Star Trek Discovery: Battle at the Binary Stars

"I was raised to believe that service was my purpose."

When Commander Michael Burnham is convinced enough in her own rightness to attack Captain Phillippa Georgiou, her mutiny earns her a place in the brig – just as the Klingons attack, endangering all that Burnham holds dear.

One of the hallmarks of good writing is that you put your characters in layers of jeopardy. Everything builds and builds until the character is forced to choose something in a way that reveals the uttermost depth of that character. The dreadful algebra of necessity, Pratchett called it. What do you do when you're in such a terrible situation that no answer is good, that you have to choose something awful? What do you do when you realize this only afterwards? One of the good things about this episode is how it applies this rule well. Burnham and Georgiou are each combating the Dreadful Algebra in the second half of this two-part pilot, starting with Burnham waking up nearly-exposed to vacuum and somehow finding a way to get shot into the working part of a ship in a fantastic sequence which neatly ties into the foreshadowing of the previous episode.

Burnham is a Spock for the modern generation. Human instead of half-Human, but both raised by Vulcans – with Burnham internalizing trauma at a deep level in the course of her life, after a Klingon attack takes away her parents. Confronted with a warlike Klingon, she responded. Did she know the weapon would kill him? Was it an accident? I'm not sure Burnham knows. This episode sketches more in depth the past between Burnham and Georgiou; we learn how Georgiou tried to groom Burnham for the role of Captain and was perhaps blinded by her own affection for her charge. When Georgiou confronts Burnham about her actions, after she escapes from the brig, Burnham can't even tell if the motivation for her act is rooted in logic or emotion. It's kind of a big breakdown from the whole 'I am perfect and judging everyone else' position which Burnham held when she arrived at the ship. Does Sarek getting Burnham to act and try to help Georgiou despite Burnham's internal struggles and despair imply there's a lot more to this character than we see here? I don't know, but the connection between the two was effective.


Georgiou isn't forced to analyze her actions with the same depth as Burnham. She obviously wrestles just as much with notions of right and wrong, with imprisoning Georgiou in the brig. The fact that her ship is attacked – that Burnham is correct in her analysis of Klingon behavior – just makes her even more frustrated because Georgiou's truly trying to uphold the standards of Starfleet and continue to spread the Federation. This means the ends cannot justify the means. Redemption is definitely a part of Georgiou's worldview, however – and when the chips are totally down, Georgiou has no problem with beaming over onto the Klingon ship with Burnham to try and take T'Kuvma alive, and is actually pretty fantastic in all the action scenes, as you might expect from Michelle Yeoh.

I wasn't too enthralled with the Klingons in the last episode, but this episode, I thought they brought them along far more. Last episode they seemed about on par with the worst of TOS: cheesy, shiny monsters, often exaggerating racial stereotypes. They hated a trite phrase, "We come in peace." The subtitles were annoying, especially if you watched with closed captions and a sound effect popped on screen. This episode gave the Klingons a little bit of depth, although the Maniacal Religiousish Leader is almost a Trek stereotype in itself. I loved the scene of their invisible ship slicing through the Admiral's and then flickering back. The rescuing of the dead was fantastic, and so was the death of T'Kuvma, played by Chris Obi. Whom do we seek. Kahless. How do we find him? Together. Give us light to see. Forever. Will he hide from us always? Never. This is a far more complex warrior culture than simply Argh! We shall conquer! Still, we never find out the meaning behind their hate for "We come in peace," and while I could possibly come up with a plotsplainer, it feels wrong to have to do so for the freaking pilot.

Georgiou's death was unexpected and frustrating. I really loved the dynamic between her character and Burnham, and I loved the fact that it was two badass women who jumped into the breach and tried to bring back a giant Klingon. It's clearly going to seriously impact Burnham, though. Who, after the crew escapes in a (very cool) pod scene, winds up standing for trial.

And Burnham pleads guilty to her role in all of it, and now sees herself as the enemy. And is sentenced to imprisonment for life. This final speech was badly captioned on the CBS AllAccess app, which frustrated me for 9.99 a month and at the very final moment of the show.

Commander's Log

I'm not sure about the whole thing with Sarek as a mystical advisory Pokémon. DS9, however, also started out with a lot of mysticism.

The body-bomb sequence was really well developed and kind of set Georgiou for me in a Picard-level Starship Captain place. Cool, inventive, caring almost to a fault...

The preview for the next episode isn't captioned, but shows Burnham being shipped to prison and experiencing a lot of weird stuff – and the return of the Klingons. Judging by this, Burnham is going to become an action hero.

I really want to learn more about all of the crew. Some of them don't get named in this episode, which is sad, but they all seemed earnest and interesting. From the preview, Doug Jones will be back as Lt. Saru.

This Trek had a very strong, diverse vibe. Both Captain and Commander were non-white women, who, yay, spoke to each other often about things that were not men. This is causing crankiness on the internet. This alone makes me want to give the show more of a chance.

I know the technology has changed or upgraded or whatever, but isn't this a new timeline or something with JJ Abrams? Regardless, I feel this is a meh point for me. We're in 2017 and we can envision basic technology that people wouldn't have come up with during TOS. Plus, based on my Understanding of Humanity, I could easily see an episode where they give up the holographic technology because it's bad for you and radiation or something, so they have to go back and develop special rooms, or whatever. Connect it intelligently enough and it looks like scifi.

The captions were a big problem for many Deaf and hard of hearing people online. Look, if you want to build an audience, you can't get people to risk ten bucks then slap them in the face. The AllAccess app is the biggest obstacle to my liking this show at the moment, that and the knowledge that it's included with Netflix in Every. Other. Country. In. The. World.

Overheard by the Universal Translator

Sarek: Behave.

Sarek: No matter your shame, gather your strength. Find a way to help those who need you.

T'Kuvma: There is no honor without unity. There is no home for any of us, unless it is shared by all. [Sidenote: This quote makes me feel it's possible there might be Deaf people in Klingon worlds.]

Overall

Much more love from me than I felt at the end of the first episode.

The second episode has me hooked, as long as they can keep the writers away from the Hokey Hooch they were clearly drinking when they wrote the Klingons during the previous episode.

The best parts of this episode were Burnham and Georgiou, for me; my question is, now that half the team is killed off, how can the show continue its momentum? I was going to go with four, but the captioning issues made me go with... three out of five body-bombs.

9 comments:

Kirk VanGilder said...

Yes, the captioning bit was peeving as all get out. Everyone please use the CBS All Access captioning complaints for streaming service to register your opinion that this is not acceptable access. (Second section at http://www.cbs.com/closed-captioning/) If you're a hearing person, feel free to express your solidarity by quoting T'kuvma, "There is no honor without unity. There is no home for any of us, unless it is shared by all."

I'm looking forward to the exploration of Klingon ritual and such. The difference in the approach to death rituals between these Klingons and those of TNG and beyond are pretty dramatic and suggest something that causes an entire reorientation of their spirituality.

The Sarek stuff was great largely in part because James Frain does a bang up job. I'm intrigued by the mysticism here as well as I've always had a strong sense that Vulcans have a spiritual mysticism of sorts that meshes with their rigorous application of logic. It'll probably end up looking something like some forms of Buddhism should it get developed in the show. I'm just hoping they don't botch it.

DS9 is my favorite Trek being a religion scholar because there's a lot of complex expressions of religion, spirituality, and theology that crop up in various ways around various races. Early on, some of it was done well, like the pilot where the whole "existence outside of time" thing was explored. But other times it was horribly hamfisted and without nuance or subtlety, such as the creationist v. science controversy over the school. Later in the series, the nuances just got better and better though. The whole dynamic of the Dukat led Pah-wraith cult was chilling and the final showdown worked quite well given the dangers of oversimplifying the dualism between Prophets and Pah-wraiths that would have left it utterly flat. The "continued story" in the DS9 novels ultimately explored and further complexified the whole Bajoran spirituality as well.

Anyway, there's talent in the writing pool for Trek stuff to develop the Klingon and Vulcan mysticism here well enough, I just hope it matures well.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

I'd like to thank the Klingons for lighting up the Federation bridge so I could actually see it.

Henrik Bennetter said...

I really, really, liked this - together with the first hour that set things up.
And although I could see the captains death coming from a mile away, and also thought it a bit uneccesary, I do respect the way in which they did it. No dying in her arms, no famous last words. Just death. Very effective.

Looking forward to the following episodes and am very much hoping that, even though Jason Isaacs is a tremendous actor and such a good fit for the role he will be playing, that they keep up the path they're tredding on with questioning stereotypes.
What I mean by this is that Isaacs, white middle-aged male, seems like an uninspired/non-creative way to go that I hope they make his character into nothing but a stereotype - as with sidecharacters.

Will definitely follow this closely, feels like it'll be a new favourite Star Trek-series!

Juliette said...

Much as I love Jason Isaacs, I spent all of this episode depressed that Georgiou was going to die because I love Michelle Yeoh and that character even more. I knew for sure she was a goner because of the casting news - if Jason Isaacs is the Captain, she will obviously have to be killed off - and because of her listing as a guest star. But she was awesome and her relationship with Burnham the most interesting in the show so far, so that was frustrating.

I'm also frustrated that the show is serialised, because one of the things I love about Star Trek is that it's episodic and I think there is value in episodic television - but that's another rant for another time.

That aside, the show looks pretty awesome so far, and I love the uniforms!

Iago said...

I was under the impression this is the Prime Universe, rather than the Abram's Kelvin universe in the films but there's nothing to indicate either way.

I really like that Sarek is the connective tissue between this series and the other Treks. Be nice to see more Vulcan culture through both his and Burnham's eyes and we're at a point where prosthetics and SFX makes proper exploration of alien worlds more doable.

The thought the use of subtitles for the Klingons was a mistake but I liked everything else about them. It makes sense for T'Kuvma and co to be less jovial and charismatic than familiar Klingons because they're religious fundamentalists. Their dislike of the Federation makes sense too: we know the Federation are the good guys but there's no reason for other races to. It reminded me of Ambassador Soval to Admiral Forrest about Vulcans fearing humans and what they might become.

Overall, a strong start I felt.

Mark Greig said...

I also saw Georgiou's death coming a mile off, but I wonder if she will continue to appear regularly via flashbacks. It can't be a coincidence that there is seven years (the average length of a Trek series) of history between her and Burnham. Are they going to pull an Arrow and have duel storylines in the past and present? Hopefully they will do a better job ob it than that show.

Overall, I thought this was one of the strongest starts to a Star Trek series and look forward to see more.

Patrick said...

So, between the first episode on CBS and the second episode available during the free trial period of CBS All Access, we get basically a prequel to the actual show rather than the show itself, but if we want to actually WATCH the show, we've got to pay $6/month. Yes, I know All Access gives us more than just Discovery, but I don't need their back catalog, and I don't give a rat's behind about The Good Fight. I feel like I did at the end of the 2nd Pirates Of The Caribbean movie and realized I'd just watched a two-hour trailer for the 3rd Pirates Of The Caribbean movie.

Billie Doux said...

I'm rewatching in preparation for the episodes I'm reviewing, and I really liked this episode more on second viewing. I particularly enjoyed Burnham logicking her way out of the brig by making the computer see her POV.

Patryk said...

I wasn't suprised that Georgiou died, they should not have put her as a special guest star in the credits. I was suprised about T'Kuvma getting killed though. So he won't be the main Klingon baddie after all.

I just hope that the actual show and the Discovery can live up to the two-part pilot. Cause this ship and crew was worthy of having a show about it too.