I’m still not fully recovered from the flu from hell, but here is your regularly scheduled Star Trek Discovery review. For my take on previous episodes, go here.
Warning! Spoilers under the cut!
The episode title “Through the Valley of Shadows” is certainly fitting, because this episode brings back some of the most annoying aspects of season 1 and also indulges in annoying tropes which are not limited to Star Trek sadly. Oh yes, and the episode gets mired in fifty-three years of Star Trek continuity, too.
The most annoying aspect of season 1, apart from “everything bad that ever happened in the universe is Michael Burnham’s fault” were of course the Klingons or rather Star Trek Discovery‘s take on them, since I actually liked the Klingons quite a bit in the Next Generation/Deep Space Nine/Voyager era.
For it turns out that the latest of the mysterious space signals, which set off this entire season arc and which we now know are not connected to the Red Angel, because she doesn’t know what they are either, appears in orbit above the planet Boreth, which houses the Klingon monastery. And since the Federation and the Klingon Empire were at war only one season ago, the Discovery of course won’t be very welcome there. But luckily, they just happen to have a surgically altered Klingon aboard, namely Ash Tyler. Now Ash has his very own reasons for being reluctant to visit Boreth, for the Klingon monastery on that planet just happens to be the very same monastery where Ash Tyler dumped off his secret baby with Klingon chancellor L’Rell (this makes Discovery sound like a soap opera and not in a good way). Really, what are the odds?
However, the monastery on Boreth is not just a monastery, where Klingon monks are waiting for the return of Kahless. Instead, it is also where the Klingons keep their stash of time crystals, the magical plot devices which enable time travel. Of course, the plot of the past two episodes was very much determined by the race for Starfleet and Section 31 to develop time travel before the Klingons do, complete with young Michael Burnham’s parents dying (or not, as it turns out) to protect a precious time crystal from falling into Klingon hands. And now, only one episode later, it suddenly turns out that the Klingons already have a stash of time crystals and presumably time travel capability and do nothing whatsoever with it except put the time crystals in a vault in a monastery and pray over them. Did anybody actually notice this discrepancy?
Even though Ash Tyler is still theoretically a Klingon, he can’t go down to Boreth, because as far as the Klingon Empire is concerned, he’s dead. Never mind that Ash Tyler visited Boreth after his supposed death to dump off his Klingon secret baby, so the monks already know he’s alive. Honestly, does anybody involved with this show pay attention to internal continuity (rather than continuity with fifty-three year old episodes) at all? Anyway, since Ash can’t travel to Boreth himself, he calls in his ex-lover/rapist (it’s complicated) and baby mama L’Rell. L’Rell still isn’t a fan of humans, but since the fate of all sentient life in the galaxy is at stake, because the rogue AI Control is planning to exterminate it and has just stolen half the data it needs to do so, L’Rell eventually agrees to take Pike to Boreth.
The monks on Boreth are about as friendly as you imagine Klingon monks to be and their leader, a Klingon albino named Tenavik, look kind of familiar, probably because actor Kenneth Mitchell is Discovery‘s go-to Klingon, as explained by Keith R.A. DeCandido here. Of course, the fact that Tenavik is an albino, just like Ash Tyler’s Klingon alter-ago Voq, is another huge giveaway. Yes, Tenavik is Ash/Voq and L’Rell’s secret baby all grown up due to the influence of the time crystals or something.
Now I’ve stated my hatred of supernatural surprise pregnancies and babies rapidly aged to adulthood in these pages before. These two connected tropes as well as a third related trope – the convenient miscarriage which ends a pregnancy that only existed to get the characters to angst about having sex – really, really need to die, because they’re awful, sexist and show the disdain much of our popular culture has for pregnancy and childbirth. If you must have a pregnancy in your story, it should proceed in the normal way – no conceived yesterday, born today supernatural pregnancies – and should result in an actual baby, which should then proceed to grow up the normal way. No speed aging and no dumping off the kid with Klingon monks, kind strangers, distant aunts, etc… If you must have a miscarriage – after all, miscarriages happen quite frequently – make it mean something and don’t use it as a “get out free” card to resolve your pregnancy scare story. Miscarriages are painful for all involved. Losing a child is painful. But in popular culture, the characters often care so little that I wonder and worry more about their lost children than they do. So if you must write about pregnancy childbirth, miscarriage or the loss of a child, treat these things with respect and not as a fucking plot device.
Star Trek Discovery, however, treats Tenavik as a plot device. He only exists to give Ash and L’Rell something to angst about (not that Ash really needs a reason) and the only reason he was rapid-aged to adulthood is so Ash can go into a future with Michael (not sure how I feel about that anymore, though I liked them together in season 1) unencumbered by his Klingon past. By the way, am I the only one who feels that Michael – who was deeply traumatised by losing her parents as a kid and then losing her mother again only one episode ago – was remarkably blasé about Ash abandoning his child to Klingon monks? In fact, there was no reason to make Tenavik Ash and L’Rell’s secret baby at all. The plot would work just as well, if Tenavik had been any old Klingon monk. This is far from the first time that Star Trek has treated pregnancy and the resulting children as plot devices, also see the Next Generation episode “The Child” and David, Kirk’s son with Dr. Carol Marcus who was introduced in The Wrath of Khan and unceremoniously killed off in The Search for Spock (but Spock got better, so who cares about David?). But all of those examples are more than thirty years old, so maybe we could treat pregnancy and childbirth not as a plot device in 2019?
On Boreth, Pike picks up one of the time crystals and gets a vision of the future, only to be informed by Tenavik that if Pike takes the crystal away from Boreth, that future will come to pass no matter what. And that future vision is – yup, “The Menagerie” (I should just bookmark the page, because I have to link to it every week anyway). Only that this time around, we get a look at the scarred Pike in his chair, in constant agony and barely able to communicate, with 2019 special effects technology, which makes Pike’s future some even worse than the 1960s version. Pike is understandably horrified, but takes the crystal anyway, because the fate of the universe is at stake and his own horrible future is a small price to pay. Because Pike is the sort of captain who’ll always make the noble choice because the good of the many outweighs the good of the few. Yes, I know that’s Spock’s line, but Spock might well have gotten it from Pike.
It’s a depressing moment – and excellently acted by Anson Mount – made even more depressing by the fact that Christopher Pike no longer is a supporting character who was in two and a half episodes of the original series fifty-three years ago. I actually like Pike now and think he’s a great character and examplary Star Trek captain. As Gavia Baker-Whitelaw says in her review, “Curse Discovery for making us care about Christopher Pike.” So I’d hoped we could maybe just retcon the bloody “Menagerie” out of existence (it’s not that great an episode anyway) and keep Pike around as captain of the Discovery for a while. Because the Discovery deserves a good captain after the horror that was Lorca. But alas, it seems that’s not to be. Because for some reason, “The Menagerie” is the one classic Star Trek episode that is sacrosanct and cannot be retconned.
As for the fate of the universe, last we saw him, Section 31 commander Leland was controlled by the rogue AI Control and took off with half of the data from the infodump sphere that Control needs to destroy the universe, while as far as most of Section 31 is concerned, Leland is still a high ranking officer. Mirror Georgiou took off after Leland and Michael wants to join her, but Pike and Saru rightly point out that since the sphere’s data rests inside Discovery‘s computer, the Discovery is best kept as far away from Leland and Control as possible. However, Ash Tyler reports that Section 31 ship hasn’t checked in, which apparently never happens. Michael believes that the ship has been hijacked by Control and plans to go after it in a shuttle, still keeping the Discovery safely away from Control. Saru agrees, but on one condition. He wants Spock to accompany Michael. Michael doesn’t really want Spock along, but since both Spock and Saru insists, she doesn’t have much of a choice. So we get yet another chance to watch our favourite brother and sister team in action, exchanging banter and saving the world. Honestly, if you’d told me that Spock and Pike, the two characters whose (re)appearance I was most sceptical about, would eventually become two of my favourite, I wouldn’t have believed you. And talking of Spock and Michael, there is a nice moment where Amanda calls Michael to check if she is all right after first finding her long dead mother alive and then losing her again (Sarek, as usual, can’t be bothered), when Spock walks in and Amanda takes the opportunity to tell them she loves them both. It’s a sweet moment, though it would have been even better, if Amanda’s characterisation hadn’t been so inconstant this season. And considering how little we have seen of Amanda in fifty-three years of Star Trek history and how little we know about her, the inconstant characterisation was pretty much all the characterisation she ever had.
Once Michael and Spock track down the missing Section 31 ship, they find that the entire crew has been murdered. There is only one survivor. Apparently, we’re supposed to recognise the character as a member of the Shenzhou bridge crew from the pilot episode, which is supposed to give Michael an extra bout of angst, but I for one didn’t recognise the character at all, so the moment fell flat. Not that it matters much, because it turns out that the lone survivor is no lone survivor, but was killed and taken over by Control just as Leland was and then used as bait to draw out Michael. As for why Control wants Michael (beyond the fact that she is the protagonist), Spock theorises it’s because like her mother before her, Michael is the one variable Control cannot control (honestly, couldn’t they have come up with a better name for that bloody AI?). And once Michael has taken the bait, Control attempts to take her over via its magic nano-agents and then use her to get to the sphere data. Luckily Spock is there to prevent that by magnetising the nano-bots to the floor, allowing him and Michael to escape.
Together, Michael and Spock return to the Discovery only to find the ship suddenly surrounded by Section 31 ships under the control of Leland and Control. Hard choices must be made and so Michael suggests that they should destroy Discovery lest the sphere data (which as we found out last episode cannot be deleted) fall into the hands of Control. Blowing up the whole ship seems a remarkably rash decision, but Pike, who knows a thing or two about hard choices, agrees and calls in the Enterprise for help and to evacuate the Discovery crew. Cue cliffhanger…
Of course, we know that the Discovery won’t be destroyed – not unless they want to retitle the next season Star Trek Enterprise Mark II – though I guess we will finally get to see the Discovery/Enterprise team-up that the show has teased since the end of season 1. Not to mention that we will hopefully get to see a little more of Rebecca Romijn’s take on Number 1.
Among all the action and universe saving, Star Trek Discovery also finds time for some nice character moments such as the bridge crew having lunch together and playing word games (but no Tilly this episode at all) or Stamets moping over Dr. Culber who seems to be having fun with a whole new crowd of people in the cafeteria. The always welcome Jet Reno notices something is up with Stamets and Culber and decides to see if she can repair the relationship (because repairing things is what she does), so she goes to see Dr. Culber on a pretext and tells him that she lost her wife during the war with the Klingons and that Culber and Stamets are both still alive and still have each other, so Culber should maybe stop moping and be grateful. This leads to an exchange where Dr. Culber and Jet Reno discuss their respective partners and what drove them mad about them. Also, can I just say that it’s great to have two LGBT characters, both played by LGBT actors, too, interacting and passing the LGBT version of the Bechdel test.
After last week’s excellent episode, this one just feels weak (and Camestros Felapton agrees). It’s very much a filler and if you had skipped this entire episode and jumped right to Section 31 ships menacing Discovery, nothing would be missing except maybe the time crystal Pike got from the Klingons. And they could have procured a time crystal elsewhere – the whole sojourn in the Klingon monastery was completely unnecessary and basically just an excuse to revisit that stupid Klingon secret baby plot. Anyway, I hope that this is the last we’ve ever seen of L’Rell and Tenavik and any Klingon who’s not Ash Tyler. And I’m getting tired of him, too, since the showrunners don’t seem to know what to do with him, once he fulfilled his plot purpose in season 1. Indeed, it’s telling that the IMO weakest episodes this season were the ones featuring Klingons other than Ash Tyler.