Just watched the latest Discovery episode, “Saints Of Imperfection” and the title seems just as much a motto for the show itself as it does for certain characters within. It aims high and true, but sometimes the arrow falls a bit short of target. Season two started off on a soft reboot of the series with “Brother” (Anson Mount’s Pike was an injection of fresh energy Discovery really needed) but the show seems to be falling back into some of the frustrating patterns of season one; namely an overall lack of coherency.
****SPOILERS AHEAD! BLACK ALERT!! *****
The episode begins with Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin Green) running to the engineering section to see what has happened to her friend Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman), who has been enveloped by a blob/cocoon ‘thing’ and transported into the vast, mycelial network (the fungal-spore space where Discovery accomplishes her near-instantaneous spore jumps (which are having an adverse effect on that space). Commander Stamets (Anthony Rapp) confirms that the cocoon on the floor of engineering doesn’t contain any of Tilly’s DNA, so he surmises that the cocoon is an organic version of Discovery’s own transporter, with a receiving pod in the mycelium universe.
Discovery is soon in hot pursuit of the escaped fugitive Spock’s shuttle. After the shuttle seems to outmaneuver Discovery, Pike fires a torpedo that detonates just shy of impact and disables her. The shuttle is brought aboard, and with Pike, Burnham and security guards surrounding its opening back hatch, Section 31 operative (and former mirror-universe emperor) Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) emerges. Burnham (Sonequa Martin Green) keeps her phaser trained on the deceptive Georgiou.
Pike (Anson Mount) believes the former emperor to be ‘our’ universe’s Georgiou, but is troubled by Burnham’s distrust & hostility towards her former ‘commanding officer.’ Pike begins to sense something amiss. A deliciously malicious Georgiou fakes her way through small talk with Pike, but he remains unconvinced. It seems she was after Spock as well, and found his shuttle adrift, so she commandeered it.
The trio soon receive a holo-com from Section 31 Operative Leland (Alan van Sprang), an old friend of Pike’s, who informs him that S31 is also looking for the missing Lt. Spock. Pike is forced to return Georgiou and her shuttle, but in return a S31 envoy is going to act as a liaison officer… and that, of course, would be recent exile, Klingon-turned-human hybrid Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif), who is now ‘dead’ to the Klingon Empire, for the sake of political stability.
Back in engineering, the search continues. Tilly awakens in the matching mycelial cocoon and messily exits. Covered in goop, she appears to be in a bioluminescent “Avatar”-like universe of glowing spores and lots of digital FX.
She once again encounters the ever-annoying “May” (Bahia Watson), a mycelial life-form assuming the guise of a dead schoolmate of Tilly’s. The shrieking May tries to recruit Tilly to help save her fellow spore lifeforms from a deadly ‘monster’ who has invaded her universe from Tilly’s. Tilly reluctantly agrees, and the two of them ‘pinky-swear’ to allow Tilly to return to her universe once she’s vanquished the beast.
Stamets has an unusual proposal for Pike; he recommends Discovery do a ‘partial spore jump’, which will leave Discovery half-phased in one universe and the other (think TOS’ “The Tholian Web” but with lots of glowy spore thingies). The ship will half-jump to a point near where Tilly should’ve rematerialized inside the mycelial cocoon (following this?).
In a cool display of visual effects, Discovery does her half-jump. Staying in the network far longer than the usual milliseconds, the mycelial life forms of that universe begin attacking the ship, since they try to convert all matter into a useful form for their universe. The laws of conservation for mass and energy at play…
With most of the crew tucked away in ‘safe’ parts of the ship, Burnham and Stamets, with phasers cocked, go off to find Tilly. Unknown to them, Tilly and “May” are entering Discovery themselves, as the ship is rapidly being gnawed on by the mycelium parasites.
The groups encounter each other, and everyone is finally able to see the unseen “May” (who was previously only visible to Tilly). They hear a cry, which May tells them is “the monster”. But the monster is revealed to be…
… a bedraggled and near-feral Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz), Paul Stamets’ dead lover from season one. After an initially fearful reunion (Culber has trouble believing Stamets is ‘real’ too), the two are tearfully reunited. May is angered; she thinks the humans have double-crossed her by failing to kill her ‘monster.’ Burnham makes the case that Culber is a healer, not a monster.
As Discovery lapses into increasing danger from the hungry mycelial parasites, a passing asteroid suddenly de-cloaks to reveal itself as Section 31’s new ride (last seen in “Point Of Light”).
The ship stands ready to help tow Discovery clear of the interspatial zone if Discovery fails to free herself. The ship attaches tractor beams to pull them out, but Pike is adamant; not till he gives the word!
With time running out, Paul tries to take Culber through the spore interface chamber, but Culber’s hand begins to dematerialize. It seems he based off of Paul’s memories, but is composed of ‘mycelial matter’ and cannot cross into ‘our’ universe. Undeterred, Tilly and Burnham surmise that the same cocoon which served to transport her into the mycelium universe can transport Culber back into ‘our’ universe but as compatible matter….
…okay, this was silly bordering on pure cockamamie, but whatevs. Moving on…
The transporter cocoon is used, and a somehow clean-shaven, well-groomed and buck naked Culber emerges (how the organic ‘cocoon transporter’ knew how to return Hugh to his preferred mode of grooming is beyond me, but there you go). With the ‘monster’ gone from the mycelial universe, Discovery is allowed to spore jump home. Hugh and Paul are reunited. Ash remains onboard as a S31 liaison for a bit of tension.
Aboard the Section 31 ship, Pike is met with Admiral Cornwall, who tells Pike to cooperate with S31 in the search for Spock. She also reiterates that, despite their different methods, they all work for the same team.
Otherwise, all is groovy. The Search For Spock 2.0 resumes…
While I’m glad to see the return of Wilson Cruz’s Hugh Culber (who should never have been so arbitrarily/thoughtlessly killed off in the first place), his method of resurrection truly crossed the line into the realm of the mystical. Trying to couch it in science using the law of conservation regarding energy & mass, we’re meant to believe that Hugh’s dying tears somehow mixed with Stamets’ connection the mycelium network and ‘created’ a new-Hugh in that realm. Mmmkay.
Of all of Star Trek’s goofy post-mortem resurrections, this one really takes the cake. I don’t know if we’re supposed to believe that a man based on ‘thoughts’ of Hugh Culber alone are indeed Hugh Culber, but that seems pretty damn shaky at best. In my opinion, this character of the new-Hugh is a fantasy-facsimile and not the ‘real’ Culber, who died when reactivated Klingon Voq/Tyler broke his neck in sickbay last season. Not to mention having Culber return perfectly clean-shaven and well-groomed? I mean, wow. There’s suspension of disbelief and then there’s outright fantasy. I’m surprised Hugh didn’t emerge from the cocoon astride a white unicorn. Discovery quietly crossed a line into the mystical tonight, and I’m not sure it can so easily step back from that.
This gossamer-flimsy mode of Culber’s return demonstrates to me that the writers had NO IDEA how to bring Culber back when they killed him off last year, and only reinforces my belief that they should’ve been a lot more thoughtful before they did so in the first place.
I also noticed lots of ‘actor-shaking’ to simulate the ship in peril. I realize that this is a Star Trek cliche dating back to the “helm hard to port” days of TOS (when the actors would all swing in unison in the opposite direction of the tilting camera), but the fact that it’s so very noticeable here makes it a nit for me. Such constant feigned jolting should be an accent to the action, not a substitute for it. A few times here and there are forgivable, but it seemed that the actors were doing this every few seconds and it was oddly distracting for me. More a director nit than an actor nit.
The CGI visuals of the mycelium forest looked very glowy and pretty, but they’re so reminiscent of “Avatar” that I half expected the camera to come across two Na’vi lovers flying a mountain banshee at the edge of the frame. Not to mention that the mycelial reality is supposed to be a universe utterly alien and (seemingly) hostile to ours, yet they have the exact same oxygen, gravity and other life-supporting requirements as our own? A stretch to say the least…
There was also a writing mishmash in this episode; something that I sensed with last week’s as well, with a collision of different Star Trek ideas forming a whole episode. This week’s suffered the same problem; we have a bit of spy-vs-spy stuff with S31. Ash Tyler is brought back aboard with nary a second thought. Most of the bridge crew continue to be little more than talking props. We continue the search for Spock 2.0. There was a search for Tilly. We also had a search we didn’t even know was on…in this case, for the dead Hugh Culber, now resurrected.
These disparate story elements, each of which could have been a sufficiently entertaining episode in its own right if fully developed, are slammed together into something resembling a whole episode, glued together with a thick glaze of technobabble.
Summing it up.
While the uneven writing is the biggest plague of the second season so far, I want to stress that, as a longtime Star Trek fan, I really want this show to succeed. I love Star Trek very much (or maybe I love the concept of Star Trek), but I’m also wondering if this is the new normal for the show now (?). At the very least, there are strong characters, and the actors who play them give very memorable performances (more Michelle Yeoh and Tig Notaro, please!)
I initially applauded the show for embracing the current fashionable TV trend of ongoing arcs for a whole season (something Deep Space Nine did decades before it was fashionable), but now I find myself really craving a nice, old-fashioned standalone Star Trek story. It’s a sweet tooth that “The Orville” sates quite nicely these days. Perhaps part of the problem is that an ongoing arc of a whole season has to have a really strong central story to work well. I’m wondering (hoping?) that’s the case with Star Trek: Discovery, but so far, I’m not feeling it. The ‘red angel’ mystery just doesn’t get my heart going the way Deep Space Nine’s Dominion threat or Klingon war arcs did. Here’s hoping it does eventually…somehow.
I don’t want to sound as though I hate the show, because I don’t. There are some amazing actors, gorgeous production values (Star Trek has never looked better on the small or big screens) and lots of interesting ideas strewn throughout. But for some nagging reason, it’s failing to add up to a satisfying, coherent whole. The potential for a great series is there, but as of now, it’s not quite materializing.