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Star Trek Discovery: The Examples

'You don't know me.'
'No, but I know anger. It's a wonderfully productive emotion.'

By nature I love brevity: A tight, solid episode. Some sure direction, a good script, and some excellent guest stars carry 'The Examples' to success.

One of my favorite episodes of the early seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is called 'Progress.' In it, Major Kira beams down to one of Bajor's moons to evacuate the last remaining inhabitant so that the moon can be tapped for its resources. There she finds Mullibok, a stubborn old man that absolutely refuses to leave his home, even if it means he dies when the drilling starts. Kira is faced with a decision – does she let the man stay and die, or does she save his life against his will? One of the best things about the episode is that the episode lets her make the decision, but refuses to tell the audience whether what she did was right or wrong. That conclusion is left to each viewer. I thought a lot about 'Progress' while I was watching 'The Examples.'

Star Trek is well-known for tackling tough and complex moral questions. While Discovery has certainly tried to do this sort of thing, especially in the first season with Lorca and his dark experiments, the sort of difficult moral wrestling we used to see all the time, especially on TNG and DS9, has remained elusive. Here, the show doesn't quite capture the fascinating moral confusion of DS9's 'Progress' or VOY's 'Tuvix,' or the compelling moral conviction of TNG's 'The Measure of a Man' or 'The First Duty.' But darn it, it does its best, and for the first time in Discovery's history, I feel the classic Trek push and pull of a strong moral compass pitted against a complex conundrum.

I'm referring, of course, to Burnham and Book's scenes with the Examples in the prison. Given all the political hurdles we've seen Burnham tackle in the past few episodes, we can see her run through in her mind just how upset her superiors would be if she helped these people against the will of the Radvek Magistrate. This is the advantage of serialized storytelling, put to great use – she doesn't have to say this is what's going through her head or make reference to it. Because we've seen the context of what has been happening to her in the last few weeks, we can figure out what she's thinking and what's driving her.

I liked Felix, one of the first guests in a while that has truly felt like a complex person. Props to Michael Greyeyes for crafting that character. And I really liked that Burnham and Book weren't on the same page when it came to Felix' decision. Whenever the crew on Discovery disagrees, it tends to be that one of them is right and the other one is wrong. I like it when it's not so cut-and-dry, so the audience can side with one or the other. Here you could make an argument for forcing Felix to come along, and you could make an argument for leaving him there. We have characters that we like on both sides. It feels like a real situation, and it lets you think about what you would do when faced with that choice. More of this kind of thing, please.

Our other chief storyline this episode revolved around new character Ruon Tarka (Shawn Doyle), a brilliant Risian scientist that's been working on some of the Federation's most bleeding-edge projects. Tarka looks like he may be around for quite some time, and judging by the refreshing way Doyle interacts with the rest of the cast, that may well be a good thing. He's never paired one-on-one with Stamets, which tends to be a positive; Anthony Rapp often needs more than one scene partner to carry some of the weight of the material, and Doug Jones is always up to the task. Some skillful direction by Lee Rose allows them to pair up a remotely filmed Tig Notaro with these scenes almost seamlessly. You might not guess without outside information that Notaro was on set at a completely different time from everyone else in the scene, and that's a credit to everyone involved. I also really, really liked Doyle's episode-capping tense interaction with Book. In a few short minutes, Doyle and Ajala built an intense, confrontational chemistry electric enough to fuel this storyline through the rest of the season.

The last little bit of focus in the episode is devoted to Dr. Culber. They've been steadily building Culber's burnout for a few episodes now, and although I doubt this is all the payoff we'll get, it's pretty good. I've argued for seasons by this point that Wilson Cruz is one of this show's strongest performers, and I stand by it. The man elevates every scene he's in, no matter who he's playing opposite. Here, he's paired with the enigmatic Dr. Kovich (David Cronenberg), about whom we still know very little. I'm beginning to see why they cast Cronenberg in the role, other than the name value he brings to the table. He does a good job here giving Culber the no-nonsense verbal slap in the face that he needed. Not a ton to say here since it's only a few scenes, but it's done quite well.

As far as our ongoing plot goes, it's always so hard to tell at this point. Last season, the Burn seemed like such a promising concept, and the mystery was developing pleasantly until it fumbled a bit trying to stick the landing. But all signs here point to a promising season arc. Certainly, I find Horsdal's President Rillak and Doyle's Tarka a lot more interesting as key players than Janet Kidder's Osyraa and Bill Irwin's Su'Kal last season. I guess it will depend a lot on what they've got in store as far as villains are concerned. Who made this anomaly and will it be satisfying narratively? It remains to be seen, but I'm hopeful. This season hasn't disappointed so far, and the talent they have both behind and in front of the camera seems fully capable of delivering.

Strange New Worlds:

The location this go around is the Radvek chain, a technologically connected group of asteroids that the Akaali have colonized. Radvek was associated with the Emerald Chain until it collapsed at the end of last season.

New Life and New Civilizations:

The Akaali were first introduced in the Enterprise episode 'Civilization.' They were a primitive Earth-like species Archer and his crew came across, and they were being mined secretly by the warp-capable Malurian species. The Malurians were later wiped out in their entirety by Nomad in the TOS episode 'The Changeling.'

Pensees:

-The ships that noticed the disappearance of the DMA at the start of the episode were the U.S.S. Janeway and the N.S.S. T'Pau. The Janeway is almost certainly named after the legendary Captain of the U.S.S. Voyager, played by Kate Mulgrew in VOY. The T'Pau is most likely named after an influential Vulcan diplomat, played by Celia Lovsky in TOS: 'Amok Time,' and by Kara Zediker in the ENT trilogy 'The Forge,' 'Awakening,' and 'Kir'Shara.'

-The species listed as possibly responsible for the DMA were the Metrons, the Nacene, and the Iconians, as well as the Q Continuum.

-The Metrons pitted Captain Kirk against the Gorn Captain in TOS: 'Arena.'

-Nacene was the species name of the Caretaker, the being responsible for trapping the U.S.S. Voyager in the Delta Quadrant.

-The Iconians were an ancient species whose empire fell long ago, but traces of them still remain. They left behind gateways, a technology that acted as a portal to anywhere in the galaxy, essentially. Iconian gateways appeared in TNG: 'Contagion' and DS9: 'To the Death.'

-The Q, of course, are best represented by John DeLancie's iconic tormentor of Captain Picard.

-Mary Wiseman did not appear in the opening credits, after Tilly's departure last episode. Neither did Blu del Barrio, who did not appear in the episode. Tig Notaro did appear in the opening credits. I'm pretty sure Discovery never lists actors that don't appear in that particular episode in the credits, even if the character is still important enough to warrant the credits.

-I'm as glad as anyone that the bridge crew is finally getting meaningful content. But so far it's been incredibly forced and out of left field. First it was Bryce's riding the wave idea in 'Anomaly,' now it's Rhys' full backstory.

-I liked the scene at the end between Burnham and Patri Doxica (Sochi Fried), the girl whose father Felix killed. And I liked that Burnham didn't dump all the baggage of what had just happened to Felix on her. She just gave her the orb and left it at that.

-Zora (Annabelle Wallis), the ship's computer merged with the Sphere Data, is rapidly gaining sentience. Now she feels emotions and empathy. Again, if you haven't seen the Short Trek 'Calypso,' I definitely recommend that you do that. It provides some good context for what's going on here.

5 out of 6 mobile land mines. Some clunky bits, but quite good overall.

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CoramDeo wants to know. Can you SHOOOOW him?

1 comment:

  1. This season, for some reason, I can't get into Discovery. I saw the episode where Tilly left, and I've watched the episodes up until then. Haven't watched this episode yet, and I just really can't motivate myself to watch it. I guess I just don't care. I don't really care about the mystery going on. Am I alone in feeling this way?

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