A Tale of Three Mommies: Sarah Jaffe and Adam Kotsko discuss Star Trek: Discovery

[Editor’s note: This continues the conversation between Sarah Jaffe and Adam Kotsko about Star Trek: Discovery that began with this post. Now that we have caught up on our backlog, we are tentatively planning to do a conversation on each individual episode. Today’s installment is Season 2, Episode 3: “Point of Light”.]

AK: That… was a weird one.

SJ: Mommy issues to go with our daddy issues!

Clearly this Family shtick is the thing
As an episode I think it was the most coherent so far this season but like also WHAAAT

AK: Yeah, that was nuts — but much better-paced than the first two.
That was more or less Game of Thrones in space.

SJ: I have not watched Game of Thrones!

AK: Oh wow. You’re so lucky! I kind of hate Game of Thrones.
Basically, the factors that reminded me of Game of Thrones were the aesthetic of the Klingon spaces, the use of “the old ultra-violence,” and the fact that the episode was a formless grab-bag of plots.

SJ: I mean I actually thought the A, B, and C plots all made SENSE in this one, they were just…weird.
Particularly–and you know I am just thrilled to see Tyler back–but WHAT THE HELL
what is with this weird klingon white baby

AK: Why introduce it just to send it permanently to a convent?!

SJ: that once again immediately gets sort of written off
I mean I can only assume that it will come back later

AK: Burnham will see herself in the baby or something.

SJ: that it was sort of paralleling Burnham confessing that she did some unspeakable thing to Spock in order to drive him away/keep him safe.
But that whole Tyler/L’rell plot feels like it would’ve been better as a C-plot across the first three episodes
spun out a little more it wouldn’t have been so fucking whiplash-y

AK: Right, because we needed another ball in the air in those episodes…

I am not saying we needed MORE in those I think we needed less and they need to commit to a couple of throughlines

AK: You mentioned that we’re dealing with mommy issues.

SJ: Like OK the Search for Spock is the A-plot.
We get it.
So in this episode we get Amanda (MOM)

AK: And we learn that Spock is a borderline psychopath like 5 years before he emerges as this beloved unflappable character?!
Based in part on Amanda’s coldness as a mother? I have to think she’s exaggerating.

SJ: well and then we find out that Burnham did something so bad she can’t tell Amanda but Amanda gets real huffy anyway?
They are wasting Mia Kirschner
But obviously I also assume that there’s something up with this red angel that will explain why Spock is bonkers

AK: The way they’re dragging out the big reveal of whatever the hell Burnham did is really irritating.

SJ: oh they’ll drag it to the mid-season finale

AK: Surely last season they learned not to set up huge plot points you can’t follow through on (**cough**TYVOQ**cough**)

SJ: hahahah I actually LIKE TyVoq
I mean the most compelling parts of this episode were the early bits of him and L’Rell
which is why everything else felt so comically rushed
(And him and Burnham obviously)
like this poor fucking guy is still struggling to be a PERSON after all that has happened to him
(also he looks good with a beard)

AK: And he’ll get just the mentorship he needs from Mirror Giorgiou!

wait can we bracket the episode’s third mommy for a minute because I want to get WAY into that

AK: To me, the beard makes him look too much like Jason Mantzoukas, who in my opinion is super creepy.

SJ: I don’t know who that is
We can stipulate for the entire series of these conversations that I think Shazad Latif is just a gorgeous gorgeous man and he can have whatever facial hair he wants or does not want.

AK: So noted.

SJ: BUT. Anyway. I think the introduction of him as L’Rell’s sort of…enforcer, and all the tensions of that was actually good and wanted to just have a whole B-plot on that.
like if they’d spun that out longer and then ended the episode with him calling Burnham?

AK: If they’re trying to wind down the L’Rell plot — well, they already did that in last season’s finale.
If they wanted to get Tyler away from L’Rell, he could just show up and explain why he wasn’t with her anymore.

SJ: It feels like someone in the writer’s room changed their mind about what they were going to do with Tyler
that at first they wanted him as a go-between for the Klingons but then decided they wanted him elsewhere/back with Burnham
And again I think the sort of wanting but not-wanting L’rell makes a lot of sense!
the weird shit was the “OMG we have a baby now I feel whole”
ALTHOUGH that does go along with a certain (gross stereotype) that continues my theory that Tyler is the feminized one in all these relationships.

AK: I’m not a big “kid person,” so whenever people talk like that it leaves me cold, on TV or real life.

SJ: Oh honey I am literally working on a book chapter about why the nuclear family is Actually Bad so believe me

AK: The idea that “mother” is the fiercest name of all could really go back to Greek mythology and tragedy.
A mother’s grief and rage is the scariest thing in the world.

SJ: Yes! I liked that too!
Again, I feel like this all could have been REALLY compelling if done with a lighter touch and longer timeframe
the bits of it that work really work
I like how much they play with gender with L’rell and Tyler and Burnham

AK: This gets back to the “chaos in the writers room” theory — they can’t decide whether they want to continue the Discovery concept, use it as a vehicle for random fan-service, or what.

SJ: Also I know I said bracket Mommy Giorgiou but her comment about babies was just like: here for those of us who are like….really? he feels whole because baby?
It is amazing that when we pull this show apart we can find so much wrong with it but when I was watching it last night I was literally making little squealy noises

AK: Well, I think you have a trump card here that I don’t share.

SJ: hahahahhaha
but also Tilly! Which we also haven’t gotten to yet

AK: This is yet another case where the introduction of Pike seems to render Saru redundant
It’s like all he has to do, plot-wise, is serve as her mentor figure, which feels really forced.

SJ: which is why the teaser is like MAYBE WE’LL JUST KILL HIM for next episode
but anyway
wait can we finish the b-plot before moving on to Tilly

AK: ok

SJ: I have a Trek nerd question for you which is like: what is the relationship between the Klingons and the Federation when TOS starts, and what’s the structure of Klingon government?
Basically I kind of want to know if they are setting up some big Klingon political intrigue

AK: They’re in a Cold War-like stance, with a lot of proxy battles on primitive, no-account planets.
We get no information about their government, and they only ever show a single Klingon woman.

SJ: Interesting.
So what would you say that means for all this?

AK: All the lore around stuff like their distinctive weapons, blood wine, etc., was all developed in the original cast films and TNG.
I think they want to explain why the Klingons seem more disciplined and schemy in TOS, as opposed to the biker gang-like culture we see in other shows.

SJ: Interesting.
I kind of like the idea of the Klingons still having all these factiony jerk men but having “Mother” as their overarching leader
it is also very Greek-myth that she will sacrifice (even if not really KILL) her lover and baby and anoint herself the mother of her people. And also very Queen Elizabeth I.
She also just reads more FEMME this season, with the hair and the dresses and the fabulous face jewelry
She reads Queen not Warlord

AK: I think for a hypermasculine culture, a mother could be a rallying point in a way that a man couldn’t — not a rival

SJ: Right.
But she also has to not show preference to any of them
hence having to get rid of Ash

AK: And she lays the groundwork for seeing the Great Houses as forming a “family” rather than a group of rivals, as well.

SJ: Yes!

AK: Even after they make peace with the Federation in TNG, the “great house” system is hugely disruptive — so it could be that L’Rell’s mother gambit is really the only thing ever to unite them properly

SJ: SEE there is so much interesting shit here if you get past the weird white baby
(I DO like that they code whiteness as Other though)
Anyway. I like L’rell. She’s vicious but also relatable. I want more of her!

AK: She looks awkward with hair, though. I think they need to gradually tone down the level of Klingon makeup now that they’re making them have hair again.

SJ: also how fast does Klingon hair grow

AK: Seriously! It’s been weeks!

SJ: I like her in her high femme sequin dress though

AK: Part of me worries that they did the Klingon sub-plot just to give the Klingons hair and explain why they were bald.

SJ: Oh no!
nah the baby must be good for SOMETHING here
they could have done this whole plot with just her wanting Tyler, him saying he felt violated, then the what’s his face dude trying a coup and Tyler having to leave with Bad Mama Giorgiou
there was no need for weird creepy baby unless it was gonna come up SOMEWHERE in the future, right?
(babies are not means to an end! also don’t have them to save your failing relationship!)

AK: The second baby that was emotionally starved at a young age, too.

I mean the parallel is obvious but

AK: Again, are they just deciding that Vulcan culture is child abuse, full stop?
Oh geez, and Tyler was talking about reconciling the two parts of himself…
I guess the more I think about it, the more the plots do hang together — which may be why I wasn’t experiencing the same whiplash I did with episodes 1 and 2.

SJ: Right! I don’t think they suck I just think the Klingon b-plot would have been better if it also started in episode 1 and they trimmed back some of the other shit in the first couple of episodes
OK Bad Mama Giorgiou
because this episode is all about moms
(If we’re going to get mythological we have the kind of Triple Goddess of moms here)

AK: Virgin, Whore, Alien Warrior?

SJ: I was thinking Maiden, Mother, Crone but we actually have two mothers and a crone (Giorgiou obviously the killer)
(L’rell with the dead baby echoes of Circe ANYWAY leaving L’rell I swear)
But so Giorgiou taking Tyler with her is obviously some weird mentorship in reverse
flipping the Burnham/Lorca dynamic
and HELLO Starfleet Black Ops

AK: I guess they fit together in the sense that they’re both misfit versions of someone else

SJ: Well and she’s the mirror-universe bad mommy
like Lorca was bad dad and now Pike is Good Dad
(Lorca was bad Electra dad, lol)

AK: Poor Tyler always gets mentorship from the bad parent!
Though Lorca totally stopped caring about Tyler once he was in the MU

SJ: yeah which was kind of interesting honestly, sort of a plot hole because if Lorca had literally moved universes to find Burnham…wouldn’t he have been mad she was fucking his buddy?

AK: They’re more loosey goosey over there.

SJ: hahahha
I would have called their relationship more of a bromance than mentorship anyway

AK: Really the only thing that makes Tyler a fit for special ops is that he “shouldn’t exist” or is “between worlds.”

SJ: I mean and also that he is a supersoldier?
like this point was made from the beginning with Lorca before we even knew he was half Klingon!

AK: It’s not like he can go spy on the Klingons, though — he’s one of the most famous men alive from their perspective!

I mean so is Giorgiou didn’t stop her! she had a weird suit mask thing
but anyway Tyler: good at killing things

AK: I think they ultimately had to extract him from the Klingon setting to avoid making us think too hard about the mechanics of the TyVoq thing.

SJ: hahahahahha
or thinking about whether he and L’rell were shagging
OK but Giorgiou said “security consultant,” so are they official Starfleet black ops or are they Starfleet’s version of Blackwater?
I have questions!

AK: It’s unclear.
They are probably setting themselves up to “answer” those pressing questions.
In DS9, it seems like it’s a completely rogue unit of self-selecting people.
But in Enterprise, which is even before the Federation began, it is already a thing.

SJ: Ah OK this is not a new thing
see I don’t know these things!

AK: They actually establish Section 31 in the same Enterprise episodes where they “answer” why the Klingons look human in TOS (an “answer” that Discovery has totally ignored, obviously).

SJ: Ahhh. OK.
I just want to see Michelle Yeoh fuck shit up

AK: I guess it does make sense to put her in an action-oriented role rather than making her the elder statesman character.
Our conversation seems to just wander, which echoes the episode — it feels like it’s all set-up, and after a certain point, all you can do is speculate about where it’s going.

SJ: Hahahahha
I know! Well it’s also tough because like, a bunch in this episode was new, we hadn’t seen these characters yet.
When we get back to Tilly we can analyze more!
Which we can do if you want

AK: Last season there was a lot of grounds for speculation, too, and that’s part of the fun of a show like this — but because there was one overarching plot and focus, it felt more grounded.
This season it’s like “I wonder what random-ass thing they’re going to throw at us next!” Like Tilly’s spore-buddy!

SJ: I mean I guess but there were lots of b-plots then too!
The war, the spore drive and whether it was eating Stamets’s brain, the Klingons, Burnham’s ongoing guilt over mutiny
But Tilly’s spore-buddy is kind of a spinoff of whether the spore drive was eating Stamets’s brain
Like, they’re building in reasons why the spore drive is too dangerous to use, like we said before

AK: In a sense, it’s causing a breakdown in reality.
…which could also be read as a meta-commentary on fan complaints about how the spore drive breaks the Star Trek concept….
but anyway.

SJ: hahah
So like first Stamets injects himself with Tardigrade DNA
now Tilly is infected with some other spore thing
and both things make them see dead people (insert Sixth Sense joke)

AK: She’s not quite spore-mad like Stamets was, but just one persistent spore made a big impact.

SJ: we’ve already established that the spore drive can jump universes and forward and backward in time
so the dead people would seem to connect that way

AK: They already made the MU classified because they were worried people would try to reunite with their (morally opposite) loved ones. And in the TOS episode with Captain Pike, “The Menagerie,” they actually impose the death penalty on anyone who approaches a planet with an ability to submerge you completely in fantasy
So I could see them deciding that traveling faster is not worth it if we don’t know what reality we’ll arrive in or even who we are when we get there.

SJ: Right.
But in between: Body horror!

AK: It seems more mind horror.

SJ: Oh I don’t know! Having a thing literally have to be sucked out of you feels pretty visceral to me
as does having the ship literally plug into your arms

AK: Okay, yes.
Also, knowing you’re now part mushroom or something.

SJ: like part of the horror of having a parasite in general is that you don’t realize it’s BEEN There
the boundaries of the body being violated! like Tyler! LOOK AT THE PARALLELS
I am slowly convincing you that this episode was better than you thought and also convincing myself

AK: It’s actually an intricate, crystalline structure — CAN’T YOU SEE
I do think that Discovery “responds to interpretation” better than previous Trek.

SJ: well yeah
I mean partly it’s just organized differently, no?
it’s clearly got an overarching plot so you CAN speculate
about themes, narratives, where something is going, where it’s been
its temporality is Peak TV not Star Trek, to be Peak Pretentious Git

AK: And themes can be more durable than in one-off Twilight Zone scenarios

SJ: Right.

AK: I will defend season 1, episodes 1-13 to the death — but I’m much more ambivalent since then.
Say what you will for the Klingon War/Mirror Lorca arc — at least it was an ethos!

SJ: I still love this, and also enjoy sort of going–WHAT–and then picking at it I find all these new things that both make more sense and also I so wish had been handled better

AK: You’re becoming a true Trek fan — we are really all fans of the imagined perfect version of the show that lives up to its concept!

SJ: hahahahahahahhahahah