Thursday, April 4, 2024

REVIEW: 'Star Trek: Discovery' - A Search for Life Provides New Purpose to Michael in 'Red Directive' and 'Under the Twin Moons'

Paramount+'s Star Trek: Discovery - Episodes 5.01 "Red Directive" and 5.02 "Under the Twin Moons"

Captain Burnham and the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery are sent to retrieve a mysterious artifact hidden inside an 800-year-old Romulan vessel - but find that they're not the only ones on the hunt. On Saru's last mission as Captain Burnham's Number One, the team ventures to a seemingly abandoned planet to hunt for what might be the greatest treasure in the galaxy.

"Red Directive" was written by Michelle Paradise and directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi
"Under the Twin Moons" was written by Alan McElroy and directed by Doug Aarniokoski

The core drive of Star Trek has always been the excitement of exploration. Crews that serve in Starfleet explore the universe making first contact with alien species and expanding our understanding of the galaxy. The universe is vast and complex. Even the borders of what seemed possible could eventually be disrupted and broken. This series has always offered existential threats to the entire galaxy. It's the job of Starfleet to prevent those disasters from occurring. They are the only ones with the tools capable of addressing the problems without losing themselves along the way. It's a powerful overall message. However, it has frequently meant the show has had to continually one-up itself. Every season features the same kind of distinct threat. However, each one has to be more severe and dangerous than the last. That makes the narrative focused on the overall world of Star Trek without entirely putting in the character work that has always made the franchise so special.

Sure, it's moving as Saru decides to leave Starfleet in order to accept a position as an ambassador for the Federation. It's similarly significant when T'Rina proposes. That relationship matters especially as it comes from two individuals who never thought it was possible or logical for them to receive love. They found it nevertheless. Yes, things go awry during Saru's final mission on the Discovery. He still gets his action moments. Quick thinking prevails at the end of the day. The two are reunited. They will forge a bright new path together towards the future. That is set now. Meanwhile, Stamets' agonizes over Starfleet ending the spore drive program. His technology won't be implemented throughout the fleet. Instead, it will remain unique to Discovery. He wants a lasting legacy. He was already ahead of his time with this invention. He was content with that. He also wants to be remembered for centuries like Dr. Soong. That just doesn't seem possible anymore.

All of this is wrapped up in the pursuit of the creation of life itself. Long ago, Captain Jean-Luc Picard interacted with a Romulan scientist who discovered the species that created all humanoids. That secret was locked away in a journal that has just been found. That leads the Discovery crew on a mission to collect five pieces of a map to their creators. The mission suddenly provides purpose to Michael after everything that happened with Book. And now, the two are relying on each other again. Michael always upholds the ideals of Starfleet. Book understands the appeal. However, his own interests don't always align with the governing institution. He's useful in so many situations. He helps the Discovery track down Moll and L'ak after they steal the journal. He also quickly discovers that he's compromised because Moll is potentially the only distant relative he has left after the destruction of his planet. He recognizes her. And thus, he's immediately placed right back on the path of potentially going against Michael.

Elsewhere, Michael isn't completely distracted by the need to replace Saru as her Number One. It's mostly just a story in service of Captain Rayner's introduction. He's the officer who has had previous encounters with Moll and L'ak. He knows their tactics. He doesn't want them to escape yet again. He suffers from always looking at the immediate problem. It's more difficult when he must examine the whole picture. He was a significant ally to Admiral Vance when the galaxy was at war. Times have changed though. That mentality is expressed numerous times. Rayner hasn't adapted. And so, he must be pushed out of the organization. Michael believes it's important to extend opportunity for redemption. Rayner doesn't take risks that get innocent civilians killed during this conflict. He comes close to it though. Quick thinking again prevails. The Discovery crew has the expertise to thrive even when they have to step away from their core directive to save lives. That matters to them. It should be for Rayner as well. It's just less significant seeing him accept the role because he's new. That also highlights just how thin the ranks on the Discovery actually are when it comes to character development. Tilly would have made an exceptional Number One. However, her story dictates her to be teaching at the academy while still providing assistance to Michael when she needs it. That hobbles her in a way too.

Earnest attempts at moving moments are made. Michael and Saru reflect on their history. They embarked on this journey centuries ago. They were made better and stronger through their partnership. Now, they will be tasked with exploring who they are as individuals. They aren't sure who they are without the people they've always leaned on. That theme is expressed elsewhere as well. Adira shares those feelings. And now, the crew will be returning to a planet they have previously visited - Trill. That too carries memories of the past. But again, it's all hinged on how well the audience is invested in those prior relationships. It's complicated to feel those connections given the lengthy breaks between seasons. Plus, the narrative is further hampered by the urgency of the moment. The Discovery has one piece of the map. They view Moll and L'ak as rogue opportunists. They aren't part of a coordinated effort to topple the Federation. They only have each other. That makes them unique figures in this conflict given the stakes involved. However, that still feels misaligned with the severity of the moment. And so, the scale doesn't quite match the tone. Many things remain impressive in this world. And yet, the storytelling still suffers from going to the existential threats all the time.