Review: Star Trek: Discovery — S02E13: Such Sweet Sorrow [2019]; Like Using a Waterfall to Get a Drink of Water

Cᴏɴᴛᴇɴᴛ Iɴᴅᴇx —

a review by the Crow.

Captain‘s log, Stardate 96878.44: This week, I am further convinced that the inkling I’ve been having in regards to Discovery (and mentioned at the very end of my previous review) is accurate. I’ll address that inkling in the review below; but first, allow me to go through a brief status report:

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1. The Future of TV on The Corvid Review

The rumours are trueGame of Thrones is coming to The Corvid Review, starting tomorrow. With one episode left to go in this season of Star Trek: Discovery, Game of Thrones will effectively be replacing our weekly meetings as the new mainstay on the blog.

In related news: the next episode of Star Trek might very well be my last “regularly scheduled” TV episode review, as our latest crewmember — the Spotted Nutcracker — takes charge over our TV reviews section. In no way do I intend to step away from the section forever, especially with the Picard show looming; but considering our future plans for The Corvid Review, it seems unlikely that I’ll be able to continue posting week-in, week-out as I have been for the last two years.

2. Our GODZILLA Celebration:

I’m not entirely enthused with using the word “Celebration” for these runs that we’ve embarked on this year, but I’m equally incapable of coming up with an alternative name at the moment. Following up on my scientific proof that Avengers: Endgame is not as “big” a movie as some might be led to believe, the Azure-Winged Magpie shall be posting a second Godzilla-related review on Sunday.

Now, with the status report logged, let’s divert all power to the warp drive, and rush in to take a look at what trouble the crew of the starship Discovery have gotten themselves into this week, in:

DSC0213
Such Sweet Sorrow

SPOILER LEVELS at MODERATE

Such Sweet Sorrow is an episode with much to do with the setting up of endings and of many goodbyes. It’s funny, that in the review where I am to make it official that I might be stepping away from weekly episode reviews, I will have to deal with those things.

The episode opens on Sarek (James Frain), who — through his katric connection to Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) — realises something is severely wrong. We cut to the Discovery, as she is being evacuated pending auto-destruction. The reason behind such a severe decision? The arrival of a Section 31 fleet in the vicinity of Boreth: the source of the time crystals that have been plaguing Star Trek: Discovery‘s second season. I’ve made my stance on these crystals quite clear in my previous review, and won’t bring the argument up again, but please take a note of the preceding sentence as we continue to discuss this episode.

I must admit I’m failing to see the logic in the stardate format that Discovery is using, but that isn’t a problem. The Original Series was rather fast and loose with those figures, after all. We see members of the crew — Tilly (Mary Wiseman) and Saru (Doug Jones) — taking what belongings they can as the Discovery prepares to dock with the Enterprise. And here, we have a scene that would make even the most casual Star Trek fan’s heart-rate spike.

In the final scene of the first season, viewers were treated to the following shot:

The Corvid Review - Star Trek Discovery - the USS Enterprise meets the USS Discovery

At the beginning of Season 2, we picked up right after, but it’s only in this episode that the sheer difference in size between the Constitution class and the Crossfield class becomes completely clear. The Discovery is at least a half-size bigger than the Enterprise, despite its lack of a vertical profile. In addition: despite the lack of scarring on the Discovery over the course of this season — most notable in Saints of Imperfection — it’s clear that the Enterprise is older, and far more weathered. I’ll throw in a nod for the design team, here.

I won’t wax lyrical about the scene featuring the docking system being deployed, but it’s a rather good one. So far, the scenes featuring our two beauties is nothing but good, and of course it’s here that the episode begins to shoot itself in the foot.

Burnham touches the time crystal that the crew secured at the end of the previous episode, but only after acting a little out-of-turn once again towards Captain Pike (Anson Mount). I’ve lamented the horrible writing behind Burnham many a time, and while this scene is not as bad as others in the past, I’d like to remind everyone that it would be easy to rewrite Burnham in a way that doesn’t put everyone in mind of an overly-aggressive teenager. I have no idea what the team writing this show intends to do with the character, but they really have made her quite unlikeable. The fact that even the little exchanges are affected is aggravating, to say the least.

When this is the character the entire plot hinges around, I expect better.

But what saves this scene — and yes, I know that I’m nitpicking, but it’s to prove a point — is Mr Mount’s performance. He’s still working off the effects of his vision from the last episode, and it’s clear as day that he’s locked himself into thinking about nothing but his eventual fate. The idea here, however, is that he must know that whatever the outcome of the situation here, he — and those he saw in that vision — will make it through; because he is no longer anything but a believer. Every aspect of his being has been taken over by his newfound fatalism. This is a character who’s well-written.

But let us return to Burnham’s contact with the magic crystal:

It’s possible that the crystals work differently once broken away from the “source” on Boreth, because what it presents to Burnham — as well as Reno (Tig Notaro), later in the episode — are broken flash-forwards. And in these flash-forwards — which might only be possible futures — a very specific chain of events is heralded; a chain involving a “torpedo” being “lodged” somewhere (and no, there is no innuendo meant unlike my Number One would like to think).

Just to point a little thing out: unlike Reno, we see Burnham make physical contact with the crystal. Does that make a difference? I’m not sure. I’ll chalk it up to the crystal simply acting differently for the time being. What we are told, though, is that there is some high-intensity action to be expected from the following episode.

An early assumption I’d made was that it wouldn’t be possible to rig the Discovery to self-destruct. After all, the “Sphere data” had already protected itself from deletion; surely, it would find a way to stop such a simple play from erasing it in total. And, of course, this is what plays out. I believe I spoke for others as well as myself when I stated the point, and doesn’t it become grating to know that these characters who’re representing Starfleet — the cream of the crop of the Federation’s spacefarers — are this dense?

Spock (Ethan Peck), Burnham, and Saru figure it out — with some expository dialogue — in the end, once the Discovery raises its shields to protect itself from the Enterprise‘s photon torpedoes. And then, something strange happens: Burnham experiences a possible future in which Control’s puppet Leland (Alan Van Sprang) executes the bridge crew of the Discovery. The purpose of this scene is a little lost on me, but it seems Burnham re-directs the course of things by suggesting that the only solution is for the Discovery be removed — as Saru puts it — “from the galactic equation entirely”.

While this is not the “dangerous idea” I mentioned in earlier reviews, it’s a bold move. Not a surprising one, mind you, as Discovery‘s long-been suspected of playing with this plot device since its debut.

And now, fifteen minutes in, we begin the job of rebuilding a “Red Angel” suit so that Burnham can take the Discovery into the future (on that note: let us shed a tear for Pike, who momentarily might’ve considered this as an escape from his fate).

https://i.imgur.com/fzyy7Jo.jpg

A fifth red burst appears, leading the Discovery to the planet of Xahea. And not only do we get another red signal, but we revisit yet another one of our Short Trek destinations. Enter: Her Serene Highness Me Hani Ika Hali Ka Po (Yadira Guevara-Prip), our magic lady for the episode. Tilly waxes about her connection to the queen, and Po starts about getting the crystal ready for the “grand plan” of this episode (and the next).

Culber (Wilson Cruz) and Stamets (Anthony Rapp) share a stand-off which counts among the best scenes featuring both men, and I have to commend the performances, here. I’d left mentioning Culber’s run-in with Reno in the last episode out, but it did lead to this moment: a nice touch in an otherwise slapdash episode.

And yes: I contest that this episode is slapdash. Think about it: we leave the Discovery, only to return to it with only one “forward motion” made. And there’s nearly half the episode gone. That’s just poor.

Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) and Cornwell (Jayne Brook) join in the fun as the plan starts taking shape, and the collective IQ in the room goes down when Po starts thinking and miming writing on a whiteboard. Even Spock misses what’s going on. But then, we get to the Treknobabble — and there is a lot of it in this episode. And furthermore: some of it, I find annoying. The term “Like, Plank-level” is thrown out, and I’d have thought that’s not a problem considering we’ve already seen starships generate that with ease (I used to competitively design space settlements, I could speak from authority on this topic even in my high-school years). Maybe the grid might not allow high amounts of energy for safe funtioning aboard the ship, as we’ve seen before, but that’d also mean that most of the functions on the starship are running on energy comparable to just under a thousand homes over an equal time period. Reno’s dialogue makes a little more sense (although even the laymen’s terms fly above Tilly’s head), and ultimately, Spock concludes that for Burnham and the unmanned Discovery, this will be a one-way trip. Later, “Dark Energy” is thrown around, and I’ve made no secret about my annoyance at using anything with “Dark” in front of it in place of magic — especially on Star Trek.

There is a character moment featuring Sarek, Amanda (Mia Kirshner), and Burnham which is rather well done when compared to the other moments we’ve seen these three together. As much as Burnham aggravates me, I’ve always liked Frain and Kirshner’s portrayals of their characters, and they continue to perform admirably.

Within minutes of it being decided that Burnham’s to go it alone, over half the entire named crew assemble to pledge their commitment to the plan. It seems that Burnham won’t be going it alone after all (how quick was that? see: slapdash). Even Nillson (Sara Mitich) is here, and she’s barely had more than one line on the show.

Tyler (Shazad Latif) is here as well, and after the “pledge”, he immediately reveals that he cannot go: that he must stay here and work “inside the gray areas”. At this point, I had to stop and question if this episode was a Frankenstein-ian patchwork of other scripts, since nothing in it seems planned at all. This episode is so poorly structured that it confuses me. This should never have passed review, considering the budget and time available to Discovery. Production issues as it may have, a lot of what we’re seeing in this episode is simply inexcusable. And that’s not to mention that it seems to take Burnham a solid fifteen minutes to finally arrive on the bridge “immediately”.

Another lamentable failure of this season is how vastly underused Mr Latif has been. While one of the worst-written characters in the show, the actor behind Tyler/Voq has been nothing but a force of nature. His performances have ranked amongst my favourite in the entirety of Discovery, and not only is he criminally underused this season, he continues to be mis-used.

The crew record their goodbyes to their loved ones ahead of their planned jump to the future. Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo) and Detmer (Emily Coutts) get some screentime away from the bridge, and Pike delivers a “reverse roll call” to sound himself off the ship, leaving Cdr Nhan (Rachael Ancheril) behind to assist the Discovery. All fair and good, although Burnham gets some special treatment which somewhat undermines the speech that came before it. I must admit, though, that Pike’s final act aboard the Discovery did draw a chuckle from me.

The Section 31/Control fleet arrives, and the Discovery lines up alongside the Enterprise to face them down. Saru calls for all hands to “Prepare for battle!”, and we cut to black. 

(This might be the most comprehensive recap I’ve ever written of an episode yet.)

The reason I have been so comprehensive is because I need to highlight what a mess this episode is. There are things to like about it, but both in the macro-level (structure) and the micro (the lines), this episode features severe failures. It might manage to slip by most critical eyes by keeing its tempo up and by trying to hit tropes which ring universally, but it fails on an objective level.

As stated before, there are good character moments, here. The little “foster family” scene works, as does both Culber and Stamets’ face-off, as well as the scenes featuring Po and Tilly. Every one of them works to some degree apart from Burnham and Tyler’s (which is so ham-fisted at this point that I’d rather it never happened at all).

Some of the specific lines are cringe-inducing, but can mostly be looked past. The Treknobabble is insanely annoying in this particular episode, and it’s an aspect that’s been building in magnitude for some time, now. I wish we could have the people try and find solutions for once without the magic.

And now, let me venture a little deeper. Remember how I mentioned I’d return to the topic of Section 31 and Boreth? Let me explain why I made a note of it:

Section 31/Control is close to the source of the time crystals, which it can presumably use to build its own “Red Angel” suits, given that the designs for the suit are Section 31 property. Why, then, chase the Discovery? Why not use more reconstituted agents to open up an infinity of possibilities for securing the Sphere data? This isn’t a question of the show having to do something due to budget or time constraints. This is common sense. Instead, Control acts like a petulant, hot-tempered child every time we see it. There is no need for Control to chase the data now if it has access to the time crystals. Starships are far more than capable of laying waste to planets. Failing the fallout from an orbital glassing, why not send wave after wave of reconstituted agents to take the crystals by force? Again: why chase the Discovery?

It doesn’t make any sense.

I have been trying to support the show, despite its horrible planning and its slipshod writing, but things like this stick out to me like sore thumbs. It’s almost as if the ambitions (which are high) are being forced through without a thought for the journey that leads us there. High ambitions are fair enough, but what engages the viewing audience is the journey. Have the people structuring the show never read a book? It strikes me that they’re the kind to read Wikipedia summaries and think that’s all there is to it.

This level of failure when it comes to planning and writing is not expected from a show with the budget and resources of Discovery. This has become style far over substance, in a way that Season 2 distinctly seemed not to be heading in. I am intrigued to see where this ends up, but I can’t spare a second thought to the specifics any longer. Let’s just have the big idea and be done with it. I’d recommend everyone behind the show to take some time off, re-think what the hell it is they’re doing and come up with a better way of working. In fact, where I’ve been far kinder than usual to Discovery in the past, I shall employ some of my usual venom to the score for this episode. But before I get to that — let me mention my “inkling”:

I’ve had a feeling for some time, now. I strongly hinted at it at the very end of my last review, but it’s more something I would like to see happen, rather than something I either know or am hypothesising will happen. I expect/want the next — and final — episode to conclude with a shot setting up a meeting with none other than Jean-Luc Picard (Sir Patrick Stewart) himself. Whether or not that happens, we’ll have to wait and see.

To conclude: a lot of the humanity’s been sucked away from Star Trek, recently. It’s all begun to ring a little hollow. I greatly enjoy everything about this version of the Enterprise — Pike, Number One (Rebecca Romijn), Spock, the ship, the bridge — and would like to see a mini-series featuring it, if it’s at all possible. I greatly like many of the side-characters, but I don’t like the core of Discovery: Burnham, the Spore drive, the mycelial network, etc.. There’s much work to be done, and it’d better be done soon.

Such Sweet Sorrow does not come recommended by us at The Corvid Review. It’s style over substance; like said in the episode itself: “it’s like using a waterfall to get a drink of water”. Try harder next time.

— Crow out. 


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Final Ratings

THE CROW: 2.5/10
THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 2.5/10
THE SPOTTED NUTCRACKER: 
TBA/10


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See Also

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12 thoughts on “Review: Star Trek: Discovery — S02E13: Such Sweet Sorrow [2019]; Like Using a Waterfall to Get a Drink of Water”

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