Having teased action in the previous two episodes, showrunner Alex Kurtzman finally blows his load (and his special effects budget and, later, his remaining credibility) on an impossibly messy, Jackson Pollock-esque space battle and gratuitous hand to hand combat scenes in a frantic attempt to cover for the fact that very little actually happens in this flashy and pyrotechnic but desperately hollow season finale.
With Section 31’s fleet having ‘surrounded’ the Enterprise and Discovery, the race is on to charge the time crystal, finish the replacement Red Angel suit and get Discovery back to the future before Control/ Alt-Leland can get his hands on the sphere data. Think ‘Sixty Minute Makeover’. In Space. With bad writing.
Despite all the set-up, it still requires a childish taunt from Georgiou to actually get the party started. In an episode full of badly written, bombastic dialogue, Georgiou’s verbal sparring with Leland is the worst, a first draft taken straight in front of the camera.
Having learned his Trek trade at the knee of arch-Trek corrupter JJ Abrams, Kurtzman brings his Star Wars sensibilities clumsily to bear on Star Trek combat once again. Star Trek has never been fertile ground for starfighter battles – it’s always relied on capital ship battles. It’s why “Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan” works so well – it understands the form and conventions of starship to starship combat and why this impossibly messy battle just ends up as so much background noise. It’s not only hard to see exactly what’s going on but it’s also impossible to care as two swarms of indistinguishable drones annihilate each other.
Meanwhile, in amongst this maelstrom of phaser fire, both the Enterprise and Discovery endure an unfeasible amount of damage without suffering from too many ill effects. It’s a far cry from the Enterprise-D’s warp-core-breach-at-the-drop-of-a-hat habits. Good job too, because the modernised recreation of the classic USS Enterprise interior is so good that it would be a shame to have it trashed so soon. The episode’s big surprises are, as per “Star Trek: Discovery” convention, anything but. Certainly, the arrival of the Klingon fleet was obvious from the moment Tyler requested permission for a personal errand although admittedly the arrival of the Kelpian armada is unexpected, even if it does raise disturbing questions about what exactly the Kelpians have done with the Ba’ul without really having any other narrative payoff.
Amidst all the time-filling action, the writers drop in bits and pieces of leftover character development as they clean out the narrative fridge before the intra-season hiatus. We get a ‘death bed’ reconciliation between Stamets and Culber and there’s a cringingly unsuccessful attempt to create some kind of rapport between Number One (the underused Rebecca Romijn) and Admiral Cornwell. It’s linked to a subplot where an undetonated photon torpedo has lodged itself into the Enterprise’s saucer section so, of course, they send the ex-counsellor Admiral Cornwell to defuse it. It ultimately ends in a sacrifice so lame and seemingly unnecessary that it smacks of a contract not being renewed for season 3 rather than any real character motivation. It also suggests, quite heavily, that Starfleet should consider making all of their starships out of whatever material that blast door was made of.
There’s a gratuitous homage to “Inception” as Leland manages to board Discovery only to find he can’t actually locate or access the sphere data anyway (if that’s the case, why all the fussin’ and the fuedin’?) and instead has to settle for a fistfight with Georgiou and Nhan which culminates in Leland’s defeat by magnetism in a move that feels so easy you wonder why they didn’t just hatch a plan to lure him into the trap in the first place instead of sending Discovery into the future.
Meanwhile, while everyone else is fighting for their lives, Burnham and Spock realise that the way to save the day is for Burnham to go full “Shades Of Grey” on Discovery Season 2, thereby salvaging my prediction that Burnham would be the Red Angel in a pre-destination paradox style. Having finally levelled up and unlocked the suit’s forward travelling abilities, the stage is set for Burnham’s biggest moment yet as she drags her friends into the future on a one-way trip. There are shades of “Ender’s Game” in the visuals at this point and while the battle has mostly been messy, it would be churlish to suggest there aren’t a few moments of real visual splendour in amongst the CGI overkill.
There’s a nice callback to “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” as Discovery enters the time warp and there’s a nice scene of Tilly in a Jeffries Tube fixing the shields earlier that feels quintessentially Star Trek but it’s once Discovery has vanished through the black hole to its uncertain (but not that uncertain given series three has been commissioned) future that the episode really drops the ball.
Alex Kurtzman declared that this season would reconcile all of the fans’ continuity problems and explain Discovery’s place in the wider Trek canon. It turns out that his grand idea to reconcile all the contradictions was that the entire crew of the USS Enterprise as well as several members of the Vulcan diplomatic corps, the entire Kelpian race and the Klingon High Council would simply pinky-swear never to talk about Michael Burnham, the spore drive, the Discovery or any of the events of the past two years ever again. Also, good luck getting Harcourt Fenton Mudd to keep his trap shut. Given how egregiously central to everything that happened to Starfleet and the Alpha Quadrant Michael Burnham has been over the past two seasons, expunging her from official records seems problematic at best. Hey, do you remember that massive war between the Federation and the Klingons? Oh yeah. How did that start again? *shrugs*
It’s the ultimate in lazy writing, reconciling the timeline by making everyone pretend the inconsistencies never happened. While the placement of Discovery a thousand years into the future raises interesting possibilities for Season 3 (and some questions over how Georgiou can headline a Section 31 spinoff when she was on the Discovery), the fundamental problem of “Star Trek: Discovery” remains unaltered. It has great characters, great production values and great ideas but they’re all playthings in the hands of hacks who can’t string a coherent story together. Kurtzman famously had to return to show running duties after the previously appointed duo of Season 2 showrunners were fired due to budget overruns and alleged mistreatment of writing staff but given the drop-off in quality of the writing and storytelling in the second half of the season, it’s hard not to suspect that the wrong side of that writer’s room dispute won out in the end.
Still, overall this season has been more fun and felt more Star Trek-y, thanks in large part to the presence of Anson Mount’s Captain Pike and the tantalising glimpses of the USS Enterprise (little wonder fans are clamouring for a proper Trek prequel) and given Discovery has taken most of its best characters with it to the future (Tig Notaro better be a series regular in Season 3), there’s reason to be optimistic as the series boldly goes into the 33rd century.