Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Discovery, Season 1: Despite Yourself, Season 1
"Despite Yourself"
Airdate: January 7, 2018
10 of 15 produced
10 of 15 aired

Discovery finds itself stranded in the Mirror Universe, and the crew must improvise to survive. Tyler, however, is coming apart at the seams, mentally.

Hello, Doctor. Let's have a really interesting conversation, because surely it won't be time wasted in the overall plot line of our lives.


The Mirror Universe angle was handled surprisingly well. I liked how they got their information about the universe, and I liked the way the Discovery crew adapted to survive in the universe. It was all handled intelligently, and not for cheap laughs, like practically all of the DS9 episodes were. There were some laughs, but they were organic, and well modulated. They mentioned the Defiant, which is a nice nod to the Enterprise mirror shows, although it just served to reiterate how stupid it seems to have this ship coexist with Constitution Class vessels. I especially liked the contrast between the main characters and the mirror humans, how much they disliked and were repulsed by their behavioral norms. With that said, what this episode did not do is address the fundamental flaw with Trek's Mirror Universe - the very idea of such a species, lacking the outward emotional affect and cooperative nature of our universe's human beings, ever achieving technology and culture at this level. The episode also completely avoided addressing the question of whether Lorca intentionally sent the Discovery there, and why, but what was here was entertaining to the degree that I'm willing to be patient.

Kevin: I have some residual concerns about going to the Defiant well again, and I agree that I wonder if we get to see it, what will it look like in this universe. That said, this is probably the best MU episode, maybe ever. I think it really works because the episode is focusing on the psychic cost of pretending to be a violent asshole for prolonged periods. The Federation crew is horrified at what their counterparts are like, and it helps cement what this Federation is like. On a personal level, Burnham has to kill someone who looks like her friend and she already feels responsible for his death. It's really a clever way to twist a knife, if you'll excuse the pun, since you have to figure Burnham under normal circumstances could easily incapacitate him. But that would give her away, so she has to kill him. On the large and small scale, this universe presents real stakes to our characters, and so I care about it in a way I normally don't. On a lighter side, all the Captain Killy stuff works well as comic relief that doesn't break anything. When Saru declares that nickname 'not clever' I literally laughed out loud.

Matthew: The Tyler story. Sigh. There was a lot of dum-dum fever in this aspect of the tale. 

Tyler has very publicly lost his shit in front of two officers, one an admiral. Did no one report this? Then, he very publicly loses his shit and shows unsteadiness in front of Lorca. Why was he in the worker bee pod at all? Why is there no guard in the brig, for the prisoner who represents the Federation's mortal enemy? Why doesn't opening her force field set off an alarm somewhere, maybe in the break room where the guard is? Doesn't removing a phaser from the weapons locker cause a problem? Why doesn't Culber immediately shut Tyler down when he comes in raving, sweating, and paranoid? Why isn't there anyone else in sickbay when Tyler breaks Culber's neck, and no one discovers this murder for minutes while Tyler joins the away team? Sigh. Aaaanyway... the Manchurian Candidate style scenes (now called out by name, because apparently the medical community watches 300-year-old movies) were pretty effective. I liked Tyler's interaction with L'Rell, and her surprise when the conditioning doesn't kick in. Do I understand any of this "surgery/submerged/cover layer shit they are talking about? Hell, no. But it's reasonably well done. At the end of the day, tough, I do not yet trust the writers and show runners to not waste my time by making me care about Tyler. I fully expect them to just drop him when Voq re-emerges. I hope I'm wrong. But this writing team has unceremoniously dropped a lot of seemingly important, time-consuming story lines already.

Kevin: I could just about let a lot of the Tyler stuff go. At its core, only Lorca and Burnham really know what is going on and both have plausible in story reasons to either allow or ignore what is clearly happening with Tyler. That scene in the mess hall really works on that basis. It's clear she does know what is going on to some extent but does not want to act in a way that will hurt him. And that's internally credible. That good will does not extend to the brig scene. There are so many obvious questions that it stretches credulity too far. And as for Culber...Ugh. I got so mad that I almost stopped watching the episode. I found out shortly after about the interviews from the actor and the staff saying that the character is not done, and honestly, that made it worse. They want both the shock value of the death without being tagged for the troubling implications of repeating the sad and annoying TV trope of killing a minority or female character to drive the story. Even if they do eventually manage to find something interesting in getting Culber back, I fear it will only blunt the idea of death in the show, and be some kind of metaphysical rounding up with a copy. Even more frustrating is that I can think of half a dozen different ways to get Tyler on the Shenzhou with the stakes raised to a similar height without killing Culber.

Matthew: Speaking of breaking necks, let's talk Culber and Stamets. Part of the reason that Culber's apparent death is so irritating is that he was finally given a really interesting scene, when confronted by Lorca over his conflict of interest in treating his relationship partner. This was one of many interpersonal scenes, by the way, that made this crew feel more real, like the scenes with Burnham coaching Tilly. Anyway, I liked the sort of prophetic statements Stamets would shout out. I was a bit mystified by his shaking out of his (blind?) fugue when kissed. If that treatment works, you should get hot and heavy! All in all, it was extremely off-putting when Culber was killed, if only because it seemed arbitrary and pointless. Perhaps it will not be as the story line unfolds. But as of right now, all it does is make me like Tyler less and make me trust the writers far, far less than I already did.

Kevin: I say this in the podcast, and it bears repeating here. The scene we got of them brushing their teeth in their cute space jammies is the story I want. I want the gay version of the O'Briens. I want to watch them balance demanding careers and their relationship. I want to watch them do that in the fantastic situations that the Trek world presents. Even if they eventually solve this problem that they created for no apparent reason, that's still not going to be as interesting for me as watching these people just get to live their lives.


Matthew: Shazad Latif was excellent yet again, perhaps even more so than last episode. Whatever I thought about the writing, his acting really put me there for all of his scenes. It would be a real shame if they force him to go all mush-mouth H.R. Giger again. His chemistry with L'Rell was good, too, and she is a million (billion?) times better now that she gets to speak English.

Kevin: He really nails a physical aspect of his vulnerability. He can really lean into ugly crying. It's a credit to that actor that he apparently holds nothing back in those scenes. Whatever the plot issues around his PTSD, he is portraying it with a quality I can only describe at Meryl Streep levels. And for L'Rell, I have to give credit where its due. When she used the passphrase and it didn't work, I could actually register the shock on her face, no small feat under that make up.

Matthew: The other big standout for me was Sonequa Martin-Green. She kicked serious ass in her fight scene, but also did great stuff with her tender handling of Tyler, and her mentoring of Tilly. She can really do it all.

Kevin: The quiet storm under her face when she walked on the bridge of the ISS Shenzhou and ordered Conner's body removed were fantastic. She can really nail that very Vulcan-like quality of hiding emotions in a way that makes the audience more aware of them not less.

Production Values

Set and costume designs really stood out, here. I'm surprised, but I really liked the Mirror costumes (though Tilly's hair was positively ridiculous). I liked the redress of the Shenzhou bridge, the agonizer room redress of the brig, and the graphics we were shown depicting spacetime and so on.

Kevin: The little touches like repaiting ISS on the Discovery were great. The badges and armor pieces were also great. I also want to give praise for giving two female characters evil counterparts and costumes that still involved pants. Honestly, I may like these uniforms more than the primary ones.

Matthew: Frakes gets a plus and a minus from me. The turbolift fight scene was a bravura sequence, showing us an intense fight in close quarters that could still be followed. But I have to deduct a point from Frakes for his excessive use of twirling surround shots of conversations. We get it, Jonathan. You have a Steadicam. You've watched movies. NOW STOP making us nauseous.

Kevin: I was less bothered by the steadicam. I agree the turbolift sequence was perfect. It used technology to serve the story rather than replace it. The drift in and out of focus to show the play of centripetal force was great, and the whole fight sequence had an artistic flow that I often find lacking from frenetic fight scenes.


This is a tough one to rate. If I believed that Culber was really dead, I would take off a whole point. But they timed an interview to release on the airdate, and the interview basically unequivocally says he's not dead. So why do it? It was gratuitous and, until we see more, pointless. But the mirror stuff was surprisingly good, and the episode as a whole was entertaining. Good performances and great visual design really elevate things, too. So I think I have to go with a 4. It's probably as good as the Harry Mudd time-twister episode, despite its obvious and myriad flaws.

Kevin: I want to give this a 4, and even if Culber isn't really dead, this is getting knocked a point for even faking his death in such a pointless, gruesome manner. The fact that it appears to be a set up for something is only more annoying to me. Even if they manage some queer take on Orpheus and Euridice, it's time not spent portraying these characters as a real couple in the Trek universe, which would actually be the bold storytelling choice. That said, the Mirror Universe stuff works like gangbusters, in a way that I would have bet it couldn't. So assessing penalties and fines, this episode gets a 3 from me, for a total of 7.


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