STAR TREK: DISCOVERY Episode 4 Review

Burnham and Stamets conduct some science

By M. Pilon

The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the  Lamb’s Cry

Yes, little lamb, I feel your pain. We’re at the end of the fourth episode of 15. That’s kinda like reading a 159-page novella and, at the bottom of page 49, there’s a note from the writer telling you to trust him, the story’s coming. It reads, “There’s going to be a break after page 89 ‘cause I’m going to have to take a rest but the story is coming. Oh wait, just in case you don’t think I’ll get to the story, I’ll write to page 99 so you know what the story really is then.”

If this were a book, I’m not sure I’d put in the time to see if this turns into a real story worthy to be called Star Trek. But, little lamb, we are Trekkies and we will soldier on. We will stubbornly plow through Swiss-cheese storytelling, videogame pacing and character development, disappearing diversity, mumbling and fake-teeth-spitting dialogue for the occasional flash of light to remind us that the spirit of Star Trek is still alive, trapped in the money-making imperative of the pre-Federation global corporate camarilla. Not to mention that this show obviously suffers from too-many-produceritis – it has all the hallmark of most of the energy going towards trying to serve too many masters and the storytelling is suffering.

Where have all the people gone?

Gone this episode are the black badges and busy corridors
Gone this episode are the black badges and busy corridors

In Episode 3, the corridors of the Discovery were full of people and those black-clad, black-badged, weapon-toting men were at every door. In Episode 4, the corridors are mostly deserted and Section 31 have disappeared (but they do that, don’t they). Not even at the door to Lorca’s Menagerie. But I digress.

Saru picks up Burnham, they’re still not getting along. Seriously, little lamb, if you were Saru, would you be on a ship like the Discovery? Even if high-placed officials were impressed with your actions at the Battle of the Binary Stars enough to flatter your ego? Would not self-preservation win out? Would not your threat ganglia be permanently out?

We get to the unguarded bridge door to reveal a war game underway. Captain Lorca stands tall and amazingly able to withstand all the light flashes and rapid changes in light intensity that occur during a battle despite his stated eye condition. But he is not amused and tears a strip off his Security Chief. How much more stinging would that have been if we had seen even of glimpse of their earlier hinted-at get-together.

Then we move on to another deserted corridor, presumably because it’s Lorca’s personal corridor to his Menagerie. He lets Burnham in. No one is talking about the smell. There is dissected flesh around and pieces of organic stuff everywhere. She comments that this room contains some of the “deadliest weapons in the galaxy”. He counters that all this is because he studies war, yet I don’t see any cubicle containing stupidity, ignorance, arrogance or greed, these being the very deadliest weapons in full display at the beginning of the 21st Century.

He shows her the kitty bin. She has no reaction to the fact that this is the beast that she spent much of her away time in last episode evading while pretending to be a fairy tale character (or was this her way of reminding herself that she is in a terrible alternate reality and Lorca knows it? Oh, that would explain so much but I shouldn’t have to guess about this stuff). He tells her to weaponize it. Seriously, like it’s not enough of a weapon already.

I can see the reefs off the port bow, little lamb. Where is the lighthouse?

“It would be hard to do worse”

Captain Lorca berates his bridge crew by sarcastically applauding their efforts
Captain Lorca berates his bridge crew by sarcastically applauding their efforts

I know we all saw it coming like a terrible, slow moving train wreck that was both unbelievable, yet inevitable. Because that’s how videogames work – the writers create a real tough, trash-talking, weapon-toting badass only to feed her to the monster-du-jour so that the designated survivor can show everyone that he/she is more capable and will make it to the end of the story.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on this. That’s the second woman of colour, highly touted as a capable member of Star Trek Discovery’s story, to be dispatched without much character development, only to be replaced by a mostly-white man (Lorca is white and has those exquisite, star-reflecting blue eyes so he can carry a mildly-ethnic name, Tyler – Landry’s soon-to-be-introduced replacement – has an English name in case, you know, viewers think he’s actually part of the greater human diaspora). I don’t understand why cast members are so upset at so-called “racists” fans who don’t like the diversity – what diversity? All anyone needs to do is refer to these events to let these “fans” know that their concerns are being promptly addressed and the offending characters being promptly dispatched. Can we also take a moment to reflect on the fate of the poor prison shuttle pilot who was left to die in space like so much space trash in the last episode?

Is Admiral Cornwell next?

Commander Landry, deceased on medical bed
Commander Landry, deceased on medical bed

What’s a Jonah?

Well that’s basically Burnham as written up to this moment. She’s always there when all the stupid, freaky deaths happen. Bad things happen around her even though most of it is not technically her fault. She’s bad luck. Add to this that she is unilaterally despised when she gets aboard, I was expecting her to be spaced right then and there after Landry’s death, probably by Lorca himself, with Saru’s help, if only to prevent the entire crew of the Discovery from mutinying.

But no. Lorca, who makes no effort at hiding his short fuse at every turn, just looks at his Security Chief’s corpse with less emotion than a Vulcan, with only a curt plea that Burnham try and make her death not be in vain? If the writers wanted drama and conflict, that would have been a really good place to have the two of them go at it with Burnham’s fate becoming more precarious if no results are forthcoming. Instead, we have Lorca inexplicably not even demand an explanation for Landry’s death.

Lorca’s behaviour with Burnham is totally out of character with everything else. OK, either Sarek’s blackmailing him so he’s nice to Burnham or he thinks they have a connection from whatever mirror universe he or she is from. Get to it already! She’s obviously not getting it if the interaction in Episode 3 is anything to go by: “I know you Burnham. I know all about you!” Creepy if you ask me, especially when he moved from behind the desk and placed himself between the desk and Burnham, forcing her to recoil so he wouldn’t touch her. It would explain the lack of explanation and his absolute nonsensical acceptance of Burnham at face value.

Here’s where storytelling falters – if the characters know more about the story than the viewers, that’s not storytelling, that’s a game. That’s why viewers are getting upset and impatient and the producers and cast are moved to tell us to be patient. I didn’t sign on to be a pawn in a game. In a story, the viewer/reader is supposed to discover the secrets either before or as the characters uncover the truth. It’s supposed to be a journey that we take together.

Using logic…finally

Burnham tricks Saru so that she may gauge his threat ganglia response
Burnham tricks Saru so that she may gauge his threat ganglia response

There is one moment of brilliance in this episode that finally showcases Burnham’s training in logic and her instinctive use of it. She tricks Saru into coming into close proximity to the tardigrade to gauge whether it’s a predator or not. This was a display of logic at its best – efficient yet devoid of either morality or guilt. It showcases both characters’ strengths and weaknesses and finally places them in the story, such as it is. More writing like this please.

The other scenes where the characters resonate with truth are the exchanges between Lorca and Stamets. I believe every word of it. In fact, the interactions between Lorca and Stamets have so far been the strongest element of this show (other than the Klingons – more on that below). And I really like the divide between the science/exploration directive vs. the military/defense imperative that is always present within the Federation but has never really been explored.

What is Everyone Eating?

Avert your eyes from this paragraph little lamb – it will make you cry indeed. We are told (again, not shown) that the Klingons were so hungry that they resorted to eating the rotting bodies of their defeated enemies, thereby lessening their warrior potency. Yes, they ate Georgiou. If the writers wanted to shock the viewers, here’s something that might have worked better than the stupid, needless deaths. Show us the dejected Klingons eating Georgiou, with apparently Voq pretending to enjoy it, CUT TO Lorca eating his dinner. And the Tribble is still there, still alone, still childless, despite all the fortune cookies around. What is Lorca eating all by himself? Salad of curried baby Tribbles? Can we talk about the Tribble in the room? Is it just there so that it can hiss at Voq when he shows up with his new identity? Gee, I wonder who…

And Lorca doesn’t even bother to do up his jacket to speak to the Admiral. And it’s the Admiral who apologizes (yes, in the 23rd Century) for catching Lorca mid bite in that shocking state of undress. Methinks she’s seen it before.

Those poor miners – still Klingon fodder after all these years

Corvan 2 miners send a distress call
Corvan 2 miners send a distress call

Let’s face it. Lorca doesn’t care about the miners, or even the di-lithium crystals for that matter. He cares about his reputation, his authority, making sure he doesn’t lose face.

Honestly, that scene with the miners begging for help was straight out TV 50 years ago. However, back then, they would’ve made more of an effort to get us to relate to the miners’ plight and to explain why, if they’ve been at war for 6 months, a precious source of di-lithium crystals would not have been better protected. And children taken to safety at the start of the war. I don’t even know why this was parachuted here with no attempt to get us to relate to them as should have been done in long-form storytelling and would even have been delved into better in a stand-alone episode. And that last scene is silly, just silly.

“Light one candle for the strength that it takes to never become our own foe”

I liked the response that Lorca gave to Admiral Cornwell when asked if the Discovery is ready to help. “I told you we’d be ready. We are!” Lorca tells porkies with a straight face, then turns around and bullies his crew to not prove him a liar. That’s a good exploration of his character.

Lorca’s broadcasting of the miners’ call for help was a reactionary fit of pique and not indicative of a good leader or even a good warrior. He’s turning into the type of commanding officer that gets a bullet in the back on the battlefield when no one is looking, at least in our universe.

Klingon Storyline

Voq and L'Rell have a heated discussion
Voq and L’Rell have a heated discussion

As I’ve mentioned before, the Klingon storyline is well laid out with interesting characters and intriguing possibilities. I wish they had switched back to English after T’Kuvma parodied the Federation’s We Come In Peace. Now I find the subtitles annoying and distracting. If the Federation’s side of the story were better written, the comparison between the Voq-L’Rell/Burnham-Lorca parallel stories would have the potential of being very effective.

The jumping back and forth between the Federation and the Klingons isn’t working here. Yes, it’s working for Game of Thrones but they had to work at it and found a way to make it work for THEIR storyline.

Here’s the thing that you deal with in long-form storytelling that you don’t necessarily have time to deal with in episodic TV. How did Saru, Burnham, Keyla and the other survivors get off the Shenzhou and back to Starfleet? Did they swim through space to reach safety? They had to have gotten rescued somehow. So, why didn’t they take the technology and their dead off the Shenzhou and/or destroy the ship like Lorca did with the Glenn? Isn’t that what intelligent people do with their tech when they can’t salvage it to keep it from falling into enemy hands? And if they rescued the Federation people, why didn’t they take the Klingons as prisoners? Seriously, what happened there?

The Tardigrade and the “sporadic” drive

Discovery's "sporadic" spore drive in action
Discovery’s “sporadic” spore drive in action

How did Burnham get the authority to open the containment bin or even want to do it. She saw the creature and almost lost her life to it. She had a visceral reaction to the Klingons, yet with the tardigrade that almost ate her and killed Landry right beside her, she’s all motherly and curious scientist? Maybe if something had happened in the Jefferies tubes in Episode 3 that made her doubt, but it didn’t. Forget about all the brain scans – self preservation would trump science in Burnham if she were written in a consistent manner. The scene with Saru was believable, but she’d still have doubts and fears. And, since we’re on the creature, if it’s so light phobic, how is it that it did not recoiling in horror and pain and/or going attack crazy while trapped in the bright light of the pilot cubicle?

The tardigrade got out of its confinement on the Glenn. Wouldn’t it be able to do the same in the Discovery? I’m not buying that it just didn’t make a run for it when Burnham disabled the force field later, no matter how nice Burnham was to it or how yummy those spores were.

We now have a navigator straight out of Dune with the spores as his spice. I’m not even going to ask how the crew communicates with the tardigrade to let it know where they want to go and for how long. Or that it didn’t start killing everyone on the ship just to protect those wonderful spores in the spores room that they transported it to.

The tardigrade became a ship navigator
The tardigrade became a ship navigator

Lorca through the looking glass

Let’s hope we get to our side of the Mirror universe soon; home, safe and happy as Lorca put it in Episode 3. You know the one where all the diversity gets resurrected.

But that would mean that all this stuff we’re trying to muddle through in our reviews is just another prologue or some sort of morality play. This show is telling us how we should feel about the story and the characters instead of showing us what the story is and letting us decide about these characters through their actions and interactions.

If the powers that be are going to do another switch, they better get to it quickly. No one likes to have their allegiances toyed with. I’m ready to de-invest from this iteration – if the rug is pulled from under me again for no other reason than that the producers could just do it to prove that they have more power than me, and provide them with a good laugh at our expense, I’m out. Tell me a good story, a story I can relate to every step of the way, a story that walks through every door the writers open, a complete story. Not a studio in-joke or a game, which is what this definitely feels like.

Random Stuff

  • The “Disco” Ring – I guess someone found a stargate. Let’s party!
  • Since the Discovery started spinning when the “sporadic” drive was engaged, does that mean that this is how the ship travels instantaneously? Spinning on its axis? And it certainly wasn’t instantaneous and would require a moment or two to stabilize at the other end. What does that do to people inside? I guess the inertial dampeners for the Discovery came with mega-Gravol.
  • You can’t get last will and testament bequests in prison.
  • If one is allergic to polyester and synthetic sheets, one is miraculously OK with spandex and synthetic uniform to wear all day.
  • Elon Musk? Who got the Tesla?
  • 8186 people have died in 6 months of war with the Klingons? And Lorca says the Federation is losing the war? That’s way fewer than the number of people who died last year from gun violence in the US alone (11,959 according to GVA). What are they telling us here?

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About M Pilon

M Pilon is a retired TV Producer, Director and Writer who now spends her time developing and writing her own projects, satisfying her curiosity and trying to do her part to make this a better and more inclusive world. M Pilon credits TOS with influencing the course of her life, like thousands of other kids of her generation. She's maintained an interest in the franchise.