At one point during “Will You Take My Hand?”, the season finale of Star Trek Discovery, Tyler is explaining the ease with which he is able to chat with Klingons in the vicinity of the Orion embassy—which, the Orions being glorified pirates, means it’s pretty much space Vegas—to Burnham. “I’m a human who speaks Klingon. To them, that’s like a dog that can waterski.”
I really doubt that executive producers Gretchen J. Berg, Aaron Harberts, and Akiva Goldsman, who among them wrote and directed the episode, meant that line to be a metaphor for the episode, but it totally fits. Because a dog that can waterski is actually really really cool and would probably be fun to watch. But it’s also something that you kinda stare at and go, “Hang on, why exactly did that just happen?” And there’s a lot of both those reactions in “Will You Take My Hand?”
Let’s start with the good: the landing party sequence was tremendous fun. I enjoyed the Klingon gambling, I loved how that triggered Burnham’s PTSD hearing Klingons laugh the way the ones who killed her parents laughed, I enjoyed Tilly role-playing as a weapons dealer while making sure to help keep Tyler from getting too close to Burnham and messing with her mojo, and hey, look, it’s Clint Howard! Of course Georgiou used sex as a weapon, she’s from the Mirror Universe, home of Captain’s Woman Marlena Moreau and Intendant Kira Nerys. And it worked—her Orion prostitutes (both genders!) gave up the location of the abandoned temple to Molor.
(The Klingon historian in me—your humble reviewer has written a crapton of Klingon fiction, including The Klingon Art of War, a tome that has been used as set decoration on AfterTrek—adores the idea of a temple to Molor, by the way. Established back on TNG as the brother of Kahless, and someone against whom Kahless fought for days over a lie, it makes perfect sense that there’d be a religion to worship him.)
Tilly gets lots to do in this episode, and that’s all to the good, as Mary Wiseman is a delight. We get Tilly in several modes: the word vomit when she meets Georgiou and realizes that it’s not really the mainline captain but the MU’s emperor, the glee with which she gets back into “Captain Killy” mode by threatening the arms dealer, the devotion to Burnham, the willingness to eat alien food without knowing what it is (and then spitting it out when she realizes it’s an endangered species), the lack of judgment in going to the space opium den, and her keeping it together while high when she needs to report that the drone is really a bomb.
For pure fangooberish glee, I loved watching Georgiou beat up L’Rell in the brig, not because I enjoyed watching her pick on a prisoner, but because I will never get tired of watching Michelle Yeoh do choreographed fighting, at which she is one of the best humans in the world.
It was really nice to see Amanda again, and the scene with her and Burnham was lovely. Amanda has not been served well by the screen versions of Trek—it’s been left to tie-in fiction to flesh her out, since on screen she’s been barely more than a cipher, either portrayed simplistically, ignored completely (we’ve seen a lot more of Sarek than Amanda on screen), or fridged to give Spock and Sarek angst. Discovery is still guilty of focusing way more on Sarek’s role in raising Burnham than Amanda, but Amanda at least hasn’t been forgotten: from the mention of the copy of Alice in Wonderland that Amanda gave her back in “Context is for Kings” all the way to Burnham thanking her for reminding her how to be human in this episode.
The entire crew literally standing up to Cornwell when they find out the real plan is a crowning moment of awesome very much like when everyone came to Tyler’s table in the mess last week. And Burnham and Saru reaffirming what are supposed to be Starfleet core values is a joy to see.
What’s not a joy is that they had to reaffirm it in the first place. I was iffy on Georgiou being put in charge of Discovery at the end of last week, and it makes even less sense now. She’s just shoved in charge with no oversight, no guidance—if Cornwell had stayed on board to supervise, that would’ve been one thing. Then I could see using Georgiou as a symbol to galvanize the crew and the fleet. But to just leave her on her own? It’s a disaster, especially since Georgiou does more to prove Spock’s point in “Mirror, Mirror” right: it is much more difficult for a barbarian to pose as a civilized person than the other way ’round. She bites off the heads of both Detmer and Owokusen when they give reports, and she treats Saru with unconcealed disdain. (To Saru’s credit, he gives as good as he gets.)
The evil admiral trope is a tired one in Star Trek. We didn’t get much of it in the original series—admirals were also rarely seen, just occasionally giving an order or three—but it went into overdrive in the spinoffs, especially TNG. We’ve had admirals who collaborate with bad guys from Cardassians to Son’a, who start witch hunts on the Enterprise, who are in bed with Section 31, and so on. Now we can add Cornwell and the rest to the list. Sigh. Sarek, too, for that matter, whose half-assed apology for his role in implementing the plan to have Georgiou, not map the surface of Qo’noS with a drone, but rather blow up Qo’noS, is pathetic.
But why did anyone think this was a good idea? Or that it would even work? Why was the emperor of a despotic multisystem empire given free rein over the starship you’re counting on to win your war with a Hail Mary? And then, when Burnham talks sense into Cornwell (which was at once very convincing, because Cornwell’s actually been portrayed as sensible up until now, but also completely unconvincing because she’s a damned admiral, and a bunch of subordinates standing up on a ship shouldn’t convince her to do anything different), why do they just let Georgiou go? On what planet, in what star system, in what galaxy, in what friggin’ universe does that make anything like sense? (You realize, Georgiou will be running the Orion Syndicate inside a week, yeah?)
Tyler decides to leave, too, and I’m sorry, why does a prisoner get to make that decision and only tell the unranked specialist and the cadet about it? Tyler’s an asset that has already proven to be useful to Starfleet. His ass should be back on the ship and sent to Earth for the longest debrief ever. And how long is he going to last as L’Rell’s Wormtongue anyhow? The novelty of the waterskiing dog’ll wear off in a damn hurry.
Burnham coming full circle is decently done, but it feels contrived. It shouldn’t have been all Burnham, for one thing. Tilly’s the one who uncovered Georgiou’s plan, but at that point, Saru, as acting captain of the ship, should’ve been the one to confront Cornwell, not the disgraced specialist who’s forbidden from even having rank, and who’s also the idiot who brought Georgiou to this universe in the first place like a sentimental dumbass.
Having said that, I have no problem—given the actual events of the episode—that Burnham’s pardoned (I like that it’s a presidential pardon), her rank restored. And the solution itself was both very Federation and very Klingon. McCoy mentioned to Kirk in The Search for Spock after he blew up the Enterprise that he took defeat and turned it into an opportunity for victory, and Burnham does that here. Georgiou already dropped the bomb, so she gives it to L’Rell, and lets her use it.
That’s another thing I liked in the episode, by the way, that L’Rell—who has been content to remain behind the scenes aiding T’Kuvma, Kol, and Voq—finds herself in the position of power. She’s the one who reunites the Houses, and she does it with a Federation bomb. End the war and reunite or I’ll blow up the planet. This is not a permanent solution, of course, but it was never going to be, because we know that tensions between the Federation and the empire will escalate to another war in a decade’s time in “Errand of Mercy.”
(For those who wish to complain that a woman shouldn’t be able to control the sexist empire, keep in mind that, while Gowron said in the 24th century that women couldn’t serve on the High Council, we’ve already seen a female chancellor in the 23rd century in Azetbur. Nobody batted an eyelash at Azetbur in The Undiscovered Country, so obviously the law Gowron mentioned was implemented in the eight decades between the sixth movie and “Redemption.” Your humble reviewer’s theory has always been that Azetbur’s successor was hugely reactionary, and passed that law in an extreme response to Azetbur’s rule, probably with a slogan to make Qo’noS great again.)
And then, finally, because Discovery is never happier than when they’re giving us a gee-whiz ending, we get a distress call from Captain Pike and the U.S.S. Enterprise while they’re en route to Vulcan to pick up their new captain. (And why the hell isn’t Saru getting command??????) We don’t get to find out what this will actually mean until 2019, of course…
Now, unlike many who are fulminating about this online, I have no problem with the Big E getting the same update as everything else on Discovery. We are not Thermians watching historical documents, we’re watching interpretations of what we think the future will look like. I’ve seen Macbeth on stage dozens of times, and the set decoration was different every time. Nobody went on Facebook and complained that the production they saw in London had totally different costumes and sets than the one they saw in New York.
In the 1960s, we thought the future was going to look like what we saw on the original series, and in 2018, we now know they were wrong. (Pike’s crew brought reports via printout! Heck, even TNG‘s padds and interfaces look dated thirty years on.)
Having said that, why even open the can of worms? It’s yet another distraction giving people something extraneous to the story to complain about, and keeping the focus away from the actual stories you’re telling.
As always, Sonequa Martin-Green is amazing, even though she inexplicably gets to deliver a speech during the medal ceremony. (And yay, Tilly’s an ensign now!) She sells Burnham’s earnestness, her regret, her passion. In the end, she gets to do exactly what Lorca asked her to do, even though he was full of shit when he challenged her: she started the war, now she gets to help end it.
Later this week, I’ll be doing an overview of the whole season, and look for another overview of Discovery tie-in fiction later this month.
Keith R.A. DeCandido will be a guest at Planet Comic-Con in Kansas City this weekend. He’ll be at the Bard’s Tower table all weekend. Other guests include Discovery‘s Sonequa Martin-Green, fellow Trek scribes Melinda M. Snodgrass, Dayton Ward (author of the new Discovery novel Drastic Measures), Kevin Dilmore, Kevin J. Anderson, and Thomas Zahler, as well as fellow Bard’s Tower occupiers Jonathan Maberry, Quincy J. Allen, and Michelle Corsillo, plus a crapton of actors, writers, comics creators, and more.