Star Trek: Discovery 4.01 – “Kobayashi Maru”

“Liz, Paramount has infamously withdrawn Discovery from your region and, indeed, all regions but the US and Canada, how are you even having opinions?”

Look. All I’ll say is that, going back to the heyday of CSI and Avatar: the Last Airbender, Viacom/CBS has always been slow to understand that, when it comes to media, regional boundaries are fake.

Anyway, we’re approximately back, and Discovery picks up five months after the end of season 3 — the Federation is rebuilding, Starfleet Academy is re-opening, and Michael, as Discovery’s captain, has been ubering dilithium around the galaxy as part of a goodwill tour.

That year she spent as a courier is still weighing heavily

I mean. That cold open with Book was as funny as anything on Lower Decks, reminiscent of the last two Star Trek movies while adding something new, and gave us a look at the current working relationship between Michael and Book.

I just wanna, uhhh, suggest that they might be reading from the wrong playbook. So to speak. There’s no need to compare Michael’s work here to other, whiter Star Trek captains — Michael is better at diplomacy than this.

I love that she has loosened up, but the first contact specialist of season one would have handled that scene with … okay, not more finesse, but it would have gone wrong differently.

Which is not to say I did not love every minute of the teaser! But I think it sets up Michael’s internal conflict for the season to come: she’s still figuring out how to integrate every facet of her personality and experiences, from the traumatised child, to the pseudo-Vulcan, to the freelance courier.

President Rillak reminds me of Seska and Winn, and I mean that as a compliment

I was predisposed to like the new Federation President as soon as we glimpsed her in the trailers, but I didn’t expect to like her this much.

She reminds me of Seska in her ability to look at Michael and perceive her weaknesses — and, worse, to tell her about them. And she reminds me of Winn in her relentless politicking.

As it happens, I love and adore Seska and Winn, and so none of this is a downside to me. I don’t know if Rillak is going to be a villainous character — she could genuinely go either way — but I plan to revel in the ambiguity for as long as I can.

The political side of the Federation has always been overlooked in Trek, and I’ve always found that disappointing. What do their elections look like? How do they vote? As an Australian, I can’t imagine a functional democracy without compulsory voting, but the Federation is an alleged utopia whose citizens are instilled with an ideal of service.

The Federation of the 32nd century is a bit of an outlier, in terms of its limited infrastructure, but it’s useful to know that Rillak is perceived as having an inferiority complex because she didn’t serve in Starfleet (though she doesn’t seem to regard this as a problem), and that she has a rehearsed line about flying freighters for her dad, which doesn’t quite square with her upper middle class presentation.

I’m eager to learn more! And also to see, eg, the chief of staff and other people she should have around her. Give me a political drama in space, guys. Or, rather, don’t give it to me, but put it out there and I’ll find my way to consuming it.

Did we need another round of ‘person in authority doubts Michael’s ability to command’?

Absolutely not. And just as the MCU is requiring Sam to go through a whole season of TV plus a movie to prove he’s worthy of being Captain America, it’s tiresome that Michael has to prove herself again. The optics are bad.

That aside, though, I get it — Rillak needs to prove herself, and she’s doing so by examining Michael. (Again: yikes to those optics.) And Michael is a lot like Picard; they’re both at their best when they have some higher authority to argue with.

Nevertheless, we don’t need it, and I hope we move on.

Also, I felt like Michael passed her Kobayashi Maru at the end of last season

You know, when she chose to confront Osyraa and retake Discovery rather than save Saru, Hugh and Adira. Remember? Stamets still seems slightly put out about it?

Maybe the real Kobayashi Maru is the friends we made along the way?

I think we could argue that the Kobayashi Maru is more than the test given to cadets — it’s a quandary that officers face over and over again through their careers. And maybe their answers change! I can’t see young Johnny “I got my heart stabbed out in a bar fight! IT WAS AWESOME!” Picard making the same choices as the seasoned captain of the Enterprise-D.

If Michael has ever taken the actual test, it was probably on the Shenzhou, under the supervision and leadership of Captain Georgiou. And the Michael Burnham of today is a very different woman from the Michael Burnham of that era — and a much more vulnerable one, who maybe would struggle more to make a sacrifice.

Does that make her a bad captain? Hell no! But it does mean the hard choices are just a little bit more difficult.

Also there was a plot

Blah, blah, space thingo hits a station, Discovery comes to the rescue, the rescue mission is challenging, ALSO the space thingo destroys Book’s home planet.

I do not find this boring, but to me, the whole Gravity Whatever Thing is less exciting than the really interesting stuff, ie, how do people deal with the whole Gravity Whatever Thing.

Such as:

  • the space station’s commander was maybe burned out before the disaster, and he has to be talked down from a suicide mission by Tilly and President Rillak
  • Adira is on their first away mission (and doing really well! I’m so proud of them!)
  • Michael will move heaven and earth to save her people, up to and including risking her own life (this is very Janeway of her, which is maybe why I like it)
  • Keyla is still basically a hoon behind the wheel of a starship, which I should love, but honestly, season 3 left me actively disliking her
  • RIP Book’s whole home planet including a bunch of endangered species and also an adorable child

I did not expect Discovery to kill the child

They’ve played it pretty safe for the last couple of seasons, so when the camera followed the little boy, and the footage slowed down and became ominously beautiful, I thought, “Oh, that child is doomed. AHAHAHAHA, AS IF DISCOVERY WOULD EVER KILL A CHILD.”

Suffice to say, “planet is knocked out of orbit by a cosmic thingamajig and is quickly rendered uninhabitable before being actually torn apart” is a new fear! Thanks, guys! That’s gonna keep me up at night! (I know I just said I don’t care about the anomaly per se, and I’m not here for the technobabble, but in lieu of reading horror novels, sometimes I read Wikipedia pages about gas planets and contemplate the vast uncaring expanse of space, and get chills.)

This is devastating for Book, whose estrangement from his culture has been alluded to but never explained. I have no idea where this story will go, but I’m eager to see it play out.

First the Burn and now this: is that too many disasters?

I’m seeing that complaint around, but let me suggest: after 2020, no one gets to complain that two major disasters in a hundred years is too much.

In any case, this is very different from the Burn. That was a man-made disaster which came about as a result of over-dependence on a finite resource and decades of infrastructure decay. (No allegories here, nope.) The Burn was preventable.

This … seems to be a natural disaster. And probably not the kind exacerbated by human (sapient) action or inaction, like the bushfires that raged across the east coast of Australia in early 2020. (Remember those? I was in the US in January and bought packages of n95 masks from Home Depot, because there was a shortage in Australia. A few months later, I donated the remaining masks to the local hospital…)

In short, these are different events. The last thing the fragile Federation needs, but hey, sometimes people come together in adversity!

GrudgeWatch 2k21

  • Continues to be a queen
  • Ungrateful for treats
  • Absolute unit
  • Role model

Other observations

  • Tilly’s had a haircut and her curls seem a bit looser, and Mary Wiseman remains round and soft, so I’m like, I should seriously look into cosplay options, even though I think her eye make-up this week was awful
  • Even though the new uniforms are only marginally less hideous than the grey ones we saw at the end of season 3
  • (Having said that, the boxy jackets plus some judicious CGI hides the fact that Sonequa Martin-Green was only a few weeks post-partum when filming began, and I’d rather have ugly costumes than see an actress torture herself to get into shape for a role.)
  • Speaking of bodies and shapes, Mary Wiseman is even rounder than last season, and the space station commander whose name I’ve forgotten was a chubby bloke who looked like every IT guy I’ve ever met. And I am delighted to see rounder bodies in Star Trek, even if we’re still missing anyone who is actually fat. Baby steps.
  • We have a new bridge officer, Lt Christopher, who seems to be Bryce’s relief. Because this series has become so squeamish about killing recurring characters who aren’t my favourite admiral, I cynically suspect Christopher is a sacrificial lamb.

In conclusion

A solid start to the season! It’s too soon to say anything yet, but I’m eager to see where we’re going.

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