Star Trek Discovery: An Obol for Charon

Burnham: "You found yourself among the stars. You found your strength, your bravery."

By nature I love brevity: Though it's over-the-top and melodramatic at times, and perhaps too much was crammed into this single story, 'An Obol for Charon' is an episode in the true spirit of Star Trek. The character interactions and the performances are absolute gold.

'An Obol for Charon' borrows from such classic Trek as 'The Corbomite Maneuver,' 'Babel,' and too many TNG episodes to count. While I don't think that the only way to keep a classic Trek feel is to borrow story elements from other episodes, this is a step in the right direction. DIS has had a different style and tone from the other shows all through Season One, which is one of the numerous criticisms the show's detractors love to use.

Where 'Charon' really shines, though, is in its characters and their interactions. Interesting pairs or groups of characters spark off of one another in this episode, and it's fascinating to see their dynamics. The first pairing I want to look at is new engineer Jett Reno (Tig Notaro) and Stamets. Notaro again infuses her character with the sort of dry yet light humor she employed in 'Brother' earlier this season. Her sarcastic clash with Stamets is interesting because she resembles who he used to be. Remember back in 'Context is for Kings,' when Burnham first came to engineering? Stamets was stiff and reserved, with a biting wit that he used on anyone he didn't like. Now, after his loopy encounters with the Spore Drive and the emotional blow he took from Dr. Culber's death, he's an emotionally responsive, caring human being. He may be tired of the world and resigned to his unhappiness, but he's grown a lot from the stick-in-the-mud he was in 'Context.' Reno isn't as far along the spectrum as Stamets was back then, but she's certainly no stranger to those sarcastic, cynical tendencies. Her interactions with our present-day Stamets, as annoying to him as they are, provide a window into how much our engineer turned spore pilot has grown since 'Context.' It's very welcome.

Along the same line of Stamets' emotional openness are his interactions with Tilly here. This relationship has been steadily growing since the start of the show, and it feels quite earned. He's lovely as he deals with her and comforts her through the very stressful and scary experience she's going through. The scene where he sings her favorite song with her to distract her from the drill he has to stick into her head is both stressful and sweet at the same time. I am loving the dynamic between these two this season. More, please.

The crew continues to feel like a family in this episode. From the opening briefing - Discovery's first, if I'm not mistaken - to their silent tribute to Saru later on, everyone seems to have nailed down their team dynamic. It shows. We got a name for our Saurian friend Linus, who first appeared in 'Brother' and might very well fit in better on The Orville, and Cmdr. Nhan from the same episode returned to do... pretty much nothing. This episode also marks Rebecca Romjin's first appearance as Number One from 'The Cage.' We haven't seen much of her performance yet, so I won't judge it too much as of right now, but she seemed perhaps a bit more emotional than Majel Barrett's Number One. To be fair, unemotional was about all Majel Barrett could do convincingly - why do you think she was the computer voice for so long? - but I feel like Romjin should try to follow the established canonical character. That said, I liked her scene with Pike. I hope they finally canonize her name in her future appearances.

This brings us to the final important character interaction in this episode, probably even its centerpiece. This is the relationship between Burnham and Saru. Quite honestly, this one fell a bit more flat with me. While the pair's dynamic has been steadily evolving ever since 'The Vulcan Hello' way back, I don't really feel like they've gotten to this point yet. At the end of Season One, I'd have said they were over their animosity, and possibly now friendly towards one another. I would never have said they were close enough yet to be good friends, let alone calling each other 'family.' The other thing is that the dramatic death fake out for Saru was way too over-the-top and drawn out for me. They should not have done all that only to save him at the last second. Even though I knew in the back of my head that they wouldn't kill him, I found myself thinking he might die. Now, while some consider this a good thing because it gives the story stakes, there is a difference between worrying that a character will die and this. Here, it was getting to the point where the only emotionally satisfying ending would have been to kill him. It felt like a cheap cop-out when he didn't die. And even though he's now experiencing a huge change in his life, and this will probably fuel many wonderful Saru stories going forward, it still felt like a very low-consequence storyline. That said, I think Sonequa Martin-Green and Doug Jones did the absolute best that could be done with the writing, and I am very impressed with their work. No complaints there.

I don't have a whole lot to say about the peril/sentient sphere plot. It worked, especially the Babel stuff, and it was very much in the spirit of New Life and New Civilizations. Though it was a bit derivative of other Trek fare, I couldn't point to a specific episode they were copying, unlike pretty much every episode of The Orville ever. The sphere's connection to Saru was well set-up and worked, and the ship's malfunctions made sense and weren't too plot-convenient.

A few major developments from this episode. The first is that we seem to be getting much closer to Spock. If the narrative is any indication, we may see him in the next few episodes. This is due to the Disco's chase of his shuttle as well as Burnham's newfound willingness to connect with him. The second major development is May and her newly named species the JahSepp. The revelation that there are beings in the Mycelial Network and that they are harmed by the Disco's jumps is very interesting. Maybe this will be the reason that the ship will stop using the drive, and possibly the explanation for why the technology doesn't appear in later Trek. The third and final development is the loss of Saru's ganglia. The character has, as he says, been defined by fear up until now. It will be interesting to see him adjust to life without that fear going forward, as well as whatever changes he has in his abilities now that his ganglia are gone. His ability to sense and understand people's emotions will be severely limited by this. I look forward to doing more with this.

Strange New Worlds:

This episode took place entirely aboard the Disco.

New Life and New Civilizations:

Firstly, we encountered the sphere. It's fairly run-of-the-mill as far as Trek 'obelisk' species go, but it worked fine. Secondly, we learned that May's species is called the JahSepp. They live in the mycelial network, and the Disco's jumps hurt them. Are there other species living in the network? And how will all this lead to the resurrection of Dr. Culber that many of us suspect is coming?

Pensees:

-What is it with this season and colds?

-Of course, the sphere was red. Is it connected to our larger mystery?

-Saru's multi-lingual abilities came up again here. I didn't think the mention earlier this season felt like an obvious set-up, so that's a point for continuity.

-So, I guess solar energy becomes a way more viable method of powering the earth at some point in the future, if Stamets is being accurate. That's cool. Also, I'll take incidentally topical television lines for $1000, Alex.

-What was Pike doing in the hallway when he met Burnham and Saru on the way to sickbay? He never explained it.

-I liked Saru's sentiment about having never shared his own language, while he learned so many others.

-There were a few rough cuts in one of the scenes between Burnham and Saru. Burnham started moving away in one shot, then was standing still when it cut.

-Everyone rising as Saru left the bridge was a nice touch. Or it would have been, if he'd actually been going to die.

-Another mention of Saru's sister Siranna, who appeared in the Short Trek 'The Brightest Star.'

-More stellar performances by Bahia Watson as well as the main cast. Mary Wiseman and Anthony Rapp in particular were wonderful to watch.

Quotes:

Pike, to Burnham: "My abiding trust in you does not eclipse the mission at hand."

Reno: "I didn't realize a greenhouse could be 'critical' or 'propulsive'?"

Stamets: "It's my version of the house dressing, but it saves your life."
Reno: "Huh."

Saru: "I am a... a slave to my biology."

Saru: "It will be a slow process, like army ants eating a water buffalo."

Saru: "I am dying, Captain, but I am certainly not dead."

4.5 out of 6 life-saving house dressings.

--
CoramDeo thinks his spaceship knows which way to go.

5 comments:

CoramDeo said...

Also, the Jett Reno memes are great this week.

Corylea said...

I felt as if the writing in this one took us on the same journey that Saru went on. Although we knew they wouldn't REALLY kill off such a popular character, everything said that Saru WAS going to die. And he thought so, too. When he abruptly DOESN'T die, he's puzzled and realizes that he's been had, that what Kelpiens have been told all along isn't true. And that's how WE'RE feeling, because we've been on that journey with him.

About the Saru-Burnham relationship, I think Saru and Burnham were very close BEFORE the events of "The Vulcan Hello," and that's part of why the rupture in their relationship last year was so painful for them both. While we haven't seen a lot of their closeness, it's part of the backstory of both characters.

CoramDeo said...

Corylea, those are some very good points. I hadn't considered that perspective on Saru's journey, and I think it is a good one. It's been a while since I've seen 'The Vulcan Hello,' so I don't remember as well as I might, but I think Burnham and Saru were clashing a whole lot there, and seemed to rag on each other a lot. Though this may have been friendly competition, it didn't seem that way to me. Plus, in the books it's made clear that Burnham and Saru were the two candidates for first officer of the Shenzhou, and that Saru felt Burnham was the wrong choice. Just some thoughts that might shed some light on it.

Mark Greig said...

I have this crazy theory, which will probably turn out to be wrong like all my crazy theories, but I think that this season of Discovery is being use as a stealth pilot for a potential series about Pike and his Enterprise crew. It doesn't make much sense to cast someone like Rebecca Romijn to play Number One in such a short scene unless they bigger plans for the character. And since CBS apparently wants as much Star Trek as possible (so people keep their ALL Access subscriptions all year round) a show featuring the original original Enterprise crew (in those colourful new uniforms) seems like a real possibility.

CoramDeo said...

Mark, although I do think Romijn's Number One is set to show up again later this season, a lot of fans have a similar theory. It would certainly make sense with the plans that Kurtzman and co. have for Trek in the future. I'd watch it, although we have yet to see Ethan Peck's Spock.