Sunday, 19 December 2021

TREK REVIEW: DIS 4-4 - All is Possible

And catching up with my Disco reviews, watching now week-by-week on Pluto TV, which is both perfectly legal and charmingly retro. I haven't had to actually tune in at a particular time to watch Star Trek since 2005. We even had to stop watching something else to switch over, or we'd have missed it.

As such, it's nice that we have an episode with a solidly old-fashioned Trek feel to it in Disco week four. Tilly's story, while visually riffing heavily on 2009's Star Trek movie (and unsurprisingly, given the same visual artist, Neville Page, was involved) is a meat-and-potatoes story that harks right back to "The Galileo 7" with Tilly as the Spock figure, testing out her command (and teaching) skills. Thinking on it, Tilly's path seems to be quite similar to Spock's, in that they're both heading from the command path into the training path. I could easily see a future series one day in which an older Tilly is captaining a training ship, pulled to the frontline suddenly like in The Wrath of Khan.

Tilly's leaving the show is a bit of a surprise, not because it wasn't signposted, but because it's come so quickly. I fully expected this storyline to run through the season and culminate with her leaving at the end. While it's clear Tilly's new academy posting will keep her close at hand for guest appearances, it's also a big change to core line-up of the series. Since she arrived on the scene in season one, Tilly has been an essential part of the show and of Burnham's life. It's not helping quell the rumours of Mary Wiseman's pregnancy, of course. For that matter, where's her husband? The series' resident Andorian hasn't been seen all season.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if we get a Starfleet Academy spin-off - after all, there have been on-off plans for that for at least thirty years. I'm not sure the characters we have set-up this episode would carry a series themselves. Adira aside, none of the cadets say main character to me. There's promise in the simmering rivalry between Harrall and Gorev, the young Orion and Tellarite cadets, but it's resolved by the end of the episode. Still, applause for Adrian Walters for his decision to play the Tellarite with a Caribbean accent. Sasha is cute, but doesn't have much character beyond the quiet nervous one. Still, there's promise in the idea, with the nurturing, understanding, but surprisingly steely Tilly taking wet-behind-the-ears cadets on various ill-advised missions.

The events on the moon Kokytos are fun and gripping, with spectacular visuals. The new virtual sets are really justifying their expense this season. The alien monster, referred to here as a Tuscadian pyrosome, is a wonderfully odd bit of random science extrapolation; pyrosomes on Earth are bioluminescent filter feeders, not carnivorous monsters that hunt people down, but they got the colony creature part right. Equally questionable science comes with the gamma-ray burst that knocks the shuttle out of flight in the first place; if you get hit by a gamma-ray burst then you'll be pretty much vapourised, and crashing is the least of your worries.

The other two main plotlines aren't as exciting, but work solidly well. Book's ongoing therapy is starting to lose its appeal as a storyline, but is saved by the ever-impressive performances of Ajala and Cruz. The more interesting part of the storyline is how Culber's own trauma is gradually coming to the fore, beyond time given how much he's been through even since he was resurrected. More interesting is the diplomatic incident to Ni'Var, with Burnham and Saru drafted in to sit and look official while Admiral Vance is off with political gutrot. Of course, this all part of the canny Federation President's plan, knowing she and Vulcan President T'Rina are both stuck in non-compromisable positions. Michael's a ig mouth who can't help but get involved and Saru's the wisest old man in the galaxy, let's get them involved. I'm starting to really like Tara Rosling as the quiet, measured T'Rina, and particularly her gentle, well-mannered romance with Saru.

With Ni'Var demanding its own Article 50 Brexit clause before it rejoins the Federation, there are clear parallels with the political situation today, and we can see that neither the Federation nor the Ni'Vari can back down without angering way too many voters. Burnham and Saru's compromise seems a little too easy, but overall this is a strong diplmacy storyline of the kind TNG and DS9 used to do so well. Altogether, there's a strong theme of compromise and understanding running through the episode, both understanding of ones rivals and oneself. Burnham points out the Romulan and Vulcan reunification, and President Rilak's mixed heritage, as examples of civilisations moving past their differences, and Saru joins in with his own acceptance of the Ba'ul (who used to eat his friends, let's remind ourselves, so there's no one more willing to let past sins go than him). Meanwhile, Tilly makes her cadets stop and get to know each other, even while they're being hunted by a killer blob monster, forcing them to undestand that not everyone who looks like your enemy is your enemy, and Culber helps Book understand that he'll need to find new ways beyond his homeworld to accept its loss. It's a thematically strong episode that holds together very well.

Stellar Cartography: The Alpha Helios system has, in traditional human style, names from Greek mythology. Helios was a sun god, while the ice moon Kokytos is named for a river in Hades (also spelled Cocytus). Geryon, the intended destination, is named for a three-bodied giant.

Monster Monster Monster: The Pyrosome beast seems very reminiscent to the Henrauggi from 2009's Star Trek, and its home on Kokytos is very like the similarly frozen Delta Vega.

What's in a name? The USS Armstrong is obviously named for Neil Armstrong, the first man on the Moon, while its Captain Imahara is surely named for Mythbusters and Star Trek Continues star Grant Imahara, who died last year.

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