Thursday, November 16, 2017

STAR TREK: DISCOVERY S108 and S109 review


    I fell behind on my reviews for this week and the next so I'm sort of stuck with reviewing both simultaneously for the mid season finale. However, they work together as a single storyline which carries from one story to another. In a way, it's very similar to the original pilot of the series and brings an end to many of the preexisting plots while opening up others.

    The premise for the two episodes is that the starship Discovery has discovered a planet which can serve as a massive biological transmitter. The planet Pahvo turns out to be sentient, however, with its population being all the life-forms on it working together as a singular organism. I'm not going to say it's a direct rip off of the planet in Avatar as Gaia theory is a legitimate (if somewhat "isn't that just changing the definition of alive?") scientific model.

This is an awkward situation for poor Saru.
    Saru finds the integrated nature of the world intoxicating to the point of driving him temporarily insane. Fearing the Klingons would target Pahvo (because it turns out they would), he attempts to sabotage Starfleet's attempt to use the planet and a transmitter and almost kills Burnham in the process. Too late, however, the Klingons have been lured to the planet and will attempt to destroy it for its potential dangers.

    On the Klingon side of things, we find out T'Kuvma's plan to unite the Klingon Empire has gone horribly right. Kol of House Kor, the brutal honorless dictator, has all but taken over the Klingon Empire by bargaining the cloaking technology which T'Kuvma invented. L'Rell attempts to "join" him but actually intends to rescue Admiral Cornwell so she can defect to the Federation. This despite the fact she apparently tortured Ash Tyler while he was her prisoner.

I like Admiral Cornwell and am glad she's alive.
    These episodes have both a lot of ups and downs that make rating them difficult. I absolutely hated Saru's arc because it depends on the idea he's motivated by fear at all times when we often see his 'threat ganglia" aren't in operation. Also, he showed both courage as well as fortitude when he was required to step up and rescue Captain Lorca earlier in the setting. Having him drunk on not being afraid was just plain weird and felt a bit like character assassination.

    The villain, Kol, is a character who is completely one-dimensional and while he sounds like a Klingon at the end--we don't really have any reason why he's a worse character than T'Kuvma himself. After all, T'Kuvma was a racist evil jerkass himself. L'Rell is appalled by his behavior and he murdered her comrades but I can't really bring myself to care so much about her horror at him taking over. The Klingon War has been mostly off-camera and the confrontation with the sarcophagus ship at the climax of the midseason finale feels unearned if it's supposed to be the end of the war. The vast majority of the conflict has been off camera and it seems the vast majority of people killed in the war have been in the first battle with 10,000 listed as the number of casualties despite the Klingons being vicious evil savages.

Kol is either hot for L'Rell or an idiot or both.
     There's good things in this pair of episodes as well, though. I'm actually intrigued by Ash Tyler's origins and while it's very likely my theory about him is correct--it's also a really good plot twist. I also appreciate L'Rell's complicated relationship with him will actually make an interesting foil to Michael Burnham's romance with the possible sleeper agent.

    The planet Pahvo feels like an intriguing addition to the Star Trek universe and I appreciated returning to the realm of the "weird" for the episode. The entire series, except for the desert planet in the pilot, has been on starships so far so it felt good to get back to some old fashioned exploration of the universe. The final space battle was also great with Captain Lorca showing himself not to be the evil Section 31 villain I expected him to be.

    I liked the fact the show backed away from fridging one of its more interesting characters as well. Admiral Cornwell could have been written off the show a couple of episodes ago and looks like she is in "Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum" but turns out to be alive in "Into the Forest I Go." She was an intriguing character with a preexisting but complicated relationship with Captain Lorca so I'll be interested to see where that goes. In fact, I'd argue a much better episode would have been dealing with said relationship than the war which never really went anywhere.

Not buying Burnham as a badass action girl. Sorry.
    I should note there's actually some Star Trek firsts in this episode. Episode 9 has the first male on male Star Trek kiss (which isn't played for 14 year old titillation like their first female kiss was). It also has the first female nudity in Star Trek history with a Klingon-human sex scene which may or may not be consensual depending on whether you think Ash Tyler=Voq. The fact Mary Weis is in full costume and makeup while also (partially) nude makes it an interesting scene artistically even as you have to wonder how that filming went.

    In conclusion, it was an okay finale to the first season (technically the first half of the season) but nothing special. I think they really overspent on this series and could have probably done a lot better with Star Trek: Discovery if they just focused on the characters as well as ideas versus special effects. It remains to be seen if I'll continue reviewing each individual episode given the series "okay but not great" writing. I'll watch it but, honestly, probably am looking forward to Season 3 of The Expanse more.

6/10

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