Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Star Trek: Discovery ends its third season with explosions and hope

Star Trek: Discovery
Star Trek: Discovery
Photo: Michael Gibson/CBS Interactive

Star Trek: Discovery’s third season ends on a quote from Gene Roddenberry. A cursory google search failed to yield the source, but I’ll quote it in in full in Stray Observations; suffice to say, it’s a pleasant, vague bit about how we’re all isolated, and it’s good to connect with one another. That’s a fine enough line for a bumper sticker or an inspirational poster. I’m not sure it entirely suffices as the thematic underpinning of an entire season of television, in part because it’s such an incredibly obvious thing to say. The idea of building relationships between cultures, in establishing a community that stretches beyond the boundary of your solar system, has been baked into Trek from the start, and, while it occasionally fumbled its way into something interesting, Discovery has nothing really to add to the conversation. Because Discovery isn’t about saying anything. It’s about feeling things. Mostly nice things. Because nice things? Are nice.

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“The Hope That Is You, Part 2” mostly sticks to the show’s strengths. There are not a lot of surprises here; the heroes win the day, there are no real sacrifices, everyone is brave and true and the baddies are either shot or dropped from a tall height. Michael manages to get her way, which is of course the only way that matters. A lot of people get shot, and it’s very pretty to look at. This is the longest episode of the season (I think—it clocks out at 61 minutes), and that makes sense given how much narrative ground it needed to cover, but a good chunk of that time is dedicated to space battles that don’t really accomplish much of anything. There are several bad-ass one liners. Lots of pew pew zap zap, etc, and just enough technobabble to make it all seem vaguely grounded.

And honestly, it’s fun to watch. Michael isn’t a terrific character, but she tends to be at her best when she’s in motion, and the constant action movie adrenaline ride approach fits Sonequa Martin-Green’s perpetually breathless performance better than regular conversation ever did. The pacing is brisk despite the long length, never lingering too long in any one situation, and, in terms of pure eye candy, there’s a lot to appreciate. Everything looks very cool, and the action scenes have a fine zip to them. If any of this works for you emotionally, I’m sure several beats in here landed well. For myself, Su’kal seeing his mother’s dying breath (we learn that the Burn hit when a young Su’kal freaked out after his mom died) worked okay. It’s the most obvious possible solution to the “mystery” of what Su’kal was trying to protect himself from via holographic monster, but some things just work no matter how obvious they are.

It’s just… boy, is this a show that’s bad at giving answers to anything. The resolution of the Burn mystery is pretty bad—it’s just some guy. Su’kal’s genetic material was affected by radiation and the proximity of massive quantities of dilithium, and somehow that means that if he screams loud enough, everything explodes. That’s very silly; it would work if the scope of the consequences was smaller (it’s not hard to imagine a similar premise on, say, a Next Gen episode, only with the fallout being limited to a single ship or even one solar system), but as is, it’s terrifying in a way that the show never bothers to reckon with. The entire universe was thrown off its access because of a genetic fluke; there’s a story in the horror of that, in understanding how easily everything could go wrong in a way no one could possibly predict, but that’s not one Discovery is much interested in telling. Instead, our heroes fix everything, and it’s hard not to walk away with the impression that, if they’d just arrived in the future a couple hundred years ago, this whole problem could’ve been avoided.

But at least Saru having to get through to Su’kal required actual conversation. It’s the closes the episode gets to supporting its nominal thesis. Everything else is just about being determined and clever and shooting people. Remember the end of last episode, when the sphere data decided to materialize as a bunch of very cute robots? It was a silly scene, but even sillier, I assumed it would actually matter this week. It doesn’t. Oh sure, they help in the fighting, but not in a meaningful way; one of the robots saves Lt. Owosekun when she passes out after placing a bomb in one of Discovery’s nacelles, and it’s the closest we get to a heroic sacrifice, but that’s basically it.

Again and again, “Hope” shies away from doing anything remotely interesting or unexpected with its various story beats. The biggest surprise is Gray showing up to Saru and Culber when Adira arrives on the planet—it makes no sense whatsoever, but I definitely didn’t see it coming, and it at least means that turning off the holoprogram has some small cost. But not enough to really matter at all, given how clumsy and strange Adira and Gray’s storyline this season has been. Is Gray a spirit? A Force ghost? Some other, stupid third thing? The show made a feint towards a Truly, Madly, Deeply riff with Adira fixating too much on the past and Gray having to nudge them into the present, but it never cohered, and this random, utterly inexplicable attempt to wring more pathos out the relationship doesn’t help much.

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Remember Stamets? Remember when he freaked out at Michael last week for throwing him off Discovery? He’s back for two scenes this week; in the first, he begs Admiral Vance to put him back on Discovery so he can rescue Culber and the others. Vance refuses, saying “Michael did the right thing.” The second scene, Stamets is part of the group welcoming Michael onto the bridge to take command of the ship. There may be other moments I missed, but there was no confrontation, no conversation where Michael and Stamets found common ground again. After he yells at Vance, Stamets is barely in the episode at all. It’s not that it’s implausible that he would’ve calmed down; it’s that we’re supposed to just assume he did. Maybe this will get picked up next season. Maybe not. But in not dealing with it now, in just trying to get drama out of conflict without bothering to consider consequences, the show renders those scenes moot in retrospect.

You aren’t supposed to think about any of this. You aren’t supposed to wonder how it fits together. You aren’t supposed to watch Michael and Osyraa battling it out, and wonder what the heck Osyraa shoves Michael into (the ship’s data drive? Something sphere related?), or wonder why Osyraa just assumes that fixed everything, giving Michael a chance to walk out and shoot her. I don’t know why it mattered so much for Michael to get Discovery out of warp, and it’s funny that she put so much effort into getting Stamets off the ship before suggesting that Booker could run the spore drive instead.

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It’s also funny that the season ended with Vance telling Michael how great she is, and Michael getting promoted to captain. Sure. Why not. Discovery’s third season was probably the most consistent the show has ever been. But it’s still fundamentally itself; sloppy and big-hearted, but in a way that asks nothing of the viewer but their minimal attention. There are no challenges here, and only the most fleeting interest in making anyone uncomfortable. There’s no real friction, almost no ambiguity, no This is not a show that earns connections. It’s a show that simply assumes they exist, and then simply waits to bask in the adulation of that assumption. As escapism, it has its moments, but nothing much between them.

Stray observations:

  • That Roddenberry quote: “In a very real sense, we are all aliens on a strange planet. We spend most of our lives reaching out and trying to communicate. If during our whole lifetime, we could reach out and communicate with just two people, we are indeed very fortunate.”
  • I don’t really understand how that applies to a season that’s at least nominally about rebuilding the Federation. The Federation can’t be just two or even three people.
  • “Beam all regulators off Discovery.” Did she just space a bunch of mercenaries here, or did Discovery’s computer just automatically know where to send them?
  • Boring scientist guy learned a valuable lesson in not trusting evil people. He then didn’t do anything, but the Discovery crew let him hang out on the bridge, which was nice of them.
  • “This is what’s called a no-win situation.” “I don’t believe in those.” I guess under other circumstances I’d appreciate this nod to Wrath of Khan, but noooope.
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