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Star Trek Discovery: Kobayashi Maru

Book: "If you tell me you made a dress uniform for Grudge, I'll stay."
To be fair, if they gave the cat a uniform, I expect quite a few fans that are ready to give up would stick around.

By nature I love brevity: Discovery returns with one of the most solid and even-keeled episodes the series has delivered so far. On a show where consistency, especially tonal consistency, is one of the most persistent issues, this is very, very good.

If you were to put a gun to my head and demanded that I tell you what the biggest problem with Star Trek: Discovery has been so far, that would prove that you care way too much about this show and are probably clinically insane. Once I recovered from the shock of an imminent death threat, I would probably tell you the problem is that Discovery can't maintain consistency to save its life. Hopefully that answer would save my life, because I really do believe it.

The show just doesn't seem capable of doing the same thing in the same way for more than two episodes. It persists through every aspect, but it's no more evident than in the writing surrounding Burnham herself (which is probably a big reason that she seems to bother so many people so much). Last season built up a whole arc in which her constant insubordination and disregard for protocol and chain of command blew up in her face. She was justly punished for what she was doing. Then in the finale they had her do the same exact things in critical moments and get rewarded for it with the captain's chair. Fine, make her the captain. Or don't. But pick a lane and stick to it.

The best episodes of Discovery have all been big swings. But for every 'If Memory Serves' or 'Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad', there's a 'Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum' or 'That Hope is You, Part 2' to match it. For every interesting and creative concept like the spore drive or the tardigrade, there's parasitic ice to bog it all down. The tone of the show will swing wildly from cheesy quips to heightened melodrama in a matter of minutes. Some of it is good, but none of it matches what came before it. I'm no big Enterprise fan, but you always knew what you were getting each episode for the most part. With Discovery, you could end up with excellent work or a clunky, messy stinker or anything in between.

Which is why the show needs more episodes like 'Kobayashi Maru', which is not super flashy and not the show's best but is far, far from its worst. Most episodes of the show alternate between impressing me and making me cringe several times per episode. 'Kobayashi Maru' was engaging and reliable. Nothing stood out as incredible, but nothing stood out as awful either. It was tonally perfect and capably crafted. The best word for it is 'solid'. Why is that such high praise? Because if Discovery doesn't find a bedrock soon, it'll collapse under the weight of its own vaulting ambition.

I was surprised by how natural it felt to have Burnham in the Captain's Chair, too. It felt right, but most importantly, it felt like they'd done this a hundred times. The crew got a healthy spotlight, and we saw them doing what every other Trek crew had been doing for at least a full season by this point in their runs: working together in a way that feels to the viewer like these people live and work together on a daily basis. And it feels like the crew behind the production is finally doing the same. 'Kobayashi Maru' feels like an episode of a show that has its footing and knows for sure what it needs to do. For a show now in its fourth season, it was absolutely essential to see that happen, and soon. By the fourth season of TNG and DS9, everyone knew exactly what the show was and what kind of stories were going to be told, and the production team had a pretty solid engine going to put out those kinds of stories each week with a fairly regular standard of quality. Lower Decks, notably, had that engine from about three episodes in. This is the first time I've really felt like Discovery had it.

It isn't all sunshine and roses. If Discovery keeps to its past track record, we'll see this newfound confidence give way to something completely different within a few weeks. For now, though, this is – and I cannot stress it enough – exactly what I needed to see.

Strange New Worlds:

This week we spent a little time on Book's unfortunate home planet of Kwejian, but we also saw a new planet we've never visited before, called Alshain IV.

New Life and New Civilizations:

Alshain IV is home to the Alshain people, a new species not seen in Trek prior to this. They are a humanoid race that appears to have some sort of relationship, possibly symbiotic, with a species of butterfly that lives on their planet. The butterflies attach themselves to the Alshain, and this gives them the ability to fly. They use their planet's magnetic field for navigation in flight.

Pensees:

-The opening felt like a combination between the cold opens of Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond, what with the comedic negotiations with aliens that aren't having it, and then running through the jungle and discussing whether or not the aliens will see their ship.

-Speaking of the opening sequence, what's with Grudge? I get that the cat's funny and all, but it continues to feel as though the writers are going out of their way to remind us about Grudge, as though she will play an important role in the near future.

-We have a new member of the bridge crew: Lt. Christopher, played by Orville Cummings. He's been filling in for Lt. Cmdr. Bryce while he was temporarily assigned to the U.S.S. Curry.

-TRIBBLE. STARFLEET. OFFICER. That is all.

-'Let's fly' is not the greatest catchphrase I've heard, but Martin-Green sells it.

-The government on Kaminar in the 32nd Century includes both Kelpiens and Ba'ul.

-I won't lie, I got chills when the closing credits theme from Enterprise – titled 'Archer's theme' – played for the reveal of Archer Spacedock.

-The new Federation President is a chiefly Cardassian (!) woman named Laira Rillak. She also has Bajoran and Human ancestry and is played by Chelah Horsdal.

-The Federation is developing a new version of the spore drive, and a new transportation technology called the pathway drive. It's not clear if these are the same thing or not. The U.S.S. Voyager-J, seen last season, will be the test ship for the new technology, and Rillak is looking for a Captain for the ship.

-Incidentally, I'm not clear why Rillak gets to pick the Captain for the Voyager. Federation President is not a military position, and it certainly doesn't make her responsible for such small decisions as the Captaincy of starships.

-The first scene does a good job establishing Burnham's discomfort with politics in her negotiations with the Alshain, which pays off in her interactions with President Rillak.

5 out of 6 domestic species of small carnivorous mammal.
--
CoramDeo is as confused as a goat on AstroTurf.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"but nothing stood out as awful either"

Really? For me, the complete opening was the very definition of awful.

"Let's fly" also causes quite a lot of cringe as well.

I liked the rest (if I forget that ALWAYS Michael has to be the one to do the heroics), but it might be because those two things made the rest of the episode look good by comparison.