Monday, February 18, 2019

Discovery, Season 2: Saints of Imperfection, Season 2
"Saints of Imperfection"
Airdate: February 14, 2019
20 of 29 produced
20 of 29 aired


Have you ever wondered what happens after you die? What is a soul exactly and do we possess one? Well, has Star Trek Discovery ever got answers for you!!!

Don't look at me, folks. I'm not the worst thing in this episode this week!


Matthew: There are a lot of problems here and one saving grace. First and least among the problems is the notion of not respecting prior continuity. Second is the lack of motivation for characters, disregarding of rules established in prior shows, and the general "because the script says so" method of manufacturing drama. Most serious is the grotesque betrayal of Star Trek's ethos in the service of undoing the mistakes of prior seasons and episodes. So let's go with problem Number 1 - this episode continues Discovery's utter disregard for the continuity of the other shows in the franchise. Section 31 is established as an utterly secret organization that almost everyone in the Federation is unaware of. In Enterprise, Section 31 isn't even named, and the shadowy nature of the organization is such that people who are recruited are never even told what they're working for. In DS9, Section 31 is known only to a few admirals, while the entirety of Starfleet is completely unaware of it, even the spouses of operatives. Why does everyone in this universe know about Section 31? Why do they have badges? Liaisons on Starfleet bridges? Starships with whole crews, full of cameraderie? Even if you were going to claim that somehow this will square with past and future history, it doesn't make sense on its own face. And then Admiral Cornwell shows up at the end and she can.... apparently order Section 31 people around? You know what? Fuck this bullshit.

Kevin: This was the thread that annoys me the most. If nothing else, Cornwell literally ordering them not to engage in a debate about the merits of 31 is literally the opposite of what I want in my Star Trek. Admiral Ross' involvment in 31 and its invocation of the ends justifying the means was not a perfect episode, but it at least gave both sides internally consistent points of view. Even something only 31 adjacent philosophically, In the Pale Moonlight works, because even then when our Starfleet hero did a decidedly un-Starfleet thing, he wrestled with the morality on screen for the whole episode. That is what is interesting. Cornwell declaring that nation building is an ugly thing is cheap and it undercuts both the Federation's self-image and the reason Star Trek exists. It's supposed to show us a better version of ourselves who consistently make the correct if more difficult decisions. Now that doesn't mean you can't muddy the waters for dramatic effect. It does mean you can't hand wave the debate away as if that means nothing.

Matthew: Character motivations are a huge problem here. First and foremost is the May/Tilly relationship. We are asked to care about her and her species, and we are also asked to believe that Tilly cares about them. But why would she, or we? May has been a huge, manipulative asshole from the outset. But by the end, Tilly says she has some deep personal connection with her, and is sad about leaving her behind. Huh? Was there a whole episode I missed, one that developed this? This sort of writing pervades the episode. We are given arbitrary time limits (such as the spores destroying all matter from our universe in X amount of time, except for every other time our stuff has been there, and with Tilly, when May calls them off but chooses not to do so for the ship) and unfounded character beats that seem designed to make us care more and feel more tension. They all fail.

Kevin: This is the most egregious version of something that has happened several times this season They get to the very Star Trek ending (making a friend of an enemy) but skipping past the very Star Trek middle. The end point is a classic TNG-style plot point. But it had literally no support in the script. I'll also say this, even if by magic, every plot thread had worked, it would still have been too many plot threads. Even when the finale arc of DS9 knew to set certain stories on a back burner for an episode to not crowd out other ones. Serialization is fine, but I'd rather see one story done well than four stories done half-assed. I like my stories full-assed. Thank you.

Matthew: Speaking of characters who make no sense, why do people pretend Georgiou isn't from the mirror universe? She acts completely differently from someone they know to be dead. Who believes this shit? Why is Georgiou even a part of this story?  What does she want with Spock, and what does she have to gain by showing up and intervening with Discovery business? It seems like it would only be dangerous to her. Does she want to use the ship to get back to the mirror universe? If so, can we just do it next episode, please? It's like they're using her because she has time in her schedule, not because of any story reason. Oh yeah, also, Tyler's back. He's definitely not Voq now. Except for the last time he was on screen. Or not. Do I care? How much time has passed between this and two episodes ago? So Tyler's just going to sit around on the bridge with his arms crossed?

Kevin: It's getting ridiculous that she is supposed to be a secret agent using the Prime Georgiou as a cover. She is not making any attempt to not flagrantly act like a fundamentally different person. Her flirting with Pike was kind of fun, in and of itself, but as an actual character her presence makes no sense.

Matthew: By far my greatest ire was aroused by the mechanism of Culber's resurrection. Now look - it was a massive, bone headed mistake to kill him off for a cheap infusion of "stakes" last season. His relationship with Stamets was about the only organic thing about that whole train wreck of a season. But this isn't how to get him back. If I were to write a rule book for Star Trek, very close to the top would be "don't wade into present day theology and declare answers to its questions." Also "don't endorse pseudoscientific mysticism." This is exactly what this story does. Yes, folks, we do have an eternal soul, and it can leak out of your... tear ducts? And be transferred into another realm. Where is this "energy" conserved when your boyfriend isn't hooked into the World Minus Zero of the Mushroom Zone? Heaven? The Prophets? The Matrix from Coda? Sto-Vo-Kor? Do you know what all of those prior Trek stories didn't do? They didn't opine as to the the reality of any of those afterlives. Maybe people experienced them, maybe they were just near-death visions. But nope, here we have unequivocal proof. Matter and energy are conserved, and the soul is just that sort of thing. This is pure pseudoscientific bunkum, of a type which was discounted over a century ago. It is extraordinarily offensive for it to be placed at the crux of something calling itself Star Trek. Anyway, when he comes back, why is he reconstituted as a fully grown man, albeit shaved and bathed? Why could Tilly's clothes be reconstituted, but not Culber's? Why wasn't he a clone baby, if he was built out of DNA? How did his DNA even get there? Jesus, this is awful.

Kevin: This bothered me a little less, and here's why. Star Trek has done some hand-waving metaphysics in addition to its hand-waving physics over the years. The thing I thought of first when it was clear Culber was coming back was Spock's rebirth on the Genesis planet in Search for Spock. That is some hand-waving of the first order. Let's analyze it as if it were a Discovery episode, The after effect of this device took the body of a dead man and spontaneously cloned a perfect copy that managed to live without needing to eat apparently and the back up copy of his soul katra was fortunately handy. You could even ask whether nuSpock was a person with his own (Saavik-banging) experiences such that imprinting oldSpock on him is unethical. SFS did none of those things. So...why do I like SFS and not this, you ask? It's because neither Spock's death in WOK or resurrection in SFS were cheap or easy or done for simple shock value. His death in WOK was an emotional payoff earned over two decades. His resurrection cost our hero his ship and his son. The narrative focus of SFS is about watching the lengths his friends will go to to help him, not jerkily correcting a terrible narrative choice. So...I can accept the hand-waving and missed avenues of plot exploration in SFS that I can't accept here. I get that almost all tech in Star Trek is narratively indistinguishable from magic, but I won't be too annoyed by that if they use it consistently, and in the service of a good character story. I get that science fiction and fantasy have a thin, porous barrier, and scrupulous adherence to known science would hamstring a story in a boring way. But if the story is a good one focused on characters I care about, I am far more inclined to forgive the kinds of jumps you need to make to finish your story in 45 minutes. Discovery just hasn't done that work. So, I get what Matt is saying in that most other episodes dealing with the soul leave it purposefully vague in way this episode didn't, and I agree that taking finite stances on the existence of the immortal soul is an odd one narratively. I'm not as mad that they did that per se as that they did to hastily to correct another hasty decision.

Matthew: The saving grace of this episode was Culber and Stamets. They are given bits of dialogue that underscore their connection, and the actors run with it. Here's what the episode should have done - say that the information that is Culber was actually drawn into the mycelial network, and that they could make a copy of him using the blob. It wouldn't really be the same Culber, but it would have all of his thoughts and feelings, so there wouldn't be much argument against Culber Mark 2 resuming Culber Mark 1's life. Then you would have a lot of interesting philosophical ground to cover. Instead, they manufactured this bullshit and sullied Star Trek with something worse than "Threshold's" horrific understanding of evolution, or "Code of Honor's" stupid racism.

Kevin: I agree that would certainly track more with Star Trek's previous toe-dipping on the issue of the soul. That all said, I am glad Culber is back, since, as you say, their relationship is organic and interesting and they shouldn't have killed Culber in the first place.

Matthew: Hey, did you notice how I didn't mention Spock's shuttle at all? That's because it's a stupid Red Herring which is given 30 seconds of mention every episode to "keep us interested" in the season-long plot.

Kevin: When are they going to get to the fireworks factory? I'm sure whatever they do will be somewhat disappointing and frustrating, but the constant dangling is really wearing thin. You keep hinting you have an interesting story to tell but never seem to want to tell it. It makes me wonder if you actually have a story to tell or if you are just stringing people along, hoping the possibility of Spock next week will keep people watching.


Matthew: Shazad Latif did nothing for me. To be fair to him, he was asked to pout and cross his arms for the whole episode. So there's that. I also was not impressed by SMG's contributions. I need to see more variety from her. "Whispery intensity leavened by occasional watery eyes and contractionless shouting" is getting old. Again, probably more the writing than anything, but there you have it.

Kevin: It's definitely the writing. We've seen her act well. It's just that she's become some kind of empathy pump. Her only role is to make 'concerned face' at the other characters. For the character touted as the main character, she's spent most of the series only responding to other characters emotions. When was the last time she actually got to do anything that was about her character and not someone else's?

Matthew: I liked Mary Wiseman. Whenever they give her something direct and forceful, she is a very welcome presence. I wish they would dispense entirely with her nervous shtick. Call it character growth. Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz renew their chemistry. I like Cruz better than Rapp, because it seems like Rapp has but one facial expression. Cruz's return is a serious boon to this show. He has an emotional transparency and verisimilitude that is not in huge supply so far.

Kevin: I like Tilly this time too. She can be awkward and unsure of herself, but she was like a million Barclays on a million typewriters earlier this season and that has worn thin. I like Rapp overall. I thought the look on his face when Tyler entered the bridge was a fantastic piece of acting.

Production Values

Matthew: I will stipulate to the effects being executed at a high level. Yet again, any production elements I disapprove of are from a design choice standpoint. The Mycelial Network seems like a magic forest instead of a universe unto itself. Do people just walk everywhere? For light years? The "Baryon sweep" ripoff provided stupid drama. I maintain my objection to a transparent readout covering the viewscreen, rendering both the readout and the view outside useless.

Kevin: The mycelial forest was fine. It was a lot of 'hazy blue' which seems to be their default effect for a lot of things.


I have to decide how pissy I want to be about what I view to be a betrayal of one of Star Trek's core values - science-based secular humanism. So far, Discovery has mostly just lacked any of Star Trek's DNA. Now it's actively attacking it. I was happy that Culber returned, but that was mainly because he should not have been killed last season. So I'm not apt to reward the show for fixing something it broke. This is a 1 for me. I hated it while I watched it, because it was frenetic and incoherent. I hate it more and more as I reflect on it, because it shits on one of the most important aspects of Trek for me.

Kevin: This is actually a two for me. Getting Culber back is worth a point, and for the Tilly plot, they did a Star Trek thing, just with none of the connective tissue I actually enjoy watching. This just makes it into a 2 for me, if only barely. Honestly, even if they do it in ridiculous ham-fisted ways, if they undo all the bad choices of season one by the end of this season, I'll be fine.

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