Mark Watches ‘Discovery’: S01E02 – Battle at the Binary Stars

In the second episode of the first season of Discovery, it all hurts. Everything. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek. 

Trigger Warning: For discussion of grief, trauma

Like… what the FUCK, y’all?

I’m of maybe… six minds about this. I genuinely cannot parse my feelings on this down to a single take on “Battle at the Binary Stars,” because on the one hand, this is so bold and brilliant. It’s provocative because it completely bucks the pattern of Star Trek pilots/premieres, setting the stage for a story that feels utterly new for this universe. It’s infuriating because how the hell do you give us a character like Philippa Georgiou and then kill her off so suddenly and without a goodbye? It’s realistic because… well, I know what that’s like. I know that death is sudden and without closure, and I am absolutely expecting that this show is going to address it head-on through Michael Burnham. A character, mind you, who devoted their life to controlling their human emotions who just went through one of the most devastating things imaginable. (AGAIN!!!! She has existing trauma around death and the Klingons.) 

And then I’m also… I’m just fucking BEWILDERED. How the fuck is this the start of the show??? HOW ARE THERE THREE SEASONS AFTER THIS? Because this feels like an ending of sorts. Captain Georgiou is dead, Michael Burnham is no longer a Commander, in Starfleet, OR A FREE CITIZEN. Life in prison. THAT’S HOW THIS TWO-PART PREMIERE ENDS.

I’m kinda circling back around to this all being bold. What a gutsy fucking opener, y’all.

While I am not as certain about the motivations of T’Kuvma in particular, I did want to start off with what I absolutely felt confident in discussing: The immense character work that happened over the course of these two episodes. To me, that’s really the heart of what transpired here. What I came to love about Deep Space Nine and Voyager in particular was the found family relationships, the willingness to explore interpersonal connection in the deepest parts of space. I have no idea if any of these characters aside from Burnham appear in future episodes, but there’s already a rock-solid foundation established in this story. The work done to explain Burnham’s past and why she chose what she chose was both succinct and layered, which is not an easy thing to pull off in less than 90 minutes. The same goes for Captain Georgiou, and I also hope that future storylines ground the decision to kill her off. (Which I suppose is the most I can hope for. I STILL AM UPSET, PLEASE GIVE HER BACK TO US.) We had to understand that Georgiou was not just Burnham’s mentor. We certainly saw that in flashbacks and throughout this crisis. We needed to believe that there was someone in Burnham’s life who could make her feel intense, conflicting emotions. Georgiou’s very construction as a character is both as a foil to Burnham, but also something akin to a mother. At least that’s my take on it. Burnham lost her parents when she was very young, and when you add Sarek to her life? Surrogate parents!!! Right???

All of this makes the events of this episode so much more heartbreaking and difficult. If Burnham had trusted Captain Georgiou, would things have turned out differently? What would have happened if she’d successfully fired on the Klingon ship? It’s hard to guess because the Klingon perspective on all of this was so hard for me to track. In particular, I felt like I was missing just one piece of the puzzle in terms of T’Kuvma’s motivation. From what I understand of canon, this seems to be the start of the big Federation/Klingon War that’s been referenced in the other four shows. I get that! And I get that Burnham’s personal decisions set so much of this in motion. But like… what has T’Kuvma been doing all this time? I think we’re supposed to put two and two together and assume that he damaged that relay, which is what brought the Shenzhou to this part of space anyway. Putting this all together… was T’Kuvma acting on a misguided notion of feeling like he was part of a prophecy? Or some sort of Klingon fable? I could buy that; he deliberately provoked the Federation into a fight in order to shift the purpose of the Klingon Empire. I’ve said this before in relation to other shows, but I promise I don’t actually need my hand held, and I love when writers ask the audience to piece things together. Yet by the end of this episode, I felt like a key piece of that puzzle was still missing. What was the precipitating event? What pushed T’Kuvma to finally let go and pull this off?

I’m also interested in what happens next. Their leader is dead! Which was also a huge, huge shock. Oh god, the parallels! Both the Klingons and the Federation lost a great leader at the exact same moment.

The bulk of what “Battle at the Binary Stars” focuses on, though, is Burnham, which I’m perfectly fine with. Again, I’m always at a disadvantage reviewing things here on Mark Watches because I’m actually missing 99% of the puzzle pieces at any given time, ha! SO: Georgiou’s death may have a narrative need I can’t see. There might be a plan with T’Kuvma (and Voq, too) that I know nothing about. For now, I’m fine mentioning things that made me uncomfortable. Like the physical depiction of the Klingons, which still set of CONSTANT alarms in my head as I watched this. I have literally no problem with the show changing canon. Like the long distance mind-meld from Sarek. That shit RULED, it had an emotional need in the show to build up Sarek’s relationship with Burnham, and, again, THAT SHIT WAS COOL. So, I don’t care that we have a much more alien-looking version of the Klingons. It’s just that they’re all… that? Dark-skinned with exaggerated features and they’re taking about racial purity and they almost universally hate the one light-skinned/white-skinned member of their community. Once I type that out, it… it makes me cringe! Because I see two tropes acting at the same time: One is where a dark-skinned race is inherently violent and war-loving; the other is where an albino character is treated as inherently flawed or “alien” within a group. Like, neither of those is very interesting on the surface, and that’s not even getting into all the weird racial stuff that this brings up. Is Voq always going to play this role within the show? Will the Klingons ever… change? I mean, exactly how much of canon is Discovery going to play with?

Anyway, for now, I think focusing on Burnham is best because I’m given so very, very much of her character here. I don’t think it’s a mystery at this point that she’s probably the main character in Discovery and I AM VERY PLEASED BY THIS. Because who is she now? What becomes of the disgraced former officer who mutinied against her Captain just hours before her Captain was murdered by the newly-returned Klingons? Who is she after this experience in which her attempt to use Vulcan logic failed? Did it fail because she is human? Because she failed to utilize Vulcan logic properly? Because Vulcan logic was actually flawed here? There is a maelstrom centered on Burnham, and this situation tested her very identity! She made a terrible mistake, too, and I feel like she knows that. Even though the Starfleet hearing is exceptionally brief, it told us enough about Burnham’s mindset. She didn’t fight the charges against her, and she now sees herself as “the enemy.” Harsh, but after losing her mentor and Captain, I can understand why she’d come to that conclusion. I’m sure she also has a lot of fear that she disappointed Sarek with her behavior, too. GOD, I LOVED THAT LONG-DISTANCE MIND-MELD SCENE SO MUCH. Seeing him come to a point where he could admit that maybe he failed Burnham? HEARING THAT FROM A VULCAN? Ugh, just punch me in the HEART, okay? 

And really, those big emotional moments, mixed in with the horrifying twists of the battle (THAT HUGE SHIP THAT JUST CUT THE EUROPA IN HALF????) made this an incredible experience for me. Maybe that’s the summary I can ultimately come to. This episode might have confused me, enraged me, thrilled me, and made me feel approximately 234 emotions, but in the end? I really did like this. I have no idea what the “theme” of Discovery is yet, but this is such an interesting take on the Federation and the character at the center of it. Why call it Discovery? Is there a ship I haven’t met yet? Is it a more thematic element? What does Burnham come to discover—both about herself and about a world now deep in war with the Klingons?

I’m excited to find out.

The video for “Battle at the Binary Stars” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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