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.