Star Trek #1476: Saints of Imperfection

CAPTAIN'S LOG: The crew tries to rescue Tilly from the Mushroom-verse.

WHY WE LIKE IT: Everybody lives, Rose! Everybody lives!

WHY WE DON'T: Fake-outs are in danger of being too common place. Section 31 headaches.

REVIEW: There's a fun reference to Cestus III (and alligators) in this episode that is actually prescient. Just as "Arena" is about Kirk and Starfleet finding out THEY were the aggressors, trespassing in Gorn territory, the "monster" destroying the mycelial dimension is one of our own - Hugh Culber. Only he of course thinks the spore entities are the monsters (or really, a non-sentient hazard) and only when we take a breath and start thinking can we start to understand one another. I've been going on and on about this all season, but it's the very message of Trek. And that, my friends, is more important than technobabble or plot holes, which this episode has to indulge in to explain itself. The philosophy an the emotions are real, so it works as drama, despite what we probably have a right to call "magical thinking".

Look, all the mycelial shenanigans on the show are a result of a pretty crazy piece of tech in the first place. With this episode, Discovery's makers may have finally put the nail in the coffin (using it has destructive effects), but they give it a big going-away party. Characters get to go into the mycelial network, a glowy land of oxidizing spores and toxic tree bark. Tilly gets there by way of a mushroom transporter, the others use Stamets' chamber as an airlock while the ship gets stuck in between dimensions (though the danger of touching the dimensional wall is overstated, I think). There, they find Hugh Culber, who'd been killed by Ash Tyler but his soul traveled through a shroomy Stamets (remember? he was all, like, temporally disconnected?) and took shape in the network, where he only survived by covering himself in bark to keep the spores away... See what I mean? When Culber started appearing in visions, I thought the network had a connection to a parallel world, or an afterlife, or something. When May showed up, I thought he might have been a spore being in disguise too. When he is incapable of crossing back to our universe, they really made me believe this was going to be his true death, and a second shot at making that a moment for him and Stamets (he died alone, originally). But like Saru's death in the previous episode, it is not to be. They find a [technobabble] way to resurrect him (perhaps not with complications, he's been out of it for a while), one that may or may not satisfy nitpickers. I mean, if he was made of shroom matter (which can't exist in our world), why did the spores attack him? Not that I understand the mores of this alien species, but what's with "making" him a body only to destroy it?

But this is all pretty irrelevant when you consider what the episode is really about. And it's got some strong emotional beats too. Stamets and Culber explaining what made them fall in love, for example, the former's refusal to accept defeat, and the latter's ability to sacrifice himself, true to Starfleet's "promise". I'm referencing Pike's speech to the crew, about being ready to give one's life for one's crewmate. Pike, in fact, gets most of the best lines ("your very bold, very insane plan", and "we can't survive complications" among them). One moment that doesn't work as well for me is the sudden sisterhood enjoyed by Tilly and May. That they helped each other out, fine. That at the end, they see their two worlds becoming permanently isolated from one another as a bad thing because they will lose contact, I don't buy. Tilly was just too angry at having been violated, and May was just using her anyway. A forced pinky swear is all we really get out of it.

So Culber doesn't die, that was a fake-out. Tilly wasn't dead either, another fake-out, though the show never really believes it, so even if you haven't seen the trailer, you're never really worried. A third fake-out - and you should be worried about this particular writing tic moving forward - is Spock's shuttle. Discovery finally gets to it... and Spock's not in it. Sad trombone. Instead, we get Georgiou who, according to Pike, is acting strangely (or is he not testing her with his Academy Tales?). Michelle Yeoh is having a grand old time playing this snake in the grass (or in the apple tree, notice the fruit), at once dangerous and delightful. Pike's old friend Leland is her commanding officer, and Ash Tyler rejoins the crew to make Burnham's world more complicated (Pike has him just stand there like some Soviet Loyalty Officer, but he's such an action here, I'm sure he'll get more to do). Culber's return may definitely be awkward, but relieves him of some guilt. ANNNNND Admiral Cornwell is on the Section 31 ship by the end. This is perhaps my one complaint about Season 2. There are too many people coming on and off the ship, and it makes space feel super-small. I pretty much thought she was going to be Georgiou using camo, especially since her voice sounded processed, but no. That's another thing. Section 31's advanced tech is almost too much. Why is Starfleet sitting on TNG-type badge coms, ship camo, tractor filed boosters, etc.? Section 31, and presumably the show it will spawn, feels like it's operating a hundred years from Disco's, and it's not just a question of aesthetics. That said, they at least seem to be altruistic. Gray areas or not, even Georgiou seems intent on doing her job well, and smiles when she saves lives. Not that we should trust the scorpion of the fable, but this episode's message has been one of understanding. Maybe she's not the monster Burnham takes her for (though she definitely WAS).

LESSON: Any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from a psychedelic mushroom trip.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium - Messaging is on point, and I'm happy to see Culber restored. However, there's still a matter of Section 31 using the show as a back-door pilot, and a lot of technobabble to get through.


Madeley said...

I don't mind the second fake out not-death, I was so desperate to see him come back to life. I thought it packed a real emotional punch.

TO indulge in some unsupported speculation, is it fair to say the mushrooms didn't bring him back as mushroom matter, but Stamets brought him back and formed him in mushroom matter in such a way that he was toxic? I mean normal bacteria are made out of normal matter, and they're still harmful.

As for Section 31 tech, I would guess they're using camo technology illegally in some way, or are using it in secret to give them the edge and by the time it could be rolled out to Starfleet it was made illegal by whatever treaty made it illegal, I forget (was it Khitomer or am I mixing them up?). I can believe Section 31 are using illegal advanced tech, maybe even stolen in violation of Starfleet directives in some way, to give themselves an edge.

De said...

The Section 31 stuff is easily my biggest complaint of Season 2. I know their initial appearance on DS9 established their having advanced technology (I still think Sloan's transporter was based on the spore drive, based on Lorca's initial demonstration to Burnham), but we're already seeing them skirt the line of being a deus ex machina.

While I'm not surprised to see Cornwell with Section 31, I am a bit disappointed. In the Season 1 finale, she seemed relieved to not be committing genocide as an end-justifies-the-means solution to ending the war. I had hoped she had some time to heal from her Season 1 ordeals, but this episode puts her squarely in the "broken woman" trope. I'd like to be wrong about this, so I'm willing to wait to see how this plays out.


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