Discovery really wanted to end this season on a bunch of big emotional notes, reaffirming the ideals of the Federation as something to strive for, and end with a shot for fans to cheer for. It did not succeed.
All images: CBS
“Will You Take My Hand” isn’t bad. It just isn’t good either. And in some places, it does some unforgivable things. I will give it this: In the grand tradition of Star Trek, it slams the reset button with both fists and never stops winding back the clock. If you were wondering what the point of this season was, you are not alone.
We open right where we left off, learning that, apparently, Lorca is the only person from the Mirror Universe who was ever capable of or willing to actually go undercover in the Prime universe. Georgiou does not hide her awfulness well at all. She demands they call Qo’noS the “enemy planet” rather than “the Klingon homeworld”, as the latter denotes respect. She’s told the Discovery is running dark and responds that it’s her “favourite way to run”. And then she engages in some casual psychological torture of Saru by asking if he’s afraid. She says that back where she’s from they have a saying, “Scared Kelpian makes for tough Kelpian.” Sarue replies he’s become “so tough that many find me unpalatable”. That’s how you handle a captain who also sees you as a delicacy!
Mirror Georgiou and Burnham have a big confrontation that feels like one of a million this episode, and it’s hard to care because we all know where this is going and Burnham’s relationship with Georgiou went away as a plot point in like episode four, only coming back when Mirror Georgiou did. It didn’t build or evolve so, unlike with Tyler – a storyline I don’t like, but can acknowledge the writers kept moving forward – the emotional heft isn’t that strong. Like Jason Isaacs, Michelle Yeoh has a great time as a Mirror character. Evil is fun. But, like Lorca in his last episode, she is so clearly irredeemable that Burnham just looks like a fool.
Georgiou decides to beat information about where some caves on Qo’noS are out of the still-imprisoned L’Rell, and we get the line “you require seasoning” as well as L’Rell bringing up that the Klingons ate regular Georgiou. I really wish “eating people” wasn’t a theme of this season. And I have no idea what the point is. Are the Klingons just like the Terrans? Did the starving Klingons have more need than the Mirror Universe people? Should we have not had people eating in this show at all, since it’s just for shock value and serves only to demonise?
Anyway, Burnham’s eventually able to remind Georgiou that Tyler has all the same information as L’Rell, but, you know, also wants to help rather than needing to be forced. Georgiou, going for a blackout board in evil bingo, calls Tyler “it”, says he belongs nowhere, and does all this as if he isn’t even in the room. Tyler, for his part, is making a sailing knot that is the first thing “he” learned. He says it “ties me to my past”. (When it’s that literal, it isn’t a metaphor any more, is it?) Anyway, Tyler says the caves they need to map the planet – which aren’t connected to the cave that the ship will jump into – are in a shielded shrine under land given to the Orions. Georgiou says the Orions in her world are pirates and slavers and everyone has to be like “…yeah, same here.”
Georgiou decides the group that will release the “drone” (which we all know is a bomb and it’s honestly taking too long to get there) will be her, Burnham, Tyler and Tilly. When Tilly is the most emotionally stable person in your group, you should rethink things. Tilly bounds in, excited to work with Georgiou whom she has somehow not realised until this point is a little off. She catches on quickly when Georgiou mentions how they subjugated Betazed together. I assume for a casual girls’ night out.
It’s weirdly out of place, but I will commend everyone’s comic timing on this exchange:
Tilly: “Oh she’s not – ”
Tilly: “She’s – ”
Discovery jumps, Stamets gets one of his like two lines of the night (“Am I good or what?”), and the landing party sets out to sell guns to some Orions. I would wear every single bit of their undercover clothing.
When the team lands on Qo’nos, Tilly’s time in the Mirror Universe was not wasted, because she’s actually pretty good at acting like an arms dealer. Right up until she says she’s hungry from all the arms dealing and drags Burnham away to tell her she has her back. Like Saru, Tilly has benefited from not being in the spotlight. This scene shows that’s she’s grown but is still fundamentally herself.
Georgiou then says, “We’re not here for bread and circuses.” A line which makes no sense in context, because “bread and circuses” is a reference to keeping a population docile through meeting their basic needs and distracting them with entertainment. But it does make sense as a very clumsy shout-out since there is an original series episode with the title “Bread and Circuses”. Continuity is the Discovery writers’ drug of choice, and we are all suffering from their addiction.
And, hey, if we’re talking Orions, we must be talking green women dancing! You know, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but J.J. Abrams treated the obligatory Orion reference with more dignity in his movie than Discovery does here. It’s a one-two-three punch of awful. First of all, the “sexy” dancing is clearly there to remind us that this isn’t our father’s Star Trek, just like the one-episode use of “fuck” and the full-frontal Klingon nudity was. It isn’t that Star Trek can’t curse or have nudity, it’s that they didn’t build a show where it’s a shock for its own sake, rather than worldbuilding. Second of all, Georgiou buys some time with Orion sex workers, both male and female, whom she then threatens with a gun for information… after having sex with them, of course. In the year 2018, there’s no excuse for a Star Trek show to decide the Depraved Bisexual is a trope worth including.
Third of all, this guy (who, fun fact, is played by Clint Howard, who’s made appearances across Star Trek since he appeared as Balok all the way back in “The Corbomite Manoeuvre” in 1966):
Does he have a thick accent even though the other Orions don’t? Yes. Is this, down to the music, meant to be an opium den? Yes. Is this character a number of tropes right out of the Yellow Peril playbook? Yes. Is he basically the spitting image of Mickey Rooney’s yellow-face in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, only green? Also yes.
This is infuriating. All of this is pretty much par for the course for Discovery, which has always paid lip service to “exploring” and “developing” the period right before the original series, but has completely failed to do so. The Klingons as presented in this show don’t have depth and we barely spent any time on the war from their side, other than in ways that presented them as backstabbing power-grabbers. Tyler/Voq and L’Rell weren’t presented as honourable examples of them all, but as extreme outliers.
Similarly, you can’t include Orions in a show in 2018 the same way a show from 1969 does. If they had come to Qo’noS and happened to encounter some Orions, that would have been an Easter egg. Instead, this show just goes ahead with “Oh yeah, a whole race of drug peddlers, slavers and pirates,” pointing it out, failing to interrogate it, and adding a new layer that 1969 didn’t have. I mean, I may be wrong, but I do not remember this particular flavour of fear of Asia-based racism tinging the Orions in the original series. Even if there was, Discovery shouldn’t continue it.
Discovery does this a lot, by the way. There’s a constant feeling like someone has just realised they never explained something, so a line or two is added out of nowhere that just draws attention to the problem.
While Tilly’s getting high and Georgiou is having sex, Tyler and Burnham are trying to find the cave location from some other Klingons who are playing what is basically craps, but is, of course, called “Obliterate Them” in Klingon. Tyler actually seems to let go of his depression for a second while playing the game, while the sound of laughing Klingons makes Burnham run outside.
In a scene that is good, but that I wish we’d gotten earlier so that we better understood Burnham’s actions on the Shenzhou, Burnham describes what it was like hearing her parents be murdered by Klingons. This was a scene we needed earlier in the series because while everyone kept saying it was ironic that Burnham had fallen for a Klingon, we’d never really understood the depth of her trauma there. We got a lot more about her feelings surrounding her foster father than what she survived before he took her in.
Tilly discovers she has a bomb and not a drone, tells Burnham, but Georgiou takes it and runs off. Burnham twigs that this isn’t Georgiou going rogue, but a sanctioned Starfleet action. Now I will flat out say I was wrong. I expected this show to do something radical – to have another mutiny, this time with the whole crew behind it, to save Starfleet from itself. To uphold its values. If the Discovery mutinied, saved the Federation from Klingons and itself, and then headed out to explore as an independent ship, fleeing the Federation, that would explain a lot. It would explain why Spock never mentions his sister, now more of a persona non grata than before. It would explain why no one ever mentions the spore drive again. It would explain a lot.
That is not what Discovery went with. Discovery, for all its fucks, boobs and blood, is a far more typical Star Trek show than it’s advertised itself as. What happens is that Burnham gives a speech and convinces Starfleet to change its mind. End of story. Burnham gives Georgiou her freedom in exchange for control of the control – and Georgiou weirdly takes too long to make the exchange, since I’d expect her not to really care what happens to anyone but herself and getting what she wants. (Burnham says, “You are really nothing like my Georgiou are you?” and Mirror Georgiou and the whole audience yells back “No kidding.” It is annoying that it took Burnham this long to figure this out, and it isn’t even that emotional a final realisation for her.) The bomb is given to L’Rell, so she can use the threat of wiping out Qo’noS to put herself in charge and bring about the grand Klingon unification that T’Kuvma wanted. Tyler goes with her.
Burnham is pardoned and gets her rank back. Throughout the episode, there’s been a Burnham voiceover about a new soldier and an admiral discussing fear on the eve of battle. It’s trite, not unlike when Burnham recited Alice in Wonderland oh so many episodes ago. It turns out Burnham is giving a speech at a ceremony where the crew is getting the medals of honour. Burnham says that Federation planets have all completed an “odyssey out of darkness into light. So too have the Klingons. The war is over.” I shuddered at the reminder of Into Darkness.
The writers have done another line of hard, uncut continuity because Burnham also says they will keep “exploring, discovering new worlds, new civilisations”. Someone please, please stop them. This many forced references is painful.
The Discovery, Sarek in tow, is on its way to Vulcan to pick up a new captain who, with this ship’s luck, will probably turn out to be the Borg Queen.
In terms of the reset, it is total and complete. Burnham has her rank again. Tilly’s an ensign and in the command training program. The war is over and the Federation seems to be basically back to normal. Tyler’s gone, L’Rell’s wrangling the Klingons. Mirror Georgiou’s out there scampering about, to be brought back whenever Michelle Yeoh has some spare time. Starfleet’s decided to only allow the spore-drive to navigate without a person involved, so Stamets is just a regular scientist. All hail the mighty reset button, the most powerful force in Trek.
Oh, but on its way to Vulcan, Discovery gets a distress call… from Captain Pike and the USS Enterprise.
Discovery writers, powder around their noses: “Ah yes, that’s the good stuff.”
And that’s it for season one of Star Trek: Discovery. Was it good? No, but it wasn’t that bad either. But there was so, so much potential that ended up wasted.
The big problem is that the whole thing was clearly written and shot in one, frenetic session. No one stopped to work the kinks out. And, since it was so committed to being one, long story, it’s impossible to pick out one, standout episode to show to others. The first half of the season had a lot of threads that were teased and were interesting but dropped. The second half, obsessed with shouting out famous bits of Trek lore, taking a cul de sac to the Mirror Universe, and then racing to wrap up a whole war in two episodes, was much sloppier.
I watched last week’s episode with a friend who hadn’t seen any others. And the look on her face when I tried to explain everything she needed to know was unreal. There are very few episodes which wouldn’t run into that problem. I think the time loop episode is the only one that kind of works on its own.
The laser-focus on Burnham was also a mistake, I think. She had to be the centre of everything, so she got too much thrown her way. She had the mutiny, the parental issues, the love story, was the obsession of the villains, and so on. To the point where it was hard to keep track of how her character was meant to be growing. Saru and Tilly had much quieter, but more solid growth, and it worked better. By the time this episode came along, Burnham had had so many emotional confrontations and so many climaxes, I was just tired. The lack of action in this episode did not help keep the momentum up.
I like this cast a lot. I like the characters, if not how they were used. I would and will read a hundred fanfics about the missions that happened in between episodes because I bet they’d be much more self-contained, and probably not as desperately full of forced connections to the original series. The appearance of the Enterprise gives me so much pause. While the first half of the season presented a show ready to dissect the ideals of Starfleet, the second half was a fanservice nightmare, and this looks very much as though it’s going to be more of the same.
- When Burnham said, “We are Starfleet,” and the crew started standing, did anyone else expect them to say they were Spartacus?
- Love how Amanda’s whole job in life is reminding her kids to be humans. Her whole thing with Burnham was a less effective version of her asking Spock, “How do you feel?” in The Voyage Home.
- I can’t imagine having a bomb in Qo’noS won’t be a problem later.
- This episode so felt like the show had blown its effects budget earlier in the season. There was very little action, either ship-based or fight choreography. Just a lot of talking, which is where Discovery usually gets itself into trouble.
- Burnham has so many parents and pseudo-parents, it’s slightly ridiculous.
- Undercover Tilly always gets straight hair.
- What does Saru have to do to get promoted? Honestly.
- Did I stay and listen to the original Star Trek theme play over the end credits? Absolutely.