Monday, November 9, 2020

Discovery, Season 3: People of Earth

Discovery, Season 3
"People of Earth"
Airdate: October 29, 2020
32 of 32 aired
32 of 32 produced


Burnham is reunited with the Discovery crew after a year's separation (off screen). Many emotions occur. A new character is introduced.

Oh look! The Tree! And... a bunch of people I don't know.



Matthew: So, Burnham has been reunited with the Discovery crew after a year apart. Is it kind of cheap that they skipped said year and expect us to accept that Many Emotional Things have occurred off camera? Yeah. Is it surprising? No.  As well acted as the interactions might be, I felt cheated by the expectation that I should care about Burnham and Book and all the things they've done together that we will never know about. A larger issue is the theme that is apparently being developed: in her year away from Discovery, Burnham has "reveled in her new freedom" not to be such a straight-laced Starfleet officer. Ummm.... when was she ever that in the first place? The show began with her engaging in mutiny against her captain and going to jail for it. The character journey, like practically every journey in this series, is a lazy cheat instead of a carefully developed story. The same goes doubly for the rando crewmembers we hardly know visiting The Tree. Music doesn't create emotion, people. It enhances already existing emotion created by carefully introducing us to and helping us to identify with characters.

Kevin: I agree that since it's only been a summer not a year that the reunion did not have the punch the music cues think it did. That said, I don't mind the jump. I think if we saw more of the year, more of what comes now would just feel redundant since we would just re recapitulating what we already saw. I think there's something more interesting about keeping the viewer's knowledge level that of the Discovery crew and letting them and us get to know new Burnham. That fact that it's too close to old Burnham is a writing problem, in terms of experience of watching, I'm enjoying it well enough. And hey, at least that acknowledge she is breaking the chain of command and stuff. If the only real change from seasons 1 and 2 is to actually acknowledge and derive character interaction from honestly describing Burnham's character, then I think it's a good move.

Matthew: As far as the plot nuts and bolts go, this was pretty OK. While I think it robs the moment of import when they can just Mushroom Drive their way to Earth instantly, the basic shape of the story was fine-ish. There's a mysterious message coming form the planet, promising the continued existence of the Federation. OK. Then when they get there, Earth doesn't want them, and is xenophobic and hostile owing to the continued depredations of space pirates. OK. The plot lost me a bit when it turned out that the pirates were Earth colonists from Titan. Firstly, could they really now have known this? Just because they're short on dilithium doesn't mean they've also lost sensors, the ability to probe and explore their own solar system, and diplomacy. Secondly, these pirates don't seem to be all that expansive as far as a fleet goes. How much could they really take from an entire planet? Would anyone ever notice? So it all just seemed like a reverse engineered conflict to get us to the "Trek Like" moment - realizing that the enemy is in fact not evil. Great. If it sounds like I'm lukewarm on it, it's because I am. But it's a hell of a lot better than the last two episodes - kind of boring and predictable, as opposed to being gratuitously violent and frenetically incoherent. People actually had conversations in this one. The xenophobe Earthlings got way too nice way too quickly for my credulity, but it was a basically Star Trek move.

Kevin: I think this one landed much closer to canonical Trek. TNG and TOS in particular had some real ass pulls to shape the planet of the week to fit the allegory. I consider this about 2/3 as contrived as "Parallel Earth Development" so I can let it go. The fact remains, the key ingredients are here. The characters' position all make sense and they proceed from that to make cognizable decisions. Ndoye is agressive, but not without cause, and she's certainly not trigger happy or nuts. Everyone talked about their problems and came to a non-violent solution. And in doing so actually served the meta-story of "We are the Federation. This is how WE do things." If this were season one and not three, I think I'd actually be pretty happy. The beats and cinematography are definitely of the 21st century, but the story is classic Trek. I'm basically trying to view this story without preemptively penalizing it for when the arc goes off the cliff or for the previous arcs that went off their cliffs. Judging this story for itself, it verges on a paint by numbers Star Trek story, but is not unenjoyable for it.

Matthew: Our third big thread here is that the "Admiral" turns out to be the deceased prior host of a Trill symbiont, who is now in the  body of a young Earth Defense Force officer. Who is also a super-genius teen engineering savant (yawn). And who, though this had no bearing on the story and wasn't even mentioned in dialogue, is apparently gender nonbinary. I don't know what to think overall about this character yet. They are being given more development than most secondary characters on this show, so that's cool. Therefore I will reserve judgment until they violently crap the bed in a future episode. I guess another minor point was Saru being "confirmed" as captain, in a Big Moment supplemented by Sweeping Music. It was boring, because he already was de facto captain.

Kevin: So far, other than getting the Discovery version of the Wesley treatment, I'm at least intrigued. I can even buy that medicine has advanced to the point where a non-Trill could successfully host the symbiont long term. I'm obviously thrilled that the show remembered its job is to be at the forefront of advocating for equality and diversity not ten years behind it. Also, much like Tig Nataro's Reno, a sarcastic, but non-violent character, is a good foil to the often too-sincere sincerity of the main crew.


Matthew: Burnham does her basic whisper-talking, crying, and acting "cool" with her new hairdo. Nothing much to report here. I thought Tilly got the best scenes, both with her tearful reunion with Burnham, her dealing with the emotional fallout of leaving everyone she knows in the past, and with her nostalgia over visiting the Big Tree. 

Kevin: Wiseman is great, no doubt about it. I also liked Book and Burnham this time as well. They have an easy chemistry and I don't think she oversells those scenes, actually. I liked Phumzile Sitole as Ndoye. She did a great job of giving her character a point of view and acting from that point of view. It would be easy to have made the character too belligerent, and she lands it more as a good but weary person. The heel turn at the end comes too fast in terms of writing, but Sitole grounded the character enough that it didn't feel outright impossible.

Matthew: Blu del Barrio was fine as Adira. The character has the potential to be boring and annoying, but del Barrio's performance was good enough to forestall that so far. I predict the right wing YouTube reviewer-verse is going to go apeshit about the non-binary character. They can go #$%& themselves: the character will not live or die on their gender status or on the actor's ability, but on the writing. Less successful for me was Anthony Rapp's frankly creepy "mentoring" approach to the Adira character. I don't know if it's a function of the actor's range or the way the character has been written for 2 seasons, but it did not work for me.

Kevin: One question I have is I know the actor is non-binary, but I'm not 100% sure the character is. Other characters use female pronouns. I'm curious if that is intentional to set up a patented Star Trek teachable moment, but you really hope respecting peoples identities wouldn't need a Very Special Episode in the 31st century. But back to del Barrio. They are good. The symbiont reveal could have gotten hammy real quick, but it worked well. I hope the writers tone down the Wesley of it all, but at a minimum I want to know more about this character. And one additional shout out, the "you live on a museum"/"yeah museums are cool" exchange with Tilly was great on both sides. I genuinely laughed.

Production Values

This is in part a problem with writing and ambition, but they MASSIVELY punted on not showing us Earth. I suppose it spares us yet another Futuropolis Digital Matte, but I would like to see how people live. Has population declined? How do all the disparate aliens who shared the world during the heyday of the Federation get along?

Kevin: I am kind of assuming that it's going to be better explored next week. We got the pan of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, but I agree, I wanted something more specific. 

Matthew: Nothing really stuck out to me from a design standpoint. Everything everywhere on this show is very samey-looking to me. All the tech, all the planets, all the ships, all the clothes. It's like they got it all from the same "high priced sci-fi IP" resale shop. The direction by Frakes was admirably straightforward from a visual standpoint. We could actually see sets and people because the camera wasn't being violently shaken at every possible moment.

Kevin: There's an AV Club article somewhere talking about how all movies are now shades of blue and orange because digital coloring has kind of leaned into this very simple palette that is easily recognizable, and it is on display here. Everything on Discovery is a shade of blue, only differentiated by how luminous it is.


Matthew: Overall, this episode was not half bad, and it was much less violent/stupid than the first two. But it was kind of a "nothing happened" setup episode. It introduces threads, doesn't really give us a satisfying self contained story, and then it ends. It's not a show I like yet. But hey, when Discovery Season 3 is not actively trying to disgust me, it's surprisingly tolerable compared to the prior seasons. I give this a 3.

 Kevin: The acting is good, and the story is there. I think I can make a case they even managed to serve the arc while still making this episode about only this episode, a complaint we have raised before. Actually, I think that's been pretty solid this season overall. We get an episode about Burnham, we get an episode about Discovery, and we got an episode about Earth. And each episode was largely just about that. They keep trying to tell me when I should be crying, but overall, they have built the arc with more care than before, and I am certainly happy about that. This is a good episode, and I am little more enthusiastic in my three for a total of 6.

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