Saturday, February 10, 2018

Discovery, Season 1: The War Without, The War Within

http://www.treknobabble.net/p/rating-system.htmlDiscovery, Season 1
"The War Without, The War Within"
Airdate: February 4, 2018
14 of 15 produced
14 of 15 aired
Introduction

The crew slows down to process the last ten SHOCKING TWISTS in their lives. Starfleet hatches a plan to win the war with the Klingons that might test their core values, whatever those are.

Look, fans! Someone doing "Star Trek" things! Remember "Star Trek?"


Matthew: This episode is a mess. It's a slightly more successful mess than last episode, but it still is a convoluted tangle that doesn't make a whole lot of sense when poked. The most successful part is probably the Tyler-Burnham story. Here we spend several extended minutes of the characters dealing with the emotional fallout of the past few episodes of crazy twists and turns. Saru visits Tyler during his "recovery." He sort of hand waves the "you're literally a Klingon and were never human" question and lets him back into the fold. It was powerful emotionally if not intellectually. Ditto for the lunch room scene in which Tilly makes a gesture of friendship, which inspires the rest of the crew to blithely accept the inhuman murderer sitting down for a snack. Much more realistic was Stamets' reaction to Tyler, which was pitched very well. But then we get to Burnham and Tyler's reunion. Now, on the one hand, I appreciate that they are giving Burnham a real-ish emotional response to this imposter who tried to murder her. She should be disgusted and traumatized! There was a real sense of drama with respect to which decision she would make, to let him in again or shut him out. But holy shit, was Tyler's dialogue ever awful. He accuses Burnham of letting him in and then bailing when "things got complicated." Things got complicated? Yo, woman, how dare you rethink our relationship when it is revealed that I was the product of bone shaving, head sawing, and personality simulating, instead of the lovable fucked up human you thought you were shtupping? This dialogue is almost insultingly stupid, but I can't tell whether the writers were portraying the character is desperate and manipulative, or whether they are just bad writers with no ear for realistic dialogue or characterization.

Kevin: I'm certainly not suggesting this plot was perfect by any stretch, but overall, I enjoyed the focus on characters feelings. Further, I think all the characters (with the appropriate question marks on Tyler's comments) acted the way they should, if a little quickly. Saru's reaction is right down the center of good Starfleet officer but also not a moron. Tilly's mirroring (ha!) of the scene with Burham at the start of the season is obvious, and it works very much for her character. I do question the rest of crew piling on the good will. I think a slower episode would have given Saru and Tilly some speed bumps on the road to their reactions and ended rather than begun with where they are. I liked Tilly's take in the end to Burnham, that even if it's to say goodbye, she should still stay something. Up to that point, it just felt like being pressured to forgive. Even if they meant Tyler to just say something stupid, it's still soooooo stupid that someone should have said something in the writer's room. That said, Burnham's side of the conversation was great, and I certainly won't overly critique the show for giving me more focus on actual characters' actual feelings. More of that please.

Matthew: The fungus story strays from its predictable stupidity into new territories of stupidity. We were told in no uncertain terms last episode that they were using the last spores. They even had one land on Tilly's jacket to underscore how rare they were. Now the plot needs them again, so... Engage Ass Pull Drive. Apparently, the spores weren't gone, they were just... in a jar that some other guy said not to open? And to cultivate them, Discovery must... terraform a world? You know, within an hour or so. If it was this easy to grow spores, why hadn't it been already been done? There is no drama here, and yet many precious minutes of screen time are consumed on this, with music and all, pretending as if it is dramatic and interesting.

Kevin: Star Trek has done ass pulls and technobabble Hail Marys in the past, but when they do, we acknowledge that it diffuses the drama. I'm not as mad as Matt about it, but I'm certainly not invested. It was a magic solution and it does contradict literally the last episode. They need it to get from the points A and B they defined for themselves, but in the end, while not enraging me, it is just filler.


Matthew: As far as the war story, it was fine I guess. Admiral Cornwell lists a litany of assaults that the Klingons have undertaken. Also, she shoots the fortune cookies and laments that "my Gabriel is dead." I wonder how many episodes until that is disproved? One? Yet, the story makes a point of saying the Klingons are not united, which undercuts their monolithic fearsomeness. A starbase with 80,000 "souls" is destroyed, and I takje it from the music cue that I'm supposed to feel something. But of course, this is only a CGI image and I've never seen it before, so "meh." Nonetheless, this all necessitates yet another wild-ass "plan," this time to spore jump into the "cave system" that is the core of the planet Qo'noS (sigh). It seems clear they're setting up at least a perfunctory "weapons of mass destruction vs. Federation ideals" situation in the finale. And I suppose this would be fine, if Federation ideals had ever been suffused into this story (they have not, in the main). So I can only assume this will be another brief treatment of a good story idea, which interrupts larger "pew pew" scenes and sword fights.

Kevin: The fortune cookie scene did lead to one of my legit favorite lines of the series when Sarek deadpans that Lorca being from a parallel dimension was not the most obvious solution. That was well done. We're getting a lot of the apparently clash between Federation ideals and wartime pragmatism and it's certainly a path that Star Trek has gone down before, to delight of everyone. Still, Discovery has not spent enough time in 'normal' to make 'extreme' feel like something. People I talk to who really, really like Discovery seem to have an easier time porting the franchise's general position on things and take them as read, and I get that, but in the end, there hasn't been an episode yet where we see those Federation norms being done, rather than quickly being talked about. If you had not spent time watching at least TNG and DS9, the discussion of Federation values would be happening in a vacuum. I would like to see the episode really dig into the touch choices of war, but everything happens too fast to really land.

Matthew: The Georgiou story makes no sense. By the end of this episode, we are told by Cornwell that Georgiou isn't dead after all, she was rescuedfrom a Klingon prison or something. Now, presumably, this is a lie, and Starfleet is engaging in this deception in order to give Mirror Georgiou something she values. My question is, what? What could Georgiou give them that they couldn't do on their own? I presume we're heading for this mass destruction story angle - but why would they need Georgiou for that? What could she possibly provide that was of great value, that could be implemented within days, from memory? But then, also, what does she want from the transaction? To play captain? That doesn't seem reasonable, since she disdains everything about humanity in this universe. To commandeer Discovery and take it back to the Mirror Universe? But why would Starfleet ever let that happen, since Discovery is apparently the linchpin of their entire defense? (Which is dumb, by the way). Any way you slice it, this story angle is pointless.

Kevin: I mean unless she had the schematics or weapon on her literal, physical person, what could she offer them other than ominous advice to commit genocide? Also, even if the crew doesn't know about Georgiou specifically, they were just in the mirror universe, they all have to realize that Georgiou is not their Georgiou. I'm having trouble even hypothesizing an endgame here, and sure, I assume they'll explain it next week, but I can't shake the feeling I'll still be left wondering why they bothered even if they do come up with a clever explanation.

Acting

Matthew:
I will stipulate to Sonequa Martin-Green being excellent. She was excellent. Is that enough at this point, at least for me? No. She had an excellent scene responding to shit dialogue on Tyler's part (Latif was also good, despite the horribly dumb things he's being asked to say). She had a very nice scene with Tilly, too. Mary Wiseman does a great job making someone with a few irritating idiosyncrasies work.

Kevin: I would really like to see Sonequa Martin-Green get to smile. I've seen it in pictures and it's pretty radiant. I would like her to have a feeling other than grim remorse or loss. I bet she can. I say we let her try. Latif's blubbery face is eerily good. He looks like an anime character with his big eyes and quivery lower lip.

Matthew: James Frain is pretty decent as Sarek. I don't like all of his physical acting choices (like holding his hand out when they beamed on the bridge), but his line readings are solid. It's just too bad that the character he's playing isn't actually Sarek. There is no reasonable way that this warm, relatively emotionally grounded (for a Vulcan) presence, that Frain brings to the role, can become the prickly douche of "Journey To Babel." 

Kevin: I agree on Frain. He is not bad at the role they have assigned him, there is just no through line for the character that appears elsewhere. I like Yeoh more this time around. With more talking and less fighting, I enjoyed watching, for itself, if not the story, her chewing the scenery. The writers really leaned into Sarek and Georgiou as the parental figures fighting, and whatever narrative sins that involves, the pair did their best with it. Same goes for Jayne Brook. I agree the "80,000" never felt real in the show, but her losing her shit for a second was really well done.

Production Values

Matthew:
I guess I'm the only one who is bothered, but I must renew my objection to "shaky cam" on conversational scenes. It's every goddamned scene at this point. It's lazy, stupid cinematography, and I hate it. I can take shaky hand-held stuff during a fight. It lends a documentary feel to the action. But when actors are sitting on a couch having a conversation? HOLD THE GODDAMNED CAMERA STILL.

Kevin: The camera cuts are jumpier than older Treks, but yeah, I'm not catching it when it's happening. Maybe I've watching enough primetime dramas to just be immune to it...

Matthew:
The spore stuff was pointless and draggy. Why did Discovery have these spore rockets on the ship, when this procedure is untried and unprecedented? Why do these rockets have helicopter rotors? The whole scene just dragged. Remember how they visualized the calming of Drema IV in TNG's "Pen Pals?" Neither do I. WE DON'T NEED TO SEE IT. I don't care about mushrooms, I don't care about how pretty they are, and I don't care what sort of rocket you used to get them there. I just don't need to know, and you're distracting from actually interesting story elements.

Kevin: This is kind of the curse of unlimited technology and budget. The scene ends up looking like a pretty cool video game cut scene, but about as affecting. There's nothing wrong with it, but there's nothing there that inspires me either. I know you have a computer than can make that, so I'm not sitting there wondering how you did it, like I would be back in the days of filmed models, and since it's supporting a pretty thin plot point, it's pretty but nothing more.

Conclusion

Matthew:
Although I enjoyed this more than the previous episode, I'm still on a 2 here. A 2 is something severely flawed with redeeming facets. Many, many parts of this story make little to no sense, and engage in ridiculous Ass Pulls. There are some nice emotional dynamics between crew members. But the nice stuff is about 20 minutes of the show, while the pointless stuff is 25. So a 3 just isn't in the cards for me. a 3 is consistently good but not great. That's not this.

Kevin: I think the acting was great, and the production values can't really be criticized for what they did, merely why they did it, and that's not a production problem. The fact that the bulk of the episode was spent by characters I liked talking about their feelings pushes this into a 3 for me. It is good character work and acting, supported by a fairly thin, board-setting story for next week.

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