Nov 29, 2018
Star Trek: Discovery "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry"
Previously on Star Trek: Discovery: Burnham was stripped of rank and sentenced to life in prison, but still somehow ended up on the USS Discovery and became roommates with lovably awkward Ensign Tully. The ship’s captain Lorca revealed the existence of a crazy spore drive that allows a starship to jump anywhere in the galaxy, provided it doesn’t turn the crew into pulled taffy like it did with Discovery’s sister ship, the USS Glenn. They found a giant monster on the Glenn and Lorca had it beamed over to the Discovery. And lastly, we’re reminded of this show’s weird looking Klingons, specifically T’Kuvma the Unforgettable, who turned out to be pretty forgettable after all.
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We open on what looks like volcanic activity on an alien planet, along with lightning and thunder crashing, but a zoom-out reveals we’re really seeing a uniform replicator working at a subatomic level. And this episode somehow only gets weirder from here.
The computer is replicating a Starfleet uniform for Burnham and also declaring that her rank is still “none”, which is why the uniform has no badge. Burnham is soon looking at herself in the uniform, and it turns out they don’t bother with mirrors on this ship, and they instead create holographic replicas of themselves to look at. This seems like an incredible waste of resources, but as Voyager told us, holograms apparently don’t consume much more energy than a light bulb (no, really).
Tilly enters and compliments Burnham’s uniform, saying it looks “less scary than your convict suit”. Also, Tilly says a package arrived for Burnham, and it’s an intimidating looking container that gives off pinging noises and won’t stop until Burnham opens it. Burnham puts a hand on a sensor and the package asks her to accept the “last will and testament” of her recently deceased former commander, Captain Georgiou, so Burnham freaks out and shoves it under her bed. So, you know, good luck to Burnham and Tilly getting to sleep with that noise going off all night.
Burnham heads to the bridge and ends up in a turbolift with first officer Saru, who’s not happy to see her. He thought she left with the other prisoners, and in fact, he’s so disturbed that his “threat ganglia” are showing. We saw these in previous episodes; they’re basically little tendrils that protrude from the back of Saru’s head whenever he feels nervous or threatened. It was cool that they didn’t try to explain them before, but unfortunately this episode is all about over-explaining everything, and we’re going to get beat over the head with the phrase “threat ganglia” a good three or four times before it’s over.
On the bridge, the red alert sound is going off and it looks like the ship is under attack by Klingons. Instead, this turns out to be a training exercise ala the first scene of Wrath of Khan. Captain Lorca is disappointed in his crew’s performance and reminds them that as the only Federation ship outfitted with super-duper spore-powered warp drive, they’ll have to drop into all sorts of dangerous situations with no backup.
Lorca then takes Burnham down into a secret room full of dangerous weapons, which is where he’s keeping the creature they found on the USS Glenn. We get a jump scare as it slams against the force field, and Burnham can’t believe he brought the creature here. But Lorca notes that the thing was able to kill Klingons, and also shred the hull of a ship, and also withstand phaser fire. He wants Burnham to figure out what the thing is made of and somehow “weaponize” it. (Is killing Klingons really that difficult, though? Burnham actually killed one of them by accident in the first episode.)
Then we go back to T’Kuvma’s ship, which is apparently still floating in that same debris field near the binary stars, even though it’s (at least) six months later. We catch up with Voq, the albino Klingon who T’Kuvma named as the “Torchbearer”, who’s now praying to the recently deceased T’Kuvma as if he’s a god. He reveals that the ship is stranded here and the crew is now starving.
Enter a female Klingon named L’Rell, who points out that the Shenzhou is still drifting around nearby and they can scavenge its spare parts to get their own ship running again. Would Starfleet really leave a mostly intact starship just floating around for any enemy species to plunder?
But Voq thinks taking parts from the Shenzhou would be “blasphemy”, because it’s the ship that led to T’Kuvma’s death. And then we find out that the Klingons actually ate Captain Georgiou. No lie. L’Rell says to Voq in subtitles, “I saw your smile when you picked the meat from her smooth skull.” That is, um… interesting. It’s like someone thought to themselves, “How can we make the Klingons on this show even more ridiculously villainous? I know! We’ll have them eat people!” Granted, they did discuss that they’re supposedly starving on this ship, but geez. Eventually, Voq is convinced to go over to the Shenzhou to get the needed part.
Meanwhile, Burnham is studying the creature when security chief Landry enters, and she’s once again a barrel full of laughs. She refers to the creature as a “monster”, and we can see where things are going when Burnham starts taking umbrage at the suggestion of it being a “monster”.
Landry decides to name the creature “Ripper”, because that’s what it does, and Burnham points out that it’s basically a giant-size version of a tardigrade, a microscopic species on Earth known as the “water bear” that pops up all the time in clickbait articles. She starts pontificating about how they shouldn’t judge Ripper by “one single incident from its past”. Hmm, could she be obliquely talking about someone else. I wonder. Thankfully, Landry shuts down the BS and says they’re going to do what the captain ordered and turn it into a weapon.
In Lorca’s ready room, he gets a holographic call from Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook), telling him a dilithium mining colony on Corvan II is under attack by Klingons, and Discovery is the only ship that can get there in time. And at first I sighed, thinking this was yet another instance of the “only ship in range” trope that we’ve seen on pretty much every Star Trek series/movie, but it turns out there’s a reason the Discovery is the only ship that can get there in time: they’re the only ones outfitted with the super-duper spore drive allowing them to get there instantly.
We’re told Corvan II is responsible for producing 40% of Starfleet’s dilithium, but the Klingons were able to break through the planet’s defenses. If the Klingons take Corvan II then they’ll win the war, so the Discovery has to get there immediately, and Lorca says the ship is totally ready for the jump.
Gilligan Cut to chief engineer Stamets saying there’s no way the ship will be ready to jump. They talk about what happened to the Glenn, and Stamets says their sister ship ran into an “undetected Hawking radiation firewall” and as a result, all the “biologicals” on the ship were “spun out”. Also, he points out that jumping is “probabilistic”, and this whole conversation is like someone plucked random words out of an AP physics textbook. So, just like most Star Trek technobabble, then.
Stamets says that even with the tech they recovered from the Glenn, they would need a “supercomputer” to get it to function properly (so I guess this means that the artificially intelligent ship’s computer that even has an ethical subroutine is not a “supercomputer”?). But Lorca says they need to get to Corvan II now and orders Stamets to make it happen.
Back on the Klingon ship, Voq gets a visit from Kol, one of the other Klingon captains seen in the pilot episode. Nothing of any importance is said here.
Back on the bridge of the Discovery, Lorca calls for another Black Alert as the ship gets ready to make the jump. And then we get a shot of the ship’s saucer that seems to indicate that the “rings” of the saucer can rotate independently of each other, which seems a bit improbable. In the secret weapons room, Burnham notices that Ripper is getting agitated before the jump.
The spore drive is soon online and it’s up to Lorca to give the order. But instead of something dramatic like “Engage” or “Make it so”, he just says, “Go.” The ship twists and flips around… and ends up directly above a star, which gives us some cool visuals, but which I don’t think was the intended destination.
There’s much shaking and shimmying, and Stamets even ends up bashing his face on a console and getting a broken nose. At last, the Discovery is able to escape from the star’s gravity well and get to safety.
In the secret weapons room, Burnham suggests to Landry that there may be a connection between Ripper and the spore drive. But Landry shuts down this talk as well, saying she was ordered to keep Burnham on track and not let her “curiosity” get her off track.
Cut to Stamets getting his nose mended in Sickbay by Dr. Culber, who may or may not be the ship’s chief medical officer. However, I’m pretty confident the two were in a relationship or had some sort of thing in the past based on the catty remarks they make to each other. Yes, it would appear that Stamets is gay, which I suspected during the previous episode, but I didn’t want to make any assumptions about based solely on his effeminate mannerisms, though I think this scene pretty much confirms it.
Lorca enters and there’s a dumb exchange where Stamets threatens to quit and take all his inventions with him, but Lorca has to point out that all his work is now the property of Starfleet. I mean, duh. And then Lorca mentions Elon Musk in the same sentence as the Wright Brothers and Zefram Cochrane as he tells Stamets he has a chance to be one of the greats, or he can just be a guy with a weird fungus experiment. You know, I could buy Data hanging out with Stephen Hawking in the holodeck centuries from now, but Elon Musk as an equal of the Wright Brothers? Not so sure.
Lorca than decides to open up a channel to the whole ship, so he can broadcast the distress calls from Corvan II without any sort of warning or preamble. I guess everyone quickly figures out where the audio is coming from but it seems he could have finessed that a bit better. Regardless, everyone gets sad at the sounds of people getting slaughtered by the Klingons, which include (of course) some little kid crying out “Mommy!”
Down in the weapons room, Landry hears this audio and decides to take action. She orders the computer to sedate Ripper so she can go in and cut off its claws to find out how it’s able to kill Klingons. Are Klingons made out of some strange, impenetrable alloy in this timeline? Again, Burnham killed one by accident.
Landry orders the force field lowered and it would appear the sedation didn’t take, because Ripper comes charging out and basically eats Landry for lunch, tossing her mangled body around. Burnham is able to get the creature under control by setting lights to full brightness which causes it to go back into its cell. So, you know, really smart move by Landry. Though maybe it was a death wish on her part because from what I could tell, she was pretty much hating life.
Burnham takes Landry’s body to Sickbay and Dr. Culber just shakes his head. Lorca turns to Burnham and doubles down, saying they have to find a use for the creature or else Landry’s death will be in vain, though somehow I can’t see Burnham getting all that motivated to avenge Landry’s memory.
And now we go to the wreckage of the USS Shenzhou, with an admittedly nice callback to the pilot where the camera spins around before zooming in on the bridge. Only this time, instead of Burnham, the camera zooms in on Voq in a spacesuit. He leaves the mostly CGI bridge and lays down a device that releases air into the corridor and allows him to breathe.
Cut to him and L’Rell gathering up some Whatever Technology from the Shenzhou, and she refers to Voq as “my lord” and expresses her admiration for him. Eventually, they get the device out, and Voq exclaims a relieved, “Thank T’Kuvma!”
Then comes another odd scene in the weapons room where Burnham calls for Saru. She starts to apologize for how she treated him on the Shenzhou, then she notes that his “threat ganglia” aren’t coming out in response to being near the creature. Somehow, she interprets this as proof that the creature only acted in self-defense on the Glenn and isn’t a predator. That’s, um, quite a leap in logic. Also, how many scenes to the effect of “this creature isn’t dangerous, he’s just misunderstood” do we need? Ripper is basically the Horta from TOS, okay? We got it.
The next thing we see is Tilly being a rebel, because she’s breaking the rules by bringing a container of the spores to Burnham. Tilly for some reason sticks around as Burnham lowers the force field again, and… what? After what the creature did to the ship’s security chief, why would anyone just stand around idly while the creature gets let out again? Burnham releases the spores, which apparently makes Ripper happy and it starts being friendly or something.
Cut to Burnham talking to Stamets in Engineering, saying a whole lot of words that basically imply that the creature only came to be aboard the Glenn because it was attracted by the spores. She appears to be saying that Ripper has the innate ability to transport across the universe too, but it’s buried under a mound of technobabble. Eventually, she suggests that instead of needing a “supercomputer” to get the spores to work properly, what they really need to use is Ripper.
And so, they beam Ripper into that terrarium seen in the previous episode, and Stamets marvels at how the creature seems to be “communicating” with the spores. I really don’t know why the writing has taken such a nosedive in this episode, but it’s full of characters saying things that we can clearly see with our own eyes. Then it gets worse when Stamets says this isn’t “fair” because he “always wanted to converse with my mushrooms.”
The cringe factor is so very high right now, so thankfully we return to the Klingon ship, where that guy Kol has returned, and this time he’s brought along some food, apparently as a way to win over Voq’s crew and show them how much Voq sucks at being their leader. He also adds, “You are as useless as you are ugly, son of none,” which I’ll really have to use as a put-down one of these days.
L’Rell seems to agree and immediately have a change of heart. She goes over and starts gnawing on a drumstick, and she also starts calling Kol her “lord” instead of Voq. I guess the way to a woman’s heart truly is through her stomach. She then suggests they should get rid of Voq, and they should do it by leaving him on the Shenzhou to die.
Back on the Discovery, it’s Black Alert time once again, but this time, they’ve got Ripper in the spore chamber. He’s strapped into a machine, and it would seem this is the missing link that will allow them to make the jump for real. Lorca again says “Go” and the ship spins away.
And then we cut to the residents of Corvan II getting assaulted by the Klingons, and this is all so ham-handed that it’s laughable. I mean, we even get the tear-streaked face of some ragamuffin to show us that yes, people getting bombed by the enemy are really and truly having a very bad day.
But then the Discovery shows up and takes out two of the Klingon ships. They’re under heavy fire from some other Klingons, but Lorca tells them to hold steady. Finally, he orders another jump, which somehow causes an explosion that takes out all the Klingons. Then we get shots that look like something out of a Michael Bay film as the planet’s residents look up at the sky with wonder and that ragamuffin asks, “Who saved us?”
The Discovery jumps away and loud heroic music suggests this was meant to be an exciting moment. Cut to the Shenzhou, where Voq has been left to die, but then L’Rell shows up to say she only pretended to be hot for Kol to save her own life. And now, she’s planning to take Voq to her homeworld, which is evidently a planet of “matriarchs”.
Burnham returns to Ripper’s holding pen and again releases some spores for him to feed on or communicate with or whatever. Then she goes back to her quarters, where that package is still pinging away. We get another ham-handed moment where Tilly spells out that Burnham helped save everybody on Corvan II, and might be on the way to redeeming herself, as if we couldn’t figure all that out for ourselves. I was really liking Tilly in the previous episode, but she’s doing nothing for me right now. I guess that’s what bad writing will do to a character. And to be honest, even Michael is feeling like a bit of a background character in her own show.
Burnham finally relents and opens up the package, which plays a holographic message from Captain Georgiou, who starts things off by saying that Burnham surely must be the captain of her own ship by now. I’m not sure how to break this to you, Philippa…
According to Georgiou, the package contains her “most beloved possession”, and she hopes Burnham will use it to “investigate the mysteries of the universe”. Burnham opens it up and it turns out to be the telescope briefly seen in the pilot episode. On that decidedly non-mind-blowing twist, the episode ends.
The writing in this episode was pretty bad on all levels. I’m willing to roll with it, because every TV show has a bad episode or two when it’s just starting out. But everything was just so on-the-nose and spelled out for us that it was excruciating. And I can’t even count how many times characters did things that were just blatantly stupid. Here’s hoping that in the next episode, Discovery gets back on point, because I’m not sure how many episodes like this I’m willing to tolerate before I cancel my subscription.