One of the issues with the first season of Discovery is that it was very obviously written to be marathoned, but the show was actually released in a more traditional manner, with an episode a week and a mid-season break. Since The Service Formerly Known As CBS All Access wasn’t going to change their delivery method, subsequent seasons have adjusted to that model: still serialized, but written in such a way that it works well while consumed on a weekly basis.
Until now, anyhow.
The pacing of this season had actually been pretty good up until the last couple of weeks. We learned more and more about the DMA, we saw the coalition being built to deal with it, we learned more about Species 10C, and then we got to the race to get to 10C outside the galaxy.
Except it isn’t a race, it’s a slog. First we had to chase Book and Tarka, then we had to spend all of last week getting through the galactic barrier, something that took less than five minutes the previous three times it was seen, but took the better part of an hour in “The Galactic Barrier.” And now we’re taking another detour.
At least the fact that they’re taking the detour is a plot point. Both Rillak and Ndoye raise objections to Discovery buggering off to a planet that has apparently been abandoned by 10C to see if they can find a clue to how to communicate with them.
On the one hand, this makes sense. Just stumbling in without any kind of clue how to communicate with them is unwise, especially since they need a favor from them (to stop mining boronite in a manner that destroys entire worlds).
On the other hand, they’re on the clock. As Ndoye rather tartly reminds Burnham, they have limited time before Earth, Titan, and Ni’Var are screwed. They really don’t have time to waste. (Of course, Ndoye and Burnham taking the time to argue about it just wastes more time…)
What’s especially frustrating is that the story of this episode is quite compelling on its own. Discovery is at its best when the crew is science-ing the shit out of something, and that’s exactly what the away team does here. The planet is a gas giant that had some manner of catastrophe that led to 10C abandoning it, and transporters aren’t reliable, so Detmer flies them down in a shuttle that also includes Burnham, Saru, and Culber. They work their way through the ruins, and have to deal with a crisis when Saru starts to feel fear. Saru’s acting the way he did before the vahar’ai, which concerns Burnham and Culber greatly. But then the two of them also start to hallucinate and feel fear as well. But Detmer doesn’t.
It’s tremendous fun watching the four of them work through the problem, while three of them are also fighting their way through an externally induced fear.
Speaking of fun, we also have the triumphant return of Tig Notaro! Jett Reno is back on camera, snarky as ever, extolling the virtues of raktajino and giving Adira advice on how to approach Detmer as a friend. Adira admires how cool Detmer is under pressure and wants to get to know her better. Reno points out that Detmer’s nowhere near as cool as she presents, remembering what a mess she was when they first arrived in the thity-second century. The scene at the end when Adira joins Detmer at a table in the mess hall is an absolute delight, and it’s good to see people forming just regular friendships, not just trying to couple up, as it were.
Because the main plot of figuring out how 10C communicates—and it seems to be via hallucinogenic dust—isn’t enough to fill an hour, we also get more hijinks with Tarka and Book. They’re trying to sneak into 10C’s domain by attaching themselves to Discovery without Zora detecting them and—I gotta tell you, I’m already bored just describing this incredibly pointless side plot, which is mostly there to justify David Ajala’s place in the opening credits and to fill time.
Oh, and to give us a cliffhanger. Book and Tarka have to board Discovery to make their plot work, which is incredibly risky and stupid, and then Reno catches Tarka and Tarka has to kidnap her back to Book’s ship. Which is where the episode ends. (“Nothing like coming home to an unexpected hostage, am I right?” Reno drawls to Book when he finds out what happened, after which we cut to the credits.)
The biggest problem here—besides just generally that it’s taking forever to get to 10C already—is that the entire episode has absolutely no sense of urgency. This is the second time since the show came back from a break to have a dual director credit. Both this episode and “All In” had one person credited as director in the pre-publicity material (Christopher J. Byrne three weeks ago, Jeff Byrd this week), but the episode itself is credited to both that person and also Jen McGowan. This is a bit concerning, and may in this case indicate why the episode just feels off.
There are other bits of side business besides Adira and Detmer. Rillak takes Doctor Hirai aside and tells him that he needs to be less snotty. Hirai, for his part, doesn’t seem all that interested, but it’s nice to see Rillak insisting that the diplomatic delegation actually behave like professionals. As much fun as it is to see Hiro Kanagawa snark as Hirai, there’s something to be said for professional decorum. Besides, Discovery is already well stocked with smartasses, we don’t really need another.
In addition, T’Rina invites Saru for a walk on the holodeck while they’re in transit from to 10C, which results in significant looks of amused approval from Burnham and Stamets.
Book also tries to talk Ndoye into helping him and Tarka out, and I like that Ndoye’s response isn’t to go along with it—but it isn’t to not go along with it, either. She wants to give diplomacy a chance, but wants Book and Tarka’s nuclear option to be a viable backup plan. While this is a much less Trekkish notion than Rillak and Burnham’s plan of communication, it’s a smarter tactical one.
“Rosetta” has its heart in the right place, and I appreciate that Burnham is trying to find a way to communicate properly with 10C, which is very much the right thing to do on the face of it. But it’s yet another detour on the road to meeting up with the people who created the DMA, and we really need to have met them already. Were this season being dropped all at once, that would be one thing, but as viewers we’ve been waiting for a month. Enough, already! Let’s get there!
Keith R.A. DeCandido has stories in the recent and upcoming anthologies Devilish and Divine (“Unguarded” about a young boy with conflicting guardian angels), Phenomenons: Every Human Creature (“The Light Shines in the Darkness” about a superhero in the Bronx), The Fans are Buried Tales (“The Carpet’s Tale” about the infamous Marriott carpets), Three Time Travelers Walk Into… (“What You Can Become Tomorrow” about Mary Shelley, Josh Gibson, and Katherine Johnson), and Tales of Capes and Cowls (“Smells Like Teen Spirit” about the investigation into the murder of a teen superhero).