Monday, October 23, 2017

Discovery, Season 1: Lethe, Season 1
Airdate: October 22, 2017
6 of 15 produced
6 of 15 aired


Sarek is injured in a terrorist attack and Burnham may be his only hope. Meanwhile, Admiral Cornwall arrives on Discovery and is questioning Lorca's recent decisions and fitness to command.

Pew, pew, Lazer Tag!


Kevin: I've been reading a lot of other commentary on Discovery, particularly the A.V. Club and io9's review, and they are spot on. I'm not used to popular media agreeing with our take on Star Trek, but here we are. The money quote from the io9 article is
I don’t hate this show. It’s not bad, it’s just that the good parts have nothing to do with it being a prequel while all the frustrating parts do.
That in a nutshell, is Discovery. All the character work in this episode is pretty good. Even with the prequel nonsense to wade through, Burnham comes out the other side of the experience with a better understanding of herself, so there is at least some movement for her character. I liked watching Cornwell and Lorca be simultaneous affectionate with each other while trying to get a read on each other's real motives. That is fun, complicated storytelling and I really liked watching it. Trying to fit this into ten years before the Original Series is just becoming this tedious burden. If the show were not making me try to fit it in, I would be enjoying it more. If I were a bigger nerd, I would go back and list all the criticisms I've made, and I bet 99% related to just the problems created by it being a prequel.

Matthew: Did we need more prequel stories? It's debatable, but I think the answer is "no." We’ve now had two excursions into prequel TOS, neither of which really justified its existence. Why a third, for any other reason than corporate driven laziness? If could have been any future era with no changes to storyline. So why do it? They chose to place this story here. They created problems they didn’t need to. Those problems detract from an otherwise enjoyable group of actors and a nice looking visual tableau.

Kevin: Digging in on the character work itself, I liked Cornwell's scene with Lorca almost entirely. I like the tidbit that she's a therapist, which like Janeway being a scientist, implies there are many paths to command beyond being the bruiser in the room, and that is fun. My real objection is that she slept with him. I agree with Matt that the implication from the jump was that they did have a romantic relationship at some point, but she really should have made the speech she made after the needlessly upsetting choking scene right after Lorca made the pass. I wanted her to see through the shameless manipulation sooner. Beyond that, I liked the implication that both were engaged in a mix of affection and strategy. That's a a very complicated, but believable way that humans interact and it was fun to watch. I liked Lorca's begging. You can ask yourself if it's real or shameless manipulating, but I think the answer is both and that, even to the extent he's becoming the villain, keeps Lorca an interesting and layered one.

Matthew: We needed to get a explanation for why Lorca is so tightly wound. I think this scene did a fine job of at least suggesting it. PTSD is a fine hurdle for a character to live with and/or overcome. Cornwell comes across as a shrewd, competent person, with a rich professional life - which is why boning the guy she thinks is mentally unfit for command strikes me as bizarre in the extreme. I enjoyed the beat after Cornwell's capture, when the viewer is unsure whether Lorca is staying out of it to keep his command or to follow rules - or a bit of both.

Kevin: I am on record for not liking any time they add an ability to the mind meld. I appreciate that they at least tried to tie it in to what we have seen katras do before, clearly referencing the stuff in Wrath of Khan and Search for Spock. That said, it's just more ornaments on the sad Charlie Brown prequel tree and the thing is starting to tip over. Sarek mind melded with Michael, but never with his own son? I get the attempt to color his distaste over Spock entering Starfleet, and it's an interesting notion, but in the end, it amount to character assassination of a TOS era icon and still leaves us wondering who in the writers room felt that Sarek's arc was missing something. He actually has one of the most complete arcs in the series, without even trying. We meet him at the height of his power, but also dickishness. We see both he and Spock come to something of an understanding through the movies, and finally learned that old habits die hard, and they remain distant up to Sarek's death. That's a whole life right there, and especially with the nuanced additions of Sarek's appearances in TNG, we get an actual, credible undercurrent for the complicated relationship with his son. Even if it's done well, done perfectly, rather than be entertained, the first thing I'm always going to think is "Why??"

Matthew: Did we need more Sarek stories? No. His character arc was complete and satisfying. And so seeing it at this time and with this character can only sully what’s been done. This verges on character assassination. Apparently, Sarek has another child, one he and his biological children never, ever mention, but one he shows considerable compassion to, while withholding the same care to his other children. So he’s just a giant douchebag, now. It could have been any other Vulcan and the story would be identical for Burnham. In a vacuum, using any other Vulcan, we'd be gushing about how interesting Burnham's setup is as a character. Instead, because of a ham-handed and lazy choice by the creative staff of the show, we're consistently drawn out of the story by irritating conflicts with prior Trek. No one who is not a fan of previous Trek needed it to be Sarek. Everyone who is a fan of previous Trek can see the obvious problems. So why do it?

Kevin: The Klingons were at least only briefly used here. Thank God. If the Klingons, due to make up and language and a host of other decisions are going to be mere plot devices rather than a fleshed out people, I'd prefer the devices be used quickly.

Matthew: Ash Tyler was well written and well acted, which really makes me sad because they dropped at least two discrete hints that he is really a Klingon. I hope they can explain Tyler's complete command of idiom and culture by some sci-fi device, like they melded Voq with the actual captured Tyler, or scooped out his brain, or something. On the issue of Vulcans, I don't mind the idea of some sort of Vulcan cultural purist faction being down on mixing with humans. Hell, I'm down on mixing with humans after the past year or so of American history. But I wish they'd give it a fuller development than "logic extremists," end scene. This is really a problem with the heavily serialized nature of the show. When you only have a minute of scene to talk about Life Form X and Intrinsic Value Y, or political faction P and motivation Q, you spend so much time summarizing prior story beats that the overall content delivered in the discussion is reduced. And so I fear that we will never really know more about this group's motivations, because every time they come up again, 30 seconds will be spent reminding lazy viewers who they are, the then at second 45, the scene will be over.


Kevin: I continue to like the main cast overall. Burnham is great. I wish we got to see more of the events from her perspective or focusing on her reactions. I think Martin-Green definitely has the ability to inspire emotional responses without displaying them, but the episode needs to slow down at places and let her do that. I liked Tilly this time. They've really managed to trim the excess from her quirkiness to make her more believable and likable. And their Bechdel passing bookends to the episode were actually really sweet.

Matthew: Yeah, Mary Wiseman has come into her own.The writers are giving her good scenes now (with the exception of last week's "fucking cool" debacle), and she now feels like a character with real emotions, motivations, hopes, and fears. Jason Isaacs, who I just realized played Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies, can really bring layers to his performance. His scenes with Cornwell were truly interesting to watch, and no easy conclusions could be drawn from them by the end. I also liked his chemistry with Latif's Ash Tyler.

Kevin: I just don't like Sarek here. It's partly the writing, but I don't get the "still waters run deep" aura that I got from Mark Lenard, and since it's a prequel not a reboot, it's supposed to be literally the same person. Rainn Wilson actually found a way to create the through line from Carmel's bon vivant to his performance that made them feel related. James Frain's performance just doesn't have that for me.

Matthew: I do think he has "affectless dickwad" down pretty well. But the undercurrent isn't as present as it was in Nimoy or Lenard (or Tim Russ, for that matter). I've got to say Mia Kirshner really didn't do anything for me as Amanda. At best she is a poor man's Winona Ryder, and Winona Ryder didn't do that good a job. Neither of them have the regal, aristocratic handsomeness that Jane Wyatt brought to the role, which sold the notion that a famous, politically powerful Vulcan would have the hots for her.

Kevin: I am increasingly convinced the theory rotating around Ash Tyler secretly being Voq is correct and that is extra depressing because I really enjoyed his performance here and I like how he bonded with Burnham. Latif is good. He's warm and engaging and I want his presence to not be a 'gotcha.' I have really grown to like Jayne Brook's performance as Admiral Cornwell. She has that right balance of acting like she's right with actually being right. I really hope she gets rescued unharmed very soon and that I get to watch her put Lorca in some kind of spore-displacement head lock.

Matthew: If they kill her off, Discovery will earn a singular place, even above TNG, for killing off female characters played by ultra-competent actors.

Production Values

Kevin: The nebula was a little chaotic for my taste, and ended up looking very close to the warp effect and it's all very busy. I can't say that it's badly done, it just doesn't do it for me. I remain a sucker for the Mutara nebula style effects since they were based off a real effect altered for the screen, it just has more heft. The scenes on Vulcan were good. It looked a little like Aeon Flux, but overall, it achieved an austere geometrical style that was in keeping with Vulcans.

Matthew: Like, I get that they have a big effects budget. But the lens flare and the overly busy look is off-putting to me. I vastly preferred the graduation area, which seemed to much better fit the austere desert aesthetic that seems to integral to the Vulcan ethos. Speaking of effects, the shuttle was fine - it had a bit more of a cavernous feel, similar to the TOS shuttle. The nebula was just kind of busy and annoying, but I understand that they had to indicate bad radiation for plot reasons.

Kevin: Let me say that I was absolutely living for the Burnham's Vulcan look. The asymmetrical bob, the nifty Kohlinar jewelry and the pink and white robe were all fabulous. And I know I ragged on them a bit in the podcast, but the DISCO shirts have grown on me and I now find them charming and will get one when they inevitably sell them.

Matthew: The mess room got a lot more screen time today, and I really dig the look. It calls back to TOS in a really cool way, while still looking nice and being a good physical shape to show many crew members at once. The food slot computer dialogue was pretty atrocious, though. Why is it aggressively selling the benefits of the food the crew has already ordered?

Kevin: One last note, establishing shots of Sarek's ship leaving and meeting on Cancri IV both looked very...Star Wars...for lack of a better term. It was isolated platforms above a clearly CGI landscape, and it just looked like any number of similar shots from the prequels and sequels. I like a little more work to make them look like actual places rather than just alien places.

Matthew: I thought the Cancri aliens looked cool, anyway. And just where are these holoprojectors that everyone is carrying around to communicate?


Kevin: I wanted to give this a 4 so badly. The action hinges on character interactions and growth and there was a minimum of explosions, all of which are good. The Sarek stuff just holds it back. The retconning of his character is just starting to collapse under its own weight, and the questions about why the show is choosing to tell this story are just getting louder for me. Still, this is a very good episode everywhere else and I want them to do more of it, but for now this is a 3.

Matthew: Half of this episode is a 4 (Lorca's PTSD and being called out by Cornwell. Burnham's emotional growth). Half of it is a 2 (Cornwell banging Lorca for some reason. Sarek having his character assinated via retcon). Discovery giveth, Discovery taketh away. In many ways, this is the best episode so far. The character development is better than we've received previously, and the plot was more focused. But I kept being pulled out of it by irritating creative decisions. So I agree with the 3 for a total of 6.



  1. Yeah, smacked of laziness that the writers didn't come up with a fictional Vulcan group name.

    "We have confirmed that Sarek was the target of assassination attempt by the T'Frege. They are an illicit group of...logic extremists, for lack of a better term, that seek purification of Vulcan culture... "

    That wouldn't have added that much more onto the scene, right?