Yea, though I sat Through The Valley Of Shadows, I will hear no more of time crystals: for thou art peak Discovery; thy plot and thy writing staff they discomfit me. Star Trek: Discovery (S2E12) Review
Kicking off what seems to be a loose three-part season finale, we start with a new episode of Michael Burnham’s ‘My Two Moms’ before we plunge right into the action and by action, I mean a meeting. Having decided not to join Georgiou in hunting for Ctrl+Alt-Leland, the crew of Discovery have turned their attention back to the still-unexplained [*cough* it’ll be Burnham *cough*] red bursts. The next one on the list happens to have appeared just above Borath, home to the Klingon monastery where Tyler played ding-dong-ditch with his and L’Rell’s baby.
In order to gain safe passage through Klingon space (even though they spore jump there), the Discovery rendezvous with L’Rell’s shiny new D-7 battlecruiser (lovely ship design) but not before there’s a heart to heart between Burnham and Tyler where the former lectures the latter over withholding information and irony meters across the country blow up. Conveniently, it turns out that Borath not only has a monastery which is open to receiving abandoned children no-questions-asked but also to a powerful and mystical mineral which has the power to transcend space and time itself called *checks notes*… time crystals.[Wait – are we sure? Time crystals? The name the crew came up with on the spur of the moment to functionally describe them just happens to be what the Klingons – who have built a religion around them – call them too? *shrugs*]
So while Pike volunteers for certain doom™ by beaming down alone to the monastery where no visitor has ever returned with a crystal before, Burnham picks up on a potential clue – that is in no way a transparently obvious trap – concerning a Section 31 ship and determines to go off in hot pursuit. Fortunately, she only has to get Saru’s permission and as we’ve established, but the show’s writers just have to remind us because they assume we’re morons, thanks to his recent pubertal epiphany jdgaf anymore, so off she goes with Spock following her on some damn fool crusade.[Seriously – we’re really just going with time crystal then?]
It’s here the episode branches out into Discovery’s trademark parallel storylines again, although this fork has a teeny tiny third tine as Jett Reno pops up again to give some much-needed relationship advice to Culber and Stamets. The Discovery producers really need to tie Tig Notaro down to a permanent contract and elevate her to principle cast next season because every time she’s on screen is an absolute goddamn delight. Make her Chief Engineer and I guarantee nobody will care who’s in the centre seat on the bridge next season.
Back on Borath and blue is the colour as the ‘Timekeepers’ [*sigh*] test Pike’s resolve with a relentless series of temporal puns before telling him it is forbidden and therefore impossible for him to come into contact with the…time crystals. In a twist, it turns out the head Timekeeper is L’Rell & Tyler’s son because time works differently around the crystals (although not in a way that the writers care to explain) and in another twist, it turns out that what was forbidden and impossible turns out to be super easy; barely an inconvenience and Pike is shown to the time crystal showroom.
Like the MCU’s Soul Stone, the time crystals demand a sacrifice, a vision of a future which becomes inevitable if the time crystal is taken. Now, fans of Trek will know that Pike’s future isn’t one you’d necessarily want to know more of in advance and now Captain Pike knows that too. However, the fact he has foreknowledge of his destiny and yet stays resolute in word and deed impresses the Timekeepers so much they allow him to keep the stone and leave in peace. Anson Mount, throughout this sequence, is absolutely superb. We really will miss him when he’s gone.
Meanwhile, Burnham and Spock have discovered it’s a small fleet after all, because they drop out of warp into a sea of floating corpses, only one of whom shows any life signs and just happens to be someone Burnham knows from her days aboard the USS Shenzhou. Surprise, surprise, it’s all a trap to kidnap and ‘assimilate’ Burnham but it’s grating because here we have two of Trek’s most intelligent characters – Spock and Burnham – being too easily fooled by a breathtakingly obvious Trojan Horse trick. Thankfully, when it comes to the mandatory #action scene, the hyper-intelligent, super-advanced AI is an inexplicably poor shot with a phaser. A few magnetic high-jinks later and Control’s Nanobots are dust on the floor.
Once everyone is back on discovery and Reno and Stamets are ‘researching’ the…Time Crystal –[Really?]– they realise Control’s desire to get to Burnham makes her important in the fight to come. This, just as they detect approaching ships from every direction – nearly the whole Section 31 fleet (I’m guessing the ‘nearly’ is to allow room for Georgiou to deus ex machina again at some point in the next two episodes) is converging on their location. Rejecting Pike’s suggestion they run, Burnham’s alternative is a doozy – blow up the ship. It’s somewhat premature given the series has established the spore drive can transport the ship tens of thousands of light years almost instantly which would mean they could outrun Section 31’s conventional warp fleet for months but this is “Star Trek: Discovery” and if there’s a range of decisions on offer, you can always count Burnham to pick the very worst one. Still, it does give us an ‘abandon ship’ cliffhanger.
There’s a real duality to this week’s episode, and not just in the two parallel storylines, showcasing the best and worst of what the show is capable of. Spock and Burnham’s leaping into and easily escaping from Control’s obvious trap does both characters a disservice as they’re used to pad out a run time so that – in all probability – two episode’s worth of story can be stretched into three. By contrast, the bleak loneliness of Pike’s fateful revelatory vision is a tragic masterstroke and not only brings enormous depth and pathos to the character now but profoundly enhances the Original Series story “The Menagerie”, adding so much more emotional weight and motivational authenticity to Spock’s decision to mutiny in order to help Pike one last time.
But these moments shine out like [ugh] time crystals in the dull, rough rockface of the series’ lazy and inconsistent writing. ‘Time Crystals’ is some egregious placeholder writing bullshit that shouldn’t have made it past the first draft and while there’s more than enough room for trans-temporal mysticism in Star Trek canon, the idea that the Klingon Empire had within its control a quasi-magical weaponizable time-travel power source which was never used, even once, by many of the ruthless or corrupt despots who ruled the Empire during its many wars just doesn’t make any kind of sense. I mean we’re talking about a race who literally resurrected their version of Jesus by cloning for political advantage.
“Star Trek: Discovery” could have introduced a brand-new race, or linked back to any one of the omniscient races which littered the Original Series or The Next Generation. It might even have been fun for it to turn out the Klingon monastery had in its possession a Bajoran Orb rather than a magical fix-all MacGuffin with a terrible ‘make-something-better-up-later’ name. This would have been an average to poor episode but the Pike storyline salvaged it (despite the dumbly named temporal glowsticks) and the cast continues to crush it despite the shoddy scripts.