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Star Trek Dis - Season 2 - Episode 02

Star Trek Dis - 2x02 - New Eden

Originally Aired: 2019-1-24

Synopsis:
A new signal appears, prompting Stamets' emotional return to the mycelial network and leading Burnham, Pike and Owosekun to a pre-warp planet, where they face a complex ethical dilemma. Tilly's overeagerness lands her in trouble but when the planet - and Discovery's landing party - are threatened, her curiosity may be the one thing that can save them.

My Rating - 4

Fan Rating Average - 6.29

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Problems
- Pike says it's Starfleet protocol to respect Spock's privacy by not informing his family of his illness, so Pike didn't tell Burnham at first. This only makes the last episode's gaffe of allowing her to her barge into Spock's quarters, rummage through his things, read his personal logs, and invade his privacy even more problematic; especially since it was this invasion of Spock's privacy that led to Burnham making the connection between Spock and their mission, a connection Spock presumably wanted to keep a secret. Then once Burnham made this connection, Pike just throws the remainder of Spock's privacy out the window making a "national security trumps privacy" argument and goes ahead and tells Burnham about the illness. The whole progression of events is a mixture of ugly and incoherent.
- Elon Musk is referenced again as a celebrated historical figure. Irrespective of the ludicrousness of the comparison (covered in the review below), even mentioning Musk's name verges on a continuity error, given that the timeline of Star Trek splits off from the real world in the late 20th century, well before any of Musk's real world achievements (such as they are) came into being.

Factoids
- This episode establishes Discovery can reach a maximum warp speed of warp 7 based on Pike's remarks of how long it would take to travel to Terralysium at maximum warp.
- This episode establishes that the English language is the lingua franca of the Federation, as the colonists on Terralysium speak what Pike refers to as "Federation Standard" and we can infer that since the Federation did not exist at the time they left Earth and these colonists appeared to come from North America, they must have been speaking English. Notably the term "Federation Standard" had been used in non-canon novels in the past, which this line appears to be referencing.

Remarkable Scenes
- Pike revealing that Spock is in fact in a psychiatric hospital.
- Pike: "Any sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial intelligence is indistinguishable from god."
- Burnham and Pike debating the Prime Directive only to be found out by Jacob moments later.
- Pike taking a phaser blast to save the girl.

My Review
This is a surprisingly strong concept for an episode despite a range of flaws in its premise and plot logic. It's fun to see Discovery doing some exploration for once instead of constantly careening from crisis to crisis. It's also nice to see minor characters like Detmer and especially Owosekun get some real character development. It's also nice that the mystery of the red signals is appearing more and more to be like a scientific curiosity rather than the threat it was implied to be in the premiere. We've now had two red signals lead the crew to people who needed rescuing. And Pike is of course right to point out that a lot of coincidences are piling up. Notwithstanding Spock appearing to have had visions of the red angel, other especially notable coincidences include the Enterprise appearing to be intentionally(?) shut down to force Pike to take command of Discovery, which happens to be the only ship with a spore drive. The spore drive then turns out to be the only way to reach Terralysium to rescue the colonists.

It does remain irritating however how the show just keeps busting out the spore drive whenever they feel like it without regard for how we're supposed to believe it would be infeasible for this technology to ever be used again, particularly with Tilly working on a way to pilot it without causing damage to Stamets; damage that once again doesn't seem to be at all medically consequential. Once again using the spore drive seems to be completely free of consequences despite hyperbolic warnings last season that draining the mycelial network of its energy will destroy all life in the universe—no wait—all life in all universes. With that heavy-handed nonsense apparently forgotten, we're back to wondering why a particularly industrious Harry Kim didn't dust off the spore drive plans from the Federation scientific history database to teleport Voyager home in a single episode. After all, Discovery traveled more than 70% as much distance in a single episode as Voyager did in seven seasons, but somehow all knowledge of this mission was lost by the time of Voyager. It would be nice if they would explain how that is possible at some point.

Another perhaps less frustrating but still striking omission from the story is the missed opportunity to contrast Saru's origin story with Jacob's. Both men wanted to fly away from their homes to explore space. Both men managed to use found technology to contact someone from another world. Starfleet allowed Saru to leave Kaminar and join Starfleet. They even clearly allowed Nhan—a Barzan—a person from a pre-warp society that is not a member of the Federation to join Starfleet as well. It would make all the sense in the galaxy for Saru to make a spirited argument in favor of doing the same for Jacob, but it never came up.

Perhaps the most irritating detail of the episode though is one that's very easy to miss. Tilly is said to have attended a "Musk Junior High School." This is the series' second sycophantic reference to Elon Musk, who last season is mentioned alongside the Wright brothers and Zefram Cochrane as though Musk's accomplishments, impressive as they may be, are even remotely comparable to inventing airplanes or inventing warp drive. Again, they aren't. But since they keep doing this, maybe we should dig a little deeper into why Musk is such a problematic person for Star Trek to celebrate. Musk is scandal-ridden union busting billionaire; a person who personally embodies better than most the excesses and abuses of capitalism. Someone like this should not be celebrated on Star Trek of all things, a TV show with a long tradition of depicting a socialist utopia free of greed and mostly free of class.

Consider the contrast between how Star Trek VIII: First Contact portrayed Zefram Cochrane vs. how it is now portraying Elon Musk. Zefram Cochrane was a crass, drunken, greedy man who invented warp drive so he could in his own words "retire to some tropical island filled with naked women." Cochrane was portrayed by the narrative as a flawed historical figure who people tended to irrationally glorify because they wanted a hero to worship, not an actual person to assess. A cult of personality emerged around Cochrane because the myth mattered more than the man.

It is curious how so many of us have a tendency to do that not just with historical figures we are willfully blind to the flaws of which Star Trek VIII: First Contact was warning us about via allegory, but also with contemporary celebrities. The cult of personality around Musk is very real and it has become a clear signpost of foggy thinking. Much as people who unequivocally praise Musk display poor critical thinking skills, the writing of Discovery doing so reveals the vacuousness of the writers. Such vacuousness is at best politically clueless and at worst a betrayal of Star Trek's utopian vision. Indeed, others have noticed how Discovery more generally has drifted away from the socialist roots that Gene Roddenberry planted, and it's a shame.

One could be forgiven for thinking for a moment why should we obsess over such a small detail? Normally we shouldn't. After all, plenty of Star Trek's hundreds of other episodes have dropped cringeworthy throwaway lines and even similarly doubled down on them at times. But in this case that small detail is such a perfect encapsulation of a much broader problem with Discovery's writing: superficiality. A recurring theme for more than a season now has been a constant strain of either pseudo-intellectualism or sometimes even anti-intellectualism in Discovery's writing. When the series isn't wading into puerile immaturity dropping lines like, "Doing donuts in a starship, yippee!" it instead delivers overwrought speeches about not taking "shortcuts on the path to righteousness" without earning the moment at all. The writers take intellectual shortcuts on the path to profundity constantly, so it's no wonder the writers and therefore the writing on this show would be vulnerable to the cult of personality surrounding Musk despite ample evidence that it is devoid of substance.

The biggest flaw of the episode though is how the Prime Directive is handled. It actually started off pretty good, with Pike and Burnham having a quite compelling debate about how to handle the situation. But once they beamed away in front of the colonists, the whole debate ought to have been moot. In previous Star Treks, an incident like that has always been regarded as cultural contamination. Instead the narrative here acted like the colonists observing the transporter wasn't a big deal at all. For that matter, it's quite astonishing that Saru didn't even bother to scan the planet's surface to see if they were standing near any colonists when they beamed them out given that they had already averted the climactic disaster that would've necessitated the urgent beam out.

Instead, Pike and Burnham continue to debate whether or not to enlighten Jacob. After he saw them beam out. Like, really? Just frigging do it. Your cover is already blown. Then when they finally do tell Jacob everything, Pike says they cannot intervene in his society because it "has to evolve in its own way." Really? Even though they're human? Even though they know everything now? Then Pike hands over a piece of society-altering technology to Jacob, which last I checked is a form of intervening, and they fly away to impossible distances with the impossible spore drive that will soon be decommissioned, putting Terralysium out of range of the Federation for centuries. Possibly forever.

It's quite a shame too, because this episode was quite charming otherwise. Without these compounding flaws, it could've easily been one of Discovery's (badly needed) above average offerings.

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