As this season’s grand over-arching plot continues to intrigue, the ‘story of the week’ is so resolutely Roddenberryian that it almost collapses under the weight of its own pure Trekness to form a super-dense Star Trek singularity as science and faith square up for yet another title match.
When another red burst is detected by the Discovery, Captain Pike is frustrated to learn that it’s some 50,000 light years distant – until, that is, he remembers the spore drive. Sure that Starfleet will back him, he orders the crew to jump to the source of the signal where they are astonished to discover a human colony thriving on the surface of Terralysium, definitely where no man has gone before.
Once again, Discovery’s search for Spock is delayed yet another week, although not for lack of Burnham trying. It turns out, Spock flew over the cuckoo’s nest and checked himself into the federation’s foremost mental health facility due to the visions of the red bursts which have haunted him since childhood. There’s an infuriating moment when Pike asks Burnham to feel free to share any information she believes may be relevant and Burnham opts not to, proving that whatever character growth she has achieved, she’s definitely not yet learned from her mistakes.
Luckily, the new red burst interrupts her one to one with Pike and they’re soon off on the Trekiest of Trek adventures ever made.
You see, the colony they discover is as near as dammit to Space Amish, their ancestors having been transported to this world some 200 years ago at the outbreak of World War III (now postponed from the original 1996 to 2057, presumably due to Captains Braxton and Janeway’s shenanigans) while they were in their church by – get this – a glowing red angel.
Pike quickly determines the Prime Directive should apply then promptly has himself, Burnham and Lieutenant Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo) beamed down to the centre of town. I mean, I know they probably checked nobody was actually about but if a massive amber glowy thing appeared in the middle of my yard, I’d probably at least glance out of the window. To be fair, by the end of the episode he decides what the hell and deliberately breaks the directive anyway, because it may further his investigation of the red bursts. I wonder if Pike’s willingness to bend, break or ignore rules in pursuit of his goal will become something of a subplot throughout the season?
As if the classic Trek thought experiment of faith versus science wasn’t enough (one of the villagers is not a believer and has continued to secretly keep the colony’s distress beacon going as his forebears had done), the episode throws in yet another classic plotline of the primitive population threatened by a natural disaster, in this case debris from the planet’s rings falling from orbit and decimating the surface. Fortunatley, they’ve set up a solution for that too as Tilly’s ongoing experiments with the asteroid from last week yield a potential and very TNG-esque solution.
It’s a quiet, thoughtful episode of Trek of the kind we may have thought wouldn’t be made anymore in the tarnished wake of the Kelvinverse and it’s another firm step in Discovery’s deliberate course-correction from the bleakness and unrelenting edginess of season one and it strikes just the right balance between its story of the week and dropping tantalising breadcrumbs of the larger mystery. What is the red angel and why did it (or they) transport the humans there in the first place? Did they use the red burst again to summon Discovery to take care of the falling space debris? Whereas in season one I couldn’t wait for the Klingon war to be over because it bored me rigid, I can’t wait to find out what the deal is with this galactic scavenger hunt because it’s – as Spock will hopefully eventually say – fascinating.
It is, I guess, par for the course that Starfleet’s absolute one hundred per cent ban on using the spore drive again seems like it will be as effective and long-lasting as the warp speed limitations they’d implement some 113 years later but it makes sense that if Discovery is going to be investigating the rest of these bursts, it needs to bust out it’s ‘fast travel’ McGuffin again.
It’s great to see one of Discovery’s bridge crew getting a chance to stretch their legs – perhaps in a future episode, they’ll actually get to do something and maybe even enjoy a spot of character development. Speaking of which, by the end of the episode, Burnham finally confides in Pike and tells him about the red angel she saw on the USS Hiawatha and Pike decides to overlook this latest example of Burnham’s inability to not withhold vital information from her commanding officer, whomever that may be.
It’s just one of those “Star Trek: Discovery” things I’m learning to live with, like the gravitational character lensing which still seems to be in effect making everything bend around Burnham, pushing her in front of other characters even when it doesn’t make sense. Why does Pike as his science officer who should be on the landing party? That’s definitely the first officer’s job and if Saru’s threat ganglia were connected to his career aspirations, they would have been vibrating like a hummingbird’s wings at that point. Still, Saru does get to demonstrate how well he’s adapted to command, proving to be a wise and supportive commanding officer. It’ll be interesting to see if Tilly follows the lead of her role model and opts not to inform anyone that she, like Stamets, has developed a sixth sense and now sees (and converses with) dead people. You can add the mysterious connection between dark matter and the mycelial network to the growing menu of mouth-watering plotlines season two has provided. I only hope that in using the asteroid to solve the orbital decay problem, Tilly hasn’t lost all of her samples to further her work and free Stamets from the spore drive.
It’s a near pure Star Trek episode, closer than anything we’ve had for nearly fifteen years and proves that “Star Trek: Discovery” has the capability to blend the new with the familiar and come up trumps. One final thought, which occurred to me when we see that Pike has redecorated Lorca’s ready room: does that make Captain Kirk the only commanding officer who never had a ready room? He did all his business from the Captain’s chair or in a regular meeting room. I bet it’s because he had NSFW Orion Slave Girl posters on the walls.