Dec 16, 2019
Star Trek: Discovery “Through the Valley of Shadows”
Previously: There were seven signals, but even Mama Burnham AKA the Red Angel had no idea what they meant. Culber was resurrected, but no longer loved Stamets. Control wanted that Sphere data, so it possessed Leland using nanoprobes while saying “struggle is pointless”, which is close enough to “resistance is futile” that a lot of fans seized upon this line as an indication that the show is setting up Control as the origin of the Borg. And I didn’t notice this line when I recapped last week’s episode, because it never occurred to me that the Borg even had an “origin story” (do the Klingons also have an origin story? Do the Cardassians have an origin story?), much less one tied to Starfleet or humanity. And while it’s still possible the intent here is for Control to indeed become the Borg, the current episode offers no further clues in this regard.
The previouslies go on for a long time this week, showing what feels like half the episode, and they even replay the final scene of Spock and Burnham sitting down to play chess. Disappointingly, this episode doesn’t immediately pick up with a chess cliffhanger resolution (“Pawn to rook 4!” Cue opening credits…), but rather, with Burnham watching more of those mission logs where her mom addresses her as “baby girl” about 900 times.
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The viewing of the logs is interrupted by a holographic call from Michael’s other mother Amanda Grayson, who’s calling to console Burnham over finding her long-lost mom and then immediately losing her again. But this conversation is mostly just a recap of how Mama Burnham was travelling through time trying to stop Control, as if we haven’t had enough recap in this episode already.
Burnham gets called to Pike’s ready room, where he tells them a new signal was just detected above Boreth, home of the Klingon monastery where Vyler hid his son. Vyler looks stunned, and I’m just now realizing I don’t understand the nature of these “signals” at all.
Supposedly, all seven signals appeared at the same time throughout the galaxy, which is what triggered a big Starfleet emergency and forced Pike to take command of Discovery in the first place. So why are they talking like this signal just appeared? Did it appear once before, along with the other six, and is now appearing again? If that’s the case, why is everyone surprised that it’s appearing over Boreth?
I was pretty sure Starfleet already knew all the locations of the signals. Spock had a vision that predicted these locations, which is why Section 31 was briefly after him. So how could they have known Spock correctly predicted where the signals would show up if the signals are only now appearing? And the Boreth signal isn’t some new signal, either; Pike specifically says this is signal number “four of seven”, indicating it’s one of the original seven signals which somehow both appeared before and is now appearing for the first time.
And why wouldn’t Burnham’s mom/the Red Angel know about the signals when she was the one who appeared to Spock and supposedly gave him a vision of where the signals would appear? Unless I missed something (and I’ve watched each episode a few times), none of this “signal” stuff makes any sense.
They talk about how the time crystal in the Red Angel suit was destroyed, and conclude Burnham’s Mom can’t be responsible for this new signal. Hey, dummies, it’s a time machine. It’s entirely possible this signal was created before the time crystal was destroyed, at least from Mama Burnham’s point of view. There’s no reason the Red Angel appearances or signals would have to be in chronological order.
Regardless, they all decide some other “time traveling entity” is responsible and want to go investigate. Burnham says this would be a waste of time, because she wants to go after Control-Leland. But Saru points out that Discovery is carrying all the Sphere data that Control-Leland wants, so if Discovery goes after him, that would be putting all that data dangerously within his reach.
So, they’re going to Boreth, and Vyler says he’ll contact Chancellor L’Rell to arrange “safe passage” there. Burnham tracks down Vyler in his quarters, where he finally confesses to her that Boreth is the home of the son he had with L’Rell. There are flashbacks to “Point of Light” to explain why they hid him away, and then Burnham hugs him. So the love between them still survives, but who knows why.
Then Vyler gets a message on one of his spy gadgets that a Section 31 ship “missed its check-in”, and Burnham immediately wants to go after that ship, thinking it might have some connection to Control-Leland.
Discovery spore jumps to Boreth, where they’re greeted by a Klingon D7 cruiser carrying L’Rell. In Pike’s ready room, L’Rell says that the monastery on Boreth is not just a monastery; it also protects a “rare mineral”. And that mineral is… time crystals. Yeah. Imagine that. Pike says they should get one of those time crystals, and in a line totally dubbed in later, he says a time crystal could “let us send the Sphere data into the future after all.”
Vyler wants to beam down to Boreth to get the crystal, but L’Rell forbids it, because if people find out he’s still alive, that could undermine her rule. They start bickering about this in Klingon, so finally Pike agrees to go instead, but L’Rell warns that Boreth is “not for the faint of heart”, and no one gets a time crystal without “great sacrifice”.
After Pike goes down to the planet, Burnham asks Acting Captain Saru to let her go chasing after that Section 31 ship that didn’t check in, and to her surprise, he immediately agrees. But he orders her to take Spock with her.
On the surface of Boreth, Pike enters a very medieval-looking castle—apparently the middle ages on Qo’noS were architecturally very similar to Earth—where he’s greeted by a pale-skinned Klingon who says he’s one of the “Timekeepers” who protect the time crystals. He refers to the crystals by their Klingon name, but I have no clue what that name is, because every time he says the word, the captions lazily say, “speaking in Klingon”. But the word might be “bor’ha’gud”, maybe?
He turns down Pike’s request for a time crystal, until Pike says that all sentient life in the galaxy depends on it. So the Klingon allows it, but warns he may not be “strong enough” for what this entails.
In the mess hall, we get a scene of the crew eating together; it’s the whole gang, including Stamets, Detmer, Owo, and Lt. Nilsson, who apparently has had no trouble sliding right into that vacancy left in the late Lt. Airiam’s social circles. Also with them is Linus, that Saurian comic relief character, and then Jett Reno sits down to join them. Surprisingly, Tig Notaro is still on this show.
Stamets learns the crew is playing “the Auto-Antonym Game”, which is where you come up with “words that mean a thing and the opposite of that thing at the same time”. The words they come up with are “earthbound”, “sanction”, and “oversight”. Okay, I think I get it, but surely they could have come up with better examples than those. Also, surely they could have found better ways to spend precious minutes of this episode, considering there’s only a couple of weeks left before the season finale.
In the middle of the game, Stamets sees Culber walk in, and he gets that same look on his face that Anthony Rapp makes every single time he looks at Culber: he squints his eyes and scrunches up his brows and looks like he’s in pain. Reno speaks for all of us when she says, “I thought we got past this,” and points out Stamets and Culber broke up weeks ago. He tells her to MYOB and leaves.
Back in the monastery, the Klingon is leading Pike through a hallway. He reveals his name is Tenavik, but when he arrived here he was nameless, a “son of none”, just like his father. Pike figures out that Tenavik is really L’Rell and Voq’s son, somehow all grown up after just a few months. He explains that for Timekeepers like himself, “time flows differently”, and to demonstrate, he points out a tree that instantly grows before their eyes. So apparently, Voq Jr. here got sprayed with Miracle Gro after dad dropped him off.
On Burnham’s shuttle, Spock says that even though Burnham is focused on going after Control-Leland for what he did to her mom, she shouldn’t forget about the signals. In fact, Spock thinks Burnham is the “common denominator” behind all the signals. They come out of warp, and find the entire crew of that Section 31 ship floating in the void and completely frozen. They detect one life sign out there, so they beam aboard a guy in a spacesuit.
Burnham takes off the survivor’s helmet, and a flashback to the pilot episode reveals this is someone she knows: it’s Lt. Gant, the former tactical officer on the Shenzhou, who I assure you absolutely nobody watching this show remembers. Gant says he was trying to purge Control’s subroutines, when suddenly the AI took over the ship and blasted everybody out into the vacuum. The ship is still just sitting there, and Burnham says they have to go over and find out what happened.
Back on Discovery, L’Rell pays a visit to Vyler’s quarters. L’Rell has accepted that Vyler is in love with Michael Burnham, and always will be, and that he’s no longer the Voq she loved. But she knows he’ll always protect their son, and we get another dubbed-in line when Vyler adds, “We never even gave him a name.”
Speaking of whom, Voq Jr. is leading Pike into a temple that’s full of time crystals. He tells Pike that he can go ahead and grab one, but warns that “madness may follow”.
Pike touches a crystal, and sees a vision of his future: specifically, an accident occurring during a training exercise, where he tries to save a cadet and ends up getting exposed to radiation and burned to a crisp. This is obviously supposed to be the accident described in TOS’s “The Menagerie”, where Pike gets exposed to “delta rays” and is left paralyzed and wheelchair bound.
The vision ends, and then Pike sees another vision of himself all scarred up and sitting in what’s clearly supposed to be the same wheelchair from “The Menagerie”. Future-Pike’s face starts to melt, and Pike screams and snaps out of the vision, and Voq Jr. warns that if he takes the time crystal, his “fate is sealed”, meaning that somehow, he won’t be able to escape the future he just saw. I’m not entirely sure what that means; he can’t just decide to never, ever visit a cadet vessel?
Pike is terrified, but reminds himself of his commitment to serve Starfleet, and says he’s not leaving without the crystal. And this whole scene and Pike’s visions are all very effective and scary, but it’s slowly becoming clear this show is only effective these days when it’s fanwanking hard over either “The Cage” or “The Menagerie”.
Now get ready for an abrupt tonal shift: In Discovery’s sickbay, Jett Reno comes in complaining about a hangnail, but she’s really here to talk to Culber about how Stamets is all distracted and mopey, and she needs him on his “A game” for what’s happening now. Culber notices a wedding ring on Reno’s finger, so she talks about her wife, meaning that—surprise!—the character as well as the actor is lesbian. Alas, her wife died in the Klingon war, and Reno reminds Culber of the precious “second chance” he’s getting with Stamets.
Meanwhile, Burnham and Spock beam aboard the Section 31 ship with Gant. Suddenly, the ship goes to warp on its own, and they figure out the AI is in control. They come up with a technobabble plan to “isolate” the AI and regain control. While Spock leaves the bridge to do… something… Burnham chats up Gant, asking how he came to work for Section 31. He says that he wanted to be a part of preventing future wars, and something about the way he talks clues Burnham in that Gant is not really Gant, and has been taken over by Control nanoprobes just like Leland.
Control-Gant says he needs Burnham in order to get to the Sphere data, and she will be “reconstructed” (which is totally different from being “assimilated”). He attacks her and gets her down on the ground and tries to put one of those nanoprobe-filled spikes in her eye. Spock tries to contact Burnham, which distracts Control-Gant long enough for Burnham to grab a couple of phasers and start blasting the hell out of him.
She eventually phasers a hole straight through him, and all the nanoprobes come pouring out of his chest. They slowly ooze across the bridge like a creeping crawling monster, even forming into a claw-like shape at one point, so Spock magnetizes the floor and stops them. I see; so this killer AI from the future can be defeated by a strong magnet. Also, RIP Gant, the latest Shenzhou crewman to die in front of Burnham. If I were Detmer, I’d be watching my back constantly.
But now they know that Control is really after Burnham, because somehow, she’s the one “true threat” to the future AI, and all of this has been about her. And I’m sure this dialogue has already inspired plenty of angry guys to rush to message boards so they can type “Mary Sue! Mary Sue!” over and over. Spock and Burnham decide maybe those signals are important after all, and just like that, the next shot is of their shuttle getting back to Discovery.
In his ready room, a very sober Pike tells L’Rell and Vyler that he was able to get a time crystal. And yet… it doesn’t seem like he knows exactly what he’s going to use it for. What? He simply says that the next three signals will make it clear how he should use it. So he basically doomed himself to the blinky-light wheelchair and he doesn’t even know why? What happened to using it to send the Sphere data into the future, per the dubbed-in line? And not to harp on this, but how does he even know three more signals will appear? Just because seven signals appeared once before—which I’m still not 100% sure on—doesn’t mean they’ll all appear again.
Then he tells L’Rell and Tyler that he met their son, and actually talked to him, but “I don’t think I could explain it if I tried.” Here, let me give it a go: He got sprayed with Miracle Gro. Or SORAS. That was easy. When they learn his name is “Tenavik”, they both agree that this is a good name.
On the bridge, Burnham explains to Pike and the crew what happened on the Section 31 ship. And then they’re suddenly approached by several more Section 31 ships. Burnham guesses that they want the Sphere data, and Pike says they should jump away until they can figure out how to use the time crystal. Burnham nixes this idea, saying, “They’ll keep following us.” With a spore drive? Discovery can jump to the Delta Quadrant, if I recall correctly. Can Section 31 follow you there? Well, maybe they can, because if there’s anything this season has taught us, it’s that Section 31 is everywhere.
Burnham says there’s no time to “figure out alternatives”. They have to destroy the Sphere data, and the only way to do that is by destroying the ship. Pike agrees, and sends a message to Number One back on the Enterprise to come meet up with Discovery. He tells Owo to prepare the ship for auto-destruct, and wants a message sent out to the entire ship that they’re evacuating Discovery.
I think we’re basically seeing the wheels coming off this season of Discovery, as the season-long arc comes barreling to a conclusion that’s getting made up as they go along. There are two episodes left, and nothing’s adding up, and there’s still a ton of padding. What was the purpose of Burnham and Spock going to the Section 31 ship? All we learned there is that Control is after Burnham specifically, which was pretty freaking obvious from the past five or six episodes already. And the subplot with Pike achieved nothing except fanwanking all over TOS; there were plenty of other, simpler ways to give the characters an object that’ll most likely be used as a reset button in the next two episodes.
Season-long story arcs are clearly not working for this show. And their few attempts at doing TNG-style standalone episodes this season were just as mediocre. Maybe they can try for a happy medium, with shorter arcs of 3-4 episodes? Or, who knows, maybe just going one full season without firing a showrunner might help them pull off a decent string of satisfying episodes. And yes, I’m already thinking ahead to next season, which should tell you how little I feel invested in the current one.
Next time: Discovery gets evacuated as the Enterprise shows up, and Pike somehow finds the time to put his yellow Enterprise uniform back on. A big battle breaks out between Discovery and Enterprise and all the Section 31 ships, and I’ll hazard a guess that it’ll be flashy and fast-paced and visually exciting but ultimately pointless.