Thursday, March 7, 2019

Discovery, Season 2: Light and Shadows, Season 2
"Light and Shadows"
Airdate: February 28, 2019
22 of 29 produced
22 of 29 aired


Burnham finally catches up with Spock, only to find him rambling and incoherent. Meanwhile Tyler and Pike are at odds in the midst of a temporal anomaly.

If you can't make it good, make it blue.

I am at the point in my Discovery journey in which it is becoming difficult to tell how much of my ire for the show is due to the present episode, as opposed to the deficiencies of the series as a whole. The last episode was fairly decent in that it was able to sidestep some of those concerns. This episode... doesn't. The Big Dumb Plot of the whole season collides with the Big Dumb Retcon concept behind the whole series in distinctly unsatisfying and baffling ways. The A plot here seems to be the long-teased Spock story. Spock has been having visions of the Red Angel.... since childhood... and has now gone "crazy" and is accused of killing three doctors. The drama seems to hinge on whether or not he should be surrendered to Section 31. Setting aside the galling inanity of everyone in this world knowing about Section 31 despite the organization being completely forgotten not even 100 years hence in a society with perfect records, the motivations are extraordinarily unclear here. Sarek says that the Federation "desperately needs" answers to the mystery of the Red Angel. Why? Why are they desperate? What do they gain besides the solution to a minor mystery? Was this dropped in some frenetic dialogue dump six episodes ago? Probably. At this point, it just doesn't register as a real motivation for Sarek's actions. It would be better and more in character if he just wanted his son to face justice for the crimes of which he is accused out of some Kantian moral imperative.

Kevin: This all goes back to a key difference we and the writers seem to have about writing. The writers clearly think mystery qua mystery is what's most important. The only value in the mystery is its mysteriousness so they must not reveal it until the last five seconds of a cliffhanger later in the season. That leaves the characters vaguely reacting to the vague nuggets of story we've gotten. We care about how the characters react to the mystery because it the characters and not the McGuffin of the mystery we care about, so a bunch of vague shock faces is just not that interesting.

Matthew: Amanda loves her husband... but hates and disagrees with essentially every decision he's ever made. It's hard to understand this pairing. It was probably always going to be hard, but TOS seemed to find a way to briefly hand-wave it, by having Amanda adopt Vulcan dress and say "it was logical" for them to be together. But no, that's just not good enough for Discovery. There has to be DRAMA and ANGST and CONFLICT injected into everything, even if it makes no sense. So Amanda loves Sarek, but lies and hides their son from him, treats Spock's dyslexia (WTF?) secretly without informing Sarek, and by methods that meet with his disapproval. All of this bullshit is an indication of why it was such a horrible idea to retcon these characters into this story. Drama is inherently blunted because we know where the characters end up, which necessitates greater and greater Ass-Pullery to try to inject it into the story. What a disaster. Having the "twist" hinge upon Spock reciting numbers backwards (Because of his Space Dyslexia) is cheap. Also, The number Spock gives Burnham is not a set of coordinates, it's a heading. Relative to only one point in space would that heading ever be valid. This kind of careless bullshit drives me up a wall.

Kevin: I will give a minor eh to the heading thing. Even when used as headings, it was a bit hand wavy. Any time a character recited them, other characters would dramatically recite where that was without checking a map, which I would need to do in three dimensions, let alone three. I'm just here to be the voice of the Great Balance. That all said, they added the conflict without giving it any internal life. They are in conflict because if they weren't in conflict, Spock being hidden wouldn't make sense. They haven't sketched the characters enough to give them enough depth to give the conflict any teeth. It's also that they cover the ground of the conflict of Spock's dual nature, if not completely, at least specifically enough in TOS that the exploration here is at best a retread, a retcon at worst.

Matthew: The B plot fails to justify its existence. I like time travel, paradoxes, and anomalies, when done well. What does "done well" entail? Usually, some sort of dilemma for the characters. "City on the Edge of Forever?" Done well. Kirk must decide whether to save the woman he has come to love, or to save the future of his world. Time's Arrow? Middling. The execution was pretty good, but ultimately the characters did not have interesting decisions to make, they just had to play out the plot and try to "solve" it. This? Well, the anomaly looks cool, I guess. There are some hologrammy after-images. One of the squids from The Matrix shows up for some reason. And the Red Angel is from the FUTURE!!! (we have decided, with very little precedent in the script, because it was wearing a fancy suit?) Now, If I thought the creators of this show cared even the slightest bit about squaring this with continuity, I would propose that they are going to have the Red Angel be Future Spock, who is apparently traveling through time to right every possible wrong, but that this has had the unfortunate side effect of giving Past Spock Vulcan dyslexia (e.g. Hodor), and that Future Spock will fix things in a time-wiping move that erases the dyslexia nugget from history (my brain is screaming that it should shut down after typing that sentence). But I don't think that at all. I think the creators are convinced that they're writing the next great serial story in the Golden Age of Television, and nothing will convince them that this is in fact a steaming pile of incoherent dog crap.  

Kevin: The anomaly was just...there. It didn't pose a threat to Kaminar (where we have forgotten completely about the recent civilization altering revelation and perpetual threat of war) and I'm struggling to recall twenty four hours after watching it why they even had to take a shuttle in. My money is still on the angel being Spock. Tilly did get one funny line. "Everything sounds better when you put time in front of it," felt like the a kind of self-referential joke that works, since it's true and was delivered with the correct modicum of joy. But aside from all that, I agree, I have no sense that this mystery will have a resolution that is internally satisfying. Even if they manage to square the circle, a story that only manages to solve the problems it created isn't going to be that interesting. Their best case scenario is credibly hermetically sealing this story off from the canon. Why is that worth the time?

Matthew: The character struggle between Tyler and Pike is risible, mainly on the Tyler end. Apparently, in the one week he was working for Section 31, and entirely off camera, he has become a total Aggro Douchebag who challenges everything Pike says and engages in a bunch of armchair psychology malarkey.  "All of this is about you trying to compensate for sitting out the war." Jesus. We were told Pike sat out the war in one line of dialogue, and he has seemed entirely unruffled by this for the entire season. If Tyler is not advancing this BS just because he is now a Major Dickhead, why is he? Is he trying to gain something? Who the hell knows. It's just a bunch of dialogue that a bad writer thought sounded dramatic, and decided to inject into this story to "raise stakes." It's bad writing, pure and simple, and it is endemic to the show. People say and do things because it is deemed "most dramatic" for the present moment, without any preface, development, or follow through. It's especially sad because Pike has been one of the few shining stars in this train wreck - he had until this point been portrayed charmingly and written reasonably consistently.

Kevin: The problem here is the classic "show don't tell" problem. As you say, Pike has seemed like a pretty chill guy (and one of the few credible characters that evokes without shitting on their TOS counterpart), and has been so since he got here. Tyler is just a non-entity. The hole they dug is deep and they have not begun the work to reestablish him as a character that I could possibly care about.

Matthew: I guess I haven't even gotten to how batshit the Emperor Georgiou/Section 31 aspect of this story is. I'm starting to lose the energy to care, but it is indeed batshit crazy. Georgiou is trying to maneuver her way into command (?) of Section 31 (or just one ship? Who the hell knows) by undermining Captain Leland (I guess Section 31 has captains...) and letting Spock go with Burnham. The level of contrivance here beggars belief. The fact that this story's plot progression hinges upon a mirror universe counterpart of a dead Starfleet captain (keep going, brain.... you... can... do.... it...) leveraging her... relationship(?) with Spock's half-sister in order to advance her political position within a secret organization that everyone knows about.... OK, yeah, I'm done. Lazy, dumb, or both, take your pick. This is just about as contrived as Star Trek 2009's Kirk randomly being marooned on a planet within walking distance of Old Spock. And, oh yes, Section 31 killed Burnham's parents! THRILLING! And, oh yeah.... Talos IV! I've heard of that! [[[claps hands like seal and begs for another fish]]]

Kevin: I don't disagree. I will add that the "Section 31 killed Burnham's parents" adds the 'small universe problem' to the list of narrative crutches. Every person and important incident of the life of every character is tied to the lives of other characters. Not everyone secretly knows everyone else. It reduces the size of the universe in a boring way.


So. Ethan Peck's Spock is... a non entity? He is asked to mumble and cower, and he does that. I got no emotional notes from his performance, and would be extremely hard pressed to remember anything he said at all. I don't like his stupid beard, his lips are too big, and they're not even trying to make his skin greener than a typical human's. SMG did a fine-ish job interacting with him, and I believed she cared, I guess. She also was very capable in her kung-fu fistfight (sigh) with Emperor Georgiou. Michelle Yeoh was Michelle Yeoh. I can't say she dazzled me in terms of character acting, but she can sure throw a kick, and her accent is consistently compelling.

Kevin: I honestly think it's almost unfair to judge acting, since they really weren't asked to act. They were not asked to convey emotion or give information, they were asked to vaguely respond to the lack of those things. Meryl Streep could have been under that beard and it wouldn't have mattered.

Matthew: Anson Mount is starting to look a bit overwhelmed by the shifting characterization of his character. I did not really  buy his angst over "missing the war." Of course, I don't buy it for the character, either, and maybe he is sensing that on some level. It's a shame, because he was a real anchor for this season in a miasma of shifting baloney. I am completely over Shazad Latif. I get that his character is being asked to be annoying. But the ultimate effect is that he annoys me along with the characters on screen.

Production Values

We get yet another giant CGI cloud thing, which is fine in its way, but ends of receding entirely from the memory. The Matrix squid robot was obviously derivative. The hologrammy after-effects were brief and impacted the story not a whit.

Kevin: I wish they had been incorporated better. They were actually pretty well achieved technically, but a non-entity in the story.

Matthew: Vulcan looked OK. The glowing orange things ("Katra stones?" Sure.) were a nice visual pop in the cave. Vulcan itself has too much water and vegetation. But that's what happens when the show is run by people who don't care.

Kevin: I actually didn't mind that. Even if desert areas, life tends to aggregate in the wet parts, and if I squint, I could get an oasis vibe.


Matthew: Another episode of "Attractive People Doing Things That Make No Sense" is in the books. And it gets another 2 from me. Minor advances in the overall Big Dumb Plot were made, but nothing in this episode is conclusive. Characters act in ways that contradict prior outings, but who cares? It was foolish of me to expect more. Spock-lite has made his long-teased appearance, in which he did and said nothing of consequence. I don't really know what the "Star Trek" story was even supposed to be here. No ethical dilemmas were even hinted at, yet alone plumbed. Even the lone science fiction idea (time travel, did you miss it?) was dismissed within about ten seconds.

Kevin: I will finally agree with your 2, for a total of 4. None of the stories got any real progression. Even having seen Spock, he still didn't actually have any story. His non-presence was not much different from his incoherent presence. At least this week we can see how they'll half-ass going back to Talos IV. Yay?

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