Star Trek: Discovery 2.05 – “Saints of Imperfection”

In which A and B plots are inextricable, various characters make triumphant returns, and the Search for Spock continues.

The original Search for Spock ran for an hour and forty-five minutes. I’m not going to tally up the running time of season 2 of Discovery so far, but the show has been teasing us with Spock appearances for five whole episodes, now, and it’s … gotten a bit dull, actually. Spock’s basically the Key to Time at this point, except with even less progress, and also he doesn’t look like an extremely dodgy sex toy. And there’s no doubt he’ll eventually be found, since (a) it’s Spock, we know how the rest of his life goes; (b) the trailers show him being debriefed by Admiral Cornwell.

Fortunately, everything else about this episode was so great that I not only forgot about Spock, I completely forgot that Kat Cornwell, my actual favourite character, was meant to be in it. And trust me, it takes a lot for me to forget about Kat.

Section 31 (part 1)

Discovery has tracked down Spock’s stolen shuttle, but instead of a half-Vulcan in crisis, they find on board … her Imperial Majesty, Mother of the Fatherland, Overlord of Vulcan, Dominus of Qo’noS, Regina Andor, Philippa Georgiou Augustus Iaponius Centarius (retired).

She’s here to chew scenery and make people uncomfortable, and she’s … not running out of scenery any time soon. But that’s okay, she can multitask.

I enjoy Georgiou’s theatrics. All her public interactions are a performance; like she says, she does her best work in plain sight. And even in private, her mask of control, amusement, feline satisfaction, rarely slips more than a couple of millimetres.

But, much as I adore watching her, I hope we do get to see the mask slip a bit more. Though Georgiou enjoys playing to an audience, and as much as Michelle Yeoh clearly relishes every moment, we’re getting to a point where I think we really need to see her vulnerabilities, her naked self. Especially if she’s meant to carry a whole spin-off at some point down the line.

But I think the seeds are being planted: her pleasure at seeing a glimpse of a more ruthless Michael, her reminder that her Michael was a Terran. Philippa has lost everything over the last few years, starting with her daughter’s loyalty — she’s a tragic figure, and I suspect her theatrics are to some extent compensation, a disguise for her true feelings.

(And also it’s fun, being the bad guy.)

(Okay, she’s a tragic figure who also eats people. I love her, but let’s try to keep that in mind.)

Walking the line between tragic villain and theatrical bad guy we all love to hate is a challenging job — I rather think DS9, for example, didn’t quite pull it off with Dukat after the fridging of his daughter. But I’m eager to see how it plays out.

A villain who is not at all tragic: Leland.

I mean, he’s not precisely villainous — more antagonistic and ruthless, and I doubt he’s eaten a single person in his entire life — but I certainly won’t be sorry when he inevitably dies at Georgiou’s hands. Except that his interactions with Pike added a layer to that character, so let’s take a moment to talk about Chris Pike…

The good guy captain

I think I’ve said before that I like this iteration of Pike without finding him intrinsically interesting. But I was in a similar state with Lorca for his first few appearances — I was intrigued by his obvious shadiness, and I am deeply fond of Jason Isaacs, but I wouldn’t say I cared about him as a character in his own right.

In both cases, that changed in the fifth episode of the season, and for the same reason: we get to see the captains interacting with old friends.

For Lorca, that was Kat — her first significant scene after a brief introduction in the previous episode — and we had the push and pull of her concern and his deflection.

Pike gets Georgiou, an old Academy acquaintance, and Leland, who is best described as a frenemy. Or, I suppose, a friendly rival.

Philippa barely attempts to pass for her Federation counterpart — I suspect she considers such pretence beneath her — so Pike is instantly wary, even if for some reason he doesn’t immediately conclude she’s an imposter from another universe.

Leland, on the other hand, seems remarkably upfront for a guy running a semi-secret intelligence organisation. But he’s not just high handed in his demand for Pike (and Michael) to back off on Searching for Spock, he’s also stalking Discovery under cloak, and seems pretty okay with letting everyone die in the attempt to rescue Tilly.

The Pike/Leland breakup must have been spectacular.

These scenes don’t have me jumping up and down and rushing off to write Pike fic, but they’re filling in some of the gaps.

Mushroom business

But this stuff is all secondary. The A-plot is The Search for Sylvia, as Stamets’s inability to accept she is dead leads to a dangerous and mildly cracktacular venture into the mycelial network, where Tilly and May are monster hunting.

And that monster? None other than a semi-undead Hugh Culber, given an unlife within the network through a combination of magic, handwavium and Paul himself.

This is nonsense, obviously, but it’s weirdly compatible with the resurrection of Spock in … you know. That movie. Life, as Jeff Goldblum tells us in the documentary Jurassic Park, finds a way. Carol Marcus is a bit younger than Tilly; it is extremely easy to believe that she was familiar with Stamets’s work and incorporated his theories into her terraforming work.

But let’s put a pin in The Hugh Story and get back to Tilly.

She’s spent the last couple of episodes being vulnerable and afraid — which sense, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s also a relief to see that she has moved on to angry and sarcastic.

The anger falls aside as soon as Tilly realises May needs her help. The sarcasm lingers, and … well, who can blame her?

I think this shift in Tilly’s attitude is sold by the acting more than the script — Mary Wiseman does great work, and Tilly has long been established as a person who can very quickly change course when she gets new information. Without those two elements, and the chemistry between Wiseman and Bahia Watson, I’d have had a difficult time buying that Tilly could trust May so quickly.

Meanwhile, back on Discovery, people are reacting to Tilly’s loss in characteristic ways. Michael, raised on Vulcan, is trying to achieve acceptance. Paul, who is still dealing with Hugh’s death, searches for other explanations, and in doing so, manages to save both Tilly and Hugh.

Pike is caught in the middle: he liked and respected Tilly, but he’s also a busy man, and he has a Vulcan to find. He seizes the opportunity to risk everything for a rescue attempt, but without evidence to the contrary, he’s ready to accept that Tilly is gone.

The rescue attempt gives us some Classic Trekkish Scenes, but with less self-consciousness than other such examples this season: collective problem-solving, a briefing in an obscure scientific field, officers vaulting over consoles as difficulties arise. It’s the little things, y’know?

But shouldn’t this be a Paul story?

As much as I really enjoyed watching “Saints of Imperfection”, I have to admit that I found it rather odd that Hugh’s return is precipitated by a Tilly story, and that we’ve had so little explicit discussion of Paul’s grief save for the conversation in the season premiere.

I don’t mind that it’s a Tilly story — I’ve rather enjoyed the whole May subplot — but so much on Paul’s side has been implicit that the joy of Hugh’s return seems ever so slightly muted.

But that may just be me — my engagement with the Stamets/Culber relationship, and with Culber as a character, has always been strictly intellectual. I like them, separately and together, but I don’t have many feelings about them beyond thinking that killing Culber in the first place was a bad idea.

Has Culber’s death paid off?

Meh. I know the writers wanted to tell an epic story about love and loss and resurrection, but Hugh was never so interesting that I felt his absence when he wasn’t being actively discussed (maybe that’s why I feel like we didn’t get enough on Paul’s grief?), and I honestly question the wisdom of telling this story now, at a time when queer characters and characters of colour are still being disproportionately killed in media.

Some stories are better told as fan fiction rather than canon, you know? That doesn’t mean they’re bad, just that they work better in a different context.

Having said all this, the story is still ongoing, and I’m eager to see the fallout — emotional and practical — of Hugh returning from the dead. Does Starfleet has a form for that yet?

Will the trauma of death, nine months of unlife under attack by spores, rebirth, and sharing a ship with his murderer make Culber more interesting? I hope so!

Oh yeah, Ash is back!

And he’s prettier than ever!

But not much smarter. Is he … surprised that he’s not welcomed with open arms on a ship where he betrayed the crew, killed an officer, and then apparently deserted? That the new captain is less than delighted by his presence?

Ash, I love you, and I want you to be happy, but I really hope your secret baby got L’Rell’s brains.

All mockery aside, I’m glad that Ash is back on board — while emotional complication is the last thing Michael needs (and she doesn’t know about the secret baby yet!), he’s presence is a nice source of tension with regard to Pike, Paul and Hugh.

And he’s just so pretty.

Section 31 (part 2)

Aaaaaaand he’s working for Section 31, because, like I said, he’s not that bright. And what choice does he have? Unlike Julian Bashir, he’s not exactly in a position to turn down job offers.

Also aboard the USS Extraordinary Rendition: Admiral Kat!

And may I say, I was delighted to hear from multiple people that they thought of me when she turned up. “Gets overly attached to minor recurring characters” is a weird brand, but it’s mine.

Kat is here to order Pike and Leland to kiss and make up, or, at least, to cooperate in the search for … you know.

Or is she?

There’s a theory going around Reddit that this is not Kat at all, but Georgiou in holographic disguise. Because Discovery and the USS MKUltra are waaaaaay out in the middle of nowhere, and Pike would have noticed a third starship pulling up. But it would also be strange for Kat — a notably hands-on type of admiral — to hang around and watch without comment as Leland fails to help Discovery.

Georgiou and Leland, on the other hand, benefit from Pike believing that he’s entered a truce with Section 31, and will work with them to find that guy — including pressing Michael for information she may not realise she has.

At first I was like, “This is a ridiculous theory, and I’m only into it because it’s cracksome, and I ship Georgiou/Cornwell and this would be a bit messed up in a cool way.”

And that’s … mostly still my position.

But I have this tiny shred of evidence: Kat’s hair. It’s subtly different from her season one look, which was quite even, front and back. Now it’s a couple of centimetres longer in front, and flipped outwards, then straight across in the back.

It is, in fact, the hairstyle Georgiou wore as emperor, and in her first days in the Federation universe.

But maybe it’s a subtle marker of Kat’s slide from The Only Sane Admiral into something more ambiguous! Or — and I realise this one seems unlikely — maybe Jayne Brook just wanted a change, and I’m reading far too much into one haircut.

But this is the series which created a fictional actor, complete with IMDB page, to camouflage one of their twists.

And Reddit was the first to catch that one, too.

But let’s assume for now that it’s really Kat (or, Section 31 [part 3])

It’s pretty clear by now that, as of the 2250s, Section 31 is a legitimate arm of Federation intelligence. They have badges, something vaguely uniform-like, and you can buy their merch on startrek.com.

But they are, nevertheless, extremely sketchy, and I am super excited that Kat, The Only Sane Admiral, is currently giving them orders. She’s unapologetically pragmatic, and has no time to waste nurturing fragile male egos when there’s work to be done and Spocks to be searched for.

I keep comparing her to TNG’s Admiral Necheyev, who was frequently the mouthpiece for the Federation and Starfleet’s worst decisions, but was portrayed as a sort of bitchy ice queen who needed to be more understanding of Picard’s … opinions. Their interactions were always interesting, but even as a kid, I felt like Necheyev was being treated unfairly. I love that Kat gets to make equally sketchy decisions, but is treated like a person, not an annoyance.

Also, her remarks about nation-building is exactly what I was talking about the other week with regard to Klingons. I feel slightly bad for L’Rell, who apparently doesn’t realise how many puppetmasters are pulling her strings.

Other observations

  • We didn’t really check in with Saru this week, but I assume he’s investigating extreme sports and fugu eating competitions in his off hours.
  • Okay, but seriously, how long was Kat on board the USS Bay of Pigs Invasion? Was she planning to intervene if Georgiou didn’t?
  • How soon do we think Leland is going to die? I’m predicting episode eight.
  • GIVE TILLY BACK HER FUNGUS GIRLFRIEND
  • Is Hugh a mushroom now? Does he share some of Tilly’s DNA? Is he about to sprout ginger curls and spores?
  • It took me DAYS to spot the significance of Georgiou eating an apple and hissing like a snake. Eight years of Catholic school, wasted.

Finally

The Ditmar Awards are now taking nominations! These are essentially the Australian Hugos. Nominations can come from “any natural person active in fandom” (query: is Hugh Culber a natural person?) although voting is limited to members of the Australian NatCon, which this year is Continuum 15.

I blogged quite a lot about Star Trek in 2018, and am eligible for Best Fan Writer, and also the William Atheling Jr. Award for Criticism or Review (for which I was nominated last year, and I’m still a bit blown away by that).

If you are a natural person in fandom, or at least, a recently dead person reanimated through the power of transdimensional mushrooms (it’ll be our little secret), and you would like to nominate me, you can do so here.

Author: Liz Barr

Words written. Opinions expressed.

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