Star Trek Discovery: Through the Valley of Shadows

When a red signal appears over the Klingon monastery of Boreth, Pike enlists the aid of Tyler and L’Rell to investigate it. Meanwhile, Burnham and Spock go after a Section 31 ship that was suspiciously late for one of its scheduled check-ins.

As we inch towards the series finale in a couple of weeks, Discovery’s latest episode weaves together two separate plotlines. First off, the magical red light of plot importance sends Pike to Boreth, the Klingon monastery first seen in TNG’s Rightful Heir. Boreth was briefly mentioned at the end of Point of Light, when Tyler dropped his/Voq and L’Rell’s son off there to keep him safe, but now it returns with a new and previously unmentioned purpose. For, as it turns out, Boreth is also home to a crop of those magical MacGuffin time crystals we first heard about a couple of weeks ago.

Given that a time crystal might be key to sending the sphere data stuck on the Discovery computer safely into the future (really, don’t think about any of this too hard), Captain Pike decides to head to Boreth himself to collect one. The instant we see the outsider Pike pushing open the doors to the ancient Klingon monastery, my trope sense started not so much tingling as outright buzzing.

What comes next will come as no surprise to anyone who has any knowledge of narrative convention. Pike’s request for a time crystal is initially refused by the Klingon monks, but because he is a protagonist, in short order he is allowed to undergo a trial in order to obtain one. As sci-fi and fantasy trials go, it’s pretty brief, but it does actually bring us some of the most powerful and disturbing scenes of Discovery so far. All this time, we’ve known full well what Pike’s eventual fate will be, but now the good captain himself is forced to confront the horrific future in store for him. In order to take the time crystal, he has to see and accept his own future – both the horrible accident that cripples him, and the sight of his future self confined to a wheelchair. Not only is it powerful and difficult watching, but it really makes you wish that there was some way for Pike to avoid his fate.

Unfortunately, the rest of the Boreth storyline is just a bit too much. It turns out that the head monk, Tenavik, is actually Voq and L’Rell’s son, magically aged from infancy into a mature Klingon by the effects of the time crystals. It’s a little sad that this means L’Rell and Tyler/Voq have basically missed a massive chunk of their son’s life, and it also generates such cliched dialogue as “he’s where he needs to be now”.

While all this is going on, Burnham is struggling with the aftermath of finding and then losing her mother. She’s desperate to track down Leland and Control, and seizes on an opportunity to go after a Section 31 ship that was late for its scheduled check-in. Accompanied by Spock, Burnham rushes off to find out what’s going on, only to find that the entire crew of the Section 31 ship has been dumped into space. In an act of surprising naivete, Burnham and Spock rescue the one survivor, without once being suspicious of how he escaped the grisly fate of his crewmates. It also turns out that said survivor was on the Shenzhou way back in the first episode, which is a callback no one needed or cared about. So this random generic guy was onscreen at the very start of the series – who cares?

Anyway, as you probably guessed straight away, said survivor has of course been ‘assimilated’ by Control. Control is so afraid of Burnham’s main character powers that it wants to kill her, a turn of events that leads to a showdown between Spock, Burnham, and a hand-shaped cloud of nanomachines. Well, it looks impressive, even if it feels a bit over the top. We also learn that Control’s desire to eliminate all sentient life in the galaxy arises from its original directive of trying to prevent another war. Yes, we really have gone down that well-travelled path of “programming a computer with the best of intentions leads to a genocidal AI”.

Feels familiar?

A run down of other properties and franchises that came to mind while watching this episode.

  • Ratchet and Clank: the background music and computer voices put me in mind of this series of sci-fi platforming games.
  • Fire Emblem Fates: One of the story elements of this strategy RPG involves pairing up playable characters so that they marry and have children. In order to make the children grow up quickly enough to join your army before the game ends, they are all sent off to “Deeprealms” where time runs differently. In short order, all those children end up roughly the same age as their parents.
  • Game of Thrones: There’s definitely a big budget high fantasy feel to everything that happens on Boreth.

Notes and Observations

  • Given the time distorting effects of the crystals, it’s amazing that Pike didn’t age loads during his visit to Boreth. And what a lucky escape for Worf that it didn’t happen to him either, eh?
  • If Control wanted to “assimilate” Burnham, surely it could have snuck some nanomachines into her body while she was on the ship.
  • How is it that Starfleet knew so much about scheduled Section 31 check-ins, and the make-up of their fleet? I guess Tyler is just feeding Discovery everything he’s learnt in the past two months.
  • When Spock, Burnham and Gant are discussing their plans for containing Control, did it not occur to anyone that Control might be listening in to their conversation? Of course, ultimately Gant was already Control, but even if he wasn’t, it seems foolish to overlook that possibility. After all, remember how HAL was able to lip-read in 2001.
  • I’m delighted to find out that Reno isn’t straight, but I’m not entirely sure she should be pushing Culber to get back together with Stamets. It felt like this arc was all about Culber developing in new directions after his resurrection, so if they do get back together, it should be measured and slow, not a snap back to the status quo in time for the season finale.
  • When the Discovery crew argue that the latest signal cannot be the Red Angel since Gabrielle is now separated from the suit and lost in time. But of course, given the nature of time travel, if she was the one generating the signals, in her timeline she could already have visited times and places that are still in Discovery’s future.

Summary – Through the Valley of Shadows: Christopher, blow up the damn ship!

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