Sunday, February 4, 2018

Star Trek: Discovery -- "What's Past is Prologue"

In under three hours, we will have a new episode of "Star Trek: Discovery" to talk about, and I still haven't shared my thoughts about last week's episode.  There are no thoughts to share.  None of this matters anymore.

Last week, Captain Lorca (who is really alterna-Lorca) attempted his coup against Emperor Michelle Yeoh, quickly phasering his way to the bridge of her flagship and forcing her to execute an emergency transport to... somewhere else.  During the fighting, Michael Burnham escaped the bridge unharmed and set out to do... something else.  Meanwhile, the crew of Discovery, led by a surprisingly inspiring Commander Saru (you know, the guy who sold out his comrades five episodes ago because he thought the pollen people could cure him of his species' inveterate fear?), have learned that Emperor Yeoh's flagship derives its power directly from the space mushroom network in such a way that, if it is not destroyed, "all life will end, everywhere", because... techno babble.

Eventually, Burnham unites with Emperor Yeoh.  They devise a "plan" which is really just the realization that the two of them doing martial arts is way more deadly than a room full of people with phasers so, if they agree to let alterna-Lorca capture them, it's okay, because they can just roundhouse kick everyone until they are the only people left alive and conscious on the bridge, which is what happens.  Alterna-Lorca ends up one of those people who is neither conscious nor alive, having been stabbed and thrown into the mushroom generator through a trap door installed at the foot of Emperor Yeoh's dias because... plot device.  Discovery comes up with a plan to destroy the flagship's mushroom generator in such away as to create a totally awesome mushroom wave that will carry them back home.  The plan involves a direct hit with a torpedo.  Fortunately, the mushroom engine is bigger than a womp rat.  Right before the mushroom explosion destroys the flagship, Michael Burnham is beamed to safety aboard discovery.  Right before that, Michael Burnham throws herself onto Emperor Michelle Yeoh, who is thus also beamed to safety aboard discovery.  Lieutenant Stamets pilots Discovery atop the mushroom wave, and everyone ends up in their proper Universe, except, I guess, Emperor Yeoh, who ends up in our Universe.

But wait!  They overshot in time!  It is now nine months later!  The Klingons have almost won the war!  Remember?  The war with the Klingons?  As I said: none of this matters anymore.

Nothing I have just written specifically precludes me from enjoying this show.  I can dig a good, old fashioned whacky space adventure in which everything is connected but nothing makes sense.  I am a huge fan of "Adventure Time," "The Good Place," and post-McGann "Doctor Who," each of which, to some degree or another, embrace the "yes, and..." theory of screenwriting.  The difference between those shows and this (which I am admittedly not the first to articulate) is that, in those other shows, the seemingly endless sequence of escalating absurdity happens to stable character whom you actually like.  It matters when Princess Bubblegum turns into an omnipotent mountain of candy and tries to remake the world in her image because you are invested in the tension between her meaningful relationships with both Finn and Marceline and the way that she can so callously manipulate literally everyone else around her (if you have no idea what I am talking about, you really need to watch "Adventure Time").  I cannot write a sentence one third that long about any of the characters in this show.  Saru is an officious bureaucrat, except when he's a charismatic leader (I still can't tell you when that change occurred).  Stamets is a self-absorbed narcissist, except when space mushrooms mean he's the Traveler.  Doctor Boyfriend is dead.  Lieutenant inevitably-became-a-sword Tyler is a lie.  Michael Burnham just is.  The only conclusion I can justifiably draw is that this show was meant to be about Cadet Tilley all along and we just haven't been paying close enough attention.  If there were more than two episodes left in this season, I would stop watching.  As it is, I will see the season out to its end, but I will also start watching "The Orville."  I have it on good authority that "The Orville" is actually Star Trek.

PS As was implied above, Emperor Michelle Yeoh is now in our Universe.  The teaser for tonight's episode featured Sarek.  I can't wait for Michael Burnham to get to work out both her daddy- and mommy-issues AT THE SAME TIME (wa-ho!).

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Star Trek: Discovery -- "Vaulting Ambition"

Lots of things happened this week.  I only have the energy to talk about one.

Apparently, Captain Lorca, commanding officer of the USS Discovery, has been a sleeper agent from the Mirror Universe this whole time.  Remember how I said that mirror Lorca was presumed dead after attempting a coup against Emperor Michelle Yeoh?  Rather than dying, he escaped into our universe where he assumed command of the Discovery with the intentions of 1) regaining the services of his right-hand woman, Michael Burnham (albeit "our" Michael Burnham) and 2) using the mushroom drive to get home and finish what he began.  I guess I should be happy that there is a reasonable explanation for the gratuitous mushroom jump home that "went wrong," sending Discovery into the Mirror Universe (it was an intentional inter-dimensional jump orchestrated by alterna-Lorca), but...

Now, not only is it commonplace for starships to cross over from our Universe into the Mirror Universe, but Terran officers from the Mirror Universe are involving us in their intrigues.  At the risk of sounding like a broken record: how did Captain Kirk not know about this?

It is starting to seem obvious that the point of this season was to tell a Mirror Universe story.  I'm not sure I find that interesting.  Insomuch as alternative universe stories (and I'm not just talking about Mirror Universe stories; in "Parallels," Worf visits dozens of alternate universes, each unique) are fun, they are fun because they give us a brief glimpse of how things could have been if the stories we know had not unfolded the way we know them (what if Captain Picard had not de-assimilated himself by sheer force of will at the end of "Best of Both Worlds"?).  That is why I give Deep Space Nine's "Crossover" a pass: it was interesting to learn what the result of Captain Kirk's heart-to-heart with fascist Spock were.  They weren't an unalloyed good.  This current story lacks that context.  There are no stories to unfold differently because we haven't been told any stories, yet.  This is the first story.  By extension, whatever happens in this story will have, at best, limited effects on the stories we will be told later.  Yes, the characters we are supposed to live with during Discovery's run as a series will have lived through alterna-Lorca's betrayal and coup (and yes: I understand that characters are the heart of any story, but I am, before all things, a Tolkien fan, and thus a world-builder), but all of these events will take place in a Universe that (I hope) no one will visit again for ten years.  The Federation-Klingon war will play out however it will play out without Discovery.  Assuming Discovery ever gets home*, no one will know or care how its crew spent the last three months.  Their actions will have no consequences in the world around them.  The stakes seem very low at this point.

*If the entire run of Discovery plays out in the Mirror Universe.... let's not contemplate that outcome.

My final thought is that it seems that Star Trek has wandered into dangerous waters previously charted by Joss Whedon's "Dollhouse" and HBO's "Westworld."  Captain Lorca has been behaving very erratically lately.  When we first met him, he was, to put it mildly, an impersonal stereotype of a Military Man.  All he looked for in a colleague was "how good is she at killing Klingons?"  At the mid-season break, a phase change occurred.  Lorca became a sympathetic commander interested in relating to, motivating, and supporting his crew (you know: a Starfleet Captain).  It didn't make sense at the time, but so few things about this show made sense that I let it pass.  Now we learn that there was a reason for the shift: Lorca was close to getting what he wanted and needed to use manipulation rather than brute force to close the gap.  Unfortunately, if the explanation "he's actually his Mirror Universe self" (or "he's a Doll" or "he's a Host") is now a reasonable explanation for erratic behavior, what is the point in trying to evaluate anyone's actions?  I have not yet met the actual Mirror Tilley.  I am told there is such a person.  Am I sure the Tilley we know isn't the Mirror Tilley?  I know that I am stretching here.  The show went to great pains to introduce us to the fascist versions of everyone except Burnham and Lorca, but, given the rate of trans-dimensional crossing lately (how did alterna-Lorca get into our Universe, anyway?), are we supposed to hold every new character to this standard?  What Universe is Admiral Cornwell from?  Show me your papers!

I am being petulant.  When I heard there was a new Star Trek series coming, I was excited to see what has happened in my second favorite fictional Universe since that unfortunate incident in which an attempt to clone Captain Picard produced Tom Hardy instead.  I am not really interested in what is going on in (yet another**) alternative fictional Universe to which I have no allegiance.

**Abrams Trek: I am looking at you.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Star Trek: Discovery -- "The Wolf Inside"

Wow... that was close.  I had literally resorted to googling "Worf Klingons don't" to figure out how I was going to refer to Tyler this week.  Thankfully, to the exact opposite of surprise, Starfleet Lieutenant Ash Tyler was revealed this week to be a surgically altered form of the Klingon Voq infiltrated into the Discovery's crew as a sleeper agent (for which foible, it is worth pointing out, Captain Lorca seems to have accepted no responsibility).  I am very glad we are done with that part of the series.

Unfortunately, the part of the series we are not done with is the part where we are in the Mirror Universe.  So, how did we get here (where "here" means "the same place we were last week")?

Captain Burnham (remember: she's the captain of the fascist Shenzhou) receives orders from the Imperial flagship.  Imperial intelligence has located the "Fire Wolf," their code name for the leader of the multicultural resistance fighting the Terran Empire.  The Shenzhou is to travel to that planet and blow up the rebel base (Governor Tarkin will be so proud).  Captain Burnham, not being a native of this universe, is not very keen on murdering rebels who appear to embody the ideals of the Federation, so she convinces her crew to let her and Lieutenant is definitely a Klingon Tyler beam down alone, "infiltrate the rebel base and get the intelligence we need to crush the rebellion once and for all."  They'll blow up the base after that, she assures her first officer.  Burnham's true goals are twofold: buy the rebels enough time to escape, and learn how to negotiate with Klingons.  The Fire Wolf is a Klingon.  Burnham thinks that if she can learn how the Fire Wolf overcame Klingon culture's apparently innate belief in its own supremacy and rose to the lead an alliance of Vulcans, Andorians, and Tellurites, then maybe she can use that experience to come to an understanding with the Klingons in her own universe and convince them that the Federation does not mean to annihilate them.  Because all Klingons in all universes are all the same, obviously, regardless of the context in which they are living.  Burnham and Tyler, who, again is totally a Klingon (it just feels so good to say that), make contact with the Fire Wolf, who, for obvious reasons, does not trust them.  Fortunately, the Fire Wolf has a prophet "whose wisdom pierces all illusions; nothing can be hidden from him."  That prophet is Sarek.  His "wisdom" is a Vulcan mind meld.  Sure.  Why not.  Alterna-Sarek mind melds with Burnham, sees that she was raised by... him, and vouches for her intentions.  He does not try to explain where she came from or who she claims to be.  He just says "she means us no harm," which is true enough.  The Fire Wolf agrees to negotiate, and Burnham begins her trans-cosmos exchange of cultural undstanding.  Unfortunately, the Fire Wolf is actually alterna-Voq (i.e Tyler's true self).  Seeing a version of himself compromising the purity of Klingon culture finally breaks the thin veneer of human programming and Lieutenant Tyler attacks alterna-Voq.  Alterna-Voq wins the fight and is about to order both Tyler and Burnham executed when alterna-Sarek reiterates his firm belief that Burnham, at least, means the rebels no harm.  Burnham is, at this point, understandably confused.  Why did Tyler just violate her orders and attack alterna-Voq?  Nobody knows.  If only there were some way to meld with his mind to see what made him lash out at his host, seemingly unprovoked.  Alas, the prophet's wisdom is an apparently limited resource, and the question of Tyler's motives is left an unanswered question as he and Burnham beam back aboard the Shenzhou having warned the rebels and promised not to torpedo them from orbit until they've had time to evacuate, a plan which, I'm sure, Captain Burnham's crew should have no problem executing (actually, no one says anything about it).

[Something else no one says anything about: alterna-Sarek's son is the first officer of the Fascist Enterprise.  What gives?]

Back aboard the Shenzhou, Burnham asks Tyler what happened down on the planet and Tyler finally snaps.  "I am Voq, the torchbearer" he proclaims.  He attacks Burnham.  She survives.  Burnham executes Tyler Imperial fashion, by beaming him into empty space, except that Burnham arranges for Discovery to be there and beam him on board before he can suffocate (at a probability of 2^267,709 to 1 against), at which point he is escorted to the brig to await trial for the murder of Doctor Boyfriend.

Meanwhile (yes, there's a meanwhile), Lieutenant Stamets is dying.  His brain is trying to exist in all universes at once, I think.  It is unclear.  Regardless, the only treatment is to expose him to more space mushrooms, a procedure which almost kills him, except, after his heart stops beating, he wakes up in a psychic mushroom forest with the fascist version of himself, who chides him for not being ready to get back to work.  I guess we are about to see the two Stametses collaborate on trying to swap our Discovery and Fascist Discovery restoring some semblance of order to the universe.  I'm not sure that I care.

In the final act of the episode, another ship appears next to the Shenzhou and torpedoes the rebel base before the appointed time, presumably killing all of the rebels.  It is the Emperor's ship.  More specifically, it is Emperor Michelle Yeoh's ship (so surprised... no, wait; I meant the opposite of that).  She is not happy that Captain Burnham delayed carrying out her orders and she wants to see Captains Burnham and Lorca (if I didn't mention it, our Lorca is masquerading as Burnham's prisoner, since fascist Lorca apparently committed treason some months ago) immediately.  Fade to black.

This needs to end.  The longer we spend in the Mirror Universe, the more we have to accept the idea that a society where assassination is the principal means of social mobility could last for more than a few months.  It was a cute idea in "Mirror, Mirror" and "Crossover."  At this point, it is starting to strain my suspension of disbelief.  I am not entirely clear why, as soon as Burnham and Tyler beamed down, Burnham's first officer didn't torpedo the rebel base on her own, claim (truthfully) that Burnham was killed in action, and take all the credit for killing the Fire Wolf in the name of the Emperor.  That seems like a totally reasonable thing to do in Fascist Starfleet, and yet, somehow, this civilization conquered the galaxy and remained in power until our Captain Kirk taught them about democracy.

Furthermore, I am starting to feel that the existence of the Mirror Universe as it is being fleshed out by post-Captain Kirk Star Trek undermines the core ethos that Star Trek was meant to represent.  Naively or not, Star Trek is based on the idea that plurality and tolerance and multiculturalism are not only morally superior but materially superior.  Everywhere that Voyager goes, it (not just the Federation, but Voyager itself) is the most technologically advanced civilization in the Delta Quadrant that is not the Borg.  Back home, the Federation is a utopic Great Power.  They have the most vibrant economy and one of the three strongest militaries in the galaxy.  Everyone wants to be the Federation.  The idea of Star Trek is that the Federation is strong because the Federation is made of diverse cultures working together and that idea is greater than any one culture standing alone, making an exclusive claim to superiority over all others.  It is the thing white America tells itself that it is so that it can sleep better at night.  In the Mirror Universe (before fascist Spock's rebellion), the humans are the only evident Great Power.  All the other species we see have been relegated to a rag-tag Maquis-style rebellion.  There is no Klingon Empire.  We haven't met any Romulans.  Vulcans are all either rebels (alterna-Sarek) or collaborators (fascist Spock).  Now the lesson of Star Trek is not "multiculturalism always wins," but "humans always win."  Earth is the City on a Hill carrying the rest of the Federation along on its back.  We would be doing just fine without any of those other species, thank you very much.  That is a much weaker vision of Star Trek than the one I thought I was growing up with.  Then again, I suppose I could replace the words "Star Trek" with "America" in that last sentence, and it would be just as appropriate.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Star Trek: Discovery -- "Despite Yourself"

"I'm impressed... but not how you think"
-- Captain Kirk to Dr. Korby in "What are Little Girls Made Of"

We and Jonathan Frakes, who directed this episode, so he'd better know what he's talking about, were right: that last mushroom jump pushed Discovery into the Mirror Universe, an alternate universe in which the Federation is fascist and everyone else is a slave.  This universe was first introduced in the Original Series episode "Mirror, Mirror," playfully revisited in the Deep Space Nine episode "Crossover," and beaten to within an inch of its life in four subsequent Deep Space Nine episodes that shall not be named here.  Unfortunately, Discovery made this mushroom jump before broadcasting its cloak-breaking algorithm to the rest of Starfleet, so the longer they stay stuck in the Mirror Universe (and it looks like the answer to that could be "for quite a while"), the worse the Federation is going to get beaten by the Klingons back home.  This is the part where I remind everyone that Admiral Cornwell was safely taken to a Starfleet hospital in a bloody shuttle craft before Discovery attempted its ill-fated mushroom jump.  As I've said before: Starfleet is terrible at being a military.

Fortunately, Discovery materializes in the middle of a battlefield where its fascist counterpart (which, presumably, has ended up in the "real" universe) just finished slaughtering some Klingon-Vulcan-Andorian rebels trying to overthrow the Terran Empire (which is what the Fascist Federation calls itself).  Lieutenant Tyler, who hates both your tea and your house, salvages the computer core from one of the rebel ships, Specialist Burnham reads it (with almost no effort), and everyone aboard Discovery is quickly brought up to speed on where they are (an alternate universe), what that means (there's a fascist version of yourself out there killing and torturing people), and, somehow, what their fascist opposites are up to these days.  As in "Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad," at least the writers did not waste our time figuring out what happened.  Say what you will about this show (and I will): at least they don't beat around the bush, except about that one thing, which we will get to two paragraphs from now.  The plan that is hatched in response to this intelligence is to pretend to be the fascist Discovery long enough to gain access to Imperial Intelligence.  It turns out (how do a bunch of rebels know all of this?) the USS Defiant (not Sisko's Defiant; a 22nd century Defiant) has already tunneled through into the Mirror Universe and encountered the Empire,which means that it is possible to cross between universes without a mushroom drive.  Lieutenant Stametz is still in sickbay, recovering from the failed jump that brought Discovery here.  If Burnham and company can just get the full Imperial report on that incident, they can figure out how to get home, give the Federation the cloak-breaking algorithm, and win the war.  This isn't as crazy as it sounds (yes it is), because Michael Burnham is the Captain of the Shenzhou in the Mirror Universe, so it should be fairly simple for her to infiltrate Imperial Starfleet Command.  As we go to black, our Burnham is installed as the Captain of their Shenzhou and we are all told to settle in for a good two-to-three-to-four episode romp through the Mirror Universe.

I'm impressed: the producers have found a way to make this show, already creaking under the weight of a spoiled reveal, even more gimmick-dependent, having spent an entire half-season introducing us to a crew of new characters, apparently just for the shock value of spending another half-season introducing us to their fascist opposite numbers (the "next time on Star Trek: Discovery" trailer promised fascist Sarek; he has the same beard as his son).  That is one way to make a science fiction television show.  It does not seem like a very clever way, nor is it very respectful of the canon they claim to be a protecting.  Now, in addition to "Harry Mudd has the ability to rewrite time," we must add "there is an alternate universe in which the Federation is fascist, and it is fairly easy to get there from here," to the list of things that Captain Kirk clearly did not know but probably should have.  At least they have now justified their choice to make a prequel rather than a sequel Star Trek series.  At the end of "Mirror, Mirror," our Captain Kirk convinces fascist Spock that fascism is bad and the Empire should probably be collapsed from within.  By the time Doctor Bashir and Major Kira return to the Mirror Universe in "Crossover," the Empire has fallen and a sado-masochist alliance between Klingons and Cardassians has gone about enslaving the last surviving humans.  If the plan for Discovery has always been to tell a story in the Mirror Universe where the Terran Empire was still in control, they had to do it as a prequel.  That is a terrible reason to make a Star Trek series.  I hope for everyone's sake that I am being unfair to the creators of this show.

I will say one good thing about this episode: my days of having to think of snide ways to refer to Lieutenant prune juice is that icky thing my grandfather drinks to stay regular Tyler may have come to a definite middle.  While harvesting the computer core from the rebel ship, Tyler experiences another PTSD flashback, causing him to confront L'Rell in Discovery's brig.  Somehow, L'Rell convinces Tyler to lower the shield on her cell; they almost but not quite make out; then she starts reciting the Klingon Pater Noster.  Tyler echoes her in Klingon, but the de-programming doesn't take.  Tyler leaves the brig still thinking that he's a human, while L'Rell protests "the prayer was supposed to make you remember!" [shocking piano sting].  Fast forward twenty minutes of show time.  Tyler is in sickbay, reviewing the results of a new physical he asked Doctor Boyfriend to run on him.  Doctor Boyfriend has found evidence that the scar tissue originally written off as the result of Klingon torture, may have been the result of body-altering Klingon surgery.  Doctor Boyfriend spouts some meaningless psycho-babble about alternate personalities layered on top of rather than beneath true personalities and relieves Tyler of duty.  "But they need me!" protests Tyler.  "You might not be you," warns Doctor Boyfriend, at which point the audience hears a Klingon voice speaking in the distance, and Lieutenant Tyler, who always bluffs, kills Doctor Boyfriend.  Our long national nightmare having to pretend that we don't know what we all know may finally be over, but they killed Doctor Boyfriend!  I liked Doctor Boyfriend, and now, the first gay couple in Starfleet history (reckoned by airdate chronology) has been reduced to a widower who may or may not still be metamorphosing into the Traveler.  It would appear that the only thing wholly joyful left in this iteration of Star Trek is Cadet Tilley, and I doubt that will last, given that her part in the Master Plan is to pretend to be the captain of Fascist Discovery.  Insert overused Nietzsche quotation about staring into the abyss here.

A few months ago, as the thirtieth anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation came and went, the internet was riddled with "best of Star Trek" lists.  Deep Space Nine kept topping the lists, which made no sense to a Next Generation partisan like myself.  I asked my best friend, who had recently finished a rewatch of Deep Space Nine, what I was missing.  "People have a tendency to confuse darkness with quality," he said.  Apparently, the creators of Star Trek series are also "people."  It's going to be a rough month and a half.

PS Throughout her exposition dump on the Mirror Universe, Specialist Brunham kept referring to a "faceless Emperor" running the show.  In the real world, there have been rumors that Michelle Yeoh is not done on this series.  My wife and I would like to call it now (because that is how you win the internet): Michelle Yeoh is the Emperor.  Done.

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."