Star Trek Discovery: Project Daedalus

Spock: "We will never relate as equals, so long as you continue to pretend that every burden is your own."

By nature I love brevity: A very good episode taken by itself, but in the context of the larger show it both highlights and compounds one of the show's major issues, and the episode's impact suffers for it.

I complain a lot in my reviews of Star Trek: Enterprise that the only characters who get developed nearly enough are Archer, Trip, and T'Pol. From the amount of development the others get, particularly in the first two seasons, one might even assume that they weren't main characters at all, and were simply part of the background. In most episodes, they get one or two lines each, mostly in the regular performance of their duties aboard the ship. Sound familiar? While Discovery may not have the same problem when it comes to main cast members like Tilly or Stamets, or even Ash Tyler, it does suffer greatly from its failure to develop the secondary cast. It is notable that at least some effort is being made this season – we do now actually know all their names – but not enough. Even the more prominent bridge crew members like Detmer or Owosekun get little tidbits and nothing more.

I think the main problem, and the main reason this happens, is that this show is so laser-focused on its plot that it doesn't have time to develop their characters. This is by no means to say that it couldn't have time, but I think that it doesn't have the time right now. It just doesn't seem like it's a priority for the writers. We have so much development for Saru, Tilly, Stamets, Burnham, and even now Tyler and Culber, that I now care about each of their characters (to varying degrees, of course; Shazad Latif turns me off of Tyler and I don't find Burnham compelling). But while little nods like 'Owosekun grew up in a Luddite community' or 'Detmer has had her pilot's license since she was a teenager' help to ground their characters as humans, they haven't been developed at all as characters in this show. I don't have a sense of Owosekun's emotional state, or Detmer's motivations. And the reason I say the show could very easily make the time for those characters is because it did so here.

Airiam's development here is quite good, and I found her backstory compelling enough. The problem is that it was all shoved into this one episode. That short a span of time is not enough to get to care that deeply about a character. It's not even like it had to be complicated in previous episodes. Maybe a scene where Airiam logs her memories, or a brief little dialogue exchange between her and Burnham to establish that they were friends. If the show had made a conscious effort to sprinkle little bits of Airiam's character throughout the season, it would have made a world of difference for this episode's emotional impact. As it was, director Jonathan Frakes and all the actors brought everything they could possibly have brought to the scene, but it just didn't have the impact it needed because what had come before wasn't compelling.

That said, I am glad Airiam got something of weight before her departure, and it did lead to some further characterization of the other bridge crew, Detmer in particular. I don't think I've seen them feel more human than they did here. The shots of each crew member's horrified blank expression at the death of their friend, combined with Frakes' emotional direction and Jeff Russo's suddenly understated music, really drove home the emotion of the scene, even though I didn't feel it myself because I had only just been given the opportunity to become attached to Airiam.

We have other stuff to touch on, so let's get into it. First, let's get the main plot out of the way. The story worked just fine, and the reveal of Control's complete, well, control over Section 31 was well done. They've dropped hints of the evil AI in charge of 31 throughout the season with just the right balance; it was enough that the audience understood what it was and that it was there, but it wasn't heavy handed enough that it made me groan with how obvious it was. I think I like the direction they're taking it, with a few caveats. If things continue the way they seem to be continuing, I anticipate that we will find out for certain that the conflict in the future is between the evolved Control and the rest of the universe. This could be good for a couple of reasons. The first is that it gives the whole story a sort of connectivity that the two half-arcs last season lacked, and the second is that this could very easily be the reason that Section 31 drops under the radar by the DS9 era. Maybe 31 collapses almost completely at the end of the season, and Starfleet shelves the project, but then Georgiou secretly starts it up again independent from Starfleet. That would also give the announced Section 31 series some sort of direction to go in.

Here we come to the biggest thing that makes all shows sink or swim – the characters and their relationships with each other. In what is becoming a nice trend for this season of Discovery, the writers continue to provide us with pairings of characters that make us think and, for the most part, work. This episode the highlight was Stamets and Spock. I really enjoyed their little scene together in Engineering. I really like that this show is starting to slow down enough to have scenes like that, where characters make their connections and have moments that would fall by the wayside in the middle of an action or plot-driven episode. Stamets gave Spock some very human advice to his problem that logic has not been able to solve. Likewise, Spock provided Stamets with a much-needed outsider's perspective on his relationship with Culber, lending him an objectivity that he would never reach on his own.

The other relational dynamic, that of Spock and Burnham, is less interesting but still of worth. As with last week, their relationship is deeply broken and fractured, and their issues aren't just going away. Spock's criticisms of Burnham are valid and cut deep, but at the same time, her evaluation of his current state rings true. Spock is still struggling madly to wrap his head around the problem before him, and nothing is working. As the chess game shows expertly, Spock has just about given up. As he said last week, both logic and emotion have failed him. He has nowhere else to turn, and his dejected resignation shows in Ethan Peck's performance.

There's a lot to recommend here. I ended up liking it a great deal. I just wish they'd laid the groundwork better earlier down the line.

Strange New Worlds:

No new planets this outing, but we did see part of Section 31 HQ.

New Life and New Civilizations:

Confirmation that Airiam is a human with cybernetic augmentations after she was critically injured. it also struck me that a significant portion of our cast has some sort of augmentation using technology. Detmer has her eye, Nhan has her breathing piece, and Stamets has those things in his arms that allow him to connect to the spore drive.

Pensees:

-Another appearance of Admiral Cornwell. I like Jayne Brook, so that's always fun to see. It was also good to see her using her background as a therapist.

-The ship looked brighter in this episode, and at some points significantly less blue. I wonder why; could it be Frakes?

-Every single time they say 'logic extremists' I want to burst out laughing because the name sounds really dumb.

-The Federation doesn't permit the use of mines at this point in the timeline.

-There was a distinct red glow on the scattered chess pieces at the end of that scene. Interesting...

-Faith interpretation of the week: Faith in your own abilities.

-Some definite parallels to Star Trek VI with the magnet boots in zero gravity, and the floating blood.

-My viewing group guessed that Admiral Patar was dead about ten seconds before the episode told us.

-Saru can see heat signatures, even through subspace. Cool.

-So Airiam downloaded all her memories into Disco's mainframe? Is that just opening the door for her return?

-Burnham using Kirk Fu is amazing. That's really all that needs to be said.

-Other Trek references - Kadis-Kot and 3-D Chess.

-I can't help but feel like they had Nhan kill Airiam just to absolve Burnham of the responsibility.

-For some reason, something kicked out our ads and our teaser for next episode when we watched it on Amazon.

-Next week's episode is called 'The Red Angel.' I guess this is it, folks! Final theories in the comments below!

Quotes:

Stamets: "Can one of you say something? I don't like hearing myself talk when I have an audience."
Burnham: "We're thinking."
Stamets: "Think louder."
There's good old grumpy Stamets again.

Pike: "Giving up our values in the name of defense is to lose the battle in advance."

Burnham: "I express myself through my work and my choice of decor."
Spock: "Clearly."

Burnham: "If there's a logical reason to sacrifice your rook, I don't see it."
Spock: "Perhaps I simply dislike rooks."

Spock: "I understand now. If only I'd taken your pawn, the mystery would have been solved."

Spock, to Stamets: "Perhaps he needs distance from you not because he no longer has feelings for you, but because he no longer knows how to feel about himself."

4.5 out of 6. Would have been 5, but the poor context drags it down.

--
CoramDeo picked a lousy day to wear his contacts.

6 comments:

CoramDeo said...

Okay, so here's my personal favorite: In the first episode of the season, in Burnham's flashback sequence, Amanda first appears in the door of their home wearing a long flowing red dress, as the score very briefly uses an angelic choir. She also wears what could be characterized as a halo. What's most compelling for me, though, is what she says to Burnham. I noticed this line originally, and found it odd. She says: "I bless you, Michael. All my life." Other points in its favor are that this theory explains why the Angel is so fixated on Burnham and Spock. The big problem with it, of course, is that Amanda dies at some point in between Star Trek IV and TNG, and the technology used in the Red Angel suit is extremely advanced. That is my current favorite theory, except of course for Patrick Stewart in a lobster costume.

Corylea said...

I agree completely with your talking about how there's been so much focus on the plot that the characters are getting short shrift. Plot is nice, but we mostly love or hate a show because we love or hate the PEOPLE.

You didn't mention what I thought was the best line of the episode! But then, I'm a TOS fan from waaaay back. :-) I loved it when Spock said, "I disappoint Sarek, he disappoints me, then the sun sets and a new days begins." That's not just their relationship in a nutshell, it also shows how much insight Spock has into his family dynamics and how he's not waiting around for Sarek to change or appreciate him.

CoramDeo said...

Corylea, that was a good line. My quotes section is mostly the ones that strike me particularly, and that I'm able to write down. But you're right, it does sum up their relationship pretty perfectly.

Billie Doux said...

It was sad to "meet" Airiam for the first time, only to lose her at the end. I couldn't help wondering about the nature of her terrible injuries, and how much human was left in that cyborg body. In fact, it strongly reminded me of what happened to a certain character in the original series two-part episode, "The Menagerie." (I'm being vague in case someone reading this comment hasn't seen the original series.)

https://www.douxreviews.com/2010/06/star-trek-menagerie.html

I have no idea who or what the Red Angel is, but it would certainly make sense for it to be some future version of Amanda. Who else would choose Spock like this?

Anonymous said...

In the last three episodes I noticed a big improvement in writing. There's a lot less clunky dialogue and episodes have a better flow.

Sonequa Martin-Green, Mary Wiseman, Anson Mount and Jayne Brook were all excellent this episode, in my opinion. I also like Ethan Peck as Spock. Although it sometimes feels like he's still trying to figure out the character, at other moments he nails it, so I'm confident he'll be fine in the long run.

That's the positives out of the way. Time for some criticism.

For starters, as others have pointed out, the decision to finally give a background character some development only to throw it all out at the end of the episode doesn't make sense. If it was a new character introduced this episode, I'd have been fine with it. But to do this with a character we've seen all through Discovery, waiting for it to get developed for so long, is such a poor choice. It also once again brings to our attention how the other background characters still have no development at all. Does this mean when we finally see some development on any of them, we can expect that to be thrown out at the end of the episode as well? It's such a waste.

However, the biggest problem with this season is still the major story. The Red Angel story line hasn't delivered nearly enough for me to care about it. It's been going on for nine episodes now and we still have only had tiny snippets of the mistery revealed. The characters even keep rehashing the couple of reveals we have had (it's a human from the future!, It showed itself to Spock first!), because there isn't anything else to talk about.

If they plan to stretch this story line throughout the season, I really hope they give it a new twist soon.

Anonymous said...

Addition:

As CoramDeo said, next week's episode (Red Angel) probably concludes that story line, so they won't be stretching it for the entire season. Good.