“Point of Light”, the latest episode of Star Trek Discovery, aired on Thursday (if you can call “running on a streaming service” airing). For my comments on previous episodes of Star Trek Discovery, go here.
“Point of Light” feels more like a continuation of season 1 than the previous two episodes (as Camestros Felapton and James Whitbrook point out in their respective reviews), which tried very hard to forget that season 1 ever happened (not that I can blame them). I also found it weaker than the other season 2 episodes to date (which were a tad slight, but otherwise enjoyable mid-range Star Trek), because “Point of Light” not just hearkens back to season 1, it also indulges in some of its most annoying features such as “everything that ever went wrong in the history of the universe is Michael Burnham’s fault”, “dystopian Federation”, “psychedelic magic mushroom drive idiocy”, “shocking plot twists (TM)” and “stupid shenangigans featuring the Mirror Universe, Klingons and the Starfleet black ops group Section 31 in various combinations”. “Point of Light” also brings back a lot of season 1 supporting characters such as L’Rell, Ash Tyler, Philippa Georgiou (the evil Mirror Universe version) and Amanda Grayson (I actually had to look up the character’s surname), wife of Sarek and mother of Spock and Michael. The only one missing is Gabriel Lorca, who apparently is really and truly dead. Either that or they’re keeping him in reserve.
The many call backs to season 1 are probably also why I didn’t much care for this episode, even though I liked the previous two quite a bit. Another reason might be that “Point of Light” is pretty much all story arc – there is no self-contained “rescue of the week” B-plot. And I’m famously not a big fan of over-serialisation, especially when series stop telling self-contained stories and it’s all story arc all the time. Interestingly, I have never liked this, unless I was massively invested in the arc plot and its mysteries such as during the heyday of The X-Files.
Case in point: Moonlighting, the massively successful 1980s romantic detective show, which I should have liked, because it has so many ingredients I normally like – a mismatched “will they? won’t they?” couple solving crimes, oodles of unresolved sexual tension, Bruce Willis at the very start of his action hero career, etc… And indeed I loved many of the “mismatched couple solves crimes” shows of the 1980s such as Remington Steel, Scarecrow and Mrs. King (which seems to have fallen off the face of the Earth) and Heart to Heart. But for some reason, I never liked Moonlighting. My teen self considered it stupid and silly and full of people talking all the time. At the time, I didn’t much wonder about it – it was just a not very good TV show – but years later, when I learned how highly acclaimed Moonlighting was in its heyday, I always wondered why I never clicked with it. And so, when a German TV station started rerunning the show in a late night slot, I decided to watch a few episodes to see if I liked Moonlighting better the second time around. Instead, I found out just why the show never worked for me. Because while Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd are fabulous in their roles and the sparks between really do light up the screen, Moonlighting is all banter and no substance. Cases and plots were perfunctory at best, sometimes forgotten halfway through the episode and eventually vanished altogether, as it became the Bruce and Cybil show. And then Cybil Shepherd became pregnant and Bruce Willis took time off to make Die Hard (and aren’t we grateful that he did?) and the focus shifted to supporting characters such as the annoying secretary, but the episodes still had barely a plot. As an adult, I could appreciate it for what it was (while it was good, that is), but my teen self had signed on for a detective show with banter and instead got a lot of banter with barely any detecting going on.
Tonewise, Star Trek Discovery couldn’t be further from Moonlighting, but in many ways “Point of Light” has the same problem. “Point of Light” spends so much time gazing at its own navel that it forgets to tell an actual story.
Warning! Spoilers under the cut!
Instead and actual plot, “Point of Light” features installments of three different storylines, only one of which is in any way complete. First, there is the ongoing Michael/Spock/Sarek/Amanda family drama, then there is Tilly’s ghostly encounter from last episode and finally, there is a return of the annoying Klingons from last season. Only that they have hair now and actually look more like the Klingons have looked from 1979 on – the explanation given is that Klingons apparently shave their heads in times of war. Never mind that a) they’ve never done this before in fifty-three years of Star Trek history and we’ve seen Klingons at war plenty of times and b) the Klingons were already bald at the start of season 1 of Star Trek Discovery, before the war even broke out. Still, it’s at least an attempt to reconcile one of the odder design decisions of season 1 with established Star Trek canon. Now if they only find a reasonable explanation for why Klingons looked so very different in the original series beyond “special effects and make-up technology was less advanced in the 1960s”.
For that matter, as of this episode, the Klingons have also stopped speaking Klingon and started speaking English. Now the linguist in me actually liked the idea to have the Klingons speak subtitled Klingon in Discovery a lot, but in practice it just didn’t work, because Klingon is not an easy language to learn or speak and the poor actors were obviously struggling, leading to some very stilted scenes. I also really liked the way that Discovery handled the switch from Klingon to English, by having L’Rell start holding a speech in Klingon with English subtitles and then switching to English with Klingon subtitles halfway through, before the subtitles vanish completely.
Talking of L’Rell, when we last saw her, she had just made herself chancellor of the Klingon Empire by holding Qo’noS hostage with Starfleet’s planet destroying genocide bomb (yes, this really happened). And Starfleet Lieutenant Ash Tyler – who unbeknowst to him was the surgically altered Klingon Voq, suffered an outbreak of Voqness and killed Stamets’ life partner Dr. Culber, then suffered another outbreak of Voqness and attacked Michael Burnham, who was his lover at the time (yes, all this really happened as well) before L’Rell for reasons unknown to anybody but herself destroyed the Voq persona and left the Ash persona dominant once more – elected to stay on Qo’noS with L’Rell because of reasons. And yes, this whole bloody Klingon plot made no sense at all, including Ash’s decision to stay among the Klingons, who didn’t particularly like Voq, because he was an albino, and certainly don’t like Ash, because he looks human. Ash choosing to stay with L’Rell made even less sense, because as far as Ash is concerned L’Rell tortured and raped him, while he was a prisoner of war. Okay, so Ash now has access to Voq’s memories, if not his personality, so he knows the sex with L’Rell was consensual. But as far as Ash is concerned, L’Rell is still his rapist and yet he chose to stay with her, even if Starfleet apparently was willing to forgive him for being an unwitting Klingon double agent. And for that matter, if L’Rell continued having sex with Voq while he thought he was Ash and her prisoner, it was still rape. “Point of Light” pays some lip service to this conflict, since Ash has both his own memories of being raped by L’Rell and Voq’s of having a consensual relationship with her and is understandably conflicted and rebuffs her, when she tries to kiss him. But briefly addressing the issue doesn’t change anything about how fucked up this whole Ash/Voq/L’Rell plot really is and how badly Discovery handled the issue of consent and sexual violence. So what does Discovery do? True to (season 1) form, it makes things even worse.
Because it turns out that Voq got L’Rell pregnant shortly before he was turned into Ash. And L’Rell didn’t even tell him about that, but hid the baby away. Okay, thinking back at Worf’s relationship with Alexander’s mother and how she basically turned up with Alexander in tow one day, maybe getting pregnant and not telling the father is the Klingon way of things, which would make Qo’Nos the planet of the secret babies. Nor is this the first time Star Trek has had a plot about a male character being forced into impregnating a female villain – something similar happened to Chakotay in Voyager when a Bajoran officer who turned out to be really a Cardassian in disguise got herself pregnant by him (and yes, this really happened as well). Oh no, this is a pattern, isn’t it? Honestly, Star Trek, we need to have a conversation about consent, sexual violence and pregnancy.
Anyway, L’Rell with newly grown hair and Ash with a newly grown beard and longer hair are now in Qo’noS with L’Rell as chancellor and Ash about to become her torchbearer and the Klingons don’t want either of them in charge. I can’t even blame them, considering that L’Rell and Voq are terrible characters, even though I did like Ash. Chief among the Klingons who just want L’Rell and Ash/Voq/whoever he is this week gone is a fleet captain named Kol-Sha. Kol-Sha gets enough ammunition to finally start his rebellion, when he intercepts a message Ash sends to Michael about the situation on Qo’noS. Kol-Sha also happens to know about L’Rell’s secret baby, murders its guardian and kidnaps the little boy to blackmail her into stepping down (whatever happened to the Klingon sense of honour? Shaved off with their hair, I guess). All this is complicated by he fact that Ash won’t tell L’Rell that his call to Michael was intercepted by her enemies and that L’Rell only recently told Ash that she had his baby in his absence. However, their long overdue talk is interrupted, when Kol-Sha’s people attack them. The fight is joined by a mysterious hooded and leather-clad figure who wipes the floor with the Klingons, takes off her hood and is revealed to be none other than Empress Philippa the Merciless from the mirror universe, now Philippa Georgiou, section 31 operative. After saving L’Rell’s and Ash’s bacon, Mirror Georgiou convinces L’Rell that if she wants to hold on to power, neither Ash nor the baby can remain on Qo’noS (Kayti Burt even assumes that Georgiou plans to kill them both and that the Federation sanctions child murder now, though I didn’t read it that way). So Georgiou takes Ash and the baby along and L’Rell declares that they both died in Kol-Sha’s attempted coup, as did Kol-Sha himself. She presents a couple of severed heads, throws them into a lava pit, before anybody can ask questions, and declares herself mother of the Klingon Empire, taking a cue from Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones. BTW, am I the only one waiting for a Klingon to claim that A Song of Ice and Fire is of course better in the original Klingon and that they have known the outcome for decades now?
The Klingon plot ends with Ash dropping his son off at a Klingon monastery and joining the evil Philippa Georgiou aboard the section 31 ship. I’d actually hoped that we’d get to see Ash Tyler, single dad to a Klingon baby (especially since he seems to be the only person who actually cares about the kid), but no, Discovery just uses the baby as a plot device, before writing it out again. That said, the Klingon scenes aren’t all bad. Shazad Latif looks good in black leather, though I’m not a big fan of the beard. Besides, the actor deserves better than being the butt of Discovery‘s patented shocking plot twists (TM) and while I liked Ash and Michael together, Voq and L’Rell leave me cold. The fight scene is well choreographed and seeing Michelle Yeoh wipe the floor with some Klingon mutineers is always a joy. Hell, seeing Michelle Yeoh is always a joy, because she clearly has so much fun. But in spite of its good aspects, the whole Klingon soap opera plot just left a bad taste in my mouth, though at least they didn’t drag it out over umpteen episodes this time around. And if this is the last we ever see of L’Rell, I for one won’t be sorry.
But because a miserable Klingon family drama obviously wasn’t enough, “Point of Light” also gives us a miserable human/Vulcan family drama. This of course involves Sarek and his truly fucked up patchwork family of Amanda, Spock, Michael and the still unmentioned Sybok. Because early during “Point of Light”, Sarek’s ship suddenly appears in front of the Discovery, asking to beam someone aboard. Michael hurries to the transporter room, hoping to see Sarek or maybe even Spock, but instead gets Amanda (and as Alasdair Wilkins points out, Michael waiting by the transporter only to have the wrong person show up is becoming something of a pattern this season). Having learned that Spock checked himself into a psychiatric hospital (which Spock didn’t want his family to know), Amanda tried to visit him, only to be denied seeing him. So Amanda went all mama bear (mothers and what they’re willing to do for their kids is something of a theme in this episode), swiped Spock’s medical records and took off to persuade Michael and Pike to break into the records. All this is obviously illegal, but neither Michael nor Pike much care, Michael because her adoptive brother is at risk and Pike, because he seems to view orders more as suggestions in the best tradition of Commander Cliff Alastair MacLane. So far, Pike has passed my personal “What would Commander MacLane do?” test, which is definite praise.
Besides, the situation has acquired a new sense of urgency, because Pike calls the hospital only to learn that Spock has broken out after having checked himself in in the first place. Well, having seen what Federation psychiatric hospitals were like in this era in the original series episode “Dagger of the Mind”, I can’t even blame him. However, apparently Spock also killed a couple of doctors during his escape (First Ash and now Spock. What is it with Discovery characters killing doctors?). Of course, he’ll eventually turn out to be innocent – Spock doesn’t kill people – but for now Michael and Amanda are frantic. Once they crack the medical files, Michael and Amanda learn that Spock first saw the mysterious Red Angel as a kid on the night Michael tried to run away from her new Vulcan home (and who could blame her?) and the angel showed him where to find her. Now Michael reveals to Amanda that she saw the Red Angel as well. Michael also tells Amanda, who blames herself for Spock having a massive breakdown, because she was emotionally cold to him on Sarek’s insistence, that Spock’s estrangement from his family is her fault, because she deliberately drove him away by saying something unspeakably awful to him (so unspeakably awful that Michael still cannot tell us and Amanda what it was), because she feared that the logic extremists (Vulcan terrorists who love logic so much that they blow anybody not logical enough up, which is not very logical at all) would accidentally hurt or kill Spock in an attempt to get to her. Of course, knowing Michael and her tendency to blame herself for everything, all she probably did was call Spock a poopyhead, but nonetheless Amanda seems to take everything at face value and coolly tells Michael that she will find Spock and bring him home safely and that Michael needn’t bother, before taking off again like the plot device that she is, leaving behind an even more heartbroken Michael.
Unlike pretty much every other member of her family with the possible exception of Sybok, Amanda was very underdeveloped so far. Apart from what we saw in “Journey to Babel” and season 1 of Star Trek Discovery, we know next to nothing about her, though she always seemed to be the sane one in the Sarek/Amanda partnership, since Sarek is a pretty bad father. But while finally having Amanda take the spotlight was very welcome, she comes across pretty badly in this episode, as Gavia Baker-Whitelaw points out in her review. For starters, Amanda either really did neglect her biological son Spock on Sarek’s insistence (and why didn’t she push back against Sarek?) or at least believes she did, while focussing on her human adopted daughter, only to eventually turn against that daughter, too. And let’s not forget that no one from Michael’s family – not Spock, not Sarek, not Amanda – was there for her when a Starfleet kangaroo court gave her a life sentence for mutiny. And while Spock at least had the excuse of being on the other side of the galaxy with the Enterprise, what excuse did Sarek and Amanda have? We always knew Sarek was a jerk and terrible father, but so far we never heard a bad word about Amanda. But Discovery apparently seems hellbent on turning the most normal and well adjusted member of Sarek’s family into a cold and distant mom, too. Honestly, Sarek and Amanda really are gunning for the 2019 Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents, though they’re still up against Thanos, who’s a hard act to beat. And for that matter, how fucked up is it that the dynamics of Sarek’s family apparently seem to be that the (Vulcan) men are emotionally cold and unavailable, while the (human) women blame themselves for everything? Not that there aren’t plenty of fucked up families in both fiction and real life and we always knew this one was kind of messed up. But the last thing Spock and Michael need is having more toxic family drama poured on top of them. Honestly, given that family, it’s a miracle that Spock didn’t crack up sooner and that he seems fairly well adjusted as an adult.
The third plotline of “Point of Light” concerns Tilly and her ghostly companion May. In last week’s episode, May was a largely positive influence on Tilly, but by now she has become a malevolent presence who harrasses and stalks Tilly. And for that matter, why must imaginary friends in fiction always inevitably turn into malevolent figures? Is it to tell us that talking to people who don’t exist is a very bad thing and will not end well? At any rate, it’s an annoying cliché.
Tilly believes she is hallucinating and doesn’t tell anybody about May, in what seems to be very much a pattern in this episode – people not talking to each other and thus making matters worse and the episode longer. Eventually, she has a breakdown on the bridge, when May drives her to tears. Michael, taking a break from her Spock induced guilt trip, realises that May cannot be a hallucination, because May doesn’t seem to understand what crying means, something which she would have known, if she was purely a construct from Tilly’s mind. So Michael takes Tilly to see Stamets, who’s been seeing some hallucinations of his own, namely his dead husband/partner Dr. Culber. After some tests, Stamets figures out that a fungus spore from the magical mushroom drive attached itself to Tilly sometime during season 1, was activated by contact with the mystery asteroid and manifested itself as May, Tilly’s late childhood friend. Stamets completely fails to notice any parallels to his own experience with Ghost Culber, though he does manage to separate the fungus parasite from Tilly and put it into stasis. Though I suspect we haven’t seen the last of that particular plot, especially since May also makes some strange pronouncements, calls Pike an imposter (Please, not again. We already did this plot in season 1. Twice) and seems to assume that Stamets is the captain, echoing a magic mushroom addled Stamets addressing Tilly as captain in season 1.
For that matter, Stamets and Saru seem really underused this season so far. Saru at least gets some good moments every episode, but Stamets only seems to be there, because he is contractually required to be. It almost seems that with the magic mushroom drive retired and his partner/husband dead, the writers have no idea what to do with him. A pity, because both Doug Jones and Anthony Rapp are fine actors and deserve better.
Instead of telling a story, “Point of Light” basically just pushes forward three largely unreleated plotlines, none of which were really necessary. I guess the annoying Klingon subplot from season 1 has now finally been brought to its conclusion, but then “L’Rell is now chancellor” already did conclude the Klingon plot, so an encore wasn’t necessary. Not to mention that the secret baby angle was really grating. Now I don’t mind setting up the planned Section 31 spin-off, starring Michelle Yeoh (and apparently Shazad Latif), but they could have done that without revisiting the worst of the Klingon mess from season 1.
The Michael/Amanda/Spock plot is apparently supposed to push the Red Angel season arc plot even further and also tease us with some more Spock. None of which is necessarily bad, but unfortunately Discovery had to turn both this and the Klingon plot into a bad soap opera. And yes, I know that I have compared Star Trek of any incarnation to a soap opera, but that doesn’t mean that Discovery should give in to the worst of soap opera impulses. Not to mention that I’m still not sure we even need to see Spock and don’t give a flying fart about the Red Angel mystery.
As for the magic mushroom drive/ghost plot, who knows where they’re going with this? Personally, I suspect that it’s a way to bring Dr. Culber back – after all, Wilson Cruz is in the opening credits without having been seen except in brief flashbacks so far. But then, Discovery wouldn’t have to come up with contrived ways to bring Culber back, if they hadn’t killed him off so senselessly in the first place.
So far, Star Trek Discovery seemed much improved in its second season. Okay, so the first two episodes didn’t exactly set the universe on fire, but they were perfectly fine mid-level Star Trek. “Point of Light”, however, revisits some of season 1’s most annoying aspects, though at least in the case of the Klingon plot, it seems to permanently tie off that particular thread. It’s not actually a bad episode and was fun enough to watch, though I found myself growing more irritated the more I thought about it. Unlike the first two episodes, “Point of Light” also doesn’t stand alone very well and mainly seems to exist to tick off plot checkboxes.
Three episodes into season 2, Star Trek Discovery not only still doesn’t seem to have found its feet, it has also taken a step backwards, Let’s hope next episode is better.