A new signal leads Discovery to the Beta Quadrant, and a small colony of humans descended from a group who were abducted from Earth during World War III. Many of the colonists hold a deep religious belief in the angelic being who brought them to this world, whilst a few favour the scientific method. Pike and Burnham decide to head to the surface to unravel the mystery of how they came to arrive on the planet in the first place.
My occasional viewing companion spoke highly of this episode, and on that basis, I expected to enjoy it. In fact, I found I couldn’t really summon up much enthusiasm for it.
The emerging theme of the series so far is this mysterious red bursts, but as yet, we’ve been given little evidence as to why they are so important. Last episode, we found a new type of matter, but so what? The Star Trek universe is awash with weird kinds of matter and radiation already, so why is this one so important? I’m equally underwhelmed by the hints of there being a powerful alien race behind this. It seems too far out of Star Trek’s ball park for them to be actual celestial beings, but who or what will they turn out to be? Will they be a race we already know about, such as the Iconians, or – god forbid – the Q? I remain cautiously pessimistic about any revelations we might receive later on.
As far as the plot of the episode itself goes, neither of the two main strands really grabbed me. Apart from giving recurring character Owosekun more to do than just sit at her station on the bridge, the events on the planet were somewhat dull, and for me at least, lacked any real Star Trek flavour. This set up could have been cut-and-pasted into one of the Stargate series, or Firefly, or Battlestar Galactica, and it wouldn’t have felt at all out of place.
Later in the episode, the planet is suddenly in terrible and imminent jeopardy, a turn of events which is more “oh, not this again” than it is “oh no, how terrible!”. Normally, it would be Burnham’s genius that saved the day in this situation, but since she is down on the planet, Tilly steps up with a plan. Is every Discovery main character going to turn into a problem-solving savant by the end? At least other shows have always balanced their super genius characters with a sprinkling of dullards.
Notes and Observations
- After her accident with the mystery matter, Tilly starts seeing her childhood friend May Ahearn – who not only doesn’t serve on the Discovery, but who died two years previously. Is this related to Stamets seeing Culber in the mycelial network, to the mystery angelic beings, or perhaps both?
- Spock has apparently committed himself to a psychiatric facility on Starbase V. Is he seeing dead people too?
- The use of the spore drive was vital to the war effort, so Starfleet looked the other way when Stamets genetically modified himself in order to become its navigator. Even though arguably the damage is already done, and so they might as well keep on using it anyway, Pike acts as if the seriousness of the red burst situation is the reason why the spore drive can be reactivated. But we as viewers have not yet seen a compelling reason why some ‘red bursts’ thousands of light years away are as immediate and compelling a threat as imminent destruction by the Klingons. Presumably Starfleet and Pike know more than they’re letting on.
- I know Star Trek doesn’t do relativistic effects (except on the rare occasions where it does, like in Voyager’s Gravity), but in what sense were the original red bursts all simultaneous anyway? And how did Starfleet detect them from so far away, when over a century later Voyager – a similar distance away – goes for years without being able to contact the Alpha Quadrant?
- In The 37’s, it was considered absolutely fine to reveal Voyager’s technology to the abducted humans, and to talk about Earth. Here, it’s said that the humans now count as a distinct pre-warp civilisation, and so the Prime Directive applies. We all know that Starfleet captains bullshit about the Prime Directive for plot reasons, but it does make it harder to understand when it should apply. If the purpose is to prevent interference in a culture’s natural evolution – well, that already happened when the angelic beings whisked these people away.
- When I saw the incongruous church on the planet’s surface, I was immediately reminded of Kevin and Rishon Uxbridge’s house in The Survivors.
Summary – New Eden: Angels did it.
Addendum: Short Treks
Covering the next two Short Treks.
The Brightest Star is essentially Saru’s origin story. Growing up on his home planet, Saru dreams of something more than the seemingly inevitable fate of every Kelpian to be harvested as food by the pedatory Ba’ul. Ignoring the restrictions on Kelpians owning Ba’aul technology, he obtains and reprograms one of their tablets to send a message that eventually summons Starfleet to come and retrieve him.
Before this short (and a line of dialogue in New Eden in which Saru calls himself the only Kelpian in Starfleet), I had a somewhat different idea of what his home planet was like. I had assumed that Kelpians were full Federation members, and that their status as prey on their home planet was because there were numerous indigenous non-sentient predators. We won’t even go into the “no food chains on my home planet” nonsense at this point.
Instead, it turns out that the Kelpians are a pre-warp civilisation who are harvested for food by a more technologically advanced species, and that, in the prime universe at least, Saru is the only one to have escaped. The short isn’t bad, but it does proceed with a comfortable narrative familiarity that doesn’t push any boundaries.
Harry Mudd is somewhat tiresome, so I wasn’t looking forward to his turn in The Escape Artist. Having been captured by a Tellarite bounty hunter, Harry tries to bargain for his life, but is it the end of the line for the infamous con artist?
I have to admit I cared little for this events of this episode, especially given the twist at the end where it turns out that the captured Mudd is just one of numerous decoy android replicas. The replicas seem to tie in with the technology Mudd had access to in I, Mudd, but of course chronologically that doesn’t make sense, as he didn’t encounter the android planet until after his first meeting with Kirk.