Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Disocvery, Season 2: An Obol for Charon

http://www.treknobabble.net/p/rating-system.htmlDiscovery, Season 2
"An Obol for Charon"
Airdate: February 7, 2019
19 of 29 produced
19 of 29 aired

IntroductionThere is a giant sphere in space that is making the ship's systems go on the fritz. Saru is also deathly ill. Spock's shuttle is getting away. And Tilly has a mushroom blob on her arm. Do these things relate to each other in the slightest? Um...

Saru, my oldest and dearest friend! Don't die! Remember when we talked about that thing once and bonded? You know, when we were completely off camera.


Kevin: Skipping over last week's severed baby head, we get another episode in line with New Eden and Brother. There is a classic Trek story (this week an amalgam of the Cytherians from Nth Degree and Tin Man) that gets too short a discussion because of the arc level action sequences. A lot of the conversations that would happen in other Treks around a conference table get shouted while everyone is standing around the bridge. The episodes, this one included, end up with a certain sameness in tempo. The characters never pause and take stock, so neither do we. More importantly, the lack of really interacting with the creature meant we never form a connection to it. Tam Elbrum and his dangerously ruched shirt may have been a tad hammy, but at least it provided time to contemplate a creature so lonely it would choose suicide. The creature here never got a personality because its actions were all dictated by plot rather than grow from some character trait we saw on screen.

Matthew: I'm sorry, but the story of this episode is "dozens of emotional beats accentuated by music and yelling that were either wholly unearned or contradictory or both." We are told by the music to feel as though the crew cares a great deal about Saru, even though we know basically nothing about any of them (and they added some lady this episode with no explanation, to boot). We are told to believe that Burnham and Saru are great friends who hold untold reserves of respect and care for each other. We are told that Burnham doesn't want to see Spock, despite being told for the last several episodes that she wants nothing more (but don't worry, she'll swing back by episode's end, and Spock will completely forget ever mentioning her by "The Cage"). We are told that Tilly really had a rough childhood and wasn't the best self that she wished the could have been. Ultimately, It's just a bunch of well-acted story garbage. The episode is so completely, ridiculously overstuffed that, even if any of these developments had enjoyed setup in prior episodes (which they didn't), they still would not be effective moments, because we careen from story thread to story thread so quickly that there simply cannot be emotional attachment, let alone comprehension. It's like they smashed three or four unrelated episodes together and duct taped them together with shouting. And the epitaph of this episode was delivered by Burnham: it cost us nothing. All of this sturm und drang resulted in... something Federation scientists will study for hundreds of years (to no eventual effect, apparently) and no sacrifice in terms of either Saru or "finding Spock's shuttle."

Kevin: I enjoyed watching characters wearing Starfleet uniforms do things like decide to take a risk on assuming non-hostile intent and Burnham in particular got to be thrilled at the information cache rather than just sad about things. Much moreso than last season, a lot of the Trek DNA is there, I just wish it got some breathing room between the action sequences.

Matthew: It took 33 minutes of shouting and randomly diverging story threads to reach a wholly obvious story beat, and one that, as you have averred, is a retread of two much better TNG stories. That's too long. The sphere has roamed the universe for 100,000 years, and is bequeathing its knowledge to Discovery (for some reason). What knowledge? Who knows. Why should we care? I know I sure don't. This story line was given all of 30 seconds of dialogue to elucidate. I don't know anything and I didn't learn anything about it.

Kevin: The Saru storyline is a lousy setup with a genuinely surprising payoff. Even for a show that kills title characters somewhat gratuitously, we all knew Saru wasn't going anywhere because of his ersatz Elogium. That said, the idea that Kelpians who live long enough shed the physical and emotional points that define them both to themselves and others, was an interesting one I did not see coming. It adds an additional hideous layer to the voluntary servitude of his people and Saru appeared appropriately pissed at the idea. And this time, the tiny window they left open that he may just be going mad after all was nice as opposed to infuriating since the character is aware of that possibility and his self awareness is in keeping with his character. None of it was an ass pull to keep from having to make a decision.

Matthew: There needs to be a moratorium for the rest of the season on Burnham crying for any reason whatosever. SMG is a fine actor, and she can do it. But asking her to do it for 15 episodes consecutively is just too much. This is setting aside that it is unearned. They are playing the scene as if it's Kirk/Spock in ST2, but it's happening after all of 40 minutes or so of shared dialogue between the two characters. I'm just sick of this lazy bullshit. And then... what was the big reveal for Saru and his species? I may be dense, or maybe I missed the 0.5 seconds of dialogue in which it was explained. But what happened and why is it an indication of the fundamental inequity of his species' servitude?  This should have been an entire episode in its own right, with a visit to the goddamned planet to resolve the story line entirely. Instead, as per usual, we get 2 minute dribs and drabs and are expected to give a shit when they get around to it in Season 3 (shudder).

Kevin: The engineering stuff was fine..I guess, but it did feel like they could have cut it out of any episode and dropped it here. They were largely unaffected by the space amoeba plot and everyone seemed to forget that anything of note was going on in engineering. They are trying to constantly juggle three stories or more, and it's threads like this that show how that doesn't really work. Also, the conversation at the start of Reno extolling the virtues of dilithium feels like a really hamfisted attempt to remind us that they will eventually abandon the spore drive so hard they'll never mention it again. Like the D7 last week, it's just too little too late and ironically serves to remind us how bananas the tech has been rather than seem organically connected to what comes later. Same goes for Pike getting rid of the holosystem from his ship. It doesn't make me happy you appear to be aware now that the tech appears two centuries ahead of what we see in ten years, it makes me wonder why you didn't realize that from jump. Also, constantly telling me that every single piece of tech I'm watching on this show is so fatally flawed that it will both abandoned and never discussed again makes me wonder even more why I'm watching this show.

Matthew: God, what a boring and inessential plot element.  I don't care about pointless acquaintance girl. I don't know what she represents. But I know I'm supposed to, because there was foreboding music and the episode ended on a dramatic cliffhanger. Well, a cliffhanger. Well, an unresolved story thread. And can I just point out how fundamentally ridiculous the notion of Stamets fucking trepanning Tilly's skull with a random drill is, while she is standing up and singing, with an unsecured head no less? I would say this should get its own episode, but it is so wholly farcical and pointless that I would not wish that upon anybody. Just rescue Culber already, which is where we all know this is going. Get to something we might be threatened by caring about, because Culber and Stamets actually received two uninterrupted relationship minutes in an episode a while back.

Kevin: Lastly, the appearance of Number One was fine...I guess. Romijn did a good job with it, but since it was essentially a status update of info we already knew, it felt like an additional piece of story we didn't need, and we had enough stories going on already. It wasn't as bad as say Q and Vash showing up on DS9 or the Ferengi or Borg showing up on Enterprise, but it did feel a bit like prioritizing having a TOS character at all over finding a real way to work them into the story.

Matthew: The Number One scenes were pointless filler, which is bizarre, given how disjointed and frenetic this episode was. I nearly sprained myself rolling my eyes back as hard as I did when they "explained" why the Enterprise (and apparently all of Starfleet for centuries) will not have holographic everything. Why are they even trying at this point? Just move on and stop bullshitting us about continuity. The trying is actually more offensive than the inconsistency.


Kevin: We didn't get a ton of Rebecca Romijn as Number One, but I liked what we got fine. She and Mount seemed to have rapport that on another show would get the extra two minutes it needed to really land. She gave off a similar hyper-competent cool-as-ice vibe that Majel Barrett did. It says something that the characters only briefly sketched in an unaired pilot are the most successful in this season so far. Pike, Number One, and even Amanda are pretty much single episode-ish characters so there is both less to fight against and enough from the original that I would actually like to learn more about. To extent to I find the prequel necessary or useful, this is at least the way to do it right.

Matthew: Since she was whacked out on wow-whee spores, Mary Wiseman's Tilly was pretty good this episode. I really like her when she slows down and gives us any other emotion besides nervous.

Kevin: Jones and Martin-Green were giving it their all, I have to give them that. The story did not really support their final scene so it comes off as somewhat manipulative, but that's not their fault. In particular I want to praise Jones for very quickly giving his portrayal a different tone as soon as he is post-ganglia. There is both the absence of his nervousness and kind of bewildered outrage at the implications of what this means for his people. That's a lot to portray through make up, and he does it.

Matthew: Jones was fine. I'm over Green, mainly because she's repeated the same breathy delivery and weepy eyes in every single episode thus far. I don't blame her, since she is not the writer or show runner. But that doesn't mean I have any particular interest in watching her.

Kevin: I liked Rapp and Nataro's antagonistic vibe and they turned in some pretty solid comedy when they were all shrooming, but it does feel a little untethered from the rest of the story. Not their fault, but if they could find a way to incorporate Nataro's character as more than humorous foil, I think we could really be on to something here.

Matthew: Agreed. Good chemistry and a much needed ball busting for Rapp's over-the-top smugness.

Production Values

Kevin: The hi-res take on the space amoeba was pretty fun. I just wish we had actually gotten to look at it. The frenetic pacing extends to the cinematography and images just flash too quickly to really land a lot of the time. Beyond that, this was largely a bottle episode. Aside from the style-level complaints that can be taken as read, this episode was pretty solid. I will say I think the staging of the Tower of Babel scene was pretty good. It made sense that would visually and aurally chaotic, and anchored by Jones' performance was a fun scene overall.

Matthew: I didn't understand what was supposed to be happening. Did people actually speak all those other languages and the translator broke? Were they all speaking English and the translator was making it sound like something else to others? Do they all have subcutaneous earpieces?  It was just a mess. Speaking of mess, the CGI orange blob that was the sphere was a big fat nothing to me. I didn't know what I was supposed to be looking at, and therefore I didn't care. My kingdom for an Okudagram.


Kevin: This gets a 3, but I am going to start dinging the episodes more severely if they keep giving short-shrift to the emotional beats of that week's story to keep building the arc that never seems to go anywhere. That said, there is some Star Trek there if you squint and focus on it, and as nakedly manipulative as the Saru stuff was, it was carried by good acting and narrative implications I'm actually curious about, so in the end, it's a 3. If nothing else, episode like these make me hope that like the Klingons in season one, they will resolve the red angel plot at the break, so they can do the other things they appear to be getting better at.

Matthew: This is a 2 for me. I'm already dinging episodes when they just slap a bunch of shit up on screen and expect us to care without showing their work. This episode was a mess in which none of its plot parts functioned adequately. It was't offensive hot garbage, which is a step up from last episode. But hot garbage is still hot garbage. The only thing saving it from a 1 is that people occasionally stopped to talk about things, and Tig Notaro was present (extra kudos for making fun of mushrooms). That makes for a total of 5.

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