Star Trek #1512: That Hope Is You

CAPTAIN'S LOG: Cut off from her ship, Burnham befriends Book and explores a new century.

WHY WE LIKE IT: A whole new era to explore. Lots of effects.

WHY WE DON'T: Stormtrooper training.

There was a lot riding, I think, on Discovery's Season 3 opener. It's almost like a pilot for a new show, considering that the crew is going to be stranded in the never-explored 32nd Century (specifically the year 3188, 930 years from home). I think it may have been a good idea to start with Burnham and eventually re-introduce the rest of Discovery, giving us time to digest just what has happened in the interim, introduce some new characters, and so on, without having to cater to the entire cast. Full points for the look of the thing, great effects supplemented by gorgeous Icelandic(!) locations. The new opening sequence, as usual gives us clues as to what we'll see, and I especially appreciate the old gear and Starfleet emblem morphing to the new century's, but the theme still does nothing for me (nor, I think, does the new series logo).

I have it on good authority that we see reconnect with the ship, but I do hope the show doesn't take too long putting the pieces back together again, because right now, the Picard vibes are strong, maybe even too strong. Slow recruitment of new characters, exploring a bleak future for the Federation (which has to come back from the brink), a quest for answers... All Picardisms, and almost a threat that the story will unfold as slowly. Getting the crew back together and on the same page is paramount (ha) to getting away from that structure. It's inevitable, in a way. The "Star Trek allegory" demands that Trek speak to our time. The 32nd Century to date shows a collapse of governments and a take-over by corporate interests (Orions in cahoots with Andorans and - squee - Lurians among others), and that's at least new. But the more Star Trek series on the air concurrently, the less there is to say about "today". TOS devised enemy Empires because the show was made during the Cold War. TNG showed a detente because that's what was happening in the late 80s and early 90s, with DS9 picking up the baton with a war with jihadists. Voyager was weak on the Trek allegory because things hadn't really changed enough, and though Enterprise did a 9/11 riff in Season 3, it never fell into clear focus either. Picard gave us a government that was untrustworthy, refugees, the fear of the other in our midst, some elements of which were already apparent in Discovery Season 2. It's important for these various shows to explore different facets of today's problems lest the overall franchise grows stale from repetition. So far so good?

The new main cast member, Book, played by David Ajala, is our entry into this new universe. With a name like that, he seems related to Short Trek's Craft in some way, but it appears "Calypso" was set in the 42nd Century or later. I really wanted more of Aldis Hodge, so those hopes are dashed for the moment. Still, I like Cleveland Booker a lot (and Burnham too, we can see her noticing his... masculinity). He's a rascal in the Han Solo mold, lying to Burnham and betraying her, but eventually warming to her. We discover he's a man on a mission, and that that mission is a good one. His empathic powers give him an easy relationship with plants and animals (cue more effects) and perhaps feeds the immediate chemistry he has with Burnham. And what can we say about his big cat Grudge, who is brought up so often that there must be more to her than just being a pet. And yet, with his connection to nature, saying Grudge is a queen and that Greedo--I mean Cosmo has no right to even speak her name could just be about treating animals like people. Or she could be a sexy shape-shifter like Gary 7's Isis. She's already got her own Twitter and Instagram, so...

And through Book, we learn what happened in the last few centuries. The Temporal Wars referenced in Voyager and Enterprise happened in the 29th Century, so that's done and apparently all time travel tech has been destroyed (GOOD!). The Gorn also seem to be a concern, and that better be a promise, though their modus operandi here is more in line with what we know of Tholians (which would also have been a great promise to make). 120 years ago, an event called the Burn happened that made all the dilithium in use explode, taking out hundreds of ships and making the Federation collapse. Only a few true believers still wear Starfleet badges and talk about the Federation, and Burnham sporting one must have marked her as a crackpot when Book initially meets her. She seems very naive to me when she refuses to believe in that collapse when she's more than 900 years out of date (you meant the Austro-Hungarian Empire is DONE?!) and that she just "restored" the future in her own Hail Mary. Hours before, from her perspective, all life in the universe had been extinguished by this time, but she can't accept the Federation is gone? Obviously, it allows her to make the proper speeches and indeed, endear herself to Book by exemplifying these higher values ("I am not fighting you, you are fighting me."). Otherwise it's a very good episode for Sonequa Martin-Green who only rarely gets to play comedy, and here, hopped up on goofballs to make her talk (interrogated by two henchmen almost out of the Shane Black playbook, though never quite reaching that potential), she gets to be silly, crack jokes, all the while keeping the more important information from them. This is a woman who was raised by Vulcans, after all. That moment where she gives Book a look and they start fighting their way out is both funny and hella cool.

Once Book's plot is done - he's ferrying endangered animals, there's a lot of action, cool disruptor effects (but it's insane to think how bad the horde's aim is), personal transporters taking the fight across varying terrain, etc. - it's time for Burnham to undertake her own. They visit an old Federation relay station, which we actually see in the opening sequence of the episode, tough it is a mystery to us at that point. Cut off from the rest of the Federation, this one man, more or less a descendant of Starfleet officers, waits for the day one will walk through his doors. He's really torturing himself with 40 years of the same pointless routine. More concept than character at this point, this "true believer" seems unhinged given that backstory. Does he join the crew as communications officer, or is he staying there with his cool holo bird alarm clock and his nanite furniture, coordinating the search for Discovery - and the rebuilding of the Federation! - from afar? We'll see. The Federation flag has far fewer stars than it used to, can we get those lights to shine again? I will say, however, that as much as I like this hopeful tease, I wish I understood the stakes more. Aditya Sahil says his sensors only extend 600 light-years and three sectors, but I don't know how much terrain was charted even in Burnham's day. The graphic showing the entire galaxy spinning doesn't help me either. How far DID the Federation extend when the Burn put a stop to it? Doing a bit of research, I find it took the Enterprise-D a whole day to search a single sector with sensors (so Burnham should be used to worse). But considering a quadrant is more than 50 000 square light-years before I consider its depth, 600 light years does seem very small. The episode just doesn't give me enough to understand what the fuss is.

LESSON: No one's interested in your vintage Trek props, nerd.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium-High: Not impeccable, but a great introduction to Trek's future, far from and yet close to the ideals set forth by the Great Bird of the Galaxy.


Andrew said...

Reminds me of the setup for "Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda"--i.e. Majel figuring out a way to make the Dylan Hunt story of "Planet Earth" and "Genesis II" work by transplanting it into a Trek-like setting.

And, of course, the old Firefly fanboy in me is highly amused to see a character named Book make it over to this franchise. Not enough to get me to subscribe to CBS, but if the reviews stay strong I'll pick up the DVDs.


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