"Saints of Imperfection" is Discovery's heaviest venture into technobabble disaster plotting to date. That this episode is fairly focused, well-paced, involving, and has some solid moments of emotion makes it easier to look past some of the dopier and/or insane things happening here.
But the episode's big reveal would've landed better if the series' creators and actors weren't so good at spoiling their own show in the press. I've known for months that Dr. Culber would be returning from the dead at some point this season. Part of that is my own fault for reading any headline about this show when I should know full well the creators will give plot points away if it means promoting their show. But then they also put Wilson Cruz's name in the opening credits at the beginning of the hour, so by the time we get to the reveal that the "monster" terrorizing the mycelium network is actually Culber — who has been trapped there since he was killed by Voq/Ash last season — we have already figured it out.
That's not really the episode's fault, and it's too bad, because it's a pretty decent reveal that tracks with what we've seen with Stamets being convinced he'd experienced Hugh's presence during Discovery's jumps. Say what you will about the magical and convenient properties of the spore network and now its ability to conquer (some) death — the series at least did the legwork in getting to this point and setting up the pieces.
Finding Culber is an added benefit from the true mission here of finding Tilly, who was pulled into the network by May through an "organic transporter" cocoon (which is actually a nifty idea). Tilly is being recruited by May — who is a physical manifestation of the spore aliens — to help find and destroy the "monster" which May explains is destroying them. Much like in last week's "An Obol for Charon," the whole problem stems from a Trekkian lack of the ability to communicate, rather than arising from anyone's malice. Both the spores and Culber think the other is attacking them, while believing they are merely defending themselves.
Stamets figures out how to jump Discovery halfway into the network in a way that allows a small team to interact physically within it and search for Tilly. Meanwhile, Tilly promises to help May destroy the monster, before helping bridge the divide once it's discovered the monster is really Culber. There's a lot of technobabble used to get us from here to there and everywhere in between, as well as a sensational VFX light show, and a lot of impending disaster for the ship. Imperiling the ship with a countdown clock as the ship rumbles like it's going to shake apart is probably the worst and most tropey decision made here, especially as the characters keep stopping to explain things for our benefit when they should be getting the hell outta Dodge.
But the reunion of Stamets and Culber makes for some good emotional scenes. There's something charming about how Anthony Rapp manages to convey "The guy I love is still alive!" along with "This crazy science stuff is awesome!" It's a human performance that's necessary to keep us grounded amid all the mushroom wizardry. And the episode manages to draw out the suspense when it looks like Culber might not be able to return to the physical world after all (before using the cocoon transporter doodad and May's help to ultimately make it back).
The B-plot that brings in Georgiou, Tyler, and the Section 31 ship captained by Leland (Alan van Sprang) is more mixed. For one, the whole dance around Georgiou's true identity is just stupid. Starfleet and Section 31 have covered up the fact that Georgiou is from the Mirror Universe while also somehow changing history to allege Captain Georgiou of the Shenzhou survived. Why is this necessary or believable, and why do we have to go through the nonsense of Burnham confirming this bogus cover story and not telling Pike about it? (At least she tells him she's holding back some information, and Pike goes along with it for now.)
The writers would also be wise not to take this whole Georgiou supervillain thing too far. While I laughed at her hissing at Burnham like a snake (Michelle Yeoh gamely chews the scenery), this is not the sort of thing that bodes well for deep characterization. I get that she's from the Mirror Universe, but now that she's here why not mine that for something more substantive — like seeing the friction arising from her new bosses controlling her, for example — instead of just making her a comic book villain?
On the other hand, I like that they appear to be setting up Leland as an ideological opposite to Pike but not a villain. The two of them know each other from years back, and this teaming could make for an interesting battle of philosophies. Cornwell flat-out says they are on the same team and must work together to figure out this whole Spock investigation.
"Saints of Imperfection" has significant flaws, but on the whole I thought this worked in a very Discovery-specific way.
Some other thoughts:
- That final communication between Burnham and Georgiou indicates maybe Georgiou is trying to reach out and make peace with Burnham. I wouldn't trust her, and Burnham doesn't, but it would be good if they followed through with this and gave Georgiou a little more shading. We'll see.
- Leland is bald, unshaven, and wears a black leather jacket. Equally subtle would've been if he'd been wearing a black T-shirt saying "BADASS."
- The Search for Spock™ continues, this time with a fakeout when Spock's shuttle door opens and it turns out to be Georgiou. Dear writers: Toying with the audience in this manner is not going to do you any favors when Spock eventually does show up to (my prediction) stunning anticlimax.
- People seem to be up in arms that Section 31 is — gasp! — not the same secret organization it was when we encountered it on DS9. Is it so hard to imagine a significant change in the organization's profile in the course of a whole century? (And Section 31 was not as underground as you may remember, as seen by the end of "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges.")
- Tilly pinky-swears May that we're not done with the spore network yet.
- I assume, or at least hope, there will be some sort of character arc dealing with the fallout of Culber's death and return. If he retains all his memories, it's sure going to be awkward the next time Tyler stops by sickbay.