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Josh Reviews Star Trek: Discovery Episode 4: “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not For the Lamb’s Cry”

In Star Trek: Discovery episode 4, “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry,” an important Federation dilithium mine comes under attack by the Klingons.  With no starships in range, everyone in the mine will die and the Federation’s war effort will be crippled unless the Discovery’s experimental drive can allow the ship to arrive in time to defend the mine.  Meanwhile, Burnham is tasked with learning how the monster captured in episode 3 was so effective at killing Klingons, but she suspects the creature might not be inherently violent and, in fact, the key to an important scientific discovery.

This episode is, in my opinion, a stronger effort than last week’s episode.  It flows much better, with a nice Star Trek story at its heart and some exciting action.  But while I mostly enjoyed the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery, these last two episodes are forcing me to realize that this is probably not going to be the show I’d hoped it would be.

As I wrote in my first review, what I liked so much about the first episode of Discovery, which enabled me to forgive the show’s rampant disregard for Star Trek continuity and other problems with the narrative, was that I felt the show embraced the humanism and morality that was at the centerpiece of all the best Star Trek.  Here’s what I wrote: “For the first time in a very long time (including the three recent J.J. Abrams rebooted movies, and even much of the previous two Trek shows, Enterprise and Voyager), the Starfleet officers on this show, so far, behave like Starfleet officers.  The first episode emphasizes this repeatedly.  “We come in peace… isn’t that the whole idea of Starfleet?” Burnham states in her very first line of dialogue.  YES.  The opening scene with Georgiou and Burnham has them working to help an endangered alien race without violating the Prime Directive.  YES.  “Starfleet does not shoot first,” Captain Georgiou declares in a tense standoff with Burnham.  YES.”

But after those first two episodes which took place on the U.S.S. Shenzhou with Captain Georgiou in command, Discovery has turned into a very different type of show, on board the U.S.S. Discovery, a ship with a mysterious purpose and a nasty, war-focused captain (Jason Isaac’s Captain Lorca).  I have no objection to war and violence on a Star Trek show.  (My favorite Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine, featured a multi-season-long war arc.)  But a Star Trek show featuring war and violence should focus on Starfleet characters struggling to keep their morality in place while doing what they need to survive.  That’s what so many of the best DS9 episodes were about.  And even when the characters FAILED to do so (such as when Captain Sisko allows himself to become a party to deceit and even murder in the spectacular DS9 episode “In the Pale Moonlight”), that was OK — more than OK, it was thrilling drama — because the storytelling was based in morality and character work.  After the first episode, I’m not seeing much of that sort of thing so far on Discovery.  Captain Lorca doesn’t have any dimension so far other than being mean, willing to do whatever it takes to kill Klingons, and no one on the ship seems to question him at all, not even our main character Michael Burnham.  I suspect that the show is taking a “slow burn” approach here in regards to Burnham and Lorca — I am convinced at this point that Burnham is going to be pushed to the point of considering leading a second mutiny, this time against Lorca, by the end of the season — but even if Burnham will eventually speak up on behalf of the morality that I believe Trek is supposed to espouse (or if the show is able to deepen the character of Lorca so that he’s not the villain he currently appears to be), right now this just doesn’t “feel” much like Star Trek to me (which was the main thing I COULD say on behalf of the first two episodes of the show).  I am willing to be patient and allow this season to unfold, to see what the writers have in mind, but right now I am feeling a lot less excited about this show than I was after the first two episodes, and this is the main reason why.

I also wish there weren’t so many aspects of the show’s plot that feel to me that they make little sense.  This episode is structured around the desperate need for the Discovery to get to planet Corvan 2, from where we hear the Federation mines 42% of its dilithium, the mineral required to power starships.  Come on, almost HALF of the dilithium used by the ENTIRE FEDERATION, a vast interstellar alliance, comes from ONE planet??  That doesn’t make much sense to me.  And even if I could buy that, if that were the case, why wouldn’t that be a MASSIVELY defended installation, protected by dozens of starships?  Yet we’re told that no starship is within several days’ travel of the planet, which is why the Discovery has to get their magic spore-powered drive working so they can get there in time.  I know it’s a Star Trek trope that the Enterprise was only the only ship close enough to help stop a catastrophe, but it feels very silly here.

Let’s take just one more aspect of this episode: Captain Georgiou’s last will and testament.  Yes, that builds to a very sweet scene at the end, when Burnham listens to Captain Georgiou’s final message to her, and gifts her with her telescope.  But just take a minute to actually think about that, and it doesn’t make much sense.  We are SIX MONTHS after Georgiou’s death, remember.  Why didn’t this reach Burnham until now, when she is on the edge of space on a top-secret starship, as opposed to at any point during the past six months when she was sitting in an easy-to-reach Federation detention facility?  And how exactly did Captain Georgiou’s telescope — which, remember, we saw the characters use in the first episode — get saved from the Shenzhou when that starship was crippled in combat with the Klingons and much of her crew killed??  Even the notion of the case constantly dinging is silly — are we to believe that case has just been sitting in their room dinging ever since Burnham first touched it?  Come on.

So what did I like about this episode?

Well, first off, I am glad that the monster found on board the Glenn last week hasn’t been forgotten, and was in fact a central part of this week’s story.  It would have been helpful had the writers indicated last week that they weren’t going to abandon this thread — even having one character wonder about how that beast got on board the Glenn would have been nice — but, regardless, I am glad that plot point wasn’t dropped.  And I like that Burnham doesn’t assume, like everyone else, that the creature must be hostile.  Now this is a Star Trek story.  It was a little predictable that 1) the creature would be more than it seemed and that 2) Burnham would figure it out, but still, I liked that story.

The visual effects continue to be amazing, with a number of gorgeous sequences this week.  I particularly enjoyed the brief fight simulation at the beginning.  I love the look of the enormous, room-wide viewscreens we’ve seen on the bridges of the starships on this show.  I loved seeing the Discovery’s primary hull spin around when they fired up the drive.  I don’t really understand how that makes any sense (wouldn’t that be terribly traumatic to all the people inside the saucer??) but it sure did look cool and was a fun surprise, and a neat reason for why the Discovery’s saucer hull looks different from all the Starfleet saucers we’ve seen before.  The brief fight with the Klingons at the end was also fun.  I’d have liked to get a better look at the Birds of Prey.  And I’m not sure I understand the bit of the miner wondering who had rescued them — was the Discovery’s presence there supposed to be a secret?  But still, that was a nice action beat.

I was terribly sorry to see Rekha Sharma’s character (Landry) killed off so quickly and so stupidly.  Ms. Sharma was great on Battlestar Galactica and I was delighted to see her on this new Trek show, so I am bummed that she’s gone so quickly without actually having much to do.  I approve of a Star Trek show being willing to kill off characters — if done well, this can create great drama, and can separate Discovery from all the previous Trek shows where we knew all the main characters were safe from harm.  But this was not done well.  Landry’s death was stupid, turning off the shield and rushing in to confront a creature that she’d just seen (in the previous episode) wipe out a whole pack of fully-armed Klingons.  Feels like a waste of a character with potential.

I am enjoying getting to know the Discovery’s main engineer Stemets, who stands out among everyone else who just seems to do whatever Captain Lorca wants.  I did not at all like Ensign Tilly last week, but she’s starting to grow on me and I chuckled at a few of her lines this week.  (“Less.  Less extraneous words.”)  And Saru continues to be great (“my ganglia remain unconvinced”), though I don’t understand how this cowardly scientist is able to be successful as Lorca’s first officer.  It’d be nice if the show showed us what Lorca thinks of Saru.  Frankly, it’d be nice if the show did more to flesh out all of these characters and their relationships.  I know we’re only four episodes in (and only two episodes with most of these characters on board the Discovery), but I’d like to see a lot more character development.  Jason Isaac commands the screen whenever he appears as Lorca, but I want to know more about this character than that he wants to win this war with the Klingons.  Who is this guy, and what makes him tick?  I could see this show developing a tough, militaristic captain who wasn’t a bad guy.  Wanting to save lives is not a bad thing!  I feel like we maybe got a hint of that this week when we saw Lorca playing the miners’ desperate distress call for everyone on the ship.  Was the show trying to show us that these events have real stakes, and that these are the lives that Lorca is trying to save?  Maybe, but as it played in the episode it felt more like one more dickish thing Lorca has done, one more way he mercilessly pushes his officers, rather than something that might make him more sympathetic.

I haven’t said anything yet about the Klingon storyline on this show, which returned in this episode after a week off.  I don’t hate this stuff, but I don’t love it either, and I’m not really sure where any of this is going.  I like the show’s bravery in going with subtitles rather than having all the Klingons speaking English, even though, whoof, that Klingonese is hard to listen to (and seems torturous for these actors to speak over their prosthetics).  Speaking of which, I am not warming up to this weird new look for the Klingons.  Tell me that Voq doesn’t look like the Engineer from Ridley Scott’s Prometheus?  I also noticed this week that these new-look Klingons have prosthetics on their hands, giving their fingers a weird claw-like look.  Every Klingon we’ve ever seen before had a normal human-looking hand.  I don’t approve of the continuity problem, and I don’t really like the look.  So… oh for two.  Every shot of these Klingsons’ hands this week, particularly as they were trying to manipulate technology, looked silly.

I did laugh at that “uncouple” line, though.  We were supposed to laugh at that, right?

As for the Discovery’s magic mushroom “spore” drive… well… sigh.  My head continues to spin at the continuity problems, since this seems far more advanced than anything we’ve ever seen on Trek before.  Obviously there’s going to be some reason why this is going to be destroyed or lost by the end of the series.  But since we have already seen this experimental drive work PERFECTLY in this episode, it makes one wonder why future scientists or alien races wouldn’t want to recreate this work in the future — and yet, we’ve never seen anything like this before.  As I have written before, I wish this show were set 100 years AFTER Next Gen, rather than being a prequel.  Then this wacky new method of space-travel wouldn’t bug me.  (And so many of the other continuity problems would just fall away.)  As it is, it’s a little sillier than I like my Star Trek fake science to be… AND it’s a huge continuity problem, so I’m having some trouble with this.

I did love the crazy title this week’s episode had!

There’s potential in this show.  The cast is strong and the visuals are amazing.  But we need tighter storytelling and an improved focus on developing the characters.

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