Hey, David Cronenberg’s back! I have no idea why Cronenberg is on Discovery; it’s possible he’s a lifelong Trek fan, or maybe he knows someone on the creative team; maybe they were filming in Vancouver and he just showed up. Regardless, well, it’s David Cronenberg, and he’s a bit odd, and that’s really about it. Cronenberg (who has a character name, but c’mon) is on hand to give Tilly one final mission before she (spoiler alert) leaves Discovery. I hadn’t realized he was connected to Starfleet Academy, but the logistics of who works for where on this show, and who has authority over whom, have always been pretty fuzzy. David Cronenberg was around this week, so we get David Cronenberg. He seems nice, so hopefully everyone enjoyed him.
“All Is Possible” is, at least for now, Tilly’s Discovery swan song, the departure the show has been building towards since the start of the season. It turns out that all her discomfort and confusion weren’t really about anything, at least not anything specific; there’s no secret space disease or alien message to wrangle with. I’m not privy to behind the scenes information, but given the amount of time this exit got, I have to imagine the actress is leaving on good terms with the production team. And on a metatextual level, it makes sense. While other characters have been paired off and/or given interesting storylines, Tilly has spent most of the past couple seasons on the edges, always present and occasionally useful for a joke, but never Important in a way that suggested the writers had long term plans for her.
That has to be frustrating for a performer even if it is a steady gig, and while I’ve had mixed feelings about Tilly, I hope nothing but the best for Mary Wiseman. She has a strong sense of comic timing and a terrific presence, and she managed to make someone who occasionally bordered on insufferable into an endearing irritant, the sort of nerd who makes you wince and nod in recognition. I wouldn’t say Discovery underserved her, exactly, but I’m also not sure there were a lot of places left for this particular character to go. Moving her into a teaching role makes sense, and is a satisfying conclusion to the long arc of her coming into her own.
As for the actual episode, well, it works and it doesn’t. As ever, I find myself wishing Discovery would be a little more confident in trying to sell its ideas; for nearly every scene in the “Tilly does a Space Camp” storyline, all characters were pushing much, much harder than they needed to, which is especially galling in such a well-trod plot. We all know how this scenario is going to play out. In her search to find some sort of fulfillment, Tilly agrees to shepard a group of Starfleet cadets (and Adira) through a training mission. Things go horribly wrong, and their ship crashlands on a planet with monster-aliens who are immediately attracted to the ship’s energy signal. The cadets squabble, Tilly teaches them of the power of teamwork, and the day is saved.
While all of this is imminently predictable, there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. From a certain angle, Discovery has always come across like a Saturday morning cartoon version of Trek, with lots of bright colors, exciting action, and Very Obvious Morals, and watching Tilly tell a bunch of bratty teens how important it is to treat each other with respect is very much in keeping with the show’s take on morality and inter-personal conflict. But there’s something grating in how hard it keeps hitting that note, and the intense levels of obnoxiousness coming off characters we’ve never met before now. It’s supposed to be cathartic when they pull together and become a team; all I really got was relief that the shouting was over.
Worse, the cheat on the resolution is entirely unnecessary. Two of the cadets seem to hate one another in particular, as their species are at war; one of them, a fella with tusks named Gorat, finally goes so far as to say he will never like the other guy because of all the horrors his people have suffered at the hands of the other guy’s people. (In case you can’t tell, I’m going off my notes here.) Tilly then steps in to tell Gorat that, wouldn’t you know it, the other guy’s ancestor actually gave his life trying to save Gorat’s people, and doesn’t that all teach us a valuable lesson in judging one another by the contents of our family’s wikipedia page.
It’s a deeply disingenuous moment, and I’m not sure how valuable it will be going forward for the cadets–the idea that you shouldn’t hate someone until you make absolutely sure their granddad wasn’t a pacifist hero is practical advice, I guess, but it’s not really the sort that makes you into a better person. Besides, this has nothing to do with the Federation values that Starfleet is supposed to be espousing, depending on a circumstantial revelation rather than a common understanding of shared values. I get what the writers are trying to do, but they lean so hard into the point that it borders on self-parody and undercuts its own message. But, on the other hand, the cadets do stop shouting after this, for which I was grateful.
The other major storyline in “All Is Possible” involves Michael and Saru getting pulled into the Federation’s negotiations with NiVar. There’s a thematic connection between the two plots (basically, “we’re stronger together than we are apart”), which helps to make for a more cohesive episode, but it’s frustrating to see Michael once again put at the center of a major crisis, and once again finding a way to make herself part of a solution to that crisis.
Things seem settled with the Ni’Var, but when President Rillak makes a formal welcome to the planet, President T’Rina reveals that, given the discovery off the anomaly, her people have demanded new concessions to the deal. Namely, they want an escape clause in case things get scary again, a demand that Rillak has no choice but to refuse. Michael tries to argue the case, and she and Saru spend some time digging (Saru hits it off with T’Rina, who leaked info about the “escape clause” demand to Rillak ahead of time) before Michael proposes a new council, led by herself as a joint citizen of NiVar and the Federation, to arbitrate in case another crisis arrives.
It’s a silly solution–I have a hard time believing that the hardline Ni’Var resisting the Federation will be mollified by a “citizen” who hasn’t lived on the planet in over nine hundred years–but the real frustration is saved for the end. Earlier, Michael and Saru realize that the reason Rillak requested them for the conference (replacing Admiral Vance, who supposedly had a bad case of worms) was that the president hoped Michael would get involved with the conflict and figure out a solution that Rillak, her hands tied by the political requirements of her role, could not. At the time, this realization feels like a fun moment of sympathy between the characters, and a rare example of Discovery doing subtext.
Ah, but subtext has no place on this show. When Rillak and Michael chat after the negotiations are successfully concluded, Michael more or less demands that Rillalk never use subterfuge around her again. It’s a very odd moment. I think our sympathies are supposed to be with Michael, but there’s a childish unwillingness to grasp the obvious that makes her sound pretty obnoxious, a demand that she, and she alone, set the conditions for any further interactions. Given that the whole series began with Michael learning that just being right wasn’t necessarily enough to do the right thing, it’s odd that she’s come this far without really changing much at all. Maybe this is setting up a conflict later in the season that will force her to step down from the captain’s chair, but given how regularly Discovery insists that Michael is right about everything, it’s hard to say. As of right now, I don’t really know why President Rillak keeps asking for her help.
- We also get another few scenes of someone else helping Booker with his grief. I said earlier that I hoped the show would treat his loss seriously; I would like to say now that I think we get it, and can we please move on.
- They are definitely calling the anomaly the “DMA.” Calvin was right, scientists are horrible at naming things.
- The show is definitely setting up a potential romance between Saru and T’Rina. It’s cute.