Is there an optimum length for a season of a modern serialised drama show? One of the pleasant early surprises accompanying the announcement of a new incarnation of Star Trek was the reveal that it would run for a 13-episode season. In the event, the first season of Star Trek: Discovery was expanded to a run of 15. The current season is set for 14 episodes.
‘Saints of Imperfection’ – the fifth episode of the current run – could be held up as evidence that Disco could still use some further streamlining. Whilst the episode left our crew in a very different state than it found them, this had, to some degree, the feeling of padding. That the episode still managed to feel overstuffed is an achievement in itself… of sorts.
The main thrust of ‘Saints of Imperfection’ was the attempt to rescue Tilly from the mycelial network. Once in the network, she is warned by May (the physical manifestation of the spore dimension parasite with which Tilly was infected) of the presence of a ‘monster’. This monster turns out to be a face familiar to viewers. Utilising the banned – or at least discontinued – spore drive once again (it’s okay if they only use it a couple of times a week, right?) Stamets, with the permission of Captain Pike, takes Discovery into the network on a rescue mission. The show sets this up as a ticking clock, as the hull will be eaten within a couple of hours if they remain there.
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In and of itself ‘Saints of Imperfection’ is an entertaining episode, and as well directed as anything we’ve yet seen in this run. Director David Barrett keeps the camera moving with a nice fluidity, and the show remains beautifully coloured, particularly for those able to access the 4k HDR stream. The visual language of Star Trek is being updated in ways more than mere set design and technology. Our characters continue to bond as a crew – with only the *slightest* hint that the show runners are trying to force that a little – and Anson Mount’s Pike continues to be so good that it will be hard to watch The Original Series episode ‘The Menagerie’ in quite the same way from now on.
On a more negative note, the season is starting to show an inconsistency of pacing, and an impatience to promote the wider Star Trek universe that is reminiscent of Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Remember when Iron Man 2 spent two hours advertising The Avengers? Be in no doubt that showrunners want you to know there is a Section 31 show coming, starring Michelle Yeoh. There is a thin line between cross-pollination, and sacrificing the current product at the altar of the wider franchise. Where viewers find themselves on this, in this particular case, will vary. It’s debatable whether the whole Spock thing – and associated preview of forthcoming attractions – belonged in this episode, however.
The *interminable* search for Spock (not to be confused with The Search for Spock) is getting tiresome now also. It begs the question who is this for? Long-term Star Trek fans would be excited at the prospect of seeing Spock, one imagines, but the long tease is less impactful to newer and younger viewers, giving everything on the way a hint of busy-work. That said, ‘Saints..’ is an episode with consequences. These consequences will land with varying degrees of success among viewers, as one key outcome is to undo a major happening from Season One.
On the one hand the return of Hugh Culber is played beautifully, with Paul reassuring him tenderly, and the director wisely focusing on the offering of a hand to hold. It brings the arc full circle on Stamets existential crisis this season. It does, however, somewhat betray the premise that Star Trek: Discovery would bring lasting consequences to the show. That death would mean something, and not just represent, Tasha Yar-style, the rare occasion when a disgruntled actor wanted to leave. It’s truly lovely to see Paul and Hugh reunited – evidence, in itself, that the show has managed to land some of its character work across the two seasons – but, as storytelling, it’s less brave, and had that familiar feeling of deus ex machina. So far, death is either reversible, or we can get a spare from the Mirror Universe.
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‘Saints of Imperfection’ is a decent episode, particularly beautifully made, and reflects the consistently higher standard of this sophomore season of the show. It does suggest, however, the earliest sign of future franchise bloat, both in use of running time, and the attempt to have parts of the franchise play together – brave, if done well, but very risky and, potentially, obnoxious if overdone. Time will tell on this, but a small warning light has just come on.
And, for goodness sake, can we get to Spock anytime soon?
Star Trek: Discovery airs every Friday on Netflix in the UK.