[Each week, Sarah Jaffe — a new Star Trek fan who came to the franchise through Discovery — and Adam Kotsko — a long-time obsessive who has spent way too much time thinking about Star Trek — have been chatting about their impressions of the newest episode. A full archive can be found here.]
AK: Okay, that was a return to form!
And if they were doing fan service, it was at least service for fans OF DISCOVERY.
SJ: I wanna be Mirror Georgiou when I grow up
Im dead now that killed me
Need a cocoon thingy to bring me back
Also OOH THAT TEASER
AK: I’m finally excited about this season rather than mildly apprehensive
SJ: yeah I mean finally they used Spock as a device for these characters rather than the other way around
as you said
SJ: I think this time we begin with TILLY yeah?
as I said last time, I want this to be the A-plot though I’m a little worried they wrapped it this time.
AK: Early in the episode I was worried they were still going to try to shoehorn it into a B-plot, but clearly the Search for Tilly had center stage after the first ten minutes or so.
SJ: we will get back to Mirror Georgiou and how much I love her in a minute but yeah also Tilly feels like the only character who’s had a narrative arc this season
Like, we see her growing up.
AK: I loved her arc last season. Some people complained that she changed too fast, but as someone who works with college freshmen, I can say the rapid progress is realistic.
Especally for a highly motivated student like Tilly.
But now, they’re deepening her character by making her deal with some regrets from her callow youth.
SJ: Right! She’s an actual kid.
We’re not used to a young character who is thrown in the deep end like she is
she’s basically an intern in season one
AK: And she remains the most relatable character, too. She gets excited about all the cool stuff that’s happening around her — while most Star Trek characters are unflappably businesslike no matter what happens. She’s awkward.
And now she has a very relatable childhood regret. I think we all have that person who tried to connect with us but who we pushed away, without being able to say why.
SJ: Right. And she also returns us to the chosen-family rather than biological-family this week, with her “You have to get me back to Discovery”
It was a very Star Trekky episode I think but also in service of all the longer-term character development.
AK: I would assume we will meet her mother this season.
It’s teased in the Tilly short.
SJ: oh yeah
but I don’t really care about that I just like watching her relationship to these other characters change as she grows up
like she obviously still looks up to Stamets and Burnham
but also she didn’t really need them to save her this episode! they just showed up to have an emotional reunion WITH RICKIE
(I know his name is Hugh but I will never not think of him as grown-up Rickie from My So-Called Life who managed to get on a starship and live his best life)
AK: The relationship with Stamets in the last few episodes only highlighted for me how awkward it was that they tried to make Saru into her primary mentor early this season — apparently just to give him lines or something.
SJ: Yeah, I am super here for them giving Tilly center stage but that didn’t work. She never has a relationship with him, she has one with Burnham and Stamets and both of those feel developed and natural.
And as you were saying now Stamets has motivations.
Also I was thinking: this season is basically about second chances.
AK: But since this is Discovery, the second chance will never work out quite like you think. For instance, Culber is obviously deeply damaged by his life in spore-world.
I worry that they’re bringing him back primarily so that he can forgive Tyler, though.
SJ: Well that’s what I mean: Tyler getting a second chance on the Discovery, Culber getting a second chance at life, Stamets getting a second chance to save Culber and the spores
Burnham chasing a second chance with Spock, Mirror Georgiou (maybe) seeking redemption of a sort…
AK: Saru getting a second chance with his family
SJ: Even Pike after the Enterprise was fucked up
and yes I think that if they do it all right they will all be slightly fucked second chances.
AK: Pike gets a second chance to have an adventure before he’s confined to his weird wheelchair thing.
SJ: I mean the entire first season was about Burnham’s second chance to be a Starfleet officer.
and the reason you *can’t* let people know about the mirror universe is they might go chasing second chances with mirror-universe versions
AK: Right, exactly. I thought that was clever.
Most importantly, though — Burnham gets a second chance to connect with Spock. Though as you said in “unofficial” communication, this episode they made the Spock plot a vehicle for our characters rather than the reverse.
This episode finally feels like we see where the season is going
AK: And it finally feels like the Discovery I liked best! Even the better episodes this season so far felt like the botched finale episodes from season 1.
Though by the time this season ends, Discovery will have about as many episodes as a season of one of the old shows — so perhaps we can chalk it up to mid-season doldrums.
Either way. This was actually building and teasing apart relationships, using the various sci-fi/magic devices in interesting ways to advance the plot, setting up next steps, etc.
Driven by the spore drive (literally and figuratively) even if the spore drive still makes no sense.
AK: I thought the ship being halfway in the mycellial network was a good use of the special effects budget, finally.
SJ: Yes! Again, even if it makes no sense it looked cool
AK: And it made for a hell of a teaser last week!
The writer for this episode was Kirsten Beyer, who is one of the most beloved Trek novelists. She resurrected the Voyager novel line and made it (reportedly) about as good as the limitations of the genre will allow.
SJ: well maybe the lesson is LEAVE HER IN CHARGE
(also I think the fact that you have different writers and directors for basically every episode is…perhaps a problem!)
AK: She does have a management role in the writer’s room, and she’s coordinating the tie-in novels and comics.
The other episode she wrote was the one where Saru was driven mad by the peace-tree.
So I would be in favor of giving her more episodes to write!
And more generally, some stability in leadership would probably help.
I think part of the reason they botched the conclusion to the first season is that the show-runners were using Bryan Fuller’s concept and wanted to “wind it down” so they could do their own thing.
SJ: I have no idea.
I weirdly miss the After Trek show! I feel like I knew more about what was going on with that!
(Also I just like Shazad Latif speaking in his actual accent /crush)
AK: I never watched it.
In general, I seldom seek out information about production, etc., from shows I like. Like I have Mad Men memorized but really don’t know anything about the production side.
SJ: well you certainly seem to know it about Discovery!
AK: It’s Gerry Canavan’s fault.
Also, concern — I was never worried that Mad Men was going to become heart-breakingly bad.
SJ: I found Mad Men too annoying to watch, I do not care about Men Behaving Badly as a genre
I mean I would watch Michelle Yeoh read a phone book
but I am so glad they didn’t just bring her on this show only to kill her off in the premiere
AK: The gesture of spending most of our time with the “evil twin” of a character we barely met is… strange.
One thing this episode did was to clarify the status of Section 31 — it isn’t a crazy conspiracy, it is just a part of Starfleet Intelligence.
SJ: But still a weird grey area one that brings in mirror-universe emperors and Klingon science experiments
An interesting point though in this political moment: it IS the state (insert deep state hand-waving)
AK: Yes — and the CIA does function as a dirty-tricks department, with a free hand to commit crimes, some quasi-military aspects, etc.
But at least it’s not Blackwater! heh.
AK: In any case, I think the presentation of Section 31 in Discovery — which I initially viewed as gimmicky fan-service — is actually turning out to be some good world-building that contributes to the sense that the Original Series era was more morally ambiguous.
Especially because it follows from the previous season where Starfleet was willing to bend rules to win the war
AK: Absolutely. In general, I think that Discovery’s strategy is to take precisely the most questionable themes from Star Trek — Mirror Universe, surgically altered Klingon spies, and now Section 31 — and try to rework them into something interesting and plausible.
SJ: Like it picks up the thread that they were willing to use Mirror Georgiou
SJ: and also that Burnham despite her horror at Georgiou is also more morally questionable
AK: What do you mean?
SJ: When they face off in the hallway
and Georgiou is like “There’s the person I know”
it’s a double reference to Mirror Burnham and also to Burnham’s mutiny
AK: Yes, that makes sense.
I thought her refusal to lower her weapon was a great moment.
So telling and Pike clocking it
and then she has to ask Pike to trust her
good reversal, again
even if I still don’t care about Pike
AK: Mirror Georgiou is proving to be as adaptable to her new environment as Lorca was. They are good at mirroring people’s expectations. I expect that she could even do a convincing impersonation of the “good” Georgiou by now.
SJ: I liked the message at the end
“you’re going to have to trust me”
again, she plays on the fact that Burnham didn’t trust Georgiou Prime to do the right thing
she’s so good
AK: Being the biggest sociopath in a world of sociopaths makes you good at manipulating people.
she knows Burnham’s weak spots
(hence making Tyler the envoy….)
AK: So maybe this lays the groundwork for us to see some development from Burnham, too. Lorca was able to play her like a fiddle.
And perhaps also her, um, very strong influence on Pike provides a better model than mutinying.
At this point, Pike seems more like a warm body in the captain’s chair than anything.
SJ: Yep. His “motivations” are basically hers
Which they’re trying to play off as they both care about Spock but
AK: Assuming next episode is as good as they’re setting it up to be, I am now optimistic about the rest of the season — whereas before I was bracing myself. If the pattern from other serial dramas holds, it’s unlikely they’ll hit the highs of season 1, but at the very least they’re figuring out what this show is going to be about post-Klingon War and post-Lorca, and setting themselves up for a strong third season.
all I want is Saru leading the revolution
although I hope that doesn’t lead to them writing him off this show
AK: I doubt it.
Maybe he’ll be tempted to stay but realize he’s grown too much, etc.
I hope they don’t do as heavy-handed a tease for that as they did with his potential death…
Maybe he’ll defy General Order 1 and get demoted, leading Burnham to switch places with him again
we shall see
he didn’t have much to do this episode certainly
again why is he not just the captain this season this would all be so much better
AK: Oh God, I bet the next Red Angel thing will be what gets them to his planet…
Maybe he needs NOT to be captain SO THAT he can have his plot with his home world.
SJ: we shall see
AK: Anyway, they have built up a little reservoir of trust for me over the last couple episodes, especially this one.
I’d better not get burned again, like I did with the conclusion of last season!!
If I do, then… I will continue to watch and hope for the best because I kind of need new Star Trek, even if it’s not great.
SJ: it’s still better than most of them
poor Tyler this episode
he just turns up to get everyone’s shit
interesting how they play the new characters–Pike and Pike’s security chief whose name I don’t remember–as the most skeptical of him
AK: Is his security chief the woman with the braces?
In any case, they seem really committed to remind us that she exists, for reasons I cannot imagine.
And meanwhile the “scenery” characters on the bridge continue to languish.
Maybe that’s a task for season 3.
SJ: Maybe. Or maybe they’ll bring in more totally useless auxiliary characters from TOS instead.
OK we have not talked nearly enough about Culber being the “monster” poisoning the spores
how is THAT going to play out, I wonder
AK: Does that get them out of the idea that the spore drive as such was the problem?
It’s also a cool reversal of the typical Star Trek scenario where an alien monster turns out to just be defending itself — this time WE’RE the monster
It’s kind of a reversal of one of the best TOS episodes, “Devil in the Dark.”
SJ: Never seen it I don’t think
AK: It’s one that holds up fairly well.
SJ: but I mean the spore drive kind of was the problem even if it was also the solution
AK: It’s one that holds up fairly well.
SJ: Stamets is the reason that he got trapped there
And she did explicitly say that random appearances and disappearances were damaging.
Do you still worry that they’ll lose their distinctiveness if they need to shut down the spore drive?
SJ: I was less worried about that and more worried that the show will literally end.
AK: For the moment, at least, I’m more confident that they deserve to continue.
SJ: not like that’s up to us
I just felt like the end of the spore drive was leading to the end of the show (gestured at with the short)
AK: Anyway. Any remaining remarks on this week’s episode or are we ready to call it a wrap?
SJ: Oh–the leader of Section 31, what’s his name
SJ: clearly not THAT memorable but I am vaguely intrigued by him and what his motivations are in all this
like they set up some backstory with him and Pike and I maintain my studied disinterest in Pike’s feelings but what does he want.
AK: There was a deleted scene or something that showed him recruiting Georgiou.
SJ: Georgiou is up to no good obviously but also does have weird emotional ties to Burnham; Tyler wants Burnham back
but what’s Leland want?
AK: To safeguard national security by all necessary means
SJ: I mean sure yes
but also personally they seemed to be setting up something
AK: So another new character to overshadow the rest of the bridge crew.
At least Robot Head Person got a line this time. We also know they’re trying to set up the forthcoming Section 31 show, so I guess it makes sense to try to make Leland more of a character.
all will be resolved when Saint Spock arises
there was also the voiceover narrative about God which is clearly Kotsko bait
AK: So far, the religion angle is not sophisticated enough to be worth analyzing, honestly.
SJ: are they going to just spin off Mirror Georgiou into her own show because I would watch the fuck out of that
it would be more satisfying than Agent Carter was even
AK: That’s my understanding.
SJ: and Agent Carter was the last thing I liked as much as Discovery
AK: In any case, I’m stupid enough that I will pay to watch literally anything that says Star Trek on it, so I will find out!