TV reviews

Star Trek: Discovery 2×09 – ‘Project: Daedalus’ – Review

The title of the latest Star Trek: Discovery episode got fans all a-tingle. Would ‘Project Daedalus’ refer in some way to the fourth season of Enterprise and revolve around the transporter device? As usual with Discovery, the end result didn’t live up to the promise.

Here’s the thing with Discovery’s second season, and it’s become clearer with each passing episode: there just isn’t enough story here to warrant 14 episodes of television, certainly not to such a serialised degree. ‘Project Daedalus’ is yet another part of the bigger puzzle of the ‘Red Angel’, emo bearded Spock, the surprisingly open secret that is Section 31, and so on. What exactly in this episode could you point to in ten years that would truly be a memorable piece of television? What makes it meaningful Star Trek? Little and, honestly, the opportunity was there.

They missed it in Lieutenant Commander Airiam. She has been an intriguing member of the background bridge crew of Discovery since the beginning. Everyone no doubt assumed (unless there were clues or hints previously) that Airiam was some kind of android, or robotic species, part of the Federation and she had joined Starfleet. She was unique yet we knew next to nothing about her. Michelle Paradise’s script reveals Airiam was actually a human Starfleet officer who gained cybernetic enhancements after a shuttle accident that killed the man she loved. A great piece of unexpected backstory but what does Discovery do with it? ‘Naff all.

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Sure, we get a few flashes of her memories of who she was before the accident, a couple of beats in which she talks about what happened to Tilly (ever the mother hen on the ship), and a scene or two which establishes Airiam had solid friendships with people like Kayla Detmer (also someone with a dash of cybernetics about her who is vastly underused), but principally the story is focused on whether Airiam’s corruption by who turn out to be Section 31 will be exposed, whether she can control her impulses and the threat she posed and then… bam. She’s gone, after thankfully dropping the title before everyone shouts “so why was the episode called that, then?”.

There was a recent exchange on Twitter that talked about whether Discovery would benefit from having more episodes that might allow for characters such as Airiam to have been explored properly and for her death to truly matter or be felt by the audience as well as Burnham or Tilly etc… In a sense she functions a little like Tasha Yar at the beginning of The Next Generation; barely explored as a character then suddenly offed, but Tasha at least had appeared in every episode and was a credited regular, plus her death came as a real shock in an episode where it could easily have been avoided or prevented. Airiam had been heading that way from the moment those red dots appeared in her eyes and we all knew it.

The fact she’s so disposable speaks to the consistently lazy storytelling Discovery keeps employing and why this serialised structure just doesn’t work for the show, and maybe doesn’t really work for Star Trek. It only worked for Deep Space Nine because by the last two seasons, we knew those characters incredibly well and we were hugely invested as an audience. Did we know Airiam well? Do we care really about how her death affects Tilly? No because the show hasn’t done the leg work. It’s far more interested in Spock, and Burnham’s tedious relationship with him, or Pike and the constant attempt to make the show The Original Series Season 0.5.

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Enough, already. Discovery is still a show with zero sense of identity that could benefit from employing a little more of a traditional Star Trek storytelling approach, so we can truly dig in and know these people. ‘The Sounds of Thunder’ is probably the best episode yet of Season 2 because it did just that with Saru, and his steady change into a more likeable, approachable and daring character is believable as a result. Imagine if Saru had been mind controlled in some way and it had been him who went out the airlock with Burnham pounding on it? You’d have truly felt that as a viewer. Discovery wants to skip over this character work so it can have its cake and eat it, appeal to everyone at once, but guess what? It’s not working.

Season 2 remains listless, strung out and flawed. Ethan Peck’s Spock is morose, irritating and sucks the life out of the screen (*Spock* is doing this. Spock), don’t get me started on how much Section 31 has been dumbed down here to the point of being a pastiche of what it was in earlier Trek shows (which, let’s remember, are in the future), and as for the ‘Red Angel’… just bloody tell us already. At this point, even knowing the stakes and potentially the enemy (though doubtless there’s a twist or two in play yet), it’s hard to give a toss anymore about the resolution.

Truthfully, now, Season 3 and an entirely new narrative for Discovery can’t come fast enough. Season 2 still has time to provide an impressive denouement which makes the lacklustre, average run of episodes before it worth the investment, but much like the galaxy itself… time is running out, guys.

Star Trek: Discovery airs every Friday on Netflix.

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