The third episode in the new Star Trek series has a slow start, but thankfully does not present us with an immediate reset. I was worried after the cliffhanger last week that this episode would start with a Parisesque scene of the new captain appearing at Michael’s prison and telling her they needed her for a mission.
The result is effectively the same, but it’s due to happenstance (or so we’re expected to believe). This makes it far more palatable for the audience, and crew, esoecially given how Saru feels about Michael. This point is well articulated in Content Is For Kings in an excellent bit of dialogue between Michael and Saru. Their dynamic this episode lacked the flagrant hostility and pettiness displayed last week, which would have quickly grown tiresome, yet retained all the history and core concerns of both characters.
It also made Saru’s impression of Michael understandable. He states she is dangerous, and he’s right. Despite proclaiming she wants only to serve her time and not get involved, upon being shown a door and told she’s not allowed to look what’s inside, Michael immediately sets about breaking in.
She’s reckless, and whatever intentions drive that behaviour we can take Saru’s point: recklessness is dangerous.
The act goes further to establishing an the enjoyable edge of anti-heroism I found so captivating last week. While Kirk would happily break the rules to save the day, Janeway wrote her own insane little playbook, and Sisko was a total badass, I’m not sure any of them ever did anything purely to appease their own whims (the possible exception being Janeway, but I feel in her case it was more a matter of appeasing her own psychosis than any kind of whimsical nature).
Even Kirk’s infamous Kobayashi Maru move had a point to it.
Last week, Saru’s complaints about Michael were interesting and refreshing – it’s so rare for there to be conflict between Star Fleet officers – but she was being set up as a sympathetic anti-hero, whose actions were justified and correct.
She would have saved everyone had they only listened to her.
The captain and crew thus became the unreasonable, unenlightened, rigid cause of their destruction, making it a lot easier to accept the fact the show’s protagonist staged a mutiny and got so many people killed.
This week her rebellious streak serves no greater good and is in direct conflict with everything she says, indicating she’s either lying to herself and everyone else, or she’s not nearly as self-aware as she believes.
The Overly Emotional Vulcan
It was evident last week and has continued to be a common theme this week: for all her Vulcan training, Michael can’t handle her emotions at all. Outwardly she keeps them locked down tight, emulating the people who raised her. But inwardly, whenever she experiences intense emotion, it spills out in every direction.
Last week it was fear that drove Michael’s actions.
This week it’s curiosity. And while it doesn’t cause any damage or disruption, there’s no denying that Michael has impulse control issues. She does as she pleases because she has something of a Vulcan superiority complex.
The problem is, she does not have the emotional control of a Vulcan to support that attitude. Rather than acting purely on logic – which in itself can get Vulcans into similar trouble, as we’ve seen in the past – she reacts to her emotions.
Saru later comments that, “You were always a good officer, until you weren’t.” He also acknowledges her as a valuable asset, and mourns her loss to Starfleet for that reason. He believes her actions while aboard have been honourable.
We know better, the breaking-and-entering little minx. But her actions on the boarding party were certainly brave. The unexpected use of Alice in Wonderland quotes to calm those pesky emotions down when she’s afraid is a really nice touch, and the monster chase was a well-executed attempt at horror, far more effective than efforts at similar atmospheres seen elsewhere in Trek.
A very short sequence depicting Michael running away from a monster simultaneously demonstrated heroism, resourcefulness, and intelligence, while giving us another glimpse at the overall tone of this new series, which is decidedly dark and gritty compared to previous incarnations in the franchise.
I particularly enjoyed Stamets this week. It griped me slightly that there wasn’t more clarity to the nature of his relationship with his ‘friend’ and colleague. It may just be me reading too much into things, but there seemed to be more between them than mere friendship. At the very least it was a deeper bond than most, but I had a sense they were hinting at something more there but weren’t quite comfortable just saying it.
I had hopes Discovery would finally mark an end to the unfortunate attitude to LGBTQ issues in the Trek-verse. I have a feeling Stamets may be the beginning of this (maybe), and I hope so. He’s certainly the most articulate character on the show and given the strength of their general dialogue that’s saying a lot.
MICHAEL: “I NEVER EVEN INTENDED TO BE HERE.”
STAMETS “WELL IF LORCA WANTS YOU TO BE HERE, I’M AFRAID YOUR INTENTIONS ARE LESS THAN MOOT.”
Captain Lorca thankfully isn’t clueless. As expected Michael’s presence wasn’t coincidental, and he’s well aware she broke into the lab and doesn’t care, because he predictably wants her working with them. He recognises that she was right, and did the right thing at great expense to herself. He needs that kind of thinking.
His final line of the episode, “Here, kitty, kitty” demonstrates a sardonic sense of humour that I find very appealing (it also came damn close to being a direct quote of one of the best lines ever uttered in Urban Fantasy).
Slow Burning Darkness
There was certainly ample foreshadowing in the episode, between Saru’s reaction the shuttle leaving – is this the Banshee-like ability to predict death he mentioned in The Vulcan Hello? – and Lorcan having the monster they discovered in a cage, it’s evident Discovery is going to be a lot darker than most people are accustomed to seeing in Trek, including DS9, which thus far was the darkest of them all.
It’s no secret that’s why DS9 is my favourite, and I’m no less excited by the show this week than I was last week, despite the decided step down in visual candy and action.
The show has something sorely missing from Voyager, and only introduced to DS9 and Enterprise later in the game: an overarching plot.
It’s shaping up to be a slow-burning one, and they are always the best. That it’s evident in the series right from the start (if we count the premiere as the inciting incident that set the whole thing in motion) is further indication that the show is doing its best to learn from the catastrophic mistakes of the last two series in the franchise.