Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Discovery, Season 1: What's Past is Prologue

http://www.treknobabble.net/p/rating-system.htmlDiscovery, Season 1
"What's Past is Prologue"
Airdate: January 28, 2018
13 of 15 produced
13 of 15 aired


Discovery exits the Mirror Universe by flying down the Death Star trench and launching a proton torpedo. That shot was one in a million, kid!

"Are you not entertained?!" Come to think of it, no, Maximus, we're not.


Kevin: Well the plot just isn't good, is it? From the broad to the specific, it just all falls apart. The reveal of Lorca's true nature and his coup shift the mirror universe story from an interesting mediation on the effects of pretending to be evil to being invested in the politics of the MU for themselves, and just like in DS9, I couldn't care less. In a fine grained sense, why would the emperor keep dozens of loyal compatriots of Lorca alive and on her ship. We all like torturing people, but I think in order to get to be emperor, you have to be able to prioritize state security occasionally over desire for revenge. On the Discovery side of things, the shocking reveal is met with barely a blip. It just puts the nail in the coffin of a character who, while we never got attached to him, is now worse than useless. Even his betrayal made not even a ripple. Going further down this rabbit hole, the episode is full of things that are dumb because they look cool. Why is there a Moon Door on the Charon? Because it's cool. Why does Burnham bring Georgiou to the throne room and why doesn't Lorca shoot her on sight? Because the inevitable fight will be cool. The writers and not the story are driving the action.

Matthew: I was really bored during the fight scenes. They were interminable. You know which fight scene was interesting? Burnham fighting what's his name in the turbolift a couple of episodes ago. That one had much greater emotional stakes. This action set piece, while reasonably competent in its physical execution, was boring. I didn't care who won. I was never worried that Burnham would buy it. I was never even terribly concerned that her feelings would be hurt by the outcome. Also, the "plan" as such was incomprehensibly dumb. Michael Burnham, master strategist and Starfleet Officer Par Excellence, formulated the following master plan: me and Mirror Georgiou are going to storm the palace, fight dozens of well-armed psychopaths, and... not die somehow. They introduced a Moon Door (which was dumb) solely in order to kick someone through it. Did they kick the right guy through it? Sure.

Kevin: My biggest beef with the ending is that it basically undoes everything I did like about the season thus far. Georgiou being around is prolonging the Mirror Universe past its shelf life, and turns the mirror universe from the interesting character work of Burnham slowly dying on the inside, to getting hip deep in political machinations I don't care about. And the Klingons are back. Ugh. I was really hoping that 9 months thing meant in the past. I would have happily accepted a galactic reset button. Now I know that last two episodes must focus on the parts of the show I've liked the least.

Matthew: Can someone remind me which part of the Prime universe involves a Federation nearly totally conquered by the Klingons, set in between The Cage and TOS proper? Unless the whole show is just a separate universe offshoot (WHICH WOULD BE GREAT, and a total relief), this means that, yet again, the Discovery writers are introducing a situation into the narrative that we know must be not only resolved but also completely erased in order to maintain continuity. Which is interesting how? Oh, yeah. It's not. You know when this story idea was interesting? During "Yesterday's Enterprise," which is almost thirty years old at this point.

Kevin: I do have nice things to say. In a vacuum, the scenes on Discovery are pure, uncut Star Trek. Nobly accepting the necessity of their deaths for the greater good while diligently working to pull the rabbit out of the hat. Classic Star Trek right there. It just never gets the room to breathe in the story, and we have not been given the time with the characters to really make it as effective as it could be. Still, they are doing the thing I want them to do, and I will reward them in hope of getting more. Also, in the plus column, I am intrigued by the idea of a Captain Saru. He is one of the most interesting characters so far and I think he would have an interesting, and much more Trek-like relationship with Burnham. I could easily see them actually debating, in a non-shouty way, various courses of action.

Matthew: Is a starship crew sacrificing itself for the greater good a Star Trek move? Sure. Do they actually do it? No. Are they given time to process the sacrifice, to react emotionally to it or to steel themselves for death? Noooooo. The "sacrifice" is undone in the very next scene, when they tech the tech to solve the "no win scenario." Guys, the "no win scenario" language only works if the scenario seems truly un-resolvable, and resolving it involves either some really interesting reasoning on the parts of the characters (which this was not) or the sacrifice of some other important thing to the characters in order to win (which this did not). And so, yet again, this was another pointless reference to Trek-like things that was introduced and then dismissed within about 60 seconds of screen time with no development whatsoever. I need to copy and paste this last sentence, because it is the most frequent one I've used in discussing this show.

Kevin: My last thought, and it's going to come off as a dig, and I don't really mean it that way, but this episode was a Star Wars movie. A thinly plotted good versus evil story, a sword fight, and a ship making a suicide run down the gullet of a megastructure. Check, check, and big check. And don't get me wrong. I like Star Wars a lot, and I think direct comparisons of the two franchises are apples and oranges. But in this instance, I distinctly requested an apple, and got an orange. It may an adequate to good orange depending on the week, but it's not an apple.

Matthew: They almost literally aped the Death Star setup. If they had said "proton" instead of "photon" torpedo, I don't think I'd have batted an eyelash. They even had Burnham paraphrase Obi-Wan and say to "leave the force field to me." I just.... sigh. Saying that all life in the universe is going to end unless you do X just isn't very interesting.  Like, it's almost inexpressibly stupid, as well, given the idea of potentially infinite multiverses, and the near mathematical certainty that some being in one of those universes would have stumbled across this All Life Ending Boo Boo already. But it's also boring. We know that the series is being renewed. We know that All Life In The Multiverse will not be ending within this hour of television. So what's the point? An episode like "Caretaker" does a much better job of creating stakes - Voyager can either use the Caretaker to get home, or they can destroy it to protect a vulnerable culture. Which should they do? Here, Discovery needs to destroy a thing in order to succeed in a task that the viewer knows is guaranteed, and they get to eat their cake too, by using it to go home. YAWN.


Kevin: Michelle Yeoh is a good actress, almost to the point that I want to forgive the inexplicable redemption arc her character got this episode. I didn't forget that she fed Burnham a sentient being last episode, but I get why the episode wants me to. Similarly, Martin-Green did her usual good job. It was a little on the nose when she tells Lorca they would have helped him home, but frankly, I've been dying for some on the nose Star Trek idealism, so hey, I got what I wanted.

Matthew: I kind of felt like Michelle Yeoh knew that this character was paper thin, and phoned it in a bit. It's hard to say, because the writing seemed to indicate that she should be relatively toneless. Maybe next episode will be a better outing for her, since her character will be running up against Starfleet types.

Kevin: Jason Isaacs did exactly what was asked of him, both over the season and after the reveal. I cannot fault his performance, and tweaked just the wee tiniest bit, I think the character as advertised, the pathos-ridden take on the Starfleet captain would have been a very interesting addition to the show. Sadly, as well as he delivered his lines, his lines were still making creepy passes at Burnham, and there's only so good you're going to make those.

Matthew: Isaacs has the chops to be an action star. I think he also had the chops to be a good Star Trek star. Unfortunately, he was only asked to do the former, here. He did fine.

Kevin: Mirror Stamets reaction shots were fun. I admit to a small smile when he told Lorca he was really hoping he was dead. As for the main crew, my only major critique is writing not acting. They didn't react to what should be a shocking revelation, but that's because the script afforded them no opportunity. Sometimes it's hard to rate the acting inside these stories. Like take Mary Wiseman's revelation that there was a way to save them. That is a scene Star Trek does well, and I think on another show I would have responded better to it. I can't tell if the reason I'm not connecting is because it's not being acted well enough, or the frenetic pacing prevents me from connecting to it. I think its the latter. Watching that scene again, you get the classic notes of Geordi working with Leah Brahms or Hannah Bates and having the light bulb turn on.

Matthew: It was typical technobabble done reasonably well. But I didn't really feel anything when they did it. I'm kind of over Anthony Rapp's face, I have to say. It works when he is in a relationship with a human being. It doesn't really map on to this story. It's like he's reacting to what's in his head instead of what the other characters are saying or doing.

Production Values

Kevin: The fight scene in the hallway was actually pretty good. The A.V. Club's review made a point I liked in that each side is using the obvious technology they should use given the technology we've seen them have access to. A force field and use of transporters actually makes a certain amount of sense, and detached from what I feel is a un-Trek like body count, the scene itself flowed and had tension, and was well constructed.

Matthew: Delete "had tension" from your statement above and I agree. If only all this sturm und drang had been in the service of a story that I could possibly care a whit about.

Kevin: On a related note, the fight scene in the throne room wasn't half bad, in and of itself. I don't think anyone is surprised that Michelle Yeoh can do a well choreographed fights scene. I will admit I was tickled by the high kick in reverse to the face. It was part being impressed by Yeoh, the other half really want to kick Lorca in the face. If nothing else, this is a notch or two better than some of the more ridiculous Trek-Fu moments we've seen over the years. Do I question the presence or utility in the shows of scenes like this? Oh, yes. Can I bash them for being un-cinematic or half-done? I cannot.

Human legs don't move like that. I also found Burnham and Mirror Georgiou's synchronized martial arts to be eye-roll-inducing. The fights also suffered from the following question - why wouldn't all the completely selfish psychopaths in the room just blanket the two enemy combatants with phaser fire and erase them from existence? They can't possibly care about friendly fire. So essentially they just stood around to be defeated.


Kevin: I'm a little torn. I have ragged on this episode a lot, but a week past my annoyance with the reveal, I am kind of in this very calm place of just watching the show for what it is. I'm stuck in this place that the show is clearly telling a type and style of story that I do not associate with Star Trek. It definitely prioritizes plot twists and glossy action sequences over slow burn character development. And I can't deny that this episode achieves on its own goals. Stuff happens quickly. There is slickly produced action. Roll credits. So it's not like they were going for something different and landed here. I can safely say that this is the Discovery these people want to be making with an almost 1:1 ratio of idea to execution. And I have given out 3s for episodes that were pretty and well acted and light in the plot department before, but I think this remains a 2. I enjoyed myself in places, but if I want GoT death bonanzas, I watch GoT. If I want to watch Michelle Yeoh kick ass, I can just go watch Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and hey, that movie knew how to use a lingering camera shot. Maybe that's where I'm stuck right now. I don't deny there are things Discovery does well, and I'll even cede, better than other franchises at this point in their development. But nothing they do well is not something a bunch of other shows do even better, and the things they aren't doing well are the very things I normally come to Star Trek for.

Matthew: It's a 2 for a total of 4. It's a boring fight scene with two or three Trek-like lines of dialogue that receive no development, or are undone by the following scene. I have a feeling our "4" icon will be getting quite a workout over the life of this series. I guess the 1 rating will be reserved for a boring fight scene that actively destroys classic continuity. And don't think it isn't coming.


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