Monday, April 8, 2019

Discovery, Season 2: Through the Valley of Shadows, Season 2
"Through the Valley of Shadows"

Airdate: April 4, 2019
27 of 29 produced
27 of 29 aired


The crew decides it needs a time crystal for some reason. Pike discovers he will have to make a "sacrifice" to get it. Klingons do and say boring things.

This is how I look every time I watch this show, just ten times as bored and only ten percent as handsome.


Kevin: I'll start with the best and most effective part of the episode: Pike. It's actually a fairly novel solution to the prequel problem. We know where the character ends so that dulls some tension since we know he has to be okay to do what he does later. The episode, rather than ignore that problem, turns it on its head. It tells the character about the future we already know, to pretty solid dramatic effect, at least in the moment. The mechanism of the 'time crystals' (ugh) is poorly explained, particularly as to why this 'locks in' some future, but in the moment, Pike looking at the ruin of his face and letting out that sound was pretty effective, as was watching him rely on his faith in Starfleet to carry him through that moment. It helps that Pike has been the most consistently characterized  over the season, so his faith in Starfleet feels largely established rather than trying to shoehorn it in this episode.

Matthew: Pike himself, answering the question of "how he will utilize the time crystal," replies "the three last signals have yet to reveal themselves. I believe they'll bring clarity to that topic." First of all, how do they know how many signals they'll be receiving? I thought they "revealed themselves" when somehow they were detected simultaneously across the galaxy despite being spread out over 50,000 light years? Second, and far more importantly, if Pike doesn't know why he was "sacrificing his future," why did he do it at all? He doesn't know, we don't know, nobody fucking knows. This is not good writing. It makes me entirely unable to appreciate his "sacrifice." It also makes me very annoyed with the writers, who seem to think withholding crucial information is "clever." It's not clever if it makes your story nonsense. Which it does here. I guess I'm that rare curmudgeon who wants to know why characters are doing things. Why do we need to put the thing in the thing? Why is this character enduring something bad? Why are people shooting phasers at things right now? Without answers to these questions, I just check out and start looking at one of the other billion things in the world that could entertain me in that moment. You know some shows I never do that during? The Orville. Game of Thrones. The Good Place. You know why? Because I care about the characters, I know what their goals are, and I am invested in whether or not they achieve them.

Kevin: I'm going to separately critique my problems with this arc. First, you LITERALLY JUST SHOW US A CATASTROPHICALLY INJURED WOMAN GETTING AN ANDROID BODY. It makes Pike in his chair completely inexplicable in the continuity introduced by Discovery. Second, as always, the eighteen plots all getting a few minutes of work crowd out this story. Imagine if this had been the A plot of an episode with an A and a B plot, rather than an A-J plot. You have talented actors who can mine even thin scripts for genuine drama. Get out of their way and let them do it.

Matthew: The "Control" story is bullshit. Discovery has just shown us that "Control" can take over any body they wish. Fine. But that creates a serious problem when you want plots that revolve on "putting the thing in the thing" technobabble to excite us. Why was it important that they "isolate" the program on this derelict ship? Leland is somewhere else being Control already. Who the fuck cares? The doubly head scratching aspect of this is putting Control in some no-name character from 25 episodes ago, as if that has some sort of significance to us. I barely remember this guy's face, let alone any of his history. It isn't shocking when it is "revealed" that he is a bad guy. It's just baffling that anyone thought this would be surprising. And yet again, a dramatic beat rests on the "sphere data" not being able to be deleted. Is there really no option between "press Control Alt Delete" and "self destruct ship?" Can't they just destroy their goddamned computer? And if Control is already this dangerous (it has an entire fleet and can assimilate any being it wishes), who cares about the sphere data anyway?  This story is just slick, pretty nonsense.

Kevin: The writers tried to explain the apparent continuity problem of the time crystals going unmentioned in TNG's Rigthful Heir, but it was basically just handwaving that Worf would not have been privy to this information. Just...stop. You cannot have it both ways. The only reason you called it Boreth was to spark recognition in TNG fans. You cannot gain the benefit of that recognition without being bound by it. If you wanted to create this place that is not the monastery at Boreth depicted in other Trek, just call it something else. It's always going to be a thinly defined MacGuffin factory, but at least it wouldn't feel like it was stepping on other things I like.

Matthew: Another tremendously cheap aspect of this story is accelerating the baby's growth (because time crystals yadda yadda.). It's supposed to deliver a shock to Tyler and L'Rell, I guess. But then Pike says "I can't explain it" (as if "Time crystals accelerated your son's development" is too difficult) and it ends up not meaning anything. What were L'Rell and Tyler doing on the ship for the hours that Pike was gone? Eating? Taking a nap? This is so sloppy and careless.

Kevin: Oh...hey. Reno is back. For reasons. One more time, instead of giving characters and plots room to breathe, we get a few rushed lines and not-jokes that basically force the characters to the next space on the board that the plot has not earned.

Matthew: This whole Culber/Stamets story is manipulative garbage. They're trying to make us care about two characters being reunited. But the motive for their separation is really unclear. Culber feels different... or something. But he can resume his job and be friends with randos in the mess hall. Huh? The motive for Stamets pulling back is unclear as well, and it just makes the whole thing feel like Story Blue Balls.


Kevin: The highlight of the episode far and away is Anson Mount. His wail of pain and fear when he sees the future is truly wrenching. He's really been an emotional anchor for the season, if only because his character has been the most consistently realized. The pay off is that since they have at least basically built an orthodox Starfleet officer, seeing him rely on that to face what I'm not certain anyone could face actually pays off. Like I said above, I wish the episode had more time to spend on this, but Mount wrenched everything he could out of the scene.

Matthew: I will stipulate to Mount's acting ability. But this season of STD has actually taken him from a bracing, charming character and turned him into a strangely inert, passive non-entity. I feel sad for the Pike in "The Cage," not for this Pike. With this one, I'm just like "come on, man, show some life!"

Kevin: I am not a fan of bringing Spock on the show, certainly not this early, and I agree with Matt that fundamentally a different character than the one we get, but I did basically enjoy Spock and Burnham's scenes in this go around. Green and Peck have a chemistry, and unburdened by trying to have to fit themselves into a broader already told story, I think if they were given a truly fresh pair of characters to create, they could really make something sing.

Matthew: Peck's line readings are in a low, gravelly monotone that doesn't have any verve or nuance to it. SMG bores me, because she only ever displays one emotion. If I squint real hard I can see what you're getting at. But none of it is on the page or on the screen.

Kevin: I've read that Mary Chieffo is a ball on set and at the conventions and it only makes my dislike for L'Rell even sadder. Something the AV Club reviewer clocked this week that I wholehearted agree with is that Discovery's version of the Klingons are not fun. They are self-righteous and self-important at every turn. TOS' Klingons were villains, but Anasara, Campbell, and Colicos brought undeniable vigor and depth to the part, and TNG/DS9 Klingons leaven the Shakespearean drama with equivalent Shakespearean brio. Everyone who has met Cheiffo in real life seems to think she's great., and I have no reason to doubt them. I wish that energy were allowed to shine through in the portrayal of L'Rell. Buried under makeup and undercooked melodrama, she sadly never gets the chance.

Matthew: You've said it all. I have nothing to add other than that I am utterly bored by every Klingon on this show, which validates your theory. Klingons have been many things over the last 50 years. Boring was never one of them, until now.

Production Values

Kevin: The monastery itself was pretty nondescript place with a Bridge over a Ravine for Some Reason. The true highlight of the episode was Pike in the chair. Whatever the plot issues, the makeup was extremely upsetting and effective and felt like an actual update rather than revision of what was depicted in TOS. Injured Pike's voiceless scream was extremely well realized, especially mirrored with healthy Pike's actual scream. That was top to bottom, a well constructed and achieved shot.

Matthew: Strobe lights in a darkened room are not cool. Not dramatic. They are cheap and annoying. The wormy nanoprobe effect was laughably dumb, and is it just me, or have phasers lost the ability to "shear the top off a mountain?" What the hell setting did Burnham have it on, as she was poking teeny tiny holes into "Gant" or whoever the hell he was supposed to be? Also, yet again, it is really, really stupid to beam into an unknown environment without a space helmet.


Kevin: I'm in a weird place. The plot remains mushy and rushed. Spock and Burnham's scenes were painfully predictable and Culbert/Stamets/Reno was too brief to matter, but I'm sure we'll be asked to treat it as some revelation for whatever they do next week. And as much as I like the scene for itself, the surrounding tissue around Pike's revelation is poorly plotted to say the least. That said, I keep coming back to Mount's performance. A consistently built character experienced an extreme emotion via the non-linear storytelling opportunities that science fiction provides. I've been asking for that for almost two seasons now. On the strength of Mount's wail of terror and pain alone...literally, just that... this just gets into a 3 for me.

Matthew: Because the emotion of Pike's revelation was undone by both the inconsistency of the world (augmented or even wholly rebuilt humans vs. Beep Boop chair) and by the inanity of the plot (none of us, Pike included, understand the point of his "sacrifice" or why it even locks him in to this fate), I have to disagree. Mount can act, but the writers can't write. And acting isn't enough for me. Coupled with the baloney Control story, and the cheap attempt to make us care about wretched Klingon characters, I'm at a 1 on this. Nothing actually happened in this episode. There are no stakes. I was completely bored throughout this episode, and struggled to finish it. That makes for a total of 4.

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