Friday, November 27, 2020

Discovery, Season 3: Scavengers

Discovery, Season 3
"Scavengers"
Airdate: November 19, 2020
35 of 35 produced
35 of 35 aired

Introduction

Burnham faces a dilemma when she learns that Book is being held on an Orion slave world.

Hey, are you going to eat that? No, I meant YOUR FACE.


Writing

Kevin: I'm starting to feel like a broken record here. Most of the basic outlines are solidly Trek, but nothing get the time to bake that it needs. Any one of the plots is actually pretty fine Star Trek fare. Plots about exploited people being helped by Starfleet or officers deciding between duty and their personal moral obligations are bread and butter on the other series, so what's the problem here? I think it's two-fold, and the A plot shows the first one. In an episode of TNG, DS9, or VOY, the plot of the Andorian who rebelled against the warlord (slaver? What exactly was she? anyway...) would be at least 75% of the episode. It would likely be something of a two-hander with the man cast member who meets them and then spends the episode with them. It gives us time to form a relationship and then care about what happens to them. Instead, the backstory is spit on in a sentence, and the rest is running through explosions. The show wants me to care, and I get, on paper why I should care, but without the detail work, it just doesn't land.

Matthew: There was a bit of a delay in Kevin getting this review up, and then I struggled to respond. I told Kevin why, too - I has forgotten most of my feelings and the plot information, and I didn't want to watch it again. That pretty much says it all for me and this show. The Andorian is a good example of why. I think they wanted me to care about him, to see his journey as one that included trauma and eventual triumph and rebellion. Like you say, Kevin, a Star Trek episode from the past would have spent 20-30 minutes of screen time developing him and his history. Because of how overstuffed and frenetic this show is, our Andorian gets more like 3 minutes of screen time. Ultimately this means that I do not feel anything when his Big Moment With Sweeping Music happens, and it also means that I forget it within a day or two.

Kevin:
The other problem is exemplified by the Burnham plot. I think Matt comes down a little hard on Burnham as a character, but the problem remains that Burnham has pretty consistently disobeyed orders. The problem is not that that isn't classic Trek; it is. The critical difference is that it's exception and not the rule. Even Dax, who kind of made it her thing, only really disobeyed orders so bluntly a few times, certainly not more than once a season. The enduring problem with the way they break these stories is that they don't understand you need to give some normal, even a majority of normal to make the exceptions ring. I like they at least nod to the idea of consequences for Burnham, but she's still in the senior staff and in a prime position to steal whatever support craft she'll need to do this next week.
 
Matthew: I guess this was the main point of the episode. Will Burnham choose Starfleet or [insert other life that was skipped]? And when she does, what are the consequences? I was at least somewhat interested int he consequences angle, if not in the choice by itself (because the other end of the binary is not available to me except in the vaguest terms). But the consequences were pretty lame. Saru was disappointed in her. She wasn't demoted. She got a title change, from a title she held for all of two episodes. Did she even want to be Number One? Is that even a position people covet? What did she ever do in the role? Like, it would actually sting if Riker were to have his first officer role taken away, because we actually have some notion of what it is, and of his relationship with Picard. These sorts of dilemmas and consequences only work to the extent that the ship and its world are fleshed out. Which is to say, in this case, not very much. This just didn't feel like much. She was crying, but I wasn't feeling it with her. It didn't feel like Wesley being dressed down by Picard, or Tom being demoted by Janeway. They punted. For me, very little has made sense about Burnham since she left the brig in season one.

Kevin: The Stamets/Adira stuff actually came quite close to working really well. Stamets correctly identified a unique thing they had in common and reached out. That's empathetic, and was delivered with enough of his signature acerbity that it doesn't feel like a heel turn. And again, if it were what this episode were about, I think it would have landed pretty well. On the other character development front, the running gag of the new combadges was cute, and I will say it was nice to see the crew enjoying themselves rather than being traumatized, but it's too many people getting too little development. The season has weirdly settled into only giving these characters screen time as a group. They only get developed collectively.

Matthew: I feel like the ship has sailed on caring about these people. They're just background characters, and I don't see them becoming otherwise. I have about as much feeling for them as I do for characters in a beer commercial or a watch advertisement in a magazine. If anything, the introduction of Adira effectively precludes anything more. Either we're going to get the Culber Minute and the Owo Minute and the... (what's her name?)...  Detmer Minute (I had to look it up) and the... Nillson? Minute, or they're going to ignore each character until their Big Moment. Either is ineffective at making me care a whit. Frankly, Stamets and Culber have been relegated to this status for me as well. Stamets doesn't seem warm to me, he just seems weird, because all of the Stamets Minutes in the prior season were him being a fucking douchebag. I suppose in theory I could care about Adira. They're at least thus far approaching a Burnham style development in terms of screen time - not quite Burnham level, but moreso that the other characters, and she got a spotlight last episode. But I don't trust them to stick with it or to not SHOCK TWIST her in an episode or two, so it's hard to commit emotionally to caring.

Kevin: On the Georgiou front, I'll say this. I don't care if or why she has PTSD. Michelle Yeoh is a great actress and watching her be bitchy is fun in a vacuum, but they did such a thorough job of making her a monster that I don't care why she is freaking out because even if she has a valid reason for all of this, I just know they are going to try to retroactively make her something other than a murderer and just...eh.

Matthew: Georgiou is like Intendant Kira for me at this point. Not only do I not care about her character at all, but I want her to go away because she's getting in the way of the story. The Mirror Universe has not been rendered interesting by this series. They almost had something going in the second half of season one when the question was how the main characters would be affected by the harsh universe they were in. But watching this world deal with a violent and snotty psychopath just isn't interesting to me. And trust me, I get it. I get that the point of her being here is to contrast her rougher edges with the tough new world they're in, and to question whether her approach or the Starfleet approach is better suited to this reality. But they're not really giving her any consequential decisions to make (nor should they, for credulity's sake, she should be in the brig), nor have they fleshed out what "Starfleet" and "The Federation" actually mean, except to play sappy music cues occasionally. So it doesn't feel like a truly living dichotomy for me. 

Acting

Kevin: Everyone is fine to good this week. Saru sold his ambivalence and disappointment in Burnham. Book remains pleasantly charismatic. The show really lucked into an actor who can paper over some of the shortcuts in the writing. I actually can't think of a bum note really. Yes, Matt, I hear you. Burnham got breathy and teary again. But you can't blame the actor for delivering what is clearly being asked of her. They want breathy and teary and she gave it to them. And it was really nice to get to see Rapp and Wilson have a quiet, human moment at the end of the day in their Starfleet-issue jammies.

Matthew: I think Doug Jones is the star of this episode. I actually felt his emotions, and his palpable disappointment in Burnham (which I share) actually threatened me with being interested. That's saying a lot, too, given the makeup he's acting through. Anthony Rapp didn't really do it for me. His eyes and his face creep me out, and so when he is being "warm" and "mentoring" to Adira, I just feel like he's going to rip his face off and devour her at any moment. I realize that this is in large part a reaction to his appearance (though it is informed by the character's attributes for the last two seasons), but there you have it. I don't know why Culber is with him. Culber seems to have normal human emotional responses. I mean, clearly he is a gym rat, so I wonder how much time he has for a relationship. But I wouldn't fear being killed in the dead of night in my bed with him.

Production Values

Kevin: My immediate thought after the episode is that Star Trek once again delivered a competent Star Wars episode. Particularly when Book's ship was flying around, it was really giving me Millennium Falcon vibes. Beyond that, the refit of Discovery just didn't make sense. I'm not trying to over-analyze fictional technology, but how can it be more efficient to have 'detached' nacelles? They are attached, just by a force rather than an object, and how can that be better? It's too cute by half. Also, why add the A to the registry number? Again, it just feels like something that felt 'cool' without the thought that would make it also work in the story.

Matthew: I would call it less Star Wars than the first 20 minutes of "The Running Man," right down to the exploding head collars. Circling back to the combadges and their floating touchscreen holograms, I yet again find this FX team's take on future UI design to be... wanting. IS there haptic feedback? How can you see against a bright backdrop? Whatever. The refit, yeah, I don't care. Discovery never felt like anything but a Space Pizza Cutter with a comically oversized shuttle bay anyway, so if it's a pizza cutter with a detached handle now, who cares. But this shows you what thoughtful design choices can do. Enterprise, Defiant, and Voyager felt like real places. Discovery does not.

Conclusion

Kevin: Hmmm. I like this more than last week because it is slightly less crowded, but I must still admit than none of the moments really landed with any impact. so I guess I still have to go with the 2. I'm not mad at this episode, but I just don't feel connected to almost any part of it.

Matthew: Yep. Better than last week, but still a 2, because I don't care about anything happening or anyone that it is happening to. I don't know if that can be fixed now.

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