Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Discovery, Season 1: Choose Your Pain

http://www.treknobabble.net/p/rating-system.htmlDiscovery, Season 1
"Choose Your Pain"
Airdate: October 15, 2017
5 of 15 produced
5 of 15 aired

Introduction

When Captain Lorca is abducted by the Klingons, Burnham must decide whether to go to bat for the tardigrade, which may be sentient, and is certainly in pain in its new role as ship navigator/supercomputer.

Burnham looked around uncomfortably, wondering if anyone else was having trouble reading the inexplicably transparent display screen.

Writing

Matthew: So the writing here is really divided into three major parts. Lorca on the Klingon vessel, Burnham and Saru, and the Tardigrade story. As far as the tardigrade went, we got a better engagement of the ethical question. It was nice that Burnham and Culber put a fine point on the fact that he creature was sentient at a minimum, and possibly even sapient. It was a bit troubling that Starfleet seemed unconcerned by this, but Burnham and Culber represent the "Trek" side of things well. Overall the treatment was still a bit slight, and was missing a great boardroom scene (which is not to say the argument between Saru and Burnham wasn't good, it was). I was hoping the tardigrade was the the last of its species, which would have solved all sorts of continuity problems. Oh, well. The resolution was a nice scene, though again short. I can't shake the feeling that the extreme serialized storytelling format is chopping things up into bite sized bits, spread across many episodes,  that are less satisfying than a longer meditation

Kevin: I agree with everything you said, but I will add that I really, really liked the conversation on the bridge between Saru, Culber, and Stamets. Particularly when Saru declares that he is not doing this because he enjoys it and will accept the consequences of his actions once the captain is rescued. It is the height of Star Trek to give all sides a legitimate point of view. In a perfect world, Saru seems like the exact person who would bristle at the exploitation of a species, but they are at war, and recovering Lorca is an inescapable priority. Everyone on that bridge is basically a good person who is prioritizing competing "good" priorities in slightly different way. More of that, please and thank you.

Matthew: The Lorca/Klingon story was a bit more of a mixed bag. I really liked Starfleet trying to reign in Lorca, and his expression of latitude recalls the "Hero Captain" theme we loved so much in TOS. A Captain is given discretion over the lives of millions, which makes his or her character of paramount importance. But then... things went to the Klingon prison ship. What a freaking mess. All of the issues created by the incomprehensible (both visually and in terms of dialogue) portrayal of the Klingons in the past 4 episodes, combined with the accelerated pace of serial storytelling, left me (a Star Trek veteran who fancies himself able to follow a complex plot) baffled. Was the woman on the prison ship L'Rell? Apparently. Couldn't they have simply addressed her by name? Where did Voq go? Well, a theory on the Trek portion of the Internet has it that Voq is actually Tyler. OK, fine, I can kind of accept that, but just how much time has passed between the last episode and this one? How did he and L'Rell escape their apparently hopeless predicament? How did his body change so drastically? How did he learn idiomatic English to the degree that it could fool a native speaker? It's just a mess, and that's not even getting to the Harry Mudd portion of the tale.

Kevin: As far as Tyler, the whole capture Lorca plot seems only to serve to get Tyler aboard, which actually only fuels the notion that the Klingons captured Lorca for the same reason as the writers, to get Tyler aboard. We'll see. Overall, I agree, it was tedious torture scenes without learning anything too interesting. Learning the exact shape of Lorca's previous trauma was actually pretty unsatisfying. I can imagine a circumstance where Picard or Kirk or Janeway would destroy the ship to prevent their capture, but that's through the lens of my connection to their crews. Here, we don't really learn anything new. He's a ruthless pragmatist. We knew that.

Matthew: Another tick in the "Why?" column is Harry Mudd. On the one hand, I like a lot of what they have him do here. He articulates a populist resentment of the Federation elites that is quite resonant in this day and age (AKA the darkest timeline). He needles Lorca in interesting ways. I guess Lorca destroyed his previous ship and crew to prevent its capture and their torture... and Mudd  knows this? His mention of Stella is fan service of a kind (though it raises questions of whether he is simply lying, or that she really degraded into a shrill harpy in the space of ten years). But why? Is this going to tell us something about Mudd that is important to add to the already existing history of the character in TOS? Is this the only character that could cast a differing light on the Federation and its discontents? I doubt it on both counts. So it just kind of feels like Sarek - pointless and problematic, even if certain story beats work.

Kevin: I'll get more to this in the acting section, but Mudd was the least of my problems. I actually bought that the Mudd here and the Mudd in TOS were at least related. I have been dreading some Dark Mudd Rises take on the character for weeks and happily that did not happen. Both characters are shameless opportunists full stop. That all said, I agree. Nothing done with Mudd really required his presence. We seem to be slipping into the realm of the producers thinking fan service is done merely my mentioning previous characters. It's more than that, and Mudd's presence here falls short.

Matthew: I liked the way the relationship between Stamets and Culber was built up. Their final scene was completely organic (unlike the grossly expository scene in the middle of the show with Stamets, Tilly, and Burnham ("fucking cool," really? Twice? I guess they really don't want young people to watch this...). They seemed natural together, their dialogue felt real, and they didn't start making out right after Stamets nearly fatally injected himself with bug juice. So that all worked pretty well. But then... Mirror Stamets is grinning forebodingly? Sigh. I take this to be their way into the Mirror Universe, by way of fungus or something. I'm not optimistic, but I remain open minded, as I've tried to be with the show in general.


Kevin: I first have to say I stand corrected. I assumed the barb in the last episode was a bitter ex, but is actually more a Tracy/Hepburn thing, which I enjoy. I agree that their intimacy read as very natural. There was physical intimacy that was unmistakably romantic without feeling gratuitous. I am thrilled that the characters are neither cheap stereotypes nor antiseptically neutered. I like the possibilities that the scene foreshadows. Culber is clearly the more effusive partner, Stamets the academic focused on his work to a fault, even ignoring his safety. That sets up lots of fun personal and professional conflicts. Does Starfleet sanction romantic couples aboard ship? Does the crew think they are just bunkmates? Not just for the little gay boy I used to be, I am intrigued about the narrative potential. But also for the gay boy I used to be, I am thrilled at watching two men be quietly and realistically intimate. All I want from life is someone to brush my teeth with in my super cute red Starfleet-issue space jammies.

Acting

Matthew: Doug Jones was probably the standout here, yet again. He have Saru really interesting shades and idiosyncrasies, but also made it clear what his motivation was. He played really well off of Martin-Green, too. He's really become the breakout star of the show in my mind - not that Martin-Green hasn't been consistently excellent, I just think she (oddly, given the screen time disparity) hasn't been given scenes with the same complexity.

Kevin: I really like the chemistry that Saru and Burnham have. Especially given the makeup and the height difference, they really inhabit a scene together. I think the moment of her giving him the telescope was too abbreviated an emotional note, but I can't deny that they were selling it. I also liked watching Saru be in command. Whatever the plot problems with Lorca's capture, I liked watching Saru suss out the truth of the chase. It shows him being a good captain by relying on his unique view of the universe. Coupled with the scenes of him using then abandoning the computer analysis of his command, it was just a great arc all around.

Matthew: I liked Ricky in "My So Called Life." But this portrayal really amps up my respect for Wilson Crux as Dr. Culber. It's clear that he "gets" Star Trek. He delivered medical technobabble well but also nailed the emotional connected with Anthony Rapp's Stamets. Jason Isaacs was solid, but I want to see new aspects to his character, and soon.

Kevin: I like that they both read as "gay" but not in an exagerrated or insulting way. I am as annoyed by sanitizing queer characters to appear 'normal' as I am by mean-spirited stereotypes. Looking back over the previous episodes, all the signs of their relationship are there, so the reveal felt organic and not forced, and that's down to the acting. I also, as a Broadway nerd, thoroughly enjoy the fact that they are both Rent alums. The moment when Culber puts his hand on the side of Stamets' face, I melted a little. It just spoke volumes about a real, lived intimacy that both the little gay boy I used to be and the gay adult I am crave to see represented in the media I consume. While whether the writing supports them remains to be seen, but that one scene easily makes me think they could have a textured, series anchoring LTR on par with Troi and Riker or Tom and B'Elanna.

On a purely sidenote, I am living for all the butthurt comments on Facebook right now. Seriously, who watches Star Trek but is offended by its progressive message? Who?

Matthew: As far as guest casting goes. Rainn Wilson was surprisingly good in the Mudd role. He created a new gloss on the character, not aping anything that has gone before and coming up with line readings that were both funny and provocative. Shazad Latif... if he is Voq, then kudos I guess, because I never would have known. Of course, with 14 pounds of rubber helmet and a terminal case of marble-mouth, I probably never would have known anyway.

Kevin: Yeah, I agree. He did something I thought impossible, do a riff on Roger Carmel's performance without aping or ignoring it. That said, the last time I complimented an actor for doing that, it was the Abrams-verse cast, so I feel a kind of reflexive tension. Still, Wilson nailed it in an unexpectedly effective way. If only the story felt more justified...


Production Values

Matthew: We got yet another Klingon ship (That's no D7... why even call it that?) that I kind of have no idea what it looks like. Why do the effects people insist on placing the 3D CGI camera 50% too close to the subject? They don't do it with the Discovery ship... I got a much better view of the dragonfly ships, which I found rather silly.


Kevin: I keep wondering what the point of the tight closeups are, and I can only think it is supposed to keep a sense of the Klingon's otherness, but again...why? If you want me to care about both sides of the conflict, start doing the work right away to make both sides fully fleshed out. The ship designs are almost characters in their own right, and right now, I either have hyper overdone Klingon make, or unrealized ship design, so the Klingons remain an increasingly tedious cipher.

Matthew: The Tardigrade looked fine, and its shriveled state was pretty well done. We got one of the Trek Fu-iest battles we've seen in some time, complete with the "Double fist thing." Could two unfed humans really beat two Klingons? I found the disruptor's kill setting too quick to be dramatic. I imagine a neophyte might just think it was some sort of disappearing ray.

Conclusion

Matthew: This was half of a good episode, and half of an inscrutable punch-athon. As such, I can't really go above a 3. What was good was quite good. But it was hamstrung by losing twenty minutes of story to a continually impenetrable Klingon "arc." The scare quotes indicate how broken and difficult to follow this "arc" is. They need to fix it, and fast. At least they spoke English this go around.

Kevin: I agree. The stuff on Discovery was good to very good. Cutting the Klingon stuff and focusing on it would immeasurably improve the episode. That said, the Discovery stuff was good enough to carry the episode into the fat part of the bell curve. That makes a total of 6.

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