There is a lot to like about the second-season finale of Discovery. It’s a massive thrill ride, with lots of action and adventure and which finally tells us where the signals came from.
And then we get to the ending, and I found it incredibly frustrating and irritating, and not just because Ethan Peck looks incredibly creepy without the beard…
Okay, let’s start with the good stuff: I was completely gripped by the action in this episode. Whether the space battle involving the Enterprise and Discovery (and later L’Rell’s flagship and the Kelpien/Ba’ul fleet) against Control’s drones, Georgiou and Nhan’s leading Zombie Leland on a merry chase through Discovery‘s corridors, Cornwell, Pike, and Number One trying to disarm the photon torpedo stuck in the hull, or Burnham and Spock trying to get their red angel suit to work right, the script by Michelle Paradise, Jenny Lumet, & Alex Kurtzman and the directing by Olatunde Osunsami kept me on the edge of my seat for an hour.
Character moments were not sacrificed, either—sometimes at the expense of good sense, as I gotta wonder why Spock and Burnham had to go on quite so long about how much they meant to each other when people were getting blow’d up and stuff a short distance away. Still, it was good to see them parting on good terms—the sibling relationship between these two has been a high point of this season—and in particular I love that her final bit of advice to him boiled down to, “put up with Dr. McCoy when you meet him.” Po got a lovely little moment in the sun, and I loved Tilly saving the day by getting the shields raised via a technique she first performed at the Academy while drunk and blindfolded. (“Somebody owes me a beer.”) Saru quoting Sun-Tzu, and Georgiou commenting on it, was fantastic. The snottiness-under-pressure of both Jett Reno and Dr. Pollard was a delight. (I loved Pollard’s response to Saru telling her to do her best: “No, I’m gonna do a half-assed job, because now’s the perfect time…”) And the final reconciliation between Culber and Stamets was heartening to see, if a bit rushed.
I was sorry to see Cornwell go, sacrificed on the altar of bad ship design (seriously, how is there only an emergency bulkhead lowering lever on one side of that bulkhead????), but watching the self-sacrifice to save others, knowing what fate awaits him in the future, was a good character moment for Pike.
My desire for them to do something (miniseries, movie, one-shot, Short Trek, whatever) with Pike, Number One, and Spock on the Enterprise has only increased with this final episode in which they played a major role, despite Peck’s beardless creepiness. (Seriously, the face fuzz softens his features tremendously.) Rebecca Romijn in particular did stellar work as the preternaturally calm, only slightly snarky Number One (especially in comparison to the high-level snark we get from so many other characters on this show). And we still don’t know her name, but I think after 53 years, to actually reveal it would be anticlimactic.
However, Number One is my main reason for wanting more of this Enterprise’s adventures. We know what happens to Pike and Spock, but we haven’t the first clue what happens to Number One (or Colt, Boyce, Amin, Mann, Nicola, et al), and there’s stories to be told, dagnabbit! Hell, I was hoping that this season would end with Number One being made captain of Discovery, but that obviously did not happen…
I love the way they tied everything together with Burnham being the one to actually send the signals. It all really did fit, too. The Hiawatha rescue enabled them to bring Reno on board, whose engineering skills were vital to their efforts. (Plus, y’know, she’s fabulous.) Terralysium was the same planet where Gabrielle Burnham wound up, and it needed to be saved from the asteroid bombardment. Their actions on Kaminar led to the Ba’ul/Kaminar fleet that rode to everyone’s rescue alongside the Klingons. Boreth got them the time crystal they needed, and Xahea got them Po’s engineering expertise. The final two signals were Burnham directing Discovery to find her through the wormhole, and to let Enterprise know they’re safe.
The Mighty Mouse moment when L’Rell’s flagship and the Ba’ul ships led by Saru’s sister Siranna was glorious. Mary Chieffo was obviously having a grand old time leading folks into battle, though I have to wonder about what political capital it cost L’Rell, in particular having the disgraced (by Klingon standards) Tyler/Voq by her side. And there’s a story to be told as to how Siranna went from high priest to someone who flies fighter ships. (Doug Jones magnificently delivered Saru’s stunned, “You—have learned to pilot a fighter.”)
And then we get to the ending.
I get that most of this season has been the writers trying to fix the problems of season one. But they took it a bit too far at the end there.
Not with Discovery’s fate. I have no problem with them being sent to the future to save the galaxy from Control wiping out all sentient life. Though we still don’t know how successful they were, since they went into the wormhole and we don’t know what happened next, and we won’t until season three debuts—um, whenever.
I’m even on board with the notion that they can’t come back home and will be stuck in the future. Doing Discovery as a prequel was always a notion fraught with storm and tempest, as it were, and jumping ahead a century or ten might do some good.
But they overdid it. They spent the last ten minutes of air time with Pike, Number One, Spock, and Tyler going to great lengths to “correct” problems that didn’t need fixing. “We’ll never talk about Discovery again.” “We’ll never talk about the spore drive again.” “We’ll never talk about Michael Burnham again.” Just Michael? What about Saru? Detmer? Owosekun? Stamets? Culber? Pollard? Are they all being wished into the cornfield on the altar of whiny fangoobers who need to know why Spock never talked about Michael Burnham before?
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. Spock never told anyone who his parents were until they were standing next to him on the Enterprise. Spock never told anyone he was engaged to be married until he was biologically compelled to return to Vulcan, and even then he had to practically be put in a headlock before he’d talk about it. Spock never told anyone he had a half-brother until he was standing next to him on the Enterprise. An open book, Spock ain’t.
Also why did Pike and the gang lie and say Discovery was destroyed? It makes no sense, especially since we’re dealing with time travel. Yes, they all went knowing it was likely to be a one-way trip, but this is Star Trek we’re talking about, a show where people routinely go on suicide missions and don’t die. It’s perfectly possible, in the abstract, that they’ll figure out a way to come back home. Then the fact that the four of them have lied to Starfleet will come out.
It probably won’t, because they’re obviously catering to the whiniest segment of Trek fandom and heavily classifying the entire “red angel” affair as well as Discovery’s very existence. They already had a way of explaining why we haven’t seen the spore drive in later iterations of Trek by showing the damage it’s doing to the mycelial network and the lifeforms that live there. That explanation would fit in with Trek’s compassionate worldview. But no, we have to bury it completely and never speak of it again on penalty of treason. Great. Now if we can just find out what happened to transwarp drive and the soliton wave drive, we’ll be golden…
The entire ending in San Francisco is painstakingly constructed, and you can see the strings. The characters don’t feel like they’re acting like themselves, but rather acting in a particular manner in order to satisfy an agenda, one that is utterly unnecessary and tiresome.
What’s worse is that, from a story perspective, the entire thing isn’t actually necessary. Georgiou was able to destroy Control by luring Zombie Leland into the spore drive and magnetizing it. At that point, the Section 31 ships all went dead. Control had been stopped—so why were they still going into the future? At the very least, some lip-service should have been paid to the notion that Control was still out there, copied somewhere else. Because without that, the whole thing is just pointless. If the idea is to keep the Sphere Data out of Control’s hands, but Control’s dead, why bother?
It’s frustrating, because the episode had been going very nicely up to that point. The space battle action was exciting (if a little too two-dimensional at times), everybody had something to do, the pacing was strong, the acting was excellent. Anson Mount, in what is likely his swan song at least on this show as Pike, remains the concerned center of everything. What I particularly love about his performance in general and his work on this finale in particular is that he feels everything. You see every emotion etched on his face. It’s why his Pike has been such a compelling part of this season, because Pike lets you into his feelings, whether it’s regret at Cornwell’s death, surprise at Po participating in the battle, sadness at losing his second family on the Discovery, or pride at seeing Spock back in uniform and on the bridge.
But the center is Michael Burnham, and after a season that had a bit too many emotional gut-punches and anguished expressions on Sonequa Martin-Green’s face, in this finale, she antes up and kicks in. Burnham is entirely focused on doing what needs to be done to save everybody. One thing I noticed at the end of part one last week, when we got closeups of everyone as the 31 armada was approaching. Most everyone looked apprehensive or concerned. The exceptions were Spock and Burnham. They both looked serene and content. They had decided on a course of action, and dadgummit, they were committed to it and would make it work. Both of them spent the majority of this episode putting the plan into action, working with efficiency and determination. One of the hallmarks of both Spock as we’ve seen him for five decades and Burnham as we’ve seen her for two seasons is that they will see their course of action through once they set their mind to it, whether it’s dealing with the Klingon sarcophagus ship, faking her way through the Mirror Universe, kidnapping his former captain and sending him to Talos IV, saving the ship from destruction via self-sacrifice, or letting herself get killed in order to lure the red angel.
Now we’ve got Discovery heading to the future, and, as Spock said, we have no idea what the future will hold. After a thrill-ride of a final episode, we have a particularly powerful cliffhanger, because we have no idea what will be happening next, not what the show will be about, not when the show will take place. But we do know it will be with these compelling characters, and that alone is worth looking forward to.
I’ll be back next week with a second-season overview.
Keith R.A. DeCandido turned fifty yesterday, and ended a lovely day of celebrating with watching this finale.