Tor.com’s Emily Asher-Perrin said something wonderful on Twitter recently about Discovery that is particularly germane to the second season’s penultimate episode:
Hello, it is important to me that we praise one (of many) thing that #StarTrekDiscovery does better than any of the Treks before it: Tapping into the sheer joy that is just "Look at all these nerds solving puzzles together, they live for this shit"
— Emily Asher-Perrin (@use_theforce_em) March 29, 2019
Or, as Spock said so succinctly in “Perpetual Infinity“: “I like science.”
We get the entire Science Squad together in this one, as we not only have Stamets, Tilly, Spock, Burnham, and Saru, we’ve also got Jett Reno (yay Tig Notaro!), Number One (yay Rebecca Romijn!), and best of all, Queen Me Hani Ika Hali Ka Po from the Short Treks episode “Runaway” (yay Yadira Guevara-Prip!). The nerding is strong in this bunch—I particularly love when Po starts doing math by miming writing on the air in front of her, and Reno not only instantly knows what Po’s doing, but what figures out she’s “writing” in the air.
This is the second time we’ve called back to the Short Treks (“The Sound of Thunder” having previously served as a sequel to “The Brightest Star“), and the ship’s about to wind up in the far future, which suggests a tie-in with “Calypso.” We’ll find out next week. (No idea how they could tie in “The Escape Artist,” but one never knows.)
The latest signal appears over Xahea, and Tilly squees because she gets to be reunited with her buddy the queen. Everyone is rather surprised that Tilly is friends with a monarch who’s also a genius, but she’s beamed aboard. Tilly gives her a bowl of spumoni as a welcome-aboard gift, and Pike does her the honor of greeting her with her full name.
Quickly, Po’s recrystallization skills are put to use in being able to use the time crystal practically, and this is where we get the nerding out. Reno, Po, Tilly, Stamets, Spock, they all work together trying to figure out how to send Discovery to the future to keep it out of Control’s hands. It’s basically the same plan they had in “Perpetual Infinity,” but this time sending the whole ship forward with the Sphere data.
They have to do this because Burnham’s trick to blow up Discovery last week didn’t work. The Sphere remains incredibly protective of itself, so it kills the auto-destruct and puts up shields to keep the Enterprise from blowing it up the old-fashioned way.
As a result, we spend a whole lot of time with the crew abandoning ship only to unabandon it a few minutes later. Sigh.
This episode is the first of two parts, and like many two-parters, it suffers from being entirely buildup. Worse, though, is that a big chunk of the buildup is unnecessary, because the destruction doesn’t work—in exactly the way that pretty much any viewer with half a brain could figure out a week ago. Of course, that’s partly because the show is called Discovery, so they’re not likely to blow up the titular ship when it’s been renewed for a third season, but more fundamentally than that, the Sphere data has gone to extraordinary lengths to keep itself intact. It’s not gonna go boom without a fight.
However, we do get to spend some time on the bridge of the Enterprise, and this is a triumph of set design, as they have re-created the bridge in a manner that is consistent both with Discovery‘s aesthetic in particular and with early-21st-century notions of future technology in general, yet still look enough like the bridge we saw five decades ago to be believable.
Interestingly, the bridge crew doesn’t appear to match what we saw in “The Cage“: only Number One at helm. Yeoman Colt is listed as a guest star at the end, but she has no dialogue, and I’m honestly not sure who she was in the Enterprise scenes. But no sign of Tyler or Garrison or Boyce, at least not yet. Having said that, holy fuck, is Rebecca Romijn stellar as the ultra-competent and ultra-calm Number One. In contrast to the other science nerds, Number One is very calm and collected and makes sure that all the bases are covered. It’s a brilliant continuation of Majel Barrett’s original—who, you’ll recall, calmly set a phaser on overload rather than let herself, Pike, and Colt continue to be enslaved. Seriously, we need a miniseries that takes place on the Enterprise with Anson Mount, Romijn, and Ethan Peck. We just do.
While everyone’s running around getting ready for the big fight against Control’s Section 31 ships, we get lots of conversations and recorded messages, and these are where the episode shines. The plots may not always make sense, the science may be pulled directly out of the writers’ posteriors, but dammit, the character moments on this show land. Tilly’s reunion with Po, Michael’s farewell to Sarek and Amanda (whose presence on the ship makes no sense, but whatever), Pike’s benediction to the crew before returning to his proper command on the Big E, the meeting to discuss the crazy-ass plan, Po brainstorming (pausing to inform Georgiou that as queen, she made it a law that she doesn’t have to put up with any snark), Culber and Stamets showing that they’re each moving on with their lives, Reno volunteering to touch the time crystal and see visions of the future in order to facilitate the charging-up process (before leaving her to it, Stamets reassures her that he still doesn’t like her, and she smiles and says the feeling’s mutual), Georgiou bitching out Burnham for volunteering to go to the future all by herself (Burnham tartly declares that, if they survive all this, then Georgiou can talk to her about her “gaping character flaws”), and so on. Oh, and that great moment when Georgiou tells Pike who she really is and where she’s really from, and Pike makes it clear that he already knew. Because he’s just that awesome.
But the best part are the messages that folks record for their loved ones. The crew has decided to not let Burnham bounce to the future alone trailing Discovery on autopilot. Instead, they’re coming with her. (This includes Spock, which precludes to my mind an already-popular theory that Discovery will stay in the far future, thus enabling them to no longer contaminate the 23rd century with cooties, or whatever. While I have said all along that they would’ve been better off moving forward rather than doing a prequel, that toothpaste is already out of the tube, and trying to shove it back in will be exactly as messy as that sounds. By which I mean to say, I’m fairly certain the show’s gonna generally stay a 23rd century series.)
Before heading to their possible one-way trip to the far future, the crew records letters, and they’re a delight. Owosekun is obviously talking to her family from the Luddite colony, Detmer is talking to a friend? Lover? Family member? It’s not clear, but someone who helped her get through after her injuries. Stamets is obviously talking to a sibling, assuring them that Stamets wasn’t their parents’ favorite, “I was just louder.” Tilly’s and Saru’s messages are explicitly for her mother and his sister, respectively. What I love is that the bits with Owosekun and Detmer feel earned. They’re not major characters, but we’ve gotten bits and pieces throughout this season, notably in “New Eden” when we got Owosekun’s colonial background and learned that Detmer got her pilot’s license at the age of twelve, and it’s enough that we feel it when they dictate those letters.
For all that, there’s not a lot of there there. We’ve only got about ten minutes of actual useful plot, and a whole lot of emoting and talking. Mind you, the talking and emoting is good stuff, but it’s kind of at odds with the dozens of ships bearing down on Discovery and Enterprise and threatening to kill all life in the galaxy.
As with most two-parters, the setup is all well and good, but it can be seriously disappointing when the second part doesn’t live up to that setup. (Cf. “The Best of Both Worlds” Parts 1 & 2, “Favor the Bold” & “Sacrifice of Angels.”) Guess we’ll have to wait until next week to find out. We already know—from both Burnham’s and Reno’s touching of the time crystal—that there’s going to be a very nasty battle, including specifically that an undetonated photon torpedo gets lodged in the Enterprise saucer section. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that it’s gonna be important.
It’s also likely to be pretty action-packed, given how much of this part of the story was given over to the goodbyes and benedictions and emotional moments that are usually reserved for a season finale.
Keith R.A. DeCandido is amused that the Discovery season finale is airing on his 50th birthday.