Sunday, July 17, 2022

Strange New Worlds, Season 1: All Those Who Wander

 Strange New Worlds, Season 1
"All Those Who Wander"
Airdate: June 30, 2022
9 of 10 produced
9 of 10 aired

Introduction

When the Enterprise is called to rescue a ship in distress, they find it has been overrun by La'an's old nemesis, the Gorn.


 This week, on Jurassic Trek... Gore!



Writing

Kevin: This is probably the hardest episode for me to get my arms around. It's tonally the most different. The thing I have enjoyed the most about SNW is that the show is charming and fun and gets as close as modern Trek has to the cheese factor in TOS and TNG that I do miss from time to time. This episode is dark. But I will say I don't think it's pointlessly dark. It's not dark for dark's sake. I think the episode uses the darkness to stress and develop a couple of characters in ways that are at least basically interesting, though varyingly effective. The episode is pretty clearly a conscious pastiche of Alien and Predator, and on that front, it works. So here's where I am. On the one hand, they did an Alien/Predator pastiche is a successful, if not revolutionary way, and it changes the status quo for several characters effectively. On the other, I kind of wish they hadn't done the episode. I'm stuck in this place of basically acknowledging I do not really like the decisions they made, but I have to acknowledge they executed those decisions pretty competently.

Matthew: Look, "Arena" establishes the Gorn as a mysterious alien race from outside of explored space. The don't recognize them. No one has ever seen them. Kirk didn't even learn their name until the Metrons said it. There is no mention in TOS of them using human beings for egg incubation stock and food for newborns (which is, I should add, a really dumb and wasteful idea - couldn't they breed cows or something?). You just can't square this with hundreds, perhaps thousands of victims of this behavior ten years prior. Unless SNW is going to pull another Discovery and declare this information secret and swears everyone to secrecy, there is simply no way to make it fit. Now: messing with continuity happens some times. Seven of Nine was created in Voyager, and that necessitated monkeying with the Borg's mysterious status in Q Who. The question is: is the story we get worth the violation of a previous story? With Seven of Nine, I would say yes. Is this story worth it? Uh, no. I never asked for this level of gore in my Star Trek, nor did I ask for it to intersect with a previously unknown Khan descendant.  Then there is the issue of "Trek Values." In "Arena," the Gorn destroy a base full of women and children, and while Kirk feels anger and desires revenge, he foregoes this in his fight with the Gorn leader, impressing the Metrons with his merciful compassion. Here? It's straight Ridley Scott/James Cameron "Aliens" action. No matter how intelligent these creatures are (infants no less), they are to be exterminated, with not an eyelash batted over the destruction of sentient life.

Kevin: For the horror plot itself, it works pretty well. It's every single Star Trek trope at once. No comms or transporter, ship called away on urgent business, alien we can't translate, adorable orphan. But once the action kicks into gear, it actually moves pretty well for me. They have previously established La'an as knowing enough about the Gorn, and they use the knowledge effectively in a decently paced action horror story. Less effective is Sam Kirk being a jerk and Spock having a breakdown. I feel like they are trying to set something up but I already know I won't like it.

Matthew: I checked out after one too many gruesome deaths (I believe it was the freshly minted Lieutenant being dragged off in a bloody trail). For one thing, I don't want horror tension in my Star Trek. I also don't want explicit body horror in my Trek (it means I can't show it to my kids). But setting those preferences aside, I found this tension annoying in a very horror movie way - people doing moderately inexplicable things that get them killed. The Sam Kirk quasi-bigotry scene was something we've seen in TOS several times. I guess it set up "Berserker Spock," which I definitely didn't need to see. Every time Spock has sex with another character or loses his mind on a bulkhead cheapens the times thse things happen in TOS with Leonard Nimoy. Is that fair? Maybe not. But they made this problem for themselves by mangling Spock's back story so badly.  

Kevin: So....Hemmer. On the one hand, his actions were consistent with the character that was drawn and even after only eight prior episodes, I actually cared and was sad the character is gone. He's easily in my top three for the series so far. So I really don't want him to go. And if the reason they went down this road was to underscore their jobs are actually dangerous in ways that impact the characters. This isn't just redshirts being redshirted. Inside the terms of the story, I think it actually kind of, almost works. Hemmer's point to Uhura is that relationships have value that exceeds the grief you feel at their loss. That's a valuable lesson, and there's something almost ballsy about driving that lesson home for Uhura at the moment she is internalizing it. I think what makes this thread work is the funeral scene. On the strength of the characters reactions, I think the story feels like a story they wanted to tell rather than one done just for cheap shock value. Based on what I have been reading, this was the plan from the beginning. This wasn't the actor wanting to leave, or shaking things up for sweeps week. This was the plan. So I'm back to where I started. Honestly, if this were my plan, I think would have changed course in the middle realizing that the 'Hemmura' show is one I want to watch a billion episodes of forever. I will also say, I was genuinely affected by Ortegas eulogy. It felt of a piece with what else we've seen of Hemmer so it felt earned rather than just 'telling not showing.'

Matthew: First of all, the other two dead characters were classic redshirtings par excellence. The funeral was certainly more earned than the Discovery funerals, but it still felt off to me. Why did everyone talk about Hemmer, and not the other two redshirts? The "Hemmer dying to teach Uhura a lesson" bit was also too cute for me. In the last scene of the episode, she goes to the bridge and seems like "hey, I've decided, I like this." Ummm, why? Parasitic alien lizards just mutilated and killed a bunch of your friends. Is this really the career path you want? Putting a classic character through this level of trauma leaves me incredulous that Uhura ten years from now isn't still in therapy (which was a nice aspect of La'an's character story, BTW).

Kevin: And La'an leaving? What is that? I know this season got delayed by the pandemic, so maybe they were trying to have themselves in a place for a one and done season given that even if the show succeeded, you just can't keep all the talent and crew on hold for so long. That said, I think they just barely managed to make it feel like La'an was internalizing the message that, even having just fought the Gorn again, she has to live for something other than fighting them. Again, it's not a choice I would have made, but I can't say they failed at executing it.

Matthew: Indeed, it is very weird to cut two of your best actors simultaneously. These characters go while dead weight continuity crime Sam Kirk stays?

Kevin: I'm putting this here for lack of somewhere else to put it. I've been chewing on this feeling for a while and this episode really crystalized it for me. I think there is some behind the scenes schizophrenia going on. I can feel in things like having La'an be Khan's descendant the hand of the Kurtzman Trek, but the writers seeming to care more about watching characters we like be characters together, insofar and her being Khan's descendant was literally never touched again in any way. The macro decision was to kill Hemmer to raise stakes. The writer's room gave us a character I really love and am really bummed he's gone. If my these is correct, then boy howdy do I hope the latter camp wins. I think I will have more to say on this after the season finale.

Matthew: So I think my major issue with all of these storytelling beats is that this is the 8th episode of the show. Do I care about these characters more than literally anyone on Discovery? Oh, most certainly. But the simple fact is this: we've gotten perhaps 3 good scenes with Hemmer prior to this episode, total. With La'an it's more on the order of 1 or 2 (and one of them was a fantasy version of her). So, however well executed the scenes were in a vacuum, I was somewhat emotionally disengaged from them simple by dint of lack of familiarity with the characters. This show has benefited from the episodic format, and from not having an insatiable attention-sucking character at its center (yes, I mean Burnham). So I care more about Hemmer dying than.... Airiam? And the funeral wasn't as long, either. But I still don't care even as much as I did about Tasha Yar, and I don't think it's just nostalgia at work. With her character over 23 episodes, I got half a dozen good scenes, many dozens of average scenes, and a few stinkers with her in them. The sense of familiarity I had with her character, and the feelings the other characters had for her, made her death hit way harder, and the crews' reactions much more keenly felt for me.

Acting

Kevin: Bruce Horak is a gem. His grouchy warmth is a gift and they should just retcon this next week to get him back on the show. He and Gooding had such an easy rapport that I could easily watch their 22nd century Giles and Buffy routine forever. 

Matthew: Do I think Hemmer's dialogue was too precious? Sure. Making someone into a Hallmark Greeting Card Wisdom Dispenser doesn't do it for me. But did Horak deliver? Sure. It's only when I think about the writing afterward that I have any issues with it. Gooding.... her Uhura wasn't given the scenes needed to make her change of heart feel real. But she certainly seemed sad when Hemmer died.

Kevin: Christine Chong was really good this week at portraying the tumble of emotions at stepping on your trauma but still having shit to do. Less successful were Peck this week and Dan Jeannotte's Sam Kirk. Neither really landed their anger or panic respectively. Kirk in particular broke the idea that he was a Starfleet office. I'm a little annoyed that they are returning to the emotional Spock well so soon, especially after I think he just started nailing premium unleaded Spock.

Matthew: Christine Chong was the highlight of the episode for me, and I wish she would have been given more scenes to explore her PTSD. The story, however, dictated that two trauma stories had to share the spotlight, so we get what we get. Dan Jeanotte got a really thankless task this episode, portraying bogitry without nuance. I don't wan to go on and on about The Orville, but their current season has a muuuuuuch better take on this story idea with new helm officer Charly Burke and her antipathy towards Isaac. 

Production Values

Kevin: The Gorn teens were definitely in the upper tier of CGI creatures. Other than that, this was a pretty paint by numbers alien horror movie and that was reasonably well done throughout. The heat vision shot of the Gorn coming out of the ceiling was pretty neat, but I'm sure frame for frame stolen from an 80s movie. I liked the bent warp pylon in the closing shot. That was a nice touch. 

Matthew: Saying the ship was "built with the same materials as the Constitution" was a pretty cheap explanation for a bottle show. It's fine. The atmosphere was effective, but it did utilize my least favorite horror-sci-fi trope - strobing lights to indicate damage/danger. The gore was over the top, albeit well executed. I would also like to re-register my opposition to future rifles that constantly have to be cocked with a whining power sound. It's cheap storytelling and dumb to boot. Wouldn't this be a deadly giveaway to one's location?

Conclusion

Kevin: So, where am I? They made a decision I really wish they hadn't, but I don't think they executed in a cheap way. And the acting that mattered was good throughout. I am stuck between a 3 for what they did but a 2 for why they did it. I think I am landing at 2 because they have shaken up the show by removing two effective characters and appear ready to put Spock on a course that will at least temporarily annoy the fuck out of me. I don't feel good about that, but I don't feel good about any of this. If they had to kill Hemmer, like the actor were leaving forever for the Moon or something, then this was a well executed send off. But they didn't, and I'm only slightly less annoyed than I was when they killed K'Eylehr. They made a good Alien homage, but I don't really want to watch Alien when I watch Star Trek. Maybe if Pike makes me some waffles, my mood will improve.

Matthew: Despite my aversion to gory Star Trek, a 1 is off the table. There is good acting here, and reasonably effective storytelling. I care much more about the characters here than I did for gory episodes of STD and STP. If they had foregone the aliens erupting from human bodies, and the various decapitations and other gruesome deaths, I would probably be at a 3, even with my continuity beefs. But I shut my attention off during the chases, and just wanted it to be over. That, coupled with the stupidity of Berserker Spock and two pointless character eliminations, leaves me at the same 2, for a total of 4.

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