Sunday, March 3, 2019

Discovery, Season 2: The Sounds of Thunder, Season 2
"The Sounds of Thunder"
Airdate: February 21, 2019
21 of 29 produced
21 of 29 aired


Discovery heads back to the Kelpien homeworld in order to track down a Red Herr--- I mean, Red Angel signal. While there, Saru pushes for a resolution to his people's subjugation by the Ba'ul.

Hey look, an oozy villain! Let's look at it for 3 minutes instead of learning anything about it and its relationship to the other aliens in this episode.


Kevin: So, in some ways, many ways, even, this has a lot of notes of a classic Star Trek episode. We have the set up of one species dominating another and the question of how much Starfleet can or should do to upset that balance coupled with a late episode twist the reconfigures the equation. That is at least three TOS episodes I could name. On that basis, it largely works, though is clouded by the standard Discovery nonsense. The addition of the Red Angel to tie it into the larger arc is pretty hamfisted. The dialogue all takes place at a tempo with a careening camera to ramp up tension that doesn't need to be there. Like when deciding if it was a good or bad idea to have Saru on the mission, it was all done on the bridge with the pacing of a Marvel movie, instead of an actual conversation. I appreciate the attempts at more Star Trek-style storytelling, but it keeps getting crowded out by other stuff.

Matthew: It totally baffled me that Pike was so adamant that Saru not be included on the mission (obviously correct, since he had been acting like a weird Aggro Bro-Cow on the bridge) only to completely reverse course after 5 seconds. Gee, Chris, maybe you shouldn't let Burhnam whisper-argue you out of obviously good command instincts, eh? Because Saru most definitely did screw things up within minutes of beaming down. Anyway, There are fragments, bone marrow samples, of a good Star Trek story in here. Is it one Trek has done before? Yes, in Enterprise's best episode, "Dear Doctor."And yes, Enterprise did it better. Do you want to know why? Because the characters took the time to argue the different sides of helping one species over another, and both sides made a lick of sense. Here, it's just as if you were watching a real Star Trek episode on fast forward. No time to explain! Explosions! Black ooze! THRILLS!

Kevin: I liked a lot of the character work in the Kelpian story. Sirana actually had...gasp...a cognizable, relatable emotional reaction to her brother's reappearance. The mix of relief and resentment was very credible. I loved when she clocked that his return had something to do with the outside world and not with her. That's some great character work. I do think the resolution was too pat. It was basically hand-waved that an entire population that found out they were being violently gaslit would just choose to not use their newfound superpowers for revenge. I'm not saying Star Trek has never hand-waved an ending, specifically TNG's "The Hunted" comes to mind for a too fast ending, but those episodes spent so much more time on the emotional components that I cared enough to overlook it at least until the episode was over.

Matthew: Sirana was easily the best part of the episode. PErhaps this is because she has not had the chance to be written twelve different ways, and so we could follow her emotional journery without whiplash. Speaking of obvious things the crew overlooked because their plan was formulated in four seconds of dialogue, did no one think that perhaps this technologically superior race who has been systematically killing Kelpiens for thousands of years would say "welp, fuck it, we have to kill them all now!" Because I immediately thought that after the "let's drastically change the balance of this entire world by teching the tech" plan was proposed. But boy, wasn't it DRAMATIC? Nothing says drama more than a countdown to utter annihilation. Every single episode! This is the most dramatic television series ever made! Anyone who dislikes it is a troll who hates drama and wants to be bored. Namely, everyone who likes any Star Trek prior to 2009. And all of this is made even stupider by the fact that the Red Angel (some sort of God, riding in some sort of Machine...) just undid everything in 5 seconds. WHEW! Things were getting too DRAMATIC! Thank goodness it was resolved in less than a minute.

Kevin: The stuff with Hugh is exactly what is wrong with the storytelling structure of this show. It bore no connection in any way to any other part of the episode and happened so quickly and so cursorily that none of it got beyond a general sense of "I guess he's a zombie or something?" landed. Also, the storytelling line has robbed the relationship of my favorite part, it's relatability. Watching two men in a relationship in this universe is interesting. Watching them only talk about each other in grand terms of their eternal love or navigate a hastily written resurrection plot is less interesting. Watching actual human being brush their teeth next to each other is more interesting than everything than everything that has happened to them this season, and I don't know how to explain to the writers anymore.

Matthew: This series is really bad at integrating character stories into episode plots. This Culber/Stamets stuff had nothing to do with the main plot. And half of it was done with dialogue drowned out because Culber was freaking out. Why isn't this an episode? And then there is, yet again, the Spock-tease. And yet again, the Section 31 update. Jesus Christ, people, just focus on one story at a time. Even two per episode would be an improvement!


Kevin: Doug Jones is a really good actor and I bought his entire arc. Once again, I particularly want praise his ability to act through the makeup.  He did 'restrained outrage' very, very well. They essentially rewrote a core personality trait of a main character in the second season, and it is laregly working off the strength of the acting.

Matthew: The chemistry between Jones and Hannah Spear's Siranna are easily the best parts of this episode. Their acting makes all of the lazy fast-forward storytelling almost work.As far as Doug Jones goes, it's a shame they have him playing parts in such dippy plots, because he makes me believe his emotions at any given time during his performance.

Kevin: Rapp and Cruz are also talented actors, and clearly giving it their all, but the attenuated drama is getting in the way. They have believable chemistry, I just wish we got to see it.

Matthew: It may be a function of everything the writers have been throwing at him, but I found Rapp's "tender loving care" acting to be weird. Cruz has an emotional availability that is just lovely, and adds to every episode he's in. It's too bad he is relegated to 90 second guest spots.

Production Values

Kevin: I don't have much to say here, as even when the plotting has been less than great, the production values have never failed. My only real complaint is the Ba'ul. It was pretty much the xenomorph meets the oil slick from Skin of Evil, and the end result is over-produced, if that makes sense. It's a design more interested in how 'cool' they can make it look than thinking about how to portray something that works in the story. It's hard to imagine the Kelpians and the Ba'ul living on the same world in any fashion, and that's down to a design problem. The position of the Ba'ul, that this kind of forced taming is a better option than outright genocide is an interesting one from a Trek perspective, but the design prevents them from being able to make it for themselves.

Matthew: God, how distracting and stupid a design choice the Ba'ul were. And to do it without even a mention in script of what the hell these creatures are, how they've evolved, it's just so, so dumb. I've said it before, and I have little doubt I'll say it again after this: just because you can do something doesn't mean you should, Discovery.

Kevin: I hate to keep harping on this, but the camera work is getting nauseating. When the officers are having a bureaucratic debate about who should be on the away team, we don't need eight swooping camera shots. Not everything is the Most Intense Moment of the episode and while it is less annoying than lens flares, it's still not great.

Matthew: You're not going to get any argument from me when it comes to shaky-cam and bizarre upside down whip-pans. It's lazy garbage substituting for real story drama and tension.


Kevin: I'm torn between a 2 and 3. The core story is fine, and as I argue, very Trek in nature. But it's crowded by the baiting about the Spock storyline and gives short shrift to the very things I like most about this kind of morality tale. The acting is very good, but again crowded out by other stuff. I think in the balance, I am calling this a 3. They are doing more of the things I like, even if they keep tripping over the things I don't, but going to our base rubric, there is the core of a very Trek story that is resolved in a very Trek manner, accompanied by some good acting. It's closer to a 2 than the idea inside the story should permit, but that's due to the problems with Discovery as a whole. Still, I was more entertained and less annoyed than I've been in several episodes, so that squeaks into a 3.

Matthew: I'm stuck on a 2. There are obviously elements of a Trek-style story here, but they are undermined by lack of script development, poor characterization, and baffling production choices. It was close. This episode was probably one ethical debate or boardroom scene away from being average. But it was never going to be more than that without being drastically restructured. Much more of it should have been on the planet with the Kelpien people, learning about the impact of "the great balance" and giving us fodder for evaluating the prime directive argument at play. So that makes our total a 5.

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