Monday, December 7, 2020

Discovery, Season 3: The Sanctuary

Discovery, Season 3
"The Sanctuary"
Airdate: December 3, 2020
37 of 37 produced
37 of 37 aired


Discovery travels to Book's homeworld in order to... Jesus, I don't know any more. Meet people? Have a minor skirmish with an unconvincing baddie?

 "Hey... you! Stop doing that thing that... bothers me for some reason!"



Kevin: Once again, each individual element could be great if given the chance to breathe, except maybe the Georgiou stuff that I just don't care about. And it's not just that they are breaking the stories down differently than the 90s Trek that I admittedly do enjoy far more, it's that every story and character is introduced at the peak of their drama and we are expected to just nod in agreement. A recurring character is revealed to have a brother and nephew that we did not know anything about, but the relationship is dramatic center of A-plot of the episode. It just doesn't hang together. Same thing with Ryn. He's gotten a cumulative three minutes of screen time, but we're expected to be on the edge of our seats for his potential death, and his reveal is pretty undercooked. The idea that the big bad is also not doing well and is working to cover is fine, but it's not plausible only he knows. And if the Emerald Chain is really running out of dilithium, then for all her posturing, does Osyrra really want a war with the Federation? Even a diminished Federation can probably still put up enough of a fight to jack your economy. A better, and more Trek-y ending would be Saru learning that information and calling Osyrra's bluff. It would have also served to give Ryn more scenes not drowned out in explosions to make me care about him.

Matthew: This show has a serious Orion problem. Namely, that the Orions are utterly undeveloped and the main villain is about as threatening as a miffed Karen in a Wal-Mart. They're just not credible. The only extended scene we've gotten is her nephew being incompetent on a junky factory world. Here, she is incompetent and allows a rinky-dink ship with two crew members (who have never flown it) to buzz around her giant space fortress with endless pew-pew lasers and send it packing. How is this credible? How are we supposed to see her as a threat?

The planet plot did absolutely nothing for me. This was like the barest outline of an "alien of the week" story. There's s planet. They harvest... something? And there are blue things that threaten the harvest. But the Orions want sentient space slugs in exchange for... pesticide? I just don't care. They haven't given me enough to care. You could, given time and effort, create interesting ethical dilemmas and character stories within that framework. But they don't. And then, like you say, we have the brother and nephew story. We have never, ever heard of or seen these people before, and they are related to a character we've only minimally seen developed. And so I just don't care. I keep hearkening back to "The Icarus Factor." Not a great episode, to be sure, but still an effective family drama character development for Riker. Why? Because we actually know him by Season Two of TNG. Book has had all of twenty minutes of screen time, and blessedly little actual dialogue (mostly beefcake shots and Kung Fu fighting). Kurtzman and Company want it all now, and they don't want to do any of the work that goes into making it happen for real. It's why everything on this show is so instantly forgettable.

Kevin: The scene with Stamets and Adira is good, in a vacuum. It proceeded as I wish it would for every trans or non-gender conforming person in the real world with a concise but kind acknowledgement, but from a dramatic standpoint, it feels like the writers haven't really thought about these issues and what they would look like in the future. Are we really still at "cautiously coming out" in the 22nd or 31st century? Even a line of dialog expressing Stamets surprise the reveal is so freighted for Adira and then having them acknowledge that the loss of the Federation also caused a resurgence of old bigotries would have been some interesting world building. The scene itself is fine. Good even. It just doesn't feel like it's part of a more developed story for Adira rather than just ticking a box. Now that the reveal is out of the way, I really hope they don't land in a place where Adira only gets dialog or stories regarding their pronouns. Representation is good and a worthy goal, but that representation is most effective when the group being represented gets three-dimensional character development and stories. I will say I'm glad the writers included the word "always" in the sentence since it means we can't 'blame' or 'dismiss' Adira's gender identity as an artifact of the joining. Also, maybe I'm just getting old and embittered, but while I acknowledge that the classic Trek allegory was a useful tool to get a show made that otherwise could not be made in other eras, I now actually find it more frustrating to build a queer character that still focuses on how straight or cisgendered people will respond. We are past the point where queer people need to be discussed by implication to avoid offending Southern affiliates.

Matthew: Having discussed this last night with you, you know that I disagree on the last point. I want an old-style Trek Allegory for two reasons. First, it gives the character the time and scenes and history that can help allow me to care about them. This has been sorely lacking on this show - the only character I care a whit about is Saru, and it is precisely because we got a slow-burn 15 minute "Short Trek" set on his planet, showing us his struggle. But second, and more important, I want Star Trek to provide lessons to recalcitrant viewers (myself included). I acknowledge your point about making characters into token representatives to "speak to the straights." That should be avoided as far as is possible. But the way this plays out is as if the whole thing is done and settled in society, and we the viewers just aren't there yet, which should be obvious given the sturm und drang the issue is being given in politics these days. They're skipping past the chance to teach and change us. I want them to show us the pain of someone in the social "out group," to show us how that status is unjust, and to humanize them in such a way that you simply can no longer reject them as beneath our moral concern. Doing it this way allows right-wing viewers to dismiss the show out of hand as "just another liberal propaganda piece." Were they to tell an actual well-developed story with pacing, ethical clarity, and emotion (which is evidently beyond this writing staff, admittedly), the power of art to create empathy could actually change people. As far as the scene itself, it really stuck out of the episode and ground things to a halt. In part this is owing to the overall writing style of the show - cut and paste scenelets giving characters one or two "development minutes" that don't really cohere into a larger tale. But part of this is also apparently owing to the actor themself. Blu Del Barrio apparently came out as nonbinary during the filming of the first few episodes. This means that all the references to "her" were inadvertent, which I guess is better than the way we originally thought it was going (they knew already but chose to call Del Barrio a "she" on screen). But it also means that they are awkwardly course correcting now.

Kevin: I'm actually fine with the minimal work we got on the Burn plot, and to the episode's credit, we got no scene of Burnham crying. The episode does expand the boundaries of the characters it focuses on. It just doesn't give anything the oxygen it needs to really breathe. Honestly, if they had just cut all the (now extremely repetitive) Georgiou banter to give me a teaser with Book's brother making breakfast for his kid or something, it might have provided just enough depth to make me give a damn.

Matthew: I absolutely agree that a break from the Big Dumb Plot was welcome. But they just substituted it with different undeveloped, unmemorable dreck. So, yeah.


Kevin: Everyone was fine. This dialog feels like the verbal equivalent of acting in front of a green screen. There are just no real objects to look at, emotionally speaking. They are all shouting their lines at each other so nothing really lands. I will say that David Ajala continues to have a warm and easy charisma that I really wish a calmer episode could capitalize on.

Matthew: The Saru/Tilly stuff was... hmm. I just don't know about Mary Wiseman's ability to make "brash" believable or enjoyable. Her character was grating this episode. Which, I guess would be realistic? Because she is being thrust into a role that she doesn't really belong in? Either way, it wasn't particularly fun to watch.

Kevin: I will add that Stamets and del Barrio did good work in their scenes. They are the closest the show comes to letting a moment breathe, and they took advantage of it. Particularly for Rapp, he's at his best when his curmudgeon is at a simmer not a boil, and I think he managed to be supportive without suddenly being schmaltzy. And del Barrio did a nice job giving the moment right before they said something the little hitch in the voice that felt very familiar.

Matthew: I have been hard on Anthony Rapp, but this was indeed one of his better outings. He did not seem like he was harboring a secret desire to wear someone's skin as a shirt this time around. I am totally, completely, and irrevocably over Michelle Yeoh. I like her in other things, to be sure. But this isn't those things. She is not suited to this sort of constant scenery chewing villainy. She doesn't make it interesting enough for me to secretly care about the bad guy.

Production Values

Kevin: Everything was an iridescent blue this week, so that seems to be in order. The projected work surface in front of Tilly's face is just ridiculous. Not only would that make it difficult to work or read or walk, it also is putting blurry crap in front of your actors' faces. It's the height of "it's the fuuutttuurree!" of tech design. There's a reason Google Glass failed, it's because putty shiny crap in front of people's faces while they are trying to interact in the real world is a terrible idea.

Matthew: Yep, future floating PADD holos are a dumb idea. But then, so are transparent control panels and watching movies as holographic projections without a solid backdrop. On another note, I did think the location work was pretty good on the planet. They used a nice house and had some nice forest. It didn't make me care, mind, but it was pretty to look at, like flipping idly through Architecture Digest..


Kevin: I'm actually waffling between a 2 and a 3. It's a boring episode for me because nothing involving Book or Osyrra lands with any real weight. That said, each individual element was fine and nothing happened that destroyed continuity or had the actors acting in some violently non-Federation way while insisting otherwise. The scenes between Stamets and Adira are actually what I have been asking of the show, quiet human moments where things are Important but do not implicate All Life in the Universe. If they manage to integrate those moments into a more developed character and arc, I will be a happy camper, and as a result, this otherwise boring but inoffensive episode squeaks into a 3.

Matthew: This was boring because no characters got the scenes they needed to make is anything but. All emotional beats failed to feel earned. I agree that it wasn't horribly violent or continuity breaking. But I can watch literally anything else that meets those criteria. Bad writing is still bad writing, and this show provides a clinic in it. I think it's a 2 for a total of 5.

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