"All In" describes the subject, but not the spirit, of this week's episode of Discovery. This is fine as a routine stopgap sort of episode, but the lack of ambition is notable. Fortunately, the lack of ambition is somewhat offset by the fact that at least there's a solid character core here, even if that character core feels mostly redundant when considering what happened at the end of the previous episode. This episode is not strictly necessary, but then what episode of television is? (I guess it's probably a problem if I'm waxing philosophic on the existence of all television episodes.)
When you consider the previous episode ended with Booker deciding to go with Tarka to pursue their forbidden mission to destroy the DMA, do you really need "All In" to explicitly show how Booker and Burnham come to grips with that realization and further affirm to each other that they're committed to their positions? On the one hand, Sonequa Martin-Green and David Ajala do a good job of making me believe the emotional stakes of this relationship. On the other hand, setting this aboard an alien port amid the major set pieces of an Epic Cage Fight and a High-Stakes Poker Tournament feels a bit tropey. It's like a TOS throwback hour.
On the plus side, this episode is a good showcase for Owosekun (I will never argue with this show providing spotlights for the supporting characters, particularly Owo, the most likable of the bunch), even if it can't be bothered to think of a more imaginative use of her than putting her in a ring where she takes two dives so she can hustle her competitor before then kicking his ass. As plot goes, it's pretty basic — but also kind of fun.
The same goes for the poker tournament, overseen by Haz Mazaro (Daniel Kash), who keeps altering the deal and telling you to pray he doesn't alter it further. Book and Burnham must face off against each other in order to win this week's MacGuffin — the isolynium, the unobtainium substance necessary to create the isolytic explosion that can destroy the DMA — but must first work together to defeat a pair of other players (using over-the-table signals that would get you kicked out of any casino worth its salt) lest they end up with the dreaded isolynium and do something awful with it. For all the lacking inspiration here, this mostly accomplishes its modest goals and is decently executed. Burnham loses to Booker, as she must for this storyline to continue, but the actors do a good job of selling the cost of the choices made, and this looks to solidify the end point of their relationship (maybe).
One thing that continues to irk me on this show is the way characters are able to jump to new conclusions with regard to the sci-fi properties of the DMA simply because the story decides they can. Just like the discovery that the DMA was artificially created came after about 30 seconds of unpersuasive dialogue, we get here the revelation that the DMA is actually a mining device being used to collect the energy needed to power Species 10-C's presumed superior technology. But notice how this changes nothing in terms of the mission or how the characters approach it, only reinforcing what they already know they need to do (stop Booker and Tarka). Maybe if this show would spend a little more effort exploring its sci-fi mysteries in compelling and believable ways rather than just piling on chilling discoveries with minimal context and on-the-spot conjured technobabble, this would work better.
"Admiral, there be whales here!":
- The inclusion of a DS9 Changeling as a casual throwaway only had me wondering where the Dominion actually is in this century.
- Tarka continues to get the best acerbic one-liners: "You're boring me. Go stand somewhere else."
- Tarka has stolen the Federation's new prototype spore drive so that he and Booker can jump around like Discovery. They're sure in deep.
- Vance has Burnham take on the mission to stop Book against Rillak's wishes. The Starfleet higher-ups can never be on the same page, can they? At the end, various riot acts are starting to be read, until Burnham reveals she can track Booker thanks to a hidden transponder she has planted.
- How's this review for cutting to the chase? It's a necessary component of keeping pace and not getting behind, especially after the week I've had. Are shorter reviews a welcome change? Is less actually more? Are you happy with life?
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