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Discovery Finally Delivers the Episode We’ve Needed

If you’d been following along with my episode reviews, you’ll know that I’ve been struggling with Star Trek: Discovery. It’s a beautiful show with brilliant acting but has struggled with a convoluted plot that minimizes the importance of the characters; the plot drives the action, and our characters are just along for the ride. They’re relegated to reacting to what is happening instead of shaping the events with their actions. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing some of the time, but not having any emotional attachment to these characters fails to yield anything of real stake. This episode flips that, and the show is better for it.

The characters take control of the car

Tyler (Shazad Latif) in Star Trek Discovery.

The Discovery pops back into the main universe nine months after they vanished, after having spent the last four episodes in the Mirror Universe, and instead of diving back into the next life or death problem, the show has the patience to let us hold our breath. By doing this they allow us to get our bearings and setup the finale all at once. This is what a show ought to do, and whenever this show has done this, it’s been overwhelmingly better for it. The last time they did this, we got to see what the Mirror Universe looks like, how it’s different from the Federation, and how that difference informs us of our characters’ motivations and shapes them. Before that we had Lorca and Tyler’s prison ship episode and before that we had our introduction to the Discovery itself. These are some of the best episodes of the series thus far, but not merely because they are slower, but because they let the characters do the work that the plot is always trying to do.

For instance, the plot of this episode is trying to find a way to beat the Klingons, and the only way to do it is by using the Discovery’s broken maguffin engine (that’s right, I said it). With the shroom drive fixed, they’ll be able to jump into Qo’noS itself. This whole plot thread is maybe given ten minutes of time. The rest of the time is spent letting us see the state the war-ridden Federation is in, and letting the characters react to the various things that have happened in the last few episodes, first with the Lorca reveal and then with the Tyler reveal.

Who is Tyler really?

Stamets (Anthony Rapp) confronts Tyler.

Much of the episode is dedicated to just this question. I will admit I really didn’t like the answers (I’ll get to that later), but the earnestness of the exploration was great. Simply put, we don’t know who Tyler is. He was VoQ, but apparently that personality is dead, even though Tyler lives in VoQ’s mutilated body. Tyler, the Starfleet officer, actually died months ago. This Tyler is a new person, an amalgam of both halves, maintaining the memories of both men. He is genuinely struggling with his own confused identity, and even though the crew seem to accept him, the person who he cares about the most doesn’t. This culminates in a dialogue scene between Tyler and Burnham. Initially the scene deals with Burnham’s own horror at having to confront her attacker, and quickly switches to what’s next for Tyler and Burnham.

The conversation between Tyler and Burnham at the end of the episode is what Star Trek does at its best. It is dialogue heavy without being preachy, it handles several issues without losing focus on the main issue at hand, and it ties itself into the plot as metaphor. In the initial phase of the conversation it’s about victimhood. Both Tyler and Burnham feel like the victim. Tyler was turned into a monster against his will, and he poignantly feels like Burnham’s rejection of him is her just pushing him away because they got too close. It’s a remarkable choice that flows from the character and not from any writer’s misconception of the character. Burnham, on her end, feels like the victim because he tried to strangle her to death. Even though it was the VoQ personality, it was VoQ wearing a Tyler suit. If you strip away the sci-fi elements, the scene touches on domestic violence in a very upfront way, but it doesn’t really offer any solutions, because the scene isn’t really about that. A lesser writer would have taken that touch and made it the moral crux of the whole thing, but really this episode, and seemly the series as a whole, is about identity.

Burnham takes Tyler over to the window and talks about how they created something beautiful, and uses this terraforming plot as an analogy. She, better than anyone else, understands what it’s like to rebuild who you are after the things you’ve done. She explains it to him, how difficult it will be, and how lonely. It was the most brilliant break up scene I’ve ever seen. It was, probably, the best scene in the whole series so far. This is why I watch Star Trek. This is what we need more of. We have other franchises for action sci-fi spectacle. Just let Star Trek do this.

The episode is not without its problems/Assorted Ramblings

Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) speaks to Tyler.

I’m not going to spend a ton of time on these because the episode was great, but I can’t write a criticism without a few major criticisms and concerns I have for the future.

  • The crew got over Tyler being a Klingon agent waaaaaaay too quickly. Of course Burnham and Stamets aren’t going to jump back in bed with him, but Tyler murdered one of their crew, and tried to do it a second time. There’s no telling what else he may have done while a double agent that we don’t yet know about. Moreover, I haven’t seen anyone mind meld with him yet. We don’t actually know if he really is Tyler. This could still be a trick. I don’t think it is, but the point is the characters shouldn’t know that it’s not a misdirection. They’re Starfleet, yes, but they’re not supposed to be omniscient. What’s worse is I feel like this will give another writer coverage to let Tyler be a part of the crew again, which can’t happen. Being a secret Klingon double agent and murdering another crew member has to have consequences other than having your girlfriend break up with you.
  • At this point I’ve given up on the science in this show. The mushrooms are magic. That is all.
  • When Tyler came toward Burnham in that final scene and started talking about how she was going to use this excuse as a way to push him away I thought the look on Burnham’s face was, “Bitch this ain’t about you.” Only in Star Trek does being a secret murdering Klingon double agent serve as a mild hiccup in a relationship.
  • Can Saru not read a map. Last episode he’s like “Looks like the Klingons have won.” And this week we learn only 20 percent of Federation space is occupied.
  • In speaking of Saru, I think Captain Saru is going to be awesome. I feel sorry for Doug Jones to have to walk that way for twelve hours a day.
  • Okay, so now Mirror Georgiou is going to pretend to be Prime Georgiou. So now we are going to have our third character who’s really another character trope. This time it’s a little different because the audience and some of the crew are aware, but nevertheless it’s happening again.
  • The dialogue in this show has been terrible. The writers can’t decide if they’re going to use modern vernacular or Star Trek vernacular. This episode seems to fuse them together nicely. The best example of this is when Burnham and Saru leave the transporter room and Burnham is explaining why she rescued Georgiou. His initial answer is parsed in a very Star Trek way, but then she stops and says “Honestly I couldn’t watch her die again.” She says it in a modern way. It’s almost like her human side uses modern vernacular and her Vulcan side uses Star Trek vernacular. It’s a nice touch.
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