Monday, October 9, 2017

REVIEW: 'Star Trek: Discovery' - Michael Finds Compassion for a New Alien in 'The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry'

CBS All Access' Star Trek: Discovery - Episode 1.04 "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry"

With tensions and stakes high as StarFleet continues in their efforts to end the war with Klingons, Burnham begins to settle in to her new position aboard the U.S.S. Discovery

"The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry" is a bit of a stumble for Star Trek: Discovery. It's the show continuing to settle into a consistent groove for the season. It's appreciated that the creative team understands the importance of episodic stories even in a highly serialized series. There are some fascinating ideas throughout this episode as well. And yet, the execution is extremely lacking. It seems like things happen just so the events can be as dramatic as possible. It seems formulaic and predictable without really providing the audience with a sense of how the characters are evolving over time. The opening three episodes have done a terrific job on taking the audience on a journey. They were action-packed and character-driven episodes. This one is going to be important for the overall story of the season. But it seems like it is building to an expected conclusion while also incorporating a bunch of random plots that don't really connect well together. It should be noted that this is the first episode of the series where Bryan Fuller doesn't have a writing credit. He created the outline for this season and obviously had a huge impact on the first three episodes before he had to leave. There was the worry of what his departure would do to the creative of the series where a new team would have to handle these episodic character beats. This may be our first introduction to how Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts are choosing to handle things. If so, it's an awkward way to establish the status quo. It leaves me a little concerned about the future because it seems to be rigidly sticking to the formula instead of trying to break free from it like the early episodes did.

The episodic plot of this hour involves the Discovery being called upon to make it to an essential mining post that is currently under attack by the Klingons. This war has been such an abstract thing since the deaths of Georgiou and T'Kuvma. It's been occurring largely offscreen. All of StarFleet is aware that it is going on. The Discovery is becoming a war ship under the leadership of Lorca. But this is the first mention of the actions of this war and how the Discovery can basically help tip the scales in StarFleet's favor. To StarFleet, the Klingons are a cunning adversary that are an immediate threat to their survival as a society. They must be defeated in this war. That's where the tension in this story comes from. It's necessary for StarFleet to prevail after Michael got them into this situation in the first place. The urgency comes from everyone needing to develop the technology and solve the various problems as quickly as possible to ensure future survival. Again, it's not a revelatory way of structuring a story. It can still be very effective. But the only glimpses the audience gets of the Klingons aren't all that exciting. They aren't great villains to watch. It seems inevitable that Voq and Michael will cross paths again. He's the entry point character for the Klingons. And yet, what he and L'Rell are up to is completely separate from everything else going on. Their scenes drag because they are speaking in klingon which is just such a slow and dull language in this show. Their stories seem to go around and around while ultimately getting back to the same point. Voq needs to make a huge sacrifice in order to be the leader the Klingons need following the death of T'Kuvma. It's just not that interesting. The show hasn't provided the audience with a reason to care.

The cost of war can be very compelling to watch when the audience understands both sides of the conflict. But right now, I would say the show would probably be better if the Klingons were just faceless antagonists waging war with StarFleet this season. It would allow the momentum to be maintained throughout this episode. Everything comes screeching to a halt whenever the story jumps away to Voq. He has no idea what's happening elsewhere in this world and how his people are attacking StarFleet. He's just trying to stick to his morals while needing to accept that he'll have to bridge the divide to ensure the future of his people. This could be interesting but the execution is very wonky. The Klingons are much more entertaining antagonists when they are just a bunch of mystery ships attacking this colony. They are the enemy that StarFleet must face. The stakes are raised because the officers aboard the Discovery aren't ready to become a war ship. Lorca has the freedom to do whatever he deems necessary in order to prevail in this war. He's a very demanding captain who orders everyone to live up to his perfect expectations. He needs his officers to be skilled in combat. He needs his scientists to crack this code with the spores to ensure that the Discovery can bring a swift end to this war. He justifies all of his actions with this mentality. It just makes him more of a one-note character throughout this episode.

Of course, it still presents itself in an intriguing conflict for Michael. It's appreciated that the show isn't keeping things a secret in regards to the creature that Lorca has captured. He reveals his intentions to Michael right away. He saw the devastation this creature left in its wake in the other ship last week. He's hopeful that that power can be manifested in a way that can be used to attack the Klingons. He has tasked Michael and Commander Landry to figure out a way for him to use it in this war. It's a conventional story of the two individuals having different beliefs on how to go about accomplishing this mission. Michael wants to approach things from a scientific perspective where she studies the creature and understands how it was created and interacts with the world. Landry just sees the creature as a monster with powerful and destructive capabilities. That clash between the two is very interesting. And yet, it's quickly put to an end for no reason whatsoever. Landry has the foolish idea to attack the creature to see how things will go. That's just completely foolish given what happened in the previous episode. It's a decision that ultimately kills her as well. That's just such a weird moment. It shrinks this cast even further. It adds to the claustrophobic nature of life on the Discovery. There are so few characters of actual importance and they don't know if they can actually trust each other. The show has lost Landry but gained Wilson Cruz as Dr. Culber. He's a promising addition to the cast but isn't ultimately given much to do in this story.

So, it's all ultimately about Michael needing to prove that her hypothesis about the creature is correct. It's actually only a predator when it is provoked. It's also connected to the spores at a biological level. It can become the navigational system that Stamets has been looking for amongst the research his friends left behind. Michael being proven right is a huge development in this story. She knows not to fear this creature because it doesn't want to harm her. And then, she's the only person who looks at what the crew does to it to carry out this mission and feels remorse and pain. She's the only person on the ship who sees this creature as a fellow alien that has been undiscovered in this world. It's a creature that lives just like everyone else on the ship. But now, it's being used as a device to ensure that the Discovery can use the spores to travel great distances in a matter of seconds. It's the only way for the Discovery to swoop in and save the day before immediately disappearing. It's a very cheesy moment as well. It literally includes a young girl looking up in the sky and asking who saved them from certain destruction. It's a laughable moment because it is just so cliche. Everything about this story is that way. Michael understands the importance of winning the war. But she also cares for this creature and doesn't want it to be harmed in order to achieve that objective. She can be very cruel and manipulative as well. Saru notes that she and Lorca should get along fine. But she still has sympathy for this alien. She's the only one who truly wants to understand it. It just feels like a lot of plot is forced into happening without there really being a good reason for why it is happening in the first place.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry" was written by Jesse Alexander & Aron Eli Coleite and directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi.
  • The relationship between Michael and Saru has been the most defined dynamic so far. And now, it just seems needlessly manipulative. It's genuine when Saru doesn't know that Michael is still aboard the ship helping Lorca. But for her to convince Saru she's sorry only to gauge his reaction around the creature just seems like it could be betraying a dynamic that could be real if things suddenly go awry in this world.
  • Michael is gifted with Georgiou's last will and testament. It's a package she delays opening until the end of the episode. It's moving that Georgiou saw her as a daughter she didn't have and is hopeful of her now being a captain. That's not true at all. But it's still significant that Michael is gifted with this telescope. It could serve as a reminder to keep things simple despite how rapidly moving this world is now becoming.
  • Of course, the logistics of how this telescope was able to be delivered to Michael are a little ridiculous. It's important that the Shenzhou is still in the field of debris following the opening battle in this war with the Klingons. Voq and L'Rell are able to board it and steal a key piece of technology. That seems like a massive oversight on StarFleet's part - especially if they were able to recover this telescope to give to Michael (who is suppose to be in jail now).
  • In more questionable decision making with StarFleet, it seems like they were just asking for this colony to be attacked. It's played up as this crucial community that provides society with forty percent of a significant material. And yet, there are no ships in the vicinity to actually protect that. That just seems like very poor planning. Where are the rest of the StarFleet ships in this war?
  • So much of the promotion for this show has talked about Stamets and Culber being in a relationship. Their dynamic does seem important but the show doesn't actually contextualize things here. They are taking the slow approach with that reveal even though it's been one of the few things the creative team and cast have been talking about for a long time now.