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Star Trek Dis - Season 3

Star Trek Dis - 3x01 - That Hope Is You, Part 1

Originally Aired: 2020-10-14

Arriving 930 years in the future, Burnham navigates a galaxy she no longer recognizes while searching for the rest of the U.S.S. Discovery crew.

My Rating - 4

Fan Rating Average - 5.67

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- One of the aliens that attacked Burnham and Book is a Lurian, the same species as Morn from DS9, and only the second of his species to be featured on Star Trek.

Remarkable Scenes
- Burnham desperately trying to soften her landing on the planet after emerging from the wormhole.
- Book telling Burnham about "The Burn."
- Burnham: "The Federation isn't just about ships and warp drive. It's about a vision and all those who believe in that vision."
- Book betraying Burnham.
- Burnham getting drugged.
- Book and Burnham escaping together in a rapid site to site transporter firefight.

My Review
This is a fascinating episode given that its actual content is pretty good, but in the context of what has been an awful show up until this point, we can't just assess it on its own terms. If this were the pilot for a brand new Star Trek show set in the 32nd century where—for example—Burnham and the crew of an old ship wake up from stasis and discover the Federation had fallen in this manner, what we would have here is a very cool premise for a very interesting new Star Trek show. Indeed, if you just forget everything that happened in the past two seasons, this episode is pretty fun to watch! If we could rate this episode entirely on its own without the baggage of the previous seasons following it, then it would be worth considerably more points and an above average rating. A 7 out of 10 perhaps. But we can't do that. This isn't episode 1 of season 1 of a brand new Star Trek show, it's episode 1 of season 3 of a Star Trek show with a history that we have to take into consideration. And that history weighs down this otherwise interesting and well-made episode like an anchor.

For starters, rather than do something to take the implications of the time travel suit seriously or limit its superpowers in a way that is actually plausible, Burnham simply asks it to confirm the existence of life on the planet she crashed into—curiously without getting very specific about what kind of life, how much, or where—then inexplicably destroys the time travel suit, an extremely powerful piece of technology that could've helped her survive while marooned on a strange new world. It's as if the writers knew they couldn't keep such an overwrought device around for too long because it was too powerful a superpower, but were unable to imagine a clever way to limit its superpowers so they just blew it up and hoped we would forget about it. A better way to handle this would've been to say that the suit was damaged beyond repair. Then to fix the question of why they can't just build another one, they could perhaps say all the "time crystals" exploded right along with the dilithium crystals during The Burn. Or perhaps they were used up in the temporal war that took place a century or so ago. It's easy to button up superpowers if the writers are willing to put even the slightest effort into it. To their credit though, at least they did so with the portable transporter by making it require recharging time. Finally a limit to a superpower, at long last.

Another welcome development at long last is the narrative emphasis shifting away from mystery and towards suspense. We get a lot of exposition in this episode about why the Federation fell that is reasonably plausible and intriguing. Thankfully we won't have to spend all season this time piecing together just what is going on because the writers have finally figured out how to adhere to the principle of "show, don't tell." The specifics of the setting are well-conceived too. This takes place after the time of Federation timeships like from Voy: Relativity and after the time of Daniels from Star Trek: Enterprise, which could explain why the time travelers from that era aren't coming here to fix history. The temporal (hot) war that ensued after their time and the subsequent ban on time travel technology might preclude that deus ex machina, thankfully. Though it remains hard to understand why a ban on time travel technology would prevent a rogue actor from developing and using it anyway, particularly in a society as lawless and disordered as this one is, which makes Burnham's decision to destroy her time travel suit especially idiotic given that such technology would be an incredibly valuable thing to have in a time where it is rarer than expected or perhaps nonexistent.

A particular highlight of the episode was how well the writers thought through the consequences of The Burn, which they explain as a somewhat mysterious event that caused most dilithium everywhere to explode, killing countless people in a mass casualty event. We don't know if it was a natural disaster or some kind of terrifyingly-coordinated terrorist attack. We also don't know if it could happen again. But what was said to ensue was the complete collapse of the Federation and presumably most other governments as well—any nation that relied heavily on dilithium in their power reactors for ships or colonies. It is notable as well that not every ship or society is powered by dilithium, as we've seen quantum singularities power warp drives before, plus there's transwarp which may or may not be powered by dilithium, and quantum slipstream which is mentioned in this episode powered by benamite. Given that, plus not all the dilithium having actually been destroyed, what we see is a galaxy that has collapsed into considerable disorder, but is not fully crippled. Interstellar travel still exists, it's just a lot more expensive than it used to be. Though one annoying detail in how it's presented is when Book's ship is flying at warp, we get yet another new warp effect. This is especially frustrating given that the visual effect actually looks a lot like quantum slipstream from Voyager. Had they just replaced the lines referring to Burnham stealing dilithium on the commerce planet with benamite instead, the presentation of the visual canon would've been much more in alignment with past Star Trek shows. Though Discovery getting visual canon wrong almost goes without saying at this point...

Speaking of aesthetics, Discovery always felt like it was a story that should've been set in the far future to begin with. It's remarkable that the 32nd century doesn't look that much more futuristic than Discovery's first two seasons already did. Sure, we have some fancy new tactile computer interfaces, fancier portable transporters, some slightly different weapon designs, and quantum slipstream, once an unstable and experimental technology, now commonplace enough to be mentioned in casual conversation. But the differences being so subtle truly highlight what a mistake it was to set Discovery in the 23rd century at the start of the series. There are a handful of other aesthetic oddities too. Sahil appears to have the most boring life ever, living alone on an abandoned starbase getting choked up about flag-raising like a stereotype of someone's old, slightly unhinged, overly patriotic uncle. This came off less as reverence for the bygone days of a glorious era of infinite diversity in infinite combinations united under the Federation and more like a display of toxic nationalism or the rituals of a creepy cult. Burnham's dumb emotional scene at the start of the episode reciting her rank and serial number while she looked at her emergency rations pack had a similar vibe to it as well.

As a final and quite depressing note about this story, it's worth considering how the events of the "Short Trek" episode Calypso relate to the events of not only this episode, but this season and presumably the rest of the entire series. We know Calypso took place about 100 years after the time Burnham and presumably the Discovery crew now find themselves in, which means at some point in the future the Discovery will end up floating in space abandoned. It also means that even worse than that, memories of the Federation will have faded even further than they already have, given that Craft had no knowledge of the Federation and the future he came from remained quite dystopian 100 years after the events of this episode, this season, and presumably this entire series. That means unless something extraordinary happens to push Discovery even further into the future beyond Craft's time to give us a happy ending or Calypso is retconned, then the efforts of the crew of the Discovery since arriving in the future will have been all for naught given that just 100 years after their interventions in the timeline it is clear that they will have failed to restore the Federation or even the memory of it.

In essence, Calypso quite possibly foreshadows the end of Star Trek: Discovery as a story of a forgotten crew on a forgotten mission that served no purpose in the end since nothing they will do between now and 100 years from now will ever matter. It seems unlikely this was the writers' intent, but in some regards it's hard to imagine a more fitting ending for Discovery. Just as they unintentionally gave us ample reason to drop the series from the prime canon in season 2, now they're unintentionally giving us ample reason to believe that even in this alternate universe, none of what they're doing will age well, will be well-regarded by history, or ultimately end up mattering in any way whatsoever. Indeed, this was the predictable consequence of the lazy writing in the Calypso short itself, as was in fact predicted in the earlier Calypso review:

"[R]ather 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."

The ending for this Star Trek series has not been written yet, but it sure looks like the writers are on track to fail to be clever enough to reconcile past lazy choices with what will likely be yet another unearned happy ending, just like season 1's and season 2's. In fact, if Discovery does end without giving us reason to believe events after Calypso turn out well, then it will be quite reminiscent of the embarrassingly awful ending to Battlestar Galactica, which—among its many sins—argued that humanity settling on Pleistocene Earth circa ~150,000 years ago somehow constituted a happy ending when, as the review of it notes, "all our archaeological evidence suggests that the human race nearly went extinct not too long after our beloved colonists landed. The population may have even been reduced to a number as small as a few thousand. That means that along with the vast majority of the new primitive friends our delighted colonists made upon arrival, all the colonial survivors too were nearly wiped out not too long after they landed." It was a depressingly horrifying ending presented as a happy one by a clueless narrative. It sure seems like Discovery is walking that same path right now.

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Star Trek Dis - 3x02 - Far From Home

Originally Aired: 2020-10-21

After the U.S.S. Discovery crash-lands on a strange planet, the crew finds themselves racing against time to repair their ship. Meanwhile, Saru and Tilly embark on a perilous first-contact mission in hopes of finding Burnham.

My Rating - 3

Fan Rating Average - 4.5

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- This episode establishes that Discovery currently has a crew of 88, down from 136 in Choose Your Pain.
- Linus, the Saurian character, says that he can see a spectrum of 74 micrometers which would mean that he can see some infrared radiation as visible light.

Remarkable Scenes
- Discovery crashing into the planet.
- Tilly's barely contained glee at seeing the programmable matter technology.
- Saru: "We are an older model." Zareh: "Aren't we all."
- The slow death torture gun.
- Burnham rescuing Discovery and revealing that she had been stranded in the future for a whole year.

My Review
It seems all that's left when you strip away the hyperactive manic pacing of Discovery's first two seasons is a boring, banal caricature of Star Trek. While the previous episode at least had some compelling exposition and a reasonably interesting new character for Burnham to bandy about with, this second introduction to the 32nd century mostly just repeated exposition we already knew for the benefit of characters that hadn't experienced it yet, except in a much less compelling way. While the manic pacing may be gone, the excessively contemporary slang is not. Here we're treated to such pseudo-witty dialog as "all I got was this lousy t-shirt" and "Brace! Brace! Brace!" along with "cleanup on aisle five." Plus Reno and Stamets spend basically the entire episode constantly trying to outdo each other's snide one liners. Starfleet is supposed to be an aspirational presentation of humanity at its best, but instead Discovery consistently portrays it as full of acerbic and at times downright obnoxious people that are hard to relate to because if you met any of them in real life, you'd hardly want to be friends with someone who acted like that all the time. It's certainly not unrealistic or unprecedented to portray Starfleet as having a few obnoxious people here and there like so many admirals of the week, or the occasional awkward misfit like Barclay, but while previous portrayals presented such characters as atypical and unacceptably unprofessional, Discovery seems to have nearly everyone act that way and the narrative celebrates such behavior as normative and acceptable.

Also out of step with the spirit of Star Trek was Saru's bizarre take on the Prime Directive somehow applying to this situation. Nhan correctly points out that nearly every society they encounter will be more advanced than they are, so how could the Prime Directive possibly apply? If anything, it's a violation of the Temporal Prime Directive for anyone from this time period to interact with Discovery's crew. But Saru seems to have it backwards, arguing that it would somehow contaminate the culture of future societies for people from the past to suddenly appear. He justified this by making the nonsensical argument that "we carry with us a knowledge of certain past events that we cannot share." In other words, Discovery's crew are living witnesses to ancient history. It's like saying we should not be delighted to meet a person frozen in stasis from ancient Rome and revive them so that we could get a direct recounting of history from someone who lived through those events because knowing more about our history from a living witness would somehow contaminate our culture. This kind of pseudo-moralizing has become alarmingly common on Star Trek lately with high-minded-sounding principles being spouted by characters in very confident, grandiose terms that are totally devoid of any philosophical coherence whatsoever, the most recent and egregious example before this being Picard and Data suddenly becoming death worshippers in the Picard show's first season finale. Besides, Saru violates his own dumb principle when immediately after his Prime Directive speech, he goes and interacts heavily with the locals up to and including divulging who they are and where they came from.

Another notably odd preoccupation of the story is its constantly contrasting Saru's instincts with Georgiou's, with the apparent narrative purpose to establish Saru's high-minded principles as being ultimately more beneficial to the marooned crew than Georgiou's ruthless pragmatism. To that end, Saru idiotically decides to make the landing party consist solely of himself and—of all people—Tilly, arguing—laughably—that Tilly would make a wonderful first impression in any first contact situation. Yes, it is clear that the narrative intent was to focus on Tilly's positive qualities, like her boundless enthusiasm, optimism, and eagerness, but those aren't the qualities of Tilly that are the most memorable. The most memorable qualities of Tilly are her incredible lack of emotional regulation and therefore her impulsiveness and unpredictability. That quality is so memorable in fact that Burnham immediately thought of Tilly when she was drugged in the last episode, insisting that it would be very bad indeed if Tilly's eccentricities were ever magnified by that same drug. As such, bringing Tilly into any high stakes, sensitive situation without proper supervision is a recipe to get themselves all killed, which Georgiou correctly pointed out is exactly what would've happened to them had she not disobeyed orders and followed them so she could save their lives just in time while Saru literally ordered Tilly to hide behind the bar during the fight because even he recognized her total uselessness in that moment. Meanwhile, perhaps the most irritating aspect of that narrative failure is how it requires us to praise Georgiou, who is a truly awful character concept because she glorifies Section 31, which should never be glorified. We should all want the narrative to convincingly portray Saru's commitment to Starfleet principles as always superior to Section 31's amoral cynicism in any situation, but in that the narrative completely fails to deliver in this story.

There are some bright spots in the episode though. Detmer appears to be experiencing either some sort of malfunction with her implant or perhaps much more interestingly a form of PTSD after the crash landing. Perhaps she's feeling some survivor's guilt and blames every injury and death that happened on her piloting skills. The episode doesn't get into precisely what's going on with her, but whatever it was it was presented in a compelling way that certainly piques one's curiosity. Another curious detail was Zareh referring to Saru as a "V'draysh" captain. The term "V'draysh" was used to describe the enemy that Craft had fought against in Calypso, which seems to imply that Craft had fought against some remnant faction of the Federation left over after The Burn perhaps. Also notable was Zareh being surprised that Saru doesn't know "pidgin," a language that the universal translator can't translate for some reason. Saru encourages everyone to speak "the common tongue" which is a lingual concept that would seem to be unnecessary in a world with universal translators, but whatever. It wouldn't be the first time the UT was presented as more than a little confusing conceptually. The ending of course was perhaps the biggest highlight of the episode. Having Burnham stranded for a whole year away from Discovery is a bold storytelling choice and a welcome one. Hopefully it means Burnham will be able to help along the exposition about what this "V'draysh" thing is exactly so we can keep the story moving in the direction of suspense rather than mystery.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From FH on 2020-11-14 at 8:57pm:
    For what it's worth, I thought "V'draysh" is simply the future slang name for the "Federation", that is, a slightly shortened version of the same word if pronounced quickly and sloppily enough.

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