Dec 4, 2019
Star Trek: Discovery “Battle at the Binary Stars”
Previously on Star Trek: Discovery: We met Michael Burnham, first officer of the USS Shenzhou, and her commanding officer Captain Philippa Georgiou. While investigating damage to subspace relays, the Shenzhou encountered a big-ass Klingon ship populated by some of the most non-Klingon looking Klingons in franchise history. After flashing back to a Klingon attack from her childhood that killed her parents, Burnham sought the counsel of her former mentor/foster father Ambassador Sarek, who advised her to shoot first and ask questions later. When Captain Georgiou refused, Burnham attempted to munity via Vulcan neck pinch, but it was too late: the Klingon cavalry had already arrived.
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After a quick replay of the closing minutes of the previous episode, we get a flashback to 7 years ago (per the caption) showing Burnham beaming aboard the Shenzhou for the first time, accompanied by Sarek. They’re greeted by Georgiou, and Burnham is dressed in Vulcan attire and acting very Vulcan-like and unemotional and not seeing the purpose in shaking the captain’s hand. We learn Burnham is coming aboard with prestigious credentials as the only human to ever graduate from the Vulcan Science Academy.
Sarek immediately beams out, and as the two women walk through the corridors, Burnham is blunt about the Shenzhou being an older ship, and about how she wanted to join the “Vulcan Expeditionary Group” instead. So, what, is she being forced to join Starfleet? By Sarek, of all people? I mean, weren’t we told that Sarek was mildly disappointed with Spock for joining Starfleet?
Regardless, it seems Georgiou is willing to overlook Burnham’s lack of couth because of her amazing qualifications. They step onto the bridge and Burnham’s reaction is subdued, but she eventually addresses Georgiou as “Captain”, meaning she’s decided to take the job. So does this mean she immediately went from the Vulcan Science Academy to first officer? The dialogue isn’t clear about whether or not she started out as XO or some other rank.
Back in the present, Science Officer Saru observes that 24 Klingon ships have arrived, and Burnham notes that there are 24 houses in the Klingon High Council, which means someone is attempting to unify the Klingon Empire. Georgiou, however, can’t get past the whole mutiny/assaulting your commanding officer incident, and has Burnham put in the brig.
Then it’s back to the main Klingon ship, and more glacially delivered dialogue and subtitles, where we learn the Klingon trying to bring everybody together is named “T’Kuvma”. The captains of the 24 Klingon ships shimmer into view via holographic communicator to scoff at T’Kuvma’s aspirations because he’s not even worthy enough to be a member of the High Council.
We then get a flashback to T’Kuvma as a child, and in voiceover he talks about how his ship once belonged to his father, but after he died it was abandoned and other kids were using it as, I guess, a bitchin’ spot to smoke dope and drink beer. So T’Kuvma tried to reclaim his “house” and throw the other kids out, and they responded by kicking the crap out of him. And then the flashback ends, and I’m afraid the point of this scene escapes me.
Back in the present, we get shots of each of the High Council members as they ridicule T’Kuvma’s plans to reunify the empire, and forget about these guys not looking like any Klingons we’ve ever seen before; they don’t even look like they all belong to the same species. I suppose you could rationalize it away by saying these are different subspecies of Klingons we haven’t seen before, but in that case, shouldn’t at least one or two of them look like the Klingons we saw from The Motion Picture through Enterprise?
T’Kuvma says they’ve become “complacent” since the Donatu V incident, which is a reference to a battle briefly mentioned in “The Trouble with Tribbles”, and also the last time they fought the Federation. He accuses the Federation of now wanting to drag the Klingon race into the “muck” where humans, Vulcans, Tellarites, and “the filthy Andorians” mix. Hey now, what did the Andorians ever do to you?
He ends his speech just as dozens of Starfleet ships warp into view. Back on the bridge of the Shenzhou, Ensign Connor lists all the ships that have arrived, including vessels named the Earhart, the Clarke, the Yeager, the Ride, the Edison, and… the Shran? Do they really mean the Andorian from Enterprise that got Trip Tucker killed over a gemstone? Totally in the same league as Chuck Yeager.
Georgiou is finally able to hail T’Kuvma’s ship, and she offers to open a “dialogue” with the Klingons, so that she can “prove to you now, as always”—and hilariously, T’Kuvma’s all like here we go with this bullshit again—“we come in peace!” As in episode one, “we come in peace” are his trigger words, and he turns to the group of holo-Klingons and says they must fight back in order to “remain Klingon”, and he orders his men to open fire.
A full-on battle breaks out and the Shenzhou is getting its world rocked, and exploding consoles incapacitate several crewmen, including Ensign Connor. Another crewman reports hull breaches on multiple decks and Georgiou orders evasive maneuvers. The fight rages on as Georgiou tells Connor to get himself to Sickbay.
Cut to Burnham, down in an especially cavernous brig. I mean, I’m pretty sure this cell is bigger than most of the crew quarters on the NX-01, as well as most Manhattan one-bedroom apartments. She talks to the ship’s computer, trying to find out what’s going on, but the computer wisely refuses to divulge any information to a mutinous prisoner. Just then, Connor walks in, apparently disoriented due to the head injury he just endured and thinking he’s in Sickbay. He says they’re under attack and wonders why Burnham isn’t on the bridge, and weirdly, instead of trying to use his injury to convince him to let her out, she just reminds him she’s locked up for mutiny, and he’s all like, Oh, yeah, right, the mutiny thing.
Just then, the room explodes around them, causing a massive hull breach that sends poor Ensign Connor spinning off into the void. Yep, I called it. Farewell, Ensign Connor, but I can’t say I’m in any way surprised.
Somehow, Burnham has survived. Was it the forcefield around her cell that saved her? Regardless, she’s now unconscious and she starts dreaming/flashing back to another attack she endured on Vulcan as a child, in the “Learning Center” (that place with all the learning fishbowls). Man, talk about bad luck. First she survives a Klingon terror raid, only to endure another attack on Vulcan? Strangely, we never find out who’s responsible for this attack, but I guess we’re supposed to assume it’s the Klingons. In the wreckage, Sarek finds her and does some sort of therapeutic mind meld that involves transferring part of his katra (basically, the Vulcan soul) to her.
In the present, she wakes up to find the entire deck of the ship she’s standing on has been destroyed. On the bridge, Georgiou gets a status report and learns about the hull breach, but I guess she can’t tell Burnham is still alive because she never attempts to transport her out.
In the brig, Burnham suddenly gets a psychic vision of Sarek, and it turns out that when he passed on part of his katra, that gave them a long distance psychic link. He winces and says communicating this way has a significant “physical cost”, but he had to do it. She thinks he came to say goodbye because her death is imminent, but he says he wouldn’t risk his life just for some silly emotional farewell. Instead, he’s here to give her a pep talk that essentially amounts to, “You’re strong. Find a way out of this mess.” Which I guess was totally worth the risk.
The battle continues, and the Shenzhou takes a big hit and is now dead in the water. And the gravity of the binary star is now pulling the ship into its debris field. Just as it looks like they’re about to crash into an asteroid, the USS Europa appears above them, locking its tractor beam on the Shenzhou.
And it would appear the Europa’s commander is Admiral Anderson, that jerky admiral from the previous episode, who appears on the Shenzhou as a hologram. He then decides to open up a channel to T’Kuvma’s ship from the bridge of the Shenzhou instead of his own ship, I suppose as a way to avoid having to construct another bridge set for a 30 second scene.
Anderson proposes a cease fire, and T’Kuvma appears to agree, telling him to “prepare to receive my envoy.” But T’Kuvma has a different sort of “envoy” in mind, as the hull of the Europa suddenly begins to buckle inward and explode, and a ship decloaks, revealing one of the Klingon ships is ramming the Europa. So much for the cease fire, as well as Admiral Anderson. But they get in one final fuck you, as the crew of the Shenzhou detects that the Europa’s crew is triggering the ship’s self-destruct sequence to take the enemy down with them.
Cut to T’Kuvma telling the members of the High Council that they should all return to Qo’noS now, so that everyone will know that the Klingon race is now fighting together as one again. Two other Klingons stand on either side of him and act as his hype men, repeatedly chanting “T’Kuvma the Unforgettable!” In fact, he’s so unforgettable he’ll never be mentioned on any Star Trek series taking place after this one.
The Klingon ships all warp away except for T’Kuvma’s ship. He sends out a message to all the Federation ships that he’s only letting them live to be “witnesses to Klingon supremacy”.
Back in the brig, we get an extended scene that I have to think was some kind of in-joke regarding TOS and the way Kirk would talk computers into killing themselves, as Burnham tries to reason with the ship’s computer into allowing her to escape. The computer argues that it can’t engage its “ethical protocols” to help her, but eventually she talks for long enough that the computer changes its mind.
The computer opens up a small hole in the force field, allowing Burnham to pull a Data in Nemesis and briefly fly across the vacuum of space and get back to the intact part of the ship.
Over on T’Kuvma’s ship, he decides they should hang out for a while and use tractor beams to collect all their dead floating in space, which gives Georgiou and Saru time to plot a way to destroy his ship. The captain suggests using a “worker bee”, whatever that is, to carry a torpedo to T’Kuvma’s ship, but then Burnham suddenly shows up on the bridge to suggest a different course of action.
In the captain’s ready room, Burnham says that they can’t kill T’Kuvma, because that’ll just make him a martyr. However, if they take him prisoner, they can use him to “sue for peace”. But it seems Georgiou is still not quite over the attempted mutiny, and Burnham says she did it to avoid a “full scale war”.
They suddenly see the Klingon ship using tractor beams to gather up their dead, and formulate a new plan: they’ll take a photon torpedo and beam it onto one of the corpses. The plot works, and the ensuing massive explosion separates the “head” of the ship from the rest of it.
Burnham and Georgiou then put on black commando suits and beam over to the Klingon ship to capture T’Kuvma. They take out several Klingons as they search for T’Kuvma, but eventually they both end up in hand-to-hand combat: T’Kuvma is fighting Georgiou, while Burnham battles Voq, the albino Torchbearer. Yep, you read that right: two women who probably weigh 220 pounds combined are holding their own against the 6 foot tall bodybuilders they got to play T’Kuvma and Voq.
Burnham somehow gets the upper hand over Voq by sticking a finger in his eye (I think), which seems like it shouldn’t do much to faze a guy who stuck his hand in a burning flame for two minutes, and then she knocks him out with some random heavy object.
Georgiou continues to fight T’Kuvma while Burnham searches for the phaser she dropped. Unfortunately, she’s too late to stop T’Kuvma from fatally stabbing Georgiou through the heart with his bat’leth. So Burnham fires her phaser anyway, which ends up killing T’Kuvma. So much for not wanting to make him a martyr. If this was really a mission to capture T’Kuvma and not kill him, why didn’t they put their phasers on stun from the beginning?
Back on the Shenzhou, Saru detects that the captain has died, and immediately beams Burnham back, and she sobs on the transporter pad. While I had a feeling Captain Georgiou wasn’t long for this world—Michelle Yeoh was listed as a guest star on these episodes—I’m still kind of sorry to see her go. Despite her accent making her kind of difficult to understand at times, she and Sonequa Martin-Green had great chemistry and I could totally believe them being each other’s ride-or-die.
On the Klingon ship, Voq says his farewells to a dying T’Kuvma, and it turns out they knew each other as kids. He dies and we cut to the Shenzhou as it launches all of its escape pods. In voiceover, we hear a Starfleet official reading the charges of mutiny against Burnham.
Cut to a rather hilariously under-lit tribunal as Burnham pleads guilty to all charges. She’s asked for any final words, and she says her ship is now gone, as well as her captain and friend, and she only wanted to protect them from the enemy, but now, “I am the enemy.” And with that, she’s sentenced to life in prison, but somehow I don’t think the rest of this series is going to take place in a jail cell.
I get the feeling the first two episodes were meant to air on CBS as a two-hour special before the move to All Access, and I think they probably would have gotten better reviews (and more subscriptions) if they had gone that route instead of only airing the first hour. The second half has a lot more action for sure, and it ends on a much more interesting cliffhanger that makes you wonder where the show could possibly go from here. Alas, CBS completely ruins this with a post-episode trailer for the coming season that pretty much tells you exactly where it goes from here. For shame.
I’m interested to see the rest, mostly because I’m glad they’re taking at least a few risks with the franchise. At the same time, there are a lot of moments in these two episodes that aren’t explained all that well, along with some flashbacks that don’t seem to serve any purpose. I’m willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt that some of these moments might end up being important later, but going by my personal experience with serialized TV, I’m guessing the majority of them will never be followed up on.
Assuming both of these episodes together were meant to be the pilot, Star Trek: Discovery had a pretty good pilot. But let’s not forget that Voyager had a pretty good pilot episode, too. So for now I’ll just stay cautiously optimistic.