In which matters are brought to a conclusion, and I need to find out if I can sue CBS for these whiplash injuries.
This episode did a lot of things I really liked. It was also, in terms of structure and pacing, a bit of a mess.
I’ve been thinking for a few weeks that the show has an awful lot of narrative balls in the air, and I was extremely curious to see how everything was going to be wrapped up. Curious and concerned, because they really weren’t leaving themselves much time to do the story justice.
I keep coming back to the first season of my previous fandom, Legend of Korra, the sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender. It, too, had an ambitious first season marred by poor pacing, and it, too, was renewed for a second season too late to change or fix any of those issues.
LoK’s problems arose because the writers were relatively inexperienced, and were trying to cram a big story into thirteen twenty-minute episodes. Disco’s issues probably come from the last-minute change in showrunners — Fuller’s outline for the season put Discovery in the mirror universe much sooner, but Aaron Harberts and Gretchen J. Berg wanted to let the audience get to know the characters first.
I think that was a solid choice, but it left us with three or four episodes’ worth of plot crammed into two. Could an earlier episode have been cut? Even a shorter premiere (say, 60-something minutes instead of two episodes) and a longer finale (likewise) might have given us some breathing room.
Alas. “Fixing the bits of Star Trek that are broken” will absolutely be a legitimate use of time travel when we invent it, but in the meantime, we’re stuck with what we have: an episode which is simultaneously rushed, talky and full of moments which would have been gratuitous even if they weren’t taking limited time away from better things.
“You both talk too much.”
“Resolving everything through conversation and inspirational speeches” is classic Trek, and it was absolutely going to come down to that — and it’s quite marvellous that, this time, it’s women having the conversations and giving the speeches.
But space battles and explosions are also classic Trek, and now that the war is over, I have to confess, it’s maybe been a bit of a bust? We’ve had a handful of skirmishes, but we never really got to see what it looks like when the Federation goes to war in the twenty-third century. Are there ground forces in play? What happens when the Klingons occupy a starbase? What does the Federation do with captured territory? Is there a whole generation of Starfleet officers who have suffered, or know someone who has suffered, grievious injuries?
It’s not a competition, but in this case, Deep Space 9 has won. That’s partially the nature of the two series — DS9, the place, was a major staging ground and focal point for the Dominion War, and that arc took place over several long seasons. Discovery was purely about one starship — almost claustrophobically so. But it would have been nice to catch a glimpse of the bigger picture.
But let’s talk about what we did get.
Some solid, entertaining scenes of Georgiou trying (but not too hard) and failing to impersonate her prime universe self. Lorca managed to pass for a decent-ish person for a year and seven months. Georgiou … probably might have made it a week before people like Detmer, who served on the Shenzhou, started going, “Ummmmmmmmmm.” And that’s being generous. Stop playing with your food, your emperorness.
I figure that no one intended for — or wanted — this to be a long-term operation. And the imperial ego’s not going to compromise just for operational secrecy. But Georgiou seemed more cartoonishly villainous than in any of her previous episodes, right down to the black leather and bisexual dalliances.
(Philippa. Genocide, then hookers and blow. Stay on mission, girl.)
The encounter with the sex workers was, of course, the most gratuitous part of the script, and put us firmly back in Evil Bisexual territory, exactly where I didn’t want Discovery‘s mirror universe episodes to go. We’d better find out that prime!Georgiou was also queer, is all I’m saying.
Despite that, I did enjoy the Orion city scenes. It was a different kind of setting for Star Trek, with the grunge and graffiti, and signs in different alien languages. I like what it added to the worldbuilding, that there was essentially an alien quarter on the homeworld of the xenophobic Klingons. (Is it like … the European concessions in nineteenth century China? Are the Orions — pirates, criminals, drug pushers — meant to stand in for the English here? ‘Cos I can see it. Or do the Klingons need an interface with the outside galaxy, but prefer to confine it to one corner of the planet so the rest of the population stays pure?)
…I got distracted by worldbuilding (IT HAPPENS), but I was going to say, I liked the setting, I liked the varying degrees to which it was within the landing party’s comfort zones. But we spent so long there, with such muddied purpose, that it distracted from what should have been the core of the episode: the discovery of Starfleet’s true plan, the separate debates with Cornwell and Georgiou, and the decision to put the fate of Qo’noS and the war in L’Rell’s hands. Sure, we got a Clint Howard cameo, Tilly getting high and Georgiou in a corset, but we didn’t actually need any of that.
I don’t think it’s coincidence that this episode was co-written by Akiva Goldsman, who is hugely uneven in his writing. (For example, he wrote some of the key parallel universe episodes of Fringe, but also “Bad Dreams”, The One With The Gratuitous Lady Kissing.) He’s a solid director, but if he retired from writing tomorrow, it wouldn’t be a terrible loss.
And, with that, the war is over
Turns out all it took was for a group of women to have a conversation. Easy, eh?
In theory, I like it. Seeds have been sown all season: L’Rell’s place as a child of two houses, her ability to form bonds even with aliens like Cornwell — that makes sense. That Cornwell acceded only reluctantly to Sarek and Georgiou’s plan to destroy Qo’noS, and didn’t take much persuading to accept Michael’s alternative: also reasonable.
The execution was — I’m just gonna keep harping on here — sloppy. It needed to be Michael who gave the detonator — and the power to make peace — to L’Rell, because she’s the protagonist, and she needed to end the war she’s credited with starting, but this is only their second interaction ever. Likewise, Georgiou’s final exchange with Michael was great, but it needed … more?
(Having said that, I am extremely here for Georgiou walking away, alive and queer and ready to be Michael’s personal shoulder devil whenever the need arises. She’ll be running the entire Orion Crime Syndicate in a week.)
Then there was a speech
The speech itself was fine. Sonequa Martin-Green could make my shopping list seem profound.
The way it was filmed was … confusing? At which point in proceedings was it being delivered? Why was Michael speaking at all? (Did Starfleet originally approach Saru, only to find that public speaking is his last remaining fear and he’s clinging on to it for cultural reasons?) Why did Starfleet Command’s Paris outpost use the same decor as the Federal Court of Australia? Why were the medals so large?
Sorry. Distracted. Again.
I think that the medals/speeches/reinstatements/promotions are meant to be happening at least a few weeks after the war’s end? Because Michael’s speech suggests some time has passed, and surely her reinstatement wasn’t just a matter of a rubber stamp. But it’s unclear, and that murkiness made the scene feel more silly than meaningful.
Ashes to Ashes
Ash’s storyline is particularly ill-served by the pacing, and that’s quite unfortunate, given his importance to Michael and the plot.
Mswyrr has some excellent meta about the three Ash Tylers — the original, the personality implanted over Voq’s, and the integrated AshVoq:
He uses “I” to talk about Voq’s life before catching himself. And then he draws on Voq’s experiences and personality and has *fun* for the first time in a long time by doing that. That is a thing he can do now; it is a thing that Ash 2.0 would have never done. There was nothing about drawing on Voq that Ash 2.0 found anything but totally traumatizing. There was nothing about Klingon culture he found enjoyable. He had really understandably angry, violent, even sadistic feelings about Klingons…
So, things have changed. Tilly is right: this is someone new. Still Ash, but new and different. Going forward he has to figure out what all of that means.
But if this is what the writers intended, it should have been made clearer for the audience. The viewers don’t need to be spoon fed, but it shouldn’t be this opaque. All the scenes between Ash and Michael were marvellous and heartbreaking, and Martin-Green and Latif absolutely sold them.
But we also needed to see Ash interacting with L’Rell. Because, as it is, we have Ash taking off with a woman he thought was his rapist, and L’Rell buddying up with a guy who has her sort-of dead boyfriend’s memories. It’s all interesting and complicated, but needed to be actually addressed.
(I do appreciate that, even though Voq consented to sex with L’Rell, Ash’s trauma was never dismissed. But the fact that this was never overtly discussed is … problematic.)
I don’t mean to be a downer!
I hate not liking things! I’m just terribly frustrated that this final episode was a muddle when it should have been a victory cruise.
This is still the best first season of any Trek. And for all my irritation here, this is very, very far from the worst season finale Star Trek has seen. (That prize goes to “Shades of Grey”, the clip show that ended season 2 of The Next Generation, but I’d also like to shout out TNG’s “Descent Part 1”, which not only did its best to destroy the Borg as interesting antagonists, but came at the end of the series’ sixth season, by which point, you’d really think they knew what they were doing.)
And a lot of things I’ve complained about, like all the time in the Orion city, I did enjoy — I just resent that it took time away from the meat of the story. It felt unbalanced.
Hey, you know what was 100% amazing and I won’t hear a word against any of it?
Michael’s characterisation, and Sonequa Martin-Green’s performance. That she knows from the get-go that Starfleet has put Georgiou in charge to execute a darker plan than originally proposed. That she tries to restrain Georgiou. That she opens herself up to Ash and stands up to Cornwell.
“Do we need to mutiny today to prove who we are?”
In the premiere, Michael was driven by fear to betray Starfleet, and when she first arrived on Discovery, she was so wary and cautious about asserting herself. Now she’s not just arguing with Starfleet and the Federation Council, as embodied by Kat, but she’s doing so out in the open, on the bridge. Which is particularly important when she’s arguing against an operation which involved deceiving the entire crew.
(What did people think when Michael returned without Georgiou? “Wow, I figured we’d make it to Wednesday before she mutinied again”? Or did everyone just tacitly agree not to let on that they knew perfectly well where Georgiou was really from?)
And Michael is the perfect person to have this argument, not just because she’s The Mutineer, but because she knows the fear and desperation the Federation leadership is experiencing. Their whole culture is, essentially, that little girl hiding in a cupboard, listening to the murder of her parents.
Which is not to say that Michael isn’t judgemental, because there is quite a lot to judge here, but she’s coming from a place of empathy, not empty moral superiority.
Of course she has her commission restored. She undeniably deserves it, but it still feels slightly too easy, going from a life sentence to this.
…okay, I know I said this was all perfect, but. I love Michael’s redemption, but I wish we had seen — oh, I don’t know, the process of other people fighting for it, maybe? The political maneuvering? The favours that had to be called in?
(It’s possible I’m blinded by my love for space politics here. If the next Star Trek spin-off was just The West Wing in space, I’d be more than excited.)
The season is over, and Hugh Culber is still dead.
Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz are still saying this is not the end, and I believe them. And I’m glad that Hugh’s inevitable resurrection will have the space to be a proper story in its own right, and not an afterthought in a very busy season. But at this point, Hugh is still dead, the gays are still buried, it’s difficult to see any justification for this plot twist right now.
The final jerk ranking
Will we even need a jerk ranking in season 2? Who knows?
- Philippa Georgiou. Genocide is quite bad, and so is negging my girl Tilly.
- Starfleet Command and the Federation Council. See above re: genocide, quite bad.
- Sarek. “Hey, I know I just endorsed an atrocity, and I feel slightly bad about that, I guess, but I really think it’s made me a better father.” Meanwhile, Kat looks like she’s being eaten alive by guilt. God give us all the confidence of an extremely mediocre Vulcan man.
- The writers. Just … timing, pacing, structure. These are all important things to keep in mind when you’re doing television. I assume.
- You know what was great? Tilly silently intervening when Ash made Michael uncomfortable. Chicks before dicks, amiright, ladies?
- Tilly was everything in this episode and I remain unspeakably delighted by her. STOP CURLSHAMING TILLY 2K18
- She is probably the first and very likely also the last Starfleet officer to be promoted after getting high on duty and being punched in the face by her commanding officer.
- (Tilly is also vegan now. In fact, now that every single piece of leather has been appropriated by an evil mirror universe doppelganger, Discovery is a 100% vegan ship.)
- “Gabriel must have found something interesting lying around in this universe.” I think this is meant to refer to the illegal weapons they’re trading, but internet-wide consensus is that all those black leather outfits came from Lorca’s wardrobe. I’m not sure the corset was his size, but I’m open to being proven wrong.
- It’s been three days and we’re still waiting to find out what Kat’s medals meant. Unacceptable, startrek.com.
- I’m cautiously excited about seeing the Enterprise, because I like Captain Pike and Number One, and am keen to have them return to TV canon in an era where television executives aren’t terrified by introspective men and women in command. Bonus points if they keep Bruce Greenwood as Pike, because he is handsome and I am shallow.
- Future blogging: over the hiatus, I plan to do posts covering TNG, DS9, Voyager and Enterprise episodes you might want to catch if you like Disco. This will take a while, because the first three series are quite long (I’ve been working on the TNG post for months already), and I’ve only seen a tiny fraction of Enterprise.
- I also have a very strange urge to liveblog Star Trek V (something about Vulcan Family Shenanigans), unless you want to pay me not to. (I remember it being a truly wretched movie.)
- I’ll also transition to also blogging about things which aren’t Star Trek, including books and other media, and also birbs. Which is to say, finally I will share my Top 5 Worst Birbs.
- Stephanie did not proof this post, because she’s in Perth with just her phone and it seemed like an unreasonable request. I have tried quite hard to fix errors, but I assume there are about thirty that I’ve missed.
- You can support my work via Ko-Fi.