Monday, October 2, 2017

Discovery, Season 1: The Battle at the Binary Stars

http://www.treknobabble.net/p/rating-system.htmlDiscovery, Season 1
"Battle at the Binary Stars"
Airdate: September 24, 2017
2 of 15 produced
2 of 15 aired

Introduction

Michael Burnham's attempt to take over the ship has failed, and things with the Klingons have hit the fan. Now, she must try to convince her captain to give her another chance, in an attempt to redeem herself.

Now stepping out of the Fabulous Retcon Machine... Sarek of Vulcan!

Writing

Kevin: This is the weaker half of the two parts for me, largely because it feels soooo focused on an extended action sequence. It's not a bad episode, but I am glad that "The Vulcan Hello" came first to give this one some context. As a result, there is just less to analyze here. I'll start with the Klingon plot, which whatever my design problems are, this episode does manage to add some dimension. The various houses and thus various takes on T'Kuvma's plan presage a more layered story than merely rallying behind a monocular villain. I can easily see the house that leaves the holo-conversation as being a fun wildcard. Could they side with the Federation to take him out? Would the Federation do so if it meant winning the war, but installing a possibly less than ideal leader. That would have notes of real world dilemmas, and would be fun.

Matthew: I disliked the Klingons consenting to call T'Kuvma "The unforgettable." That's Kahless, man. Would people be OK with calling some new guy "the son of God" or "the prophet, peace be upon him," when another revered figure already owns that title? Anyway, I liked practically everything else about the Klingons here. I see it as an iteration, just like James Bond, Batman, or, well, the Klingons themselves. It strikes me as internally consistent and interesting. And so I can take all this stuff about black fleets, remaining Klingon, and so forth, with nary even a fanboy twitch. As opposed to being annoyed by the extended battle sequence, I felt like it was tight, exciting, and flowed from the characters and the cultures logically. It was also paced pretty well, with lulls and turnarounds.

Kevin: The character work was good, if not a little bit rote. Given that the title of the show is not Shenzhou, it was clear that the ship or at least Burnham's time on it was not infinite, and the backstory of "parents [or parental figures] were tragically killed" has propelled heroes in most genres throughout all time and place of human history from Electra to Batman. That said, I found Georgiou's death to be particularly affecting. I like that none of Burnham's plans have turned out. It implies that she has not mastered the deft hand to balance her Vulcan logic and human emotion, and it gives the otherwise competent character somewhere to build to in the story. If the show started with Burnham in disgrace and having to reverse engineer it, it would have a different flavor, and I think be too big a distraction as the inevitable story to be told, but as is, I can't help but think of someone like Ensign Ro, another strong female Trek character I love. Intelligent but possibly overly sure of her position, and the result is the death of her crewmates. The story may be a trope, but it's a trope for a reason, and at least so far, it leaves me wanting more. One aside, life in prison? She did not willfully murder anyone and this feels a little outside the box for the otherwise touchy-feely Federation.

Matthew: Setting aside the fact that I most decidedly did not like Sarek Katra-Skyping Burnham, I really liked the conversation they had. It was illuminating of her nature and her position in the Trek universe. She is special, I guess (we'll get more on this in the next episode). Sarek sees great potential in her, and doesn't want to waste that material. On the other hand, this retcon of Burnham being Sarek's ward (like he's Batman or something) is rather annoying. When did he come around on Starfleet, again? Is it good for his human ward, but not for his half-human son? I just don't know. This seems like a really foolish decision on the show creators' parts. Anyway, Burnham ends up being a loose cannon, almost literally here. Why did she switch her phaser from stun to kill? Rage? Either way, it's nice to follow a flawed character.

Acting

Kevin: I won't rehash too much of our previous praise of the crew of the Shenzhou, except to say that Sonequa Martin-Green's grief acting was really, really good. It was both profound for itself, but also felt like a break in the character and not just the actor. It was real human emotion forcing its way to the surface and it was both affecting as a piece of narrative and something of an insight for the character.

Matthew: Yeah, this episode did more for the Burnham character than the previous. She really carried her brig scenes. She brings a certain wounded serenity to it that really works for a human trying to use Vulcan discipline to stoically approach a shit situation.

Kevin: Yeoh and Jones did a great job again. I remain sad that Yeoh's character died. I will reserve judgment on Isaacs until I see him obviously, but I will always wonder what might have been about a show helmed by Yeoh and Burnham together. Would it have been an almost ridiculous Kirk/Spock retread? Sure, but I think both have the chops to pull it off.

Matthew: It was an odd choice to format the show in this way. Michelle Yeoh is such a presence, that to limit her artificially seems off. Like, I guess you want to put the best player in that you can, even if only for a short time. But I wonder how the next captain will come off. Her anger at Burnham was leavened nicely with her desire to survive and complete the mission.

Kevin: The Klingons did as well as they could given the ten pounds of latex to act through. I will say the one point that I stopped reading subtitles and felt the character say the words directly was T'Kuvma adding "here comes the lie" prior to Georgiou declaring "We come in peace." Something about that delivery felt really seamless and for that moment, I was drawn into his worldview.

Matthew: I kind of got over Chris Obi as T'Kuvma, given his vocal delivery, which sounded like someone reading lines while swishing mouthwash. Javid Iqbal's Voq hels my interest to a much greater degree. Isn't an outsider turned acolyte more interesting than a guru with no real history?

Production Values

Kevin: The Klingon ships remain hideously overdesigned. I still don't know what they actually look like. The battle itself was very busy and chaotic, but I'll say that's a compliment here. Without the jumpy camera and lens flare, the chaos read as the appropriate fog of war, not a nauseating miasma. Especially since the enemy is one that hasn't been seen for some time, I kind of like that the Federation doesn't get a good look. I want one as a viewer, but at least the chaos here as opposed to the Abrams' movies felt story-centered.

Matthew: Overall I liked the battle choreography in space. I agree on the ship designs, and as a long time fan, it's hard not to want that one iconic design to really crystallize an alien race. The effects were absolutely top notch, with the collision between ships probably being the highlight. It's clear they're spending tones of money on each episode, here.

Kevin: The editing toward the end was a little fast for me. We jump from the Shenzhou getting the tow to the ship being abandoned, and I'm not saying I can't quickly imagine the lines in the story that would explain that and it's not fatal or anything, it just means I can see the seams of the story creation that I normally like to have hidden. It felt like they were piecing together a story from pieces different from where they started.

Matthew: In the big final fight scene, they were using a lower frame rate of video capture to make the action feel frenetic. It's not an approach I've ever liked. It also diminishes our ability to see the weapons in use (which is key for Klingons), and to follow particular moves.

Conclusion

Kevin: This is a 3 for me. The action sequences were well done, but were too much of the episode for me to rate it much higher. I remain, as before, cautiously optimistic about what the show and crew is capable of, but this episode felt a bit like it was marking time until the real 'pilot' next week. It was well done marking time, but marking time nonetheless.

Matthew: I'm still at a four. The acting was above average and so was the production. I agree the story was a bit action heavy, but the action felt organic and I was invested in the outcome. That makes our total a 7.

Podcast

Our written reviews separate out the episode but since they became available on the same night, the podcast was together, and here it is again for your listening pleasure.

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