Well, they actually went and did it: the USS Discovery has boldly gone when no-one has gone before.
Time, as we’re reminded in this episode, is relative; and relatives are a part of what’s behind this longer-than-usual final outing for Star Trek: Discovery‘s second season. We get to see the reconciliation completed between Spock (Ethan Peck) and adoptive sister Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), and – in a broader sense of what’s considered as ‘family’ – the consolidation of the USS Discovery’s crew as a cohesive unit, ready to face what lies ahead.
As much as we may like to kid ourselves that we love Star Trek for its philosophy or its inclusive nature, there’s that gleeful part in all of us that just loves a darn good space battle over all the insightfulness on the human condition, as well as the jaw-jaw that comes with a diplomatic solution to most situations. Well, the philosophy in this case – where you’re facing a deadly AI threatening to extinguish all human life – is to shoot first, ask questions later. In this epic-sized finale, what we get might not be the mother of all space battles, but it’s certainly a very close relation.
One thing Discovery has tended to do is snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, in narrative terms at least. It’s managed to frequently fall short of being brilliant on so many occasions, and seemed intent on being its own worst enemy at times. Take the weird decision to have Spock’s folks turn up in last week’s episode, just to have a big goodbye with Michael, and then just leave again, smack bang in the middle of all the preparations for the big, climactic face-off with Control. Similarly, Michael and her mother choosing to have a heart-to-heart while during a deadly firefight in ‘Perpetual Infinity‘.
Prioritising emotional beats over common sense, or decent dramatic structures and pacing, has been one of Discovery‘s most consistent failings, and things don’t seem to have improved here. For example, the tearful farewell scene between Michael and Spock may have felt as dramatically necessary, but putting it during a fight to save the future – with exploding ships and carnage all around – just ground things to a halt. Maybe there wasn’t a better place to have it, but it did feel somewhat forced and clunky all the same. Michael’s also so emotionally incontinent that we didn’t need yet another ‘Tiny Tears Burnham’ scene – the irony of her being fostered with emotionless Vulcans also hasn’t been lost on us.
The ‘Red Angel’ is a case in point which illustrates the way in which Discovery has thrown out one shock twist after another, only to have to then frantically backpedal or retcon them later on, like they’ve been flung in there just for effect, without making any long-term narrative sense. Surprise! The ‘Red Angel’ wasn’t Burnham, but actually her long-lost (and presumed dead) mother! Double surprise! It really was Burnham after all! Ha-ha! It just feels as though the writers came up with these lynchpin moments first, then worked to write a story around them, or contort events to try and fit in, with one bluff or fakeout after another.
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The whole time crystal MacGuffin proved to be an inconsistency – when Pike caught hold of one, he was told it would show his irrevocable future; yet when Michael saw an apocalyptic vision of everybody being killed by Leland / Control, Spock tells us it was one possible future, and time wasn’t immutable after all. Jeez, Discovery: pick a lane, will ya? It’s one thing or the other, but it can’t be both. We also get to see Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) come to the rescue, alongside L’Rell (Mary Chieffo) and the Klingon fleet – it’s a great ‘hero moment’ for his character, but wasn’t he supposed to be dead, as far as the Klingons were concerned (after L’Rell faked his demise for political stability)? It seems to be an rather inconvenient truth that gets sadly overlooked, just for the sake of having a plot point.
Another thing that felt like a bit of a cheat was the total 180 turn by Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz), who – despite emphatically telling estranged life partner Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) they were over, and he was transferring to the USS Enterprise – finds Stamets seriously injured, and just like that suddenly decides he can’t live without Stamets after all. Reconciliation was always the logical outcome, and we may have been rooting for it to happen, but to just throw it into the mix with no real hint or foreshadowing of this change of heart makes it feel forced, rather than being truly earned. However, it manages to at least reinforce the main underlying theme of ‘family’.
The bridge crew of the Discovery forms a tightly-knit unit, a group that both loves and respects each other so strongly that they’re totally willing to put everything they know on the line, and freely sacrifice their lives in the 23rd Century in order to protect the timelines from Control. You can see just how far they’ve come since the start of Season 1, when they seemed a truly dysfunctional bunch, one which you couldn’t imagine making such a daunting choice if faced with the same predicament back then. The sheer, unadulterated awe and joy on their faces as they travel into their uncharted future is true testament to where they’re all at now, and is a good sign for Season 3.
Another family we’ve come to know and love is Captain Pike (Anson Mount) and the crew of the Enterprise. Curiously, fans have spent so much of Discovery‘s run to date moaning that we have yet another prequel, and that the franchise should be looking to the future, and then in the next breath they are clamouring to have a series of Captain Pike adventures. It appears Wilde was right: the two tragedies in life are not getting what you want (i.e. a completely original Star Trek series), and getting it (i.e. sending the Discovery into a distant, unknown future, away from established continuity). Fans, eh? Anyway, you can see why they’re eager to have more Pike, as Anson Mount’s taken him from being a footnote or ‘also ran’ into inarguably one of the greatest Star Trek Captains ever.
And there’s certainly plenty of touches to please the fans here: from the Spacedock cradling the under-repair USS Enterprise at the episode’s end resembling the one seen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, to the strobing effect as Discovery passes through the wormhole looking just like the one used in the same movie. Plus, lots of visual and audible cues from classic Trek to help provide subtle continuity in a way that doesn’t detract from the action. Even casual viewers will likely know and appreciate the swoosh of the ship’s doors, or the screech of the Red Alert klaxon. It seems ironic, given how Discovery ends up being removed from Star Trek history and internal continuity at the episode’s end, in order to protect history from any similar future threats.
The showrunners promised that all the outstanding issues of series canon would be conclusively tied up by the end of this season, and they’ve definitely done it in a big, series altering way. They’ve managed to turn Discovery from a prequel into a sequel, transplanting it 950 years forward in time, far beyond the Trek we’ve seen so far, and centuries beyond the Picard series which is coming later in the year. However, it seems an odd move to still go ahead with this huge epoch-making move when, just moments beforehand, you get Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) announcing that she’s neutralised Control. Oh? Good job on that. So… mission aborted, yeah? Well… no. It’s a curious decision which takes all the wind out the sails to take this drastic step. Yet it’s still the right choice to move Discovery into a whole new era, literally. Odd to see Georgiou go with them, given she’s supposed to head up this Section 31 spin-off, but I’m sure they’ll manage to get round that.
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Olatunde Osunsanmi has done a cracking job of making the entire episode look as cinematic as possible, with some stunning and kinetic camera moves, from the fight between Georgiou and Leland / Control in failing gravity onboard the Discovery, to the dynamic approach taken to represent Michael’s trips through time, making it feel at points almost reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Osunsanmi manages to also wring the maximum emotion out of the self-sacrifice of Admiral Kat Cornwell (Jayne Brook), whose loss is keenly felt, as she’d become a familiar, stable presence throughout Discovery to date. The finale certainly doesn’t lack in visual flair, and even when the story sags a little at some points, it’s always not just pretty but also engaging to look at.
Some people have described the change in Discovery‘s format as being a course correction; however, that suggests it’s a slight tweak or nudge, when in fact it’s far closer to a page 1 rewrite. No other Trek series has done anything quite so radical, so all due credit must be given for taking such a bold, daring move. It bodes well for the series’ return next year, and will now be able to stand fully on its own, out of the shadow of what seemed to be a pre-set place in Star Trek mythology. You can definitely beam me up for Season 3.