Sunday, February 25, 2018

Will You Take My Hand

*** (3 stars out of 5)

Discovery has barely had time to awaken from their year-long nightmare and now their insane Starfleet bosses have put a Kelpian-eating, planet-blasting, jerk back in the Captain's chair. Officially, they are spore-hopping into a cavern in a canyon and their surveillance drones will be number 9. Just a mapping mission. To map. You know. Just a little survey map of the Qo'noS volcanos. Just some exploration, some spelunking and... oh, to hell with it. Yes, we're blowing it up. No more Beast Form Klingons- I mean, except all the ones in the fleet poised over Earth with their teeth in its throat.

Georgiou threatens to eat Saru, L'Rell threatens to eat Georgiou (again), Georgiou kicks the red blood out of L'Rell. And we return to what has miraculously "worked" all along- an away team consisting of a Mirror Universe killer, famous traitor Michael Burnham, shell-shocked Ash, and Tilly, the plucky cadet.

Qo'noS gave some of their garbage land to the Orions for an embassy/garbage town. The good news: more Orions (faithfully rendered and not suddenly sporting four arms) means I don't have to look at as many garbage Klingons. Plus their clad is scanty. Too scanty, really- I didn't ask for a "Klingon" peeing a double stream in the street, but this is where we are now.

The "mapping" mission goes off perfectly! Inside of an hour Georgiou is romping with green prossies of each type, Burnham and Tyler are having a heart-to-heart in a gambling den, and Tilly is huffing fumes with Clint Howard until she passes out. It's very, very fan fiction. Yes, in a good way.

Michael tells her origin story, much as it appeared last year in David Mack's novel. "Klingons" killed her dad fast, her mom slow, and then had a big laugh while they ate the Burnham family dinner. Burnt ham, probably? Despite everything, Michael stands up for principles above survival- and the crew stands up to Admiral Cornwell's bad choices. Saru, Detmer, Airiam, Ginger, MaryAnn, and the rest don't feel like any genocide today, thanks.

Burnham gets The Emperor to sign her yearbook "Best Wishes, Less Murders" before she wanders off scot free. Burnham gives L'Rell command of Starfleet's planet killing bomb lodged inside Qo'noS. L'Rell and Voq now take the (The High Council? Maybe? It's some Lord of the Rings goblin cave.) hostage before they wander off scot free, too. Thanks to a single woman holding an iPad, the war is over. FOREVER.

How many fan girls echo Ash's words at his departure: "I'm going to miss looking at you." For my part, I would be very glad not to look at Disco Klingons any more- but I've proven that I choose my pain, so I always watch Star Trek- no matter what double pisses it takes on its own history.

The Federation President pardons Michael and restores her Commander rank. Promotions and medals for all! Desperation is done, idealism is back. That was easy! Like, a dream...

Or like the end of Into Darkness- hours of mindless violence with a tiny chaser of "Violence is Bad, kids". But I like the smiling kids who are left as our Final Girls. One or more of them are named Bryce, I think?

Oh, and a teaser I think they meant as fanservice: a distress call from Captain Pike of the Enterprise. Ship's not right, but it's closer than I expected.  Then the sixties theme song. It's pandering, but it's on the right track.

So, yeah. In many ways, a miserable death march. I've spent hours watching other people go first online with ST:Discovery commentaries. "After Trek" is boldly in love with everyone and everything that happens. Some YouTube reviewers complain vehemently with not a little misogyny and bigotry but somehow are still watching at the end of the season. I tried to love it and I tried to hate it and I found a little of both in my heart. I heard a Red Letter Media reviewer say: "Star Trek used to be about ideals but now it's just familiar names and places to shoot at each other..." and "How does it feel to live long enough to watch all your favourite franchises crash and burn?"

There are some fantastic moments here and I will never stop wondering what will happen next. Here's to a valiant effort. Here's to living long enough to see your favourite things die. Here's to Star Trek.

The War Without, The War Within

*** (3 stars out of 5)

Guess who's coming to dinner? Michael brought the Evil Emperor Georgiou back with her. The Emperor quickly spills the beans to Saru that she & Michael have just eaten a Saru with beans. Awkweird!

Back from the Underneath, Discovery lands spore-lagged but close enough for jazz. However, in the 9 months they lost in transit the "Klingons" brought the Federation to its space knees. A third of their fleet is destroyed, planets we've never heard of were burned down, ALL their starbases ka-put. 20% of Federation space has been occupied, and 90% of the maps are coloured in red now!

Dr Pollard is still treating Ash. Like everyone else, she's uncertain what the "species reassignment surgery" has done to him. She says he hasn’t got more strength or aggression than a human now. I'll add that the medical staff should maybe switch to reinforced turtlenecks.

Saru blames Voq for Culber’s death, not Ash- and he believes in that distinction with more conviction than I've got at this point. Saru limits Ash’s privileges but won’t take his freedom. Stamets is enraged at the traitor but satisfied to know that Ash is human enough to suffer for his actions. Tilly & even DETMER welcome Ash back at lunch! It all seems wildly naive until I remember- THEY’RE KIND!!! I forgot what Starfleet being kind looked like!

Admiral Cornwell has Sarek mind-meld with Saru to confirm his identity & their "inconceivable ordeal" without all those pesky words and "last time on" recaps. Cornwell phaser blasts Lorca's fortune cookie bowl when she hears how unreasonable he was. She does nothing about the Evil Emperor except loan her a stateroom the size of Pike's entire engineering deck, but at least she does nothing about locking Michael back up forever, either. Cornwell also has a fruitless conversation with POW L'Rell. Starfleet Leadership is floundering even though Andorian Admiral Shukar ate a tiny computer to make his voice deeper.

Cornwell and Sarek are concerned that if this adventure becomes public knowledge a grieving Federation will play Fringe en masse and abandon universe for somewhere better. (I hear the Star Trek Continues dimension is pretty this time of year.) Discovery's records are classified and destroyed and recorded over with old episodes of The Expanse. Sorry, Captain Kirk, you'll have no forewarning of mirror universes! Sorry, Captain Janeway, no spore drive for you!

Sarek calls for the complete destruction of the enemy, then extolls the virtues of Michael's love for Ash in a public hallway- you know, like a Vulcan.

Stamets refuels with the high-speed terraforming of a moon in Veda with more magic mushrooms than Campbell’s. Michael drops some kind of strained metaphor on Ash about how, what with the murder attempt and all, her love would have to grow back with a lot more work and punishment than a moon of instant mushrooms. Or something. Basically, call it a break-up, probably?

Oh, and orders from Cornwell: a genocidal attack on Qo'noS commanded by the woman who's been there, done that in her dimension. The Emperor will be your guide and Captain. Oh, good. Something sensible at last. Dingy basement bridge forever!

What's Past is Prologue

**** (4 stars out of 5)

The evil Terrans, in the course of wrecking up planets and junk, are sucking non-renewable energy from the mushroom network and if not stopped will suck the life out of the entire multiverse. Why, did you need higher stakes?

Gabriel "Make The Empire Glorious Again" Lorca's been a Mirror Man all along. To paraphrase Devo, Gabriel Lorca "is a man with a mission. A boy with a gun. He has a picture in his pocket of the lucky one. He is a big, big mess." He frees his ACTUAL crew including the Mirror Ellen Landry (poked a bear in episode 4, torn to shreds?) from their year-long agony booth spa day and throws them into the Emperor's cannons. Nobody who hears Lorca's tale of torpedos, transporters, ion storms and probably a mongoose bite that all converged to swap him with the (good?) Lorca a year ago survives this episode. Lorca also claims he shared a bed and coup attempt with Mirror Michael Burnham but at this point I wouldn't believe Lorca if he told me Kelpians are delicious.

And I certainly do love the taste of Saru in command! His speech to his now entirely trustworthy infiltrator-free team about ideals in the face of certain death is bitchin'.

If Michael and the Ewoks can get the shields down from the inside, Discovery can stop the evil energy orb, and as an added bonus, Paul can surf the explosion back to home base.

The Emperor backstabs Lorca and he screams exactly, I mean EXACTLY like a TIE fighter as he is (disintegrated?) by the spore network that can send you anywhere. Never to be heard from again. NEVER.

It's a grandiose SFX heavy firefight. I do miss Star Trek phaser beams instead of Star Wars blaster bolts- I didn’t know what universe I was watching BEFORE I didn’t know what universe I was watching.

Vaulting Ambition

**** (4 stars out of 5)

The Defiant data our heroes were seeking for a way home turns out to be more redacted than Trump's love letters to Putin. So Michael and Lorca board the Star Destroyer... uh, ISS Charon dressed as the bounty hunter Boussh and the Wookiee Chewbacca.

If you, like me, were faked out by Georgiou being called the Emperor (see: EMPRESS Sato) then her boatload of other titles including Mother of the Fatherland will be fun, too. Did I hear "Annihilator of Alderaan" in there?

If you, like me, would NOT have done as Burnham did and chosen her life-saver Mirror Saru when the Emperor points at three Kelpians without preamble and says "Choose One". Then congratulations! You would, like me, get to eat a stranger instead of an ally. Yes, eat. We're going full Grand Guignol. "Pass me the speech centre of the brain!"

The Emperor quickly deduces her evil daughter-figure Michael is a parallel universe denizen and abruptly drops her entourage in a trice with what I'd call a Dirty Pair Bloody Card and others might see as a mini Krull Glaive.

The Emperor luckily finds occasion to tell Michael of a singular biological difference between Mirror folks and Regular folks. Light sensitivity. (We're ignoring hearts on the opposite sides of chests, since, now that I think about it, that was from a book.) So, it's a 1 sentence answer for 2 questions since episode 3: why are the ship lights always so damn dim? And why is our Captain Lorca always such an utter bastard?

Now that Ash needs help there seems to be abundant Discovery medical staff- it is coincidence that they are female and he is handsome? Also, how is "Klingon" medicine so far advanced of the Federation? Did they use very small daggers to cut open every single strand of his DNA to give him a human genome? Naw, that's what TEETH are for!

POW L'Rell says they captured the real Lt. Tyler and grafted Voq's psyche onto his. (If so, did they then put this combo brain back into Voq's modified body? Culber already said his spine was shortened, & bones crushed, so it's definitely not Tyler's original body except in shape. Well, let's call it a pick-and-mix.

Of course, L'Rell has her jiggery-pokery brain gloves with her (what? also: huh?) and our heroes trust her to dick about with Ash's noggin some more until he's calm enough to stop trying to tear out his own tiny human-sized heart.

Astromycologist Stamets roams his mushroom dreams and gets an info dump from his Mirror pal, Fascist Paul. He also gets a bon voyage and a travelling clue from a vision of Hugh.

Troublingly, despite its unique and crucial importance to ever getting back home, it looks like only Stamets and Tilly were checking in on the spore garden and now they're all dead.

I give a whole star for the Evil Lorca Reveal. I never saw it coming. Effects are good, music is good, performances as ever are stellar. Episodes like these are your reward for being very, very patient. Yum it up.

The Wolf Inside

*** (3 out of 5)

It's darker even than usual on Deck 12, with likewise burnt-out Stamets babbling and cradling Culber. One assumes Voq/Ash took out the power after killing the doctor, but it seems weird that NOBODY is anywhere on that deck until one poor engineer comes to fix the lights? Anyway, since he's the only one there, Stamets is the only suspect. Tilly works tirelessly and successfully to cure Stamets' mushroom sickness with more delicious mushrooms.

Michael "Butcher of the Binary Stars" Burnham is cosplaying as the Captain of the evil ISS Shenzhou. Captain Lorca is in the Shenzhou basement in the agony booth, pretending to be taking his licks as Evil Lorca with Michael sneaking him painkillers. Sylvia "What The Heck Heck Hell" Tilly is the figurehead "Captain Killy" (if anyone asks) on the faux ISS Discovery with its evil paint job. Mr. Saru is the actual acting captain, while on the Shenzhou Michael accidentally honours her identical Kelpian bath slave by naming him Saru also. Fortunately she does not give him a sock or her house elf would be freed before it comes time to save her from Ash's attempted strangulation. Because, somehow, STILL, despite publicly freezing up twice in enemy environments... Ash is CHIEF OF SECURITY.

Michael tries to discover what's up with the rebels on Harlak- a coalition of peaceful Mirror races bonded in mutual defence against the trigger-happy, bigoted Terrans. My nostalgia sense is tingling at the sight of an Andorian and a Tellarite, mercifully recognizable if slightly hornier. Unable to stop themselves, the designers added eyebrow points and tusks.

But if I'm uncomfortable with change, it's nothing compared to Ash, who spoils Michael's chance to earn allies in Goatee Sarek & Co, when Ash flips out (who could possibly have seen it coming???) and attacks Mirror Voq for his conciliatory ways. Finally, painfully, for 6 whole minutes, Ash spells out for Burnham that he is Voq, before going for her throat, so she slips him the secret plans and publicly "executes" him with a space beaming from which Saru retrieves him instantly.

The surface of Harlak is destroyed by, wait for it, big reveal, the Evil Terran Emperor... Georgiou.

I've been pretty snarky, but I really am captivated. Seriously, this show has me hostage. Help?

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Despite Yourself

*** (3 stars out of 5)

You're back for Chapter Two, Despite Yourself? Or should that be Despise Yourself?

ST:Disco has learned the lesson of previous series: when in doubt, there's always sex and violence to be had in the Mirror Universe!

The Mirror Universe humans of the Terran Empire are especially insular and bigoted today. I mean, they're never been bastions of sweetness and diversity but we've previously seen their "Humans Only" policy wasn't in place 100 years ago or 12 years from now. Still, there's every possibility this is "A" Mirror Universe just as the first half of this season is clearly in "A" Star Trek universe, one of the expensive-looking and morally dodgy ones. More evidence? The Imperial logo has Earth's continents mirrored, a fine idea which also wasn't the case before this.

This Mirror Universe had a technological goose in the bum with the arrival of the Defiant. They've had a century to put little wing breaks and hull grooves in just in case any of us were wishing it was the same design as last time.

Still, can't complain: with our crew pretending to be baddies we get a raft of new little pins, and giant gold breastplates to cosplay in for ages to come! (Or just put your head in a purple pumpkin and "Klingon" away.)

Giant defector L'Rell can still wreak havoc from her bonds (did she bring those with her?). She activates her Super Secret Surgically-altered Spy!

Are you shocked and appalled to learn that Ash Tyler is the albino Voq who vanished just before Ash showed up? Perhaps you have not been watching television enough. Although I will tell you that although the Internet had guessed this one months earlier it is a fine development indeed! It's probably best if you binge this all at once and then you don't have time to think about it.

Not thinking about things is also how you get Dr. Culber, discretely telling Ash his truly horrifying medical findings (namely, that Ash had his skull belt-sanded down and a new personality implanted) without ANY kind of witness or, say, burly back-up nurse present or even anyone to hear the inevitable snap of his neck.

Oh, Doctor Culber. It's a good thing gay guys are so plentiful in Star Trek that we can spare one.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Into The Forest I Go

** (2 stars out of 5)

Shall we hug plants with Saru or have a drawn-out bloody brawl? Well, continuing to take our cues from Battlestar Galactica, Admiral Cornwell has NOT had her throat slit Baltar-Style or been killed by L'Rell's bug zapper. Nope, still alive!

"Klingons" have the weird abilty not to notice that L’Rell & Cornwell aren't corpses when dumped in the corpse room. (Yes, of course, "Klingons" have a Corpse Room. Maybe it's a larder?) Where's their sense of smell? What are the four nostrils for? Or, failing that, where are their life signs scanners?

The clueless and quickly ignored Pahvans have called both Starfleet & Kalesh's Finest to Pahvo trying to talk peace without the strength to back it up. Our heroes are all that can save them and supply us with enough space explosions to get us through the next 8 weeks until episode 10.

Captain Lorca talks Stamets into a fiendishly complex series of 133 mushroom jumps to get location data on their opponents. It taxes Paul to the utmost and leads to an explosive victory and a strange reversal.

“When I took command of this vessel, you were a crew of polite scientists” speechifies Lorca. Not quite following it up with 'Today, you’re a bunch of self-serving assholes and I couldn’t be prouder!'

Because her track record with the enemy is the best, Michael Burnham is the only one sent to sneak aboard the Big Bad Corpse Ship. I mean, Ash the very trustworthy Chief of Security tags along, but he freezes up immediately, so Michael is mainly responsible for recovering the Admiral and L'Rell. Also a sword fight. As usual, there is nothing Michael Burnham cannot do. But as Dylan Hunt could tell us, you aren't the Gary Stu if it's your story. (Your enjoyment may vary, my limited research suggests this is a well-regarded episode.)

25 minutes into all this Michael’s universal translator proves “human ingenuity” by saying the Klingon version of “human ingenuity” several seconds before SHE does! Autocorrect has gotten positively telepathic!

Ash’s PTSD flashbacks are a strobing intercut of being flayed alive & a questionable coitus scene cribbed from Species.

Having broken a Star Trek barrier earlier this season with an F bomb, we are treated to the first (official) on screen Star Trek gay male kiss for Stamets and Culber. Only twenty-five years too late to be ground-breaking anywhere else. Also Trek's first female nipples, maybe. It's yet another moment when NuKlingon prosthetics & jarring tone get in the way of any possible enjoyment. Without upcoming context, some even claim L'Rell is raping Ash, and they still might be right for all I know. Even IN context, grotesque is not a sufficient word.

At least the dudes kissing was pleasant!