In the second episode of the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, a red burst leads the crew to a shocking place. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For a brief discussion of grief.
HOLY SHIT, I LOVED EVERY SECOND OF THIS EPISODE. In many ways, this felt deeply Trek in nature. It was the kind of ethical dilemma that we saw explored in many of the original five series (and I believe there was a Voyager episode something like this?), except here, it’s taken in a completely new direction. UGH IT WAS SO THORNY AND COMPLICATED AND EMOTIONAL. Let’s talk!
Tilly and Exploration
Tilly remains one of my absolute favorite Trek characters, and I’m enamored specifically with her development. I like that while she’s still awkward at times, we get to see her become more confident as an ensign. That being said, she learns an important lesson that she’s been struggling with since last season: We can’t help others unless we help ourselves. (My therapist is cackling in my head right now.) In “New Eden,” Tilly’s friendship with Stamets leads him to confessing that he is hesitant to use the spore drive because he’s afraid of seeing Dr. Culber again. And while this subplot takes up relatively little space in this episode, there’s so much depth to Stamets’s grief. We saw how affected he was by seeing Culber when Culber guided him and the Discovery home, and I’m of the opinion that that wasn’t a hallucination. Maybe it’s just Culber’s consciousness in the mycelial network, but something remained behind.
As someone who has spent the past year and a half grieving, there are days when I wish I could see the man I loved again. But most days—if I’m being entirely honest—I have to avoid that line of thinking. Actually, it’s not just a line of thinking, but a behavior. Some days, I can handle seeing a photo of him; the majority of them, I cannot. Now, if there was a means to interact with him again like Stamets believes is possible? I think it would be a terrible temptation. I use that word deliberately, too, because I know how difficult my own healing has been. Complicated grief, it’s called. I didn’t even know that existed, but now I have a name for what these eighteen months or so have felt like. And just like Stamets, I know I have to move on. My life cannot be perpetually defined by grief.
How can Stamets move on if the mycelial network provides him a means of seeing or interacting with Dr. Culber without actually having him back? Each time would be both joyous and sorrowful, until it probably became about nothing but sorrow. All of this is what Tilly internalizes and then decides to take matters into her own hands with the piece of the asteroid she helped take in during the previous episode. Unfortunately, by putting all of that act on her own shoulders, she ends up hurting herself badly and nearly putting the entire ship at risk. I loved that Saru wasn’t discouraging Tilly from finding a solution to Stamets’s problem; rather, he wanted Tilly to understand that she didn’t have to do things alone. Again: Wow, could Discovery stop being so LOUD? Turn the volume down!!! One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is this exact one, especially since I’ve long felt like I had to prove myself to everyone around me by being fiercely independent. Which can so easily slip into toxicity!!! I’m just glad that Tilly is being guided in the way that she is. She’s still be encouraged to think outside the box, but Saru is also pushing her to think of herself, too. One of Tilly’s great powers is empathy, but she should direct that empathy inwards as well.
I don’t have a theory. At all. Y’all, I was just excited to see a new character on this show, especially one with an accent like that. I haven’t commented much on this, but like… Discovery feels effortlessly diverse in the way a lot of Trek doesn’t? It’s casual in a way that makes it seem like an accurate depiction of the world. So, I’m excited, I’m thrilled that Tilly is about to reconnect with a childhood friend, and then… bam. We find out that May is DEAD. And has been dead for years??? And I realize that NO ONE ELSE EVERY INTERACTED WITH MAY. WHAT THE FUCK. So… who the fuck was that? Or what was that? Is this connected to either the mycelial network or the red bursts? Why is this show like this???
I remain intrigued that this show is hinting at a bigger story involving Spock, but focusing that story through Pike and Burnham. It’s just such good storytelling!!! (And I have more craft/structure stuff to talk about later.) As I said in the last review, we’re grounded in this story by experiencing it through Burnham’s emotions. Add to that the newly introduced Captain Pike, who has a completely different take on Spock than Burnham, and we’re getting a very new and refreshing look at an iconic character. We still don’t know what happened between Burnham and Spock that have left them estranged, but clearly it’s so big that Burnham believes that offering an olive branch to Spock would never work. Which… lord. How bad can this possibly be??? I don’t have a theory at all, friends. Nothing.
Plus, I wasn’t expecting Pike’s reveal. I am absolutely interested in seeing how Spock is dealing with a mental health crisis, since that’s what this sounds like, and it definitely is new ground for both this character and someone who is Vulcan. What about those red bursts precipitated this incident? What kind of care is Spock getting, and how will it affect him? What will happen when he inevitably reunites with his family? I’m so invested in this already, y’all!!! Even if the red bursts weren’t a compelling mystery (THEY REALLY FUCKING ARE), this would still be such a cool thing!
I NEED MORE.
I… loved this. I loved it so much. As I said in the opening, “New Eden” was classic Trek in execution and thematically. This is a first contact story, and—correct me if I’m wrong!—I believe that I’ve tended to enjoy first contact episodes a whole lot. They’re such a fascinating ethical conundrum, but this episode honestly blew many of them out of the water. After the events of “Brother,” we get a second red burst revealing a second community that may need to be saved. That looks like a pattern to me, and with the presence of that weird angel thing two times as well, I’m calling it. SOMETHING IS AMISS ON DISCOVERY, and it’s both creepy and kind of endearing? Like… it’s a good thing that the Discovery keeps following the red bursts. Except… oh god, that ending.
Wait, let me build up to that. Because the ethical journey to the ending was handled so well by this script. (Which, I should note, managed to deal with an incredibly heavy topic while still keeping it all HILARIOUS. Gods, this episode was so funny?!?!?!? Mary Wiseman’s and Sonequa Martin-Green’s comic timing is perfect??) The people of New Eden somehow escaped Earth during World War III and ended up on this distant planet. In the two hundred years since then, a unique community has sprung up, one where the original inhabitants believed that an “angel” saved them from the destruction of Earth. In the wake of that saving, a religion has sprung up that was cobbled together from different elements of major faiths on Earth. I think there was a potential for this episode to make said faith a lot more like the one we saw in Saru’s backstory in Short Treks, and I actually love that it wasn’t about dogma in quite the same way. There was no cruelty here. This wasn’t about subjugation either. Yes, Jacob did deal with the backlash to his curious nature, but even that didn’t feel like Saru’s journey.
But the problem that the crew has to deal with? Oh, let’s talk about STRUCTURE. Because initially, I thought that the challenge here was just going to be Burnham’s temptation to tell the people of New Eden that they believed a lie. Burnham is a rationalist. Her beliefs are guided as much by her love and appreciation for science as they are by her upbringing on Vulcan. So, logically, she doesn’t understand how Starfleet’s policies best benefit these people, who believe something huge and consequential to be untrue. Earth is not gone! It wasn’t destroyed! But at the same time, Pike’s guidance made sense. Wouldn’t Burnham upset the development of a pre-warp society if she interfered like that?
And then the story twists to a new wrinkle: the potential destruction of the ENTIRE PLANET by a nuclear winter caused by the unstable planet’s ring. Which means that Discovery would have to violate the very order that Pike is busy trying NOT to violate down on Terralysium. AND THEY COULDN’T EVEN CONTACT HIM TO TELL HIM WHAT THEY WERE DOING. Oh god, it was such an ironic twist, and I wondered how Pike would deal with the ramifications of it once the people of the First Saved where saved once more.
And then a new structural twist happens, and it was so fucking brilliant, y’all. Because this big, meaty problem that the Discovery deals with—in one of the most entertaining sequences in the whole show—then switches focus back to Burnham and Pike. How? Through the character of Jacob, the descendent of the scientists who landed on this planet hundreds of years before. God, that made all the interactions between Burnham and Jacob so COMPLICATED. And I loved it! It was one scientist talking to another. Except Burnham had to lie. She had to maintain a cover that involved her not giving information to someone who desperately desired it. I could see the pain on her face every time she had to misdirect Jacob!
That made the scene in the basement so much more disastrous. Pike tried his best to keep the cover going, but after being discovered, captured, locked in the basement, and then SHOT IN THE CHEST WITH A PHASER HE LEAPT ON TOP OF, this spiraled into a whole new disaster. At what point would this lie be impossible to uphold?
This wasn’t just a great ethical disaster, though. I loved how it was about Burnham learning from her past mistakes. She really did her best to obey her captain to the very end rather than assume she knew better. EVEN THOUGH THIS WHOLE MISSION HURT HER. At the same time, Pike was willing to listen to Burnham’s pleas that they do something to obtain the video footage from the helmet of the original survivor. And that exchange between Pike and Jacob allowed Jacob to have a full, satisfying role in this story, too. He wasn’t an antagonist, even if his actions made things harder for the Discovery crew. No, he just wanted confirmation of what he believed. At its heart, that’s such a pure, beautiful thing, and I see that as the reason why Pike ultimately relented and broke with protocol to give Jacob what he needed.
Of course, now I wonder about the ramifications of that. Because… what the FUCK just happened to that church now that it has power? How did that weird angel creature transport the entire thing and its inhabitants to the Beta Quadrant? And why? UGH, THIS WHOLE RED BURSTS STORYLINE IS SO GOOD!!!! I need more!!!
The video for “New Eden” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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