Review: Star Trek: Discovery — S02E11: Perpetual Infinity [2019]; Relativistic Leaps of Logic

Cᴏɴᴛᴇɴᴛ Iɴᴅᴇx —

a review by the Crow.

Captain‘s log, Stardate 96840.26: Once again, a crow has stayed up in wait of Star Trek: Discovery. While I defended last week’s episode, I must admit that the “twist” felt like a severe misstep in the greater course of things. It was something I felt rather underwhelmed by, no matter how intriguing it could become. A thorn in the side of the series is the fact that the universe seems to revolve solely around Cdr Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) — and that flaw was forced into the forefront with the reveal at the end of the last episode. That sort of dictum limits the show, and it’s one I thought Discovery was slowly shrugging off, but it was returned in full force. In addition: the show also continues to suffer from slipshod writing far too often, and that‘s begun to rear its ugly head once again (I believe I made it quite clear that the previous episode hosted the worst line ever uttered in Star Trek).

And yet, I continue to support Discovery. I want this show to be good, because it has promise. On the eve of The Red Angel, I declared that the show had finally “found its feet”, and was gearing itself up for bigger and better things. It didn’t, of course, but there is enough here to work with. The question is: has the show managed to scrounge enough to save itself from the trap it’d driven itself into?

To find out, I invite you to take your seats as we divert all available power to the warp core and engage at full speed with:

DSC0211
Perpetual Infinity

SPOILER LEVELS at MODERATE

Perpetual Infinity is an episode which exists in two states at once. It — at once — features some very high points, and an equal number of very low points.

Allow me to begin with the Treknobabble.

It should be no surprise to anyone that Star Trek inspired at least two significant generations of scientists and engineers. I, myself, can be thought of as a product of the Star Trek “virus”. It’s because of this influence that I find myself often tempted to hold Star Trek to a higher degree of scrutiny than most SF TV shows. Of course, most of the so-called science in Star Trek is fantasy — or as my mentor would call it: fake physics — but I do expect Star Trek to be accurate, especially in this day and age (in which shows such as The Expanse exist), when talking about science that we know about. While our newest crewmember touched upon this point when reviewing the 2009 incarnation of the franchise, I should point out that I felt a lot of the “science” touted in the movie to be rather abhorrent. I can forgive throwing relativity out the window when talking about the warp drive seen in any given episode or movie, and I can forgive the general description of how transporters work (a workable description can be scrounged from existing physics), but the rule I hold most dear is this: if any given line in an episode rings true with existing science, I will hold any further babble about science in that episode to the same degree.

Right off the bat, Perpetual Infinity digs itself into a hole. There is a line regarding mitochondrial DNA that makes me hold the entire episode to a higher standard than I usually would. Further down the line, however — as the episode runs its course — the characters involved start making incredulous leaps of logic about the scientific aspects of their “grand plan” (for every Star Trek episode now must feature a “grand plan”). Dark matter is canonically a thing in Star Trek, and here, it’s brought to the forefront like rarely before (personally, I’m not a big fan of that proposed solution). And everyone is an expert.

This might sound a little much, but I do expect more from Star Trek: the show that inspired one of us to hypothesise one of its more fantastical aspects in real life. (Just to drive home that point: how does a starship divert all non-essential power to a planet’s surface? Are they using microwaves? That’s rather inefficient.)

Disregarding that, the episode hinges on a number of emotional beats — some of which land, and some which do not. I must point out that I wanted more from the play on mothers in the episode. The scenes between Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) and Dr Burnham (Sonja Sohn) were good, but left me wanting a little more. I had imagined Georgiou to be more… tactful in the moment than she ends up being. The acting from both women is solid, but Michael seems a little limp by comparison. I’ve stated before that I haven’t seen Ms Martin-Green in anything before, so I’m not sure if this is a question of range, but there’s something about Burnham being overly emotional that isn’t resonating with me. I doubt this is a result of her playing a character raised on Vulcan, either. If I could put my finger on it, I would tell you, but her emotional scenes (and there are a number of them) just don’t work very well.

And on the topic of Burnham: we are shown that she was certainly older than we were led to believe around the time of her parents’ death. Of course, this is the result of the show sticking with the actress who plays the younger Michael Burnham (Arista Arhin), but it breaks the immersion a little when you are expected to believe that her parents were liars on par with Q (John de Lancie) to keep their secrets from their young daughter.

In other news: a plot point from the latter Matrix movies takes root in Star Trek. CONTROL’s storyline works — derivative as it is, and I’m happy to see the show managing to keep a storyline running for so long. The sphere from An Obol for Charon remains a major player in the storyline, and there is much to be learnt from its data. Discovery didn’t exactly do a good job at first of setting up the “future AI” angle, but it’s finally found a home in the show now. There is a line that will certainly get people talking involving struggle and pointlessness, and Leland (Alan Van Sprang) — despite the shoddy CGI work — proves a rather menacing figure. I really hope this isn’t a set up to the collective which used to be my favourite Star Trek villain, but it would be interesting to see how they would be incorporated if that is where we’re boldly going. First Contact gutted them, and I’ve never liked them since. I would prefer it if they were just left alone.

I do quite like the turn of character given to Spock (Ethan Peck). It does fit with his character as we’ve known him, although I think that his condition isn’t as severe as it’s being made out to be. He likes science, and that is nothing but welcome in the face of the inane Treknobabble thrown around on screen. He also quotes Hamlet at one point, and Burnham’s response to it is on par with a certain Mr Coppola (who a cursory search reveals has batted a certain innings for a score of four as of today).

Spock does, however, mention a “third variable”, and that line is a blaring set up. Just as a line about a “larger mission” is. And in light of these lines:

The episode also toes a very dangerous line — one that could prove to be very interesting. The way in which time is dealt with suggests branching possibility spaces and fictional “universes” (as we commonly call them). Spock and the reinstated Dr Culber (Wilson Cruz)’s talk about unknown variables suggests that Discovery might be — for the first time — attempting something very risky. I’m not going to speculate about what that might be, but I will say that I’m interested to see if the show takes said risk.

I’ve ignored the variation on “time crystals” employed in Discovery ever since Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad, and I shan’t address them here. But what I would like to celebrate is the fact that Burnham royally messes up in this episode — and that’s something I’ve been waiting for. Her bone-headed, grossly-illogical drive to bring her mother into the “current” timeline ends up causing the biggest defeat the crew of the Discovery has suffered this season. As much a joy as Captain Pike (Anson Mount) is, if Lorca was not connected to Burnham by those magical links that proved so annoying last season, she would not be allowed to cause the chaos she does in this episode.

And that is the one thing that has annoyed me about the show thus far. Burnham was not allowed to fail by contrivance of the universe itself, apparently. Now, she has. Hopefully, this speaks to development for the character — and by extension, the show.

It isn’t a great episode, but it does come recommended considering how close we are to the finish line. What ramifications it has for the future of Discovery, only next week can tell. Until then, LLAP.

— Crow out. 


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Final Ratings

THE CROW: 5/10
THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 6.5/10


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