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After last week's enthralling season three premiere of "Star Trek: Discovery," the show's second episode had a high standard to follow.
Interestingly, episode two — which debuted on the streaming service CBS All Access today — is entitled "Far From Home" and not "That Hope is You, Part 2," which is a little unusual (the premiere was "Part 1"). Most multi-part episodes, even within a seasonal story arc, tend to follow in succession, so evidently showrunner Alex Kurtzman has something up his sleeve.
Since last week's episode was refreshingly focused on just Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Book (David Ajala), you would be correct to assume that this episode will show us what happened to the crew of the USS Discovery following the events of the season two finale.
And, indeed, we see the Discovery's bridge in a state of some disrepair and the crew slowly regaining consciousness after having emerged from the finale's time travel wormhole. Badly damaged and plummeting out of control, Discovery hurtles toward a planet below. A crash is inevitable, and so is a fair amount of technobabble as they invert the Crossfield class starship through atmospheric reentry to give the top of the shields "most of the brunt."
What we were hoping for here was a set piece comparable to what we saw in "Star Trek: Generations," when the saucer section of the USS Enterprise-D crashed on Veridian III. Not only was that quite spectacular, but it felt realistic, especially the devastating, numerous impacts and the resulting turmoil for everyone inside.
The graviton beam is readied and shields are switched to inverse to cushion the landing and down she goes. The crash scene in "Generations" lasts nearly two and half minutes. It continuously builds tension throughout as the helpless, frightened crew await their fate until friction overcomes momentum, the saucer section comes to an abrupt halt and they are all forcibly catapulted forward.
Sadly though, this opportunity to see Discovery carve a miles-long trench in the ice and rock on the planet and expand the scene into a thrilling set piece is missed. The actual crash only lasts a few seconds.
Instead, perhaps we could've had brief shots showing the chaos in other areas of the ship. Something like the crew flying from walkways in engineering; injured patients thrown from their beds in sickbay; Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) gritting his teeth as he holds the still-comatose Lt. Stamets (Anthony Rapp) to his bed; and Commander Saru (Doug Jones) on the floor cradling terrified Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman) in a vain attempt to protect her. Cut to the exterior and we see the damage being inflicted on the primary hull and the long trail of debris being left behind. Over the deafening cacophony of screams and screeching metal, Saru desperately shouts, "Keep the nose up for as long as possible!"
We'd be reminded of what the bridge crew can actually see on the viewscreen as those fortunate enough to still be seated either reach down to their sides or above their heads to pull seat belts across their torsos or over their shoulders, frantically trying to insert them into buckles. We could get close ups on the transfixed faces of each of the bridge crew ending with Tilly, who slowly closes her eyes as an exterior shot shows the saucer section finally dipping and making contact with the surface. For a brief moment it violently scrapes along the rock and ice before embedding itself and everyone and everything not strapped in on the bridge is flung forward and those who are strapped in, cry out as those same restraints cut into them. Finally, there is silence as lights flicker, smoke slowly rises and sparks shower from control consoles. Fade out.
But no. We get none of that. Roll opening credits.
The crew pick themselves up and are pretty pleased about still being alive. Commander Jett Reno (Tig Notaro) reels off a barrage of technobabble about what might be damaged, including communications, sensors and propulsion. Consequently, they have no way of determining where, or when, they are. Saru gives a solid speech about priorities and the repair work begins. Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) pops up and does little except add antagonization to the proceedings.
Next up, we're in sickbay and Culber brings Stamets out of his induced coma in a nice, heartwarming scene. "Can you hear me?" Culber asks, gently stroking the face of his partner who's lying there, barely conscious. "Good, good. We made it through. It was a pretty rough landing and I wouldn't have brought you out so soon, but there's some people in bad shape …" he says, quipping, "We need your bio-bed."
Fingers crossed the relationship between these two can be kept fresh this season as it is mostly a joy to watch. The whole Culber dies-and-gets-respawned plot was not the writers' strongest moment in season two.
We mentioned briefly last week that rebirth is a reoccurring theme in "Star Trek," from instances in "The Original Series" — like Lt. Scott in "The Changeling" (S02, E08) or Commander Tucker's clone in the "Enterprise" episode" Similitude" (S03, E10) all the way to Spock in "The Wrath of Khan" and Dr. Culber in "Discovery." Even, unfortunately, in "Picard." However, some story arcs are better written than others. It could even be argued that "Discovery" itself is perhaps undertaking a rebirth, hopefully moving away from convoluted time travel storylines and attempting something new by taking the show into uncharted territory, far away from the restraints of existing canon.
We get a glimpse of the carnage and cost to the crew in sickbay and Lt. Keyla Detmer (Emily Coutts), who appears to be suffering from a little PTSD, before we cut to the wrecked captain's ready room. There, a plan is hatched to dispatch a scout party to a settlement that's been detected to obtain more rubindium (needed to fix the transtator, you know, which itself is critical to restoring the systems onboard Discovery).
Tilly bumbles through her explanation, Saru reinforces the need to maintain minimal interaction with any locals and Georgiou just rolls her eyes at every opportunity. Sadly, at this point, her character is in danger of becoming a cliché, a little like how Tilly already has. However, the aim at this stage is to show how Saru must deal with all types in order to prove his worthiness to command and the clash of vastly different personalities must be handled appropriately. This could be effective providing the character cliché minefield is avoided, we shall see.
Meanwhile, in Engineering Stamets must tolerate working with Reno while someone named Gene scoops up what's left of Leland (Alan Van Sprang) after Georgiou killed him with the power of magnetism last season.
Saru and Tilly prepare to venture outside and the planet looks very similar to Hima, the world that Cmdr. Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) landed on last week. It's obviously also been filmed in Iceland. Also, when Burnham emerged from the wormhole, she hit a debris field and crashed. When the Discovery emerged from the wormhole, it hit an asteroid field and crashed. What are the odds?
Saru and Tilly have a chance to chat intimately as she looks to the Kelpien for guidance and leadership on this alien planet. It's not a particularly long scene, but it's touching and the dialogue is well written. They spy a humanoid figure on the horizon and make their way toward it.
The problems facing the USS Discovery continue to pile up. Georgiou and Commander. Nhan (Rachael Ancheril) ponder the "parasitic ice" that seems to be slowly engulfing the ship. The two have an interesting conversation centered around Nhan's decision to leave the USS Enterprise and join the Discovery crew. They're joined by Lt. Linus (David Benjamin Tomlinson) and Georgiou takes a curious interest in his "enormous visible spectrum."
Tilly and Saru continue to follow the humanoid stranger. They come across an abandoned mining settlement, the production design of which is gorgeous. They walk up to and through a concealed transporter and find themselves in a rundown, backwater saloon, complete with swinging, metal batwing doors. Perhaps some things are never destined to change, even over 930 years.
Inside are three Coridanites, one sitting hunched over a drink at the bar, another behind the bar, slowly polishing a glass and one sat at a table in the distance. In a fun — albeit a little hackneyed — set piece, everyone exchanges eye contact and hands tentatively move to concealed, holstered weapons. The wind flute in the incidental music adds the finishing touch.
Saru and Tilly convince them that they are in fact from the Federation and offer precious dilithium in exchange for abundant rubindium. The dialogue is well written and feels natural as everyone gets to know each other a little bit better.
One of the Coridanites, Kal (Jonathan Koensgen), bonds with Tilly as he uses "programmable matter" to build more rubindium and he wonders longingly if perhaps "he is Starfleet material." We also learn that this planet has no official name, but is referred to simply as "the colony" by the people who live on it.
A secondary storyline running alongside this is set in Engineering and involves Stamets getting stuck in a Jeffries tube, bleeding while trying to repair a broken something-or-other, with Reno offering both support and sarcasm. It's not exactly the most riveting sub-plot we've ever seen and we're pretty sure that writers Alan McElroy, Chris Silvestri and Anthony Maranville could've come up with something a bit better. And it's a shame because the primary plot is developing rather well. Last week's episode didn't really feature a secondary plot and it was still effective.
Saru learns of the "burn" for the first time and we hear about a nasty character called Zareh (Jake Weber); a courier who decapitated the previous one and took the route for himself, simultaneously taking advantage of these locals who depend on any dilithium they can find to trade. Both Kal and his colleague Os’Ir (Lindsay Owen Pierre) warn Saru that Zareh will also have detected the Discovery and he will almost certainly be on his way.
On cue, there's the sound of a ship landing outside and Zareh beams into the saloon, flanked by four goons. You'll more than likely recognize the actor; Jake Weber has appeared in a lot of television shows and movies including "Pushing Tin," "U-571" and "Midway." This is his first foray into the "Trek" universe …and his character is pretty damn cool.
His boots thud against the wooden floor as he steps forward and despite not appearing to be wearing any, something is making the same jingling sound as spurs as he walks, which completes the Western motif.
Zareh demands to be taken to the Discovery before he notices Tilly is hiding the now-repaired transtator behind her back. He cleverly deduces that along — with the high energy gamma and gravitational waves that were detected as Discovery appeared on their sensors — the fact that they couldn't repair that technology on their own means they are time travellers.
Without hesitation, Zareh blasts poor Kal who endures an excruciating death. While it might have been obvious he was going to be the sacrificial lamb in this plot, since the other two hardly said a word between them, the manner in which he dies is still quite shocking — maybe even excessive. Blue blood pouring from his eyes and nose, a huge hole in his chest slowly burning, he falls to the floor, still alive before dying in absolute agony. Yuck.
For the first time, we hear the V'draysh mentioned. V'draysh, you may recall, was the name of the organization that Craft (Aldis Hodge) came from in the brilliant "Short Trek" episode "Calypso." Back then, "Picard" showrunner Michael Chabon, confirmed that "V'draysh" was a syncope of "Federation."
Zareh breaks down the situation for Saru: Basically it's all about the dilithium, so he proposes a trade. He also explains to them that the ship is being attacked by the nocturnal parasitic ice, so time is a factor before the Discovery is destroyed.
On board the Discovery, Reno is still trying to give Stamets directions as he crawls about, John McClane-style. We also learn that Georgiou is missing and thankfully the wait for her now predictable appearance at the saloon isn't too long. She's discovered outside walking the perimeter by two of Zareh's goons and brought to the bar.
Georgiou is in her element, dealing with a crook in a criminal underworld and we hope her role this season is more than just being a counter-badass, because that would get repetitive quite quickly. Zareh's feelings clearly mirror our own so he shoots her. Hooray. And now we see why it was necessary for Kal to die in such a protracted manner as Zareh really draws this out. We know Georgiou isn't going to die …she's just going to be hurt a bit. You know, like the shot-in-the-shoulder thing we saw last week. Still, we're pretty sure that energy blast would do some permanent damage.
Saru knows what's coming, as do we. He tells Tilly to prepare to take shelter behind the bar as an impressive fight kicks off as Georgiou — who, aside from a bit of blood, seems unaffected by the same weapon that killed poor Kal — more or less single-handedly takes out Zareh's goons with a combination of blaster fire and the breaking of necks. It's well choreographed and nicely filmed, clearly Michelle Yeoh has been working on her martial arts skills, or the CGI budget has increased, or both.
She wants to kill Zareh too, but Saru — determined to maintain a code of conduct worthy of the Federation — insists that she doesn't and then Tilly notes that the sun has disappeared, which could spell disaster for the Discovery. Fortunately, Stamets manages to repair the broken thingamajig thus restoring power to the ship.
Saru hands over Zareh to Os'Ir who lets him go, which means he'll have to take his chances outside, so it's entirely possible we might see him again. Fingers crossed. Os'Ir gives Saru a personal transporter so he, Tilly and Georgiou can safely return to Discovery without having to take their chances outside at night.
With the transtator repaired and installed, communications, propulsion and sensors are back online. Now more or less completely encased in parasitic ice, the Discovery struggles desperately to break free. Systems begin to overload and suddenly sensors detect an alien ship approaching them. They suspect it's Zareh's friends who will have also detected the crash…and the Discovery is hailed. A channel is opened … and it's Burnham! Yay. It's a touching moment as everyone is understandably relieved. She says she landed a year ago … and during that time she's had hair extensions, but they look nice, that's the most important thing.
The second installment of this third season is not as good as last week's premiere episode, however it's got some great set piece action and it's still considerably better than most of what we got in season two.
Execute trans-warp drive ✓
- Please let Zareh be a reoccurring character, he's badass.
- The abandoned mining settlement was beautifully designed.
- The Western trope was nicely handled and the saloon set piece was fun.
- Tilly was significantly less annoying, which comes from better dialogue.
- Saru's proof of leadership quality is a well-written journey.
Thrusters at station keeping ✗
- A longer, more thrilling crash set piece would've been nice to see.
- Yeah, Georgiou's little smug sniggers are now getting really annoying.
- As beautiful as the "colony" was, it could've looked less like Hima.
- The secondary storyline was a little bit lame.
- Were Romulan quantum singularity drives also affected by the "burn"?
In other "Discovery" news, the episode titles for the third season have been officially confirmed and there are two interesting things to note.
"That Hope Is You, Part 1"
"Far From Home"
"People of Earth"
"Forget Me Not"
"Terra Firma, Part I"
"Terra Firma, Part II"
"The Good of the People"
The first is that the episode "That Hope Is You, Part 2" doesn't even feature in the third season and the second is the title of the seventh episode, "Unification III," which sounds like it might be somehow linked to the "Next Generation" two-part story, "Unification I" (S05, E07) and "Unification II" (S05, E08) where Ambassador Spock attempts to reunite the Romulans and Vulcans, since they were originally the same race.
CBS has also confirmed that principal photography for "Discovery" season four will start on Nov. 2. What that means for "Picard" or even "Strange New Worlds" is unclear since the handling of the Coronavirus has been significantly better in Toronto, Canada where "Discovery" is filmed, rather than Los Angeles, USA where "Picard" is recorded. And filming on both of those has not started yet.
In a recent interview for SFX, "Discovery" showrunner Alex Kurtzman said, "Things are just starting to shoot again. We would have been in production already on Picard, but we couldn’t be because of COVID. It’s pushed our Discovery and Strange New Worlds dates just a little bit, but I think we’re actually planning on staying on track for those. By the time they shoot, we will have innovated with a couple [non-Star Trek] shows, and we will know where we are. And we will be a little bit more down with a process."
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