Sunday, November 12, 2017

Star Trek: Discovery -- "Into the Forest"

Things happened in this episode.  That's about all I can say with any honesty.  Maybe those things would have been interesting if we didn't already know that Lieutenant has-already-forgotten-Kahless Tyler is not who he claims to be, but we do, and so most of the things were not interesting.  It is also true that an inordinately large number of those things happened for no good reason, so I'm going to try to do this review in-line with the recap, because it's going to be very hard to talk about what is going on without, you know, losing it.

Last week left off with the Discovery in orbit around Pahvo, a planet peopled by clouds of pollen that are either incredibly primitive or the most powerful force not named Harry Mudd we have met in  this series (as my wife pointed out, the pollen people teleported Lieutenant prefers-his-revenge-piping-hot Tyler from wherever Commander Saru presumably beat him into submission to the enormous crystalline antenna just in time for the episode's denouement and no one bothered to wonder "do they really need our help to do... anything?"; American Exceptionalism being a foundational idea of the entire Star Trek Universe, I'm going to let this one pass).  The Klingon Ship of the Dead, T'Kuvma's former vessel turned General Kol's flagship, was on its way.  Anticipation was in the air.  This week opens with Starfleet ordering Discovery to retreat to Federation space, its mission to use Pahvo to disrupt all Klingon cloaking devices everywhere having failed.  Captain Lorca, who, as I have already pointed out, does not play by the rules (and also bangs admirals) will have none of it.  He orders his crew to set course for Starbase 46 at warp speed, rather than mushroom speed, telling them that they have however long this trip takes to figure out a way to defeat the Ship of the Dead (the first Klingon ship ever to cloak), at which point they can turn around and Do the Right Thing.  The plan that Specialist Burnham, Lieutenant would-never-cut-his-own-palm-with-a-knife-that's-just-weird Tyler, and Commander Saru, who is notably not in the brig even after last week's interesting display of disloyalty, come up with is as follows: as soon as the Ship of the Dead decloaks, a team of two Discovery commandos will beam on board in the brief window when the Ship of the Dead's shields are still down and place two sensors strategically aboard the Ship of the Dead.  The telemetry from these sensors will allow Discovery to use complex machine learning algorithms to intuit the Ship of the Dead's location based on how its cloaking field distorts the light passing around it.  Unfortunately, collecting the data necessary to train these algorithms will take four days, unless Discovery performs a rapid series of 133 mushroom drive jumps in a matter of minutes, gathering the sensors' telemetry from "all possible vectors" (I actually don't think I mind this use of the word "vectors").  Let me reiterate: their plan is to beam aboard the Ship of the Dead and place something that is neither a straight up tracking device nor a bomb (you know, that thing that Captain Michelle Yeoh used to disable the Ship of the Dead in the pilot episode) on board.   One could argue that Discovery's objective was to create a tool that could defeat all cloaking devices everywhere, which neither the "single tracking device" nor the "just blow them up from the inside" plan would achieve, but the stakes at the beginning of this episode were just "save Pahvo," and I think that killing the self-proclaimed leader of the Klingon Empire would be further incentive enough to just take the short-term win rather than spend several hours devising a much more complicated scheme that still involves getting your people on board Kol's ship.  That is rant the first.

Obviously, Specialist Burnham has to be one of the people sent over, because one of the fancy sensors must be placed on the Ship of the Dead's bridge and only she has been there before.  Once more I reiterate: their brilliant plan involves infiltrating the Klingon flagship's bridge and everyone thinks it will work.  Just as obviously, the other one sent over on this critical mission is Lieutenant drinks-with-his-enemies-all-the-time-except-that-he-never-drinks-with-his-enemies Tyler.  As the saying goes, the strike team that snogs together has horribly divided loyalties and is generally a terrible idea.  That is rant the second.

Meanwhile, in order to sell his "we can only leave Pahvo at warp, rather than mushroom speed" story to Starfleet, Captain Lorca orders Doctor Boyfriend to do a full medical work-up on Lieutenant Stamets because of a made up reason that justifies his disobeying Starfleet's orders (no mushroom drive if Stamets is sick).   Turns out, the wibbly-wobbly parts of Lieutenant Stamets' brain are changing and Doctor Boyfriend definitely doesn't want him doing any more jumps.  Technically, neither does Lieutenant Stamets, having confided last week to Lieutenant Tilley that he has started experiencing time in a less-than-linear fashion.  Captain Lorca takes Stamets to his ready room and shows him data gathered from Discovery's previous mushroom jumps indicating that a series of "negative mass" (or maybe "anti-gravity"... anyway: wibbly-wobbly) pockets have been left behind Discovery after each jump.  These pockets apparently indicate the existence of multiple dimensions (see aside from previous post) that the mushroom drive may have access to.  Stamets gets excited by the prospect of studying these other dimensions and agrees to make the requisite 133 jumps in a few minutes to train the cloak-breaking machine learning algorithm.

Aboard the Ship of the Dead, the strike team plants their first sensor and then, proving how little I understand the writing of television, discover signs of another living human on board.  That human is, of course, Admiral Cornwell who, though alive, appears to be paralyzed from the waist down.  The strike team earnestly debates how they are going to protect the Admiral and accomplish their mission when they discover that L'Rell is also alive and less-than-well in the Ship of the Dead's charnel house.  Recall that last week, L'Rell and Admiral Cornwell were working together to try to escape the Ship of the Dead when they were discovered by General Kol, at which point they fought and L'Rell appeared to kill Admiral Cornwell.  While "disposing of the body", L'Rell discovered a room full of her slaughtered coreligionists and swore revenge against Kol, leaving Admiral Cornwell's "body" behind to go try and insinuate herself into General Kol's good graces.  Now we are supposed to believe that, when that happened, Admiral Cornwell was still alive, meaning that either L'Rell was an idiot for not being able to tell that her vicitm wasn't dead, or that L'Rell was an idiot for leaving her unconscious co-consiprator in a room full of Klingon corpses with no idea how to get out.  That is rant the third.

Upon coming face-to-face with L'Rell, Lieutenant is-a-Merry-Man Tyler, whose Manchurian Candidate backstory is that he spent seven months on a Klingon prison ship, only escaping torture because the Captain of said ship, L'Rell, "took a liking to him," immediately starts flashing back to his memories of being tortured.  We see a fast cut montage of Klingon faces, our plucky hero in saran-wrap, and bloody mekleths.  The problem, of course, is that all of these things are also consistent with the presumably very invasive surgery needed to make a Klingon pass for a human.  Lieutenant does-not-spell-his-name-with-an-apostrophe Tyler goes catatonic, and the Star Trek universe finally acknowledges the existence of PTSD, forcing Specialist Burnham to stun L'Rell.  I repeat: Specialist Burnham stuns L'Rell.  Why was her phaser on stun?  She is fighting a war.  Presumably, when fighting a war, you want some guarantee that the person you just shot is not going to get up and jump your comrade from behind just as he is beaming back aboard your ship (spoiler alert).  I don't have much good to say about this scene.  While it was nice to see torture having some lasting consequences, the flashbacks seemed gratuitous and, as I said, since we all know what happened (later in the episode, Lieutenant won't-shut-up-about-his-theories-regarding-the-evolution-of-Klingon-forehead-ridges Tyler explicitly states that he spent 220 days being tortured by L'Rell, a fact which we know is impossible given how L'Rell spent the first 180 days of the war), the flashbacks mostly served to tease the audience.  "Maybe he's going to wake up and start being Voq again."  Alas, the writers think they can milk this for at least a few more episodes.  He ends this episode still convinced that he is a human named Ash Tyler.  That is rant the fourth.

Leaving her now catatonic boyfriend in Admiral Cornwell's care, Specialist Burnham makes her way to the Ship of the Dead's bridge (can we just let that statement sit for a moment...) and plants the second scanner.  Discovery starts mushroom jumping all over the place and we are treated to many fast cuts between Captain Lorca looking stern, Doctor Boyfriend looking concerned, and Lieutenant Stamets looking changed.  It's nothing definitive.  He just started getting blonder, bordering on albino, and in a lot of pain.

Refusing to be a stock villain, General Kol decides this is some kind of trick and he wants no part of it.  He orders the Ship of the Dead to retreat, at which point Specialist Burnham reveals herself and challenges the General to single-handed-combat.  The General accepts because Klingons and a knife fight ensues.  The fight is remarkable only for the fact that Specialist Burnham wastes a perfectly good opportunity to deploy a Vulcan neck pinch.  That would have been clever and a little unique, but it's a pretty standard knife fight.

Eventually, Discovery gets its data, trains its algorithm, beams its people back on board (at which point, as I warned you, L'Rell wakes up and jumps onto our red-not-pink-blooded Lieutenant Tyler, hitching a transporter ride onto Discovery), and destroys the Ship of the Dead.  I guess General Kol was not this season's "big bad," after all (hmmm..... what the could the final climactic conflict of this season be?)

Some time later, Captain Lorca receives word that Admiral Cornwell (who, just before being captured by the Klingons, was asking for Captain Lorca's resignation from command of Discovery) has made it safely to a Federation hospital aboard a medical shuttle.  Discovery is ordered to finally return to Starbase 46 so that Captain Lorca can receive the Legion of Honor for his efforts.  Lieutenant Stamets agrees to make one more mushroom drive jump to get the crew out of danger before handing himself over to Starfleet medical so that they can figure out what is going on with the wibbly-wobbly parts of his brain.  Did you see what happened there?  I almost missed it.  Admiral Cornwell made it safely back to Starfleet on a medical shuttle, but Discovery has to use the mushroom drive, for fear that the Klingons might catch them.  How long, exactly, have they been lingering at Pahvo?  Rant the fifth.

Stamets makes the mushroom jump, but something goes wrong.  Discovery appears to split in two (see aside at end of previous post) and materializes in the middle of a wreckage field somewhere that Commander (why isn't he in the brig?) Saru cannot pinpoint on his star charts.

Meanwhile, a dazed and confused Lieutenant gags-on-gagh Tyler stumbles down to the brig, falls to his knees in front of L'Rell's cell, and asks "what have you done to me?" to which L'Rell responds "Don't worry; I won't let them hurt you."  And thus, what was probably supposed to be a very suspenseful cliff-hanger is ruined by Jonathan Frakes and the existence of IMDB.

In case you can't tell, I found this episode largely annoying.  It may have furthered the plot in a world in which the twist that we are all waiting for had not been sussed two months ago, but that is not the world we live in (maybe it's the world in which Discovery materialized, though).  I know that twists and reveals are not the whole sum of storytelling, but, at this point, it seems to be all this show is banking on.  While Discovery has paid lip service to the underlying causes of the war between the Federation and the Klingons, they have not really explored them or made them any kind of theme in the stories being told.  If anything, the writers of this show have doubled down on a gross misreading of the actual events in their own scripts.  Repeatedly, Specialist Burnham and those around her parrot the line that "[my] actions caused this war."  That is just not true.  In the pilot, then Commander Burnham mutinied because she wanted the Shenzhou to fire on the Ship of the Dead before the Ship of the Dead fired first.  She thought the Klingons would respect Starfleet's strength and return home humbled/chastened/disinclined to go to war (it's not clear).  Captain Michelle Yeoh overruled her and sent her to the brig.  The Klingons arrived in force, then Starfleet arrived in force.  Starfleet asked the Klingons if they could exchange emissaries and open a dialogue.  The Ship of the Dead fired first.  Commander Burnham was right, insofar as she predicted what would happen if the the Shenzhou did not fire first.  I do not see how her actions can be said to have "caused this war," and yet she and everyone around her (even those who were aboard the Shenzhou and saw what happened) accept her culpability as fact.  It's almost as if the writers wanted a protagonist who was dark, brooding, and guilty, but forgot to come up with a reason for her guilt until the last hour before shooting started and just slapped together the first thing that came to their minds.  Maybe this is some deep message about how Starfleet and the Federation are so obsessed with the ideas of their own moral and technological superiority that they refuse to grant the Klingons agency in starting a war that they clearly wanted.  Somehow, I doubt this show is that subtle.  That was rant the sixth.

We now have a month-and-a-half hiatus before Discovery returns in January and we are treated to the last six episodes of this season.  Of these first nine episodes, I have enjoyed the two-part pilot and two other episodes ("Lethe" and "Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad").  The story which the pilot started to tell has stopped making sense.  "Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad" involved (good grief, I'm going to say it) Harry Mudd.  I wonder if the problem with Discovery is that it is trying to be something Star Trek was never very good at.  "Lethe" and "Magic..." were reasonably self-contained episodes.  They existed within the Klingon war arc, but they were really just wacky space adventures of the week.  Every other episode has tried to forward the arc of this season, such as it is, and they have all been either boring or annoying.  Historically, Star Trek has not done arcs well.  The Original Series was definitionally episodic.  The Next Generation had a handful of drawn-out story lines (the House of Mogh; Captain Picard versus the Borg) that played out in a half dozen episodes over a half dozen seasons.  They revisited them just often enough to remind you that they were there, but never enough so that you got bogged down in them.  Deep Space Nine tried a proper multiyear arc with the Dominion War.  It felt directionless.  I did not watch enough Voyager to get a sense of what they did with the Borg, but I suspect I wouldn't have liked it, never having bought into the idea of the Borg Queen, anyway.  I do not acknowledge the existence of Enterprise.  Perhaps the writers of Discovery should acknowledge that the universe in which they are writing, especially as a prequel to the aggressively episodic Original Series, is too slipshod to support interesting arcs and go back to producing wacky space adventure of the week television.  They seem able to do that well enough.  As it is, the arc they have presented us with appears to have been too predictable and the opposite of compelling.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Star Trek -- "Errand of Mercy"

After threatening to do it for two months, I finally rewatched "Errand of Mercy," the Original Series episode that introduced the Klingons and created the Klingon Neutral Zone (though they don't actually say that last part; I think one of the many spin-off novels I read as a kid linked the Klingon Neutral Zone with the Organian Treaty).  The explicit goal of this rewatch was to determine whether or not the Original Series' treatment of Klingons is consistent with what we are currently seeing on Discovery.  Results are inconclusive.

The Enterprise receives a top secret transmission to the effect that "negotiations with the Klingon Empire are breaking down and a sneak attack is expected."  The Enterprise is ordered to the remote planet of Organia to deny it as a base of operation for the Klingons.  On the way to Organia, a Klingon ship drops out of warp and fires on the Enterprise.  The Enterprise destroys it because Captain Kirk and Mister Sulu are total badasses.  The Enterprise receives a new transmission from Starfleet Command: the Federation and the Klingon Empire are at war.  Arriving at Organia, Kirk and Spock find a civilization resembling medieval Europe in technology and architecture, which Spock's tricorder can somehow tell hasn't changed in over 10,000 years.  Captain Kirk spouts some racist nonsense about how the Federation can help the Organians "improve their culture" if only they will let the Federation defend them against the Klingons, but the Organians will have none of it.  They want no part in violence.  The Klingons, commanded by Commander Kor (okay, fine, you spell his name with only one "r"; "Korr" still looks cooler) show up in sufficient number to force the Enterprise to retreat, stranding Kirk and Spock on the surface, and Kor assumes the military governorship of Organia.  Kirk and Spock try to mount a two-man resistance, hoping to inspire the Organians to fight back against the Klingons, but to no avail.  The Organians will not resort to violence (though they do seem to be willing to go to great lengths to make sure their visitors -- human, Vulcan, and Klingon alike -- are not harmed).  Starfleet returns in force to engage the Klingons (it is worth pointing out that at no point during this episode does any Klingon ship "decloak") and the Organians are finally forced to reveal themselves as beings of pure energy* with the ability to do anything they want, up to and including making all of the weapons of both the Federation and the Klingon Empire literally too hot to handle.  Captain Kirk and Commander Kor protest the Organian intervention in internal Federation and Klingon affairs until the Organians embarrass Captain Kirk by pointing out that he is arguing for the right to wage a war in which millions of people will die.  The Organians force an uneasy peace between the Federation and the Klingons, and everyone lives on to brood another day.

*I told you there were a lot of Q-like beings back in the day.

If I were inclined to be generous, I suppose I would have to say that this is not totally inconsistent with the Federation and the Klingon Empire coming out of the war we are watching on Discovery.  The opening exposition does tell us that "negotiations are breaking down."  That being said, when we learn that the Federation and the Klingon Empire are at war, no one uses the word "again."  When Captain Kirk is exhorting the Organians to accept Federation help, he says that the Klingons have annexed territory and murdered Federation citizens.  Obviously, that sort of thing happens in wars, but it also happens in small border skirmishes.  Captain Kirk does not reference the culture-changing brutality that Discovery is trying to associate with its Klingon war.  Furthermore, and for obvious reasons, the Klingons in "Errand of Mercy" are portrayed as a ham-handed allegory for the Soviet Union, rather than the chaotic, factionalized nation of Discovery.  "Our cultures are the same," Kor explains to Captain Kirk.  "The struggle between us will decide the fate of the galaxy for 10,000 years."  This is not a clash between an expansionist neo-colonizer still unaware of how thoroughly it has bought into the idea of its own Manifest Destiny and an nascent coalition of great houses who "doesn't want them in its front yard."  "Errand of Mercy" is a clash between two colonialist super powers.  Those are different conflicts and, while it is very possible that the Klingon war in Discovery almost ends, the Klingons centralize their power, and then hostilities break out anew in "Errand of Mercy," I'm not going to grant them that much grace.  In the Original Series episode "Balance of Terror" (which, I guess, aired before "Errand of Mercy," so Romulans were the original Klingons) everyone goes out of their way to explain that the Federation and the Romulans just got out of a full-on shooting war.  No one in "Errand of Mercy" says anything about "the last Klingon war."  I guess I am not feeling generous.  I do not believe that Discovery passes the smell test for a Star Trek prequel.

While I've got your attention, I would like to make some side observations.

1) I am just writing this down because my wife has pointed out that the internet is starting to propagate the theory that I postulated four days ago and *I got there first* (which is the only thing that matters).  After I learned that my best friend was principally consuming Discovery through these blog posts (and, for all I know, he is the only one who is reading this one), I started thinking about how I had not mentioned the personality change that Stamets underwent after injecting himself with space hippopotamus DNA.  He went from being a put-upon genius who cannot be bothered to relate to other people to being a space hippie who cannot be bothered to be mad at anyone, even when they collide with him in the corridor because they were too busy flirting with a guy who is definitely not a Klingon spy.  Literally, my train of thought was: "it's like... what if Mr. Rogers were the key to interstellar space flight.... is he becoming the Traveler?"  The internet seems to agree with me that Stamets is becoming the Traveler.  I hope we are wrong.  This is the kind of paranoid nonsense one has to deal with when watching prequels that shouldn't be prequels.

2) Apparently, Jonathan Frakes let slip that, at some point in the near future, Discovery is going to do a Mirror Universe episode.  I cannot over-emphasize how against this I am.  Deep Space Nine got away with it because it was interesting to see the consequences of Captain Kirk's deep conversation with fascist Spock (this was significantly less true the second time Deep Space Nine visited the Mirror Universe; was there a third time?).  During his first visit to the Mirror Universe, Doctor Bashir remarked "Kirk's transporter accident... is that where I am?" proving that Starfleet keeps track of these things and *Captain Kirk's visit was the first contact between our Federation and the Mirror Universe.*  Discovery barely survived bringing back Harry Mudd.  I don't know if I can handle them breaking canon on the Mirror Universe.

3) Before what I hope is the big reveal (where "big" means "seen coming a mile away by literally everyone") this Sunday, it is worth stating the case that Lieutenant looking-for-parmok-in-all-the-wrong-places Tyler is, in fact a Klingon (though many other sources have done it before me, and they actually connected the dots; I am just parroting).

- Voq, T'Kuvma's protege is played by an actor named Javid Iqbal; Lieutenant definitely-not-pink-blooded-human Tyler is played by an actor named Shazad Latif who, according to wikipedia, was born Shazad Iqbal.  If you do an IMDB search on Javid Iqbal, Voq is literally the only thing that comes up.

- In "Choose Your Pain," Lieutenant doesn't-do-the-mkbara-every-morning Tyler said that he had been a captive aboard the Klingon prison ship for seven months, but had avoided torture because the commander of the prison ship, L'Rell, with whom Voq had spent the previous episode eye-fornicating, "had taken a liking to him."  At this point, the war was only seven months old, and the previous episode had gone out of its way to explain to us that L'Rell and Voq had spent the first six months of it stranded on the derelict hulk of T'Kuvma's vessel (the flagship that Discovery is about to fight).

- In "The Trouble with Tribbles," it was established that Klingons can surgically alter themselves to look just like humans.  This was much easier in 1966, since Klingons were just white actors in brownface and "surgically altered to look like humans" just meant that they appeared as white men.  This is another one of those things that we are going to ignore for the time being.

That last point presents some problems.  Though the Klingon agent in "The Trouble with Tribbles" was able to masquerade as a human under visual inspection, a single swipe of Doctor McCoy's tricorder led to the immediate realization that "Jim, this man is a Klingon."  Furthermore, in the Next Generation episode "Ethics," it is revealed that Klingons have two of.... everything: two livers, eight chambers in their heart, two spinal columns... basically, if Lieutenant my-parents-didn't-let-me-have-a-pet-targ-growing-up Tyler does end up being a Klingon, and if he ever got examined by Doctor Boyfriend for anything (say, for instance, being tortured for seven months), it should have been immediately obvious that "Jim, this man is a Klingon."  Granted, this show (really, any show that I have ever seen) has never dealt with the realities of torture well.  Despite a reasonably respectful portrayal in "Chain of Command," Captain Picard suffered no long-term effects from his treatment at the hands of Gul David Warner (of course, maybe after being assimilated by the Borg and de-assimiliated by Doctor Crusher, anything else that happens to you is just statistical noise on the PTSD spectrum).  It is entirely possible that, despite spending seven months on a Klingon prison ship, Lieutenant we-never-camped-at-Khitomer-either Tyler was welcomed aboard Discovery, no questions asked, especially by Captain doesn't-play-by-the-rules-and-also-bangs-admirals Lorca.  Still, I am not looking forward to this particular plot twist.  It seems like they weren't even trying.  Unless we are all wrong, in which case, the "seven months on a penal ship" thing is going to need a better explanation.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Star Trek: Discovery -- "Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum"

So many problems, so little patience...

Apparently, despite last week's expository assurance that, thanks to the mushroom drive, the Federation is winning the war, thanks to the cloaking device*, the Klingons are actually winning the war.  Fortune is a cruel master.  In response, Discovery has been sent to the planet Pahvo, a seemingly uninhabited planet with on which every life form vibrates at the same frequency, a frequency which is broadcast into space via a naturally-occurring crystalline antenna (I mean... Star Trek).  Specialist Burnham, Lieutenant I-hate-bloodwine Tyler, and Commander Saru have been sent to the surface to somehow alter the antenna so that it will broadcast a thing-a-ma-jig that will neutralize all Klingon cloaking devices "within range of Pahvo," whatever that means.  En route to the antenna, they discover that Pahvo is not actually uninhabited, but home to a race of intelligent pollen clouds that exist in perfect Avatar-style harmony with their natural environment.  Even the neon blue trees seem reminiscent of "Dances with Aliens".  Because Starfleet is the good guys, they can't use the antenna without first asking permission, now that they know there is someone from whom to ask.  Commander Saru attempts to make first contact with the pollen clouds.  It seems to go well, up until the point where Commander Saru informs his subordinates that the Pahvons have invited them to stay indefinitely and that, since the Pahvons have achieved perfect harmony with their planet (whatever that means), he intends to accept the invitation on behalf of the entire landing party.  He crushes Burnham and Lieutenant rohkeg-blood-pie-is-also-disgusting Tyler's communicators with his bare hands to prove his point (why are all aliens always physically stronger than humans?).  Believing that this is the obligatory "contagious hippie-ness" episode that every installment of Star Trek must have, Lieutenant only-eats-food-that-is-already-dead Tyler takes command and orders Burnham to carry out their mission.  There may also have been some making-out involved.  It's unclear.  Saru tries to stop Burnham, during which fight it is revealed that Commander Saru, the first officer of the Discovery, is not under any mind-controlling influence.  He just thinks the Pahvons are really nice and doesn't want to involve them in the war.  Marooning the landing party on Pahvo seemed like the best way to achieve that end.  Burnham convinces the Pahvons that the Federation is on the right side of the war, the Pahvons agree to beam out the anti-cloaking signal, and Discovery beams the away team back on board.  But wait!  The Pahvons, like the Organians before them, actually think that both the Federation and the Klingons are a little silly (fair point).  Instead of beaming out an anti-cloaking signal, they are beaming out an invitation to both the Klingons and the Federation to come to Pahvo and talk out their differences.  The Klingon flagship (T'Kuvma's former command) drops out of warp in the Pahvo system.  Only Discovery can save Pahvo from becoming a Klingon-induced wasteland.  Cut to black.

*This is the part where I angrily remind everyone that the Romulans invented the cloaking device and gave it to the Klingons as a part of their season 3 Original Series strategic alliance.

There is also a B-plot (which doesn't make any more sense than what I just wrote), but let's talk about Commander Saru for a moment.  We met Discovery's first officer back aboard the Shenzhou under Captain Michelle Yeoh when Burnham was the first officer and Saru was the science officer.  Saru was introduced as a Kelpian, a race that evolved intelligence despite (or maybe because of) being hunted by every other life form on their planet.  In the pilot, Saru claims that, as a result, his species can "sense the coming of death."  In this episode, he reveals that he is literally always afraid.  This always struck me as a tenuous position for a Starfleet officer to be in.  He seemed far too cautious to be put in charge of anything (according to the Next Generation episode "Tapestry," caution is where promising careers in Starfleet go to die), but he had some moments of decisiveness aboard the Shenzhou, and, besides, he was only the science officer.  When he was made first officer of the Discovery, I assumed that I would be shown some way that my questionably American assumptions about what makes a good military leader were wrong and that I would feel properly chastened for questioning Saru's competence as a Starfleet officer.  Instead, Saru betrays his fellow officers just because the pollen people made him feel not afraid for a few hours.  This is now the second time in this series that the first officer of a starship has attempted to commit mutiny.  As I have said before: I don't think the writers thought through the consequences of this turn of events before writing about them.  There were certainly reasons to question the morality of Discovery's mission once it was discovered that Pahvo was not uninhabited (namely, this is not the Pahvons' war).  As the commanding officer of the mission, it was within Saru's prerogative to do so.  Lying to his subordinates and attempting to maroon them on Pahvo against their will was not the way to go about it.  If Saru remains a Starfleet officer for much longer... well, as I said before: Starfleet is terrible at being a military.

About that B-plot.... on the Klingon flagship under the command of General Kol of House Kor (which I assume is headed by Korr, the Klingon captain from "Errand of Mercy"), Admiral Cornwell is being interrogated by L'Rell.  L'Rell is the Klingon with whom Voq, T'Kuvma's apprentice who is, in all likelihood, currently masquerading as Lieutenant Tyler and making out with Specialist Burnham, was eye-fornicating a few episodes ago.  Except that L'Rell isn't interrogating Admiral Cornwell.  L'Rell hates general Kol and wants to defect, so she helps Admiral Cornwell escape.  Unfortunately, the two are discovered by General Kol before they can reach L'Rell's ship.  There is a weird exchange between L'Rell and Cornwell (L'Rell: "You were not what I expected"; Cornwell: "Neither were you") after which they fight and L'Rell kills Cornwell.  Or does she?  It was all an act for General Kol's benefit.  Or was it?  I don't know.  L'Rell goes to "dispose of the body" (except it's not a body?  or is it?) and discovers the bodies of many of her erstwhile companions who were executed for insufficient loyalty to General Kol.  She swears vengeance and leaves Admiral Cornwell's body (but she's not dead; or is she?) to confront General Kol, where by "confront" I mean feign allegiance to.  General Kol accepts L'Rell's fealty, then orders his body guards to show her "how house Kor treats liars."  None of this made any real sense at the time and, given that most of the characters ended up exactly where they started (except for Admiral Cornwell; I do believe she is now dead), feels like unnecessary filler.  L'Rell had already resolved to help Voq betray Kol.  Kol had already demonstrated his disdain for T'Kuvma's followers.  I guess Kol now explicitly wants to kill L'Rell, but there were probably more efficient ways to get to that point, especially since L'Rell was clearly away for some time helping Voq turn into Lieutenant look-at-my-pet-Tribble Tyler.

Oh yeah, and now Admiral Cornwell is dead two episodes after sleeping with Captain Lorca, representing the ultimate combination of the Original Series' objectification of women and the Next Generation's objectification of admirals (and also women).  Why?

In summary, this episode used 45 minutes to tell the story "Discovery is going to fight the Klingon flagship next week."  Maybe they should have taken the week off and just said "Discovery is going to fight the Klingon flagship next week."

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Star Trek: Discovery -- "Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad"

Well... Harry Mudd is back.  I'm not actually as opposed to this episode as those four words would have originally led me to expect.

As I said: Harry Mudd is back and intent upon exacting revenge on Captain Lorca for stranding him in Klingon prison by selling the Discovery to the Klingon military.  He nearly achieves this using "time crystal" technology, a particularly wibbly-wobbly device which allows him to reset time every thirty minutes.  He connives his way aboard the ship, learns everything he can in thirty minutes, then hits the reset button, starting the scheme over again with an advantage that increases with each iteration since he is supposed to be the only one who remembers what happened in the previous thirty minute iteration.  It actually appears to be a very effective plan.  By the time we, the viewers, join the adventure, Mudd has figured out how to program Discovery's computer to only listen to him.  That last sentence seems crazy until you remember that a) Harry Mudd could, conceivably, have boarded Discovery literally thousands of times before we started watching, effectively earning a PhD in Discovery's computer system and b) Starfleet is terrible at being a military.  In the Original Series episode "Space Seed," Khan convinces Captain Kirk to show him all of the design specs of the Enterprise by claiming that he used to be an engineer and that he would be bored without anything to read while in sickbay.  So, yes, I will grant them that Harry Mudd could eventually learn how to hack into Discovery's computer and grant himself sudo privileges.  Unfortunately for Mudd, one of the side-benefits of being part multi-dimensional space hippopotamus is that Lieutenant Stamets also remembers what happens in each of the thirty minute time loops.  He enlists the help of Specialist Burnham and Lieutenant definitely-not-a-Klingon Tyler (who, incidentally, have the hots for each other), and they eventually thwart Mudd's plan.

Those of you who have been paying attention will notice that this is exactly the same plot gimmick (infinitely repeating time loops) used in the Next Generation episode "Cause and Effect."  That being said, this episode spends almost no time on the characters trying to figure out why they are all experiencing deja vu (the principal conflict in "Cause and Effect").  In the second iteration, Stamets covinces Burnham to tell him a secret which he then uses to prove his bona fides in future iterations.  Instead, the episode uses the time loop as an excuse to force Burnham and Stamets to talk about why she is terrible at relationships (she can't seem to get Lieutenant no-batleths-here Tyler to help her, even though, as already mentioned, he has the hots for her) and devotes most of its action to actually trying to figure out what Mudd wants (he can't give the ship to the Klingons until he understands what makes the mushroom drive work, namely: Lieutenant Stamets) and stopping him.  My only complaint with the plot on a granular level is that, in the penultimate iteration of the time loop, Stamets caves-in to Mudd's demands after Mudd brutally murders Lieutenant I'm-not-a-spy Tyler with (and this might be my favorite part) weaponized Dark Matter that Lorca keeps, presumably, in a candy bowl on his desk.  Why Stamets, who better than anyone else knows that time is just going to reset and everyone is going to be fine (modulo the whole "Mudd is going to hijack the ship again" thing), would ever cave to Mudd makes no sense to me, but, I get it, humans are irrational.  I see this episode as an acceptable use of our familiarity with "Cause and Effect," taking something we Trekkies know intimately and love well and using it to do something else.  This may actually mean that Discovery has surpassed the Next Generation in at least one regard.  Early in the first season of the Next Generation, we were treated to "The Naked Now," a thin reskinning of the Original Series episode "The Naked Time", in which gravitational phenomena cause water to become like alcohol and drunkenness to become a contagion passed on through sweat.  That was a much less elegant reuse of Trek lore.  Riker literally says "I feel like I read about this somewhere.... look up the history of ships named Enterprise."  "The Naked Time" was fun.  "The Naked Now" was poorly conceived, poorly executed, and completely devoid of George Takei charging down the corridors with a rapier.  If not for "Code of Honor," "The Naked Now" would have a decent shot at being the worst part of a very bad season of Star Trek writ large.  That Discovery was able to take something so blatantly copied from Treks past and turn it into something that is its own is commendable, and I actually support it in moderation.

There is one objection I would like to raise, though.  Harry Mudd wants to sell Discovery to the Klingons because, thanks to the mushroom drive, Discovery has become the Federation's most powerful weapon and is actually turning the tide of the war.  This ignores a very important point.  Harry Mudd has a device that can reset time as often as he wants, allowing him (or, let's say, a well-trained team of Klingon commandos) to take command of the most advanced starship in Starfleet.  If he wants to sell them a weapon, why doesn't he just sell them that?  Or, perhaps more to the point: why does Harry Mudd, a two-bit con-man described on Memory Alpha by the man who conceived of him as "a song-and-dance version of a pimp" (I know... I know...) have a device that can reset time as often as he wants?  Several such devices, actually, as we are told that he used a similar scheme to rob a Betazoid bank at some time in the past.  And while we're at it: why was there no mention of this incident (which everyone aboard the Discovery believes in, by the end of the episode) in the criminal record Captain Kirk digs up upon first encountering Mudd in "Mudd's Women?"  Why is Harry Mudd allowed to go "free" at the end of the episode, remanded into the custody of the wife he has been trying to avoid, after having used a very powerful alien device capable of altering the flow of time to commandeer a Federation starship?  I'm not convinced the writers thought through all of the consequences of this particular plot gimmick before presenting it to us.  That is certainly not a new problem for Star Trek.  The Next Generation spent seven seasons holding forth on how what Doctor Noonian Soongh did in building Data was wholly unprecedented and impossible to recreate, except for that one time when Geordi asked the holodeck to create an adversary capable of defeating Data and it materialized a fully conscious and self-aware incarnation of James Moriarty (that happened in season two).  As a sucker for arcs, story consistency, and fictional universes that make sense, this apparent lack of foresight (or hindsight?) offends me, especially because there are ways to tell this story without giving Harry Mudd the most powerful piece of technology yet evidenced in this incarnation of Star Trek.  Replace Harry Mudd with the spoiled scion of a trans-dimensional time tycoon who is using mommy and daddy's power to cause some trouble for the mortals, or a refugee from an extratemporal race who needs the mushroom drive to get home and has no respect for the sanctity of lifeforms who experience time linearly.  The Original Series was rife with Q-like beings; one more wouldn't be noticed.  You could even keep Harry Mudd around as long as you explicitly tell us that he swindled or murdered this time crystal out of the hands of its rightful owner and this is the only one he has and there's no way he's ever getting another.  As the episode stands, I am left with the distinct impression that Mudd "knows a guy" and can get another time crystal any time he wants and the only thing standing between us and Supreme Time Emperor Mudd is his inability to get away from his in-laws.  I am being cantankerous, but I am waiting for this show to demonstrate that it knew what it was doing when it declared itself a prequel and that, as a prequel, it can excel without calling into question the universe of the Star Treks I already know and love.  So far, I am not convinced.

*But I did enjoy this episode. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Star Trek: Discovery -- "Lethe"

I.... actually liked this episode.

While on a secret diplomatic mission to open negotiations with a subversive group of Klingons, Ambassador Sarek's shuttle is damaged by a "Logic Extremist" (they are going to have to come up with a better word for that) Vulcan suicide bomber.  Because of his unique telepathic relationship with Specialist Burnham, Sarek is able to broadcast a psychic distress signal, kicking the crew of the Discovery into high-level ambassadorial rescue mode.  Meanwhile, Admiral Cronwell, an apparently old friend-with-benefits (more on that later) of Captain Lorca shows up, worried that Captain Lorca is not quite over being tortured by Klingons (or, presumably, blowing up his own crew, as we learned last episode that he once did).  Turns out, Captain Lorca is not over being tortured by Klingons, and Admiral Cornwell informs him that she is going to relieve him of command.  Sarek is rescued, but in too injured a state to meet with the subversive Klingons.  Admiral Cornwell goes in his stead.  The meeting is actually a trap and Admiral Cornwell is captured by the Klingon high command.  Upon being informed of this, Captain Lorca does nothing.

The heart of this episode is the interaction between Specialist Burnham and her adoptive father, Sarek.  The aforementioned "psychic distress call" takes the form of Sarek's greatest regret: the day when Specialist Burnham graduated from the Vulcan Science Academy, fully expecting (as valedictorian) to be admitted to the Vulcan Expeditionary Mission (a Vulcans-only form of Starfleet, I think).  Specialist Burnham has always believed that she, mysteriously, did not make the cut and in that way failed Sarek.  What actually happened is that Vulcan high-command, anticipating Spock's eventual application, was only going to admit one of Sarek's "not quite Vulcan" children (Burnham is human; Spock's mother is human) into the Expeditionary Mission, and they forced Sarek to choose.  He chose Spock, forcing Burnham to join Starfleet instead.  Ironically, Spock goes on to do the same thing of his own free will.  What Burnham had always seen as her greatest failure, Sarek actually saw as his greatest failure.  I love this for two reasons.  Family is hard, which is actually a theme that Star Trek has explored before.  I am even more thrilled with the idea that there are nationalist Vulcans.  How can there not be?  They are a) devoted to a religion (logic) whose principal tenet is that it is the only correct way to make a decision and b) technologically slightly more advanced than everyone they have diplomatic relations with.  Of course some of them are going to let it go to their heads.  I love this idea.  To be fair, it is, like everything good about Discovery, an idea that Deep Space Nine first introduced, if somewhat clumsily, in "Field of Fire" and "Take Me Out to the Holosuite."  Regardless, it is a modification to Roddenberry's canon that has long deserved a proper treatment, and I can't wait to meet more "Logic Extremists" (though can we please, for Surak's sake, call them something else).

This particular backstory also goes some way towards answering one of my first, most exasperated questions of this show: "why did it have to be Sarek?"  If one of the themes that they intend to explore is Specialist Burnham's alienation at being a human raised on Vulcan, then the idea of Vulcan-human families is going to have to remain somewhat outside accepted Vulcan norms.  The alternatives are: put her in Spock's family (we already know that Sarek married a human, and, indeed, marries another after Amanda Grayson dies), or posit that there is another high-ranking Vulcan official open to an inter-species family.  The latter option would cut against the idea that humans are not fully accepted in Vulcan society (though, I suppose the idea could be that the Vulcan elite is more accepting of humans than working class Vulcans).  This theme could also be the long-awaited justification for making Star Trek: Discovery a Star Trek prequel, rather than a Star Trek: Voyager sequel.  It is much easier to believe that Vulcan nationalism is running hot before Captain Kirk rather than after Captain Janeway (unless the idea is that it is revanchist Vulcan nationalism arising in a future where the Federation itself is starting to fall apart; certainly Europe in 2017 proves that such movements are always possible).  The writers will have to tread lightly, though.  It was a little ridiculous in Star Trek V that Spock had a half-brother he'd never mentioned.  Now we learn that he had a human foster sister.  Surely, that would have come out in one, if not all of the "passionate humans" versus "green-blooded, pointy-eared Vulcans" disputes between Spock and Doctor McCoy.  Or maybe Amanda would have mentioned her during her appearance in "Journey to Babel" (the flashback we are shown seems to indicate that Amanda regarded Specialist Burnham as her daughter, whatever Sarek's feelings may have been).  I am sort of reasoning my way through this as I write, but I think my opinion is: I can now almost see why they wanted this to be a prequel, but there were ways it could have been a sequel, and I don't think that they can get through the complications involved with making Burnham a part of Spock's family without trampling canon.

This episode has other, more obvious warts, as well.  As I mentioned before, the B-plot revolved around the past relationship between Captain Lorca and Admiral Cornwell.  Apparently, a part of this relationship involved casual sex.  I have no problem with casual sex between characters in general.  I do have a problem with a) a Starfleet admiral sleeping with someone under her command and b) Star Trek joining the ranks of fiction that seems incapable of portraying an emotionally intimate relationship between a man and a woman that doesn't involve sex.  This just seemed like a sloppy choice on their part, much sloppier than last week's forced "f-bomb."  It was unnecessary and I wish they hadn't done it.

There is also the question of Lieutenant Tyler, whom we are apparently supposed to trust even though the entire internet has already decided he is a sleeper Klingon spy.  The longer they draw this out (assuming we're right), the more awkward it is going to feel.  Maybe they're going to reveal this in a few episodes and it will be moot.  I fear, though, that they are saving the reveal for the season finale.  That would be unfortunate.

All of that being said, this episode falls squarely into the "is Star Trek" Venn diagram in my mind.  I am as shocked as you are.  Don't worry.  The teaser for next week involved Harry Mudd.  I expect to be back to my snarky self in a week's time.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Star Trek: Discovery -- "Choose your pain"

Last week, we learned that the keys to instantaneous space travel are

1) mushrooms

2) torturing a space hippopotamus

This week's episode opens with Specialist Burnham dreaming about an engineering deck in which she is both the one operating the instantaneous space drive and the one inside the drive being tortured.  While Star Trek has never been subtle it has, at least, evinced its own belief that it was subtle in seasons past.  I think that time is now over.

The plot of this episode kicks off when Captain Lorca, having been identified as the commanding officer of Starfleet's teleporting super-weapon, is kidnapped by the Klingons while returning from a meeting with Starfleet Command.  Obviously, Discovery is the only ship that can effect a rescue since he is now being held in Klingon space (don't ask how the Klingons got so close to Starfleet Command).  Unfortunately, the space hippopotamus is not doing so well on account of all the torture.  In fact, as soon as Discovery teleports in close enough to have a shot at rescuing the Captain, space hippopotamus sheds all its water and curls up into a shriveled comatose mass.  This provokes much sturm and drang amongst the crew.  Specialist Burnham, Cadet Tilley, and Chief Engineer Lieutenant Stamets think torture is a bad idea and start working on a plan to engineer something else that can interface with the mushrooms and run the teleportation drive.  Acting Captain Saru also thinks torture is a bad idea, but he is thinking more about his erstwhile captain getting tortured by the Klingons, and doesn't really care if the space hippopotamus has feelings.  Eventually, the engineering team comes up with an injection that can engineer a human's DNA to be just close enough to space hippopotamus DNA to work, but there is apparently some blanket Federation law against "eugenics" the prevents them from using it.  This, presumably, is supposed to make us feel warm and fuzzy because it obviously has its roots in World War 3 and the rise of Khan Noonien Singh.

Meanwhile, Captain Lorca is indeed being tortured (but not being asked any questions, as far as we can tell) on a Klingon prison ship where he is being held with a random Starfleet Lieutenant and.... drumroll please.... Harcourt Fenton Mudd.  Yes, the delightfully campy human trafficker from the Original Series episodes "Mudd's Women" -- an episode about mail order brides that somehow fails to conclude that mail ordering people is wrong -- and "I, Mudd" -- a delightful tale about robots that is probably still okay to watch -- apparently has a backstory that we are going to learn.  Shenanigans ensue, Mudd colludes with the Klingons; Lorca and the random Starfleet Lieutenant shoot their way out of prison, Discovery beams them aboard, and Lieutenant Stamets heroically injects himself with the illegal space hippopotamus DNA, letting Discovery teleport back to Federation space.  The penultimate scene shows Specialist Burnham and Cadet Tilly setting the space hippopotamus free.  The ultimate scene shows Lieutenant Stamets and his boyfriend doctor (whose name I guess I now have to learn) talking about the days' adventure and ends when they both leave the bathroom only to have Lieutenant Stamets' reflection linger behind them.  Cue the creepy music.

I suppose this episode was fine.  I may actually like one of the characters now: doctor boyfriend has done nothing morally objectionable, nor has he verbally abused anyone that I am aware of.  Lieutenant Stamets is also almost an okay person, now.  It was obviously too easy for Captain Lorca to shoot his way out of Klingon prison (there's a theory about that on the internet, I'm told), but I am going to ignore that for the moment to talk about the thing I really want to talk about: Harry Mudd.

It has always offended me a little that, of all the guest stars in all of original Star Trek, Harry Mudd is the only one who shows up more than once.  Even before I thought about "Mudd's Women" long enough to realize why it was totally unacceptable (and it took an embarrassingly long time), the episode was too campy to warrant a repeat appearance by it's equally campy villain.  Yet there he was in "I, Mudd" and here he is now.  This strikes me as problematic in two ways.  Given that Captain Lorca did not bring Harry Mudd with him on his escape, it seems unlikely to me that, having been abandoned on a Klingon prison vessel, Harry Mudd will evolve into the comically problematic sixties archetype that Captain Kirk encounters eight story years from now.  I have said similar things before on this blog.  That is not even the heart of my complaint, though.  The heart of my complaint is that this is naked fan service.  There is no reason to make him Harry Mudd (just as there was no reason to make Specialist Burnham's foster father Sarek) except so that the writers can lean on our preconceptions of who Harry Mudd is.  This feels lazy.  It's an insurance policy in case the writers fail to properly characterize Harry Mudd this time around.  "Just fill in the gaps with the things you learned about Harry Mudd in the Original Series."  I also find it a little offensive.  "You'll think this is cool because it's a thing you have history with."  I'm sorry, but I'm not that stupid, and I wish you (the writers) would stop treating me as though I am.  Benedict Cumberbatch saying "my name is Khan" in Abrams Trek 2 did not compensate for the fact that nothing anyone in that movie did made any sense.  Rainn Wilson declaring that he is Harry Mudd evokes no emotion other than, on my part, confusion.  It does disservice to me as a fan and it does disservice to the show.  This Harry Mudd actually makes some good points.  "[This war] is your fault for 'boldly going where no one has gone before.'  What did you think would happen when you finally ran into people who didn't want you on their front lawn?"  It's a question which Star Trek has never dealt with (except for passing mention in "Arena," I guess).  I would like to see how they answer it.  Given that I know how Harry Mudd ends up, though, the writers' options to explore the question through his character are already constrained at one end.  Why tether yourself that way? Oh, right.  Because I'll think it's cool because it's a thing I have history with.  It's okay.  This is Star Trek.  We care enough to run with you while you try new things (case in point: I have referenced "mushroom-based propulsion" twice in this post alone).

While we're here and talking about fan service: when the engineering team is trying to figure out if any other lifeform can interface with the mushroom drive in space hippopotamus' place, Cadet Tilly asks if she should access "the top secret life form files at the Daystrom Institute."  The Daystrom Institute is where Leah Brahms, the engineer who designed the Enterprise-D, will be employed 100 years from now.  It was (I presume) named for Richard Daystrom, who created the M-5 computer featured in the Original Series episode "The Ultimate Computer."  It's not clear to me that there would be an institute named for Dr. Daystrom while he is still alive, and possibly even before he is famous.  If you're going to drop Easter eggs on the second most detail-obsessed fandom in all of geekery, do it right.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Star Trek: Discovery -- "The Butcher's Knife Cares N" -- wait, seriously? That's your title for this episode?

Star Trek should be better than this.  Star Trek is better than this.

By way of a recap: last episode, we learned that the USS Discovery and her sister ship were working on (and this is not a typo) a fungus-based propulsion system that would allow starships to instantaneously teleport anywhere in the galaxy.  An accident occurs aboard Discovery’s sister ship, and Discovery is sent to investigate.  The boarding party discovers a derelict vessel filled with many dead humans, a few dead Klingons, and a creature that appears to be a cross between a hippopotamus and a beetle.  Shenanigans that look remarkably like “Alien” ensue, but, somehow, the landing party (minus one red shirt) manages to survive and return to Discovery.  The final scene reveals that Captain Lorca has ordered his somehow-even-creepier-than-he-is security chief to beam the hippopotabeetle into a containment cell in what appears to be his own personal Menagerie of Death.  There might also be some pontificating by chief engineer Stamets about how he just wanted to do science and not fight a war.  I can’t quite remember.  Cut to black.

In this episode, Captain Lorca invites Specialist* Burnham into the Menagerie of Death (which is actually a museum containing “the deadliest weapons in the galaxy”).  He wants her to figure out how the hippoptabeetle’s skin is “hard enough to deflect Bat’Leths” and why its claws can “tear through a starship’s hull.”  He wants her to weaponize these abilities.  Burnham does some science and, in the truest tradition of Star Trek, discovers that the hippopotabeetle isn’t a predator, but an herbivore with a very good defense mechanism.  In fact, the hippopotabeetle is the key to making the fungus drive work.  She convinces Chief Engineer Stamets to connect his engines to the hippopotabeetle and, whammo! my prediction that fungal-based teleportation will not work because Captain Kirk doesn’t do it is proven incorrect (new prediction: Captain Kirk doesn’tt use fungal teleportation because doing so appears to inflict pain on the hippopotabeetle and this is Star Trek and inflicting needless pain on beetles is wrong).

*Michael Burnham has been stripped of rank.  I will call her a “specialist” until I am told to do otherwise, though I believe that word actually does mean something specific in the military.

None of this is objectionable.  It is, in fact, the bare minimum of pseudo-science and pseudo-ethical conundrums one needs to fall in the “is Star Trek” circle on the Venn diagram in my mind.  What is objectionable is the wtf-ex-machina used to inject drama into this plotline.  Turns out, creepy-as-f@#$& security chief is a soldier and she doesn’t buy any of Burnham’s Vulcan space ethics nonsense.  She is going to stun the hippopotabeetle and cut off one of its claws because that is how you win wars.  The flaw in her plan (besides the fact that it is cruel) is that the hippopotabeetle cannot be stunned and its claws can still rip through starship hulls.  Creepy-as-f@#$& security chief does not survive the encounter.  This is good because, as you can tell, she was annoyingly one-dimensional.  This is bad because she was the only other named woman in the cast who was not white (not that I bothered to learn her name because, as I already mentioned, she was annoyingly one dimensional).  I get that sometimes you write characters just to kill them.  This is, after all, the franchise that gave “red shirt” a meaning outside of college football.  However, it is just common courtesy to respect your audience’s intelligence enough not to telegraph that this is a throw away character by making her so unbelievable that we want her to die so that we can go on trying to enjoy your television show.

Meanwhile, back in the wreckage of the space-battle from the pilot episode, we discover that T’Kuvma’s ship is still crippled, his followers are still on board, and both the Federation and the Klingons left every ship that was destroyed or crippled in the battle just sort of drifting there.  We know this latter fact because T’Kuvma’s appointed successor, Voq, has been scavenging the derelicts for parts to fix his crippled vessel before his/T’Kuvma’s followers all starve to death.  Did I mention that T’Kuvma’s ship, the one that the Klingons left behind for anyone to find, is apparently the only one with a cloaking device?  During World War 2, the allies went to great effort to make sure the Germans did not know that they had captured a functioning enigma device.  The Klingons just left their only enigma device (okay, bad metaphor) drifting in space for anyone to find.  It’s okay, though.  Voq and another Klingon manage to fix T’Kuvma’s ship through a combination of eye-fornicating and scavenging parts off of the Shenzhou, Michelle Yeoh’s ship, which the Federation left behind for anyone to find.  I once got in a debate about whether or not Starfleet was a military organization.  My argument was “no.”  The man I was debating with thought I was making the “Starfleet’s missions has always been one of peace" argument.  I wasn’t.  I was making the “Starfleet is terrible at behaving like a military” argument.  Turns out, I was right.

Eventually, a member of one of the other Klingon great houses (one who ostentatiously refused to follow T’Kuvma in the pilot) realizes that the Klingons left their single greatest weapon just drifting in space and comes back to claim it, buying off T’Kuvma’s starving followers with food.  There’s some palace intrigue between this newcomer (I think his name was Kor*), Voq, and Voq’s eye-lover (I know I should learn her name, but I am not rewatching this episode; not for any amount of money).  It ends with a promise to the viewers that Voq is going to go find some Klingon nuns who will teach him how to truly unite the Klingon empire.  This plot is actually fine.  It’s fun to see an alien culture in flux, but I have the same worry I have expressed from the beginning that I don’t see how these Klingons become Kang, Koloth, and Korr in just eight years and I don’t know why these Klingons couldn’t represent a nationalist revanchement several decades after Martok.

*Oh, wow, if this ends up being Korr from “Errand of Mercy,” I don’t know what I’m going to do, but it might involve impolite words.

Reading these words, it seems like I am giving this episode a passing grade.  I am not.  I did not enjoy it.  The nonsense with the security chief dragged on too long, keeping me in mortal terror that I was going to be stuck with this character and her total lack of believable motivations for many episodes to come.  There was a subplot involving an attack on a Federation dilithium mine which served only to provide pressure on the “what is the hippopotabeetle?” plot and to set up an overwrought argument between Captain Lorca and his chief engineer about whether they were scientists or soldiers.  In summary: this episode had all of the pretentiousness of Star Trek with none of the levity.  My wife reminds me that, at this point in Star Trek: the Next Generation (my first great geek love), we still had “Code of Honor” to look forward to, so, I guess, as long as we can avoid adding “explicitly racist” to the list of invectives I hurl at any given episode, we’re ahead of the curve.  I like to think, though, that we have learned things about storytelling in the last 30 years and that I am justified in holding this show to a slightly higher standard.  Or maybe I am just stodgy.

One other red flag that went up for me: in the course of getting caught up on what has happened in the six months of story time since the pilot, we learn that Voq and his crew ate Michelle Yeoh’s body.  I am going to go with the generous interpretation that they were starving.  If Klingons now eat other sentient beings for fun or ritual, that would be a bridge too far in the direction of the “Klingons as ‘savages’” direction for me.  I have a haunting feeling that the Klingons are going to be stand-ins for one or more of the peoples on the receiving end of Manifest Destiny (remember, this is still Roddenberry’s “wagon train to the stars”).  I’m not sure I yet trust Star Trek to tell that story respectfully.