"Such Sweet Sorrow," right down to its corny Shakespeare-quoting title, is an hour of extreme earnestness, featuring grand gestures of selflessness, last-minute family reunions, naked sentimentality, and lots of tearful goodbyes. I mean, they really laid it on thick here. Here's an hour that slows down to acknowledge the character relationships, but is completely ham-fisted about it. I'll also say this: There had better be a major shakeup of this series coming in next week's season finale for this episode to have been remotely earned. Discovery — or at least Michael Burnham — had better be riding permanently off into the sunset of the distant future.
We left last week with the Enterprise en route to rescue the crew of the Discovery after it was decided the only way to destroy the sphere data and keep it out of Control's hands was to auto-destruct the ship. Well, it turns out this plan also doesn't work, because the data has now merged with Discovery's computer and has enough control of the ship to disarm the auto-destruct. It also raises its shields when the Enterprise starts firing torpedoes at it. So it's back to the drawing board, with only an hour before Control's Section 31 ships arrive.
If nothing else, this season of Discovery has taught us one thing: Make damn sure you read the terms of service before you install any new software. The sphere data is so powerful and invested in self-preservation that I must now ask whether it's as much of a potential threat as Control itself. Presumably, Control's whole motivation for destroying all other sentient life — insofar that a credible motivation exists at all — is that it views other life as a potential threat to its own existence. Now that the sphere data is essentially in control of Discovery — as everything that happens here is only because the sphere data allows it — what will this mean if the data can't be removed from the system?
Next week we will presumably, hopefully have answers. For now, we have nothing but setup and, thus, speculation. That speculation is further fueled by the producers' constant promises that apparent deviations from Trek canon will be clearly and satisfactorily explained. (I have not sought out these articles; they appear in my Google feed and then I feel compelled to click on them.) Given the timeline shenanigans, this means a lot of this series' core anachronisms — from the existence of the spore drive to Burnham's presence in Spock's family — are potentially on the table to be radically upended or erased from history. Maybe.
There's some Trekkian problem-solving on display here, but the issue with Discovery's problem-solving is that it's frequently buried under technobabble rules where both the problem and solution were clearly invented in tandem. Let's call it a problution: Something that moves the plot forward by creating a problem X that must be solved with solution Y in order to get us to destination Z. Except that Z was obviously conceived first, so X and Y are improvised by the writers to justify the utter insanity of going to Z.
In this case, it's time traveling to the future using the crystal we acquired last week, because hiding the data in the future is the "only" way to keep the sphere data from Control. (Sidebar: I guess Pike took the time crystal from Boreth on spec because the appearance of the red burst made him assume a problem would present itself requiring this particular solution; you know, fate and all.) Similarly, the option of deleting the data had to be removed by the story in order to move us along to time travel. And so on. Lots of narrative gymnastics involved. (This series is a seriously dedicated piece of bananas, with a poker-faced tone that dares you to laugh at the lunacy of the plot.)
But we finally get to see the Enterprise bridge here, and the sight is impressive. This series is a reliable triumph of production design, and they manage to make the Enterprise feel both new and familiar at once. Number One makes another appearance (and hopefully will get more to do next week), and the NCC-1701 looks great. Meanwhile, we have Tilly's friend Po (Yadira Guevara-Prip) from the "Runaway" Short Trek making an appearance and bringing in a key piece of technology to help power the time crystal — which presents an engineering nut that Stamets, Reno, and Tilly must figure out how to crack while being circled in Yet Another Endlessly Showy Arc Shot. The mechanics of all this are arbitrary.
If you're not a fan of Michael Burnham, this episode is likely to drive you up a wall, as it all but canonizes her as it becomes clear she must be the one to sacrifice her life as she knows it to save the future from Control. But even if you're fine with Burnham, "Such Sweet Sorrow" can be cloying. Here's an episode where everyone is preparing for this mission, and Sarek and Amanda come strolling down the hallway, having used a shuttle to follow Michael's katra in order to get in their heartfelt goodbyes. This timing seems, shall we say, improbable. And, boy, do they have some things to say. Later, the entire bridge crew chooses to join Burnham in her heoric quest, because Disco is one big happy family. (This episode seems to have more emotional closure than The Return of the King.)
So, yeah, this is all a bit much. But the actors give it their all and it's nice to see the crew rallying around a cause. This is a rare episode that takes the time out to have the supporting characters (Owosekun! Detmer!) writing letters to their families. These are actors who are in all the episodes, and it really makes you wonder why they aren't used more in the daily storytelling.
It's all setup for the season's biggest cliffhanger yet: showdown between Control's Section 31 ships and the Enterprise and Discovery. And a time crystal!
How to score this? I'll split the difference. It's heartfelt ... but manipulative. It's earnest ... but contrived. It's urgent ... and yet also strangely lackadaisical. It's setting me up rather than doing something for me now. And it seems to be reverse-engineering plot points to get where it absolutely must go. This episode could end up paying off or being completely pointless, and it's impossible to know which. It's a Schrodinger's Episode with the box being opened next week. Once again, this show pushes all the chips to the center of the table for its season finale. I hope, unlike last season, they stick the landing this time.
Some other thoughts:
- Given the usual template of this series to fly through as much plot as quickly as possible, the cynic in me starts doing some calculations. As I look at the calendar I realize my CBS All Access subscription, which I started the day the season premiered back on January 17, will end just in time — like, literally the day before — to have to be renewed before next week's finale. Had this season been 13 episodes instead of 14, I wouldn't have had to pay CBS an extra 6 bucks. Now multiply that times all the U.S. fans who watched the show weekly as I did, and, well, you do the math. Did they pad out the season with this setup episode for an extra month's worth of subscriptions? Are we sorry saps? Surely can't be...
- Speaking of cynics, Georgiou scoffs and eye-rolls her way through much of the sentimentality of this episode, which I found to be an amusing counterpoint.
- I think we're seeing why Section 31 keeps a low profile in the future. These incidents are pretty catastrophic for their brand. They should change their name to Section 32.
- Stamets and Culber seem to make peace over the end of their relationship, and Culber says he's staying on the Enterprise. I have my doubts it will play out this way, given how much trouble the writers went to so they could bring Culber back, but who knows.
- The episode opens with a personal log voice-over from Burnham that narrates what we are seeing on the screen. This is not only unnecessary and pretentious but unlikely. When did she record it? While everyone's in the process of abandoning ship?
- As Pike beams back to his ship, Georgiou "reveals" that she's from the mirror universe. Pike says, "What mirror universe?" and winks. This is great.
- Tyler. Still this series' LVP. His scene with Burnham is a cringe-worthy reminder of the forced nature of this relationship and the absent chemistry between the two actors. Why doesn't he join the rest of the bridge crew in going on this daring mission? Because he needs to keep Section 31 honest or something, and we need to keep him around in case we want to use him for the Section 31 spinoff series, in case there's a fan demand for his awesomeness?
- Couldn't the spore drive be used to travel through time (as it did last season) rather than the crazy plan that's hatched here? Absolutely it could, if the writers had decided to technobabble their way into doing it that way. But they didn't, so we'll use artificial supernova power to charge a time crystal and make a replica time-travel suit.
- The red bursts (the fifth of seven which we encounter here) may be linked to Burnham's future time-traveling, as was originally thought before Mom showed up. That leaves two more bursts for one more episode.