Star Trek Discovery Boldly Goes Where None Has Gone Before in the Season 2 Finale

This is the last weekly Star Trek Discovery review for the time being, since the season finale aired last night. For my takes on previous episodes, go here BTW.

Warning! Spoilers behind the cut!

It turns out that last week’s episode was the first half of the two-part season finale to the point that both episodes even share the same title “Such Sweet Sorrow”. I’m not really convinced that the season finale needed to be a two-parter, especially since last episode was mostly an extended series of tearful good-byes and this episode is mostly a huge space battle (okay, it’s a really cool space battle) with some revisiting of previous episodes.

Last episode, Michael figured out that since the data from the infodump sphere, which will enable the rogue AI Control to destroy all sentient life in the universe, can neither be deleted from Discovery‘s computer nor can Discovery be destroyed in any way, since the data prevents it, the only solution is to send the Discovery off into the far future, where Control cannot get to the data. Michael promptly volunteers to be the person who goes onto a one-way trip into the future, cause that’s the sort of thing she does, and gathers a motly crew of co-volunteers – basically the core cast plus the bridge crew.

This episode then, Michael and the Discovery crew do exactly what they planned to do last episode. But first, the Discovery and the Enterprise get caught up in a massive space battle with several Section 31 ships controlled by Control. And since the Section 31 ships can break apart into smaller ships, there are even more of them. As space battles go, this one is glorious with phasers and photo torpedoes firing and consoles exploding left, right and centre. Now Star Trek has never really been a space battle show, not least because of budget and tech issues, but once in a while, they get to pull out all the stops and pretend that they’re Star Wars.

The Enterprise gets an unexploded torpedo stuck in its saucer section. Pike, Number One (who still hasn’t gotten a name) and Admiral Cornwell try to disarm it. But the attempt fails and so Admiral Cornwell sacrifices herself to save the Enterprise from destruction. Considering that Admiral Cornwell has been a pretty significant presence in the first two seasons of Discovery, her death doesn’t carry much more weight than the death of any other redshirt of the week sacrificing themselves for the good of the many. Even Airiam’s death carried more weight and we barely got to know her. Admiral Cornwell had a lot more screentime than Airiam and yet her death fails to have much impact, probably because her final moments are spent with Pike, with whom she only shared a few scenes, and Number One with whome she barely interacted at all. But then the character of Admiral Cornwell was very much tied to Lorca and the Klingon war storyline of season 1. In fact, I strongly suspect that the showrunners wanted to write the character out, since they apparently had no real idea what to do with her after season 1. But given the events of this episode, I don’t quite understand why they had to kill off Admiral Cornwell, since the end pretty much made sure that we never need to see her again. Never mind that Admiral Cornwell basically dies of bad ship design (the lever to lower the bulkhead is only on one side of the bulkhead – the wrong one), so her death feels contrived.

One of the few useful things Admiral Cornwell did post-season 1 or at all was providing some much needed therapy to Dr. Culber after his miraculous resurrection. The events of last week’s episode seemed to cement the break-up of everybody’s favourite same-sex Star Trek couple (okay, so they’re the only same-sex Star Trek couple) Stamets and Culber, when Stamets wanted to go into the far future with Michael and Culber wanted to stay aboard the Enterprise, since dying once was quite enough for him. However, in the middle of the space battle, Culber and Stamets finally realise that they cannot live without each other and unite in the Discovery‘s sickbay, while there is a battle going on all around them. It’s a lovely moment and I’m very happy that Stamets and Culber, who are not just Discovery‘s best couple, but one of the best couples in all of Star Trek are finally back together.

The reunion of Culber and Stamets is not the only emotional scene in part 2 of “Such Sweet Sorrow”, for there is also another lovely scene between Spock and Michael, who are scrambling to get the Red Angel suit active again, so the Discovery can fly into the future. But Michael figures out that she first needs to go back in time to plant all of the Red Angel signals, since they always led the Discovery to places and people who would eventually be important in the fight against Control. So she dons the suit and does just that, taking us on a little season 2 recap tour. Alas, it turns out that Spock cannot accompany Michael into the future after all (as everybody who has ever seen Star Trek already knew) and so the siblings share an emotional good-bye scene, as Michael essentially tells Spock that he’ll eventually find good friends who will accept him as he is, just as we all know he will.

ETA: At Starship Reckless, Athena Andreadis has a great post about good sibling relationships and why they are so rare in science fiction, using Michael and Spock as well as River and Simon from Firefly as an example.

Meanwhile, the Enterprise and the Discovery are holding their own, but they’re vastly outnumbered and the rest of Starfleet is busy elsewhere, I guess. But help is on the way in the form of L’Rell and the Klingon fleet and some Kelpians led by Saru’s sister Siranna, who have appropriated some of the Ba’ul’s spacecraft. Saru’s reaction upon learning that his sister, the peaceful high priestess, has taken up flying space fighters, is priceless.

While everybody is shooting at everybody else, Control decides to use the space battle as a distraction and beam its meat puppet Leland aboard the Discovery to access the sphere data, while everybody else is busy. But Lieutenant Nhan and Mirror Georgiou and lead Leland on a chase through the Discovery‘s corridors, while giving Michelle Yeoh a chance to show off her mad martial arts skills. In the end, Georgiou manages to lure Leland into the spore drive chamber and uses the spore drive and its containment field to pull Control’s nanos out of Leland’s body and destroy them. Leland promptly collapses and the various Control-controlled ships go dead, since Control apparently neglected to make a backup copy of itself. It’s amazing how much of the plot of season 2 of Star Trek Discovery is determined by the fact that people (and rogue AIs) don’t follow basic computer safety protocols. And no, Leland and Control are not the origin of the Borg, as many have speculated. So here is one totally obvious shocking plot twist(TM) that Discovery has managed to avoid.

Michael has by now completed her tour of season 2’s highlights and opened a wormhole, through which Discovery flies into what is presumably the future. We don’t know for sure, since we basically see the Discovery vanish in a burst of light to boldly go where no man, woman or Kelpian has gone before. Of course, the time jump is completely unnecessary, since Mirror Georgiou has already killed Control. Not that I don’t understand why the showrunners had the Discovery make the time jump, but making the jump after Control is dead doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

In fact, I wonder whether the scenes were supposed to go in a different order, i.e. the Discovery goes through the wormhole, but Leland has already beamed on board and now the future is at risk as well. Luckily, Mirror Georgiou manages to kill him, but the Discovery has already arrived in the future or wherever. Talking of which, Mirror Georgiou is still aboard the Discovery, when she flies through the wormhole and is now presumably stuck nine hundred years in the future, which will make it difficult for her to appear in the planned Section 31 series, which is presumably not set nine hundred years in the future. Though in this interview with Andrew Whalen in Newsweek, Michelle Yeoh says that she will apparently be in both season 3 of Star Trek Discovery and in the Section 31 series, so she’ll apparently find a way back.

The episode ends with Pike, Number 1, Spock and Ash Tyler (who stayed behind, because he and Michael cannot possibly be together because of reasons) at a debriefing with the Starfleet commanders at the Starfleet headquarters in San Francisco. Ash Tyler is tasked with rebuilding Section 31 into something more open and less clandestine (we’ve all seen how well that worked out in Deep Space Nine) and Spock convinces the various Starfleet bigwigs that for the sake of the safety of the universe, the Discovery must be reported lost with all hands aboard during the space battle and no one must ever speak of the Discovery, the spore drive, Michael Burnham and Control again. And just like that – snap – Spock has restored Star Trek canon to its pre-Discovery state.

In many ways, season 2 of Star Trek Discovery was a trasitional season that tried (and largely succeeded) in undoing the complete and utter mess that was season 1 before pressing the big red reset button and sending the Discovery off to new adventures in the far future, where no collisions with established Star Trek canon are possible. This is probably the best decision showrunner Alex Kurtzman could make, especially since the fact that Discovery was a prequel was always the biggest weakness of the show. But now the Discovery and her remaining crew can start over on a completely blank slate and hopefully have great and glorious adventures. Meanwhile, Spock’s little “Let us never speak of all this again on the pain of treason” speech gets established Star Trek canon back on track. Okay, so there’s still a never before mentioned war with the Klingon Empire and a race of spacefaring Kelpians who will never be seen again (both of which can be explained away), but otherwise Alex Kurtzman and his team put all the pieces back where they found them.

It very much seems as if the production team was aware exactly what a huge mess season 1 of Discovery was and so they set about to fix it by essentially wiping the slate clean. The whole plot arc of season 2 was basically set up to do just that and tie up some leftover loose ends from season 1. Not that I really care about what happened to L’Rell and the Klingons, but by bringing back Culber, the production team corrected one of season 1’s worst mistakes, even if the way they did it was completely contrived. The bridge crew got more to do and at least some of them acquired a hint of personality. I assume we’ll see more of them in season 3, especially considering that the Discovery is operating with a smaller than normal crew now. I’m still not sure why they felt the need to write out Ash Tyler, but then the writers often didn’t seem to know what to do with him this season anyway. And he’ll probably still get his chance to shine in the Section 31 spin-off.

Since the production team still needed a whole season to wipe the slate clean anyway, they decided to have some fun with the fact that Discovery started out as a prequel set a few years before the Original Series and brought in characters like Pike, Number One and of course, Spock. The character of Christopher Pike very much benefitted from this, since Anson Mount turned him from answer to a trivia question into a fully fledged character we care about, which makes his ultimate fate all the sadder. I was initially skeptical about bringing in Spock at all, but Ethan Peck’s portrayal of one of Star Trek‘s most iconic character very much grew on me in the second half of season 2. And seeing Spock in his familiar blue uniform with his familiar 1960s haircut take his usual station on the bridge of the Enterprise probably gave every Original Series fan a little thrill. I’m a bit sad that we didn’t get to see more of Rebecca Romijn’s take on Number One, especially since Number One always struck me as a character with a lot of potential, unlike the bland Pike. So I really hope we get to see Pike, Spock, Number One and the rest of the Enterprise crew again someday, maybe in a mini-series or one-off special.

All in all, season 2 of Star Trek Discovery is much improved compared to the unholy mess that was season 1. The show still hasn’t fully found its feet and season 3 will likely be very different from what has gone before, but season 2 managed to tell a coherent, if not all that thrilling story (Control and the Red Angel were the sort of threats that the Enterprise dealt with in a single episode in the days of the Original Series and The Next Generation), and also managed to have some fun along the way. Season 2 even felt like Star Trek much of the time, while season 1 often seemed to forget what Star Trek has traditionally been about.

And now the Discovery and her valiant crew under the command of – Who actually is Captain now? Saru or Michael? – have the chance to explore a whole new era unencumbered by the shackles of established Star Trek canon. Let’s hope they make something fabulous of it.

ETA: Mike Bloom interviewed showrunner Alex Kurtzman for The Hollywood Reporter, in which he offers some tidbits about season 3 of Discovery as well as the upcoming Picard and Section 31 shows.

ETA2: Camestros Felapton is back from Nepal and shares his thoughts on the season 2 finale of Star Trek Discovery here.

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10 Responses to Star Trek Discovery Boldly Goes Where None Has Gone Before in the Season 2 Finale

  1. Steve Wright says:

    I thought the appearance of the seventh signal indicated that Discovery had made it back to the present, albeit 51,000 light years away. So possibly season 3 will be along the lines of Star Trek: Voyager, with the ship slowly making its way home?

    The demise of Control was an anti-climax – had this rogue AI not heard of distributed processing or off-site backups, then? The death of Admiral Cornwell struck me as both contrived and unnecessary. There was plenty of time for her to put a piece of string on that handle and pull it from the other side of the door. Or do an Indiana Jones roll underneath the door as it closed. For that matter, how effective is it as a blast door anyway, given that it has a flippin’ picture window in it? (I will add a little gripe, too, about the photon torpedo, with all those flashing lights and visual indicators in its warhead – where, in normal operation, nobody would ever be able to see them.)

    I noted, in passing, that the time suit’s bio-neural signature matched Michael’s because it actually was Michael inside it… I’m not sure where that leaves her mother, though. They believed the wearer of the suit was always showing up to protect Michael, didn’t they? But her mother only showed up the one time. I might have to mull over that one a bit.

    Overall… I’m not sure. I’ve warmed to the show a bit, over the two seasons, and I’m still prepared to believe it could get to be good… but I don’t think it’s quite there yet. Still, I shall tune in for season 3, I guess.

    • Cora says:

      Not sure if I like Star Trek Voyager Mark II better than Star Trek: Far Future, but it’s an interesting theory.

      And the brilliant rogue AI Control has no more heard about offsite backups than the aliens from Independence Day have heard about anti-virus software and firewalls and the Discovery crew has heard about being wary of downloading anything from questionable sources. Science fiction that is not cyberpunk is notoriously bad about basic computer safety.

      As for why there are windows in blast doors, they’re there for the same reason that there are windows in airlocks and glass walls around warp cores, so you can observe the tragic death of someone on the other side. That said, for airlocks windows make sense, so you can see if there is someone inside and if that someone should be inside. But for blast doors and bulkheads, windows make no sense. As for the crappy design, bulkheads in modern day ships are better designed than the ones aboard the Discovery. But then, a lot of fictional spaceships are worse designed than ships sailing our earthly seas right now. However, SF authors often have zero experience with ships and if they do, it’s usually navy or cruise ships. That’s also why Starfleet and most other SF ships have huge crews, though you rarely need that many people to keep the ship running. Though everybody who ever served aboard a navy ship should at least know how bulkheads work.

      I didn’t even think about the bio-neural signature, but Michael planting the signals explains why they found Michael’s signature rather than her mothers. And since there were two red angels, I assume that Airiam only picked up the bio-signature of one who happened to be Michael.

      I certainly feel more warmly disposed towards Discovery now than I did after season 1, though the show is sill something of a mess and also extremely inconsistent. Not only are the two seasons wildly different, but season 1 is four or five very different shows mashed together. But I’ll definitely give season 3 a shot, though I strongly it will be different again.

      • Peer says:

        To be fair, Tyler did ask if all copies of control really were destroyed, so the characters didn’t believe there was no backup either.
        Overall a decent episode (despite the weaknesses) and a remarkable clever way of explaining continuity problems.

        Now I can only guess that the section 31 series will be set before Georgiou went back to Discovery. Which might mean Leland would be there as well.
        And thank God Control is not the first Borg. I feared as much when Leland entered the spore drive cage…

        • Cora says:

          Well, not even Ash Tyler could believe that an advanced super AI would be so stupid not to have a backup.

          In the interview I linked, Michelle Yeoh said that they were shooting season 3 of Discovery before the Section 31 spin-off, but that tells us nothing about internal chronology.

          I’m also glad that Control Leland did not turn out to be the origin of the Borg, because that would have been such an obvious development and so far, Discovery has rarely been able to resist those.

          I agree that they came up with a really clever way to explain away the continuity issues.

      • Cora says:

        Regarding whether the Discovery ended up just lost in space or lost in time as well, in this interview I ETAed above, showrunner Alex Kurtzman definitely says that the Discovery travelled 950 years into the future.

        On the other hand, it wouldn’t be the first time that someone involved with the show has flat out lied.

  2. Rick Moen says:

    Will you indulge my tidbit of English-language pedantry, Cora?

    Sentience = characterised by perception via the senses.
    Sapience = characterised by intelligence.

    Control presumably aimed primarily to assassinate all the intelligent species it perceived as threats to its dominance of the galaxy, and not to rub out all beetles, no matter what J.B.S. Haldane said about their ubiquity. (Admittedly, as with ‘The Orville’s Kaylon, the difference is a bit academic, given their blowing-up-entire-planets thing.)

    Anyway, a huge percentage of native English speakers persist in using the former word when they really mean the latter, even in fandom.

    • Cora says:

      As an occasional linguist, I’m completely fine with English language pedantry.

      I always thought that Control’s plan to wipe out all intelligent lifeforms in the universe was ambitious, because the universe is a very big place. Wiping out all sentient lifeforms would be even more ambitious, though I recall a Doctor Who audio drama, where a species really did extinguish all sentient life on various planets and left them behind as dead rocks. Then they meet the Doctor…

      Though I’m pretty sure that they said “all sentient life in the universe” in the show, even though it’s technically wrong, both with regard to “sentient” and “universe”, since I doubt Michael’s time-travelling Mom visited every single planet in the universe.

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