In the twelfth episode of the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, I am still hurting. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of body horror
Could this show give me a break??? Please??? Just kidding, it’s never going to, LET’S DO THIS.
I genuinely forgot that the show said that L’Rell’s and Voq’s son would be on Boreth. WHAT A SURPRISE, y’all!!! I know I keep saying I’m blown away by this show over and over again, but I shall remain repetitive here, too. I loved how Tenavik’s story was folded into Captain Pike’s in a way that didn’t feel cheesy or unnecessary, especially since the tone of the entire Boreth trip was so intense. Plus, what a great way to demonstrate to those of us watching how completely unpredictable this specific monastery was. Now I get why L’Rell said that Boreth was not for the faint of heart! Because HOLY SHIT, WHAT.
Before that moment reveals itself, though, the show does a fantastic job worldbuilding in a very limited amount of time. Even without having seen any of the experimentation with time crystals onscreen, we’d been prepped to understand why they are so volatile and why they’d need to be protected. Look at what one time crystal did in the hands of the Federation. And so, as Pike entered the Boreth Monastery, I noted how much visual storytelling unfolded on screen. Tenavik’s introduction made it clear that he was the head monk and also that the monks themselves took this job very seriously. At the same time, there’s an almost amused ease with which Tenavik moves throughout the temple. From his dialogue, we could discern that many, many people had come to this place to seek out a time crystal, but no one had succeeded once being asked to make a sacrifice. So, when Pike shows up, demanding an audience, there’s nothing to make Tenavik believe that this person is going to be any different from the countless others.
I think Tenavik believed that up until Pike’s decision, to be honest. Shit, how many others had gripped a time crystal and seen their possible future? Clearly, all of them didn’t want the crystal afterward, and thus, the very commitment from Pike to uphold what he believes in (while at great cost to himself) was the demonstration the monks needed to prove Pike’s intent.
But what a fucking vision, y’all. The show doesn’t re-use footage from “The Menagerie,” but instead creates their own imagery. We see the accident that led to Pike’s disabilities, and we get an exceptionally disturbing look at Pike’s future. And that’s his sacrifice: If he takes the time crystal, the future he glimpsed becomes real. Those of us who have seen The Original Series know Pike’s ultimate fate, which made his decision in “Through the Valley of Shadows” a million times harder to watch. Anson Mount plays these scenes masterfully, too, especially the muted despair he must be feeling after getting back from the monastery. He can never share what this experience was like with anyone, can he?
God, even L’Rell and Tyler get a meaty, complicated plot in all of this, too! Getting to see them struggle with the existence of a child they could not reach was heartbreaking, y’all. SO MUCH OF THIS EPISODE WAS. On top of that, there was still all the complicated shit between L’Rell and Ash that had gone unsaid. Both of them had been so hurt by their shared experience, and the surprise appearance of the other person gave them an opportunity to finally hash things out.(I wonder if this is attached to the signals. I DON’T KNOW, I’M GRASPING AT STRAWS.) It was clear that after months apart, both of these characters were massively different than they used to be, but they still found common ground. L’Rell accepted that Tyler would not be in love with her, which felt huge!!! She recognizes he can’t ever be Voq, because that is fundamentally not who he is. In a way, I think this is giving us closure on this storyline. The two of them know how they feel about one another, and they know their son is alive and safe.
Ahhhh! THIS WHOLE PLOT!!! It all comes down to Burnham’s ability to believe: Is it possible to change the future of Control, or is that future immutable? I get why Burnham behaves as she does after the events in the previous episode. It’s part guilt, part fear, and a whole lot of rage. To her, the red bursts must be meaningless. What exactly have they done to help stop Control? Of course, there’s a greater point in this that Burnham doesn’t want to engage with. She’s a character who has, time and time again, held the weight of the world on her shoulders to help other people. After it was proven that she wasn’t the Red Angel, why would she assume that the red bursts are connected to her, too? Why would she waste time on signals that don’t hold any real meaning? Leland is the key to stopping Control, at least in the sense of how Burnham sees this.
It was immensely interesting to see Spock as the one struggling with meaning and emotion while his sister wanted to stick purely to logic. That role reversal played out as the two of them came upon the vented Section 31 ship, left drifting in space with its entire crew murdered. Honestly, I have rarely been right about things, but the whole thing seemed to be a trap set by Control. While I did end up being right about that, I didn’t pick up on the details of that trap until it was too late. The entire back-and-forth between Burnham, Spock, and Gant—who is taken over by Control—was s nightmare to watch. Like I’ve said before, I feel like practically anything can happen on this show. Characters have been harmed terribly. They’ve died. EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE. So I started worrying that the newest twist in this fight against Control would involve either Spock or Burnham being taken by the nanobots. What makes Control scary is just how much there is that is utterly unknown about it. This episode revealed that it could “infect” other ships and clearly had no problem eradicating problems, even if those other problems were people. Even further, Control’s ultimate goal is finally spoken aloud, and it’s horrifying! The Sphere data would allow Control to become the purist form of conscious life ever, and therefore, its programming would require it to protect itself at all costs.
It’s a warped view of the original intent of this AI. So we know everything and everyone is disposable to Control. Thus, there’s no limit to the awful things it can do, and that’s a hell of a thing to grant an antagonist. Parts of “Through the Valley of Shadows” slip into outright horror, too, and even some body horror when Burnham’s phaser tears a hole in Gant and nanobots spill out.
This plot leads to an important revelation, though. Control specifically targeted Burnham, meaning it sees her as the most vital threat to its safety. With everything else, it is certain of its success. BUT NOT WITH BURNHAM. That makes her the variant. She is the wildcard that cannot be factored into Control’s logic. WHICH MEANS SHE IS STILL ABLE TO CHANGE THE FUTURE.
Oh, I love it. I LOVE IT.
I’m truly overjoyed that Commander Reno appears here again, but I’m also happy because of what I said on video. After many, many years and five whole shows with very little queer context, Discovery feels like a bounty. In this episode, two queer people who aren’t related to one another in any way aside from being crewmates talk about their past partners with one another. It is a delightfully sad conversation. Delightful in that it is almost unbelievable, but it definitely happened. Sad because Reno’s partner didn’t survive the war, and here she is, telling Dr. Culber that yes, everything is fucked up, but he got a second chance with someone. He got the impossible: the chance to do things over. Is Hugh going to take that chance? Obviously, I hope that’s the case. I don’t know what that looks like, especially since he’s still figuring out his own identity on top of all of that. It’s been nice to see him back as a medical officer, though! But what comes next?
I just needed space to say that this cliffhanger is rude and I want to fight you all. Every one of Section 31’s ships? The most clandestine organization with practically unlimited power has been taken over by Control? EVERYTHING IS A NIGHTMARE.
The video for “Through the Valley of Shadows” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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