A great intro gives way to uncomfortable Saru interactions
The 4th episode of Star Trek: Discovery is titled The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry. Since that’s an unusually long title, I’m going to refer to it just as BKCN, short for Butcher’s Knife Cares Not.
Directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi, the episode opens with one of the coolest scenes from any Star Trek series I’ve ever seen. The camera shows the synthesis of Burnham’s un-ranked uniform, first from within at a microscopic level, then the camera pulls out to reveal the uniform in full.
On the flip side of the coin, interactions with Saru weren’t what I expected. His character felt different than in previous episodes.
Early in BKCN there’s a rather uncomfortable meeting between him and Burnham aboard a turbolift destined for the Bridge. It’s evident by Saru’s threat ganglia that he still believes Burham is a threat in some way. We learn that Captain Lorca kept Burnham aboard against Saru’s knowledge and wishes. Saru admits that if it were up to him Burnham would have been aboard the penal transport that left in the previous episode.
It’s a little unsettling to see Saru show little to no desire to work with Burnham or give her a chance at redemption.
Scenes of action, because action
No episode of Star Trek Discovery is complete without some fighting, conflict, or large scale battle – because action for the modern-day adrenaline junky.
Burnham and Saru enter the bridge to find the ship under attack by Klingon Birds of Prey. The fight turns out to be a battle drill being run by Lorca, who’s certainly not afraid to use hyperbole in expressing his dissatisfaction at the drill results. “It would be hard to do worse” he says. Seems a little dramatic to me considering the bridge crew destroyed 1 of 2 Birds of Prey they were engaging with.
We also get some more of the Klingons in BKCN (…Butcher’s Knife Cares Not..), after having seen very little of them in the previous episode, Context is for Kings. We learn the Klingon named Voq, now leader of the Sarcophagus ship, and the crew have been stranded at the battle scene for the past six months. So low on resources, they even resorted to eating Captain Georgiou we’re told. There has been no prior reference that I know of to Klingons eating Humans – or any bipedal species – so this is something new. Voq, after being convinced by L’Rell, decides to rummage for parts from the USS Shenzhou – Captain Georgiou’s ship which has been adrift since the Battle at the Binary Stars.
A captain that cares not for ethics
Lorca tasks Burnham and Landry with weaponizing the monster they’ve brought aboard from the USS Glenn. Either directly or by understanding and synthesizing some of the components of the species. “What material is in a claw that can shred the hull of a ship?” asks Lorca while revealing to Burnham he has the creature aboard. “What’s a hide made of that can withstand the firepower of a phaser set to kill?” These are reasonable questions were it not for the fact the creature is being kept against its will. I have difficulties in accepting that a Starfleet captain would take such actions with the backing of Starfleet. But that seems to be the case given it was also what the Glenn was up to.
Star Trek Discovery is certainly living in pre-Prime Directive days.
Burnham learns that the monster, which Landry names “Ripper”, shares natural traits with the tardigrade species. A docile micro animal that lives in the waters of the earth. However Landry is unconvinced and takes Lorca’s request to weaponize a bit literally.
It’s here that the episode starts to break down for me.
Incoming distress call
There’s a distress call from Corvan 2, a small planetoid that’s used by a mining colony of the Federation. The colony has come under heavy Klingon attack and, arbitrarily to me, has about 6 hours of life remaining. In any previous Star Trek series, the episode would have spent a good chunk of time giving viewers a chance to learn about the people in need of assistance. Who they are, what they represent. It helps us to empathize with them, get to know them, and feel like it’s a top priority to save them. Instead, this episode of Discovery does no such thing.
I felt like I couldn’t care less for the colonists. All attempts to gain viewer sympathy for the colonists failed. During the distress call we hear a child yell “Mommy!”. A lame attempt in my opinion. Besides, what are children doing living on this mining colony way on the outskirts of Federation space? We learn that Starfleet’s real interest in saving the colony is that it generates some 40% of the Federation’s dilithium – a rare mineral used in warp drives. That makes it a key target for any enemy of the Federation, so why children or any unnecessary personal live there is questionable at best, and poorly thought out at worst.
The entire distress call plot feels shoehorned in simply so that the writers have an excuse for Lorca to act like a maniac and so that there can be more conflict among the crew – for conflict’s sake. Ridiculous.
Anyways, Captain Lorca tells Admiral Cornwell that Discovery is ready to jump to Corvan 2, even though he has nothing to back up the claim. “You have no doubts”, she asks. “None” says Lorca. So even though the Discovery isn’t the closest ship, it’s the one tasked with performing the rescue operation. In fairness, the closest ship is much farther away than the 6 hours the station has left. Convenient.
Again, with that the episode now has a reason for things to go off the rails and for Captain Lorca to take insane un-captain-like risks.
Meanwhile, the Klingon Sarcophagus ship takes its own risks by inviting Kol aboard. Kol, predictably, takes over the crew and ship and strands Voq.
Gimmicks, redemption, and anti-climactic action
Back on the Discovery, the crew prepares to make the jump. We see the saucer sections of the USS Discovery spin – a rather gimmicky feature we’ve never seen before that was probably only introduced in hopes of eliciting a “cool” reaction by viewers. Oh and this is followed by yet another gimmicky visual effect that represents the spore drive itself kicking off. In both cases, better hope the inertial dampeners are working at peak performance.
Burnham learns that the Ripper creature is negatively impacted by the engagement of the spore drive and we finally get a redeeming piece of story. While not stated explicitly, the Ripper, being a spore species of some kind, pushed the Discovery nearly into a star during its jump. Just as soon as that happens, it’s back to poor writing. Discovery is caught in the star’s gravity well, which it escapes without any actual difficulty. This is probably the most anti-climactic scene in all the Star Trek I recall and so poorly written that I wasn’t even sure it was supposed present as dramatic in any way. “Collision is imminent” says Detmer at the helm (likely so the clip could make it into the episode trailer). Mmm, not exactly. Simply engaging the rear thrusters seemed to do the trick, getting the ship out of harm’s way in no time. Good work crew!
None of this scene mattered. But the part that does matter is it shows the animal has intent, knows what’s being done to it, and has established it will fight back when threatened.
After that unnecessary scene, once again there’s an attempt at eliciting viewer sympathy for the miners as Lorca broadcasts the latest distress call to the entire crew. “Mommy. Mommy. Wake up” we hear from a child’s voice. “Save my children. Anyone, help them” a mother asks. “110 souls, all gone” says a man. I laughed in disbelief and at the attempts to make the scene feel tense.
Vanishing women of colour
Before Commander Landry’s appearance in last week’s episode, Star Trek: Discovery had already killed off half the women of colour when Captain Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) died. That left just Michael Burnham, the series protagonist. So when Commander Landry arrived and offered an interesting character, I was happy another woman of colour would be a main character on the show. Of course if you’ve seen this episode, you know she doesn’t make it.
Not only does she die before episode’s end, I found what the writers did to her to be a ridiculous way of killing her off. Not that she didn’t deserve dying given the actions she committed. It’s more a question of why was she acting so ridiculously and unbelievably to begin with. Was she so terrified of Lorca’s repercussions that she essentially engaged in a suicide mission? For reasons I still don’t understand, Landry decides to let the Ripper out of its cage with herself and Burnham in the room. It predictably attacks and kills her. And with that we lose another woman of colour for no reason. I felt the Landry character was killed off simply because the writers introduced her with the sole purpose of dying.
The story goes on and we end up with a tardigrade as a ship navigator, which Captain Lorca happily uses against its will to transport the Discovery to Corvan 2. Once there, the Discovery engages in a bit of battle and then quickly spore drives out of there, destroying the Klingons in the process. That leaves the colony with no idea who came to their rescue. Probably a way of maintaining canon. The children are saved, as are the miners. I never felt for any of them anyways so that really mean anything to me.
I give this episode yet another 3 out of 5 stars, but only because I felt 2 was a bit too low.
Some of the writing of The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry was flat out poor. There was bad plot and scripting. But even though I’ve complained a lot in this review, certainly not all the writing was bad. There were occasional pockets of smart story and quite a bit of great dialogue. Unfortunately, just not enough to save this episode from its bad story for me.
On the good side, Burnham’s attempts to understand the Ripper were very much true to Star Trek, and make complete sense given she’s a Xenoanthropologist. Also, Tilly once again helps save the show in her own way by just being Tilly. There was also some redeeming elements towards the end of the episode that definitely felt Star Trek-esque.
One of the problems I have with season-long story arcs is that not enough happens during any given episode. There’s no real payoff for watching any single episode, nothings gets wrapped up, and it can’t be watched on its own. Parts of Deep Space Nine bugged me for some of these reasons, though that show at least knew how to have stories in each episode that left the viewer satisfied. Discovery doesn’t seem to have that yet. Additionally, DS9 episodes felt like they had more depth to them.
All this aside, what I’m seeing is that the ratings for all episodes so far are generally higher than I’ve been rating them. So clearly some fans and newcomers are really enjoying this and other episodes.