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Josh Reviews Star Trek: Discovery “Saints of Imperfection”

Click here for my review of episodes 1 and 2 of Star Trek: Discovery season two, and click here for my review of episodes 3 and 4.

Episode 5: “Saints of Imperfection” — Picking up immediately after the cliffhanger at the end of the previous episode, the Discovery crew bands together to rescue Tilly from the mycelial network.  For the most part, I thought this was a very solid episode, though it was bogged down by the unwanted (by me) return of Ash Tyler and Mirror-Georgiou.  Star Trek novel author Kristen Beyer wrote the script for this episode, and I thought she did a great job.  As with most Discovery episodes, events unfolded at a very fast pace — I enjoyed the tension of the rescue mission (though there were a few moments where I thought there was an incongruity between the slow-paced conversations Burnham and Stamets & co. were having in the Upside Down and the escalating destruction happening on the Discovery back in “our” universe.  I kept almost shouting at my TV: “hurry up, already!!”)

I liked the concept of the Discovery half-jumping into the mycelial network, keeping half of the ship anchored in “our” universe while the other half entered the mycelial network so as to access Tilly.  The visual effects of the ship half-in and half-out of that other universe looked amazing, and I enjoyed the ticking-clock tension of the mission.

As soon as May mentioned a “monster” damaging her home, I knew it had to be Dr. Culber, and sure enough, at long last, the bad-decision of killing him off back in season one was undone.  Was this the plan all along, or did they alter course after the initial fan backlash?  I’ll give them credit and assume the former, though I still think it was a bad decision.  Seeming to destroy the first happy homosexual relationship ever seen on Star Trek was needlessly painful to a lot of fans, and I’m just not a huge fan of these sort of fake-death fake-outs.  But, whatever, I am happy that Dr. Culber is back alive and well, and I am pleased that in season two Discovery seems to be correcting so many of the mistakes from season one.

Two other season one mistakes, though, returned, to my disappointment and this episode’s detriment.  As I have written before, I am just not into the evil version of Georgiou.  They took an interesting and noble character and turned her into a one-dimensional villain.  This episode tries to hint that maybe Mirror-Georgiou isn’t all-evil, but they haven’t taken the time to allow us to explore and get to know this character.  So my assumption is that any seemingly-altruistic actions that Georgiou takes is just a fake-out, and as such I’m just not interested.

At least Michelle Yeoh is a great actress and a part of me can enjoy the fun she seems to be having playing a black catsuit-wearing villain.  But I find no joy, only agony, in the reappearance of Ash, which just seems stupid to me on so many levels.  I can understand why Section 31 wants to use the ruthless Georgiou (who was skilled enough and smart enough to become Empress back in the Mirror Universe).  But why do they want anything to do with the mixed-up murderous and possibly treacherous human/Klingon outcast that is Ash/Voq?  Why does anyone think that sending him back to the Discovery, where he murdered the Chief Medical Officer, is a good idea?  Why does Ash seem to be surprised that anyone has a problem with his being there?  And what purpose is he actually supposed to accomplish?  Section 31 liaison officer?  What the heck is that??

This episode seems to cement Discovery’s complete misunderstanding of what Section 31 is supposed to be (as it was established on Deep Space Nine) — a super-secret branch of Starfleet intelligence that NO ONE IN STARFLEET KNOWS ABOUT.  But in this episode, both Burnham and Captain Pike chat freely about Section 31 as if it were just another branch of Starfleet, a section of Starfleet intelligence.  The Section 31-ers all march about freely, they have their own insignias that identify them clearly to other Starfleet officers as members of Section 31, and Captain Leland doesn’t seem to have any compunction at revealing his secret cloaked ship the second Ash calls for help (which feels like a very foolish action by both men, if they were trying to keep their organization secret — but I guess they weren’t!).  Pike speaks of Section 31 liaison protocol to Ash like that’s an established thing, which doesn’t make any sense to me.  Are there lots of Section 31 liaison officers on other Starfleet ships??  (Alex Kurtzman’s suggestion, in an interview, that this is all in continuity and there was a reason Section 31 would have gone underground by the time of the DS9 era, is totally ridiculous.  Remember, Bashir and Sisko and O’Brien hadn’t ever HEARD of Section 31.  If this had been such a well-known public branch of Starfleet in Kirk’s era, then one of those highly-trained Starfleet officers would have at least heard of it.  I think those DS9 episodes clearly established that 31 was an organization that had been secret ever since the creation of the Federation.)  I like that they established a past relationship between Pike and Leland, but I wish they didn’t make Leland so one-dimensionally growlingly evil.  (The episode also establishes that Pike is friends with Georgiou, which makes the Trek universe feel a little too small for me… though I guess I can buy that there aren’t many starship captains in this era and so it’s not crazy that they each know one another.)

On the plus side of the episode, it was another wonderful showcase for Mary Wiseman’s Tilly, who is the standout member of this ensemble.  I was unsure about Tiolly in her first few episodes of season one, but I think the writers and Ms. Wiseman have found a wonderful balance for this character, allowing her to be endearingly flawed and human and funny without being over-the-top annoying or incompetent.  I love Tilly’s heroism and bravery.  I love how she embraces the idea of helping May, even after May kidnapped her (in a particularly gross manner), and I love how she also jumps to the defense of the resurrected Dr. Culber when May threatens her.  This episode also featured terrific work from Anthony Rapp as Stamets.  I love his intelligence and fierce loyalty to Tilly.  I like that the show avoids having him have a cliched freak-out when he glimpses Ash.  Most of all, I loved his chemistry with Wlson Cruz as Dr. Culber.  Their long-awaited reunion was lovely.

As usual, I wish the show slowed down to give a little more context/explanation for what the heck was going on.  I don’t exactly understand how Dr. Culbert survived having his neck snapped by Ash, or how he survived without food or water in the mycelial network for so many weeks.  Nor do I understand exactly how his presence was destroying the network.  I’m also unclear on why Burnham doesn’t warn Captain Pike that Georgiou is an evil imposter from the Mirror Universe.  (I guess she’s under orders, but I don’t buy that Burnham wouldn’t feel the need to warn Captain Pike.  And if that really was the issue, I’d have liked to have seen Burnham wrestle more with that dilemma.)  And didn’t the Discovery suffer tremendous damage, with the creatures in the mycelial network eating through much of the ship’s hull?  I was disappointed that everything seemed magically back to normal at the end.

I enjoyed the shuttlecraft chase that opened the episode.  The visual effects were gorgeous.  (I loved the P.O.V. torpedo shot!!)  And while I didn’t expect to see Spock (it’s become clear to me in the previous episodes that the show was going to continue teasing Spock for a while longer), I was surprised by the twist of seeing Georgiou.  I’m happy when the show can fool me.  BUT, as usual on this show, that was a cool moment that doesn’t really make much sense.  How did Georgiou get to the shuttle ahead of Discovery, when last we saw her and the secret Section 31 ship, they were across the galaxy, near the Klingon homeworld picking up Ash?  If the Discovery has been chasing Spock’s shuttle (as they were in previous episodes), it’s ludicrous that Georgiou somehow got to it before they did.  Also, if Georgiou doesn’t know where Spock has gotten to or where he was going, what was she doing on that shuttle?  Just flying randomly?  It doesn’t really make sense.  (Speaking of technology that shouldn’t be around in the 23rd century, there’s Ash’s insignia-as-communicator.  This was probably intended to be a wink at that tech which we saw in all the 24th-century-set Trek shows, but to me it was yet another annoying example of the show using out-of-continuity tech, and again I ask, if they wanted to use that 24th-century tech so badly, why is this show a 23rd-century-set prequel???)

Also: after Captain Pike’s comments in the previous episode about how he preferred viewscreens to holograms, I figured the show would be quietly phasing out the use of the full-bodied holograms that we saw in season one, in favor of characters communicating on vliewscreens (as all previous Trek shows and movies showed the characters doing during this era, as well as 100 years later in the Next Generation era).  But, no, this episode was chock full of holograms.  Captain Pike even walked into his ready room to find a hologram of Captain Leland activated and waiting for him, which seemed really weird to me!

But despite all of this plot messiness, this episode worked because it was exciting and tense, looked gorgeous (the production values on this show are terrific), and was based on strong character work, particularly for Tilly and Stamets.  I’m choosing to focus on the positives for now…!

I’ll be right back here tomorrow with my review of the next episode, “The Sound of Thunder”…!

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