I’d be lying if I said I was boldly going in to the season finale. The going has been pretty rough at times and with a series that’s proved itself so inept at delivering payoffs to its (often admittedly impressive) setups, part of me dreaded the thought of what such a series would do with a season finale to play with.
With Starfleet deciding to enact a plan concocted by a psychotic, massively racist genocidal maniac and given her command of the Federation’s most advanced starship, we’re way off the Rodenberry reservation here. We’re in territory that even Zack Snyder would be thinking was a little bit too much.
The pre-credits sequence sets the scene with Burnham’s growing unease at Georgiou being in command and Georgiou warning Burnham not to try and expose her or else she’ll wind up back in the brig. Speaking of the brig, after the opening credits we’re treated to one of Discovery’s hallmarks: a brutal torture scene as Georgiou kicks the crap out of L’Rell in an attempt to get her cooperation. Fortunately, after tiring of watching her ‘Captain’ deliver flying kicks to the prisoner’s head, Burnham suggests using VoqTyler instead. In another stroke of narrative convenience (&/or lazy writing), it turns out that Qo’noS is a teeny tiny planet so VoqTyler has no problem describing its entire geology with ease. Well, either that or little Voq was a huge geography nerd in Klingon Kindergarten.
In prepping for the mission, Georgiou selects another member of the crew to accompany the away team that now has to beam to the surface to release the reconnaissance drone, as wasn’t mentioned at all last week. Of course, it’s Tilly, because otherwise she’d have nothing to do, as usual. Remember when Georgiou walked Burnham off the bridge and warned her that the brig awaited anyone who tried to expose her true identity? It was only about ten minutes ago. Well, the first thing the Emperor-in-new-clothes does when Tilly joins the away team is tell her. Off to the brig with you, Phillipa! It’s this kind of careless disregard for character or story logic that’s blighted the series from day one and a further sign that if the series is ever to reach its potential, much of the writer’s room needs to be jettisoned.
Finally, though, the episode pulls off it’s big, tantalising set piece promised last week of spore-jumping inside a planet…in a special effects sequence so underwhelming, it almost makes what comes next look halfway good. Almost.
Despite being a world at war, the sudden appearance of a no doubt massive energy signature put out by an active warp core beneath the surface of the planet sets off no alarms whatsoever and the away team beam into Secret Cinema’s showing of “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”. Having taken the time to straighten Tilly’s hair for…reasons?…the away team arrive in the Orion embassy territory where, inexplicably, Federation citizens are tolerated despite this being a world in open conflict with the very same Federation. If ‘too-old-for-this-shit’ Murtaugh was content to revoke diplomatic immunity, I sincerely doubt the vicious tribal Klingons of “Star Trek: Discovery” would hesitate for a nanosecond.
Avoiding the fried Ceti eels (prone to get up inside ya, findin’ an entrance where they can), Georgiou makes a bee-line for the local brothel with a rapidity which would put even Zap Brannigan to shame. By the way, does it count in Trek Title Bingo if a character says the title of another “Star Trek” series’ episode? Asking for a friend.
The whole Orion sequence is a seedy, sordid time filler. A finale that needed to be vast and epic feels small and sleazy thanks to the decision to evoke Paradise City on Nimbus III. Not even the Clint Howard cameo redeems it, although it’s apt he’s in this because every part of the best little Orion whorehouse in Qo’noS is a load of Baloks. Tilly’s involvement inevitably brings some dischordant comedy which doesn’t fit with the tone or theme of the episode and makes it feel even more like “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”.
By this point, it’s clear the episode is as high as Tilly, swaggering with ill-deserved confidence towards some kind of twist ending, but I’m not sure I care anymore. There’s so little urgency to any of the characters actions on their field trip – when you consider that the Federation is under imminent threat of extermination – that it beggars belief that we, the audience, should give a toss either.
The reveal of the twist, that the plan wasn’t to map the inside of the planet in order to deliver a devastating military blow to the planet’s infrastructure but instead just deliver a bomb that will blow the whole thing apart relies on us ignoring the fact that Tilly believes the active volcanic system will be far too hot for the drone to survive yet a ‘hydro bomb’ will be safe and snug for weeks if not months. And how does a briefcase-sized bomb pack enough water to cause the catastrophic steam reaction anyway? There’s probably quite a lot of water on Qo’noS given it supports abundant life, so while in microcosm the idea behind the bomb makes sense, on a planetary scale, it’s just stupid.
At last, the episode makes a play for some genuine Star Trek idealism as Burnham threatens the second mutiny of her career (although it’s actually the first because whatever she did in “The Vulcan Hello”/ “Battle Of The Binary Stars”, there’s no way that was mutiny). But to quote Monty Python, the moment is ‘like a stream of bats’ piss: it shines out like a shaft of gold while all around is dark’. The call-back to the idea of Burnham’s mutiny also reminds us that the enduring motif of “Star Trek: Discovery” is that only Burnham is ever punished for her actions. Georgiou is allowed to go free (likely to be a recurring villain) as is VoqTyler while the Federation tacitly supports a terrorist coup by L’Rell. It’s profoundly ironic to see the sanctimonious L’Rell seize power and forcibly unite her people through threat and extortion and then start lecturing them on honour.
Having spent much of the episode aping “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”, it finally ends by homaging “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” as the charges against Burnham are dropped and she’s returned to duty. There’s a touching family reunion for Burnham but the series really, really hopes you’re willing to overlook that fact that Sarek – the Sarek , the one who functioned as the Federation’s conscience through many of the movies – signed off on a plan to annihilate an entire planet. The Starfleet Admiralty who likewise authorised the plan seemingly escape censure as well. If “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” made a virtue out of its characters’ dealing with the consequences of their decisions, “Star Trek: Discovery” seems to posit an alternative philosophy of just not giving a fuck who did what.
Given its fondness for quoting Shakespeare, I’d love to have been able to say nothing became the series like the ending of it but it didn’t. This flaccid, incident-free overly-talky final episode is not the finale we needed but it’s absolutely the one the series deserved. No Trek series has been so undeserving of a second season like this since “Star Trek: The Next Generation” limped to a freshman year close with “The Neutral Zone”. It’s complete and utter lack of confidence in its own story and its own merits in abundantly clear in its fan-servicing teaser of an ending. Of all the endings I have encountered in my Treks, this was the most…lame. And yes, I’m including the series finale of “Star Trek: Enterprise”.