Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Discovery, Season 2: Perpetual Infinity

Discovery, Season 2
"Perpetual Infinity"
Airdate: March 28, 2019
26 of 29 aired
26 of 29 produced


The Red Angel has been revealed as Burnham's mom. She has been traveling through time trying to prevent an apocalyptic future in which Control (a Starfleet computer AI system we've never heard of before or since) has destroyed all sentient life in the galaxy.

"We Are CBS. This is going to be a crappy Borg Origin Story. Struggle is... pointless."


Matthew: How good can a Discovery episode be, at this point? The season-long plot idea has wound its way through two seasons, and I haven't seen it working yet.  It relegates all character development and ancillary story material to the back burner, if it allows them any time at all. Thus far in Season 2, we have gotten a wretched Klingon episode, an interesting story with the religiously syncretic WWIII survivors (perhaps this should have been the tactic for the season, telling isolated stories with the Red Angel as the linchpin of each, slowly building to the ultimate Big Bad, but this would require a level of patience and technique that has not been in evidence), some shit about a Sphere we learned nothing about, slime aliens on Saru's planet, and then ten episodes of "The Search For Spock (Sucky Version)." So much time has been wasted on those stories, that all of what develops in this episode feels like Ass Pull after Ass Pull. To wit: Control, Burnham's Mom, Tyler and Georgiou's character motivations. Almost completely abandoned are Tilly, Culber/Stamets, and everybody else on the ship.

Kevin: Something I keep thinking back to is how we identify DS9 as more plot driven than character driven. I think that analysis holds, but the characters on DS9 were far more carefully established, and even in the context of serialized and arc-driven stories, they laid a much stronger groundwork than Discovery has. Much like the Airiam episodes, it goes full tilt into the guts of an episode that it pretends it did the groundwork for. Maybe if every single episode had not involved the angel or the signals, that would help pace it better. They could have done a more reasonably paced exploration season of stories, punctuated by tidbits about the bigger problem, instead of the frenetic soup we end up with.

Matthew: OK, let's discuss what works - I like the basic idea of this story, that a time traveler sees that 950 years from now a malicious AI has wiped out galactic civilization. This is a compelling character story and a compelling science fiction story. If you squint really hard and try to ignore the Dumb on display, it almost resembles a good story. What I don't like is how poorly it is set up (this being the first episode in which Control even makes an "appearance") and how poorly it squares with the continuity they've tried to shoehorn it into. So this suit can jump her 50k light years in distance? WTF? It has "limitless quantum computational storage?" WTF? Time travel exerts an "equal and opposite reaction pull" on the travelers? Since when? How did humans create this thing and yet none of its technology or components have influenced TOS at all? How could mom have experienced all of Burnham's life events? It makes no fucking sense. Spock's dyslexia somehow making him suited to receive messages is dumb. Also, to sever Mom from "her space time" (whatever the fuck that means) requires "the energy equivalent of a supernova." So is this whole plot line going to resolve itself with the supernova already referenced in dialogue (talk about an obvious Chekhov's supernova), and then erase these two seasons of STD from existence, with Burnham being happy ever after with Ma and Pa? If so, what was the fucking point? If not, how could any of this bullshit possibly cohere with Prime trek?

Kevin: Oddly, what this episode reminded of, not in any direct way, but just thematically was the TOS' "The Alternative Factor" with Lazarus fighting himself for eternity. A lot of the 'science' is just as handwavy, but we ended up finding that to be an average episode. I think the key element is that it focused on the emotions at play rather than belaboring the 'science' and even if you found the science too lacking, it was a single episode, not every episode of the season. It's a problem that the serialized nature causes. If you don't engage the story, you're kind of fucked for the season. I also recall an interview with Ira Steven Behr where he commented they came up with the Jem'Hadar, the Vorta and the Founders to make sure that the Dominion could remain a viable story even if one of those aliens didn't work out. That kind of layering is missing here.

Matthew: The emotional story between Burnham and her mom doesn't work. I'm sure there are those among the DISCO Pod People who would find this claim risible. But they are wrong and their ability to judge drama has atrophied. You don't get me to feel anything without previously establishing character traits and histories, and developing them in scenes in the current episode, for a lot longer than this. I'm sure the writers thought it was clever to have the mom distance herself from Burnham, creating a parallel with the way she distanced herself from Spock. But neither one works. Burnham distanced herself from Spock because of... logic extremists? We were told about it in one line of dialogue. Mom is distancing herself because "she's seen Burnham die a hundred times." Huh? I just... have these people ever had children? It's a totally bullshit story beat, and we're expected to care about it from one line of dialogue. Sorry, no. Then they just welsh on it anyway and give us a tearful reunion, after three minutes of screen development. Classic DISCO. Some episodes that come to mind in comparison are TNG "The Icarus Factor" and DS9 "The Visitor." Both of them work significantly better. Icarus lets scenes breathe, and has secondary characters talking about the relationship of the two principals. It also ties their conflict to previously demonstrated Riker character traits. "The Visitor" of course has an entire series of character work to rely on in creating emotional resonance, and then the mechanics of the story are way better than "I watched you die" and "time is pulling me like a rubber band." Here's the thing - the writers clearly thought the "mystery" of the Red Angel's identity was the compelling aspect of this season. It wasn't. This story would be loads better if we had learned who it was by the second or third episode, and been allowed to watch their relationship strain, break, and rebuild naturally. Instead they gave us hours of the uninteresting part and expect us to care about scant minutes of the interesting part.

Kevin: I liked the scenes for themselves between Burnham and her mother. If I were watching an acting class and saw this scene, I would go "I want to see this play." The core idea of a parent defensively detaching from their child because the reality of losing them is too hard to handle works, in a vacuum, like gangbusters. It's just not connected to anything before or after. I don't want to belabor the point, but the twists are less interesting than doing the work to build relationships over time. And as to the identity of the Red Angel, now that its revealed, I still kind of don't care. The only interesting thing they tried to do was fake us out that it was Burnham in a time loop. Since there was no story underlying any of this, the revelation is just kind of...there.

Matthew: All right, let's talk about Control. First off, let's dispense with any fuckery that this is not Discovery's attempt to ruin the Borg with an origin. This is obviously where it's going. The gigantic problem with the Control story is that it is so sudden. We've heard about Control for two lines of dialogue from Admiral Cornwell in a previous episode. Admirals input information and get tactical recommendations or something. BUT WE HAVE NEVER SEEN IT. No episode has hinged on one of these recommendations, going well or going wrong. An obvious comparison to TOS "The Ultimate Computer" springs to mind. That episode showed us the Daystrom computer running the ship, making different choices than Kirk would have made, destroying another Starfleet vessel, running amok. It also showed us Daystrom himself losing his grip on reality. This story line has shown us a squid robot that was unexplained in its episode, and now what we get here. It just doesn't work. It also fails to make sense on its face - Downloading the sphere data is what allows Control to achieve consciousness. But how does it have a desire to do so if it isn't conscious? The story beat comparing the sphere data to the Library of Alexandria is interesting, but unearned. Why is the data so important that it is worth risking trillions of lives? Nothing. We have heard about the Sphere for like 25 seconds of combined screen time. I think it would be a more interesting sci-fi idea to talk about the impossibility of deleting files once acquired. Can't they just destroy the physical area in which the data is housed?

Kevin: Yeah...if you desire sentience, you are sentient. Baked into that state is the awareness of self and the world that underlies any definition of consciousness. My big problem is that the plan is too complicated. Even if I understood why Control wants to destroy all sentient life, can't it do that already? It runs a team of amoral monsters with vastly superior tech. I mean, we have enough tech now to wipe out all life on Earth. Like whatever Idris Elba's character was called in Beyond... (Matthew: Krull? Diana Krall?) why do you need the MacGuffin? The tech you are using the get the MacGuffin is more than sufficient.


Matthew: I will stipulate to SMG being a fine actor. She can cry on command, and it feels real-ish when she does. The problem is that she is being asked to cry 1. Every Goddamned Episode; and 2. in the service of nonexistent story development. Her mom was similarly well cast and performed, but elicited no emotional response from me.

Kevin: They were really trying, and Sonja Sohn is perfectly cast. They look actually related and they nailed a similar cadence. All the parts were here except a script. With even a brief sketch of a real plot, the scenes would have been phenomenal.

Matthew: I just don't know what to say about Shazad Latif and Michelle Yeoh at this point. I guess I should praise them for being able to turn on a dime like this and switch character motivations as the script demands? I guess Georgiou is a Burnham-loving maternal good guy now. And Tyler is all principled and full of martyrdom. Ohhhh....kay? I wonder what kind of notes they get from directors and show runners. Because it's sure as hell not on the page.

Kevin: I honestly think they just remembered Yeoh is a good actor and jokes about murdering her mother and doing fight scenes is a waste of her talents and, even by their standards a poor setup for a spinoff. I want Tyler to die. I just want him to leave and never come back. I would accept an "it's all a dream/time loop" to make him go away.

Production Values

Matthew: I liked the various portrayals of the post-apocalyptic future, though I would have liked more detail. It says something about this show that they're willing to spend a million dollars on some stupid-ass planet base, but almost nothing on the actual most interesting thing the show has done.

Kevin: There was an establishing shot of the base that really did it for me. Production values have never been bad on this show, but honestly, that's not saying much anymore. Anyone with a decent computer can make decent effects.  They're good, but we live in an age when everyone's are.


Matthew: Look, I know I've given almost everything a 2 so far. And I'm going to do it again. This is a deeply, deeply flawed hour of television in which basically nothing works. But it is redeemed by decent performances and the stunted, malformed germ of a decent science fiction idea. It was "more exciting" than prior episodes, because at least it didn't suffer from the sort of narrative blue-balls that have been plaguing the show all season. But it's still basically bullshit. Prior shows have lacked plot development while giving us nuggets of character story. This lacked character story while giving us nuggets of plot.

Kevin: I hate to say it, but I want to go with a 3. I think the scenes of Burnham talking to her mother had enough resonance from the strength of the acting alone to just nudge this a little higher. I'm not saying it's great, but off those scenes, this feels better than recent weeks. I'm still going with a 2 for the lack of actual plotting and my fear about what they are doing to the Borg, and that's a total of 4, but for me, it's a high 4. You showed me you can do the pay off for those story arcs, now just do the damn story arcs.


  1. Relevant to the Borg 2.0 conversation, it explains the lack of connection to the pre-existing time line you guys keep pointing out.

  2. It kinda reminds me of Terminator Genisys in that I honestly do love the idea that Discovery's timeline was already corrupted and that's the reason it doesn't connect to the prime universe.

    But also like Genisys, I wish Discovery would let go of some of the things getting in it's own way.

    It's a good solution to the problem though and I look... forward.. to them using flashback sequences from other Star Trek media like they did with the Talosians this season.

    1. My main beef with this sort of storytelling is that either they will invalidate two seasons of work, in which case, why did they bother, or they will hermetically seal STD off from canon. Which on its own is fine, but why torture us for two seasons in the first place? They could have just avoided all these problems by setting the damned show 950 years in the future of canon.

    2. Oh, and I kind of liked Genisys, too :) But then, I care far less about the Terminator universe.

  3. no no, that was my ORIGINAL issue with all this. I was in agreement with you. Why tell a story that doesn't matter?

    But this way their story DOES matter because it's their present that determines a new future for all of Star Trek.

    1. That's what I mean by the second option. It is preferable, I agree, if they partition this off from continuity. But they'd still have to apologize for two years of making us think they were ruining it.

    2. Apologize to me personally for lying about this being part of real continuity, and then reneging on that. Mainly for mental anguish. I demand $60 in compensation ;-)