Somewhere along the way, Star Trek: Discovery went from a show that I thought was doomed, was a little bit better than it was prior, but would probably never get past the usual growing pains that Trek shows have to being almost like an actual Star Trek series. Crazy, right? I’m actually pleasantly surprised that at least for now I’ve been wrong about this series.
What exactly happened?
The last two episodes happened, where the focus hasn’t been so laser sharp on this big story arc and endless explosions, but instead the characters and their relationships with each other. Hell, this last week’s episode saw an ancient sphere in space spitting out tons of knowledge and throwing off the ship’s computer because of the overload of knowledge, even put the empathetic Saru onto his deathbed.
If it’s been said once, it’s been said a million times: Star Trek series tend to start off pretty bad and end up getting a hell of a lot better. Be it meddling TV executives that think that they know best, attempts to do “new things” that simply don’t work or anything else on the spectrum. Star Trek: Discovery began as a carbon copy of the JJ Abrams films, which means heavy on action, fill in the gaps with exposition, establish only a select few characters and then start going and never look back.
These last few episodes have looked back, all while still pushing their story forward, showing that you can do this big story arc while still keeping the usual Star Trek charm that helps make memorable characters. Tilly was haunted by the ghost of a friend from her past while doing drills for the command program, which helped to push her to work harder, but also mentally break down, only for the realization to come that she wasn’t insane, it was a new form of life reaching out. It was a spore from the mycelium network, which the spore drive takes full advantage of.
This last episode expounded on that idea further, by showing the lifeform/spore break free and take over Tilly once again, but this time it lays out what it actually wants: for them to leave the mycelium network alone, the spore drive was disrupting life there. All of this while the ship’s systems are in disarray over this big, crazy, dying sphere. This is classic Trek if there ever was such a thing. All of this while still keeping tabs on how Discovery fits into Star Trek canon, stuff like the communicators, the uniforms, Spock’s weird story that they’re trying to push and the relationships between the Federation and the rest of the galaxy.
Sure, a lot of this is finding a way out of the corners that they’ve written themselves into, you could see from a million miles away that this uber cool spore drive was going to have to fail miserably at some point for ships to rely solely on dylithium warp engines again, especially knowing that in later series those drives came under fire for the temporal damage done by exceeding warp 5.
But this is classic Star Trek through-and-through, living up to the promise seen in those short episodes released prior to this season.
Even the stuff with Saru being ill, Michael caring for him and him being given the gift of overcoming his species’ life in fear was the kind of character building that a show like this needs to keep trudging forward. We already like these characters, but we need to know more about them, we need to see them struggle not just in battle, but together, with personal issues and to forge bonds to make those moments when they are in a life-or-death situation more valuable.
Yes, I get it, a lot can be implied by showing emotional reactions to battle, but it errs into the territory of simple exposition to tell and not show. Showing Michael caring for Saru, showing Saru pushing past his sickness to help the crew, even when he discovers that his illness is fatal (I mean, it wasn’t in the end, but you know) has way more impact than Michael telling Saru that she loves him like family without actually showing more of their formerly contentious relationship.
These two episodes have easily been the best of the series and give me hope that the show will continue to grow into itself and shed the trappings of being pure genre, popcorn fare and instead a valuable addition to the Star Trek story.