Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 2.14 (End of Season Post-Mortem)

Critic’s Log, supplemental.

A little over a year ago we watched the Enterprise hone into view on Discovery’s anachronistic view screen, and reflected this was a show that had resolutely failed to establish itself as an independent storytelling entity. Here were its producers desperately reaching for nostalgia in a bid to boost interest in and anticipation for a second season. Well, that season is now played out, so did the inclusion of Pike and Spock, and with them an explicit tie to The Original Series, do the job and improve the show or simply make the Discovery’s cast look ordinary by comparison?

In keeping with the circular plotting of “Such Sweet Sorrow Part 2” to answer that, one must begin at the end, with our new heroes confined to the temporal ever after and the closing moments taking place on board the newly repaired Enterprise. A freshly shaven (and dress compliant) Spock took his post on the bridge – high tech retro chic – and a wry and cheerful Pike ordered the ship to warp. We were in the company of likable characters on a colourful bridge with an atmosphere of intense forward looking optimism. As Trekkies we were content at last.

Yet sadly, and I accept necessarily if further damage to established continuity is to be avoided, we will never see this crew again. They’d done their part – namely adding a little charisma and gravitas to a group of damaged and demented misfits; the Discovery crew’s imbecilic pronouncements and logic farts cloaked in pseudo-scientific terminology, their decisions a series of sacrifices to a clockwork God.

They’d held the Discovery crew’s hands, got them through their second year and, as we’d expect from the crew of the Enterprise, saved the day by dispatching them into oblivion – thereby ridding the twenty-third century of this threat to its values and identity. It is one of TV’s cruellest ever taunts that next year we’ll be picking up not with this fine body of men and not men, but the half-wits now trapped in the distant future. We’ve said goodbye to the good ship Discovery. I can’t be the only one who’s very happy to leave it at that.

Discovery’s second year has been a muddled affair – a year we (wrongly) trust was meticulously planned, but presented as a series written on the fly, the writers, as in season one, contorting wildly, a line of coke snorted from a prostitute’s bleached anus, in a bid to link ideas brainstormed in a pre-season frenzy. There’s been no shortage of said ideas, though most have been repurposed (stolen) from elsewhere – from sources Trek has no business flirting with, but few, if any, stood up to scrutiny when reviewed. “Just go with it” the creative staff seemed to say, “and try to like Mick will you? She’s Spock’s big sister for Christ sake.” Ah, if only it were that easy.

Burnham could and should have become a more equal part of a wider ensemble this year but Discovery’s writers were determined that she remain front and centre, and consequently this humourless bore of a character took on messianic significance; nothing less than the saviour of all life in the galaxy.

Though it made little sense, as though applied to the season’s plot setup retrospectively, Discovery spent the year first tracking a character whose raison d’être was to save Mick, then inadvertently tracking Mick herself, who infuriatingly was doing on screen what the writers were doing behind it, namely working backwards to reconcile open ended plot points established at the start of the season by a different set of showrunners.

The show’s hacks will claim this was the plan from the get-go of course, but if true it’s odd that each lurch forward in yet another densely plotted but underwritten serial, felt like the writers fighting fire. You could almost feel the heat emanate from our phone screens, while a show demanding our full attention played on the TV beyond.

So all-consuming was this terrible story – Starfleet engaged in an attempt to protect a sphere of alien knowledge from a Skynet-like AI with designs on full-sentience and galactic domination (to what end, we knew not), that second string characters were denied the oxygen of growth.

Culber returned to life to circle Stamets for half a season but neither character developed as a result and they ended up where they started. Tilly’s involvement in the story – becoming trapped in the mycelial network, being possessed by a fungus, was over at the point showrunners changed, and for the rest of the year she spouted infantile nonsense. Airiam, a background character from the first season, was developed and killed off in the same episode. Tyler and Georgiou – a traitor and genocidal mass murderer, lingered on board like observers from another franchise, contributing little – the former brooding for much of the year, the latter relishing in the kind of boilerplate evil pronouncements, “would you like to join me in making Leland scream?” that only served to remind us she had no place as a regular on a Star Trek series. The reply to said invitation, by the way, “yum yum”, underlined that away from the Enterprise a very low standard of discourse had become normalised – idiocy we’ve now exported even further into the future.

Those responsible for “Such Sweet Sorrow Part 2” understood that these challenges – rebalancing the cast, refining the dialogue, injecting a sense of wonder and mystery to proceedings that weren’t choked by the imperatives of a suffocating, nihilistic blockbuster movie narrative, were for another day. First, this shitshow had to be wrapped up and Discovery had to be comprehensively, irreversibly removed from its prequel setting and catapulted to a safe distance – far beyond TNG, DS9 and Voyager, where a) it could do no harm and b) indulge in a reinvention of the Trek mythos, spore drive et al, without a backlash from tired fans. The question was, could this transition be managed with wit and intelligence?

This being Discovery the answer was obviously no. The episode, channelling the Star Wars prequels, was style overload – the screen awash with digital artefacts and animation. There was so much to look at, so many drone ships under Control-Leland’s Borg-like, er, control, there was hardly time to think about the mechanics of the high stakes plot. Discovery’s hacks, counting on as much, used the cover of this sound, fury and inconsequential noble sacrifice (so long Admiral Cornwell) to smuggle through some big revelations – the kind designed to boil piss and break hearts.

We learned that Mick’s future quest to spread red signals began in the present, during the battle for the sphere data, which meant Discovery had appropriated that laziest of plot devices, the ontological paradox, to explain the season’s arc. If you’ve patiently waded through this blog’s Doctor Who reviews, you’ll know this is an Opinionoid pet hate – the kind of time travel story you map out by drawing a circle on a big piece of card.

You do it because you’ll be fucked if you can think of a set of linear events, organic plot developments, that would facilitate the incidents you’ve already established. Instead, Mick realised that everything she’d already seen now had to be implemented to complete the loop and facilitate their escape to the future but, and I hope I haven’t lost you already, how did Mick know to do these things the first time around? What’s that? Her journey to the past WAS the first time around? Well, that’s the paradox and that, my friends, is why it’s so deeply unsatisfying and convenient.

It surely wouldn’t have been that hard to figure out a few events, a few moral dilemmas for the crew, that once pondered and decided upon, put them on a certain path that would later present them with a choice of futures? But instead, Discovery suggested that free will is a cruel illusion – a message it underlined by having Pike learn his fate was locked, even if he had foreknowledge of it, and having Discovery’s trip to the future take place, even though it had ceased to be necessary just moments before it happened.

If you establish the only way to save the present from Control is to fling the Discovery to the far-flung future, then it’s probably not a good idea to kill the threat while the ship’s still moored in the present.

Now you can argue that as long as the sphere data was freely available to visitors, someone or something like Control – possibly the Borg, teased throughout this season, could get hold of it and use it for nefarious ends, but that, as Riker once said is something we could sort out later. For now, the plan to dispatch Discovery was predicated on the immediate threat to the Federation, namely Leland; a plan conceived in extremis. When Georgiou announced that the man in question was dead and that Control was neutralised, someone really should have opened a channel to the bridge and asked Saru et al whether they still wanted to maroon themselves in the thirty-second century, consigned to a world where everyone and everything they know is long dead. “It’s okay, Control’s fucked – we can stick around after all. Hello? Bridge, hello?”

Instead, Discovery’s crew, who were now technically travelling into the future for nothing, Leland’s Control bots stowed in the Spore Drive chamber, were well and truly wormholed and vanished to a place we presume looks a lot like the dull religious colony of Terralysium some 950 years from now; a place where Mick’s mother, bored to the point of suicide, desperately hopes for enlightened company. Instead she’s going to get Tilly and Reno – a character who says things like, “get off my ass, Sir.”

Was there any real tension in this final rush to get Discovery out of established Trek continuity? We knew Mick had succeeded, however much Spock tried to bullshit his way through it, because the seven signals already existed in the past. Evidentially, it was history. Pike, by far the season’s most grounded character, had the right idea when he suggested being invulnerable to a ticking torpedo because he’d already seen the future and he was in it. Cornwell, the writers in her earpiece, persuaded him not to call their bluff and he left the admiral to her death, but this, in a scene, was the problem with the entire episode. Yes, it was a struggle for the characters to succeed, but the circular plot was a guarantor of their success. This is why the best time travel stories invariably, sensibly, leave the result of said meddling unresolved until the end. We suspected Kirk and co. would find those humpback whales and save Earth, but we didn’t know it until he returned to the present. It’s a simple thing but it makes a lot of difference.

Ultimately, Discovery’s second season, in a tacit celebration of its success in firmly rooting its characters in the world of Spock et al, ended with the ship classified as an official secret and the crew recorded deceased, following some deliberately misleading evidence to an inquiry back on Earth.

So paranoid were the conspiracists, that even Sarek and Amanda agreed not to talk about Mick in public ever again – just in case it slipped out, following a few drinks, that she was alive and living in the future. Thus, Discovery’s absence from future Trek shows – in thought, image and dialogue, was given due explanation. It’s almost as if the producers were agreeing with the audience that setting it in the past had been a terrible mistake – one any fan could have helped them avoid two seasons ago.

An open ending means Discovery’s future is a blank slate – its hacks gifted maximum wriggle room to remake it in their own image. Can it succeed where Voyager failed? Can a ship out of time with an archive of universe spanning knowledge find a new purpose? Unshackled, with nothing tying the show to Treks past or fan expectations, can this glib crew, with Mick sadly still on board, finally endear themselves to the franchise’s loyal acolytes?

If life’s more episodic and thoughtful in the future, with a greater emphasis on collective problem solving and sensible discourse, then there’s half a chance. It will effectively be a new show – one with the longest pilot in history at 29 hours. Those who saw that pilot may be reluctant to carry on, however. Damage resulting from this kind of slog can’t be undone overnight, but Trekkies are a forgiving lot. Well, until the Picard series premieres that is.

Anomalous Readings

  • Discovery’s first stop in the future should be a barren moon where Mirror Georgiou should be deposited and left. There she can bore herself to death.
  • “Women, stop talking.” Turns out Control was a misogynist AI.
  • Stamets graciously smiled through his battle injuries to give the impression he was happy about Culber joining them in the future. I couldn’t have.
  • “You saved me…you are my balance,” Spock told Mick in their final exchange. A potentially awful moment redeemed when Mick gave some advice about seeking out your opposites that we know will lead to lifelong friendships with Kirk and McCoy – two characters we’ll thankfully now never see on this show but must now watch, knowing Mick had a hand in their destiny.
  • “Someone owes me a beer,” said Tilly, showcasing more of Discovery’s razor sharp dialogue. By that measure, the writers owe us quite a few.
  • Clem Fandango was left behind to start his own Section 31 series. It’s a mystery to me why anyone would want to do this but I’d rather endure Clem’s secret missions than Georgiou’s. Did the writers forget she was supposed to stay behind and be in a spin-off? On this show, it’s possible.
  • The return of The Motion Picture wormhole effect was welcome. One last nod to nostalgia.
  • “Let’s see what the future holds,” said Spock. He looked more optimistic than I felt.
  • And that’s it for this year. Thank you so much for reading. Let’s do it all over again when Discovery sadly returns, though there’s really no need – not based on the way this season ended. But, you know, if we must…

Mick’s Second Crack at the Galaxy

The Maiden Voyage 

Foreboding

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