Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Discovery, Season 3: That Hope is You, Part 1

Discovery, Season 3
"That Hope Is You, Part 1"
Airdate: April 18, 2019
30 of 30 produced
30 of 30 aired


Catapulting 900 years into the future, Michael Burnham and the Discovery crew find themselves on a television show that is exactly like the one they just left.

 Noooooo! How could this script be just as bad as the last one??!?!


So, let me just stipulate to the idea that the premise of this season is interesting. It has a number of things going for it. It is removed from already established continuity, so it needn't try to wedge itself into existing stories (previous seasons did this a little), or flatly contradict them (and did this a lot). The idea of a collapsed Federation is provocative, and the notion of "last outpost" types solemnly keeping the flame is affecting (if not wholly original, a la "Foundation"). Fish out of water drama/comedy generally works. But in the execution, this episode of Discovery displays most if not all of the hallmarks of previous failed storytelling excursions. I will subdivide these into the following categories in the following paragraphs: inconsistent characterization, story logic problems, and tone problems/unearned emotional manipulation.

Kevin: I think of the three season plots so far, this one has the most potential. If nothing else, and this could all change next week, the problem is not a threat to all life in the universe. For once. It's dealing with the fallout of an earlier Threat to All Life in the Universe. Technically, I've been asking for that kind of granular follow up for a while now. Sadly, it does appear they only know about the 'eleven' setting on the dial. Every single moment was presented at the extreme. Everything was urgent and chaotic the whole episode and the lack of quiet makes the heights harder to process.

Matthew: These characters make little sense. Book is portrayed at the beginning of the episode, and throughout a good 90% of the runtime, as a Han-Solo-esque antihero, who is looking out for his own interests at the expense of Burnham's. He will sell her out, lie, engage in frequent murderous violence, and generally be a cad But then, all of a sudden, the story shifts, and Book is revealed as some sort of mystical environmentalist who is doing all of this in order to save psychic space slugs. Look - I would be all in for an episode about the practical and ethical dimensions of saving endangered species. How far should one go? What sacrifices are justified? But that's not this story. The space slug angle occupies 3 minutes of run time. It's not actually a story, and it's not explored in any meaningful way. Then, after an entire episode of disparaging people who cling to long-lost Federation ideals, he not only takes Burnham to the Last Federation Guy in the sector, but seemingly joins up in the holy quest to resurrect it. Huh? It all turned on a dime and was not well established in the drama.  Which is pretty much Discovery's modus operandi in a nutshell. On the Burnham side, we have her waxing rhapsodic about how the Federation is a vision (swelling music) of... something? But she has not lived up to that vision for the entire series (advocating preemptive war and such), and in this very episode she is portrayed vaporizing about 200 "bad guys" to death. Umm, OK?

Kevin: I think you are being a tad hard on Burnham. Other than her position in The Vulcan Hello, I don't think she's stepped too far out of line on basic Federation ideology. I agree the show has not portrayed her doing things in a Starfleet manner and she is certianly not surrounded by orthodox Federation citizens, but that's not the same thing. I mean, Sisko provoked war on the grounds that waiting for the Dominion to start it when they wanted to would lead to a Federation defeat. Now, that's because DS9 is a better written show more interested in the small steps that lead to big stories, but none of that is Burnham's fault. I have no problem treating her as someone who believes in Federation ideals, it's just that the stories written around her don't really allow for an organic portrayal of it. The problem remains, the writers only know how to write breathily teary monologues. They need to paint with all the colors if they want some of these points to land. I agree they shaded Book too dark at the top if they wanted to later revelations to land. It's a small thing, but not going out of your way to save her is different that explicitly setting her up. They want the Han Solo moment, whether or not it fits with the rest of their story goals.

Matthew: In terms of story logic, first is the structure of the episode's story. Book takes Burnham to this trading post because he needs.... dilithium? Just how rare is dilithium after "The Burn?" It is talked up to death in exposition, but then Book seems to fly his ship all over with little in the way of issue. How can a society that (mostly?) lacks dilithium power things like portable transporters? Transporters seem like an extremely power hungry mechanism. If you can't regulate antimatter to produce those gobs of power, how are all these things run (e.g. holographic bedrooms, shape shifting control consoles, hovering cities)? When Burnham finds Last Federation Guy, she wants to find Discovery. He then scans... the whole galaxy? Except he can only scan thirty sectors, because he is totally isolated from every other remaining outpost. Wait... how does he know those outposts exist if he is completely isolated from them? Is every outpost isolated in such a way as to be just outside the range of communication with them? Because otherwise it seems like he could just ask someone to scan their sectors for the ship. What is the effective range of Book's handheld subspace communicator compared to Last Federation Guy's? How does a portable transporter even possibly function? If teleporting into a body of water thwarts tracking, why not do that the first time, every time? How is someone not combined with the water when they materialize? If all time travel technology was destroyed and "outlawed," by whom was it outlawed? Because in another line of dialogue, the "Endangered Species Act" is unable to be enforced, owing to the destruction of the Federation. And, Sweet Jeebus, "The Burn" is going to end up being yet another Galaxy Threatening Menace With a Mysterious And Ironic Origin, isn't it? Oh, and just in case you thought that there was no way this show could crap on continuity, notice that Burnham speaks about the Gorn as if they are someone she knows about. But first contact in TOS "Arena" hasn't happened from her perspective yet. That's a shot and a miss on an easy reference layup, Kurtzman and company.

Kevin: Again, I think you are coming down a bit hard, deciding every gap must be resolved in a way that makes the story bad. I'm not saying the writers won't do that for you real quick all on their own, but get out their way and let them. The macro story is the remnants of the Federation are out of range for at least real time communication. Had they turned the intensity down a little, they could have built that picture of a shattered Federation from the story they showed rather than breathy exposition dumps, but the basic outlines so far are, if not 'fine', certainly not as overtly annoying as they might be.

Matthew: The tone of this show is cuckoo-bananas. I was 9 minutes in and felt totally exhausted. Burnham was crying and willing herself to walk and the music was swelling and I just wanted it to stop. My mind immediately went to TNG "Final Mission," which had a very similar crash/stranding setup. Were they carrying on? No. They were being level-headed Starfleet officers. The amount of unearned Sturm und Drang in 9 minutes of this show could power an entire season of TNG. But lest you become fatigued by all of the emotions and sadness and drama on screen, thank goodness every single scene ends in a fistfight or a phaser battle. I think perhaps a full 50% of the run time here was dedicated to people either hitting each other, vaporizing each other, or being eaten by space monsters. As a result, this episode was exhausting, uninteresting, and unfun. I keep thinking back to TWOK, the movie everyone thinks is so great and "action packed." It wasn't. It was tension-packed, and characterization-packed, with extremely brief scenes of action, which were made effective by the character traits established on screen and the tension that was built between them and their well-thought-out situations.

Kevin: My take was more "This is adequate Star Wars, but subpar Star Trek." I mean...they went to the closest they could get to Mos Eisley without getting a testy letter from Disney. I agree that they want all the dials turned all the way up all the time. The show definitely tells you when to feel big things rather than let that happen organically as part of the story. I'm not as mad as Matt is at the episode, but that's probably because I've just learned to not invest at all. The show, as ever, remains glossy and well acted, but ultimately forgettable.


Please find comments from prior seasons about Sonequa Martin-Green being very good at crying and breathily whispering things. Please also fund the follow up comments wishing that the script gave her literally anything else to do. Okay, let's be fair - her "high on drugs" acting was amusing and good.

Kevin: Her high acting was spot on, though it should be a flag to the writers that the drug induced recap of season two was at least as coherent as actual season two.

Matthew: There are two other major performances here, Book by David Ajala and Adil Hussain as Aditya Sahil (Last Outpost Guy). They do good work in grounding their characters as real-ish people with actual emotions. This is especially true in the case of Book - the character swings so drastically from beginning to end of the episode, and while he can't really bridge the gap presented by the script, he is convincing as both characters. And I'm sure he will earn Beefcake-cred for his shirtless scenes.

Kevin: I hope the writers land their characters with some consistency, since both actors are clearly up for it. Something I've been thinking about a lot is that most Trek actors, regular and guest, have pretty solid theater backgrounds and in many ways, many episodes resemble one or two act plays. I miss that element of Star Trek. These are not stage scenes being spun into their ability to give life to sci-fi ideas. These are glossy CGI-fests and not much more. I think all these actors are capable of conveying deep emotion without the trappings, and it would be nice to let them.

Production Values

Matthew: Okay, first, designs. Everything is beautiful and glossy and perfect looking. In fact, a bit too perfect looking given the premise of the show. How could a world in which antimatter power is scarce feature ubiquitous technology like the "everything room" and the "morphy console?" Also, some of the designs especially in Sahil's quarters were "futristic for the sake of being futuristic: In the future, chairs will be floating and backless because... it's the fuuuu-tuuuure! It reminds me of the triangular pillows of DS9, or the silvery tube pillows of TNG. Human bodies won't change on a 1,000 year time scale. Neither should the things that support them. We get yet another pointless alien redesign in the Andorians.

Kevin: I was fine with the Andorians, it was the Orion that bothered me. They made the green more 'natural' like something an actual person might have and that made it worse, somehow. The hyper saturated green of TOS reads as costume-y and campy, sure, but also as unambiguously alien. This green just made me wonder if the red pixels in my television had died. I agree the tech of...nanites I guess...making everything seems beyond a civilization on the verge of collapse, but I wouldn't have minded even a thin explanation, like his is the ONLY room left that does it. If you want to lean into the idea of the Federation as a fallen ancient civilization with a handful of hermit wizards hanging out and doing stuff, honestly, I would watch that. Star Trek meets Lord of the Rings would probably make me happier than Star Trek meets Game of Thrones.

Matthew: The cinematography of this episode was schizophrenic. There were many beautiful shots of alien vistas and cityscapes (vistas so vast as to make me question how the episode could have transpired in the time allotted, but whatever). But this is ruthlessly intercut with shakycam "dramatic" camera work. People: it does not make a fight scene or a character struggle more exciting to shake the camera like a bonobo chimp with a motor neuron disorder. I actually had to stop watching at times.

Kevin: I don't disagree, and it's certainly not my favorite, but it's not like it's especially bad compared to any other action/fantasy/sci fi out there. The shaky cam might be a microcosm of my disconnect generally. I can't deny they are doing certain things very well; it's just that not many of them are things I associate with Star Trek.


Matthew: Kevin and I both independently noted that the season recap and Burnham's in-episode exposition dump were better "episodes" because they essentially take every non-fight scene in the prior season and condense it into an almost story-like chunk. This episode is more like a free association Rorschach test, a face blender of shaky cam and pew pew explosions. But it also contains incessant, gratuitous attempt to manipulate the audience with feelings. This show is the perfect distillation of the CBS corporate ethos. They want what the other guy has, yesterday, and don't want to do the work to make it reasonable. Make us into HBO and Hulu, and give us GoT/Westworld/The Handmaid's Tale.... Yesterday!

Why are these people so bad at writing? Why can't they create scenes? Why does everything devolve into an action sequence? Why don't scripts get two or three passes to iron out logic issues? Why is there so much murder?

Ultimately, this is exactly the same show tonally and in terms of execution that the first two seasons of Discovery was. A bunch of actiony drivel that erroneously thinks it has earned the right to tug at your heartstrings and appeal to your love for the franchise as it was while giving you none of the essential flavor of that latter-day franchise? It is clear there is still going to be a Big Dumb Threat and it is still going to be resolved in a way that makes no sense with a lot of feelings from threadbare characters that are unsupported by the script. I'm going with a 2 because of acting and because they have at least located the time line outside of existing continuity.

Kevin: I'm less angry than Matt, but that's because I'm more resigned not because I'm more optimistic. This season of Discovery will proceed apace without input from us, and expecting some other result will only lead to suffering. I might as well be mad at thunderstorms. The show remains glossy and well acted for what it's worth. Honestly, every individual element pretty much flawlessly produces what is asked of it. The question remains, why ask for these things? But here we are.

Don't get me wrong. I agree with the 2, it's just a more meditative 2. The show simply has different priorities in terms of what it thinks makes good storytelling. Based on this premiere, while not as frustrating as some of its predecessors, that appears to not have changed. So, yeah. That's a total of 4.

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