Star Trek: Discovery reaches a dramatic mid-season climax. Nick Whitney reviews…
My hopes for an episode-long space battle dashed, I was disappointed to find that after last week’s ending the Klingon ship was still hours away from engaging with Discovery, leaving us instead with a ticking clock. Disobeying orders to take Discovery to the nearest Starbase, citing Stamets having to report to sick bay due to some serious side effects as their reason for not using a spore drive jump, Lorca and the crew instead worked on a method to circumvent the Klingon cloaking technology and beat them once and for all.
The problem with this little scheme however was that in trying to make it all seem legit, Stamets actually did have to submit himself for a full medical examination, one carried out by his boyfriend Doctor Hugh Culber no less. When Culber actually did discover something wrong with Stamets’s brain, a discovery somewhat revelatory to Stamets himself, events didn’t even give the partners time to reconcile this new information.
Even with this news, a plan was hatched to utilise Stamets to get an advantage on the cloaked Klingon ship. By situating beacons on board the Ship of the Dead, Discovery could monitor their signals and create a programme to detect the ship within the cloaking field. Said process would normally takes days but if Stamets could handle it, 133 micro-jumps around the Klingon vessel could gather the data they would need in a matter of minutes. With Stamets risking his life in the spore drive and concerned Culber watching on as the man he loved gambled his own life, it was down to Burnham and Tyler to get aboard the Klingon ship and plant those beacons.
The fact that there’s always a window to beam aboard a ship in that split second between cloaks being deactivated and shields being raised – seriously, why not just send a bomb? – the mission aboard the Ship of the Dead wielded unexpected fruit. So poor was the pacing and storytelling of the first installment of this pseudo two-parter that I’m not ashamed to say I was wrong in my criticism of last week’s episode; Admiral Cornwell didn’t die. She was very much alive, if not at all well, languishing in General Kol’s cell alongside L’Rell. Again though, this didn’t come across as some grand revelation, but instead another moment of presumed profundity lost in the show’s tendency to try and be too smart for its own good. The fact that twice in two weeks this show has literally made me shrug and say “Oh, that’s what they were trying to do” isn’t doing Star Trek: Discovery any favours.
The big takeaway from the mission however was the exploration of trauma as Tyler was forced to face his captor of seven months, L’rell, and was instantly hit by PTSD-induced memories of torture. Rendering him unable to even move, Burnham had to finish the mission herself, by planting the second beacon on the bridge of the Klingon ship.
Star Trek: Discovery’s decision to have the Klingon’s speak exclusively in their own language when amongst themselves has been a welcome one to my mind and though we have heard them speak English here and there to human characters where it was necessary for the story, it was here that the show had a little fun with it. Using the universal translator on her communicator, all Klingons were heard to be speaking English. She even used it to speak back to Kol in Klingon, challenging him to one on one combat as a way to stall the Klingons and help Discovery complete those 133 jumps. But on a personal level, this was very much about Burnham exorcising some demons as it was right there on the Ship of the Dead that she lost Captain Georgiou. It didn’t help that Kol was literally using Georgiou’s Starfleet badge to pick his teeth, likely meant to invoke the sickening thought that the Klingons literally ate her body, something I still have a hard time getting past.
Stamets managed the 133 jumps, but not without causing him major harm. With the data needed to circumvent the cloak, Discovery beamed Burnham, Tyler, Cornwell and at the last second L’rell, who grabbed a hold of Tyler, back to Discovery before destroying the Ship of the Dead for good.
Back on Discovery, the usual strong and confident Tyler, somewhat broken by his encounter with L’Rell, confessed to Burnham of his complicity in his rape by L’rell, as he knew it was his only way to survive his captivity. Star Trek swearing was one thing, but dealing so boldly with the issue of male rape and the guilt survivors feel is one of the boldest steps Star Trek: Discovery has taken to earn its nickname of “not your father’s Star Trek”. This powerful moment was undercut somewhat however, when Tyler visited L’Rell in the brig, their brief exchange hinting at some other kind of dynamic in their relationship that I fear may ultimately take away from this week’s revelations.
Stamets agreed to jump the Discovery to the Starbase now that Pahvo was safe, but that it would be his last jump, even going so far as to make plans with Culber to take leave and go see an interstellar production of La bohème, a reference to the fact both actors were in Rent, a modern take on the opera. Of course, according to all television plot law when you make plans with a loved one to get out of a certain dangerous lifestyle, something must go awry. The jump went wrong, transporting Discovery to an area of uncharted space, their sensors not even being able to tell them where they were.
As the first “chapter” of Star Trek: Discovery has come to an end, I can gladly say I’ve really enjoyed having Star Trek back on TV, even if Star Trek: Discovery does have its flaws. Its characters are what make the show for me, but it’s with its biggest mysteries that I feel the biggest gambles lay. As theories as to what exactly is motivating certain characters float around the internet, I feel Star Trek: Discovery’s ultimate reputation will live or die on their execution, as fans see whether or not they’ve guessed the twist or whether the writers have some other sort of trick up their sleeves that no one was expecting.
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