Star Trek Discovery: Through the Valley of Shadows

Pike: "You are a Starfleet Captain. You believe in service, sacrifice, compassion, and love."

By nature I love brevity: I quite liked this one. It still suffers somewhat from this show's issues, but it also seemed to transcend that, hitting on some very interesting material beneath the less-than-watertight plot.

One of the greatest things, and possibly the greatest thing about this season of Discovery is Anson Mount as Captain Pike. Mount delivers a powerful standout performance when given the chance, and fades into the background to just the right degree when he's not the focus. Mount's Pike is troubled and haunted, but underneath and despite all that he is a good Captain and a very good man. This character is one of the elements that made 'If Memory Serves' earlier this season such a great hour of television, and he continues to shine here in 'Through the Valley of Shadows.'

It's enough to make me overlook the sheer weird ridiculousness of the plot he's trapped in, but I have to talk about that because this is, after all, a review. 'Time crystals' is quickly overtaking 'Logic extremists' as the dumb phrase the show keeps repeating over and over, with seemingly no awareness of how foolish it sounds coming out of the actors' mouths. Though there is some evidence that the phrase may be based on an real-life scientific concept, it just sounds really dumb and should have been avoided. If they were given some random name, and we were told they generated tachyons like nobody's business, I'd have no problem with it. But the closer the show wants to get to real science, the more people have to judge the show in the terms of real science. And in a show that has a device that can teleport the ship to anywhere in space or time in any dimension through the power of fungus, nothing holds up under legitimate scientific scrutiny.

Still, this episode did display at times a welcome return to the classic Trek tradition of nonsensical technobabble that the audience just buys as part of their suspension of disbelief. And it was delivered convincingly enough that I don't really care. Just tell me a good story, and I'll buy whatever laws of physics you have to break to tell it.

Unfortunately, neither half of the two-fold story is especially compelling here. On the one side, you have Spock and Burnham's investigation of the missing Section 31 ship, which turns out to be a trap laid by Control. I didn't expect that Gant was going to wind up being Controlled, but that was only because I was expecting him to sacrifice himself. Leaning into my expectations and then subverting them doesn't help if you just replace the expectations with a different cliche. The other half of the plot, with L'Rell and TyVoq on the Disco and Pike and Baby Priest on the planet, didn't fare too well either. I'm glad we're not returning to the poor attempts at Klingon intrigue that bogged down so much of Season One, but I find I'm just not compelled to care about L'Rell and TyVoq, especially TyVoq. It isn't even high praise to say that Mary Chieffo acts circles around Shazad Latif in her scenes with him; it's just not a high bar.

But each of these somewhat underwhelming stories is saved by a gem hidden within. For the time crystals and Baby Priest, it's Anson Mount's powerful performance as Pike must choose the mission over his own personal well-being and his mobility. We've heard about the accident that crippled Pike before, but to see it dramatized was a different thing entirely. And Pike's muted scream from under the melting makeup in the wheelchair was a devastating and horrifying image that sat with me for a long time after viewing the episode. All this makes Pike's decision just that much more powerful, and even though we know what he will choose, watching him have to choose it is heart-rending. I suspect it will also make 'The Menagerie,' and to some extent 'If Memory Serves,' that much more resonant, now that we've actually gotten to know this character for who he is.

The gem underneath the Burnham and Spock storyline is a lot harder to find, but it's in there. It comes in the moment in the shuttle before they arrive at the location of the 31 ship. Here we find a return to our season theme, and an interesting exploration of it for the first time since 'Brother.' Burnham, somewhat understandably, is disillusioned by the perceived loss of her mother and the failure of their initial plan to stop Control. She no longer trusts that things are happening for a reason, or that there is a purpose to the signals at all. Even her scientific curiosity, which should compel her to continue studying the signals, is dulled. She can no longer understand why Spock still sees meaning in what is happening. Spock's reason for belief is simple, and it's a compelling benefit of faith. The thing that Spock put his faith in, Logic, failed him. Then Emotion, which he fell back on, failed him as well. The only thing that's holding Spock up anymore is the belief that there must be a purpose, a reason for everything that is happening. That's the only way that this can all make sense to him in the end. This is a profound truth about faith, that when everything else doesn't make sense, it's something the believer can stand firm in and trust to keep them upright.

The last thing I want to touch on is the return of Jett Reno and her interactions with Stamets and Culber. This time around, Reno is playing the role of irritant to the audience, and not just to those around her. But she also serves here as an irritant with a purpose. We get a little bit of her backstory in her scene with Culber, which helps me to understand why she has become so cynical and sarcastic. Her loss was tragic, and when she sees Stamets and Culber's failure to capitalize on their second chance, she wants to help any way she can. I liked the little scene where she connected with Culber in sickbay, and I'm beginning to understand what her character's purpose is here.

Strange New Worlds:

We actually visited Boreth for the first time since TNG's 'Rightful Heir.' The planet is home to a Klingon monastery, where the monks wait for the return of Kahless. In legend, Kahless pointed to the star that Boreth orbits before he left, and told the Klingons to look for him 'on that point of light.'

New Life and New Civilizations:

We saw a little bit more of what goes on when Control inhabits someone. It essentially consists of filling their dead body up with a bunch of nanobots.

Pensees:

-It was nice to see Mia Kirshner's Amanda again. I really like her portrayal of the role.

-Shouldn't there be some consequences to the continued use of the spore drive? All we got here was an offhand reference by Reno.

-Did we really need a flashback recap of 'Point of Light'? No, no we didn't.

-The full look at the revamped D7 was pretty awesome. The ship geek in me loved that shot.

-Great to see the crew, including the secondary characters, interacting and hanging out in the mess hall.

-I am happy that this episode allowed me to type the sentence 'The priest is the former baby' in my notes.

-Too! Much! Handheld action! Seriously, directors. Stop filming action sequences with handheld shaky cam. It's messy and it doesn't look good.

-How much do you want to bet there were originally going to be 31 Section 31 ships chasing the Disco, and somewhere along the line somebody reduced the number by one because they thought it was dumb?

-Mary Wiseman's Tilly does not appear in this episode. That was odd, but I only just realized that she wasn't there. I guess that means she didn't need to be in this one, then.

-Ali Momen has appeared as Kamran Gant twice before, and twice as the Mirror version of the character.

-Kenneth Mitchell's return to play yet another Klingon seems odd to modern television viewers, but it's a tried and true Trek tradition (say that ten times fast) to bring back guest stars the producers like to play other characters later.

Quotes:

Burnham: "I don't need saving, brother."
Spock, moving into the shuttle anyway: "Shall we, sister?"
I watched this episode with my own sister, and we have a similar dynamic at times.

Burnham: "I'm not angry, I'm enraged."
Spock: "And rage is the enemy of logic."

Spock: "That is why I choose to believe these signals still hold the answer. So that in the end, all of this might make sense."

L'Rell, to Tyler: "You of all people should understand that two truths are possible."

Baby Priest: "When the future becomes the past, the present will be unlocked."
Me: "Um... what? But... That doesn't... Never mind."

Baby Priest: "I honor you, Captain."

Gantrol: "It always ends the same way. Neither mother nor daughter can change that."

5 out of 6 tried and true Trek traditions.

--
Happy birthday, Mom!

2 comments:

Billie Doux said...

I am again pleading with the Star Trek Powers That Be to give Anson Mount's Christopher Pike his own series. Mount was just outstanding. I knew exactly what I was going to see when he touched the crystal, but it was still incredibly effective. Also effective that he didn't see past it to what happened at the end of "The Menagerie." Not to mention the fact that he was strong enough to take on that future, and then keep it to himself.

The Reno scene with Dr. Culber reminded me of McCoy saying, "Somebody discovered a hangnail." Which he said in "The Menagerie!" Someone did that on purpose.

BrianN said...

As someone who hated the idea of shoehorning in TOS characters into Disc (and not liking the limitations of the universe being so tied to TOS), I have to say that Id rather have more stories with this Pike than Picard. I love TNG, Picard, Patrick Stewart, etc...but Anson's performances are really quite amazing.
Its really a shame that Discovery came out in our current time in the fact that it was dismissed by so many right off the bat because it had a black female as lead character and asian female as captain (even though that lasted only two episodes then we were back to white male...which i dont care about; a character's demographics dont matter to me, their character does) and many people cant even judge this on its own merits or demerits.