In the fifth episode of the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, I was going to fight you all, but now I’m just going to sit here and cry. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of death, grief,
I wanted this. I truly did. I… don’t know that this has ever happened in the history of Mark Watches? Like this specific thing? I WANTED DR. CULBER BACK AND IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED??? What do I do with my life now????
Oh, there’s so much to discuss, friends.
One of the reasons I enjoyed Deep Space Nine as much as I did was because it was willing to explore some of the darker, seedier, and less utopic elements of Starfleet. One of those was Section 31, which still manages to be just as creepy here in Discovery. It’s true that the division feels at odds with the greater mission of Starfleet and the Federation as a whole, given that they have very little oversight and seem to break regulation as long as it is serving the greater interests of the Federation. So with that understanding, it was fascinating to see the show lean into the uncomfortable presence of both Georgiou and Ash Tyler here. There’s the obvious, interpersonal conflicts at play between both of them and Michael Burnham, but even if I was able to put that aside, I would understand why Burnham was upset to find out that Georgiou and Tyler were working with Section 31.
And what few glimpses we get of the inner-workings of the division aren’t necessarily the greatest. We know Leland has done something terrible under the auspices of Section 31 because Georgiou uses it as a form of emotional blackmail against him. (MICHELLE YEOH IS SO PERFECT IN THIS EPISODE, FOR THE RECORD.) I also suspect that Section 31 knows way more about Spock and the Red Bursts than they’re letting on. Why else would they be so interested in all of this?
Even with all this political intrigue and complicated morality at play, it was all the shit with Burnham that truly made this so entertaining. Just watch the video for evidence of how many times I was driven to laughter not because what unfolded onscreen was necessarily funny, but because seeing Georgiou operating within the constraints of Starfleet was absolutely surreal. All of her Terran qualities are right there on the surface, and yet she’s able to hide in plain sight by leaning into the idea that she “changed” due to the Federation-Klingon War. So what does this for Burnham? That’s what she struggles with. What is Georgiou’s intention, especially in regards to her pursuit of Spock? Does Georgiou know something about the Bursts that Burnham does not? I feel like she does!!! And on top of that, I FULLY UNDERSTAND WHY SHE DOESN’T TRUST GEORGIOU. Yes, Burnham might eventually have to, but can you blame her for her reluctance?
AND THEN ASH TYLER IS NOW AROUND, TOO. Oh god, please tell me I wasn’t the only one emotionally exhausted by this episode. I mean that in the best way possible. There’s just so much jam-packed into “Saints of Imperfection,” so yes, the script is dense. But even the short secondary and tertiary plots are dense! They’re built upon a ton of storytelling that came prior to it. Take Ash Tyler! Did Burnham ever expect to see him again after he left to be on Qo’noS with L’Rell? No. Did she ever expect to see him back in Starfleet (and part of Section 31, at that)? NO. NOT AT ALL. It’s all an adjustment, and while Burnham does her best, I noticed that Tyler appeared to think he could just fall back into normal patterns with her and the rest of the crew.
Oh, that’s definitely not happening. THIS IS GOING TO BE SO AWKWARD.
Pike and Burnham
On a more positive note, I also picked up on a really wonderful dynamic in this episode: the growing relationship between Pike and Burnham. In particular, I’m thinking of the scene where Pike (correctly) hypothesizes that there’s some unspoken history between Burnham and both Georgiou and Tyler. Well, not even so much history with Georgiou, but Burnham knows something. Rather than order her to tell him, Pike merely asks her for the answer. With some force, yes, but he allows her to delay the truth, and she asks for his patience. For his faith, really, that she’s making the best decision she can and that she trusts him, too.
That theme appears all over the episode. Faith. Who offers it? Who gives it? What is the cost to give it to another person? WHICH IS A PERFECT SEGUE TO THE MAIN EXAMPLE OF IT.
Rescuing the jahSepp
First things first: AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. I SHALL SCREAM THIS TO THE HEAVENS FOREVER BECAUSE AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.
I have written about multiple episodes in Discovery’s run that feel “quintessentially” Trek in construction and execution. I don’t mean that this show can’t forge new types of stories; hell, that’s one reason I love it so much. There are large swaths of it that don’t feel like the previous Star Trek shows. But I love that the spirit still lives on, particularly in some of the ways the writers approach colliding cultures. So: There is a very, very Trek element at play between May/the jahSepp and the Discovery crew. Here, we see perspectives shift as each party gets more information about the other. The jahSepp understandably see Stamets as a villain because of his “entry” into the mycelial network last season. With that entry, his body basically acting as a lightening rod for the “essence” of Dr. Hugh Culber, who was transferred there.
Both of them were foreign entities, and in the case of Dr. Culber, he was desperate to survive what the mycelia very naturally: break down anything and re-use its parts. It was just as natural of a process as Culber’s attempt to survive by using the tree bark to protect himself! And yet, neither side truly understood one another. I honestly will never tire of how many plots on Trek basically boil down to, “Hey, have you just considered talking to someone else?”
I’m not trying to be reductive of the complicated and IMMENSELY STRESSFUL story that unfolds here, because it does ultimately address a number of thorny issues. Like the story with Section 31, the plot involving the mycelial network is made all the better because it’s personalized through Tilly. Ensign Tilly is the heart of all of this. Even when she’s angry, even when she feels violated after what May did to her body, she still can’t ignore the desperate plea of a species that has no way to defend itself against the “attacks” of Dr. Culber. So she makes a promise—a promise that reverberates like an echo across “Saints of Imperfection,” too. She refuses to give up on May and the jahSepp, just as Pike promises not to give up on Tilly.
There is the obvious great joy in this episode, and I’m honestly still reeling from the canonical return of Dr. Culber to the show. I actually LOVE that my thoughts were ultimately proved wrong, and now, we’ve got this IMMENSE story that is queer in every imaginable way, from the love of these two characters to the means by which this plot was told. Literally: Stamets’s love is what sent Dr. Culber into the network. THE MYCELIAL NETWORK SAID “GAY RIGHTS.” Oh my god, everything about Culber offering his hand to Stamets in the Met? GAY. GAY AND PERFECT AND HELP ME, THIS IS IS EVERYTHING I HAVE EVER WANTED.
Yet this joy is tempered by a terrible sadness. Over these three episodes, Tilly has grown close to May. Even if it wasn’t the original May, the events here forced her to rethink her interactions with a girl who tried to befriend her at a time when Tilly wasn’t popular at all. And now, all those years later, Tilly developed a friendship with a member of another species through a bizarre means, and yet it didn’t dilute how strongly she felt toward May. Because of how May made themself a part of Tilly, they got to know Tilly as no one else ever had.
And that was the price for getting Dr. Culber back: Tilly had to give up May, right at the start of a friendship that could have grown into something incredible. Of course Tilly’s heartbroken at the end of this episode and after this sort of experience. But she made a pinky swear with May, right? And Tilly is exactly the kind of person who keeps her promises. We’ve seen that over these twenty or so episodes. I don’t think this was the last of May.
Hey, so, my heart hurts from everything? Thanks for that, Discovery.
The video for “Saints of Imperfection” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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