I kind of suspected that the crew would pull their act together for the mid-season finale and they certainly did. Genuinely exciting and not once did I let out an exasperated sigh. This was actually good.
Oh so many spoilers below as I go through what went right this time:
Last episode the Discovery was in orbit around the peaceful planet of Pavho whose perplexing people pipe plans of peace. The broadcast from the planet might provide a means of detecting Klingon ships when cloaked. The massive Klingon cemetery ship had discovered the Pavhons message and was on its way.
The episode starts shortly after last weeks cliffhanger. Lorca is ordered to retreat by Starfleet but Lorca doesn’t want to (mainly because he is belligerent) but Saru doesn’t want to either (mainly because he loves the Pavhons).
What works here is that the dilemma makes sense – or at least enough sense to be plausible. Starfleet doesn’t want to risk the discovery against the most powerful Klingon ship, but it has a duty to protect a peaceful civilization but attempting to do so without hope of victory benefits nobody…
Lorca agrees to retreat (upsetting Saru) but reveals his plan. The Discovery will take the slow way to the next Star Base (a few hours away). He makes Stamets do a full medical exam to provide a cover for why he isn’t using the spore drive and asks Saru and Michael and the rest of the crew to work on a plan ASAP.
IF they can get a plan together to take on the Klingons then they can go back and fight.
That all makes sense and the core characters act according to their characters. It also sets up, in a non-forced way, other plot complications. Stamets has to have a medical exam which may reveal to his husband the doctor the side-effects of using the spore drive.
The plan is hand-wavey science but not just babble. It incorporates Star Fleet knowledge of the Klingon cloaking device, which means the crew aren’t magically solving a problem the whole of Star Fleet couldn’t manage AND the spore drive which shows why another ship couldn’t have tried this before.
They need to get transmitters inside the Klingon ship. When cloaked, the transmitters will give extra telemetry to allow the Discovery to deduce the tell-tale signs of a cloaked ship. The catch, aside from having to get on board the Klingon ship, is that they will need to take multiple measurements from different positions. This can only be done in a reasonable time by conducting 100+ spore drive jumps.
Meanwhile Hugh has discovered that Stamets has altered brain chemistry. Which takes us to another dilemma – how damaged will Stamets be by over a hundred more jumps?
Maybe Kirk or Picard wouldn’t ask this of a member of a crew but Lorca is not as nice as them. He persuades Stamets to agree to do the plan in what I thought was a nicely done scene – Lorca is manipulative an will do anything for victory but Stamets is motivated by the potential discoveries that the spore drive can offer. We also get our first outright statement that the spore drive may connect to parallel universes.
The away team
Yes, it is not smart to send Tyler on the away team but it is still less daft than the typical Star Trek away team choices which usually contain a senior officer. Michael on the other hand has to argue her case and again, this plays nicely to character. Michael doesn’t mutiny but she is insubordinate, she is also adept at using Vulcan rationalizations to cover for her more human motives.
Again, nicely done I thought.
The main section of the show is the implementation of the plan. Tyler and Michael sneak on board during the short window of time between the Klingon ship de-cloaking and raising its shields.
Michael and Tyler both have prior experience with Klingon ships and manage to place their first beacon without incident. However, on their way to plant the second, they discover the room where Admiral Cornwell and the Klingon spymaster L’Rell are being kept. Tyler has a Post Traumatic breakdown when he encounters his torturer L’Rell forcing Michael to leave him with an injured Cornwell.
The mark of a good show is not that it never uses corny tropes but that it does so entertainingly and in a way that makes sense. Michael is forced to sneak onto the vast Klingon bridge.
Of course she knows what the Klingons are saying because…of her universal translator in her classic handy-dandy Star Trek communicator. It’s a nice nod and introduction to that bit of classic Trek which was really just away of having to avoid subtitles for every alien.
Kol, frankly annoyed by the Discovery just zapping in and out of existence like some sort of teleporting Bugs Bunny at a boxing match, is pretty much ‘stuff this’ and is about to just warp out in the ultimate flounce. Knowing she has to delay him, Michael reveals herself, explains she is the woman who killed T’Kuvma and challenges Kol to a duel. Which he accepts of course.
The fight is nonsensical – even assuming Michael is a top-notch fighter, she is outclassed but there is no implication that she ever is going to win. It is, after all, just a delaying tactic.
The delay works. The Discovery cracks a way of detecting the Klingon ship (although at great cost to Stamets), beams aboard Tyler, Cornwell, L’Rell and Michael (just in time). Then Lorca gets to blow the whole thing up. Hoorah – the day is saved.
Tyler – I’ll discuss a bit more below.
Stamets tells Lorca that he will do one final spore drive jump – just to get the Discovery out of danger and after that he is going to quit. Lorca for once is understanding.
But…oops…well that’s a story for later.
Michael, Stamets and Tyler
Each had complex narrative and emotional arcs. Michael’s primarily about returning to the Klingon Cemetery ship where her life had gone seriously wrong.
Stamets – well we haven’t seen much of his relationship with the ship’s doctor High Culber but it had been established enough that the emotional impact of Culber having to watch Stamets suffer in the spore drive had a real punch. In addition, everything had been set up since episode 3 for the spore drive to be a bad idea and hence it wasn’t at all clear what would happen to Stamets. The combination gave the spore drive scenes some real emotional impact.
Tyler – I was not entirely convinced by the acting when he had his breakdown but his story definitely got more complicated. The Tyler-is-Voq theory is very far from debunked but now the implication is that Tyler is not faking anything. If he is Voq then he has forgotten who he is and thinks he is human. The idea of a grimdark Trek manages to work for once here – a character who has experienced trauma but who is an important crew member. We also get a return of the mystery element of the show, with Tyler visiting L’Rell in the brig. For once the components of the show managed to hold together without just being hugely discordant.
And there you go
The characters acted in character and did so together in a story that made narrative sense and that never forced me to stand back and raise one eyebrow Spock-like at the writers.
- Episode 9: Into the Forest I Go
- Episode 3: Context is for Kings
- Episode 4: Seriously stupidly long episode name
- Episode 2: Battle at the Binary Stars
- Episode 6: Lethe
- Episode 8: Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum
- Episode 5: Choose Your Pain
- Episode 1: The Vulcan Hello
- Episode 7: Seriously WTF Discovery Scriptwriters? [revised title]
Bits and Pieces
- Zero Star Fleet casualties this week.
- No plot strands forgotten about (I think – aside from that poor missing shuttle pilot from episode 3).
- Admiral Cornwell though knows that Lorca is not entirely sane – but lucky for Lorca he is now a war hero and also in another universe. Way to dodge a performance review Lorca!
- Michael got a lot of closure and her ex-captain’s badge back. Not exactly a happy episode for Michael but overall mainly positive things for once.
- Tilly didn’t get many lines except for a faux-pas to Culber about Stamets’s symptoms. Also, I keep forgetting that “Tilly” is her surname and I think the rest of the crew do also. Does anybody call her Sylvia?
- No more Discovery until 2018. It seems like we will also get a premise shift for the show, which may usher in something better. Here’s hoping.