Star Trek: Discovery 4.02 – “Anomaly”

Book is haunted by birbs, and I’m like, that’s a mood.

Despite having a pile of guest stars and a massive SFX setpiece at its centre, this felt like a very small, intimate episode. Lots of people are struggling with vulnerability in various ways — Book with his overwhelming grief; Stamets with the lingering impact of Michael’s choices at the end of last season; Adira is nervous about change; Tilly has some as-yet undefined problem she needs to discuss with Hugh.

At the centre is Michael, demonstrating why she is the right captain for this ship and crew: she is deeply empathetic, and though she is still learning to balance the personal and professional, she’s willing to do so with care and nuance.

I made the mistake of leaving this post for a few days, so instead of offering my own pure, organic, single-origin thoughts, I’m mentally responding to other people’s (wrong) ideas, and also the discussion I had with Anika while recording Antimatter Pod yesterday. (Spoilers: we spent most of that episode discussing how grief has been part of Star Trek‘s DNA since the very beginning, and also how it’s dangerous to be a nephew in this universe.)

So let me just bounce down the list of ideas and criticisms I’ve seen all over the place…

The intimacy of this season is driven by Covid restrictions

I … guess that could be the case? But I suspect it also has a lot to do with the fact that this is the very first season that’s not introducing new regulars. In fact, the ensemble has shrunk with the loss of Georgiou, and everyone has space to breathe.

In any case, I have been arguing for years that Discovery is character-driven and prioritises emotional intelligence over cold logic. This doesn’t feel like a dramatic change to me, just the natural evolution of what the show has been trying to do all along.

Discovery is a mushy soap opera and, simultaneously, a hollow action fest with no heart

These are diametrically opposed opinions, not a good faith argument. Just say it’s not to your taste and move on.

Michael cries too much

This has achieved memetic status totally disproportionate to the amount Michael actually cries on screen. I am sorry that human emotion is uncomfortable for you.1

It’s okay that Michael cried this week because it was for her boyfriend

Ah, so it’s okay when she’s having empathy for men. Got it.

Liz, that’s a straight-up straw man

I regret to report that it’s a genuine opinion I saw with my own eyes. I blocked a lot of guys on Twitter over the weekend.

Tilly is fat

I know, isn’t it great?

Star Trek fandom is a haven of enlightenment and progressiveness

That has literally never been the case.

Now I’ve gotten all that out of my system, let me finally share my opinions!

  • Michael was right to blow Stamets out an airlock last season (I mean, in the nicest possible way), but it’s also reasonable that he still feels a way about it.

Is he angry? Resentful? I don’t think so. Even Paul seems to understand that it was the right choice, but his awareness of how it could have gone wrong, and what he could have lost, makes it difficult to just forgive Michael and move on.

And that’s reasonable! And realistic! It doesn’t seem to affect their working relationship save that now he gets to make “blown out an airlock” jokes that don’t land. It’s simply a source of unresolved tension, and I’m into that.

Incidentally, as a person who is Bad With Feelings, I very much identified with Paul’s discomfort at being in Book’s presence.

  • I get that Book is in pain but he shouldn’t bring Grudge along on potential suicide missions

It makes perfect sense that he would be all, “I’m not okay but I’ll cope OH NO I’M NOT COPING!” That’s not only how Michael has operated in the past, it’s how Ash Tyler dealt with the whole repressed identity thing, and bless her, but Michael has a type.

I just think that cats should be kept safe and away from sinister and dangerous anomalies.

  • Gray is explicitly trans and that’s great

It’s a small but important thing to emphasise that, in addition to and separate from being a Trill and a host, he is also trans and has experienced transition. What that looks like in the 32nd century, I have no idea, but I know the trans Trekkies out there are speculating, and I’m happy about it.

  • Picard may not want to talk about the implications of his new synth body, but Discovery will!

Akiva Goldsman gave a deeply infuriating interview a few months back which basically boiled down to, “I, an experienced writer-producer of many decades,  have no idea how to tell a story.”

One particularly aggravating bit was where he said they would not be addressing the fact of Picard’s new body in season 2. Maybe that’s a misdirect, but in the meantime, Michelle Paradise is writing fix-it fic as she goes, using Soong’s technology to re-embody Gray and to consider what it means to be remade new.

(It’s fitting that this is happening in Discovery, where Hugh also has a new body.)

  • Tilly is Not Okay

We don’t know yet what she’s feeling, but if I had to guess, I would say that President Rillak reminds her of her mother, and she is very homesick. Maybe not regretting the choice to come to the 32nd century, but coming to terms with everything she has lost along the way. I’m keen to see where this goes!

  • President Rillak is still great by the way

She and President T’Rina of Ni’Var were in the same room, which means I ship it. Although T’Rina and Saru were enjoying some significant eye contact, which can only be a precursor to hand-holding. Anyway, I support the girlboss/gaslight/gatekeep leadership of the free galaxy.

(Which one is gaslight? Oh, they’re mature adults, they can share.)

  • The anomaly is maybe sentient, and is also named Greg

The latter detail comes from my flatmate. She’s right and she should say it.

The first bit comes from a physicist in one of the many places where I talk about Star Trek. Now, I would be perfectly fine with Extremely Fake Or Even Bad Science, but Tsana pointed out that Greg seems to be responding to and maybe even targeting psychics.

I’m still hoping for a Natural Disaster/Bad Science combo, but I’m also, like, prayer circle for Ni’var, Betazed, Talos IV, the Ocampa homeworld, etc…

GrudgeWatch 2k21

  • still a queen
  • ma’am your human is suffering, please give him cuddles
  • then a gentle chomp as punishment for cat endangerment
  • send a REALLY strong message: leave your poop uncovered

Other observations

  • Saru is a very good first officer and it is WILD that it’s taken us years to get to this, the situation which was obvious from episode one would be ideal
  • We have learned a single fact about Bryce (he wind surfs!) and it was barely shoehorned in at all, well done
  • I suspect the flamethrowery effects on the bridge are covid-related — safer than whatever they were doing before? Fewer props and stunt people necessary than loading consoles up with exploding rocks? — but they look very silly and remind me of the gas brigades at Crown Casino, which I hate.
  • On the other hand, Discovery haters have been crying about them almost as much as they cry about having a Black lady in the captain’s chair, so I may come around.
  • Discovery’s refit includes holo-emitters; let us pray that they are only used for brooding attractive locations and never roleplay

In conclusion

I’m still eager to find out where this season goes and who Greg will eat next, and more importantly, how our regular cast (and associated presidents, admirals, etc) cope. Four synth bodies out of five!

  1. I am also uncomfortable around emotion, but at least I know this is a me problem.

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