Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Discovery, Season 2: Brother

http://www.treknobabble.net/p/rating-system.htmlDiscovery, Season 2
Airdate: January 17, 2019
16 of 29 produced
16 of 29 aired

Well, we're back. Captain Pike has taken over Discovery for some reason, and there are mysterious signals popping up all over the galaxy. What are they? How is Spock involved? Why did we have to watch Season 1 at all? How much further will continuity get jacked up?

 A scene in which various recognizable Trek-themed props are displayed


So let me get the praise out of the way. There is no Klingon stuff, which is a blessing. The "Red Angel" mystery is at least superficially interesting, though it has problems I'll get to. There were some nice character moments, especially for Stamets. He finally gets a minute to mourn, after last season basically dispensing with that by the time the sound died down from Culber's neck cracking. Tilly was a little bit too amped (it's like she's regressed from the ends of last season), but her plea for him to stay was nice. And I liked the look at Starfleet politics in taking over ships and such.

Kevin: I spent that scene in Engineering mentally shearing off some of the unnecessary crap in that dialogue, like Tilly's backslide and the weird riff on suicide opera, and what was left was a very affective and very human scene. More of that please.

Matthew: Superficially interesting is what I called the "Red Angel" plot. That's for a few reasons. For one, it is strikingly similar to the "sphere builder" mystery from Enterprise, which turned out to be a big fat nothing. We didn't really learn about it at all in this episode, which is odd given the copious time spent on dumb action scenes. There are also questions. How can "signals" spread over 30,000 light years be detected simultaneously by anyone? Are they subspace signals? How can there be a mission to investigate them, when it would take, at pre-TOS speeds, upwards of fifty years to reach them? How are we to be assured this isn't another stupid-ass Kurtzman plot that will go nowhere? (see also: Fringe, Alias, Sleepy Hollow) They could have called them Red Herrings for all we got in this episode.

Kevin: I don't mind mentally rounding up that things were detected by subspace, though a piece of dialogue that explained they realized they all occurred simultanesouly after some length of analysis, as that's the kind of fine grained detail work that makes my nerd heart sing. My problem is that universe level threats are so boring. If the universe is destroyed, or even if all sentient life is destroyed, there will no one and nothing left to process the impact of that, so it kind of means it has no consequence. I've been working on some other projects this week and I had DS9's season 7 on in the background and it was driven home for me how great a job that show did in shading the Cardassian's and Dominion. The threat of a Dominion takeover feels more urgent than what nonsense the Red Angels are, and both the Cardassians and Dominon players got diversity and shading and conflicting and overlapping goals and that makes for a much more interesting story than a monolithic Threat to Everything. Avengers Infinity War is a super fun movie, but it's not because Thanos is a well written villain.

Matthew: Speaking of dumb action scenes, boy did we get a doozy in this episode. After warping into an asteroid field, Burnham proposes that they fly their space-death-pods through the debris to attempt rescue of a crashed ship. What follows is nearly the dumbest 10 (or was it 15?) minutes of TV I've watched in.... well, 8 months or so. Yet again, physics goes out the window as they careen through rocks as if in planetary gravity, shouting things and exploding things in an attempt to make us feel excited and worry about the characters. Could anyone possibly be worried? We know Burnham and Pike are going to make it through. We are asked to believe that in these death-missiles, they don't wear space helmets as a matter of course. And then, after reaching the damned ship, Discovery BEAMS THEM OUT at the end of the episode. WHY DID WE HAVE TO WATCH THIS?!?!? This was a direct echo of several scenes in the Abrams movies, and it was just as edifying. Look - derring do is never going to be very thrilling on a show in which there are no physical rules and there is no worry whether characters will survive. Much more dramatic would be stories focused on characters' choices, not characters dodging rocks.

Kevin: Yeah, that whole sequence was so dumb. I wasn't gratified with the mansplainer was killed; it just made me more annoyed he was there at all. TNG's Descent was a super uneven episode, but it managed to portray a dickish officer getting his comeuppance in a much more satisfying way since it was based on the ensign being right and not relying on Looney Tunes violence. Please note, I love Looney Tunes, it's just a needle scratch in Star Trek. Other than meeting Tig Nataro's character, we didn't learn anything or do anything.

Matthew: My biggest problem with the episode is the portrayal of Sarek and Spock. Specifically, the notion that Sarek has adopted Burnham in order to "teach Spock empathy." WHAAAHAHAHAHAAAAA???!?!?!?  I mean, on its face, it's creepy and weird: "I don't really care about you, but you will be instrumental in me improving my biological child. So welcome home, kid!" But on a deeper level it is indicative of the bullshit premise of the show. The Sarek in Journey to Babel is extremely disdainful of his son's human predilections. He thinks it was a fool's errand to join Starfleet and is basically on the verge of disowning him. But now he wants to encourage his son's human side? I can imagine a defense of this story line that goes something like "just because it's different doesn't mean it is necessarily bad." Well, you're wrong, imaginary apologist, for this reason: You can't have it both ways. Either the characters have to be interesting in their own right in this portrayal of them, or they have to be consistent with previous portrayals. But the only reason we are being asked to care about these characters is their prior appearances in the franchise. Spock/Sarek has been the straw stirring the drink for many episodes now, especially this one. But it doesn't work if they're not actually Spock and Sarek. And they're not.

Kevin: I know you could say they have 13 more episodes to figure out how to tie it all together...but honestly...even if they do, will it matter? Will it be worth the effort to hermetically seal these episodes off from the rest of TOS? Spock is really the worst character to try and retcon because he was so popular and portrayed so thoroughly and with such depth by Nimoy. There really isn't much left to fill in and anything you do will just feel at best only minimally clashy. That scene at the end of Star Trek IV and Sarek's death in TNG actually are all the button I need for the relationship portrayed in Journey to Babel. It's a complete story, and maybe that's what will always bother me even if they were doing more canonical depictions. The story was well and fully told. There's a ton of other characters that could be fleshed out with much more freedom. I agree with Matt. It's like they want me to bring all my good will about these characters to Discovery, but then never object when they ignore that.


Matthew: Anson Mount is certainly a handsome fellow, isn't he? He's good looking and he has the requisite amount of charm that that implies. I don't know yet whether the performance goes beyond that. The character is explicitly being written as the anti-Lorca (that's two of those now.... so anti-anti-Lorca?), and he is successfully that.

Kevin: I have a slightly more charitable view of the portrayal. I think Jeffrey Hunter's Pike is much more old Hollywod archetypal male hero than even Kirk in the brief portrayal we get in The Cage, so I can actually see the line between that one and this one, and since there is less, almost nothing to contradict, I am in no way bothered. I will say, we know what happens to Pike, so that does rob the ability to ever meaningfully place the character in danger.

Matthew: I enjoyed the energy Tig Notaro brought to her character, Jett Reno (a more self consciously Star Wars name is difficult to imagine). She did a good job with technobabble and with appearing to "be in the world." The other supporting characters were less successful for me, like the douchy science guy who beefs it in the asteroid field, and the previously pointless bridge crew. Meh.

Kevin: I'm glad they named the bridge crew, but wasn't the whole point in season 1 to not tell a story tethered to an ensemble bridge crew? Anyway.... I liked Tig Nataro as well. This is a Doctor McCoy who's an engineer, not a doctor, Jim. I can dig it. I agree that she inhabited the world, and I think there could be a lot of fun with her interacting with characters like Stamets.

Production Values

Matthew: The montage scene with the African myth was cool to look at. The asteroids were cool to look at. The various visual effects were cool to look at. The whole episode was as slick as seal shit. Did I care? No. But that's not due to the production values. I will say that nothing really feels "real" in the way that TOS or TNG props did. In part this is a lighting and quick-cut editing issue. In part it's that they never return to any prop for very long (see: death-pod).

Kevin: Even in the modern CGI era, there is a faux quality to the lighting they have never quite overcome. Though the real problem is the rapid cutting. You spent a lot of time making the thing. Could you let me look at it?

Matthew: I will renew here my objection to giant windows replacing view screens on the bridge.

 I will counter that the Enterprise-D bridge did apparently have a window-window on the top of the bridge, so this is not the first time there is a window where it would make sense for there to be no window. I will say, they did not spider crack the window on the bridge every episode to create drama. I personally always read 'transparent aluminum' to mean clear, but otherwise indistinguishable from a metal bulkhead. It's not that I mind a clear wall, I mind the implication it is made of actual glass. It's one of those decision that leans into looking cool over being more thought out.


Matthew: This is a 2. It is somewhat better than the dregs of last season. There are some good character moments to be found.  But the show is still profoundly dumb, and shows no signs of engaging the slowly atrophying "Trek Center" of my brain, the one that is engaged by strange new worlds and civilizations, ethical questions and allegories. It's more of the same Big Dumb Action Plot and "saving all sentient life," yet again. Sigh.

Kevin: I think I can just squeeze this into a 3. Burnham and Stamets got enough to do and the episode did not offend me. It raised a lot of questions I don't have a ton of faith will be well answered, but I will give the story some room to develop before I start knocking points for not doing what it hasn't had a chance to do one way or the other yet. That makes a total of 5.

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