michael Burnham, her weaknesses, her anxieties, and her joys. And when the solution for saving the ship comes to her it’s based on her need to save someone specific she cares about, not a mechanistic desire to solve the puzzle. In fact, seeing Michael pop the dark matter pill in her mouth might just be one of the most frighteningly real and oddly delightful moments in the series so far.

A lot of stylistic choices also set the Discovery episode apart from the TNG version. “Cause and Effect” really focuses on repetitive action. It’s a mildly fun watch the first time around, but I rarely rewatch it because, knowing the end, it’s just tedious. “Magic” avoids this completely by not only making every loop different, but quickly skipping over bits we would have recognized from the previous loop. The main reason Brannon Braga says he wrote “Cause and Effect” was because he personally loved blowing up the ship over and over again, making the episode a means to an almost pornographic end. It’s really no wonder the episode lacks any real substance. “Magic” gets rid of the ship exploding gimmick completely, showing the Discovery blow up only once on screen before relegating it’s destruction to flashes of fire. It’s all quick and painless to make room for the plot, not pad things out between money shots. Basically, “Magic” is built around getting Burnham to fall in love while the central mission of “Cause and Effect” is simple pyrotechnics.

No, “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” isn’t perfect. I mean, look at that title. Its ending is a comical reduction of the climax of a typical Mudd story, basically letting the extremely dangerous rogue off the hook by trapping him in a silly situation rather than punishing him outright. This time it’s worse, because Mudd isn’t even really stuck some place with no conceivable escape. I could see him fleeing Stella mere minutes after beaming away. Stella, of course, is hot now, because every out-of-shape old man since the beginning of TV has had a spouse who’s utterly out of their league. Crewman running at Mudd with rifles instead of shooting at him from a secured position during the initial loop is completely unbelievable. I also mourn the dwindling number of moral foils on this show. Stamets is now fully compliant on water bear happy pills, and Mudd, instead of being an ambivalent voice of the civilian population, al la Tom Zarek, in now just a full-on Klingon collaborator. That leaves Discovery’s war mission nearly unopposed. Even Tilly is hot for soldiers now. Hopefully this will change as things develop.

Star Trek: Discovery “Context is For Kings” is Full of Surprises

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?