Monday, 22 April 2019

TREK REVIEW: Discovery 2-13 & 2-14: "Such Sweet Sorrow"

Discovery is a funny beast. Kurtzmann and co. spend an entire season dealing with heavy continuity and bringing back classic characters in order to send the core cast far into the future where they can't interact with established events, and then pretend that they never existed at all.

I'd often said that if I'd brought back Star Trek I'd have set it hundreds of years further into the future than the TNG era, far enough so that it wouldn't matter which timeline we were following and that high technology could be shown without clashing with the look of the older series. I'm absolutely in favour of the new direction, and can't wait to see where the series goes upon its return. It's just a very strange way of going about it. If anything, this season has shown how well a prequel series can work with both new and old characters. If anything, the final episode plays out less like a second pilot for Discovery and more like a launching point for a new series about Pike and Spock. I'd absolutely watch this, since Mount and Peck have been two of the best things about this series, but it's funny to hear fans who have been bitching about the prequels and the continuity clashes so far, clamouring for another prequel series that would no doubt create even more clashes.

As a send off for the Mike and Pike show, this two part finale works pretty well, although it has to be said it does drag on a little. With a first episode that sets up the emotional stakes and a second part that delivers on them while ramping up the action, it's structured well, but there's only so long I can watch a space battle or a corridor fight, no matter how spectacular, before I get bored. And don't get me wrong, this was spectacular, but there's only so long these can go on before the plot actually has to move forward.

All in all, though, this settles the ongoing mystery of the season and the fate of the Discovery pretty well, as long as you don't think too hard about. The ship and everyone on it flies into the future to escape Control, defeating the AI and happily taking all that terribly advanced tech with it. While I can imagine that much of this is classified as Spock suggests, it's a hell of a leap to assume that no one ever leaks the concept of the spore drive or the time suit in the next 150 years or so. Even if we can believe it of Starfleet and the family Sarek, can we really believe the Klingons agreed to keep schtum abut the time crystals and never utilise them again? And I was perfectly happy to believe that Spock simply never mentioned Michael in the original series and its successors because he just doesn't like to talk about his family, not that he's decided to pretend she never existed.

Still, Michael's story comes to a great conclusion, as he closes the time loop of her mission by becoming the second Red Angel and creating the very mystery that she began this season investigating. In the process, she repairs her relationship with Spock, accepts she can never be with Tyler and gets to make one last awesome space dive. The emotional stakes are high, although some of it is pretty artificial. There's some practical reasons for most of the main cast – and the peripheral regulars – to all go with Michael to the far future, but really it's so that there can be both moving goodbye scenes and a follow-up “all-for-one” reconciliation. It works, but it's carefully calculated to work. Equally, Cornwell's sacrifice rings hollow, not least because she otherwise does sod all in the last couple of episodes and because she was pretty unlikeable as it is. (To be honest, she worked better against Lorca.)

I'm still not sold on Evil Georgiou's redemption. Yeoh is very impressive in this episode, seriously kicking ass and staying on just the right side of over-the-top vengeance quest, but her move from the side of the devils to the angels just doesn't ring true. I'd kind of hoped she'd be killed off, since I struggle to see how she's going to work on the Discovery in the future. I'm glad Nhan is sticking around, because she's pretty awesome (and gorgeous, which doesn't hurt), and also that Saru gets to, presumably, finally become captain. I'll be very unhappy if Stamets kicks it, but it looks like he, Hugh and Tilly will be able to annoy each other for centuries to come. I'm a bit baffled by Jet Reno sticking around – I like her a lot, but why is she so devoted to Michael? Also, there's a big build-up to her connecting with the time crystal, but no follow up.

Other elements I loved? The design of the Enterprise: nothing like the original in any iteration, but still a lovely evocation of the retro Trek feel. Number One finally getting some real screen time (and her name is Una, as established in recent books, although Netflix subtitled it as “Noona,” which was apparently a cock-up). Bringing back Po, Queen of Xahea, partly because it made that silly one-off Short Treks episode more relevant, but mainly because it was a joy seeing her and Tilly together again (“Um, I know the Queen!”)

The Klingons turning up to help in the battle (in an impressive new gigantic battleship) worked nicely, as did the Kelpiens in their fighters stolen from the Ba'ul, although this was pretty hard to swallow. Maybe if someone had stuck around to keep an eye on what was happening on Kaminar Saru wouldn't have been so surprised. When Michael began talking about the final two signals, and how they'd help them to win this battle, I had a silly hope that she'd retroactively arrange for some more reinforcements; how cool would it have been if the Cardassians and the Andorians, say, had turned up to aid the fight?

For me, the best part of the episode was Michael's final voyage through the wormhole towards the far, far future, towing the Discovery behind her. Truly astonishing visuals, mind-bending and evocative of the stargate sequence from 2001: A Space Oddysey. In fact, it also brought to mind the visuals of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, an element of Trek's history that is so rarely referred to (that reminds me, where was Linus the Saurian?) The San Francisco scenes reminded me of TMP as well.

Such Sweet Sorrow” was a perfectly fitting finale to a season that worked very well in many ways, but dropped the ball occasionally and failed to make as much sense as it needed to. Whatever the showrunners' reasons for blasting Michael and her crew into the distant future, I can't wait to see what they find.

Answer me this:

  • Why, once Control has been destroyed, does Burnham still need to drag the Discovery to the future? It would make more sense if the Leland avatar of Control was merely a focal point and that Control was still coming, but since all the drones abruptly switch off once he's been destroyed it doesn't really seem necessary. Still, there's always a risk Control backed itself up somewhere or will be reactivated, and at least this way the AI can't complete its own causal loop.
  • Except, can we be sure it can't? Control, or the bits left of it, is still on the Discovery, having jetted into a future that is presumably very technologically sophisticated, and with the Sphere data still onboard ship.
  • Is Gabrielle dead or not? Potentially Michael will find her in season three, but she also apparently died at the hands of the Klingons on Doktari Alpha. Michael heard her die and Leland apparently saw the body. Is she destined to get bounced back to the point of her death at some point, or has this been snipped from history?
  • I'm still not clear why an entirely new Angel suit needs to be slaved to Burnham's DNA.
  • Who the hell builds a blast door with a great big window in it?
  • If Michael was able to send a seventh signal back in time to be seen by Spock and their family, why wasn't she able to use the wormhole to bring herself back? I thought the entire point was that the effort of dragging the Discovery through the wormhole would burn out the time crystal.
  • How the fuck are they going to do a Section 31 series starring Yeoh if Georgiou is stuck in the far future with Michael?
  • Everyone keeps banging on about the thirty-third century, but if Michael is travelling 930 years into the future (following her mum going 950 years ahead, twenty years earlier) the Discovery will arrive in 3187, which is the thirty-second century.
  • We don't know how they're going to approach the new future of Discovery season three, but we do know a few bits and pieces of the Federation's future already. With the caveat that time travel can twist these things up, we know that Starfleet has time travelling starships by the 29th century (as seen on Voyager) and that there's a powerful civilian time agency by the 31st century (as seen in Enterprise). So there could well be a time active force in the 32nd century who could be keen on getting the Discovery home, or alternatively keeping them in the future.
  • The only thing we've seen beyond the new Disco era is the Short Treks episode “Calypso.” It seems clear that the this is tied into the Discovery has been abandoned by then, and presumably the Sphere data that has wormed its way into the Disco computer leads to the AI that becomes known as Zora.

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