Star Trek: Discovery 4.03 – “Choose to Live”

“What’s that? Trekkies are whinging about how episodes don’t have three unrelated subplots smooshed up against each other anymore? WELL THEN!”

For the record, I’m not one of the people who misses episodes that are like, “Sisko deals with serious war crimes! Meanwhile, Quark loses the password to his NFTs!”

But I enjoyed this episode and each of its semi-related subplots. Did they combine to make a coherent whole? Ehhhhhhhh, maybe not, but for the fifty or so minutes I was watching, I didn’t care.

After the credits ran … well, I found myself with problems.

Let’s take the subplots in ascending order of importance

Ni’Var’s Science Institute has a real Jedi Council aesthetic going on

Especially the passive-aggressive napping meditating.

The technobabble side of this storyline is … fine. TL;DR Stamets’ initial theory (that Greg the Anomaly is a proto-wormhole) doesn’t hold up. Eliminating a possibility is a form of progress!

My own feelings remain that I don’t really care about Greg, provided the eventual explanation isn’t something stupid like “Oh, Q farted”. But watching people deal with a science problem is meat and potatoes Star Trek and I enjoy it.

Also T’Rina has more emotional intelligence than most humans, let alone vulcans

Because I didn’t blog about season 3, I have failed to mention my great love for President T’Rina and my enjoyment of her as a character. So let me take a moment: she’s GREAT, I love her gracious application of logic and general open-mindedness as a leader.

Using a mind meld to apply a critical eye to Book’s memories of Kwejian’s destruction makes sense, of course, but what I really loved was her understanding of and respect for his emotional needs. I was about to call her the anti-Sarek, but really, she’s the antithesis of all Vulcan leaders we’ve seen, ever, without in any way compromising her Vulcan identity.

(I should probably get into the habit of thinking of her as Ni’Varan, and likewise separate the Qowat Milat from their Romulan origins, but it’s hard! The cultural blending they take for granted is novel to us!)

Book is moving through the grieving process

If last week saw denial followed by total paralysis, this week it feels like he’s in a healthier place. Not okay, because you can never be fully okay, but acknowledging his feelings and dealing with them in constructive and healthy ways.

And I’m into that! I’m very invested in the Michael/Book relationship — excuse me while I have a moment to wibble about the look she gives him as she borrows his ship to go road tripping with her mother — and after Ash, I want Michael to have a fellow who is her equal in maturity and intelligence.

(Which is not a dig at Ash, a character I enjoyed a lot and miss very much. But after the reveal of his identity, I never wanted him and Michael to be more than friends.)

Tilly … something something comfort zone?

Over on Antimatter Pod last week, I described Tilly as a character who obfuscates her needs and vulnerabilities beneath a layer of chatter.

I did not realise that would carry over to this episode, where we see that she has identified her problem as a sense of being out of her comfort zone, but also too safe in it.

Girl. I wanna sit her down and give her a cup of tea and say, “Your problem is that you are depressed and you miss your mother, who was a terrible mother, but she was yours.”

I suspect that good therapists don’t do this. Probably the process is about guiding a patient to figure it out for herself. But that is very frustrating when it’s this obvious, and also leaves me worrying that the writers don’t see the mother-shaped elephant in the room.

(I mean, they must, right? These people generally know what they’re doing. More or less. Mostly.)

Anyway, time with Michael, with the Qowat Milat — who don’t tolerate even self-deception — and with Michael’s mother seems to be helpful. When I go on a roadtrip with my BFF’s mum, it involves cocktails and art galleries, but I can see that swords and aliens could also have an appeal…

I don’t think Tilly’s issues have been magically resolved, but I hope this is the next step along an arc that involves President Rillak adopting Tilly. Or at least bonding with her in some way. Why should Michael get all the surrogate mothers?

Gray is being re-embodied

(In terms of ongoing plots affecting the regular cast, I’d say this is the most important of “Choose to Live”, but since it didn’t provide the episode’s title and wasn’t highlighted in promos, it’s going second.)

Combining Vulcan nonsense, Romulan shenanigans and Trill antics in one episode is like a gift. All it needed was some Bajoran religion and Cardassian politics, and it would be PERFECT.

Having said that, there was a regrettable lack of antics in this episode, as the Trill seem to be totally cool with re-embodying Gray, and the drama comes from Adira’s anxiety and the process itself.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want the Trill to be dicks! Having embraced Adira as a host last year, I’m glad to see they’re leaving behind the OVERWHELMING DICKISHNESS that defined them in the DS9 era.

But the process of re-embodiment is sort of glossed over — wisely, in my opinion, that is not something you want to over-explain — so really we’re relying on Adira and Hugh to carry this.

And they do really well! Blu del Barrio is so good, it’s hard to believe this is their first major role, and Wilson Cruz brings tremendous humanity to every scene. Truly I think Hugh is the best Star Trek doctor since Beverly Crusher.

(I wouldn’t want Bashir or the EMH to treat me, and I’m not entirely certain that Phlox is actually qualified to treat humans.)

The main weakness in this subplot is that, like the Saru business in the first episode, it’s jarring to have such quiet, emotional scenes in between the higher stakes action of the A plot. And there’s never any doubt that the process will work, so there’s very little tension.

Mother-daughter murder roadtrip? Don’t mind if I do!

For the most part, I really enjoyed this story. Combining Michael’s fraught relationship with her mother with equally tense Federation politics? GOLD. A story which is ultimately about saving people? Perfect.

I kiiiiiind of wish we had gotten a bit more into the relationship between Gabrielle Burnham and J’Vini, because I definitely got girlfriend vibes, but it could simply be that they were two women who existed in the same space and … well. You know.

But my only real problem with this story comes in at the end…

So first of all, Starfleet shouldn’t be cops

The seeds of my problem were planted early on, when J’Vini’s murder of a Starfleet officer is framed as something especially egregious, the way the murder of a police officer is framed now.

Obviously murder is bad and I do not condone it, but in my experience as a consumer of news in general and true crime in particular, when the police go after cop killers, there’s a sense that this is way more important than the murder of a regular citizen, and the brakes are off in a way that isn’t compatible with meaningful justice.

So I was uncomfortable with that from the start — and then we end with J’Vini being turned over to Ni’Var instead of facing Federation justice, and Michael seems deeply unhappy about that.

And I was like … why? What is it about Ni’Varan (or Vulcan) justice that makes Michael uncomfortable? Nothing we’ve ever learned about Vulcans — let alone Romulans — suggests that their justice system would be less punitive than the wider Federation. More the opposite, in fact. So if we’re meant to think J’Vini is getting away with something, that needs to actually be said.

And I super don’t love the idea that Michael, who is herself a victim of the carceral state, would be advocating for J’Vini to face more extreme punishments.

(Part of the problem here is that we don’t know much about the justice system on either side. I have trouble believing that the Federation, as an alleged utopia, would rely on incarceration as its primary method of punishment, but everything we’ve seen in the franchise right up to season 1 of Discovery tells us those guys just love prisons. Especially for women of colour. So.)

(I do not think it’s coincidence that this is the first episode of the season that wasn’t co-written by a Black woman.)

I feel like we’re meant to come away feeling like Rillak can’t be trusted, but  I don’t think she has done anything wrong here. Did she make a pragmatic choice? Yes, but based on the information we have, it wasn’t unethical.

Did all the pieces come together?

Sort of! I walked away feeling like I had spent fifty minutes watching people remember the importance of connection, of drawing each other in and embracing interdependence and trust. (Then I remembered that we had an actual scene where Gabrielle discusses the “choose to live” mantra in a wider context and realised the answer was right in front of me the whole time. I am very clever, you should definitely be reading my blog.)

J’Vini was so focused on protecting the aliens that she didn’t realise she could free them, while Adira had to release Gray and then guide him home. That feels meaningful. Likewise, that Book had to push through his trauma with T’Rina’s assistance, and acknowledge that his nephew loved him, and he loved his nephew, and that if he tries to push away his grief, he’ll also lose his memory of that love.

But I keep getting caught up on the Rillak question. For the very first time since “The Battle of the Binary Stars”, I feel like Michael is straight up wrong in her assessment of a situation. And I can’t tell if that’s intentional and will pay off in some way, or if we’re meant to agree with her.

(At this stage in the series, it would be an interesting and brave choice to let Michael be wrong about something — but at the same time, those people in fandom would be unbearable about it. And frankly I don’t understand why Michael, who was raised by  Sarek and Amanda, the ultimate political power couple, would have this reflexive mistrust of politicians. It is, frankly, illogical.)

Grudgewatch 2k21

Grudge was not in this episode! Which is a real missed opportunity, because I have so many unanswered questions:

  • was she present for the road trip of dubious justice?
  • how do the Qowat Milat feel about cats?
  • do cats believe in absolute candor?

Other observations

  • Saru has the exact same plant mister that I bought from Ikea last weekend.
  • We need to talk about Tilly’s real problem: she doesn’t like mac and cheese. I mean, first she’s not a cat person, now she doesn’t like the greatest dish ever created by humanity – I love her, but sometimes I wonder if we can really be friends…
  • It was very thoughtful of Hugh to make sure Gray’s new body came with pre-pierced ears.
  • We see a Ferengi and a Lurian in the background of Discovery’s new bar, which means the 23rd century crew has been augmented by contemporary officers. And thank goodness! Aside from not wanting the ship to turn into a weird cult (more of a weird cult than it already is, I say with all the love in the world), they’d be a bit understaffed otherwise.
  • It’s good to see that Star Trek has embraced proper pillows and blankets, not bits of thin shiny fabric.

In conclusion

I enjoyed this episode as I watched it, but the more I think about it afterwards, the more dissatisfied I am. So I’m saying three stolen dilithium crystals out of five for now, with an option to revisit my opinions later in the season.

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