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Josh Reviews the Two-Part Finale of Star Trek: Discovery Season Two: “Such Sweet Sorrow”

Well, I’ll give them some credit, the folks behind Star Trek: Discovery did their best to pull out all the stops for this two-part season finale.  There were huge spaceship battles and hand-to-hand combat sequences, there were big emotional moments, and attempts made to not only answer all of this season’s long-running questions but also to tie up some of the continuity issues that have been present since the start of the series.  Unfortunately, as seems to usually be the case for this show, the things that worked were, in my opinion, vastly outnumbered by all the things that didn’t.

Let’s dive right into the big stuff.  (I’m going to dig deeply into spoiler territory here, folks, so beware.)  The core mystery this season was of the seven signals that appeared simultaneously across the galaxy.  That’s how things were set up in the season premiere.  But then, as the season progressed, new signals kept appearing.  That was a contradiction that never made sense to me.  Were there the seven original signals plus the new signals the Discovery kept encountering?  In this episode, we go back and retrace the steps of the signals that Discovery encountered: four in previous episodes and three more over the course of this two-parter.  That’s seven total, so the original set-up of seven mysterious signals that all appeared at the start of the season has been totally contradicted.  It’s shocking to me that the show could fail so completely on even being consistent and clear with its set-up at this most basic, can-you-count-to-ten level.

We learn in the finale that it was Michael Burnham herself who set the signals.  In theory I like the idea that the events we’ve been following this season are a loop, and that the source is one of our characters and not some made-up external new antagonist or protagonist.  But think about this for even just a few seconds and it all falls apart.  How could Michael create these enormously powerful signals (so powerful that they could be detected from across the galaxy) with just her tiny little suit?  Even if I accept the idea that a human in the years before the Original Series could create a perfectly-functioning time-travel suit (and that Michael could build a new one and learn how to operate it in less than a day), how could this time-suit move Michael, not just through time, but also through space, allowing her to journey back and forth across the galaxy in an instant?  The finale explains that while it was Michael’s mother who traveled through time to interact with Spock as a young boy, it was Michael herself who was behind everything else this season and all the business with the seven signals.  Well then, how did young Spock get implanted with a vision of the seven signals??  Burnham’s mother (who was the one who went back in time and encountered young Spock) had nothing to do with them and didn’t know anything about them when Michael asked her!  You see?  None of this makes any sense.  I truly don’t understand how the men and women who created this show could try to tell a season-long mystery story without having answers that make sense on even a most basic level to these questions they had set up at the start of the season.

The latter half of the season was spent building up the A.I. “Control” as the big-bad villain, but the way he was dispatched with in the finale was laughably stupid.  Why does Leland/Control spend forever fighting Georgiou by hand throughout the corridors of Discovery?  He is MADE of nanites!  The second Leland/Control beamed aboard, he should have touched a computer interface and used his nanites to take full control of Discovery, shutting down the ship and killing everyone on board.  How exactly did Georgiou defeat Leland/Control, anyway?  She magnetized the spore booth?  How would that destroy all the nanites?  Does that make any sense to anyone?  I’m supposed to believe that Control is now destroyed completely; that not one single tiny Control nanite survived anywhere?  Come on.  As with the dumb hand-to-hand combat stuff, this is evidence that the writers are foolishly thinking about Control as one Terminator robot and not an A.I. that lives within machines/technology.  Control was operating thirty starships and countless drones and who knows what else.  Its “essence” would be spread among operating systems in multiple locations.  It wouldn’t only be in the one Leland-nanite-creature.  That’s so silly!

The giant space battle in part two was cool, that’s for sure.  As I have written before, I love seeing Star Trek realized on such an enormous, bug-budget scale.  The outer-space visual effects were gorgeous and movie-quality.

BUT.  Not a lick of that battle actually made any sense.  First of all, where the heck did the HUNDRED or so shuttles and tiny spaceships come from?  Both Discovery and Enterprise have large shuttlebays, but I’m supposed to believe they each have fifty-plus smaller craft on board?  That’s ludicrous!  (And even if somehow they did, how would they have enough crew-members to spare to pilot them all?)  I feel like the people running the show just wanted to create Star Wars like visual effects (just like in the J.J. Abrams Trek movies).  And how could Discovery and Enterprise possibly survive as long as they did while getting attacked by thirty full-size starships at point-blank range?  (In the wide shots of the battle, we saw Discovery and Enterprise surrounded by a circle of starships, only a few ship-lengths away from them.)  Those thirty starships should have been able to all fire at once and demolish Discovery and Enterprise within minutes (if not seconds).

As has often been the case with this show, I don’t feel like the writers have any understanding of the geography of space and how things work.  How were Sarek and Amanda able to zip in for their quick goodbye?  How were they able to catch up with Discovery when no other Federation starship (or the Section 31 ships in hot pursuit) could?  Even if they could find Discovery (hiding somewhere in all of the Alpha Quadrant), how could they get there all the way from Vulcan?!!  It’s ludicrous.

How could a torpedo detonate within the Enterprise hull — with such force that, as we later see, it has torn away a huge chunk of the Big E’s primary hull — and Pike is safe just because he’s standing behind a blast door?  COME ON!  (And don’t think I didn’t remember that Star Trek has already done this “undetonated torpedo crashed into the ship” story, far more successfully, in the DS9 episode “Starship Down.”)

So, the Enterprise has little droids that can be dispatched along the hull to repair damage?  (Just like R2D2 in The Phantom Menace??)  Uh, no.

There were some strong emotional beats.  I liked the montage of all the characters dictating their goodbye letters to friends and loved ones.  I liked Pike’s “eyes front for Commander Burnham” moment, and I loved when Burnham and the bridge crew responded with a silent, stand-at-attention moment for Pike as he left the Discovery bridge for the last time.

But there was also way, way too much over-emotional schmaltzy speechifying (did Sarek actually have tears in his eyes?  Come on!) and fake drama.  I knew Burnham wasn’t going to die or be trapped in the future all by herself, so all of those many teary goodbye scenes rang hollow.

Speaking of the future: so Burnham and Discovery jump into the future, and Spock, Pike, Tyler all swear never to reveal what happened to the ship or to ever speak of the ship, its crew, the spore drive, etc., ever again.  But WHY?  OK, I can understand the reason for keeping the time travel suit a secret, as that is a weapon that could be used for powerfully evil purposes.  And therefore, if that is a secret, I can understand why the fate of Discovery (sent to the future), must also be kept a secret.  But why is the spore drive a secret?  (Earlier episodes this season suggested that the spore drive was damaging the mycrocelial network.  I assumed this would be the reason they’d stop using it and abandon the technology, thus explaining why it wasn’t in use in future Trek eras.  But, nope, they kept using the drive whenever they wanted.  So why then must this powerful and effective technology be kept a secret?)  And why in heaven would Sarek and Amanda swear never to mention Burnham’s name ever again???  That doesn’t make ANY sense.  For them to never speak Burnham’s name is much weirder and more suspicious than mourning and remembering the people lost in the Discovery’s destruction, which is what the cover story is supposed to be.

It’s all a lot of bending over backwards to explain away the show’s many, many violations of Star Trek canon.  (Another small example: we get another mention in this episode that the futuristic holographic communication systems seem throughout the series will, for no explainable reason, no longer be used on the Enterprise.)  Why introduce all of these out-of-place ideas (like the holographic communications system) if you know you have to then (awkwardly) write them all out of the story?  All of which leads me to ask, yet again: WHY was this show a prequel in the first place???  Was this the plan all along, to eventually send Discovery into the future?  If so, what was the point of any of this?  Had the show been originally set in the future, AFTER the previous 23rd and 24th century-set Trek shows, none of these canon complaints would ever have existed.

Other thoughts:

* As I have mentioned before, I don’t like Sarek seeming all friendly and understanding towards Michael during the time-period in which he wasn’t speaking to Spock, nor would he for another decade (until the Original Series episode “Journey to Babel”).  And I hate that, here again, Discovery has reframed this dispute to seem to put most of the blame on Spock rather than Sarek.  In this episode, Sarek suggests that it is SPOCK’S choice that the two men are not speaking.  No, sorry.  (Yes, Spock is stubborn and does take some blame, based on what we learn in “Journey to Babel,” for the two men’s decades-long estrangement.  But the arc of Spock and Sarek’s relationship, from “Journey to Babel” through the end of Star Trek IV, was mostly about Sarek’s learning to respect and acknowledge his son’s choices.)  Also, how could you have this tearful goodbye between Michael, Sarek and Amanda and not also have a scene in which any of them see Spock, or Spock in any way acknowledges “wow, were my parents just on board”??

* I have complained all season long that the show misunderstood and misused the super-secret agency Section 31.  I thought at least that, following the debacle of Control’s attempt to destroy all life in the galaxy, this would lead to the attempted destruction of the agency, and the surviving agents would go underground, thus transfoming the Section 31 of this show into the Section 31 we saw on DS9.  But that doesn’t seem to happen at all!  At the end, Ash seems to be appointed to a leadership position in 31, by a regular Starfleet admiral.  So the agency doesn’t appear to be going underground at all, but rather continuing as just another branch of Starfleet operations.  I don’t get that at all.

* Speaking of Ash, why doesn’t he go into the future with the rest of the Discovery crew and the woman he supposedly loves?  (I say “supposedly,” because despite the swelling music when Ash and Michael kiss goodbye, this is not the grand tragic love story the show seems to think it is.)  I’ve never been sold on this character, so if they are writing him out I am not sad to see him go.  But there is no real character-based reason for him not to stay with Michael.

* One of the great successes this season was Anson Mount as Captain Pike.  He has been a consistent bright spot this whole year.  I love this character, who has embodied, more than anyone else on Discovery (including Michael, who did commit an unwarranted mutiny), what I believe a Starfleet officer should be.  I am sad to see him leave the show.

* Number One, on the other hand, was used very poorly.  Despite a lot of promotion for the character before the season began, she barely appeared, and even here in the finale, when she finally got some screen-time, she was useless and didn’t contribute in any way.  She was worse than useless, actually, as they repeatedly showed her getting flustered, and even unable to understand the science being explained to her by Detmer.  Come on, basically the only things we know about Number One (from “The Cage”/”The Menagerie”) are that she is stoic and a brilliant scientist.  Sigh.  (And, at the end, when being debriefed by Starfleet, she states her name as Number One?  Absurd!  It’s long been a bit of a Star Trek in-joke that we were never given her actual name, but come on, we’re expected to believe that Number One is ACTUALLY her name?  Blech.)

* I loved seeing the Big E in action, though I continue to disapprove of the redesign.  I feel the same way about the weird Discovery-ization of the Original Series Enterprise classic bridge, which was revealed in this finale.  Yes, I liked seeing the Original Series Captain’s chair and the red railing and other bits like that.  But this is NOT what the original Enterprise bridge looked like.  I completely reject the premise that the Original Series designs (of the Enterprise’s exterior and interior) couldn’t have worked had this prequel show ever had any desire to actually be a canonically faithful prequel.  The Original Series sets and costumes looked amazing when they were recreated in Enterprise (for the “In a Mirror, Darkly” two-parter), and the Big E looked gorgeous in the fan-made series Star Trek: New Voyages and Star Trek: Continues.  If those fan-made efforts worked (including beautiful CGI effects of the Big E in space), think what a professional effort might have accomplished?!  Oh well.

* Although the time traveling didn’t make any sense, I did enjoy the unique visuals used for Burnham’s journey through time in the Daedalus suit.  That was very nicely done.

* Tig Notaro’s Jet Reno was a fantastic addition to the show this season, and I was glad she had a few strong moments in the finale.  I hope we see a lot more of her next year.

* I liked the split-screen shots!  Very unusual for Star Trek!

* I enjoyed seeing Tilly’s friend Po back (from the Short Treks short-film “Runaways”).  I loved the sideways way she blinked; what a subtle but effective visual effect.  With Discovery jumping into the future, will we also soon be connecting with another Short Trek, Michael Chabon’s brilliant “Calypso”…?

* I liked the shot of San Francisco and Starfleet HQ.

* I’m glad the cat is out of the bag about this Georgiou being from the Mirror Universe, and I love that Pike already knew that.  (I like it when characters are SMART.)  I loved his wink and “what Mirror Universe?” line as he was beaming away.

* So, the Klingons have a huge Super-Star-Destroyer?  That seems insanely impossible for this era.  And that the Klingons would fight and shed blood alongside Starfleet feels totally inconsistent for this show (season one WAS about a brutal war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, remember?) and Trek continuity (and the Cold War-like atmosphere we saw in the Original Series).

I did enjoy the final moments of the finale.  Of course it was nice to see a clean-shaven Spock, back in his blue uniform, on the bridge of the Enterprise along with Captain Pike and Number One, and to hear a few notes of that classic Alexander Courage theme music!  But I found it a weird choice that the season ended with the original Enterprise and her crew, rather than Discovery, whose show this actually is.  (Again, had this show ever actually shown any real interest in being a prequel to the Original Series, then concluding with the Original Series Enterprise would have made more sense.  But that’s not the show this has ever been, so it felt to me like a bizarre choice for the finale.)

Where will Discovery go next in season three?  In what time period will they land?  It’s weird to me that, entering the third season, I still don’t really have any idea what kind of show this is or will be.  I hope that, freed from continuity constraints, we can get a more satisfying fresh start with season three.

I’m still watching, despite my dissatisfaction, because I continue to feel that the potential is there for this show to be great.  The money and production values are there, and the main cast is very solid.  Season two did make several positive course corrections from season one (a much better captain, a more positive tone much better in keeping with classic Trek, more attention paid to fleshing out the bridge crew characters, mostly leaving the Klingon junk behind, etc.), but ultimately I felt the season didn’t work, that it was beset by too many story-holes and and nonsensical continuity errors of the type that hindered season one.  I would love to see this show move past all that, and I know the potential is there.  We’ll see.

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