Plot takes a back seat to some very welcome character development.
As a writer, I always struggle with structure and pacing, which means I pay a lot of attention to those things in the media I consume.
It also means I’m quite sympathetic to Discovery‘s weakness in this regard. It’s hard enough when you’re writing fiction, which is a pretty solitary project. Making television seems like the ultimate group assignment. Even with all the pieces in place and no one slacking off, it’s hard to get everything right.
And then the episode goes out, and people like me sit on the internet, sniffing because the pacing’s a mess.
Not in this episode! This one’s pretty tight. Pacing-wise, at least. But the season feels oddly structured — and in a completely different way to last season’s odd structure. The first two episodes — the more standalone ones — seem weirdly inconsequential now that we’re into the meat of the plot, and I almost wish they could have been somehow combined into one, to give everything else a chance to breathe.
But hey, I just blog here. And it’s a relief to have an episode with a straightforward plot and opportunities for the whole ensemble to have their moment.
Which is not to say the plot is clever
Okay, we have evidence that Michael is the Red Angel, to the surprise of exactly no one in the audience.
We’re gonna trap the Red Angel, who is Michael, and we’re gonna bait the trap with Michael herself, because the Red Angel has a history of appearing when Michael is in danger.
Cool. I mean, she doesn’t just appear when Michael is in danger, some of her appearances seem completely unconnected to Michael at all so far, but okay.
(“Michael” no longer looks like a real word, by the way.)
We’re definitely going to keep Michael in the loop about all the details of this plan, even though she is the person we’re attempting to trap, and presumably remembers this whole … thing.
And, at the last minute, Spock’s going to realise that “letting Michael come close to death but rescuing her before it’s too late to revive her” isn’t enough, and he’s gonna pull a phaser and prevent that from happening.
Which … the logic works, but he’s also very grounded, and will hopefully get a stern talking-to as well.
(Star Trek is the ultimate universe of “Oh, your terrible plan worked out okay? No worries, then, we’ll skip any consequences which aren’t convenient to the plot.”)
Suffice to say, I think this plan has some serious unaddressed holes. It makes sense for Michael to go from zero to self-sacrifice in thirty seconds, but you sort of expect everyone else to go, “Ummmmm.”
Luckily the character stuff is great
The focus is on Michael, but everyone gets a moment to shine, and there are a series of small scenes between characters who don’t normally get to interact. These range from the remarkable to the deeply, deeply uncomfortable.
Do not, under any circumstances, accept relationship counselling from Emperor Georgiou
“You may be exclusively and entirely gay in this universe, but in mine [where sex is inextricably linked with power and consent is dubious at best], you’re pansexual and we banged” is not appropriate workplace conversation. Not in this universe, anyway.
I spent that scene wanting to fall through the floor out of sheer embarrassment, and the only thing that saved me is that it’s possible it was intentional. To quote Tilly, who is once again all of us, “What just happened?”
The good bits:
- everyone’s faces
- we are very long overdue for having Trek characters who self-identify as gay, and I also don’t think “pansexual” is a term used much in television yet these days so well done on both catching up and pushing forward
- there’s a possibility that Georgiou was sincerely trying to help Paul and Hugh, and is just very, very bad at it
- or not: “You never learned to relish a little discomfort, Red? Who raised you?”
- I mean, it was funny and Georgiou’s complete lack of shame is slightly inspirational
The uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh bits:
- look, “everyone’s pan and banging like screen doors in the mirror universe” has been a Bad Take since the nineties
- I would side eye it marginally less if there was ever so much as a hint that the men who seem straight in our universe are also pan over there?
- or if — and maybe this is going too far — but what if there were more canonically bi and pan and queer people in this universe and they weren’t evil?
- like, there’s a lot of potential worldbuilding here around consent, sexual mores and sex as a weapon or tool in the mirror universe, but the franchise has never shown any interest in exploring that beyond going, “Well, they’re evil, so they’re queer and kinky, right? Good job, team, let’s have lunch.”
- I just expect better from Discovery
On the other hand, Admiral Cornwell’s therapy is competent, if … brief
Hugh seeking Kat out for therapy was fantastic. I’m absolutely delighted that he has taken that step, and I promise it’s not just because we got to see her in that role, and we (I) can infer a lot (too much) from her “love is a choice” line.
I mean, “three minutes between calls with a former therapist who hasn’t treated patients in years” is not adequate, but it’s a start.
Not least because Kat is the first person to validate Hugh’s sense of being a new person, which I think is important. It’s hard to process your trauma when the people around you are trying to deny that one aspect even exists.
(For which I don’t fault them! Everyone’s got their own things going on. This is why we don’t seek therapy from our friends or loved ones.)
I would like to think that this is just the beginning of Hugh’s treatment, and that the conversation has inspired Kat to check in with Starfleet Medical and organise some long-overdue Skype therapy for … everyone. But I’m also resigned to the fact that this will never actually happen in the series.
Looking in on Leland
I’m never going to count Leland among my faves, but I really enjoy seeing him interact with people beyond Section 31 — he’s a good vehicle for developing our regulars, especially now that everyone’s patience with Section 31 shenanigans is vastly reduced.
(AND YET Operation: Catch A Falling Angel was Leland’s idea, based on Section 31’s intelligence and technology. Why did anyone think this was sensible?)
His interactions with Saru reveal that, even sans delicious ganglia, Saru still has a keen instinct for spotting danger. Would the pre-evolved Saru have told Leland he considered him such? I’m not sure — he didn’t hesitate to tell Michael she was dangerous last year, but they had history, plus the chain of command was on his side.
I’m into the new Saru; he hasn’t lost his sense of empathy and decency, as I had feared, but he’s a little less predictable in a very interesting way. And he’s using his new confidence to protect his people, which is, well, nice.
Michael, on the other hand, gets to learn more about her parents (surprise! They worked for Section 31!), including the role Leland played in their deaths.
I’m not sure how much this could have been foreshadowed without making the twist at the episode’s end too obvious, but it did seem to come out of nowhere: that Michael’s parents did odd jobs for Section 31, and that her mother — despite being an astrophysicist — dabbled in time travel research.
It certainly makes Leland’s role in their deaths more interesting than I had envisioned, and his regret at his errors seemed sincere, but it was just … sudden.
As sudden as Michael’s fists hitting Leland’s nose. I know I said last week that I’d like to see more of her rage, but this — again — wasn’t what I’d pictured. Not that I’m complaining! It was extremely satisfying.
And I’d rather Michael took her anger out on Leland than Ash — much as I think Ash really needs a better job with a less evil employer, I just have trouble watching any conflict where Person A disbelieves Person B’s truthful denials of whatever. It’s not bad storytelling! It’s just hard for me, personally.
So let’s talk about Michael and Ash
Funnily enough, on our podcast last week, Anika and I talked about how Ash would be a safe person for Michael to express her anger. And we were TOTALLY CORRECT!
But I wonder if Ash’s willingness to play that role is another example of him being too much the follower, once again being prepared to make a sacrifice for a person he believes in.
(I am deeply embarrassed to report that I’ve only just spotted the parallel between Ash and Michael in that regard. Ash is usually motivated by belief rather than guilt, but here it’s both.)
Anyway, I like where their relationship is at right now — this is their first interaction in a while, and honestly? It’s good to see someone give Michael comfort.
Michael and Spock
Also good, for a different reason: Michael going on to take her anger out on a boxing dummy. If CBS wants to release her activewear, I would … consider doing exercise. Maybe.
More importantly, I guess, she and Spock finally approach reconciliation.
It’s interesting that his attitude towards Michael changes after he learns the truth about her parents — I wonder if he, illogically, had internalised the narrative that Michael had caused their death, even after he grew up and recognised that was impossible.
I mean, then he goes on to try to kill her, but hey. Siblings.
Drive-by costume notes
I’m oddly charmed that Section 31 has a black version of the Starfleet EVA suit. They’re just super dedicated to their aesthetic. It’s like someone went, “Okay, so Starfleet is all about being righteous and moral and honest. But we have this intelligence division which needs to be a bit more flexible. What we’ll do is dress them in a way that signals to the entire universe that they’re, you know, morally ambiguous. Lots of black. And leather. It’s not fair to have a black ops organisation that looks like it’s full of regular people, the rest of the galaxy deserves better than that.”
I’m also extremely into Spock and Hugh’s very sharp jackets. Why is Spock still out of uniform? As long as we’re exploring his collection of nicely tailored Vulcan menswear, I don’t care.
Hugh, at least, is apparently still off duty — he’s just … helping out? But looking swish in his oddly-contemporary-yet-somehow-timeless funeral outfit. BECAUSE HE’S IN MOURNING FOR HIS OLD LIFE, GUYS.
What if the real Red Angel was the friends we made along the way?
No, it’s Michael’s mother! Kima from The Wire! I love her!
I’m intrigued by this development, but mostly I love how Michael is singlehandedly making up for the absence of mothers in SFF.
If I had to guess — I mean, I don’t have to guess, but I’m gonna — I’d say that Mama Burnham (who needs a name, like, yesterday) isn’t going to survive the season, and indeed, Michael will at some point take her place in the Angel suit (hence the brain thingo indicates the Angel is Michael). But I’m very eager for Dr* B to get to know her adult daughter, and also to interact with Michael’s other mothers.
* SHE’S AN ASTROPHYSICIST
(I’ve seen a lot of people calling for Dr B to call out Amanda for doing a lousy job of raising Michael, and I’m like, sure, but Sarek is right there? They’re both flawed — all parents are flawed — but our culture sure does fixate on imperfect mothers.)
And something … happened? To Leland?
Okay. I predicted that Leland would die in episode 9. Then I hedged my bet and said maybe 8 or 10.
I’m going to give myself partial credit: by the end of episode 10, something has stabbed him in the eye, and it didn’t look like a survivable injury.
That his eye is repairing himself, and we hear his voice a moment later … well. Leland might be walking around, but I don’t think he’s alive in any meaningful sense.
Is he under the control of, uh, Control? I thought last week that Control was an app with aspirations, seeking the information it needed to evolve itself into (eventually) the future AI with the army of space squid. As it turns out, I was completely mistaken — Control was infected by the future AI, who might be its future incarnation, or maybe it just felt a strong sense of solidarity with a limited, pre-sentience AI.
I’m keen to find out! Possession by an evil AI who is probably from the future is exactly the sort of body horror I enjoy, although given a choice I personally would prefer an army of space squids to squishy humanoids.
I am a bit concerned — given that the trailer for episode 11 features a man’s hand turning grey and running with black veins — that this is going to turn into a Borg story.
I love the Borg, they’re fantastic and interesting and almost as scary as Daleks. (And Voyager didn’t ruin them, dammit! First Contact and Voyager saved them from the complete shemozzle of TNG’s “I, Borg” and “Descent”.) But I like keep the Borg confined to the 2360s and beyond.
(I will allow that “in the future, a Federation AI goes rogue and assimilates the Borg” would be a very nifty twist, and we can all shout about parallels and the Federation’s famous assimilationist tendencies. But, like, how good is biological existence, really? Why would a nice, pure AI sully itself with messy flesh and blood?)
- For just €240 each, you can buy Admiral Kat’s lamps!
- I still haven’t got my Spock-Tilly interaction, dammit!
- Update: I am not allowed to buy even one Kat Lamp.
- I’m a little disappointed that Team Discovery are no longer fugitives — I was looking forward to seeing the whole crew bust out whatever well-tailored fugitivewear they have lying around.
- The more I think about the actual plot of this episode, the more problems I have with it. So I’ve stopped thinking about the plot. Easy!