Welcome back to our regularly scheduled Star Trek Discovery episode by episode review. Yesterday’s episode “Such Sweet Sorrow” was the penultimate episode of the second season and I for one am pretty glad that season 2 will soon be over, probably because I was ill for at least half the season and doing these reviews became unexpectedly exhausting. For my take on previous episodes, go here.
Warning: Spoilers under the cut!
When we last saw the Discovery, she was surrounded by several Section 31 ships under the command of Leland, who – unbeknowst to everybody except the Discovery crew – is really an animated corpse under the control of the rogue AI Control (that thing really needs a better name), which wants to exterminate all sentient life in the universe, because that’s what rogue AIs in science fiction movies do. No really, it just occurred to me that we have never been given a solid reason for why Control wants to eliminate all sentient life in the universe. It might simply have watched too many Terminator movies for all we know.
Anyway, Control has control of Section 31 and wants to eliminate all sentient life in the universe. And the one thing it needs to do that is the data from the infodump sphere that is currently stored inside the Discovery‘s computer. Section 31 and Control cannot be allowed to get access to the data, which inconveniently cannot be deleted either, so Michael makes the hard choice(TM) and suggests self-destructing the Discovery lest it falls into Control’s hands. Cue cliffhanger.
As cliffhangers go, last episode’s was the sort of cliffhanager that should be ultra-dramatic, but really isn’t because we know they won’t go through with the threatened solution anyway. After all, this is Star Trek, not Raumpatrouille Orion. And Starfleet won’t just hand you a brand-new ship if you destroy your old one (unless you’re Lorca, I guess) like Commander MacLane was handed a new Orion every time he managed to destroy the old one (he’s up to Orion 7 by the end of the series).
And so the cliffhanger is resolved almost too easily, when the data from the infodump sphere decides that it no more likes being blown up than deleted and simply takes control of Discovery‘s computer to countermand the self-destruct command. It also raises the Discovery‘s shields so the Enterprise, which is on its way to rescue the Discovery crew, ca’t blow up the ship either. And that, folks, is why you don’t download data from strange floting infodump spheres that almost kill Saru, too, onto your ship’s computer.
So Michael comes up with a new harebrained scheme (sorry, but that’s what it is) to keep Control from accessing the sphere data, namely send the Discovery into the far future where Control cannot access the data. And as usual with Michael’s harebrained schemes, everybody just goes along with it. Honestly, much as I like Michael Burnham and love Sonequa Martin-Green’s stellar performance, I’m beginning to believe that this woman should be nowhere near the bridge of the Starfleet vessel.
The only way to send the Discovery into the future is by rigging up a time travel device from a second Red Angel suit (the original is lost along with Michael’s mother) and the time crystal Pike borrowed from the Klingons last episode at the cost of making the future seen in “The Menagerie” a reality. In order to achieve this, Tilly calls in her alien friend, technological prodigy and and bonafide queen Po, a character who first appeared in the Short Treks episode “Runaway”. Po does manage to rig up the time travel device, but it is only good for a one way trip into the future. So whoever volunteers to travel into the far future cannot come back. And because Michael is just as prone to self-sacrifice and martyrdom as Pike (and Spock for that matter), she of course volunteers to take the Discovery into the future, even though she knows she will not be able to return.
And that’s more or less the plot of “Such Sweet Sorrow”. For the rest of the episode is taken up by Michael exchanging tearful farewells with pretty much the entire main supporting cast. These farewell scenes are wonderfully played and full of great character moments, but nonetheless this whole episode is pretty much all character and nigh zero plot. The only reason Discovery can pull off something like this is because of its stellar cast, who wring all the emotional impact they can from these farewell scenes. Even Sarek and Amanda show up for a farewell scene (oh, so now they suddenly care), though their presence makes no real sense, considering the Discovery and Enterprise are in the middle of a fucking space battle.
In the end, it turns out that the tearful good-byes aren’t quite so final, because several members of the Discovery crew decide that they cannot just let Michael go off on her own into the unknown and so declare that they will go with her.
Spock, of course, insists on accompanying his sister, because that’s just the sort of thing Spock does. Saru also decides to come along, because he harbours strong feelings for Michael and has for a very long time, though Michael apparently isn’t really aware of this and neither is much of the audience, even though it’s pretty obvious. The entire bridge crew – Detmer, Owosekun, Rhys, Bryce, Nilsson (Airiam’s replacement) and a random background alien whose name I don’t know – also decide to come along out of loyalty to Michael and Saru, though why Nilsson has that much loyalty for Michael we don’t know, considering she only showed up a few episodes ago. Tilly decides to come along to support her friend and besides time travel is cool. Stamets decides to come along as well, because he’s still suffering from heartache over his break-up with Culber (who does not come along, but rather beams over to the Enterprise, becuse dying once was enough for him, thank you very much). And besides, Stamets has never met a crazy scientific experiment or an opportunity to explore that he did not like. Jet Reno also decides to come along, because – well, I’m not entirely sure why, but because she’s a great character, she’s always welcome. Mirror Georgiou decides to come along because of her maternal feelings for Michael.
Meanwhile, Ash Tyler decides to stay behind to rebuild Section 31 (not that it’s worth it) and also because it is his and Michael’s fate to have to tearfully say good-bye to each other over and over again. Honestly, this is what? – the fourth or fifth time? Just ditch him for good, Michael, and hook up with Saru or Btyce or Rhys or Mirror Georgiou or whoever. Still, Michael and Ash tearfully saying good-bye to each other once again gives Sonequa Martin-Green and Shazad Latif yet more opportunity to exchange longing looks and smoldering glances. As Gavia Baker-Whitelaw says in her review, “Ash is a cross between Mr. Darcy, a Cold War spy, and a hair model” and “someone needs to cast Latif in a Regency romance”. BBC, are you listening?
Captain Pike also decides not to come along, because his place is on the Enterprise and besides, he’s seen the future and he knows it’s not this. At this point, I was yelling at the screen, “Oh come on, Pike. You don’t have to listen to what Voq and L’Rell’s annoying kid said and no one cares if you wipe ‘The Menagerie’ from Star Trek history, because it wasn’t that good an episode anyway.” Regarding Pike, Ryan Britt said something very fitting about him in this article at Tor.com recently:
Last year, Captain Pike didn’t have a personality. Before Star Trek: Discovery’s second season, Christopher Pike was less of a character and more of an answer to a trivia question.
This observation is absolutely correct, because before Discovery nobody cared about Christopher Pike. He was just a bland, vaguely handsome white dude who was in two and a half episodes of Star Trek more than fifty years ago and who happened to be the captain of the Enterprise before Kirk took over. Discovery, however, has given Pike a personality and made him a likeable character who’s rapidly moving up my personal ranking of Star Trek captains. And it’s because Discovery made us care about Pike that his ultimate fate is so unfair. Especially since it’s not as if Star Trek has never retconned details and plot points about the original series, so why is “The Menagerie” so fucking sacrosanct?
And while we’re on the subject of Pike, can I just say how great the Enterprise bridge looks? It’s the perfect fusion of the classic 1960s Enterprise look, updated for the 21st century, and Discovery‘s “darker than thou” aesthetics. Rebecca Romijn once more channels Majel Barrett as Number One, who still doesn’t have an actual name. Apparently, the red-haired female ensign from “The Cage” and “The Menagerie” was also seen in the background, though no other member of Pike’s crew from “The Cage” was seen. Though honestly, does anybody remember any member of Pike’s crew other than Spock or Number One? In fact, I only remember the red-haired ensign, because she was the only member of Pike’s crew who wasn’t an older white dude. Nonetheless, now that they have a beautiful Enterprise bridge set and fine actors playing Pike, Spock and Number One, will we get a Pike’s Enterprise series eventually? I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing more of Anson Mount and Rebecca Romijn as Pike and Number One respectively and Ethan Peck has proven himself to be remarkably good as the younger Spock.
The decision of several crewmembers to accompany Michael leads to a whole new round of tearful farewells (while Section 31 and Control considerately decide to halt the space battle to give them time – no, not really, but those tearful good-byes certainly took a lot of time in what should be an urgent situation), as the various crewmembers record good-bye messages to their various loved ones. And so Stamets and Saru send messages to their respective siblings, Tilly to her mother, Owosekun to her family and Detmer to… well, it’s not entirely clear. Pike gives a beautiful good-bye speech to the Discovery crew before beaming back to the Enterprise. The ever snarky Mirror Georgiou can’t resist telling Pike that she’s from a different universe, whereupon Pike winks at her to tell her that he already knows. And talking of great Mirror Georgiou moments, there is also one earlier in the episode where Tilly’s alien space queen friend Po stares down Mirror Georgiou in a queen vs. empress standoff and coolly informs Georgiou that she made a law against snarky remarks on her planet.
Once more, “Such Sweet Sorrow” shows that it’s the cast and their performances that make Star Trek Discovery, because watching the various characters emoting and tearfully saying good-bye to each other is so affecting and entertaining that I barely noticed that this episode had almost no plot, until I started writing down my review. Not that having a character-focusses episode or two on occasion isn’t a very good thing, but I still wonder if the penultimate episode of the season is really the place for it. Though Camestros Felapton points out that the extended good-bye scenes almost feel as if the show itself is saying good-bye, though we know that Star Trek Discovery has been renewed for season 3.
Will the Discovery really go on a one-way trip into the far future? It would certainly be a great way to cut the show free from the Star Trek canon muddle it occasionally gets stuck in and give it a brand new start exploring a whole new era of Star Trek. Of course, they will have to return Spock, since he is still needed in the 23rd century, and Mirror Georgiou is supposed to get her own Section 31 spin-off show, too. But everybody else could certainly jump into the far future with the Discovery without any effects on established Star Trek continuity. In fact, this would also explain why Spock has never mentioned his adoptive sister Michael before. Okay, so Spock never mentions any members of his family, until they unexpectedly show up aboard the Enterprise.
So will Discovery make the bold jump into the future where no man or woman or alien has gone before? Or will it stay in the 23rd century? Next week, we’ll find out for sure.