Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Discovery, Season 2: Such Sweet Sorrow

http://www.treknobabble.net/p/rating-system.htmlDiscovery, Season 2
"Such Sweet Sorrow"

Airdate: April 11, 2019
28 of 29 produced
28 of 29 aired

Introduction

The crew sets Discovery to self destruct. Or not. Then the crew decides to go to the future. Or not. Everybody says tearful goodbyes. Or not. Sarek and Amanda also use their psychic powers to read next week's script and know they need to say goodbye to Burnham.


Oh, Ash, I just cain't quit you...




Matthew: Welcome to another episode of "Star Trek Blue Balls." The music and the actors and the effects will all indicate that SOMETHING VERY BIG is happening, but by the end, you will be asking yourself - did it? The first third of this episode was "paying off" the "cliffhanger" of the previous episode - everybody evacuates, chooses their sentimental souvenirs, we're given music and languorous camera moves indicating that this is Discovery's swan song..... and then they can't destroy the ship. HOW EXCITING, MY EXPECTATIONS WERE SUBVERTED! Except they weren't, because this is just another example of the Discovery writers' worst impulses - trying to milk a scene for all possible emotional weight without doing any setup work and with no lasting consequences. The Sphere Data is basically a character now. Too bad we learned not a thing about it over the past however many episodes. You know an episode in which we actually learn something about the data? TNG "Masks," which I am gaining much increased appreciation for.

Kevin: I recalled how annoyed I was at the DS9 writers for replacing the Defiant in the very next episode after feeling like it was pretty ballsy to destroy her to underscore the renewed Dominion threat. It's basically that times ten for this. We literally used the destruction of the ship as the cliffhanger and spent the first ten minutes walking through the lead up...for nothing.

Matthew: The middle third of this episode seems to be about interminable technobabble info dumps, in which characters who are apparently experts on everything in the universe solve every issue raised by past episodes' sloppy plots, while giving us arbitrary "tension pumps" for the BIG FINALE. The time crystal will allow us to fix things! Except there is [Insert Gobbledeygook Problem X] which will necessitate [Insert Random Past Character Q] and will result in [Insert Arbitrary Plot Limit Y]. But it's all completely fucking random, and none of these elements flows from previously established characteristics or limitations.

Kevin: Star Trek has certainly leaned on technobabble explanations, to good and bad effect. I think it got the most strained on Voyager over-relying on [ship status X] being down to a set of percentages every single week to spur drama. The problem is worse here because they don't even do the set up properly. They didn't even mention that Po had built a device capable of shielding people from the effects of the time crystal until they were discussing how it was blocking the energy or something so they needed to weaken its containment. It's just soup. And for the attempt to mine drama of Reno having a time crystal experience, they showed literally nothing they didn't show with Burnham. At least add a flash of something to give it some narrative heft.

Matthew: The last third, given the arbitrary limitations placed on the plot (should I be glad they're even related?), consists of tearful, heartfelt goodbyes and expressions of solidarity which I take it are supposed to be moving. The music told me so, and the characters told me so - I just did not feel any of it. Reasonable people have pointed out the excessive reliance on Burnham crying about things throughout the series. Here we get at least 4 distinct flavors of this (parents/leaving crew/Tyler/rejoining crew again). It ends up all being boring and indulgent, especially since most of it is reneged on within the same episode. Are we supposed to be moved by all the rando character goodbye letters? Except for Saru, it's all stuff we've never heard before and so could not possibly have invested feelings in. Why would Jett Reno stay with Burnham? Why would Airiam's replacement who just arrived? Why would Nhan the Barzan Lady? Did they all bond off camera? Am I supposed to be moved by the Burnham Tyler romance? The music is telling me to be, but I do not feel it, because there hasn't been an actual relationship between them for a season, the one they had was like two episodes, and his character since is a complete fucking mess.

Kevin: This is just the show always wanting to have it both ways. They want the sorrow of a goodbye and the rousing feeling of a Once More Unto the Breach moment. And they literally did both with almost every character. It makes Pike staying behind even more obvious since he narratively has to. They basically, except for Spock, whose deus ex machina is I guess saved for next week, basically had every character the show created go and every character that already existed stay. In an organic character sense, Pike would absolutely stay. Given the story we've gotten so far, he might even do it out of a sense of it being his chance to avoid the future the time crystal showed him. And in a purely character sense, he has been consistently portrayed as the type of captain who would stay, but we can't because Pike can't stay in the story if they are doing what they are obviously going to be doing. The decision to make the show a prequel continues to cause problems with no obvious benefit.

Matthew: The nuts and bolts of this episode's plot did not inspire my credulity. For instance, how in the hell did Sarek and Amanda get to them? The ship was supposed to be on the run from Leland, and incommunicado to boot. I guess somehow Sarek AND Amanda's "katras" sensed her coordinates in space, and they had a superfast shuttle capable of getting them there. But why? Do Sarek and Amanda know where the screenwriters are taking this plot? Because I don't, and none of the other characters seem to, either. The time frame here is ridiculous. How could they possibly fabricate all this shit in like 1 hour? How is all this shit (e.g. Tilly and Po being giggly girlfriends, building a time crystal device) taking place when Leland is constantly "1 hour away?" This is Last Jedi/Canto Bight level narrative awkwardness. Also, is this episode claiming that the rift between Sarek/Spock in Journey to Babel is because Spock asked for it? NOT OK.

Kevin: This just keeps running into the problem of the fact that Spock and Sarek both got pretty complete arcs in the series proper. It's worth pointing out that Sarek got more development in three episodes and three pretty brief movie appearances than he's gotten in a dozen episodes here. In any event, the problem is the same. Re-exploring Spock and Sarek's rift either only confirms the data we got in the original shows, making it a bit of a waste of time, or it calls the validity of those episodes into question which is just annoying.

Matthew: So we must mention the Enterprise Fanwank. It was.... pretty OK I guess? It was a reasonable update that actually preserved the overall thrust of the aesthetics. Why the hell couldn't they have made the whole show look like the Enterprise looks in this episode? Why wasn't it a Pike show in the first place? Why do we need to establish the reason for not using holographic communication? Why create pointless problems? I think the writers believe it's exciting to watch them "fix" the two season fuck up they've created. I think they'll pat themselves on the back when they "shock" us by radically shifting the show into the far future, as opposed to just annoying us that they put us through two seasons of non-narrative to get where they should have been in the pilot.

Kevin: I honestly thought you would hate the Enterprise. I don't hate it personally, though I do find it too busy. Especially having gotten the chance to see the TOS in a modern light in DS9 and in HD in Enterprise has only underscored how much I enjoy the kitschy 60s feel of that design. As to the continuity problems, I agree. It's not good writing to solve the problems you needlessly created. It's not expanding the universe to figure out how to hermetically seal your story off from the rest of the universe.

Matthew: Stamets/Culber is like Ross and Rachel on Friends. Two people who communicate this poorly do not deserve to be together. I am done with them.Unfortunately, I don't think the writers are.

Kevin: Nothing about this couple has been handled well. Culber's death was pointless. His resurrection was an attempt to reverse a pointless decision but then they couldn't decide what to do with the character when they got him back. The style of narrative of this show precludes the quiet moments that would actually allow the couple to act like a couple. Not to belabor the point, but this was something TNG was really great at, even when it was just "Piller Filler." Picture Riker and Troi chatting about work over ice cream in Ten Forward. It was just the flavor text that preceded a scene that actually advanced the plot, but small work like that made even their under-written relationship feel much more real. Constantly having to advance ten different arcs means you never have time for scenes that aren't Revealing a Shocking Twist and the result is that the only time the show seems invested in the emotions of these characters is when the musical cues tell them to.

Kevin: And one more thing. Georgiou revealing she's from the mirror universe was the worst joke ever. She's literally (the literal, non-figurative literally) said out loud about how the mirror universe versions of the Disco crew are different and made no secret that she was not the Philippa Georgiou that we met in the pilot. It's the same thing over and over again. The writers invented a reason to have Michelle Yeoh back (a laudable goal I agree) but want to never be constrained by the set up of bring her back (having to pretend to be undercover) but still want the pay off as if they did (that fucking joke).

Matthew: The joke was not good enough to justify directly contravening previously established events. Which it did. Which is lazy and sloppy.

Acting

Matthew: Sonequa Martin-Green's upcoming Master Class in crying will begin after the season finale. She is an expert. I don't know what childhood trauma she is dredging up to be capable of this level of tear production, but I wish the Discovery showrunners would stop hurting her in this way. She was fine. I believed her on a basic involuntary human empathy level even when I did not believe the story (which was 100% of the time).

Kevin: I will only say I really wish the show had given her scripts that displayed a little more agency as I think she would slayed them.

Matthew: Sarek and Amanda did not get to add anything new to their characters or relationships. They were fine. Shazad Latif has completely worn out his welcome, and it's a shame, because I do think he is better than this material. Wilson Cruz needs to lay off the pec work at the gym. It's distracting, and to the point where the other characters not pointing it out is jarring. He and Anthony Rapp convey the impression of liking each other, which helps their scene, but they cannot convey a believable rationale for being so shitty at resolving their problems.

Kevin: Yeah...I've run out of ways to say that the actors are good but no actor could elevate this material. Even Latif, who when he comes on screen now I sigh audibly, did some great work last season portraying PTSD. If only that person had turned out to actually exist. I'm beginning to feel bad for Mary Weismann. She was getting a pretty decent arc at growing up, and she's kind of becoming an over-eager punchline generator. She's a good actor and I bought her sisterly vibe with Po, but it was just tonally out of place. She's not actually a teenager. She's a 20-something professional in the middle of a crisis. There's using humor to undercut the tension and then there's using it to undercut the character.

Production Values

Matthew: As stated, the Enterprise scenes basically worked. The set designs were a reasonable melding of the Disco aesthetic with.... everything else in Trek. I think the giant space corridors for evacuation were a weird choice, especially given that they apparently had artificial gravity.

Kevin: My only problem with them is that they speak to a deeper philosophical problem that is perhaps unresolvable. The way the writers and the people who like the show talk about these kinds of apparent continuity errors is to point out that nothing explicitly excludes them from TOS, so they are fair game. My approach is that the general sense of technological capacity of the TOS era would preclude this from being a thing they were capable of. It is not, to me, a reasonable extrapolation of the tech displayed in the Original Series, so I find its use kind of a cheat, and I find it irritating, if only because they keep insisting they aren't cheating.

Matthew: The choice of "retrofitting shuttles for combat" led to an extraordinarily busy and distracting set of space exterior shots. Similarly annoying were the bevy of pointless camera moves starting us upside down within a scene.

Kevin: While there were not as many upside down shots this week, the camera man apparently thought the floor was hot lava and was thus not allowed to stand still.

Conclusion

Matthew: I guess this was better than the previous episode. It was almost offensively gratuitous and melodramatic, but it didn't have Klingons in it, and it had a basic lack of dumb action scenes. So because it focused on character interactions, as unearned as they all were, I can squint real hard and call this a 2.


Kevin: It's just narrative soup. Every single emotional moment they could describe got thrown in and it just leaves an episode that doesn't make me feel or think anything. The Big Bad is ill-defined. The solution is ill-defined. The character relationships happen by fiat. That makes for a 2, for a total of 4.

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