Most of ‘New Eden’ made me feel happy.
The second episode of DISCO’s second season was a relatively well put-together work of fiction. There were stakes, there were debates, there were expressions of self-doubt by the characters. There was an away mission, which was lovely, and in classic Trek style it was to an M-Class planet, the “M” standing for “Much like California.”
I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Tilly & Co. once again getting excited by science stuff and doing science things with science objects. The science-solution to the science-problem was about as lucid as Trek gets with this sort of stuff and it broadly fits with the concept of a gravity tractor.
Detmer and Owosekun have graduated from “having lines” to “being plot-relevant”. Detmer’s a cocky little deviant and that’s just fine. Owosekun is apparently a Luddite, which is an… interesting concept for a community of people living in a tech-driven neo-Utopia. Particularly since the Luddites were a protest group whose opposition to machinery was due to fear of losing their jobs.
Airiam gets one more line this episode, taking her up to a franchise-total of four lines. What species is she? Who knows! I’m fine with leaving some character development for later, but she’s the most visually distinctive member of the crew and it would be nice for her to at least have some degree of characterisation beyond “none at all.”
Hands-down my favourite Stupid Pike Moment of this episode is the crew explaining to Pike the concept of the Spore Drive and Stamets’ role in making it work. I get that Pike’s the Supply Captain, but surely he’s been briefed a little since he took command? Surely it’s important to know that your chief engineer is half-tardigrade?
Another stinker is the receipt of the distress call and Pike’s immediate command to “ready photon torpedoes.” The distress call clearly refers to some kind of ground attack, Pike, so unless you want to atomise the victims as well as the attackers in some kind of callous display of indifferent, godly power, maybe just chill a bit?
Pike pushes hard on the whole “Well maybe there IS a god, did you ever think about that?” cul-de-sac of thought, further cementing his role as the lovable, dim, handsome captain who’s just glad to be along for the ride.
I didn’t have anything coherent to say about his ‘F’ grade in Astrophysics last time, and I’m not sure I do yet. On the one hand, it’s fine for leaders to have flaws.
On the other hand, the leaders of SPACESHIPS should probably know at least a little about “the branch of astronomy concerned with the physical nature of stars and other celestial bodies, and the application of the laws and theories of physics to the interpretation of astronomical observations.” I dunno, just give him an ‘F’ in Botany or something instead.
Overall, ‘New Eden’ was kind-of fine. Tilly was fun, if cringey. Burnham’s and Pike’s relationship is complicating nicely. It felt like a very standard episode of Star Trek. Jonathan Frakes’ directorial input was evident in the focused, tight scenes that didn’t leap from plot point to plot point just to Shelby the audience into submission.
I was glad that there was no unnecessary action scene. Pike’s phaser-blast to the chest seemed like a contrived means of forcing the away team to seek a return to Discovery before the planetary story had reached a natural conclusion. But there was also no ridiculous, budget-soaking asteroid pod-race. This was a show about people in rooms, talking, but this time the conversations changed the nature of the problem that the crew was facing.
It was lovely to see the crew not just doing Science Stuff, but working together whilst doing so. There’s a part of me that hated Detmer’s delivery of the line “Extinction-Level Event”, but then I loved the way she and a hospital-robed-Tilly just started bouncing off each other trying to solve the Problem of the Week. It reminded me of Geordi and Data stood at the pool table on the Enterprise-D in ‘Deja Q’, talking excitedly about tractor beams and warp fields.
The Star Trek Grinch in me wants to criticise the “dumming-down” of the language, with talk of pulling doughnuts and the computer confirming Tilly’s assertion that things might go “boom”. But again, seeing Tilly with her Nerd-Goggles and Zero Point Energy Field Manipulator warmed the geek-cockles of my heart.
Likewise, Saru giving Tilly a stern but affectionate talking-to in sickbay was pretty touching, and felt like a nice relationship for these characters to have – uniting on their shared insecurities and self-doubt. Nothing wrong with that.
Stamets kept up the pathos and the sensitivity, which is also great. Anthony Rapp’s shown us a few different sides of the character, and Stamets has become a genuinely engaging element of the show.
The biggest failing of this episode was insufficient focus or development of the New Eden colony, their culture and their way of life. It felt like it had been heavily edited, stripped down for time, or potentially not fleshed out at all in the script. Which is a shame, as the last episode was a full sixty minutes, and I’d have been fine with this 45-minute episode running a little longer so that we could get more emotionally invested in the people of New Eden.
Specifically, Jacob was a fascinating character on the surface, but we just never got to fully understand his background, nor why his family remained devoted to science and technology.
This also leads into the absurd line by Burnham: “Say my religion is science.” That just doesn’t make sense from anybody’s perspective – either from the New Eden colonists, who despite their low-tech way of life all seem relatively intelligent, nor to Burnham herself, who as a Science officer and anthropologist should understand that science isn’t a belief system, but rather an approach to characterised by “testable explanations and predictions about the universe.”
Moreover, it’s entirely possible to be both religious and scientific – to hold irrational beliefs covering abstract concepts that cannot be tested, such as purpose, meaning and destiny, whilst still approaching all physical, observable phenomena via the rational, empirical method.
This notion that “science” is somehow an equally valid religious choice alongside Taoism, Islam, Christianity or even Wicca is so bizarre and just reeks of Kurtzman.
One curious point that struck me in this episode was all of the space-based CGI looking suddenly… better. I can’t for the life of me put my finger on it, if it’s higher detail models, better textures, better lighting, or all three, but the show is suddenly looking more like a high-budget TV show and less like screencaps from Star Trek Online.
For comparison, here’s the beauty shot from our first view of Discovery back in Season One’s ‘Context is for Kings’:
And here, from the end of ‘New Eden’:
Overall, this episode felt like it had a steady hand on the tiller. I don’t know if that really is the influence of Frakes, as his previous entry in the franchise was nonsensical and dull as sin. Either way, I was left feeling that if this is a level of quality that ‘Discovery’ can maintain, it might end up being a compelling show.
And one further point – with the introduction of the ship’s new grumpy doctor, and the increased importance of the bridge crew, I’m no longer feeling the need to track female interactions – women talk to each other, and do plot things, and in general manage to avoid just being victims all the time. It’s great! It’s how it should have been from the very beginning.