Thursday, February 15, 2018

Discovery, Season 1: Will You Take My Hand?, Season 1
"Will You Take My Hand?"
Airdate: February 11, 2018
15 of 15 produced
15 of 15 aired

Discovery careens towards its baffling ending as the non-corporeal entities from beyond the Fourth Wall realize that they have to wind everything up in 46 minutes, logic bedamned.

Hey, it's the Star Trek Enterprise! Wheee! I love the Enterprise! (Claps like seal)


Kevin: Let me start on a high note. And there are some. Like last week, there were several conversations between characters about their feelings. Tilly slipping in next to Burnham was a sweet and nicely executed scene, as was the intentionally outsized attempt to separate her from the group. It shows that Tilly can pick up on non-verbal cues and act accordingly. It more than makes up for her grating denseness in her first episode. On a side note, Tilly (along with Saru) low key has one of the better arcs of the series. She grows more confident and, whatever shortcomings the plot points may have, demonstrates in a consistent way, the ideals Trek espouses. I may also question why she would wander off into an opium den, but I can't deny her comedy notes hit. As for Tyler and Burnham, I think Matt and I agree that this scene should entirely replace last week's, and is an appropriate goodbye. Also, in the plus column for me was Georgiou. This week, since she got to do things, her EEEEVIL attitude had a little more verve, and was thus more fun to watch.

Matthew: Setting aside that Tyler/Voq makes no sense (there is no Tyler, and yet somehow that's the personality that is dominant, and somehow L'Rell agreed to make that happen), this conversation and goodby for them makes a hell of a lot more sense than the previous one did. And yes, Mirror Georgiou was basically fun to watch. She smiled. She got laid. She had fun, and so I had fun. Do I even remotely fathom, beyond a marketing sense, why in the hell you would intentionally set her loose, just wandering the galaxy? No. Did her willingness to give up the bomb make sense? No. Do any of her motivations in this universe make sense? No. Did she actually provide anything of sufficient value to the Federation to justify her treatment? No. But at least she got some fun scenes, I guess. Tilly was fun to watch, especially snorting rock smoke with Clint Howard.

Kevin: Now for what doesn't work. The Klingon plot is contrived, and that's a generous description. How do they know she won't let the Klingons destroy the Federation and then seize control? Why do the houses believe her? What if they get control of the bomb? What about that bomb? Is it just...there? It also reduces Klingons politics even further. She has literally not a single Klingon on her side in any position of power. Even with overwhelming martial strength, you can't lead that way. Not to harp too much on TNG/DS9, but part of the joy of RDM's Klingons was their variety. Nice ones, mean ones. Smart ones, dumb ones. Klingons who believed the party line on honor and those who crassly manipulated it for gain. The result was just more layered and interesting. So much happens so quickly for so little reason that I just don't connect or care.

Matthew: Like so many story beats in this show, L'Rell should have been utterly ended by, well, basically anybody in that scene. A sniper could have vaporized the padd, and her, in one shot. She has no backup. She has no support. She also has no leverage. No one could possibly believe that she would press the button (of course, how do they even know what the button is?). She has no power base, and the best she could hope for is to be a putative figurehead while other actors with actual political and military support placate her just enough to not press the button (which she wouldn't, anyway). What are these space racists going to think about her apparently human boy toy? It was a stupid story beat to end a thoroughly ill-planned and stupid detour in the history of Star Trek: The Klingons Who Made No Sense. It's kind of sad, too, because the germ of the idea, that the Klingons are a fundamentalist culture bent on destroying their liberal, culturally heterogeneous neighbor, could have been mined for really rich allegory and commentary.

Kevin: I almost liked the final scenes while I watching them. It was, techinically, something I have been asking for, an explicit display of Starfleet ideals being applied. But the more you drill down, the less there is. Cornwell and apparently Sarek (SAREK?!) abetted genocide after a conversation last week and were turned from it minutes later by a line of dialogue. I think the one addition they could have made for this episode to elevate it almost a whole point in my estimation would have been for Cornwell to get a solid three minutes to defend her position. Compare with the scenes between Picard and Guinan in I, Borg, or even the clipped scene with Necheyev in Descent. We fans may not like Necheyev's utilitarian arguments, but you can't deny that she makes her case well, and in a non-evil way. Even in DS9's magnum opus, In the Pale Moonlight, Sisko not only justifies his position at least to himself, but feels the shock of knowing he can live with the dent to his honor. The common thread in all of these is that the opposing viewpoint was given more than lip service. It was given a character to embody and advocate for the position rather than just mime it. Even Section 31's Sloan got enough shading and self awareness to make you understand he understood himself to be, if not the good guy, then a necessary guy. It makes the show turn on how our characters wrestle with a fairly unsolvable problem. That is interesting. The speech we got here was just too close to paint by numbers. It was all of the words, none of the lead up.

Matthew: The entire ethical linchpin that this story appears to hang on is whether utilizing weapons of mass destruction against civilian populations is ever justifiable. Cornwell and Sarek (!) seem to think it is. We are given none of their reasoning, because this decision happened off screen. Come to think of it, we are also given none of the justification in terms of destruction within the Federation. We see a map that's red, and we are told that a starbase was murdered. We never see any of it, it never feels real. Then Burnham susses out that the thing she is carrying to the thing is actually a bomb (a "hydro water steam" bomb? Who the hell even knows at this point). Then she realizes that this is wrong. You see, the Klingon homeworld is just that - a home for people, just trying to carry on their lives. But... the Klingons have been portrayed thus far in every other episode as bloodthirsty cannibals who are intolerant of race and culture mixing. The Klingon "homeworld" in this very episode is... a bunch of Orions writhing around in G-strings and a few Klingon extras playing a dice game. So her "realization" is unearned. Then, the bridge crew plays a rousing game of "we are STARFLEET" and the music swells, telling us that something important is happening. But what is really happening? Burnham is convincing Cornwell that her plan is wrong, in about 20 seconds of on screen dialogue. That must have been one deeply held belief that led her to sign off on obliterating an entire race! And then, as you say, everyone forgets about the planned genocide by the end, and medals are handed out by the very perpetrators of the plan. To call this treatment of what could have potentially been a stunning and relevant allegory "paper thin" is to be too charitable. It's fucking garbage, and manipulative garbage at that.

Kevin: For reasons I will get to more in the production section, I was not immediately angry at the Enterprise itself, but more what it represented. It means the show is stuck in its prequel nature. It seems to only be able to derive narrative energy from other stories. The major arcs of this season have been Klingons, Harry Mudd, and the Mirror Universe, all stories fairly exhausted by other franchises. My concern for the appearance of the Enterprise is that it will still continue to traffic only in trying to hit the receptor in my brain that recognizes familiar things. Burnham reminds us that the goal of Starfleet is to explore strange new worlds. Go do that.

Matthew: What possible good can come of putting Pike's Enterprise on the screen? At worst they will completely fuck things up, getting characters and events wrong (e.g. Sarek, Amanda, and Spock; Harry Mudd; the Klingon War) and just annoy existing fans of the classic franchise. At best they will not get those things wrong and just succeed in taking time away from developing Discovery's characters, or any new plots (e.g. the Mirror Universe). What is the point? How lazy do you have to be, a mere 15 episodes into your brand new series with a bazillion dollar budget, to just trot out the fucking Enterprise, yet again? It's lazy, and it's insulting to anyone who was able to care about this series.

Kevin: One last (mildly) positive note. While I find that getting rid of Tyler, the war, and the spore drive (for the moment) to be narratively too neat and a fairly egregious use of the reset button, I have to say that the plots they trimmed were the ones I didn't like, so there's that. If the show going forward were about Tilly, Saru, Burnham, and Stamets doing stuff together and occasionally talking about that stuff, I would be a pretty happy camper.

Matthew: I can acknowledge your points without feeling the same emotions. My overriding feeling is one of irritation at having watched fifteen episodes of this bullshit only to find myself in exactly the same narrative position as when we started. Plus dread over Pike's Enterprise.


Kevin: Everyone, and I think I mean that literally, everyone did a pretty good job. Tilly expertly walked the line of being comic relief while not getting lost in it, and as I discuss above, her presence as a real friend to Burnham has been one of the most consistent developed arcs of the season. Martin-Green is her usual competent self, and I wish only that they give the character a spa day or something next season because on the rare occasions she's shown something other than regret or grim resolve, it has been radiant and I would like more of that.

Matthew: Tyler playing dice with the other Klingons was the best scene he's gotten, which is sad. He's been blubbery and mopey and cray-cray, to varying degrees of effectiveness. Here, he was having fun, and in a Klingon-ish sort of way. It was, not coincidentally, the best Klingon scene we've gotten, too, which is sad.

Kevin: Yeoh was a lot of fun this time. There was a kind of sneering detachment that gave all her evil plans so depth. You get the feeling she didn't really care one way or the other about the Klingon war (I know I didn't) and it made her a lot of fun in her scenes. Clint Howard was actually pretty good fan service. Just enough to be engaging without derailing anything.

Matthew: Jayne Brook looked baffled by her character's sudden and inexplicable reversal. Don't worry, Jayne. We were baffled, too. James Frain's Emo-Sarek was played well for what it was. It didn't make a lick of sense, but whatever. He did fine with his scenes.

Production Values

Kevin: I will say this, whatever choices I may criticize for what they do with their effects, I cannot decry their quality. There is a cinematic quality to them that is consistent throughout. I liked the long shot of the solar system and the wipe to Kronos. It was a shot that felt planned and was longer than two seconds so I actually got to absorb it. The Orion outpost was pretty standard cantina stuff, and I could have lived my whole life not seeing the two piss streams.

Matthew: It kind of felt like they ran out of money when it came to Q'onoS. No temples, no matte paintings, no throngs of Klingons. Just some tumble-down shacks, garbage cans with fires in them, and oddly de-saturated green people. Even the bomb cave was extraordinarily generic, as was the... place where the Klingons all agreed to follow L'Rell.

Kevin: I discuss this in some more detail in the podcast, but I think I almost...liked the design of the Enterprise. The proportions and shape were the right size for the original. The only real change is adding the blue panels on the nacelles that pre and post-date TOS' Enterprise. Until Enterprise (the series) tried to canonize the smooth foreheads, I always thought that the Klingons were not changed for The Motion Picture, but that they always looked that way, and TOS just didn't have the budget to do it. A friend posited the idea of a kind of ur-Trek, a platonic form of the story that each iteration can only do its best to reflect but not truly replicate. It allows the kind of needle threading I'm doing here to say that the Enterprise shown here and the one shown in TOS can be the same ship, because spiritually, they express the same basic design concepts, just rendered with the available technology of the respective shows. Also, unlike the hair dryer Enterprise of Abrams' Trek, this felt like the creators trying to express the Constitution class vessel in harmony with their aesthetic, not thinking they could just 'make it cooler.' So whatever concerns I have about the plot use of it, and while I certainly didn't feel any tingling in any areas, I can't deny that it looks good and I think, actually respectful of canon.

Matthew: It's definitely not as stupid looking as the Abrams ship. That's about all I have to say about it. I was offended by the use of the TOS theme during the end credits. It was lazy, shameless toadying.


Kevin: Sadly, this falls into a 2. The character work is good, and the acting and production are their usual good to very good selves, but the story is just too slipshod for me to ignore. Cornwell went from abetting genocide to handing out medals in ten minutes of screen time and no one talks about it. The Klingon war ends on the thinnest of plots, and the end result is to drive home with brute force the notion that none of this mattered. Burnham has her rank back. Lorca never existed. The spore drive is offline indefinitely. None of the things that happened over the course of the season have had any apparent lasting effect. If you watched the first two episodes and this one, you pretty much haven't missed anything you'll need going forward.

Matthew: I almost could fathom a 1 here, but some nice Tilly scenes and a decent denouement for Tyler/Burnham redeemed this mess to the level of a 2. I have many more thoughts about how much this show stinks, and I will go into great detail in the Season Recap. Suffice it to say for this episode: it was bad in precisely the ways that the lion's share of Discovery episodes have been bad, though probably to somewhat greater extents. That makes for a total of 4.