Sunday 6 February 2022

TREK REVIEW: DIS 4-6 - Stormy Weather

 Better get on with these before the series starts up again.

In an episode that could have been called “Book's Brain,” the Starship Discovery is catapulted into the great beyond as it enters a subspace rift in an attempt to find out something about the mysterious power behind the DMA. Straight away, there's a new tension between Book and Burnham, as the former is more concerned about contacting other civilisations to see what they know about the DMA. Plus, it's his dad's birthday, which brings up some difficult emotions even before the disagreeable old man starts appearing to him to tell him just how disappointed he is in his son.

Meanwhile, Zora's burgeoning sentience and emotional awareness spirals into a full-blown anxiety attack when the ship is trapped on the other side of the rift, a region of absolute nothingness. DOT probes immediately disintegrate, the warp drive won't function, even the mycelial network doesn't fully penetrate the region so there's not even the option of mushrooming away. With not only the crew but the ship freaking out, getting back to civilisation is going to be rather a challenge.

Booker's hallucinations of his father are caused by a power surge of particles from the void, seemingly the same as those that make up the galactic barrier. Of course, that's assuming they are hallucinations; given the near magical empathic powers that the Kweijian show, a zap from the psychically-charged barrier could surely trigger even greater powers in Book. Perhaps he really is speaking to his late father beyond the veil? In any case, it seems that the particles are the key to finding a way home. Unfortunately, Discovery's shields won't last long enough to keep the crew alive through the journey.

Stormy Weather” is quite the bottle episode, with just one new face in the speaking cast – Rotherford Grey as Book's father Tarecx. Given that everything is comfined to the ship and the briefest glimpses of blackness outside, director Jonathan Frakes hasn't a huge amount to work with so it's impressive how much tension he and the cast manage to generate. Still, it's perhaps appropriate that this episode feels rather like it's treading water, existing to bridge a gap between the previous episode and the next rather than tell its own story. Sure, this is serial television, but when it comes out a week at a time, this lack of motion is frustrating. I imagine it will play better upon a season-long rewatch.

The effective parts of the episode are the various characters' emotional journeys and their changing relationships. Gray is able to comfort and reassure Zora through mindfulness and game-playing, likening the AI's awakening to his own adjustment to his rebirth in an artificial body. He sure points a lot of the obvious, but it does the trick with the computer, and it's nice to see Gray get to do something except look pretty now he's present again. There's a great deal here to do with identity, with Gray's further exploration of his self, Zora's continued evolution, Book's rejection of parts of his background against his father's expectations and even Burnham's family tree. For her part, Burnham is able to both survive the ravages of radiation and fiery heat as Discovery returns through the rift, and keep Zora together emotionally as they complete the journey, because it's still Michael's show and she has to help save the day.

What she can't do, it seems, it help keep Book together. He ends up discussing his internalised rage – either the cause of his hallucinations, or made worse by his dad's visit – with Saru, but he's very clearly coming apart and Burnham's continued reliance on him isn't helping him get to grips with his loss. Book chooses his love and trust for Michael ahead of his need for retribution for his people, but the increasing tension between them shows that this won't be the case for long.

The DMA plot though creeps forward barely a jot. The revelation that the uninspiringly-named Species 10-C are from outside the galaxy isn't nearly as remarkable as the writers seem to think it is, and while it narrows down previously known races to a mere handful it's clear they're brining in someone new (unless this is all misdirection). Either way, after all the loss and struggles of the episode the crew end up in almost exactly the position they were when they started.

Reflections and References:

When the suggestion to put the crew in transporter suspension raises doubts Saru points out it has worked before. The most notable example is Scotty's 75-year suspension that ended in TNG: “Relics,” but there's also the multiple suspensions used to hide telepathic crew and refugees from the Devore in VOY: “Counterpoint.”

Saru also refers to both the Enterprise and Voyager encountering subspace rifts. There are a number of incidences of this in both TNG and VOY, but he could just as likely be talking about the Voyager-J and a 32nd century Enterprise.

A Ferengi works behind the bar on Discovery, while a Lurian sits on the opposite side. That looks remarkably familiar...

There's the first onscreen confirmation that Gray is transgender like his actor Ian Alexander, having chosen his own name to match his identity.

Zora's rendition of “Stormy Weather” hints she's already developing an appreciation for the classics, as she will one day display in the Short Trek “Calypso.”

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