Thursday, 9 December 2021

TREK REVIEW: DIS 4-2 & 4-3




This season of Discovery has gotten off to a very serialised start, with "Anomaly" essentially acting as a coda for the opener and "Choose to Live" continuing the themes and plotlines. Not that there's not plenty else going on, but it seems season four will be a strongly serialised narrative. Both episodes revolve heavily around the mystery of the gravitational anomaly, as we might expect, but also around Book's emotional fallout from the loss of his homeworld. It's the latter that makes for the better television, not least because of David Ajala's excellent performance as the traumatised traveller. 


Book suffers from a very understandable survivor's guilt, not least because he could have saved his brother and nephew - had he only known that they were in such terrible danger in the first place. "Anomaly" sees him clearly unable to make rational decisions in the wake of his loss, but Burnham still okays him for a mission into the anomaly that destroyed his world to gather essential telemetry. A little later, Michael steps back from being captain for a brief moment to act as his partner first and foremost, but the person who makes the most impact on him, surprisingly, is Stamets.


Beamed into Book's ship as a sophisticated hologram, Stamets isn't the natural choice to team up with Book, but their wildly different personalities actually get the better of one another and they force each other to open up. For his part, Stamets owns up about his feelings of being made redundant as the one-and-only spore drive operator, while also feeling a sort of guilt for not being the one to save his family at the end of the previous season. Rapp and Ajala have a wonderfully awkward but ultimately respectful rapport on the screen, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of this unlikely team.


Ultimately, though, very little actually happens in "Anomaly," plot-wise. Stamets's initial theory that the anomaly (blimey, that word is getting irritating now) is a pair of colliding black holes is rapidly thrown out when the data comes in. This isn't a bad thing, given that, as David McIntee points out in his own (better) review, this would lead to a gamma ray burst that would kill even more people than the anomaly's gravitational effects. As also points out, it does look rather like a big evil eye. By the time of the next episode, the new data has the scientist referring to it as a Dark Matter Anomaly or DMA, even though that's definitely a poor description and he becomes convinced it's a wormhole except that it doesn't fit that model either. 


We also get two Culber-oriented subplots through the two episodes. Tilly, who is dealing with a time-displacement malaise and seems to be working towards being written out, basically appoints him as her personal counsellor. He seems to have taken on this role by default, but he's easily the best counsellor the franchise has ever had (sorry Troi, sorry Ezri, sorry red from Star Trek Continues), with Wilson Cruz emenating a calming presence at all times. 


His second storyline is more immediately impactful, seeing him mastermind the work to grant Gray a new body in the here-and-now. Like the Qowat Milat space nuns who also makes up a significant part of "Choose to Live," this plotline follows on from Star Trek: Picard, with the technology used to make Gray corporeal again being an adaptation of the golem tech that allowed Picard to survive death. It's a strange thing to have the very end of the TNG era be a distant history in Discovery's new setting, but it's helps tie everything together as parts of a greater whole. Given the tech in Picard could and should revolutionised life in the galaxy, it's both frustrating and understandable that we learn that virtually no one has ever gotten it to work in the eight hundred years since.


The use of the zhian'tara ritual is a clever way of making this work, as in DS9 this was used to allow Dax's former hosts live again through borrowed bodies. Again, it ties it all together nicely, although we might suppose from this former example that now Gray is incorporated his memories and experiences are lost from Adira's mind. It's nice to see Xi, the nice man from Trill, come back as well.


A further ongoing element is the reintroduction of Saru to the ship, settling in as Mr. Saru, the first officer. It's not unheard of for a captain to act as first officer in the franchise, but it's odd considering that Saru has seniority over Burnham. Still, he seems happy, and it suits the character better to be doling out the old man wisdom than be giving out the orders. He's relatively underused in these episodes though.


"Choose to Live" has a lot more plot going for it than "Anomaly," with three separate story threads jostling for the A-plot role. As well as Gray's re-embodiment, we've got Burnham being arbitrarily teamed-up with her own mother to hunt down a rogue space nun who's turned to piracy, and a trip to the Planet-Formerly-Known-as-Vulcan for new best buds Book and Stamets. The latter plotline is the most satisfying, again even though there's relatively little actual plot, giving Book the opportunity to heal through the embracing of his emotions and memories. Distinctly forward-thinking stuff from the more Romulan-influenced Vulcans of the 32nd century, who can, it's clear, still perform the classic mindmeld. It's great to finally see Ni'Var in the dusty, red reality at last, super-futuristic with its hovering platforms far above its iconic deserts. The Vulcans are the same as ever in some ways though, granting their visitors no consideration or niceties and putting themselves into meditative trances in order to think about scientific problems.


Burnham's hectic Qowat Milat storyline has a lot more going on, but is somehow the least involving of the lot. I enjoyed the fun space adventure, from the "That's no moon!" moment of the gigantic space ark reveal to the Abronians themselves - proper aliens with big, hulking semi-insectoid bodies. The idea of a race of aliens whose bodies are prized for containing latinum is a new and chilling one, as is the idea of grave-snatchers raiding stasis pods. Still, for all the fighting and derring-do, this threa failed to grab me in the same way as the quieter moments of the episode. 


In the end, of course, we're still no closer to knowing what that nasty anomaly is all about.


New worlds: The Abronian ark is a huge, hollowed-out asteroid, not unlike Yonada in the classic episode "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky."


New civilisations: Ni'Var remains separate from the Federation, and getting the world to rejoin seems to be the President's top priority. As we hear it's coming out of isolation, it seems clear that Kaminar is not currently a member either.


Old titles: This is the second Trek episode called "Anomaly." Enterprise S3 E2 shared the title. This is the first time an episode title has been recycled in the franchise, although there have been several close calls in the past.


Old jokes: And, for Mr. McIntee, a Star Dwarf meme:


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