Star Trek Discovery Episode Nine; or, Is This Finally Not Sucking?

What does an out-of-work writer who is intentionally not working to care for his toddlers do with the few, fleeting moments of free time that he gets? He watches the latest Star Trek series, Discovery, then complains about it on his personal blog. Makes sense, right? Television is a pretty okay medium for storytelling and, when done right, can be something really special. Otherwise it’s either just there or it’s downright awful.

This week’s episode of Star Trek: Discovery was the mid-season finale for this year, with the show returning in January. Thus far it’s been a sort of bumpy ride. Sort of. The show started off giving off those strong “JJ Abrams” vibes with the action-heavy stuff that didn’t do much to establish the cast of characters beyond simple tropes before settling into the middle section where they did a lot of talk about characters from The Original Series with it all feeling mildly silly and like the show couldn’t stand on its own feet.

Then it finally started to come into its own. Yeah, there are still major, major fucking problems with the show and they are bound to come up again because, well, this is the ditch they chose to dig with this series. That being said, the final two episodes before the winter break were, well, pretty good. Last week’s show I didn’t have a lot of complaints about it. Sure, there was some bullshit, but it wasn’t astounding. This week, sure, there was some bullshit, but less-and-less of it actually mattered. The show actually felt like it was standing on its own and blending in the action well enough with the actual character stuff where things kinda sorta feel like they matter?

Sure, Lorca’s obnoxiously-cartoony ambiguity and “shades of grey” for a Star Trek world are still there, in fact, they are what led the crew to being marooned at the end of the episode. Why? Because he knows he’s in trouble and, once again, he’s willing to risk the lives of his crew for his own, stupid hide. It’s befuddling that a guy that killed his whole crew and saved himself, who is this insane, somehow made it through Starfleet’s rigorous command program. To top it off, nobody saw that he was unstable and undeserving of his own command yet again, well, until a few episodes ago.

They wanted to give him a medal, actually. Because he saved the day while completely ignoring orders. While this happens in Star Trek, often, even, there’s usually a base level thrown down of how important these rules and regulations are and that these captains will only take risks if there is absolutely no other risk. I get it, not everyone is a boy scout like Picard or as willing to do whatever it takes to do the absolute right thing like Sisko, but we’ve got years and years and years of this hammered into our heads: Starfleet Captains are the highest order of humanity/the Federation. The ones that aren’t are weeded out pretty quickly.

The show’s very premise is on Michael Burnham being not just demoted, but imprisoned for disobeying an order and holding what most would consider a soft mutiny. In fact, that whole thing has been more-or-less dropped completely, which is sort of astounding. It was a really stupid storyline anyway, but it’s just sort of gone. It feels like Lorca’s evil ways are going to somehow lead to Burnham not only moving up in ranks, but being awarded the fucking Discovery. Am I crazy for thinking that? Maybe it’s that I just finished watching season two of Stranger Things where just about everything that we called happening happened. At a certain point it just felt insulting.

The former first officer is straight-up dead because she was just as fucking ridiculous, stupid and cavileer with Starfleet regulations as Lorca is, leaving Saru. Look. Saru is a nice guy and all, but his complete inability to handle a first contact situation with the Pahvo and his aversion to any sort of risks sorta paints him as completely incapable of command. There was that one episode where he was in command and he was completely inept. They haven’t done much to build up his character outside of those two episodes and, well, he just doesn’t seem the captain type, does he? So there’s a chance that Burnham goes from detestable mutineer to captain of the fleet’s most capable and experimental ship all because the current captain is some cut rate villain that somehow completely avoided medical and mental scans to show just how fucking nuts and awful he is.

See, this show brings me to these strange asides. This episode wasn’t awful! I kinda liked it and it felt like the show was finally getting on track a bit. Because, like I said, it didn’t try to fuck with the Trek canon too much, it didn’t try to pander to older fans too much by completely destroying things that they vaguely remember, nor did it rely solely on action as the tool to propel the characters and the plot forward. Yes, there was action, but it wouldn’t feel out-of-place compared to, say, Borg-era TNG or Voyager where there were complex plans in place to fight off the Borg by outsmarting them instead of overpowering them. That’s what happened here and it was a nice, brisk change of pace from Lorca being a homicidal maniac.

The crew was left in a precarious position, with Anthony Rapp’s Stemets ready to stop taking psychedelic trips into the land of mycelium because it was remapping how his brain functions, only for Lorca to throw a wrench into the whole thing to save his own ass. So we have the ship’s crazy, unsustainable drive no longer functioning, its head of engineering probably fried, a Klingon torturer on the ship, the admiral that Lorca both bedded and abandoned to the Klingons to keep his post and they’re stuck in a location that they can’t pinpoint.

This feels a bit like Star Trek and I’m actually looking forward to watching the rest of the season, where I’ve been sort of dreading it prior. Good job.