Discovery, over the last two seasons under showrunner Michelle Paradise, has turned into the Star Trek workplace drama that's all about not only the respectful workplace, but the respectful workplace where we talk openly about our feelings. I'm all for the first thing, considerably less about the second thing, but that's just me. It's interesting to see how the show, which was once a breathless throw-everything-at-the-wall free-for-all sensation-generating action series (albeit sometimes more exciting than what it has become), has gradually developed a kind of overarching guiding philosophy that's more in line with a Trekkian ethos.
Unfortunately, focusing on these components so unrelentingly makes them lose their impact. I rolled my eyes at the ship being unable to make it through the day without a pep talk in "Stormy Weather," because, yeah, it's a goddamn starship, and at a certain point I'd like to see people (and computers) get through the day and punch the clock so I can watch some procedural spacefaring professionalism. But at this point, everyone being so emotional and sharing all the time has become this series' mission statement and biggest cliché.
Now we have "Rosetta," a true science-fiction episode that uses emotions as a key component of its sci-fi properties and thematic approach. It's an intellectually interesting concept (I'm reminded of, although by no means comparing this to, the way Interstellar wove together sci-fi and love/emotion so crucially). Unfortunately, "Rosetta" is just too dull and prolonged as a sci-fi experience to get the job done. There's endless talk about what our characters find and experience on their away mission, and at a certain point it becomes clear, like last week, that we are spinning our wheels. You probably could've taken last week's and this week's episodes and combined them into one hell of a single exploration journey. But taken individually, they're a slog.
The leisurely pace of the dialogue and away mission and Weighty Michael Burnham Speeches is completely incongruous with the Countdown to Disaster Plot™ happening off-screen as the DMA approaches Earth and Ni'Var, where gravity and debris will begin causing catastrophe within 29 hours, tick-tock. I mean, I don't understand why Discovery feels the need to do this. Every. Damn. Season. The DMA just being out there and being a potentially existential threat was plenty enough to justify this first-contact mission. Hell, you could've said we have a month, even a year, to complete this mission and it would've been enough. But when you grind the gears and say, oh, now it's 29 hours — well, it makes everyone look stupid to be biding their time and talking about their feelings when billions of lives hang in the balance. (Not to mention the absurd convenience of the timing; good thing all of these events happened to line up a single day before our planets are destroyed!) It's a completely unforced error by the writers.
There are good things to find here, like the away mission taking place on a dead world that feels truly alien and harsh and barren. Having the crew in their EV suits helps sell the idea and lends an exploration aesthetic to the proceedings that's often missing on Star Trek on the account of all the M-class worlds. The whole point of the away mission smartly seeks to identify context that will aid in the first-contact effort. And the idea of these ancient dust particles that can transmit feelings and experiences from a millennium ago and help our team understand their discoveries — it's the kind of sci-fi exploration that's at the core of Star Trek. And this episode finds what feels like a somewhat fresh spin on it ... well, if not for it all landing back on our characters' personal feelings (including Detmer's PTSD) in a way that just comes off as being soooo Discovery.
There's also an out-of-left-field subplot involving Rillak asking Dr. Hirai (Hiro Kanagawa) to use more tact in dealing with the diplomats on board. (His big sin was saying, of the mission, "Don't screw it up," which would be a laugh line if it came from Han Solo.) Again, this feels hopelessly out of scale with the impending galactic Armageddon, unless the theme of your episode is Respectful Starship Workplace, which, well, okay. Discovery. It's the theme of the season. It's a pretty boring and predictably forced one at this point, but okay.
Meanwhile, Book and Tarka decide to tether their ship to Discovery, so they can hitch a ride into Species 10-C's protective field when Discovery enters it herself. In order to do this, they must sneak aboard the ship and rig something in engineering so they aren't detectable. In the process, Book makes a secret agreement with Earth's delegate, General Ndoye (Phumzile Sitole), so she'll feed him information on the progress of the first-contact mission. He agrees to wait until first contact fails before taking action to try to destroy the DMA's power core from inside 10-C's space.
But really, shouldn't Book and Tarka's Plan A be Discovery's Plan B anyway? (By the end of the episode it's Book's Plan B as well, although my guess is it's still Tarka's Plan A, because these two are rarely on the same page.) As Burnham herself says, what if Species 10-C is aware that their DMA is doing all this planet-destroying damage and they simply don't care? Then what? (My follow-up question: If they aren't aware, how are they so stupid?)
We have two episodes left. I hope Discovery can turn things around and make this first contact with 10-C truly worthwhile. But I'm skeptical. The big problem with these season-long arcs is they become eggs-in-one-basket propositions. Blow it, and it feels like you've blown the season. And that would be too bad considering this season has felt like the most true-to-Trek season of Discovery yet.
"Well, that's relativity, folks":
- I'm still not clear on why the EV suits wouldn't protect against the dust by default. Because reasons, I guess.
- Just when I was wondering where she's been for so long this season, Reno turns up for more than just a cameo, and ends up finding Tarka hiding in engineering trying to make his modifications. So Tarka takes her hostage back to Book's ship (somehow) where she will undoubtedly snark her way through being a captive next week.
- The always gunshy Adira idolizes Detmer and her confidence, and hopes to get to know her better. Reno, always the straight-shooting mensch, gives Adira some advice on striking up a conversation: "Pro tip: Don't start with ‘I want to be you.' It's kinda creepy."
- Speaking of, Detmer gets the "supporting background bridge crew spotlight" this week, going on the away mission and getting a bunch of lines. Good for her!
- Culber: "Good to see the laws of physics still apply outside our galaxy!" Is there a reason to assume they wouldn't?
- Culber getting brain-scrambled by the alien dust just made it all the more clear to him that he is not mentally okay in general. The interim counselor needs a counselor. Hell, everyone needs a counselor. Why don't they have a dedicated counselor instead of making Culber do it? What they really need is to get more spore drives onto more ships so Discovery doesn't have to shoulder all the (emotional) burden of everything. (Never mind — they were trying to do that until Tarka stole the prototype.)
- Did I miss something about the Dyson rings surrounding 10-C's star? Are they abandoned? Is it implied 10-C built them and lived there after their planet was destroyed, but have since moved into the region of space protected by the energy field?
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