With ‘The Orville‘ taking a week off of new episodes and opting to show a repeat instead, this week was ripe for ‘Star Trek Discovery’ to shine in the spotlight as the lone new “network sci-fi” show on Thursday night. Alas, even though the show took a step forward in the previous few weeks’ episodes, the creative team decided to take two steps back this week with a wholly underwhelming and audience-pandering story that was designed to be emotionally impactful but fell absolutely flat, thanks to the showrunners’ long-standing predilection for espousing big ideas but executing them very poorly.
WARNING: Spoilers for this episode of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ lie ahead, obviously. If you haven’t seen the episode and don’t wish for any of its content to be spoiled for you, the time to turn back is NOW!
RECAP: After the high-stakes action of the last two weeks, there was bound to be some letdown in this episode, right? Well, there was that, and then some. We open with Admiral Cornwell in a camouflage-painted shuttlecraft (because that makes sense in space, for some reason) making a rendezvous with Discovery, and then the starship heads for Section 31 headquarters, which is, as Tilly puts it, “just a bunch of empty space and an old penal colony that was abandoned 100 years ago… bizarre, because there’s nothing there!” Is she really that dumb, or is the writing just that bad? (Spoilers: it’s the latter.)
We’re given a scene of Airiam in her quarters, her head stuck in some sort of receptacle and deleting memories from the past week that she doesn’t prefer to keep. It seems that Airiam was once human – fully human, rather, or human-like in appearance – and when she was on her way back “home” (Earth, presumably) with her fiance with whom she eloped, her shuttle “went down,” whatever vague outer-space-y way that means. So now she is as we see her – half-robot, half-alive, and zero further info given.
We’re also given a scene of Spock and Burnham playing 3-dimensional chess in Burnham’s quarters. Really, the scene didn’t do much for me, or for the plot in general, really, except serve as the MSS (Mandated Spock Scene) to remind we the viewer of the over-arching plot line for the season.
No time for character development when there’s action scenes to be had! Discovery arrives at Section 31 HQ and has to navigate a minefield – it doesn’t go well, because reasons. Pike and company finally figure it out and get close enough to be warned off by Admiral Petar – or what appears to be Petar. After an odd-couple Away Team of Burnham, Airiam, and Nhan beam over to the space station, they find everyone dead – Control, the Section 31 computer/AI system, has taken over and killed the organic life forms. Control is apparently the genesis of the far-future techno-octopi that came back through the temporal wormhole and are working to eradicate all sentient life in this universe. Airiam is now a part of that plan, as she was “taken over” by a techno-messenger a few episodes back and is now working to upload all the info about artificial intelligence that was gathered from the recent interaction with the ancient space probe.
Airiam gets some self-control back and forces Burnham & Nhan to eject her into space before she can finish the download and give Control all the information it’s seeking. They do, and everyone is sad to lose Airiam – more on this below. The bigger question here is, what happens with Control now? It apparently received about 25% of the info it wanted… is that enough for it to start evolving into the universe-killing machine it’s destined to become? And will Starfleet be able to contain it or do anything at all about it?
- I’ve never been a huge fan of Ensign Tilly and her “quirks,” mostly because they feel forced to me (again, bad writing – this is a recording), but her “word vomit” in front of Admiral Cornwell stating that she’s “not a fugitive” is her essentially throwing everyone else on the ship under the bus… wonder how they all felt about that “me-first” attitude she’s got going on?
- So Airiam was involved in an accident and now, she’s a “cybernetic individual,” which seems like it would open a whole can of worms about how experimental her procedure was, if other people in accidents can be saved with this process – but the show doesn’t acknowledge or address any of these questions or issues. Some may say they are saving it for future tie-ins (novels, comics, etc.) to fill in; I may be (and am) saying that it’s just lazy writing.
- Speaking of lazy writing: the episode’s big “emotional sting” was that Airiam sacrificed herself, and everyone is sad and staring at the camera in an intently-sad way. But who among us viewers care? The ‘Discovery’ creative team have had an entire season-and-a-half to do ANY sort of character development for Airiam, but they did absolutely none until about a grand total of six minutes worth of screen time in this episode. Beyond the loss of life in general, which doesn’t sting too much here with a fictional character, it’s hard to care about someone you don’t know, plain and simple.
- What the Hell were the writers doing with Nhan? She spends pretty much the entire episode being suspicious of Airiam – watching her closely on Discovery, including the camera cutting to Nhan three or four times during the intense “minefield” situation, but then when it came Away Mission time, she has her guard utterly and completely down and lets Airiam rip her breathing apparatus right off her face. Again, just poor writing and execution.
- I hold a sliver of hope that the ‘Discovery’ writers have a “bigger picture” in play here: perhaps the Control/AI crisis is eventually combated by downloading and isolating the AI to Discovery, and then abandoning the ship in a way that makes it unable to move or communicate… where it would sit for centuries, having nothing to do but evolve itself… until a lonely, broken warrior stumbles upon it over 1,000 years from now… a warrior named Craft, who interacts with the lonely AI, now going by the name of Zora, as shown in the events of the ‘Short Trek’ episode “Calypso.” Now, that would be pretty okay writing! Will it happen, though?
CLOSING THOUGHTS: People critically injured cured by cybernetics… holographic technology everywhere… Section 31 known about and discussed as openly and regularly as the local sports team… I swear, if the ‘Discovery’ creative team doesn’t have what we’re being shown end up as an alternate timeline or parallel universe to the “prime Trek timeline,” then they have officially lost all credibility with trying to make this series a positive part of Star Trek history. Call me an “angry fanboy” or whatever you’d like, but it’s time to make a stand against lazy writing, in-canon anachronisms, and “shock value” story elements. Star Trek as a franchise is not perfect, and has never been – but it’s always been significantly better than this.
PRINCIPAL CAST FEATURED IN THIS EPISODE:
Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham
Doug Jones as Lieutenant Saru
Anson Mount as Captain Pike
Anthony Rapp as Lieutenant Stamets
Mary Wiseman as Cadet Tilly
Wilson Cruz as Dr. Culber
Ethan Peck as Spock
‘Star Trek: Discovery’ features new episodes Thursday nights at 8:30 pm online via CBS All Access.