‘Star Trek: Discovery’ finishes the first half of this season the way it began: with unparalleled, unmitigated, unequivocal horse shit. So much was wrong with ‘Into The Forest I Go’ that I’m actually glad we get this weird mid-season break as it means I get to spend that time picking this damn series apart piece by piece, like an air crash investigator, but more jaded and emotionally detached.
As a content note, below I’ll be discussing torture and sexual violence, amongst other potentially distressing topics, so please bear that in mind.
Utterly Predicatble, Completely Disgusting
As laid out in a previous article, it seems my predictions were correct, I was just an episode premature.
Ash the Human is now all-but confirmed to be Voq the Klingon, and the main surprise is that it turns out he wasn’t aware of what or who he really was. Which is good, because this is the episode where he and Burnham finally sleep together, and if he *had* known that he was Voq, that would have raised all sorts of consent issues that I just know the show’s writers wouldn’t have even been aware of, never mind addressed.
We also see him laid bare as a barely-coping victim of PTSD – which may have been a positive step forwards in terms of the portrayal of mental health in TV shows – until it inevitably turns out in a future episode that it’s not PTSD at all, and it’s actually just a symptom of him being a sleeper agent. If that’s the case, then this show can burn.
Ash’s PTSD episode also features a series of flashbacks to him “doing what he could to survive” by having sex with L’Rell, his former captor. Obviously this montage is highly stylised and sexualised, with Klingon boobies and everything, but let’s be clear here: that was a rape scene. It was a rape scene, and it was played to titillate. Hopefully, it’s pretty clear that such a thing is wrong in a TV show. Or in any capacity.
(As an aside, it doesn’t matter if he’s a man and she’s a woman, or that he technically “had a choice” in whether or not to sleep with her – if the reason somebody is having sex is to avoid physical harm or death (or as a result of any other form of threat or intimidation) then that person is being raped. Fucking ‘Always Sunny In Philadelphia’ managed to get its head around this in the boat episode, and that was ten years ago.)
(If you’re still not sure, then bear in mind that in the Western world at least, and elsewhere, it is legally impossible for a prisoner to give consent to a custodian.)
Now, I’m not sure what to make of this if we later find out that the sex occurred before Voq had his personality replaced with Ash Tyler. It still seems really, really gross from the perspective of the portrayal of sexual violence in TV and movies. And if we’re being honest, do we really think that the people behind ‘Choose Your Pain’ (or that bit where Harry Mudd was punished by being presented with a woman) are capable of handling the complexities of this kind of consent issue?
In yet another abject lack of surprise, it turns out Lorca – yes, he who aspires to the ‘Angry Celebrity Chef’ style of leadership – is indeed a Mirror Universe version of himself, or something. Basically, he says something like “Let’s go home,” and then overrides the jump co-ordinates so that they end up in a parallel universe, after showing Stamets earlier in the episode that he’s already been charting parallel universes in his spare time.
Woop di doo! Well done ‘Discovery’, you meet expectations, which in your case means being exactly as dull as I thought you were.
Because at this point, there’s two explanations: Lorca is from the Mirror Universe originally, and hence is evil and manipulative in his quest to get back home. Or, he’s evil and manipulative, and at this point is just doing stuff for shits and giggles and to avoid any consequences for his horrible actions. Which would make him, in essence, a clever four-year-old.
Starfleet Deserves To Lose The War
Faced with a tactically-insurmountable disadvantage, Starfleet is losing the war. The Klingon invisibility cloak allows the entire Klingon fleet to approach Federation ships, planets and outposts without detection, before launching devastating attacks. Pretty brutal.
Last episode, three of Starfleet’s best – a convicted mutineer, a PTSD-ridden former POW who’s been out of action for seven months of an eight-month war, and a lanky alien who is literally terrified of everything – were sent on a critical mission to secure a big antenna thing which might have helped them win the war.
This mission failed. Pretty fucking obviously.
At the beginning of this episode, roughly half an hour after the conclusion of the last one, Admiral Vulcan tells the crew that since the mission failed, Starfleet is now gathering its best scientists to come up with a new solution.
Hang on. So, you hadn’t already done that? Three weeks of getting your arses kicked by cloaked ships, and the Federation hadn’t yet made a concerted scientific effort to crack the cloak? Bear in mind, Starfleet was previously an organisation of scientists and explorers, as Lorca points out in this very episode. And they didn’t leverage their technological advantage when it came to the cloak?
For three weeks?
No matter, though. Because Lorca then tells Burnham and Saru (we’ll get to Saru later) to come up with a means of cracking the cloak. In three hours. It takes them one hour.
Such a shame that the Federation, consisting of “trillions” (again, quoting from this episode) of citizens couldn’t spare two scientists for a whole hour. Else they might have had this cloaking device sorted weeks ago. Y’know, the same Federation, as noted above, that’s renowned for its technological capabilities.
Now, this is the sort of thing that happens in Trek all the time. On countless previous occasions, Geordi and Data have pulled some Treknomagic bullshit solution out of their arses to solve an absurd problem in the nick of time. But that’s usually because they came across some information that nobody had seen before. Like, it’s a plot point – “If only we could <do the bullshit>!” “Wait, Data, we can <do the bullshit>! Look at these readings we took in our last encounter!”
As it is, the crew of Discovery manage to solve the cloaking device problem simply because they were the first ones to even try to solve it.
After three weeks.
If Starfleet’s response to the cloaking device was to send three idiots to a remote planet and literally try nothing else, then Starfleet deserves to lose, and the Klingons ought to win by default. The Starfleet of ‘Discovery’ is the Giant Panda of fictional star empires – so uninterested in its own survival that it writes itself out of the ecosystem.
So, in the last episode, Saru attacked both Burnham and Ash the Human whilst on the Planet of the Plot Device, and tries to sabotage the mission. This is a mission that will potentially end the war with the Klingons.
He turns traitor because he “finally experienced peace” or some rampant bollocks. Point is, at first it seems like he’s brain-washed, but actually he confirms himself that it was just him losing his shit, because his species evolved to experience terror every waking moment and when he was presented with safety he lost control.
Which is fine, that’s a motivation that makes sense for his character. There’s plenty of other dumb shit that happened in the last episode but this was sort-of okay.
What isn’t okay is that literally twenty minutes after caving in Burnham’s chest cavity and knocking Ash the Human unconscious, Saru is back on the bridge, as first-in-command, no less. Which…
Look, the “magic reset button” is a Trek staple, but this series is meant to be a continuous narrative. Not only that, but the last scene of that episode leads directly into the first scene of this episode, turning both episodes into a two-parter. Which raises the question:
WHY ISN’T SARU IN THE FUCKING BRIG?
He literally tried to prevent Starfleet from winning the war with the Klingons. He literally incapacitated one shipmate and tried to incapacitate the other. The last time a Starfleet officer did that, we got this entire fucking show, and the officer in question spent six months in prison before being press-ganged onto Lorca’s Little Ship of Horrors.
Now, okay, so you say that he wasn’t himself, he was subject to extenuating circumstances, fine, whatever. But you’re just going to let him back onto the bridge? In a command capacity?
You may notice that this font is being slowly invaded by italics. That’s because of just how poorly I am coping with the cluelessness of this show’s writers. This universe they have created is entirely inconsistent and nonsensical – and that’s to be expected for the likes of ‘The Next Generation’, which ran for seven seasons over seven years, with 178 non-sequential episodes all with distinct narratives.
But it’s been seven episodes since Burnham stepped off the prison shuttle onto the deck of Discovery and it seems like the writers have already forgotten why she was there. The fact that Saru can pull the same shit as her and evade any consequences is bizarre and jarring from a narrative perspective, and if you were binge-watching this crap you’d be baffled.
Win The War, But Not Too Quickly
This episode is ostensibly about the crew of Discovery winning the war – or rather, finding a way to allow the rest of Starfleet to win the war. And that’s a big thing for Lorca, too. Indeed, it’s basically all he talks about. Ever. “I’m a warrior.” “I win wars.” “I study wars.” “What was that? Was that a war? Can I have one?” and so on.
Lorca touts himself as this incredible warrior. Some kind of pragmatic, capable leader willing to do anything, anything, to win the war. I don’t care for this type of characterisation personally, but we can park that for now.
Pretend you’re a warrior. A ship captain, at war, trying to end it. And in front of you is the enemy flagship. Probably the enemy’s most powerful ship. It’s a cultural, probably religious icon to the enemy, festooned with the sarcophagi of fallen enemy soldiers. Aboard the ship is not only the head of the enemy’s entire military, the most powerful individual in their ranks, but also the original prototype of a piece of game-changing technology which allowed the enemy to gain the upper hand against your own forces in just two or three weeks.
And you have just pierced its invisibility field. It’s unshielded, it can’t fire back, and you have it completely by surprise.
What do you do?
Yeah, that’s right you probably just blow it up with torpedoes.
Never mind the chance of taking the ship, of disabling it from a distance so you can hold its commander hostage.
Never mind the chance to seize the original cloaking device. Y’know, the piece of technology you just risked your entire ship to try and gain more information about.
Never mind the chance to seize the cultural icon of a race motivated to war with you for religious reasons.
Nah, probs better to just wipe it out.
How stuuuuuuuuuuupid is Lorca meant to be, exactly? And how dumb is Starfleet to want to give him a medal for this? He had the actual most valuable asset in the war against the Klingons – an asset that would enable the Federation to negotiate peace probably overnight. I mean, Lorca knows they’ve just found a way to see through the cloaking devices of the Klingons. Combine that with holding General Kol and the Ship of the Dead to ransom, and you can present the Klingons with both an incentive to agree to a ceasefire, and a disincentive to continue a war which is about to become a whole lot more costly to them.
And I get there might be reasons that Discovery had to destroy Kol’s ship. I appreciate that. But the fact that capturing it wasn’t brought up as an option suggests to me that the writers didn’t even consider it.
But here’s the trick: it had already been done.
The crew of Discovery know that they can successfully board the Klingon flagship because that’s exactly what happened in the pilot episodes. The busted-ass Shenzhou managed to disable the ship of the dead with a single photon torpedo, and would probably have captured T’Kuvma alive had they sent more than two people.
But as recently as this same episode Lorca sends two crew members to sneak aboard Kol’s ship, and not only do they do so successfully, one of them nearly manages to kill Kol in hand-to-hand combat.
Just target the ship’s weapons and engines and then beam a whole bunch of people over with phasers on the “Stun” setting. And just like that, you’ve got critical leverage over the Klingon Empire, your deadly adversary.
Or, waste your extreme tactical advantage and just blow the ship up, no questions asked. Seems reasonable.
The monumental stupidity of all this is astonishing. I genuinely struggle to cope. It’s like being trapped in a Lovecraftian nightmare specially crafted for a writer. The show’s idiocy is almost comic – but the joke is on me.
Put Her On The Medical Bus
Admiral Cornwell gets her legs busted. Or her spine. It doesn’t matter. The point is, she is added to the constantly expanding list of “Female Authority Figures In ‘Discovery’ Who Receive Lethal Or Hospitalising Injuries In Some Way”. Just to outline the issue (again):
- Georgiou – stabbed, eaten.
- Burnham – burned by radiation.
- Landry – eaten by bears. One bear. Mauled. Mauled by a single bear. A space bear.
- L’Rell – face burned off.
- Stella – married to Mudd.
- Cornwell – paralysed from the legs down.
- Tilly – relegated to “single line of social awkwardness on legs.”
That’s not the point I want to make, though. The point I want to make is:
Immediately after Lorca destroys Kol’s ship, Cornwell was put on an “emergency medical shuttle” to Starbase 88, as confirmed by the Vulcan admiral. She’ll make a full recovery, so that’s all good.
After hearing this, Lorca tells the admiral that the algorithm for detecting cloaked ships is “being refined for fleet-wide use” and will be sent to Starfleet in eleven hours.
This exchange raises so many questions that it’s easier to just use another list:
- Why not send the algorithm straight away?
- Why refine it first?
- Why does it take eleven hours to refine something that took less than an hour to create from scratch?
- At the beginning of the episode, Starbase 46 was three hours away. Presumably that was the closest one, because Discovery would’ve been ordered to the closest, right? So you’re looking at a minimum journey time of three hours, right? Assuming shuttles travel as quickly as starships? So it’s safe to assume that it took Cornwell’s medical bus three hours at least to reach Starbase 88, riiiight? So it’s actually more like fourteen hours to refine the algorithm? Seriously?
- The Vulcan admiral also tells Lorca that Klingon ships are speeding towards Discovery, which is shown to still be in orbit over the same planet. So, for three hours they just hung around? Refining an algorithm?
- Why not just put a, I dunno, a fucking USB stick containing the algorithm on the shuttle with Cornwell? Starfleet would have it by now! They could be “refining” it themselves!
All of this is just throw-away dialogue, really, but throw-away dialogue shouldn’t be bringing into question major plot points! The main thrust of this conversation is that Cornwell will recover, Discovery needs to head home so Lorca can get a medal, and now the war is theirs to win. But so many stupid things get said that the entire plot of the episode starts breaking down entirely.
I already mentioned that there are Klingon ships headed for Discovery, and yet we later see Lorca approach Stamets to stand with him, staring out at the sunset over the Planet of the Plot Device. They shoot the shit for a while, they talk about medals and stuff. Then Lorca guilt-trips Stamets into using the jump-drive one last time, because Klingons are totally on their way to kill them all.
Soooo… Why, exactly, are they not already at warp? Earlier in the episode they use the jump drive at warp, so that would still be an option. So why wouldn’t they be warping the shit away from the danger zone? What reason could they possibly have for not going to warp immediately after Lorca’s conversation with the admiral? What possible justification could there be for Lorca just wandering around the ship and looking at sunsets?
I mean, we know Lorca’s up to no good, but what about the rest of the crew? What about Saru? Y’know, the first officer who is permanently terrified? I mean, Lorca tells Stamets that they can use the warp drive to get home without need for the jump drive – so why the everliving fuck aren’t they already at warp? Maybe I was wrong, maybe Ash isn’t a Klingon agent, maybe everybody is a Pakled agent.
More like ‘Star Trek: Bag of Hammers’ if you ask me.
These are just the most glaring issues from a narrative perspective. Issues around theme and characterisation are pervasive, and I’ll have to cover them later. For now, ‘Discovery’s first half finishes exactly as it started – troubled, troubling and completely out of order.