Discovery’s approach to serialization is (like so much of the show) rarely subtle. This week’s cold open is a good example of how things typically work: just in case we’d completely forgotten the previous five episodes, we get a conversation between Michael and Booker, and then a conversation between Michael and Saru, reminding us of the existence of the DMA and stressing how much they still need information about it before explaining the new mission–going into the subspace rift left behind by the DMA when it travels to a new location. Then we get a montage of everyone getting called to the bridge, because why the hell not, I guess.
So, yeah, it’s not subtle. Not always bad–I appreciate the show treating every new episode like it might be someone’s first, and there’s something to be said for directness–but not subtle. Still, it can occasionally tease out an idea over multiple episodes before said idea comes to a head; we saw that earlier this season with the build to Tilly’s departure, and we see it in this week’s episode, “Stormy Weather,” with the runner about the ship’s computer (merged with the sphere data) developing an artificial intelligence with its own personality. Throughout season four (and possibly last season, although I can’t remember for sure), there have been a handful of moments designed to suggest that something was going on. The computer voice has changed, and it (she? No gender identity provided) has… opinions. Computers aren’t supposed to have opinions.
If you’re a Trek fan, or even just someone with a passing familiarity of science fiction tropes, these moments should’ve made you nervous. They come to fruition this week, as the AI’s shakey emotional state has actual (if temporary) consequences during a dangerous mission. Zora (the AI’s name) can now experience stress, over-stimulation, confusion, and guilt, and none of those things are reassuring when they’re coming from the machine that makes sure you have air to breathe. (No one wants an existential ventilator.) They’re especially not reassuring when Discovery passes through the rift and finds–nothing. A void. A scary nullity, and one which it will take our heroes considerable resources and courage to escape.
Not a bad set-up, right? It makes dramatic sense for Zora’s personality crisis to hit at the worst possible time, and the visual–or rather, lack of visual–impact here is striking and unsettling. I didn’t love “Stormy Weather,” but as of writing this, I’m unsure exactly why I didn’t love it, beyond the usual complaints about the show’s incredibly heavy-handed approach to emotional beats. I’m a sucker for “ship in distress” storylines, and this one does a reasonable job of keeping the pressure up throughout, something that’s absolutely critical for a Discovery episode. And hell, the fact that Zora getting up stuck in her head about stuff happening at such an awkward moment could be read as at least a slight pushback to the show’s general Let’s All Have Feelings All The Time And That’s Good lifestyle.
It’s just the details that leave me wanting. I made this joke on Twitter, but for a show that’s so relentlessly fixated on foregrounding the internal lives of its ensemble, it’s weird that no one on Discovery besides Saru seems to have matured past mid-adolescence. I’ve been reviewing Voyager on Patreon for a while now, and one of my routine complaints is the ship’s complete lack of an on-duty counselor; here, though, we get nothing but counseling, and yet it seems to do little more than regurgitate the same problems week after week. That might be realistic (in that even good therapy doesn’t “solve” issues so much as it gives you to the tools to manage and work with them over time), but it makes for irritating television, a show where a diverse cast flies through time and space just to find slightly different ways to talk about themselves.
The worst example of this in “Stormy Weather” borders on a self-parody: a member of the bridge crew tries to take too much on herself, Saru orders her to stand down, there’s some minor tension, and then she accepts the order. Later, she tells Saru that the reason she was so upset is due to a personal trauma from her past that makes her desperate to help people. I appreciate that the show is still trying to give its ensemble more to do, but this is absurd–it feels like a direct copy-and-past of the crew-member who talked about how his past is directly connected to the current problem, and it turns the complicated, intricate workings of the human mind into a simple if A then B logic puzzle. It’s healthy and good to treat the feelings of others and yourself with respect, but has no one in the future ever heard of “a time and place for everything?” Some basic professionalism in the face of planet-destroying catastrophes, that’s all I’m asking for.
Speaking of planet-destroying catastrophes, “Weather” gives us another clue as to the possible origins of the DMA, and it’s… well. Booker gets some particles in his brain after a doomed attempt to jump out of the rift–this leads to several conversations with his dead father, and also the discovery that the particles come from the Galactic Barrier, the thing at the edge of the universe. Which means that the DMA comes from outside the galaxy. You know that place that has everything we know in it? Well, it’s just to the left of that.
This is what’s known as escalation inflation. We’ve had the Burn, we’ve had the galaxy in danger–so what’s bigger than the galaxy? Something outside the galaxy. I guess it’s impressive, but at a certain point, this exponential approach to the raising of stakes becomes too absurd to actually register in a meaningful way. Discovery expects us to be wowed by the scope of its problems, but in a show that still feels like it has maybe twenty people that matter, tops, it’s hard to get that excited. Part of the reason that “giant eye” visual is so cool is that it managed to instill something that nearly four years of the show has only occasionally stumbled upon: a legitimate sense of awe. But the awe is fleeting, especially when it comes with the knowledge that regardless of whatever else we learn about the DMA this season, the solution is inevitably going to have something to do with “love.”
As for right now: Gray leads Michael down the right track to deal with Zora, the ship escapes the rift by putting every briefly into the transporter buffer (an impressive solution made slightly less impressive by the fact that no one remarks how risky and terrifying it is; I’m sure there’s an in-show explanation for how the computer could hold onto such a staggeringly large volume of data, but I would’ve appreciated at least a quick “wait, seriously?”), and in the end, the AI creates its own family tree featuring the crew of the Discovery. It’s pleasant, I guess, but I don’t think it means much.
- Due to low readership, this is will be the last regular Discovery review–there’ll be a write-up of the finale, and maybe a pre-air when the next season drops, but that’s it. Thank you to everyone who stuck it out for the past few years of what must’ve seemed like increasingly repetitive reviews.