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.

TREK REVIEW: Discovery 2-12: "Through the Valley of Shadows"

2-12) Through the Valley of Shadows

Season two of Discovery has served Captain Pike well. Long a favourite of mine, Pike never really got the chance to truly show what he was capable of as a character in previous iterations, but the potential was always there. This episode, an exceptional piece of work, finally gave him the material he deserves as a character, and Anson Mount proved how well cast and how good an actor he is.

Pike's sacrifice as told in “Menagerie,” back in 1966, was written as a matter of necessity. Jeffrey Hunter was no longer available, so Sean Kinney was cast for his vague resemblance. There was also a need to rework the material from “The Cage” and this required a reason for Spock to involve Pike and his past. Pike's horrific fate, being severely burnt by radiation and left mute and immobile, was the result of his heroism in rescuing cadets, but was also a pragmatic way to encase Kinney in make-up and put Pike in need of rescue.

We never saw Pike's story; it was just given to us as hurried background in order to make another story work. His eventual fate has hung over his appearances in this season; we know where Pike's heading and canon dictates that there's no way for him to escape it. Making this predetermined fate Pike's conscious choice, not only a choice to save the cadets in the event but a choice to accept, even embrace an inevitable fate to help save the future is a masterstroke. The final, devastating moment, where Pike sees himself, is brilliantly directed and shot; not only is it upsettingly gruesome, but by being shot from the perspective of both versions of Pike, it hammers home everything he has lost and is willing to give up. (The dual perspective was apparently Mount's idea, and it makes the scene.)

To get Pike to this point, there are some slightly unbelievable but undeniably effective story choices. I wasn't particularly looking forward to Tyler and L'rell meeting again and dealing with their baggage, but it's handled much better than in the third episode, even if their stubbornness is clearly putting their son at risk. The existence of time crystals is more pseudoscientific than usual for Star Trek – and this is a series with a mushroom drive that can jump across space – but it works in an episode that's tied up with destiny. That Tyler and L'rell's son, now named Tenavik, has already met his destiny, due to the strange effects of growing up around the time crystals, is an intriguing element. Kenneth Mitchell gives a dignified performance as Tenavik, and I wouldn't have realised that it was the same actor as Kol and his father in previous episodes.

Less effective is Michael and Spock's mission to Section 31. Gant is far to peripheral a character to have been brought back for any reason other than to turn sides, and in any case, it's blindingly obvious from the outset that he's Control, who has now gone full SkyNet and can assimilate anyone to become a handy avatar. It leads to a decent bit of fisticuffs with some creepy and effective cybernetic visuals, but all in all this whole thread exists to set up a cliffhanger into the finale. And why has no one suggested blowing up Discovery already? One ship hardly seems like a bad price to pay for saving all organic life.

This one story thread aside, “Through the Valley of Shadows” is a very fine episode that earns an important place in Trek's ongoing story.


  • The version of Boreth we see here doesn't really mesh with the version we saw in TNG. There, the monks were, weirdly enough, experts in cloning, and used their science to recreate Kahless. Here, they're keepers of the knowledge of time travel. I do like the pseudo-mediaeval look of the monastery here, though, and that we're discovering more facets to Klingon culture that we'd never imagined before.
  • This episode pretty much puts paid to the idea that Voq's son will become the Albino on DS9.
  • The new D-7 ship is fantastic – a fine update on a classic design.
  • Jet Reno was married, but her wife died in the Klingon war. Her wife was a Soyousian, a race we haven't heard of before.

Wednesday 17 April 2019

TREK REVIEW: Discovery 2-11 - "Perpetual Infinity"

It's the episode with the answers, or at least, a fair few of them. After last week's surprise revelation of the Red Angel's identity, we get an episode that is essentially dedicated to Michael's relationship with her mother. The writers have an amusing take on the two of them, with Gabrielle being just as stubborn and self-important as her daughter. It's also pretty funny that, after Spock thinking it was all about him, it turns out to be all about Michael, only for it to be all about her mum... then it turns out to be about her after all. Gabrielle, thrown 950 years into a desolate future, has twin missions across space and time: stop Control to save the Galaxy, and keep Michael safe.

Not that she admits this last bit for a long time. Perhaps she wants to make it easier on her daughter by being a bitch so that when she has to leave it doesn't hurt so much – exactly the same thing that Michael did to Spock back at Vulcan's Forge. In the end, though, these events are a healing process for Michael's family, with her relationships with both Spock and her mother mended. Sonequa Martin-Green gives a great performance here, and her chemistry with Ethan Peck is perfect, but it's really Sonja Sohn's episode. She's got the perfect voice for dropping in from the future to make grand proclamations of doom. She's a kind of female Morgan Freeman.

Less convincing is Michael's other mother, Evil Georgiou. I'm actually enjoying the character more and more as the season goes on, as Yeoh has reigned her performance in, but nonetheless, the character's shift from grand mistress of the universe to Michael's champion is unconvincing. And Michael already has a guardian angel, after all. Still, we do get some spectacular martial arts from Yeoh as Georgiou fights the Controlled Leland, in a Matrix-styled battle on the planet's surface. It's exactly what you hire Michelle Yeoh for, after all. Why put her in a black catsuit if you're not going to have her go all space ninja on a cyborg's ass?

Controlled Leland is great, with Alan van Sprang making the Section 31 leader just a little more sinister, a little more robotic than usual. It's totally believable that it takes a while for Georgiou and Tyler to realise he's not quite right, since he's such a cold bastard at the best of times. Once they do realise, and team up against him, both agents work better than they ever did when they were at odds. Georgiou and Tyler, it turns out, make a really effective team.

There are some logical flaws in the episode, or rather, it extends logical flaws from earlier in the season. The crew had come to the conclusion that the Red Angel was from the future because its technology was too advanced to be explained otherwise, yet it turns out that Gabrielle created it twenty years ago. While Section 31 has displayed tech that's further ahead than the rest of Starfleet, it's still a daft contradiction. (Unless the inference is that the Angel was created using future tech, in some kind of paradox, like Control itself, but that's never made clear.) The revelation that Gabrielle knows nothing about the red bursts is a twist, yet it's just as feasible that she hasn't created them yet, from her perspective. And how does she manage, even given the technology at her disposal, to lift a bunch of people fifty thousand years across space to Terralysium? I do like the idea that the Sphere data is so sophisticated that it can learn and adapt itself, preventing itself from being deleted. No wonder Control is so keen to get hold of it; the Sphere's database is more advanced an AI than Control itself.

In spite of some slightly silly and hard to swallow plot anomalies, this is a decent episode that combines both spectacular action and powerful emotional beats. I don't buy for a second that we won't meet Gabrielle again, even if she is unstuck in time.


  • So, is Control the origin of the Borg? The hologram that infects Leland states that “Struggle is pointless,” which is practically “Resistance is futile,” and the method Control uses to infect Leland, using nanites, is practically identical to the Borg's later use of nanoprobes. It's not impossible that Control or some of its tech is eventually sent back in time, ending up in the Delta Quadrant and giving rise to the Borg... or maybe it's just a red herring.
  • Michael's dad, Mike, is played by Sonequa Martin-Green's husband, Kenric Green.
  • Spock quotes Hamlet, and Michael gets ridiculously overexcited about it, because Trek characters are all obsessed with Shakespeare. It's better in the original Klingon, anyway.
  • Dr. Gabrielle Burnham never returned home.

Sunday 14 April 2019

Black Holes and Planetoids

The news has been alight with the first ever image of a black hole, released to the world this week. The black hole was imaged by a 200-strong team at MIT, led by Dr. Katie Bouman, whose face has become known across the world due to her vital role in the research. The Guardian has a great article on Dr. Bouman and her contribution to the creation of the algorithm that created the image.

The algorithm correlated data from the Event Horizon Telescope, a huge array of radio telescopes across the globe, which scan the sky for radio signals indicative of black hole activity, notably from Sagittarius A* - aka the Monster - a huge black hole at the centre of our own Galaxy, and M87*, the equivalent object at the core of Galaxy M87, over 55 million light years away.

The data collection is remarkable in itself, but it would be nothing without the teams of scientists working to interpret it. Dr. Bouman's algorithm is what is responsible for turning the reams of radio data into a visual image. While the image may not look impressive at first, this fuzzy ring of glowing gas is the first image ever of a phenomenon we long thought would never be seen. Until now, no one had ever seen a black hole, or had real proof of one's existence.

To put this image into some context, here's an imaging of the entire region from which the data was collected. The black hole is a tiny speck in a huge region of ionised gas, slowly dragging it all in and releasing energy. The black hole is over six billion times the mass of the Sun.

What's wonderful about this discovery is how many people are sharing it, talking about it and Dr. Bouman, and sharing the image. In our pop culture driven, the image has already become the subject of dozens of memes. Also, be careful if you're heading to New Earth on Doctor Who, that's in the same galaxy, along with all those Macra.

In further space news, the planetary body 2007 OR10, a dwarf planet candidate, has wandered the outer reaches of the solar system without a formal name since its discovery twelve years ago. Although nicknamed "Snow White," the trans-Neptunian body is the largest object in the solar system without a proper name. Meg Schwamb, an assistant scientist at the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii and co-discoverer of the worldlet, makes a good case for why it needs a name here. Her team has narrowed the name list down to three options, and is asking for the public to vote on the final decision.

The names are: Gonggong, a Mandarin name for a Chinese water god; Holle, a Germanic winter goddess and linked to the winter solstice; and Vili, a Nordic deity of Asgard who defeated the giant Ymir and created the Earth. I voted for Gonggong, because it is quite the silliest option of the three. You can read all about the suggestions and cast your vote here.

Sunday 7 April 2019


2-8 & 2-9) IDENTITY, parts 1 & 2

The big, blow-out two-parter that everything has been leading up to, this was originally meant to be the finale for season one. The decision to push it back till midway through the second season wasn't a bad call; the characters probably did need more development to give it the impact it deserved. Still, you've got to wonder how they can follow it up for the finale of this season.

It's heartbreaking to see Isaac give up on his character development, throwing out the minor elements of humanity he's gained and selling the Orville crew out to the Kaylon. The impact on Claire and her kids is the most obvious bit of betrayal, but it impacts every member of the cast. Isaac's had a genuinely interesting development through the series, one that's similar to the route Data took in TNG but goes down a different track. There was never any real doubt that Data was a person, who embraced his humanity, while with Isaac it's quite different. There's an ongoing question as to whether Isaac really is self-aware, or whether he just presents a convincing simulation of it, and while he appears to have developed feelings for his friends, he has no real emotions and has no apparent inclination to change this. 

It's also hard to argue with the Kaylon when they say Isaac has been abused his crewmen. He's been the subject of a lot of verbal abuse from people on the crew, particularly Gordon, for his mechanical nature. The story is pretty predictable - we know from the outset that the Kaylon are up to something, and we know that Isaac will eventually put his crew's life before his people's mission. It's just a question of when, and why, he'll change sides. The Kaylon design, and the design of their world, is impressive: planet Kaylon One looks like a technological utopia, and the Kaylons themselves, being completely identical, impress when they attack en masse. Making Isaac recognisable just by his different lights and colour is a nice touch. 

That said, I was under the impression that Isaac's appearance was due to his being designed to fit in with the humanoid crew, and I was looking forward to seeing something different for the Kaylons themselves, but I guess they were designed by humanoids so it still makes sense. The Kaylons history is basically the backstory for The Matrix, or The Terminator, except that they made a much better go at wiping out their creators. It's hard to argue that organic life is warlike, but the Kaylon are immune to the irony of planning to wipe everything out to assure peace. And, as predictable a reveal it is, the bone pits beneath the planet's surface are a great visual moment.

There are some shonky bits: Claire's so emotional that she'd have derailed relations even if the Kaylon had been serious about joining the Union, and you've got to wonder how it can be so easy for a kid to sneak off the ship and around an alien planet without anyone noticing him. And yes, it's easy to see where this is all going, but when it's done with such panache, it's hard to argue that this is a very successful two-part event episode. It's a very important episode in the series' setting and future history, not only setting up the Kaylon as a major recurring threat, but beginning the process of making peace with the Krill as they face a common enemy. It's also pretty funny that this is another instance of The Orville running similar plot points to Star Trek: Discovery, except that this time, The Orville got there first, and Control's quest to wipe out organic life looks like it's copying the Kaylon's.

"Identity" is a very successful story, although it would have been absolutely brilliant if the invasion had turned out to be Isaac's greatest practical joke.

Planets visited: Kaylon One

Music: That's really Scott Grimes singing when Gordon performs at Isaac's going away party. 

Starships and stations: Named Union ships include the USS Roosevelt, USS Quimby, USS Spruance and the USS Hawking

Crewman of the week: It has to be Yaphit, who gets to be more than a comedy character this time and takes out a Kaylon in a heroic bit of bodily invasion.

New aliens: There's a bunch of new faces under impressive make-up at Isaac's party.


A month after the events of "Identity," a ceasefire is in place between the Union and the Krill Empire, and a true peace treaty is on the horizon. While Mercer does have more experience of dealing with the Krill than anyone else in the fleet (at least, anyone who's lived to tell of it), the admiralty is still showing a hell of a lot of faith in the Orville crew. There's a much more serious tone over this episode, even for the more drama-focused second season. There's scarcely any comedy here, save for Talla's very funny delaying tactics with the Krill delegation. This is pretty strong stuff, dealing with the trauma of abuse of a prisoner of war, divided loyalties and the costs of peace. 

This is the first of two episodes that focus on Gordon Malloy, and Scott Grimes proves in both that he's a very strong actor who can do a lot more than the comedy moments he generally got previously. His moral dilemma here, torn between the friendship with Orrin and loyalty to his crew and the Union, is very well portrayed. Mackenzie Astin is also impressive as Orrin, understandably filled with hatred towards the Krill, who imprisoned him for twenty years and killed his family. There's certainly an argument that peace with the Krill can't work, given that they view all other life as soulless animals without value, but it's also clearly true that this is first and only chance for peace and that otherwise all-out war is probably inevitable. 

This is a solid episode, well performed, with some serious things to say. However, it never quite gripped me like it should have. Perhaps it's because Orrin is so obviously guilty from the outset, while it's hard to credit that none of the thorough scans made by Talla and Claire picked up that Leyna isn't human, or that she's got a hidden weapon. The plot feels a little poorly constructed, which would have slipped by unnoticed if it had been a little pacier. Plus, there's no fallout from Isaac's betrayal, when you'd expect some follow-up. Still, it's a pretty decent episode. 

Planets visited: Strictly none, but the ships meet in orbit of Tarezed 3. Tarezed, Menkab al Nasr or Gamma Aquilae, is a real star system a little under four hundred light years away.

New aliens: "Leyna" is an Envall from Lakkar B, a species whose blood reacts explosively when in contact with a nitrogen-rich atmosphere. They've agreed to avoid Union worlds because of this.

The Trek link: John Fleck, who plays the Krill ambassador, played the Suliban leader Silik on Enterprise. His voice is immediately recognisable. 


After a month's break, The Orville comes back with another Gordon-centric episode. Possibly the season could have been ordered a little better, but this is such a lovely episode that I don't really mind. This is a low sci-fi episode, being more of a light romcom, and while it's straightforward and predictable, it's so nicely done that I can't really fault it. It's success is mainly down to the performances of both Scott Grimes and his one-off love interest, Leighton Meester as Laura. There's an easy chemistry between the 25th century man and the 21st century girl, and it sells the episode. 

The set-up in the episode is very simple. A time capsule from 2015 has been uncovered, and the Orville is taking it from Earth to an offworld museum. Inside is a smartphone, left by Laura and complete with all her messages, photos and videos, to help build up a picture of early 21st century life. Gordon uses the environmental simulator to recreate her and her world. It's all very predictable; Gordon falls for Laura, she falls for him back, his crewmates warn him how unhealthy a fantasy it is, things don't work out and he has to move on. But it's beautifully written and performed, so it works. Laura is genuinely likeable, but not unrealistically so, and the romance develops slowly enough to be believable, at least within the confines of a forty-five minute show. 

The subplot with Bortus and Klyden getting addicted to cigarettes is pretty amusing, although the funniest joke is LaMarr replacing the battery on the iPhone so that it won't need charging for ten years. This might not be the most visually impressive or imaginative episode ever, but it's rather beautiful and it makes a nice breather after the combat and politics of the last few episodes.

Planets visited: None, unless you count the simulation of Earth.

The Trek link: Voyager's Tim Russ appears as Dr. Sherman. 

The music: Making Laura a singer seems to have been included just to allow Grimes to sing again, but he's genuinely very good. The music's a highlight in this episode.

The shallow bit: Talla, in 21st century hipster get-up, is just gorgeous.