“We Will Not Accept a No-Win Scenario”: Star Trek Discovery’s Second Arc

1×10 “Despite Yourself”

The bulk of the episode is the crew figuring out that they’re in the mirror universe and taking steps to blend in until they can figure out a way to escape. This is also where we start figuring out what’s going on with Tyler (though it’s possible to make it through most of the next episode without realizing it, which is what I did when I first watched through the series), and the shocking, unceremonious death of Dr. Culber. Even though that particular mistake gets taken back next season, and even though this episode is the start of an arc that’s much better than the bulk of the season, I can’t get over the extremely straightforward employment of the Bury Your Gays trope, nor the fact the this is a pretty awkward transition episode. I kinda hate how often this season feels like it’s just very loudly moving pieces around instead of telling a story. Fortunately this is the last time this particular arc feels like that, but it really is a microcosm for the season as a whole.

(C-Rank)

1×11 “The Wolf Inside”

There are two wolves inside you. One of them is incredible character writing, one of them is really frustrating big picture plot issues and extremely un-Star Trekky texture. (This obligatory “there are two wolves inside you” joke is about the season as a whole, not this episode or this arc.)

This is when I started to come around on this show. The mirror universe shenanigans are extremely Star Trekky. As previously mentioned despite being given all the clues I did not see the twist with Tyler coming. (In my defense, I was pretty checked out by this point, especially on all the Klingon stuff.) And then there’s That Ending.

You know, that incredibly hot moment where Burnam’s nurturing mommy domme shows back up as a badass mean domme.

“Don’t you bow to your Emperor” indeed.

(B-Rank)

1×12 “Vaulting Ambition”

Although the show is drastically better at this point, this is a frustrating one.

The lion’s share of the episode is occupied by interactions between Georgiou and Burnam that advances one side of the plot, and Stamets and Culber that advances the other. And under other circumstances that would be exactly what I wanted. These are two of my favorite relationships in all of Star Trek.

Unfortunately at this moment in time, focusing on either relationship is an exercise in the show rubbing what it squandered in our faces.

Plus the whole mycelial network catastrophe thing is another example of the rather frustrating tendency in nuTrek where literally everything has to threaten “all sentient life in the universe.” Like, they can’t ever just have problems that are a big deal to them or to some vulnerable group of people, everything has to threaten literally everyone, everywhere. And it’s just… kinda exhausting.

The saving grace here is, of course, the Lorca plot twist. Another one that I somehow didn’t see coming. And delivered with another amazing montage that had me saying “oh my gosh oh my gosh oh my gosh” with escalating shock.

(C-Rank)

1×13 “What’s Past Is Prologue”

Wow they actually finished an arc. Like, it was all self-contained and stuff. They just… had a thing they wanted to do, they did it, and then they moved on. Look at them go!

Okay, I’m being super condescending here but this episode did seriously kick ass. It had action, character-work, and a genuinely awesome space battle. The only frustration is that it had to end on yet another in a series of twists, because season 1 is just twist after twist and it’s just so un-Star Trek. Like, you guys know you aren’t making Lost, right? You have an actual show with a story and characters that people are interested in. You don’t need to trick them into staying interested by having a cliffhanger every other week.

Seriously, though, I don’t want to undersell the fact that this episode kicks ass. Saru has a few brilliant moments of leadership that just make my heart swell. This is a high point of the season.

(A-Rank)

1×14 “The War Without, the War Within”

And then we just immediately come crashing back down to earth.

I just… hate all of the creative choices here. Like, yeah, I do derive a certain amount of less than innocent enjoyment from the idea of the space orcs just conquering everything and competing for dominance by seeing who can thrash their Federation playthings the hardest. That shit is hot, I’m not gonna pretend otherwise. But these last two episodes are a bad concept executed poorly.

Burnam’s breakup with Tyler sucked. I agree completely that she probably shouldn’t be with him. But the reason isn’t “Tyler needs to heal alone” because that’s bullshit, and people rarely heal as effectively alone as they do with support. The real problem is that Burnam is understandably traumatized, and just because she cares about him does not mean she owes him a romantic relationship. You can love someone deeply and still not belong with them.

Seriously, though, this entire reprise/conclusion of the Klingon war just sucks so hard.

(D-Rank)

1×15 “Will You Take My Hand?”

The Federation’s values are what makes Star Trek special. Everything Michael Burnam said in her angry speech at Admiral Cornwell is 100% true, but the situation that was contrived to put her in a position to say these words is just. So. Not. Star Trek.

You do not need to stretch the Federation to its fucking breaking point to dramatize these values. You’ve basically made it look like Discovery’s crew is the only bastion of the Federation’s values left while the upper echelons of its command are willing to throw it all away as soon as things get challenging.

Oh, and Discovery’s much better solution is to install a dictator who keeps her people in place with a doomsday device. So, you know. We should probably stop letting liberals write things maybe. (I’m kidding. We should definitely stop.)

There’s also just… a Star Wars prequels level of making the universe feel impossibly small. The Klingons, the Romulans, the Cardassians, etc etc et all have always felt like these massive entities that are just as big and complex as the Federation that had to be engaged with as equals. Even back in the 60s, TOS–for all its many flaws–gave us a conflict with the Klingons that was just… always kind of there, but never this all-or-nothing, and never with either side being all up in each other’s business, determining who runs the other side’s fucking government??? ENTERPRISE did a better job with this stuff! You guys have me complimenting ENTERPRISE!

… wait, hang on a second. SAREK endorsed attempted genocide??? Sarek can be a difficult man, but he’s deeply committed to peace!!

Okay. Deep breath. Uh. The one part of this episode I genuinely liked was the Orion brothel on Qo’noS. I’m sorry to just constantly be horny on main here, but if my dream job is Starfleet officer, my backup plan is “Orion slavegirl getting railed by Klingons over and over every day.” I mean, yeah, that’ll work???

Okay I also kind of love that Burnam basically closes out season 1 by giving a speech about why season 1 sucked. But, like… having Burnam consistently be the only character who gets the Federation’s values is just such a weird storytelling crutch and it’s just truly awful writing. Clearly the writers were listening and figured out what we didn’t like about the first season, but you can’t just have your main character yell about it instead of actually building a show that aligns with those values!! This show really needed to learn the difference between fan service and being Star Trek.

Oh and because there weren’t already enough of them, the season ends on yet another cliffhanger, and yeah this is the best of them by far and their version of the TOS era Enterprise is gorgeous even if the pedant in me would’ve preferred a more simple up-res of the original ship design, but seriously can we just stop with all the cliffhangers all the time.

(I mean, I know we can. I’ve seen later seasons. I’m just saying!)

(D-Rank)

Full season 1 ratings
S-Rank: 0
A-Rank: 3
B-Rank: 4
C-Rank: 6
D-Rank: 2
Average: 2.53 (C-Rank)

***

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