The fifteenth and final episode of this inaugural season of Star Trek Discovery has beamed up. Overall, it was a very satisfying installment that seemed to pull the series out of the darkness, and a bit closer into the optimism of previous Star Treks.
***** GIANT VOLCANO BOMB-SIZED SPOILERS AHEAD *****
The USS Discovery is en route to the Klingon home planet Qo’noS (or Kronos, for the Klingon-impaired, such as myself) and under the temporary command of mirror-Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), per Starfleet’s agreement in exchange for her help in defeating the Klingons. The stated mission: jump undetected inside of a large cave on Kronos, plant an intellience-gathering drone vital to the war, and then jump away.
After testy exchanges with Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Saru (Doug Jones) on the bridge, mirror-Georgiou takes Burnham aside and informs her that she would like Burnham, former Klingon-hybrid Ash Tyler, aka Voq (Shazad Latif) and Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman) to on join her team that will infiltrate the surface of Kronos and gather intel on the Morath volcanoes; a seemingly ideal place to drop the intel drone.
Mirror-Georgiou arrives at the brig to interrogate the Klingon prisoner L’Rell (Mary Chieffo) on where best to plant the drone. After viciously beating the restrained L’Rell (who mocks her), mirror-Georgiou is stopped by Michael.
Under Stamets’ control, the ship is spore-jumped directly into a subsurface cave. The team prepare to beam to the surface of Kronos and gather the intel the old fashioned way…
Mirror-Georgiou and her landing party finds themselves in the sleazy, red-light ‘Orion-town’ embassy district on the surface. Orions are the famously debauched green-skinned alien species in the ST universe, dating back to TOS’ pilot, “The Cage.”
The team splits up. Mirror-Georgiou acquires the services of two Orion sex slaves, Ash and Burnham try their luck with some local Klingon gamesters, while Tilly gets high off of volcano vapors in an amusing cameo with an Orion drug dealer (played by Clint Howard, who played “Balok” in TOS’ “Corbomite Maneuver”) and learns an important secret.
Tilly discovers something unbeknownst to the landing party; mirror-Georgiou’s ’sensor drone’ is, in fact, a planet-killer bomb to be dropped deep into Kronos, causing ecological collapse and extinction of the planet, as well as the Klingon species. When Burnham learns of this plan, she is determined not to make the same mistake she made at the battle of the binary stars (which arguably started the war) and faces down mirror-Georgiou in an attempt to stop it.
Saru discovers via tracking that the weapon is already deeply imbedded into the planet, but the detonator has not been activated.
Michael then confronts Starfleet Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) in a holographic call taken on the bridge of Discovery. Turns out Cornwell was the one who approved of Georgiou’s ruthless plan. Burnham threatens another mutiny, along with the entire bridge crew, if Burnham allows the genocide of the Klingons; she argues to the admiral that mass genocide of a species, even an enemy, is NOT who Starfleet or the Federation are… and that there is another way.
Ultimately Burnham gives mirror-Georgiou her freedom in exchange for control of the weapon’s detonator; which she surrenders to formerly imprisoned Klingon L’Rell. Burnham then asks L’Rell to to unite the Houses of the Empire under her leadership and end the war; L’Rell agrees, and unites the reluctant House leaders under her banner along with Tyler, who volunteers to join her as an added incentive for her cooperation (L’rell deeply loved Voq, after all). Tyler’s choice is heartbreaking to Burnham, and they say their goodbyes. His leaving with L’Rell is for a greater good, and Burnham knows it.
Back at Earth, peace is restored.
Burnham is fully exonerated and she is restored to the rank of Commander. The entire Discovery crew is promoted a step in rank and commended. Burnham says her goodbyes to her adoptive parents, ambassador Sarek (Michael Frain) and his wife Amanda (Mia Kirshner).
The ship departs Earth, en route to Vulcan, to pick up her new captain when she receives a distress call…
… from Captain Christopher Pike, commanding the USS Enterprise, NCC-1701 (!!).
A lot to absorb in a season finale that, for me, really delivered on many fronts.
First of all, it turns out I was right about DSC taking place in an alternate universe. The sight of a sleeker version of Pike’s USS Enterprise was all the proof I needed, as it looks much more fitting within this version of the prime universe than the analog, 1960s-looking ship from TOS ST. I’m glad that they went this route, to be honest; a clunky, knobs-and-dials retro-futuristic spaceship being the flagship of the same fleet of the advanced USS Discovery would be very hard to swallow (especially for a modern audience). This also fits in with my view of Star Trek being an active multiverse, and that DSC is simply another pocket of this multiverse…not the actual prime universe of the 1966 series.
Anyway, on with my usual laundry list of likes and issues for the episode…
* The Orions.
Nice callback to the original series, as well as the spinoff series “Enterprise” (which also had several Orion-featured episodes in its 4th season).
The idea of Orions having a red-light district on the Klingon homeworld makes sense too, since the species share some ‘values’ in common; brutality, slavery and grossly unequal treatment of the genders. Nice folks, those Orions…
Also appreciated was Clint Howard’s cameo as the Orion volcano-fume drug dealer. Howard (Ron Howard’s kid brother and Bryce Dallas Howard’s uncle) is a real character; and I had the opportunity to meet him in Las Vegas nearly two years ago. As stated above, Howard played the childlike captain “Balok” in TOS’ “The Corbomite Maneuver” back in 1966. It’s always nice to see him back in action. Howard also played a homeless 21st century human in Deep Space Nine’s exceptional time-travel episode, “Past Tense Part 2.”
* Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) finally became a beloved character of mine tonight.
I’ve always liked her, but she was never quite a ‘favorite’ character. Her initial aloofness, her dour arc, and some choices made for her character (no fault of the actress’) kept her at arm’s length for me. The characters that really leapt off the screen for me were Tilly, Lorca (yes, I loved that wily bastard), Saru and Lt. Stamets. Burnham was solid enough (much like TNG’s Riker), but I never quite appreciated her the way I did tonight. She successfully ended the war, she redeemed herself, she reaffirmed those core values of Starfleet in a most awesome way (see: below) and she even let the love of her life go for a greater good (shades of Kirk in “City on the Edge of Forever”).
Take a bow, Sonequa Martin-Green.
* An end of the Klingon war and a return to the values and optimism of Star Trek.
This ‘like’ was my single biggest yay of the episode. It seems like DSC may finally be peering out from behind the darkness of its earlier episodes and (hopefully) embracing those core Star Trek values of compassion, humaneness, pacifism, and optimism; those qualities that embody the best of Star Trek. The end of the war produced genuinely earned relief, much as the end of the two-year long Dominion War arc of Deep Space Nine did at the end of that series. Also commendable that DSC did so by embracing those values which are quintessentially Star Trek. Wars can be won through compassion, and not just strength. I had my doubts for awhile, but ultimately the writers/producers got it right. This is more like it, guys.
* Sarek (James Frain) acting a bit more like the character we knew in TOS…
….and less like Voyager’s Tuvok. Last week we saw him beaming in with Starfleet boarding parties and performing forced mind-melds; he felt more like a Vulcan security chief than the adamantly pacifist ambassador. But this week, Sarek seemed more the wizened, elder statesman-like character we first knew and loved from TOS (“Journey to Babel”) and Next Generation (“Sarek” “Unification”). I give last week’s atypical behavior of the character a pass.
* A successful resolution of the Ash Tyler/Voq (Shazad Latif) arc.
After his murder of Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) I had a hard time accepting the Klingon-free “Ash Tyler” as just a nice guy. Letting him stay behind on Kronos with L’rell was a nice way to ‘exile’ him for his crimes without simply killing him off, which is too brutal and binary a solution to such a complex character. For all intent and purposes, he is no longer the murderous Voq, but as we see him playing and guffawing with the Klingon gamesters, it’s clear that a part of Voq is still there somewhere. It’s also clear the Voq in Tyler means he can never be fully welcomed back into the Federation family. Tyler’s staying with L’Rell was also a nice consolation prize to a young Klingon woman thrust into a role and responsibility she never wanted, but one that she also recognizes is necessary for a greater good.
* Tilly (Mary Wiseman); still a great mix of comic relief and audience avatar
Tilly provides the comic relief of the episode without ever becoming a Neelix or a Jar-Jar. She even comes out of her volcanic fume-stupor long enough to make that all-important call and save the day by informing Burnham of the bomb. She didn’t just tag along as comic relief; she served a vital role, even when she was high as a kite. All this without ever becoming a dreaded ‘Mary Sue’ character. Well done.
Also loved the bit where she spat out the space-whale meat. Good thing she never tried the roasted Ceti eel that I glimpsed in the scene…
* Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) finally coming to her senses.
She’s made a few really stupid choices this season, and I had serious issues with her stability as well as her ability to command (even though I very much like actress Jayne Brook). This week she partially redeemed herself by listening to Burnham. Granted, Burnham had the admiral’s back to the wall, but Cornwell did the right thing. It was also nice to see Cornwell harboring no grudges and presiding over the next ‘Like’ of mine…
* The Discovery crew’s promotion ceremony at Starfleet HQ.
It brought a genuine smile to my face seeing Cadet Tilly become a full ensign, Stamets becoming a Lt. Commander, a posthumous honor for Dr. Culber and a deserved full pardon for Burnham. This was a mega-happy ending to a first season that was in serious danger of becoming a real downer. Seeing Starfleet headquarters again (looking much as they did in the 2009 Star Trek movie) was a shot in the arm as well.
^ And I think (?) I saw what looked like one or two blue shirt uniforms from “The Cage” era in the crowd. I could be wrong, but if true it’s a nice nod to Trek continuity; even if this is yet another alternate Star Trek universe (as I believe).
* Saru (Doug Jones) sassing back at mirror-Georgiou.
Hope you choke on that tough Kelpian meat, lady.
You GO, Saru.
* The final sight of the Christopher Pike’s USS Enterprise and the use of TOS’ end title music.
While I’m sure the somewhat sleeker appearance of Pike’s USS Enterprise will piss off a LOT of the Trek faithful, I loved it. Mainly because it affirmed my long-held belief that this is indeed an alternate universe of the greater Star Trek multiverse. This version of the beloved NCC-1701 is the perfect compromise between TOS’ design and the 2009 JJ Abrams’ reboot version. It fits.
Frankly I would’ve been a bit dismayed if they’d just plopped that 1966-era ship right in the middle of this incarnation of Star Trek. It would look a bit too anachronistic.
I also loved the use of Alexander Courage’s end title theme to close out the episode; that nearly brought me to tears of fanboy joy. Was it necessary? No. Was it shameless fan-service? Absolutely. Did it feel really good after an angsty first year of war, mirror-universes and loss? HELL YES, it did.
Sometimes a bit of fan service is a good thing.
ONE MINOR ISSUE:
* The war ends. But…
… I had a bit of an issue with leaving the weapon within the core of Kronos. While it brought L’Rell to the table and ended the war, it also ended the war through mutual-assured destruction. Either the Klingon Houses unite, or a new (untested) ruler would’ve (and still can) nuke the planet. Sounds a bit like the policy that ended World War 2 but led to decades of Cold War afterward. This is a minor nit granted, but I would’ve liked to have seen a resolution that didn’t have such heavy and deadly strings attached.
A better example is when Odo offered the Founders a cure for their potentially genocidal epidemic with no such strings attached at the end of Deep Space Nine (“What We Leave Behind”); a peace gained by trust and hope, not the threat of further destruction. Granted, the Founder virus was a Federation Section 31 creation in the first place, but it was cured by Odo of his own accord. He went against intuition & logic, and offered a cure for the Federation’s mortal enemy. It was a selfless offer made in the interests of peace, not a weapon to be wielded. On the other hand, true peace with the Klingons is supposed to be down the road in Star Trek’s future, so I accept the solution that “Will You Take My Hand?” presented.
This was one of the best of this young Star Trek series to date. An episode that boldly reconciles the darker, brooding nature of this series with the brighter, more optimistic future promised in classic Star Trek. Here’s hoping we see more of the latter in the show’s future, and less of the former.
Yes, there will always be dark times for this ship and her crew, and I willingly accept that (what’s a dramatic series without crises, right?), but I hope we see a future that offers more of the hope that has long been a vital part of Star Trek’s appeal.
In our uncertain and darker present? We could really use some of that old Star Trek-style optimism right about now, at least as much as TOS’ hopeful message was needed back in the turbulent, chaotic days of the late 1960s from which Star Trek was born.
I think “Will You Take My Hand?” would’ve brought a smile to Gene Roddenberry’s face…