Disco returns to classic form: some characters make terrible choices, others make merely questionable ones; also there is Some Pacing.
I love it.
After a brief foray into more-or-less episodic storytelling, “Point of Light” actually gives us THREE AND A HALF plotlines (if you count the Section 31 business as separate from the Klingon politics, which I think I do), and only resolves one. And I don’t think I have enough capslock to convey my feelings about EVENTS.
Plot One: Vulcan Family Drama
Pike has informed Starfleet of Spock’s whereabouts and connection with the red bursts, but he feels bad about it because he is such a good guy. Not a nice guy, just a decent person. It’s frankly disgusting, seeing him walking around, being nice to people, supporting his officers and regretting that his duty to the Federation has come into conflict with his friendship with Spock. Where’s the secret agenda? Where’s the too-long eye contact with Michael and the barely-restrained leer with everyone else? It makes me sick.
Anyway, the sehlat’s out of the bag, and who turns up in search of answers but Amanda? No tiaras this time, just a fetching gown with cape and hood. She’s on a serious mission, she’s dressing down.
Oh, and, having been unable to see Spock or get any answers from his doctors, she stole his medical records.
Guys, she’s the sensible member of the family.
Eventually, Pike is able to learn that Spock has, ummmmmm, gone on the run after killing a bunch of his doctors. Which is bad! But I’m not stressed about it, because we know it’s not going to impede his life or career in the long term. And the writers have to know that, so I guess the mystery is less How Will This Affect Him and more Why Did He Do It And What Happens Next? (And also, Did That Even Happen, Or Is It A Smokescreen?)
Amanda and Michael hack into Spock’s medical files, which, I reiterate, Amanda stole. Dr McCoy is going to have so much to say about all this when it’s eventually declassified.
Spock’s doctors believe he has a “severe empathy deficit”. In defiance of common maternal stereotypes, Amanda goes, “That’s code for psychopathy. Sounds about right.”
But Michael, as we know from “Brother”, thinks Spock is a deeply empathetic person. And those of us who have seen TOS know that’s true. So what gives?
Michael, typically, blames herself. I had assumed that the rift with Spock occurred when they were young adults, probably around the time he chose to join Starfleet instead of pursuing the Vulcan path that Michael had wanted. But apparently it happened when they were children. Michael, believed that, as a target for Vulcan extremists, she was putting Spock, her “little shadow”, in danger. So she said something for which he has never forgiven her.
What did she say? Amanda doesn’t ask. And though she forgives Michael, she’s also claiming for herself alone the job of bringing Spock in.
I’M INTO IT. I’ve long wanted two things for Amanda:
- her own storyline, separate from her role as a wife or mother
- a storyline about her as a parent, but without Sarek around
The former is unlikely to happen, given that the series revolves around her daughter and you can only have so many completely unrelated plotlines. So I’m pretty happy we have the latter.
ALSO, while I can definitely buy that Amanda feels like she let Spock down, I don’t think she was as bad a mother as she thinks. She may have made mistakes, but both* of her kids have turned out okay (we know Spock’s going to be okay), and that definitely wasn’t Sarek’s work.
(* I’m not counting Sybok here because I never got the impression that Amanda had much to do with his upbringing.)
Plot Two: Tilly and May
I honestly thought this one would go for at least another episode. But no! May is extracted by the time the credits roll!
Which is sort of a bummer, because she’s trying to convey a message to Stamets, and I understand that Tilly has a lot going on and would prefer not to host a sentient fungus entity, but surely someone wants to know what May is trying to say!
If I was Paul Stamets, the galaxy’s foremost astromycologist, and I got wind of a fungus trying to speak to me, I’d be wanting to hear that message. It’s a lot easier to get answers out of an entity that’s inhabiting your colleague and communicating in hallucinations than from a CGI blob in a forcefield.
I mean, it’s quite understandable that people don’t want Tilly to be inhabited by a weird mushroom person, and it really speaks quite well of Paul, who was introduced as the guy who cares about science more than people, that he doesn’t even suggest postponing the fungusectomy. But, you know.
Before she’s forcefully removed (through the magic of the dark matter asteroid chunk, it’s all very scientific, I promise), May does her best to turn Tilly’s life upside down. There is a time and place to have a conversation with the person living in your head, and it’s never on the bridge.
I know some people found these scenes extremely stressful — but I didn’t. “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” proved that Starfleet’s most important rule — it doesn’t count if you were brainwashed/possessed/otherwise under alien influence/deceived by a super hot alien/drunk — is still in effect. So instead of cringing and hiding under the table from the secondhand embarrassment, I was able to let it slide right off.
Like Saru said, Pike has a sense of humour. And, I assume, he’s been filled in on the whole … spore passenger situation. Tilly will be fine.
Plot three: the whole Klingon … everything
Did you know that the term “space opera” is derived from “soap opera”?
I had forgotten, but I remembered … oh, right around the time the secret baby turned up.
GUYS, THERE’S A SECRET BABY. And just as I was about to do some quick maths and complain about the implausibility of L’Rell being pregnant at any point in season one, she tells Ash it was gestated ex utero.
WE HAVE CANONICAL EXTRA-UTERINE GESTATION TECHNOLOGY. Much as I love me some space opera, unconventional co-parenting arrangements and SECRET BABIES, I think this throwaway detail is what delighted me the most.
Star Trek has long shown a shocking lack of imagination when it comes to reproductive technology — surrogacy was depicted as rare and a bit shocking as late as the ’90s, when Anne McCaffrey was writing short stories about it in the nineteen-fifties. And there’s a foetal transporter, but it’s considered more dangerous than a vaginal birth, which just goes to show that Star Trek has needed more female writers for a really long time.
But now Klingons, at least, have uterine replicators. (Given that they can also cram Voq down into Ash Tyler’s body, or … something … I think we can assume they have remarkably advanced medical technology.) Now, when a young Klingon warrior finds herself unexpectedly pregnant — Klingon contraceptives maybe need some improvement — she need not choose between pregnancy and the glorious field of battle!
On the other hand, it’s hard to run an empire and be a good parent. Just ask Georgiou, who claims she had to outsource the feeding of her child-or-children.
(Assuming she’s telling the truth — and why on earth would we do that? — this suggests that Georgiou had at least one biological child in addition to Michael. Given that it’s the mirror universe, and her sole heir was her adopted daughter, I think we can also assume Georgiou’s other offspring met a grisly end.)
(We can also assume that the Terran Empire doesn’t offer much in the way of maternity leave, but that is hardly a surprise.)
Now, L’Rell is not good at planning. She never has been. She’s better than Voq, but that’s like saying a bowl of coleslaw is a better parent than Sarek. It’s a very low bar.
She’s not trained for this. She’s very young, and her background is in Being A Spy and Following T’Kuvma’s Vision. She’s intelligent — but she is woefully naive about politics. Seriously, she’s just letting Ash openly work for her? And she’s surprised that other members of the High Council object? And then — bless her hearts, but she seems genuinely outraged that Kol-sha regards her as the leader of a Federation puppet government.
Luckily — for the Federation, at least — Georgiou and Section 31 are pulling the strings.
L’Rell’s smartest decision is keeping her baby secret. On the other hand, she’s also keeping him close, under the care of a relative.
I’ve given a lot of thought over the years to secret baby logistics, and this is a classic mistake. Understandable — apparently parents do generally love their children and harbour an irrational desire to be close to them — but foolish. You wanna send your kid out of town, under a false name, in the care of a trusted relative or family servant (who also has a false identity). You definitely don’t want to keep your vulnerable infant in your very own palace complex, under the care of your most prominent relative, who is a public figure in his own right.
Let L’Rell’s mistake be a lesson to you all.
The good news is that, in general, she doesn’t make the same mistake twice. And, judging by her final speech to the High Council, she’s lost her last shred of naivete.
I mean … we all know Georgiou wrote that speech, and probably rehearsed it with her. But as political mentors go? L’Rell could do worse.
The Section 31 half-plot
This thread only takes up, what, ten minutes? At most? Not enough to call it a backdoor pilot for Michelle Yoeh’s Section 31 spin-off, but we can see what Section 31 are doing at this point in time.
Which is, propping up L’Rell’s puppet government so as to keep the Klingons more interested in each other than resuming the war with the Federation.
Let me be clear: I am generally not in favour of manipulating foreign governments. Section 31 is the CIA, and the Klingon Empire is a small South American nation in the 1970s.
But. In this specific situation, I think that — in the short term — this arrangement is better than the alternative.
For one thing, the alternative was genocide. And for another, it’s not as if L’Rell overthrew a functioning, democratic government.
But mostly, I like this whole storyline because it feels so American, and so fitting for a franchise born of the Cold War and Vietnam.
The Federation is making a huge mistake. Right now, the Klingons are more concerned with internal politics than pursuing a war. But under L’Rell, they’re going to end up unified and heavily armed with brand new birds of prey. This is, to use a different metaphor from American foreign policy history, like giving weapons to Osama Bin Laden. It’ll work out in the long term, but the mid-term consequences are going to be … unfortunate.
Space politics. I’m absolutely wriggling with glee.
Ash is at least better at decision-making than Voq
That is to say, he actually makes decisions.
It’s still not clear how much time has passed between L’Rell taking power, the medal ceremony and Pike taking command of the Enterprise. (Discovery will be finished and long forgotten, but I will still be complaining about the pacing in its season one finale.) It could be as little as a couple of weeks, but I suspect it’s more like a couple of months. Not just because you don’t go from “attempted genocide” to “ceasefire” overnight, but Ash seems much more stable and integrated than the last time we saw him. In “The War Without, The War Within”, Michael told him he needed to do the hard work of recovering, and it feels like he’s made a start.
This is where Discovery‘s pacing really lets it down. Even setting aside the finale’s issues (yeah, like that’ll ever happen), we could have dedicated a whole episode to the Klingon politics, and really dug into the meaty aspects: Ash’s mental health, his relationship with L’Rell, his relationship with Michael.
Disco always gives us enough breadcrumbs to draw inferences, but in this case, I think it would have been better to make things explicit.
For example — Ash’s remark about L’Rell’s touch feeling like a violation means that, while he knows intellectually that Voq consented to sex with L’Rell, the trauma is still there. And that’s good! There’s no magic wand solution here. But I would like to know more about that. Is L’Rell hurt by this? Angry? Sad? Ash is her torchbearer, and he embraces the role of father to their SECRET BABY, but what does he feel for her? And what does he feel for Michael, the woman who killed T’Kuvma?
It seems like he has Voq’s memories, but not their emotional impact, but I really think this should be clarified.
On the other hand, as Anika remarks in the latest episode of our podcast, espionage agencies in media are traditionally a good place to work if you need to go on a journey of self-discovery. (We assume — well, we hope — it’s different in real life.)
- I like the addition of hair to the Klingons — they basically look like ’90s Klingons but with better prosthetics — but I cannot understand why L’Rell’s appearance was changed so dramatically. Her face is smoother, her scar is less significant, even her head is smaller. And she looks quite different to the other Klingons — it’s distracting, and not remotely in keeping with anything we know about Klingon beauty standards.
- Having said that, all her outfits — indeed, every single costume in this episode — were amazing.
- Did you notice that every single character with a cape turned out to be a parent?
- One of the Klingons has a moustache very similar to that worn by Christopher Plummer’s General Chang in The Undiscovered Country. I am delighted.
- Is Spock a murderer on the run? Or has he been framed, possibly by Section 31?
- When they were introduced in DS9, Section 31 did not officially exist at all. Now they have badges and a whole starship, and everyone seems to have at least heard rumours. I’m still figuring out how to make this retcon work in my head, but as I was recently reminded, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service was around for 20 years before the government was officially told it existed, and several decades, multiple royal commissions and a fair amount of legislation later — not to mention the fact that they put job ads in newspapers these days — some Australians, eg my mum, are only now conceding that ASIS is a real organisation.
- When will Kat Cornwell return from the war?