Thursday, January 21, 2021

Discovery, Season 3: That Hope Is You, Part 2

 Discovery, Season 3
"That Hope Is You, Part 2"

Airdate: January 7, 2021

42 of 42 aired

42 or 42 produced


Every disparate story line in the season comes to a head in one giant cluster-you-know-what of an episode.

Also, Discovery's turbolifts operate within a separate pocket universe.
Because why not?


As predicted many times by both Kevin and myself, this season finale episode sees the writing staff attempt to fill out and resolve every dangling thread introduced (and then largely ignored) throughout the season, resulting in something akin to inept clowns juggling machetes and losing control of every single one. Too harsh? I think not - the writers made this a "Part 2" to the season premiere, which indicates that they at least think that this represents one complete story with effective development and payoff. So let's go machete by machete, shall we? The Epic Tale of Adira and Gray's Love That Transcends Space and Time has seen about fifteen minutes of screen time in prior episodes of this season. I guess we're supposed to take this as Adira and Gray finding a new family of their own making, with Staments and Culber as their surrogate fathers. But there haven't been enough scenes to make this feel justifiable emotionally. Did they want this relationship? It seems sort of just assumed. So much happens off screen. Gray disappeared because he was... sad? I don't know. And now he's back, and everyone can see him in the holodeck because... because! Then Culber and Stamets act like they've known him for years. When did this happen? When Gray leaves the holodeck program to look at the ship... wait, can holograms leave the grid? That whole scene was confusing. So ultimately, what was supposed to be a Big Deal for TV turned into a mildly confusing set of 30 second scenes that peppered a few episodes.

Kevin: I think the Gray storyline typifies the narrative shortcuts the show takes. Gray appears as a hologram and goes right to tearfully hugging Culber. This is literally the first time either of them had met, and the music cue tells me this is the most significant moment of either of their lives. This is actually the bones of a great story. The idea of the 'chosen family' is a pretty powerful one in queer stories for what I feel are obvious reasons, so there was a ton of potential here both as literal story and as allegory. As much as I was annoyed by Culber's death and resurrection storylines, I get that it gives him a certain unique insight into whatever Adira is going through. If only they had told that story rather than trust the music cue to make me feel like they had. Once again, the kernel of a great story is there, they just gave it none of the time it needed to develop.

Matthew: As I mentioned above, Saru has been usurped by the script's desire to put Burnham in the center seat. Fine. But what is his story otherwise? I guess it's that he is longing for contact with his culture and people, which he finds in Su'Kal. In part based on the strength of the performance, I think this is the aspect of the story that worked the best. I understood his motivation (unlike Burnham's motivation for being captain) and could see how taking care of Su'Kal and returning with him to the Kelpiens would fulfill his motivations. Now, with that said, Su'Kal is not a good character, and his situation makes no sense. Having Su'Kal speak in baby jabber was a very bad choice when it comes to making us tolerate his screen presence. His means of survival was ridiculous. His ability to affect an entire galaxy with a temper tantrum might have been OK if he were a Q baby, but a Kelpien? Was there a reason a whole planet made of dilithium didn't explode when all the warp engines in the quadrant did? Why is the holographic simulation degrading now? Why not last year? Next decade?

Kevin: The reveal itself wasn't great, but now that the reveal has been dispensed with, none of the Su'Kal story feels like anything. Having just met him two episodes ago and only getting a few scenes of choatic baby talk, there is nothing left to sustain any further interest in the how or why of this character. Discussing this episode with friends, I kept coming back to TNG's The Survivor, another story about a powerful being whose grief causes large scale problems. It's not just nostalgia for TNG that makes me like that one more. Yes, I agree, the mechanic by which Kevin Uxbridge destroys a species is equally ill-defined, that story survives where this one doesn't because The Survivors spent almost all of its 45 minutes getting me to know and care about the couple, so when the reveals are revealed, there is narrative to support the feeling they want me to have. "The Survivor" is a 45 minute meditation on grief, not the resolution to a ten hour mystery and that difference is why one works and the other doesn't.

Matthew:  The "rebirth of the Federation/Emerald Chain" story fizzles to a predictable toilet fart here. After threatening us with something interesting last episode, in which Osyraa sues for peace and alliance but then is rebuffed by Vance's outlandish demands, Osyraa becomes every bit the pointless EEEVIL villain she was made out to be - trying to solve her problems by punching people and exploding things. Then, I guess, for whatever reason, the erstwhile members of the Federation show up to lend their assistance to the Federation remnant.... but wait, I thought Vulcan and other planets were super far away and were lacking dilithium? No time to explain! The "Action movie" aspect of this tale was risible. The B-team crew members all run and yell and gasp about dramatically, to little overall storytelling effect (If the sphere data Wall-E's can control anything, why did they allow all the asphyxiation stuff to happen?) Burnham and Book chase the two boss villains through... was this supposed to be turboshafts? Are the interiors of the ship through which turboshafts move larger than an entire Starbase? Is Discovery a TARDIS? No time to explain. Burnham has her Big Boss Fight with Osyraa in the... data core? Why do they need to go to the data core again? NO TIME TO EXPLAIN. Then, Yay, everyone is instantly alive again after suffocating, and yay, they destroy the Death Star. How exciting!

Kevin: The biggest miss for me in the episode was with the crew. You know what I would have loved to see? That scene Burnham is talking about. Picture an episode about a thing. Then make the B plot "Tilly is having a rough birthday and her friend Burnham responds in an empathic but not pushy way." That's a better story than hearing about it. And Owo? I would love an episode where we get to see anything about her life. I completely accept the idea that she dives for abalone the way Robert Picard makes wine, to honor and connect to tradition. You know what I would love to see? 23rd century Nigeria. What does safe, prosperous Africa look like? I bet that could be a fun story. That are a hundred stories you could tell with this character rather than shoehorn exposition into a watered down Die Hard knock off.

Matthew:  Apparently, Burnham's story for the past 13 episodes has been about her deciding whether her destiny lies with Starfleet and the Federation. You could be excused for forgetting this, because it was mentioned all of two times, and in the intervening episodes she was mostly occupied with solving other characters' problems. But our long-simmering desire to know what her choice will be (I kid) is definitively answered in this episode, in which, after disobeying orders yet again, she is promoted to Captain by Admiral Vance because... she taught him a lesson about living or something.  I do not think this story beat is earned. We have not really seen her struggle with her life choices, we have only heard a few lines of dialogue in which she discusses them. She didn't show exceptional leadership or strategic skill, she just punched the bad guys. Like Kirk in the Kelvin timeline, she has skipped ahead of more qualified personnel after displaying consistent insubordination. Suffice it to say, I have big questions as to what storytelling purposes this development serves outside of CBS crowing about how they have a black female captain (after feathering their caps with trans and nonbinary characters). I do not have anything against a black female captain. I have something against an officer who is this bad at her job being captain, just like I had an issue with Tilly being acting captain in the last episode or two. It makes the world less believable.

Kevin: Honestly, I could let it go if they hadn't tried to package the show as 'not being about the captain' when the show started. It just makes me feel like they are making this up as they go. Honestly, the best version of Discovery remains the one I was hinted at in the pilot. A non-genocidal Georgiou mentors a too timid Saru and a too rash Burnham to being good captain material. Then the moment at the end of season 3 where she gets the center chair would make me feel something.


Matthew: I'm completely over Sonequa Martin-Green by this point. Yes, she is given fuck all to do by the writers. But there are just no shades of value to it for me. She's verklempt. She's quiet-angry. She's verklempt again. BORING. I think the performance of the evening again goes to Doug Jones. I believed his emotional journey, even though the story shortchanged both that journey and his character arc. Wilson Cruz gets an honorable mention, because he is good at delivering lines and seeming emotionally engaged. The B-team do nothing for me. They seem like they're having fun, but I'm not, so whatever.

Kevin: I maintain there isn't a bad actor in the bunch. All of them are delivering exactly what is being asked for them, and based on stuff like her chemistry with Booker, I believe Martin Green can delivery an array of emotions other than hushed crying. My problem is not with the actors, it's that they are working their butts off to deliver a story not anchored to anything.

Production Values

Matthew: The camera work in this episode is all of the worst habits of the Discovery directing staff distilled into one hour of television. Shaking the frame stands in for drama, and starting a scene out upside down substitutes for creativity. The pew pew space battle is yet another incomprehensible visual blender, as well. Who thought having blue ships fire blue lasers against a blue backdrop was a good idea?

Kevin: Maybe it's because I had an episode of TNG on in the background while grinding this out, but I do miss space scenes where the ships were a different color than that background.

Matthew: The turbolift scene is an absolute disaster of visual design. Worse than the ship's ginormous shuttle bay, now we are expected to believe that when you enter a turbolift, you enter some sort of fifth dimensional null-space, with yawning chasms surrounding you and nothing supporting the lift itself. It's like something out of Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, and it utterly removes me from the episode's "story." It may be the worst thing Discovery has done.

Kevin: I interpreted the gates the turbolift went through as essentially some kind of maglev system, but yeah, you could fit downtown Chicago in the the turboshaft. It would be a better use of space to tell everyone to take the stairs and use that space for literally anything else. The real problem is that the reason this space was designed was so they could Alan Rickman the bad guy. I don't mind narrative shortcuts, but they have to not break the universe.


Matthew: Is this a 1 or a 2? I just don't know any more. I think I'm going with a 1, because I was bored throughout, because every story conclusion failed, and because the production design was distracting beyond measure. And if people want to label me a curmudgeon or a "hater," well, fine. I think I have done my due diligence and catalogued the reasons and rationales for all of my responses to this piece of trash.

As a season, was it better than prior efforts? Kind of? Removing it to the far future lets the show sink or swim on its own merits as opposed to failing to fit established continuity. This allows me to treat it more as a really awful fan production. But it still suffers from all of the same problems - piss poor writing riddled with logic holes and confusion; character arcs utterly lacking supporting details and scenes from the scripts; repetitive, boring acting choices and production choices; a lack of science fiction and moral dilemmas.

Kevin: I will agree with the boredom factor and that largely spurs me both to agreeing with the 1 and announcing my resignation from reviewing further Discovery, and frankly Picard for the time being. If someone tells me its worth a binge later, I'll check it out. I was having a conversation with a friend who is a Trekkie and likes Discovery. After a few back and forths about my problems she said "You aren't going to convince me to not like it." and that was one of those 'a-ha' moments. It's not really worth it to discuss this show anymore. People who do or don't like this show have settled on that opinion and I don't think after three seasons, either side is going to change the other's mind. I'm not even angry anymore. My enduring complaint has never really been "They changed Star Trek," it's that "They changed Star Trek and insisted they hadn't so I would still front them my money." Well, we're past that. 

All of the ass-pull plotting and even the damn turbolift I could forgive if the core emotional storytelling was less frenetic. I've pointed out before how, for example, the plot of Star Trek IV is a total ass pull. Even Inner Light, rightfully celebrated as one of the best episodes of the series, is a total ass pull. There is no reason to believe that a species just cracking chemical rockets could make a magic mind ray beam, but in that episode I don't care, because the episode was not about that. It was a 45 minute, tightly scripted, one act play about Picard exploring the road not taken. And there lies the difference, at least for me. The episodic nature and focus on more carefully developed character stories allowed the silly plot devices to be the springboard for a fun story rather than the substitute for one.

And mostly, I feel like I have been writing the same review for three seasons now. I could condense three seasons to three sentences. The effects are mushy. The character development is non-existent. The focus on big mysteries precludes developing effective stories. 

I don't enjoy watching the show and I don't enjoy talking about it anymore. The end.

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