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Star Trek Dis - Season 2

Star Trek Dis - 2x0.1 - Runaway

Originally Aired: 2018-10-4

Synopsis:
Onboard the U.S.S. Discovery, Ensign Tilly encounters an unexpected visitor in need of help. However, this unlikely pair may have more in common than meets the eye.

My Rating - 2

Fan Rating Average - 4.25

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Problems
None

Factoids
- This episode establishes that Tilly has a step sister.
- The Xahieans just achieved warp capacity.

Remarkable Scenes
- The food dispenser malfunctioning and chucking random food dishes all over the mess hall.
- It was nice to see the universal translator not working automatically for once. This was very reminiscent of several scenes in Enterprise as well as DS9: Sanctuary, which featured a similar plot in which the usually reliable UT took a bit of time to pick up a new language.
- Tilly: "There is a hormonal space rabbit. He escaped from the lab and then he got loose in here. He's got mood swings."

My Review
Following in the infamous tradition of the horrible Battlestar Galactica "webisodes," this new between-seasons "Short Trek" format delivers Star Trek Discovery's first true filler episode, annoyingly sandwiched between the first season finale and the first "real" episode of season 2 that will eventually get the plot back on track and resolve season 1's cliffhanger. This thankfully short chronicling of Ensign Tilly's mysterious encounter with an awkward alien teenager doubles down on Discovery's preoccupation with targeting the short attention span crowd, delivering story depth roughly on par with a typical episode of The Animated Series.

The narrative's only apparent purpose appears to be celebrating immature anxiety as an identity group. All that happens here is a therapy session between Tilly and her alien counterpart in which the sole moral of the story is that it's okay to feel nervous about things sometimes, especially when you're young because it's harder to control your emotions when you're young. Or something. While it would certainly be nice to see a Star Trek episode that explores anxiety disorders in some depth in an effort to portray mental health problems on TV in a better, more sympathetic light to help erode generations of stigma surrounding mental health issues, this episode misses that mark by far. And in so doing, presents a largely incoherent plot.

How did the alien hitch a ride on a shuttle to Discovery? Why target that specific shuttle or Discovery in particular? Why didn't Tilly call for help when the alien appeared in the mess hall? How could Tilly have possibly gotten away with keeping all this a secret after multiple people witnessed the mess in the mess hall, complete with alien blood? Why didn't the internal sensors detect the intrusion and set off alarms? How did Tilly get away with beaming a living creature off the ship without setting off alarms? Why is it possible for anyone—especially an ensign—to operate the transporter alone without setting off alarms? Where exactly did Tilly even beam the alien to? Where was the ship at this time? When was the ship at this time? Since Tilly was talking about joining the Starfleet Command training program, it had to be after at least some of the events of the previous episode Will You Take My Hand, but it seems hard to believe Tilly would have this entire alien adventure during the cliffhanger between Will You Take My Hand and whatever the next "real" episode of season 2 is which will presumably resolve the cliffhanger. So then the events of this episode take place during the middle of the previous episode somehow...?

Much of that litany of plotting issues seriously strains credibility to rationalize, which is clearly why the episode didn't bother trying. As usual with an episode of Star Trek: Discovery, the writers are hoping to activate your feelings here, not your mind. And as usual with an episode of Star Trek: Discovery, this episode is kind of entertaining, so long as you don't think about it too much. Instead of thinking about totally boring things like plot coherence, you're supposed to feel super moved by such inspiring lines like, "Evolution is about soul," man! Like whoa. Super deep. Almost as deep as Kirk's similarly profound line, "What of Lazarus?" from TOS: The Alternative Factor, an episode that is apparently this show's role model for writing quality.

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Star Trek Dis - 2x0.2 - Calypso

Originally Aired: 2018-11-8

Synopsis:
After waking up in an unfamiliar sickbay, Craft finds himself on board a deserted ship, and his only companion and hope for survival is an A.I. computer interface.

My Rating - 1

Fan Rating Average - 5.4

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Problems
None

Factoids
- This story is set in the 33rd century. This is further into the future than any Star Trek episode has gone before.
- The writer of this episode Michael Chabon stated that the unseen enemy "V'draysh" is a syncope of "Federation."

Remarkable Scenes
- The hologram of Zora crying as Craft exits the dance.

My Review
Like General Chang from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country hitting you over the head constantly with overwrought Shakespeare references, this entire episode hits you over the head over and over again with overwrought references to Homer's Odyssey, an invocation of Greek mythology that is about as lazy as TOS: Who Mourns for Adonais.

Zora is meant to represent Calypso, for whom the episode is named. In Homer's Odyssey, Calypso rescues a marooned Odysseus and keeps him on her island for some time due to loneliness. In this episode, Zora rescues a marooned Quarrel/Craft and keeps him on her ship for some time due to loneliness.

Quarrel's/Craft's two names also mirror Odysseus, whose name is traditionally defined as "to be wroth against," or "to hate." Synonymous with quarreling. As for Craft, Odysseus was traditionally defined as "skilled in all ways." Synonymous with being crafty.

In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus was apart from his wife for many years due to war, missed her, and wanted to escape Calypso to be with his wife again. In this episode Craft was apart from his wife for many years due to war, missed her, and wanted to escape Zora to be with his wife again.

In Homer's Odyssey, Calypso was sad that Odysseus wanted to leave, but instead of holding him further, she gave him everything he needed for his journey back. In this episode Zora was sad that Craft wanted to leave, but instead of holding him further, she gave him everything he needed for his journey back.

And so on, and so on...

If shallow, heavy-handed Greek mythology references were the episode's only sin, it might be worth a few more points, but there are so many more cringeworthy details compounded atop this. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the story is the setting. Here we have yet another irrelevant filler episode sandwiched between season 1's cliffhanger and its eventual resolution, but this time instead of being set ambiguously sometime during season 1—which was bad enough in the previous episode—we now have a story absurdly set a thousand years later aboard a somehow perfectly preserved Discovery that has been ordered to sit in space in stasis for no apparent reason.

Then—as if this episode hadn't imitated enough of Star Trek's worst episodes already—the ship's computer became an emergent AI like TNG: Emergence, one of TNG's worst episodes. Then like about a million other bad Star Trek episodes, the AI turns out to have serious emotional problems, exhibiting behavior also reminiscent of HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Meanwhile, rather than give us answers to basic questions like who the unseen enemy "V'draysh" is, how the Discovery was preserved perfectly for a thousand years but abandoned, or why so much of the Federation's history seems to have been forgotten by at least one human colony, the writers left all that intentionally vague out of an apparent desire to not "get hemmed in by canon" or some other similar platitude that is often trotted out to defend stories with this kind of reckless disregard for the long term health of the franchise's canon.

On the contrary, setting this story a thousand years into the future doesn't do a damn thing to prevent the writers from cornering themselves with canon. If anything, it's one of the worst settings imaginable for preventing future writers from being burdened by canon. Because of this episode, any Star Trek story set far enough into the future has to account for the apparent decline and possible fall of the Federation, or at least rationalize how Craft and his entire planet could be unaware of the Federation's existence.

Constraining future Star Trek stories with this kind of baggage almost never goes well. We've seen what happens with poorly thought through exposition that saddles the franchise with long-term plot implications before. The "warp speed" limit in TNG: Force of Nature was quietly forgotten. The absurd "warp 10" drive that turns you into giant newts from Voy: Threshold was intentionally forgotten with prejudice. There are many examples. This episode's ambiguous proclamations about the Milky Way's future are not impossible to work into future stories, but will require future writers to be at least as clever as this episode's writers were lazy.

And none of it was necessary. There's no reason the story had to be set a thousand years into Star Trek's future. It could've easily been set during a known future era, such as during one of the Federation's many wars from previous shows. Craft could've been a Federation soldier escaping a battle that didn't go well. The idea of the Discovery floating in space perfectly preserved would still be absurd and tough to rationalize, but less so a hundred years into the future than a thousand years into the future. What's important here is this same basic story could've been told in another century that would've actually leveraged canon instead of wasting Star Trek's distant future in such a gratuitously lazy way.

All this just to do an awkward mashup of 2001: A Space Odyssey with Greek mythology, both of which are referenced by science fiction works so often that it is quite cliched to do it yet again unless it is truly earned. It wasn't earned here. A story filled with tired, overused references and no substance of its own is just smoke and mirrors, not real depth. But what else should we expect from a story that rocks a "DISCO" shirt, expecting us to find it, like, real punny, man?

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