Star Trek: Discovery 2.13 – “Such Sweet Sorrow (part 1)”

We’re into the finale, people! A finale so packed, it had to be split into two episodes!

Does this mean we’re going to avoid the pacing disaster of season one? I dare not even wonder!

But first

The preliminary ballots for the 2019 Ditmar Awards are out, and I am deeply honoured to have been nominated for Best Fan Writer for my posts here last year.

If you are an attending or supporting member of Continuum 15, or were an attending or supporting member of Swancon43 in 2018, voting is open until 19 May.

Onto the episode!

To the surprise of absolutely no one, the plan to protect the sphere data by blowing up Discovery did not end in the ship’s destruction. “Saved from auto-destruct at the last minute” has been a classic Trek trope going back decades, but even my Trek newbie friends guessed it wasn’t going to pan out.

But I don’t think anyone expected the ship itself to go, “Yeah, nah, actually I’d prefer not to.”

So, having gone through a long and enjoyable docking-and-evacuation sequence, we end up with everyone … going back to Discovery because there’s a fresh red burst to investigate.

I enjoyed watching all this, especially Detmer docking with the Enterprise, and Pike’s return to his own ship, smiling as he sees his two crews collaborating. I like to see procedures that are outside the routine. But having the crew evacuate, only to return, felt a wee bit silly.

Beyond establishing that the sphere data/Discovery — to what point are they still distinguishable? — has a strong survival instinct, the really significant scene here was Michael’s decision to grasp the time crystal.

How do time crystals work? Why does this one show Pike his own personal future, but show Michael (and later Jett) an attack on Discovery and Controleland’s massacre of the main characters? No idea! Best not to think about it too much!

The important thing is the characterisation: having come up with the whole “blow up Discovery” plan, Michael is now having second thoughts, and this combined with her irresistible curiosity inspires her to get up close and personal with the future.

Controleland’s killing spree reminded me of the sequence in Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s “The Wish” where the main characters either kill or are killed in glorious slow motion. This was similarly shocking, although with less of a sense of luxuriating in the violence. Controleland choking Michael, though difficult to watch, is filmed with less sensuality than Buffy having her neck snapped.

(In retrospect, Joss Whedon’s issues were always a bit obvious, weren’t they?)

Michael thinks she’s averted this future by not destroying Discovery, but then, in the final scene, Jett sees more or less the same thing. Is the future unchanged, or is this Controleland’s intention for as long as he can access Discovery?

Pause for set design squee

Despite my feelings about the limited purpose of the whole evacuate/self-destruct thing, I really loved seeing more of the Enterprise. Team Disco have done an outstanding job of reproducing key elements of the 1960s set, while updating them to suit Discovery‘s aesthetic. The bridge is larger, with a remarkably shiny floor, and the large viewscreen/general display seen on Discovery, but the layout, colours and even the chairs are close enough to the original to reconcile the modern and vintage versions.

(I mean, close enough that I can reconcile the versions. Apparently some people are cross that it doesn’t look like it was filmed in 1966, but this is all very subjective, and also I don’t care that much.)

Anyway, the plot

The latest red burst brings the newly re-crewed Discovery to the planet of Xahea, home to the genius engineer-monarch encountered by Tilly in the Short Trek “Runaway”. She specialises in the intersection of physics and crystal … stuff … so she’s just the person they need to figure out what to do with their shiny new time crystal.

“Runaway” was my favourite of the four Short Treks, and I’m quite happy to see Po back. I enjoyed seeing her interact with Tilly, but it’s just as fun to see her with other characters — especially Georgiou, who is accustomed to being the only absolute monarch around here, thank you very much.

While some low-key technobabble takes place, Discovery is joined by the Enterprise — under the command of Admiral Cornwell, because someone in the writers room loves me — and we all hurry up and wait for the arrival of Section 31 and the inevitable battle.

The script works really hard to keep up the tension: there’s no forgetting that the clock is running. But it doesn’t quite work, because while preparations are under way for Michael’s one-way trip to the future, there’s also a lot of big, emotional, talky scenes.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved all the big, emotional, talky scenes! Yes, even the one where Sarek and Amanda randomly turn up on Discovery because I guess Sarek’s ship is just really fast, and katra-GPS is super-accurate? I got so misty in that scene that I didn’t even notice how ridiculous it was until it was over!

And the bridge crew senior stuff people with names refusing to let Michael sacrifice herself alone? Amazing. All through the series, Michael’s saviour complex has isolated her, and the people who care about her have said, enough, you might have to do this, but you don’t have to do it alone. It felt like a significant payoff, albeit one which didn’t need to be underscored by speeches later on.

Nevertheless, while I raise my eyebrow at some choices, it could have been worse — the way people were talking about the farewell scenes, I was braced for the end of The Return of the King, but in space. Instead, we just had a sequence of succinct, touching farewells as the Discover crew prepare for a one-way trip into the unknown.

Wait … one-way?

That aspect definitely raises some questions, given that Team Time Travel includes Spock, who is fairly integral to the next century and a half, and Georgiou, who has her own spin-off to get to.

And, maybe more worrying, this puts everyone in place for Jett and Michael’s vision of Controleland’s massacre. Which is … potentially bad.

Disco’s first two-parter

I was pretty eye-rolly at “Such Sweet Sorrow” being hyped as the series’ first “real” two-parter, when it is so very serialised already. But I’m wondering if some of the pacing issues — the relative slowness of this episode — would be eased if we were watching the two halves together.

It’s possible, but it’s too soon to say. And I still haven’t forgiven Discovery for the wretched pacing of its season one finale, which also followed a slow, character-driven penultimate episode.

The other type of ships

Various pairings — some of them even canonical — had moments in “Such Sweet Sorrow”. I’m gonna go through them one by one.

  1. Hugh and Paul

Was that a break-up? Are they no longer a couple? I think so, for now, but I also don’t think it’s permanent.

For all Jett’s attempt at helping last week, I don’t think Hugh is yet ready to be part of a relationship again. But it’s not fair to Paul to keep him in a limbo of hope.

So they’re going their separate ways for now, but I do believe they’re going to fall in love again. With time. I hate the term “endgame couple”, but I think that’s what they are.

Assuming the timeline isn’t changed, anyway.

2. Michael and Ash

While one couple breaks up, another comes back together. Only to part again, because Ash apparently has a plan to stop Control or anything like it ever rising again.

(I’m like, good luck, buddy, but canon is against you there.)

Although they’re in very different places, relationship-wise, there are parallels between Hugh and Paul and Michael and Ash — each cares for the other deeply, makes the choice to love them (as Kat might put it), but circumstances make it impossible for a relationship to work right now.

I’m not as emotionally engaged with either relationship as I think the show wants me to be — which is not a criticism, just a reflection on how my laser-like focus on a single character can spoil my engagement with other aspects of a canon — but I do love a parallel.

3. Detmer and Owosekun

Are they a couple? They interact a lot, but maybe they’re just friends who make eye contact a lot.

A lot of people ship them, but Owosekun patting Detmer on the shoulder after she docked Discovery with the Enterprise was the first time I went, “Okay, yeah, they could plausibly be a couple.”

Writer Ted Sullivan was asked on Twitter last year if we would see an f/f pairing on Discovery, and his reply was along the lines of, “Yes, and you’ve already seen it.” Well, time is running out, and though I don’t discount the possibility that scenes or lines were cut, Detmer and Owosekun seem the most likely candidates.

Unless we’re meant to count Tilly and Airiam, which was mostly subtextual, but that brings me to Tilly, and…

4. Tilly and Po

So here’s the thing: I don’t for a minute buy that Tilly is meant to be heterosexual. Whenever we see her with friends in her off-hours, they’re women. She forms extremely close relationships with women very quickly: Michael, Po, May. I read her as bisexual-but-more-or-less-preferring women.

(I guess May’s gender is ambiguous; let’s go with “female-presenting fungus”.)

(She is interested in men — she considers Ash hot, and Stamets distracts her in “Magic” by pointing her at a hot guy. But Ash and Paul are the only men we see her socialising with, and they’re both partnered — and gay, in Paul’s case. Not potential love interests. Her own description of her interests is that she once went through a soldier phase, but now she’s into musicians.)

If Tilly was a male character with mostly male friends, I’d put it down to the general “male as default” nature of our culture, and ignore the reams of fic pairing m!Tilly with every dude he ever met. But because of the “default character = male” thing, it feels like a deliberate choice to surround Tilly with women.

Then there’s her relationship with Airiam, which, like Detmer and Owosekun, felt like it could just as easily be romantic, or pre-romantic, as a friendship. A lot like her relationship with Po, which is extremely easy to read as a mutual infatuation. And her relationship with May, which, same.

For what it’s worth, both “Project Daedalus” and “Such Sweet Sorrow” were co-written by Michelle Paradise, the first openly queer woman to write and showrun a Trek. So maybe I’ve gone completely overboard, and I’m turning into the Disco equivalent of a Sherlock fan who thinks the wallpaper in 221B means Sherlock/John is canon, or maybe this ambiguity is intentional.

If it is intentional, I have two complaints. One is about the ambiguity itself: we are so very overdue for queer women in Trek, who are neither evil nor from another universe, that if Tilly is bisexual, they should just come out and say so. (We have Jett, now, of course. But what if we had … more?)

The other complaint is about Po’s age: it’s not that big of an age gap, but I cannot ship Tilly with a character who is not of legal drinking age in Australia. And the emphasis on Po being seventeen kind of does make me wonder if they’re telling us not to ship it, but then — again — I start to worry that I’m in messages-from-the-wallpaper territory.

(But even if none of this is intentional at all, if Po was just a year older, I’d ship it like Fedex.)

Other observations

  • Time is running out for my Tilly-Spock interaction. Although it looks like it might have happened offscreen as the crew decide to go into the future with Michael.
  • Has Spock met Ash? Have I been cheated of a hilarious “Vulcan brother meets older sister’s sort-of-Klingon sort-of-boyfriend” scene? Unacceptable!
  • Amanda is wearing a fresh new cape this week.
  • I can’t believe I forgot to gloat about being right that Michael is a second Red Angel!
  • I’m feeling pretty good about my alternate timeline prediction now.
  • On the other hand, remember when we thought Number One would get a name? Ah, those were the days!

Author: Liz Barr

Words written. Opinions expressed.

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