"The Examples" continues the recent trend of Discovery success through straightforwardness, telling relatively crisp and effective stories in a very conventionally Trekkian way. Again, we're not breaking the mold or exhibiting excellence here so much as executing relatively well upon past conventions, and finding interesting details in the margins.
In the main story, we have the DMA threatening a non-Federation colony, so Discovery jumps in to evacuate the colonists. Among those needing to be rescued are the half-dozen or so inmates of a prison, which the colony leader calls "the examples," interned to serve as a crime deterrent. The colony leader thinks they should simply be left to die if the DMA rips apart the colony, but of course Burnham isn't having that. She leads a mission to get into the facility (no easy task because of perimeter force-fields and explosive robotic devices, etc.) and rescue the prisoners.
Upon encountering the prisoners, we learn their crimes were, for the most part, trivial infractions, which recontextualizes their long sentences and label of "examples" as those of the unjustly condemned. The prisoners don't particularly have a desire to be rescued only to be turned back over to the colony officials to be re-imprisoned, so Burnham works out an agreement that basically translates to their asylum request. Given the fact the colony's rescue is a Federation undertaking, she has some leverage to make the deal. One of prisoners, Felix (Michael Greyeyes), actually did commit a serious crime — murder during a botched robbery of a man who showed him kindness — which he deeply regrets, and wants to repent by not only helping the others negotiate their freedom, but by staying behind and suffering whatever fate the DMA may have for him. Burnham believes Felix should be able to have that choice, although Booker believes leaving him to die is wrong. There's some tension here.
The serviceable prison plot runs in tandem with a more intriguing plot aboard Discovery where Stamets continues to try to crack the mystery of the DMA. He has assistance from a Risian scientist named Tarka, played by Shawn Doyle as an arrogant uber-genius who knows he's the smartest guy in the room. These two together prove interesting and, ultimately, dangerous. They want to duplicate the DMA on a micro scale to learn more about it, using some brilliant experimental theory Tarka has developed. I have no idea how Tarka can duplicate a phenomenon that still remains an utter mystery, but it's played here reasonably enough as a Trekkian technobabble drama, with the quest for scientific discovery working to stave off the threat of the DMA's long-term destructive potential. Saru plays a key part here as the sane and competent leader who stops the crazy science guys from blowing up the ship in the process of conducting their wild experiments. This is entertaining and feels informative, even if it's mostly smoke and mirrors.
"He's fleeing the interview!":
- The revelation at the beginning of the episode that the DMA must clearly have been intentionally created was way too hastily arrived at and felt like a corner-cutting jump to a conclusion not adequately earned. Wouldn't it have been both more credible and a better dramatic construction to have Stamets and Tarka somehow reach that conclusion in the course of their experiment?
- The idea of Felix being genuinely remorseful and tasking Burnham with returning the orb containing his victim's family tree to the victim's survivors is a nice idea that plays pretty well. It's hopeful and non-cynical, and perhaps pays off in a way that's overly neat and tidy, but I can get on board with that.
- Tarka is a breath of fresh air on this series because he's got some rough edges. As much as Georgiou grated on the nerves last season with her one-note asshattery, the thing this series lost when she left was a character who would voice some sort of skepticism or cynical selfishness amid all the earnest Starfleet teamwork.
- The final scene between Booker and Tarka is intriguing with some hints of ominousness. Book isn't happy with how things went down on the colony prison, or with his life in general right now (what with the loss of his family and planet), and Tarka believes this anger might be useful in some way.
- Tig Notaro makes her first appearance of the season here as Reno, doing her Reno thing. It's a welcome appearance, although I admit I don't understand the rhyme or reason for the appearance or absence of the main and supporting cast members on this show from week to week, or how they've decided who belongs in the opening credits.
- I don't know what exactly Kovich's role is at Starfleet (his role on the show appears to be "presumed mensch who will tell the truths you need to hear"), but he's an enjoyable character as played by David Cronenberg in all his mysterious iterations. Here he talks doctor/counselor Culber through his own emotional crisis (having died and come back to life and wondering why he was provided this rare opportunity) with a no-nonsense approach that's, again, intriguing. (There are a number of intriguing things going on between the lines of this episode's fairly standard plotting.)
- The ship's self-aware AI, Zora, informs Burnham that she's recently begun developing emotions. Are they finally going to deal more explicitly with the consequences of the sphere data merged with the computer?
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