Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Such Sweet Sorrow

The most recent episode of Star Trek: Discovery, the first half of the second season's two-part finale, was either elaborate punking of its audience, or a bold commitment to a radical restructure of the show. And either way, it was an effective installment.

When the attempt to destroy Discovery (and the sphere data it contains) fails, the backup plan to protect the galaxy from Control is a dramatic one. Using a new Red Angel suit, Michael Burnham will guide the ship into the distant future, beyond Control's reach... and without the ability to return to her own time.

It feels like this episode shouldn't work. As promised in the title, "Such Sweet Sorrow," it's nothing but a series of goodbyes. There are really only two ways it can go from here. Either Discovery will find a way to stay in its time after all, meaning all these goodbyes were just an elaborate (but effective) con to make us believe it wouldn't happen... or this was effectively serving as a series finale to this incarnation of Star Trek: Discovery, as the show jettisons its original premise to begin again in a future time frame.

It sure seems like the latter move is the one they're going to make, doesn't it? They've piled nearly all the main and recurring characters on Discovery; they just have to get rid of Spock somehow in part two (and, possibly, add Culber and/or Ash Tyler). A jump into the future would go a long way toward explaining any continuity issues with the series that might still be nagging long-time Trekkers. And while this would be the series' biggest move yet, it's not like it's been adverse to bold moves before -- treating the ship's captain like a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and getting a new one every year, for example.

But we'll know soon enough. For the moment, I'll focus on what we did see rather than what we might see. Once again, at the risk of sounding like a broken record on this point, we saw excellent acting from Sonequa Martin-Green. There was no emotional roller coaster to Burnham's story this week, the needle was pegged the entire time. You'd think Martin-Green would be wrung out, or that we'd grow tired of watching her cry, but we got one goodbye scene after another, and she was excellent in all of them.

The goodbye with Sarek and Amanda depended on the ridiculous conceit that Sarek's meditation was premonition enough to tell them where and when to be to even have this goodbye. But get over this conceit, and you got to enjoy a wonderful scene that was also James Frain's finest work on the show as Sarek.

The goodbye with Ash Tyler shouldn't have meant much to me (as I've long since stopped carrying about the "will they / won't they" of this relationship), and yet Martin-Green really made me believe how painful this was for Burnham. I also liked the detail that Tyler stood there in the big group moment, but then privately admitted, "nope, I can't actually go through with this with you." A brutally honest character moment for him.

There were plenty more goodbyes in which Burnham was not the sole focus. Pike got to give a rousing speech on the bridge, and while his kind words to a few of the secondary characters might have been a bit slight, the scene as a whole was great -- a fine send-off for the character. The montage of goodbye letters was strong. Each character had a unique part in the sequence. Plus, by mixing in the less-developed characters with the major ones, we got an organic fleshing out of them all. (The next time they want to pull an Airiam, they won't have to cram quite so hard in such a short space of time to make the audience care.)

Woven in with the goodbyes this episode were a couple of reunions. Tilly reunited with Po, the alien queen we met in the first installment of Short Treks. That was my least favorite of the Short Treks, despite me liking the character of Tilly. But here the use of both her character and Po were stronger. Now if the series somehow fits in Harry Mudd in this week's finale, every one of the four Short Treks episodes will seemingly become essential companion viewing to season two. (Ha!)

The other big "reunion" was Pike (and the audience) with the bridge of the Enterprise. My own feelings on this were rather mixed. I totally understand that they were never going to give us the Enterprise as it looked in 1966 -- nor should they have. The Next Generation scratched that particular itch when Scotty walked into the holodeck that one time; now was the time to bring a modern budget and sensibilities to the classic Enterprise. You know, just pretend that the old SD cameras of the 1960s weren't capable of photographing the Enterprise bridge as it truly was; pretend it looked like this all along. But I thought that on the continuum of honoring original Trek design elements and modernizing the look, they might have fallen a bit too hard on the latter for my taste. I found the ship a bit too shiny and chrome; it has been out on a five-year mission to distant points in the galaxy, after all. Make it look a bit more lived in. Still, there were classic details honored in the new set that made me smile: the garish red-orange paint, the light-up handles in the turbolift, and so forth.

It might be tough to evaluate this episode without the context of its second half. But you know that's not going to stop me. I give "Such Sweet Sorrow" a B+. It will be quite interesting to see where they go from here.

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