Sunday, February 11, 2018

REVIEW: 'Star Trek: Discovery' - Michael Upholds the Ideals of Starfleet in 'Will You Take My Hand?'

CBS All Access' Star Trek: Discovery - Episode 1.15 "Will You Take My Hand?"

With Georgiou at the helm of the plan to end the Klingon war once and for all, the U.S.S. Discovery crew struggles to fathom and tolerate her hostile tactics. Memories of past hardships are rekindled within Burnham.

Structurally, this season of Star Trek: Discovery makes sense. The war with the Klingons begins in the premiere with Michael Burnham going rogue because she believes she knows best. She is following vulcan logic instead of the ideals of Starfleet. It's a decision that has far-reaching consequences throughout the universe and gets Captain Philippa Georgiou killed. And now, the war with the Klingons ends in the season finale with Michael once again going rogue but to uphold the ideals of Starfleet. It's a journey that takes her from mutiny to redemption. Those bookends parallel each other in a meaningful way that stands out when just looking at the structure of the season. But emotionally, it doesn't land nearly as well as the show hopes that it will. "Will You Take My Hand?" is just a busy finale. It has so much that it needs to do. And yet, it feels quiet and intimate in a way that doesn't feel all that important or noteworthy. It's an odd mix. Yes, it's still entertaining and provides solid resolution for the story that happened this season. But this season was never all that interested in showing this war in action and the consequences that followed. Yes, Michael lost everything because of this war. She found redemption through bringing it to an end. But the episodes in between where much more interested in the interpersonal relationships happening on the Discovery than the world-at-large that was at war. It's been the chief complaint throughout the season. There was simply no context for the war with the Klingons. And thus, it hardly feels like a worthwhile ending when it comes in this finale.

At times, it has felt like the show was aware that it provided no details or nuance to this war with the Klingons. The first half of the season was defined by a unified Klingon race under the reign of one leader who took over after T'Kuvma died. After that, the show got distracted with its trip to the mirror universe which was just so much more fun and compelling from a character perspective. The effects of this war were still felt. But it felt inconsequential from the main story. Then, the Discovery returned to the Prime universe to learn that the Federation was on the verge of complete destruction by the Klingons. They were no longer unified. This wanted to be a season of war. It wanted to analyze the cost of making decisions under these particular circumstances. Lorca ruled the Discovery with an ends justify the means mentality. He could get away with any particular decision because Starfleet was at war and he was leading the star ship that could turn the tide. The spore drive technology was key throughout all of this. The trip to the mirror universe only increased this mentality by revealing just how all-consuming the story actually was for those aboard the Discovery. They were all unwitting pawns in Lorca's plan to reclaim the Terran Empire. It's a mission that didn't work. The optimism and smarts of the crew stopped his coup and returned to the Prime universe. It was a rousing success. But now, the show has to punctuate the lessons learned from all of this. It mostly just feels like the story is cutting corners which is never a good feeling.

Admiral Cornwell and Sarek are the representatives from Starfleet now. They always were. They were the faces of the Federation who appeared occasionally but never had a main presence on the Discovery. They returned for these final two episodes of the season as changed people. They endured nine months of this war. It's a personal conflict for them because Earth is at risk of being destroyed. That's what motivated Cornwell's decision to give Emperor Georgiou command of the Discovery. She was willing to do whatever it took in order to prevail victorious over the Klingons. She did that even though it would dismantle everything that Starfleet stands for. As such, it was up to Michael and the rest of the Discovery crew to stand up and remind this world of just how important the ideals of Starfleet actually are. It's up to them to uphold the morals in times of war because that's the time that defines one's true character. It's just all caught up in a story where Emperor Georgiou pretends to be her counterpart from this universe while leading a covert mission on the Klingon home planet. That stealth mission is pretty lame and unimaginative. The crew beams down to the surface and finds a cliche take on a grimy alien society that is sketchy in every single aspect. It's the show's attempt to be edgy in its depiction of the Klingon home world. But it just feels so familiar as a concept. The finale spends a lot of time here but it never really adds up to anything or changes the mission whatsoever.

It just ultimately has to build to that moment where Michael learns that Emperor Georgiou is actually planting a bomb on the planet that will completely destroy it. It's horrifying to learn that Starfleet is willing to condone genocide in order to win this war with the Klingons. They can justify it by saying that it doesn't wipe out the Klingon species. They'll just be scattered throughout the universe being unable to find unity ever again because of this display of strength. But it's an action that goes against everything Starfleet stands for. As such, it's up to Michael to find another way. That basically boils down to her talking with Georgiou and L'Rell. With Georgiou, it's her accepting that she doesn't need to carry out this mission. She can't bear to kill Michael again even though this isn't the same person she raised for her entire life. Instead, she just has to accept her freedom in this universe without destroying a planet to do it. That's easy and largely just leaves the show with the option to bring back Michelle Yeoh whenever they want - as they clearly should. With L'Rell, it's about getting her to accept the responsibility that war didn't fulfill T'Kuvma's vision for the Klingons. It didn't unite the clans. It only forced them further apart. And now, she has the leverage to get them to unite under her leadership. It's empowering from the perspective that females are in the positions of power in so much of the storytelling of this show. That's great. But it also feels like a lackluster resolution to this story in which the one Klingon the audience actually knows is able to end this conflict for now. It's just so easy with it seeming highly unlikely to establish lasting peace - even though it clearly will.

All of this basically proves that Michael has learned her lesson. She is aware that communicating and being vulnerable with people is the key to diplomacy. She held strong in her determination to find another way to survive in the face of grim uncertainty. She found a way to uphold the ideals of Starfleet without further compromising herself in the process. Sure, she still deals with loss here as Tyler decides to go with L'Rell to help forge the new Klingon culture. That's a goodbye that feels tacked on as a way to get rid of Tyler after a season in which he had no consistent character traits. But it's also more important for Michael to redeem her title in Starfleet. All of this is a story of redemption with Michael getting that rousing ceremony in the end as she presents herself as the best officer Starfleet could ever hope for. But it's also just a case of her devoting herself to an organization whose ideals are more compromised and wishy-washy than they were when she first joined. Cornwell wasn't an ideal leader. She basically changed her mind depending on whom she was speaking with. But the show still wants the audience to view Starfleet as the perfect moral compass in this world. It's the organization that all of the characters pledge themselves to. Michael is the one largely being honored in this ceremony. But Saru, Tilly and Stamets are there as well and get shoutouts. It's a neat ending. But it also just further proves just how small this cast really was with the stories being defined by whatever crazy thing happens to them. And thus, it's not surprising when the season ends with a twist. It's a twist that may even excite some hardcore Star Trek fans. The Discovery comes face-to-face with the Enterprise. It's a rousing final moment. But it's also the show quickly throwing these characters into a new conflict when they all should have some time to reflect on the choices they made this year and how it will affect them moving forward.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Will You Take My Hand?" was directed by Akiva Goldsman with story by Akiva Goldsman, Gretchen J. Berg & Aaron Harberts and teleplay by Gretchen J. Berg & Aaron Harberts.
  • The introduction of the U.S.S. Enterprise comes with it a number of possibilities. The story confirms that Captain Pike is the man in charge of the vessel at the moment. He's the one sending out the distress signal. So, it's clear the show will be dealing with more of the timeline of the franchise next season. But this introduction also gives the show the potential to show a much younger Spock and what he may be up to. Sarek is aboard the Discovery after all.
  • When the Discovery intercepts the distress call from the Enterprise, they are on their way to Vulcan in order to pick up their new captain. Michael and Saru are still just commanders. So, it'll be fascinating to get an outside perspective leading the ship next year. However, it will need to be a much different character than Lorca as the crew will need to be less suspicious of him or her. But it's also enticing to think the show will be adding some significant new characters next season.
  • Seriously though, the vision of life on the Klingon home planet is just mediocre science fiction. It's an outpost city where all of the seedy action happens. So, there are back alley deals happening while others pee in the streets. There's a strip club that entices the main characters in as they have to use seduction to get information. It's just very tame and unoriginal. Plus, the show seems to breeze past just how potentially dangerous it was for Tilly to be knocked out for awhile in a place full of outlaws and bandits.
  • Michael tells Tyler the full story of the day her parents died. She blames herself for that action because she wanted to stay on the planet for a few extra days. They were killed by Klingons. All of this feels like emotional backstory that should have come up before now. It probably has but not with this kind of emotional intensity. It puts new context in her feelings for Tyler with his Voq memories. But it's mostly just a way to offer hope that she could love him despite his new split identity as a human and klingon.
  • It's unclear when the show will return for its second season. It was renewed fairly early on in its run. It proved to be a quick hit for CBS All Access - fueling higher subscription growth. So, the writers have had the time to map out the new season. But the demands of production and the special effects budget could delay the return until 2019. Audiences are getting more and more used to long hiatuses but it's still a bummer when they actually occur.