March 19, 2019

Review: Monstress, Vol. 3: Haven

Monstress, Vol. 3: Haven Monstress, Vol. 3: Haven by Marjorie M. Liu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This third volume of Monstress expands both the world and the story. It's evident that this is the graphic novel equivalent of an epic fantasy, and while those kinds of doorstoppers are something I usually steer clear of, I am enraptured by this. This is due in no small part to Sana Takeda's gorgeous and ground-breaking (and award-winning, deservedly so) art. But Marjorie Liu's story is equally intricate and fascinating. In this volume we find out more about Zinn, the Lovecraftian-like Old One our protagonist Maika Halfwolf carries inside her, and get glimpses of the history of a conflict that extends thousands of years into this world's past.

However, this volume does end in a cliffhanger, a rather distressing one. Maika and Zinn defeat one of Zinn's "sister-brothers" (fellow Old Gods) who is trying to destroy the city of Pontus, where Maika and her friends have fled. After the battle, it is discovered that the fox-child Kippa, the most sympathetic character of the lot (I'm beginning to wonder if Kippa isn't the real protagonist of this story, instead of the anti-hero Maika) has been taken by beings unknown. The final panel is a heartbreaking image of Kippa's cloak, lying abandoned in the dirt.

This is a fantastic and absorbing story that is maintaining its high quality. In fact, I think Image is publishing the best comics around now, outshining Marvel and DC. Please do yourself a favor and pick it up.

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March 18, 2019

First Impression: Star Trek: Discovery S2 Ep 9. "Project Daedalus"

I have mixed feelings about this episode. There are many good things about it (characterizations and direction) as well as some not-so-good things (plot and the overall Big Bad). But the worst thing is the one I saw from the opening scene.

That is, we wouldn't be beginning an episode showing the viewpoint of an interesting but criminally underused character if we weren't going to bump her off.

Look, Star Trek has always had a "redshirt" problem. That is, a seemingly endless array of expendable characters who are there only to be slain by (in the case of the Original Series) the Monster of the Week. (Since we can't realistically--not from a story POV, but a television industry POV--kill off William Shatner or Patrick Stewart, after all.) In some ways, this trope was better in TOS: whenever a strange new redshirted person appeared, the viewer knew that's what they were there for, and thus didn't have to bother caring about them other than a certain detached curiosity as to how they would be offed.

But Discovery had made some (admittedly minimal) efforts to flesh out the bridge crew this season, which I heartily approved of. This shouldn't, and doesn't have to be, the Michael Burnham Guilt-Me Show. (Referring to Burnham's biggest flaw, which was brought painfully to the forefront during a beautifully acted scene in this episode, between Sonequa Martin-Green and Ethan Peck.) We have some wonderful characters here, and excellent actors, and they deserve a chance to shine, dammit. Just look at what they've done with Anson Mount's Christopher Pike this season. I would happily follow him, Spock, and Number One (another highly touted but underused character) into either a mini-series or a spinoff. Even with what little we've seen of the bridge crew, these are interesting individuals who could power compelling stories, and it's goddamned frustrating that the powers-that-be don't seem to realize that. A single scene per episode, spotlighting a different crewmember in a round-robin sequence, would have sufficed.

Instead, we get Lieutenant Commander Airiam's fascinating backstory, and snippets of her friendship with Sylvia Tilly, pilot Kayla Detmer, and tactical ops officer Rhys--only to end in Airiam's well-acted, moving, and infuriating Noble Sacrifice.

It is beautifully shot, I will grant you. Jonathan Frakes directed "Project Daedalus," and it's abundantly clear that he is the best Star Trek director (even if he is fond of long, swooping, upside-down, slightly nauseating pan shots, like the one at the beginning of this episode). The pacing is spot on, the action explosive, and he gets a bravura performance out of Sonequa Martin-Green--the anguish on her face in her final scene with Airiam is palpable. And the episode's ending, with Airiam replaying her favorite memory as her cybernetic systems fail in the unforgiving vacuum of space, is enough to bring tears to a lot of viewers' eyes. I just wish we had seen all this stuff, and all these relationships had been established, before this character's death.

So that's my first and foremost objection to this. The second is the direction the plot reveals are apparently taking us. The AI-gone-rogue is a time-honored Star Trek tradition (and a particularly TOS tradition, as it sometimes seemed like James Kirk spent half his time talking killer robots into destroying themselves), so it's not the idea in and of itself, it's what is done with it. What complicates this is that it's Section 31's AI gone rogue. Which would not matter so much if there wasn't going to be an entire upcoming series exploring Section 31 (along with Michelle Yeoh's badassery). So, unfortunately, I think the showrunners are going to pull their punches with this entire storyline, because they have to worry about the other series. This is evident in the dragging in of whatever-the-hell the Red Angel is, which at the ending of this episode seems to have something to do with Michael Burnham's dead parents (and which will play right into her "everything is my fault" complex, even after Spock beautifully deconstructed it in this very episode).

Having said all that, there are some very good things about this episode, and the pitch-perfect characterization is at the forefront. In particular, Saru seems to be back on track, with the addition of some extra confidence and forcefulness after the loss of his threat ganglia. The scene between Spock and Stamets was also noteworthy, as Spock boiled down Hugh Culber's trauma to just a few well-written and delivered lines. I find it very interesting that the writer of this episode is Michelle Paradise, who was just announced as the co-showrunner of Discovery's third season. If they can marry her command of the characters to some better plotting, we could have a really breakout third season. This one (with some nagging weak points) is certainly better than the first, but I think the show still has a way to go.

March 16, 2019

Review: The Tethered Mage

The Tethered Mage The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a deliberately paced, measured, but thoroughly absorbing story. It has somewhat of an old-fashioned feel about it, which fits the setting of a thinly disguised Renaissance Italy. If, say, this alternate-history Venice was also brimming with mages and dangerous magic, which sets up some interesting ethical conundrums I wish had been more deeply explored. Ah well, maybe in the second book.

The conceit behind the worldbuilding is the bald statement that mages, if they existed, would consider themselves superior to non-magical humans and set themselves up as rulers, leading to the non-magical humans taking some pretty drastic measures to rein them in. In this world of Eruvia's past, this included the outright slaughter of mages in some countries, and in others (such as the Serene Empire) the mages being controlled by magical "jesses," which is a non-removable bracelet that effectively locks their powers down under the person who placed the jess on them, also known as a Falconer. Naturally, this carries some unpleasant slavery connotations, but at the same time one can hardly blame the Falconers, since many mages can rain down death and destruction. The titular character, the fire warlock Zaira, can burn entire cities if her abilities are unrestrained. Zaira has also murdered people in the past, including her own parents.

(There's also the nasty Skinwitches of the neighboring country of Vaskandar. The way this book ends, I imagine they will be the villains going forward, but man, they creeped me out.)

Into this heady mix is thrown our protagonist and narrator, Lady Amalia Cornaro, who commits the classic blunder of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and thus forced to harness Zaira, creating a binding that will only end with one of their deaths. But Amalia is the daughter of the La Contessa Lissandra Cornaro, one of the members of the Empire's capital city Raverra's Council of Nine. A big deal, in other words, and a big no-no for the daughter of La Contessa to have a Falcon. Zaira's tethering starts this story off, and it evolves into a dense tale of politics, court intrigue, treachery, and Amalia's attempts to prevent an all-out war.

In the process, Amalia grows from a sheltered, bookish young woman pretty much under her mother's thumb into a confident, strong Falconer embracing her new role and helping to put an end to the looming conflict. (Although the La Contessa Cornaro is not the Wicked Mother she originally appears to be, either. All these characters are refreshingly layered and throw the reader some surprises.) I do wish the ethics of the Falconer system would have been discussed more, as some characters are dead set against it, while others regard it as a necessary evil. I also hope the fiery, irrepressible Zaira gets some POV chapters, as I would love to get more insight into her. But this book held my attention throughout, and I'm looking forward to the sequel.

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March 14, 2019

And Now: Your Political Interlude

Wow. Samantha Bee rips Tucker Carlson into itty bitty cracker-sized pieces. It couldn't happen to a whiter nicer guy.

March 12, 2019

First Impressions: Star Trek: Discovery, S2 Ep 8, "If Memory Serves"

I think this will be the pivotal episode of this season of Discovery, as there are a lot of things happening here. Storylines collide, surprises are revealed, and consequences are seen. It helps that it's also a bang-up episode in and of itself, right up there with "Saints of Imperfection" (my second favorite episode of the season) and nipping at the heels of "An Obol for Charon."

Let's discuss these three facets of the episode, one at a time. This will of necessity involve spoilers. I'm also not going to recap everything that has gone before, as that would make this post Jethro Tull-like in length. So if you're confused, warp off to CBS All Access and get caught up. I'll still be here.

Spoilers after the picture!

(Yes, I still miss Lorca.)

(But Pike has definitely helped to ease the pain.)

1. Culber's Resurrection; or, Life After Death Ain't All It's Cracked Up To Be

Poor Hugh Culber. I really felt for the guy, because he's completely adrift. He spent months in the Magic Mushroom Palace struggling to survive and barely hanging on to his sanity, and now he's back in the "real" universe in a newly generated body that isn't his (lacking previous scars, for example); on a ship and among a crew that have gone on without him; with his murderer serving on said ship; and with a husband, Stamets, who desperately wants to go back to the way things used to be, as if nothing has happened.

This, obviously, is impossible. Culber says straight out that he doesn't know who he is, and understandably so. That being the case, he certainly doesn't know if he still loves Stamets. I know some people are upset about Culber breaking off the relationship, and admittedly this whole thing was a mess from the get-go, as Culber never should have been killed off in the first place. It was a stupid, unnecessary "plot twist" from the previous showrunners. Nevertheless, it was done, and this is a sometimes-clumsy way of showing the consequences of that boneheaded decision. I hope that the current showrunners will see their way clear to bringing Culber and Stamets back together, after exploring and resetting the characters and relationship.

It helps that both Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz have been spectacular in their roles. In that heartbreaking scene where Culber breaks things off, Rapp just knocked it out of the park.

2. Flashbacks! Recaps! Jeffrey Hunter and Anson Mount Look a Whole Lot Alike!

This episode opened with a squee-inducing montage of the original Star Trek pilot, "The Cage," which was reworked for the two-part episode, "The Menagerie." It's possible that a (very few) Discovery viewers don't know what all the fuss over Talos IV is about, and this "previously [like 50 years, man] on Star Trek" brings them up to speed. Then it's a glorious dissolve of past into present, Jeffrey Hunter's (the TOS Pike) face fading into Anson Mount's, and we're off to the races.

Anson Mount as Christopher Pike has been one of the more pleasant surprises of the season. This is a character that never appeared past "The Menagerie," and thus is a relatively blank slate, and Discovery has made the most of it. Mount's performance has turned Pike into a layered, multifaceted character, in a way that is more than a bit tragic, since we already know his end.

3. Spock Stops Teasing, and Starts Speaking!

Ethan Peck, as Spock, actually gets to say something that makes sense (well, mostly) in this episode, instead of muttering backwards number sequences and snippets of "Alice in Wonderland." Of course, the immediate question is, "How close is he to Leonard Nimoy?" And the answer is, he is and he isn't. He has some of Nimoy's mannerisms and speech patterns, but although they're similar, they're not slavishly carbon-copied. Overall, he struck me as being far more smug in his logic-superiority than later-era Spock. This would make sense, as at this point in his life Spock has a bit of a stick up his ass. (Also, the beard, which Burnham makes delicious sisterly fun of, helps to hide the fact that Ethan Peck does not have nearly as close a resemblance to his predecessor as Anson Mount.) We're only one true episode into his tenure, but I think Peck's performance is interesting enough for me to (tentatively) call it a winner.

(But hell, that kid who plays young Spock? He's the real winner of the two in this episode, acting-wise. That scene where young Burnham, running away to protect the family from "logic-extremists", insults and demeans young Spock to keep him from following her, was raw and real. It hurt Spock to the point where two decades later, despite recognizing the reason she did it, Spock can't bring himself to forgive her, and you can see why in every pained expression and quivering lip on that kid's face.)

4. I'm Afraid the Red Angel Will Turn Out To Be an Overblown Red Balloon

So apparently the Red Angel is a time traveler from 500 years in the future, the same place as the Evolving Squid Probe that attacked Pike's and Ash Tyler's shuttle, Nautilis-style, in last week's episode. (Which was a very cool special effect, by the way. Discovery continues to look gorgeous.) I am very hesitant about any kind of time travel storyline on Star Trek, because it usually ends up shooting itself in the foot and blowing itself up, all at the same time. Add to this the fact that this temporal wanderer is trying to prevent a timeline where Something Ominous, Something Black and Blue destroys all inhabited planets and all sentient life, according to Spock's not-quite-coherent recounting of his aborted mind meld with the Red Angel. To which I reply, "Ah, cripes, I'm really beginning to hate any We Must Prevent the Death of the Universe Stakes," because that storyline is so over-the-top as to be meaningless (and what the hell is the point anyway? That this universe and its inhabitants are so bad the Big Bang needs to start over?). As far as emotional resonances go, Stamets and Culber affected me far more in this episode than the reveal of its Red-Suited Pseudo-Religious Something-or-Other.

5. Lieutenant Airiam, We Barely Knew Ye

Come to find out that Lieutenant Airiam, the gray-skinned, prosthetics-wearing cyborg on the bridge, was infected by the Evolving Squid Probe from last week's episode, after it scanned the shuttle's computer, Discovery's computer, and bled its way right into her eyes, showing up as three red dots in each pupil. In this episode, she sabotaged the spore drive, preventing Discovery from jumping at a somewhat crucial moment. Which would mean a lot more if we knew anything at all about Airiam, other than she sometimes works under Sylvia Tilly. I mean, come on, people. This is an online streaming service, and you can make each episode as long as is necessary. It seems to me you could have included a couple of scenes featuring Airiam in the previous one or two episodes, even if they just amounted to her having brief conversations with, for instance, Tilly. That would make her predicament (and apparent upcoming betrayal, judging from previews) more meaningful than a perfunctory dispatching to Save Our Female Lead.

6. As Usual, Philippa Georgiou For the Win

The final scene of this episode is delicious. After Leland, aboard Section 31's flagship, falls for the Talosians' illusion of Burnham and Spock beaming aboard, the Mirror Emperor casually reveals that she tangled with the Talosians in her universe and nuked the planet to slag (or at least she thought she did, I suppose). Then she asks how Leland is going to deal with losing his two fugitives and stalks off, leaving him staring bug-eyed after her. Talk about hoisting someone on their own petard and leaving them high and dry. I cannot fucking wait for Michelle Yeoh's show.

This may sound like I'm praising with faint damns, but despite all this, I really liked this episode. What I don't like is what it appears to be setting up. But we'll have to see.

March 8, 2019

Review: Kill the Queen

Kill the Queen Kill the Queen by Jennifer Estep
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is a reason I don't read much epic fantasy, besides the fact that a great deal of it has books that are thick as a brick. I don't own many concrete-block-sized doorstoppers, but I don't mind them if I can get into the story. The thing that puts me off about most epic fantasy is that I really don't like trying to navigate through a convoluted tale with a cast of characters in the triple digits.

Thankfully, that isn't the case with this book. Kill the Queen has a laser focus on one character, the Lady Everleigh Saffira Winter Blair, seventeenth in line to the throne of Bellona, and her quest to reclaim her throne and save her country after her cousin Vasilia Victoria Summer Blair massacres everyone else in line for the throne and most of Bellona's nobles as well. Only Everleigh, with her secret immunity to magic, manages to escape.

In some ways, this is a generic bland fantasy world, although the author does deserve kudos for trying to make it not so overwhelmingly white and male. There are quite a few competent, fierce women in these pages, including Serilda Swanson, the leader of the gladiator troupe Evie falls in with after her escape from the palace. Evie herself is a well-developed character who goes through a nice character arc, changing from a cast-off royal who just puts her head down and tries to survive to a strong woman who steps forward to do her duty for her country and people. Along the way she finds true friends in Serilda and others in the gladiator troupe, and her newfound family helps her with her final showdown with Vasilia.

Unfortunately, the character of Vasilia is the reason I haven't rated this book more highly. Vasilia is, to put it bluntly, a scheming cardboard over-the-top psycho with little nuance or even a credible motivation beyond being a sociopathic nutcase. The antagonist left standing after Vasilia is defeated (at least until she magically whisks herself off to her own country), Maeven, is far more interesting, and I hope Maeven is the villain of the second book.

This series shows a great deal of promise, but it could stand some improvement. Fortunately, this book has intrigued me enough to carry on with the second.

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March 5, 2019

Review: Shadow Call

Shadow Call Shadow Call by AdriAnne Strickland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the sequel to Shadow Run, and unfortunately, it's pretty dependent on knowing what happened in the first book. You kind of get a sense of what happened as you go along, but there's no recap and no explanation of terms. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, as it might entice you to go back and read the first book, which I recommend. That book was good. This one is better.

This book deals with the fallout from the events of the first. Nevarian Dracorte, formerly Prince Nevarian, gave up his kingdom and his inheritance to be with Qole Uvgamut, captain of the Shadow-fishing ship Kaitan Heritage, when he realized his family only wanted to exploit her and her crew. Unfortunately, the consequences of his actions come home in this story, when his sister Solara (who emerges as the somewhat over-the-top villain of this installment) kills his parents and seizes the throne, and forcibly annexes Qole's planet and the Shadow (mysterious element/energy source) found in its asteroid belt. Qole will not stand for this, and with Nevarian's help, she starts a rebellion. Together, they manage to fight Solara to a stalemate and win back the kingdom for Nevarian, and in the process learn more about themselves and about Shadow, that strange substance Qole can connect with and manipulate.

The main themes in this story are choice and responsibility. Nevarian is faced with some awful choices in this book (this story as a whole is pretty dark, much more than the first), and he finds it in himself the grit and ruthlessness needed to make the choices necessary in leadership. Qole, on the other hand, as the captain of a Shadow-fishing ship, has always been able to make tough choices, but she just wanted to live on her planet and run her ship, not to be thrust in the center of galactic events as she now is. Nevertheless, she faces up to what life has handed her, and steps up to protect her people. Both these characters learn and grow as this story progresses, and there are some genuinely touching scenes illustrating the changes they make. For instance:

Qole laughed in my head. I could hear her as clearly as though she were there; it was the laugh I knew she would give if I had pleaded for fairness with her. Get up, she would say, with the mercilessness born of familiarity. It's time to go to work.

My hands closed slowly into fists. In a world where Qole existed, I would never be able to sit, wallowing in self-pity, when there was work to be done. And every fear, every terror that pressed on my shoulders was lifted by a new thought: to be worthy of a love that expected more of me.

I stood. My dream was that a person like Qole could survive, and I would help create a universe they could believe in. It didn't matter if it was impossible, it was worth fighting for. All I could do was make one more choice.

I made it. It was time to fight.

The characterizations in this book continue to be pitch-perfect, and the science, while definitely not hard SF, is a bit better thought out in this story. (We also find out some intriguing things about Shadow, which leave plenty of questions to be answered if there is another book.) The romance is still understated, and more emotional and bittersweet. This is one of the best YA books from last year, and I hope there's a third book to wrap up this story.

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February 28, 2019

First Impressions: Star Trek: Discovery, S2 Ep 7, "Light and Shadow"

Well, damn. THAT was more like it.

This episode is the polar opposite of the previous one. When I started watching it and saw that it was only 40 minutes long, I thought, "Ooookay," but this was forty tightly written, gripping minutes. Spock FINALLY makes an appearance, Amanda reams Sarek a well-deserved new one, Captain Pike and Ash Tyler wrestle with a probe-turned-giant-space squid that looks like a weird "Trek" version of "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea"....and at the very end, we get a link back to the Original Series' "The Cage" and "The Menagerie." Hooooly shit.

Yes, the Red Angel is (seemingly) confirmed to be a futuristic time traveler. I'm not sure this is a good thing, but we'll have to see. On the credits side, this is the first episode, I believe, that new co-showrunner Michelle Paradise makes an appearance. If these are the kinds of stories we'll be getting from her, they made a very good hire indeed.

Review: How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler

How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler by Ryan North
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This is basically a gimmick book, and for me, the gimmick wore thin real fast. The premise here is that time machines are so ubiquitous you can rent them like cars and go gallivanting into the past. Unfortunately, if one breaks down, there are no repairable parts and the traveler is stuck. (One would think this would lead to such lawsuits as to bankrupt the company, but I suppose that the argument could be made that since the travelers vanish and never reappear, those left behind will never know if they chose to stay in the past, or were killed by other factors that had nothing to do with the machine itself.) Hence this book, provided with the machine to rebuild civilization from scratch.

I'm sure there was a vast amount of research necessary to write this, and I admire the author for doing so. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a plot or characters to be found anywhere in these pages. The author tries to make up for this by being cute, funny and snarky, especially in the footnotes, but I got tired of "cute, funny and snarky" about halfway through. I would think you'd really have to be a history and/or engineering buff to enjoy this book, and I am not. So I'm calling it a day. Onward.

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February 27, 2019

First Impressions: Star Trek: Discovery S2 Ep 6, "The Sound of Thunder"

I'm cautiously optimistic about this season of Discovery, in that the show finally seems to be finding its voice and its stride. "An Obol for Charon" was definitely the high point for me so far, followed by "Points of Light" and "Saints of Imperfection." Unfortunately, this season is still producing clunkers, and this is one of them.

It's not evident when you first watch it though, because this show is, and continues to be, gorgeous. The special effects are top-notch, and the alien in this episode is a creepy, black slime dripping CGI masterpiece. (I wish they hadn't filtered the actor's voice, though. I know they did that to make it sound even more alien, but it just made it hard to understand what the Ba'ul were saying.) Doug Jones' performance as Saru is equally as good, but he's always been one of the best actors on the show (along with Anthony Rapp). Anson Mount, as Captain Christopher Pike, is one of the better elements this season, and I'm liking what they're doing with a relatively undeveloped character from the original series. If the writers can do as well with a young Spock (which we really need to see--hopefully he finally shows up next week), that will be a step forward for the show.

But sometimes it doesn't seem like the writers are really thinking through what they're doing, and that was never more evident than this episode. This episode combined two story threads: Saru's Kelpien background (also incorporating the Short Trek "The Brightest Day") with the overarching season storyline of the hunt for the Red Angel. Kelpiens, we found out in the Short Trek, are a sentient prey species, living in peace and isolation on their planet and subject to periodic "culling" by their predators, the technologically advanced Ba'ul. Every so often certain Kelpiens are summoned to the pylons that oversee each village, and they're zapped into nothingness and never seen again. Saru escaped this fate eighteen years earlier by cobbling together Ba'ul technology to reach beyond his planet and get in contact with the Federation (and specifically a young Lieutenant Philippa Georgiou). Due to the restrictions imposed by General Order One (which is an apparent precursor to the Prime Directive, Starfleet's non-interference policy) Georgiou can only rescue Saru by making him promise to leave his planet behind and never contact it or his people again, and Saru's thirst for knowledge is so great that he agrees to this.

This episode picks up what happens after "An Obol for Charon," in which a Big Dumb Object stops the Discovery and basically begs the ship to take its testimony before it dies, and in the process triggers Saru's vahar'ai, the (supposed) imminent death of Kelpien individuals that occurs with the culling. But come to find out, when Saru's threat ganglia fall off and he survives, only to lose the fear that has consumed Kelpiens their entire lives, he realizes that the Ba'ul have been imprisoning his people and telling them lies about their biology and way of life for centuries. Obviously a confrontation would have to take place here, and the Red Angel sends a signal from Kaminar, the Kelpien home planet, to force one.

To make a long, convoluted story short, the Ba'ul attempt to destroy all the Kelpiens, and are countered by Discovery and Saru, using the signal from "Charon's" Big Dumb Object to trigger vahar'ai in every Kelpien on the planet. Here is where the episode starts to break down, because nobody asks if that's a good thing, even the normally more cautious Captain Pike. I realize that Discovery was in the middle of a crisis, but for crying out loud, if they had time for Saru to have a flipping long conversation with Burnham and Pike while he was on the Ba'ul's ship, they had time for someone to say, "Uh, is forcing a massive biological change on an entire species without even asking them really the best way out of this?" It also shreds General Order One into teeny tiny fragments and blows them away on the wind. I'm not a fan of General Order One/the Prime Directive at the best of times, because it seems like a (to continue the "Big" analogy) a Big Stupid Rule that Starfleet has to pay lip service to while allowing their captains and others to find clever ways around it. I wish it had never been included in the series at all. I wish it could be jettisoned entirely, but it's far too late for that now. Aside from a perfunctory mention from Captain Pike, nobody pays even lip service to it this time around.

And to top it all off, almost none of this had to happen, because at the last minute the Red Angel shows up to shut the Ba'ul genocide down. This is a massive, disappointing cheat. The only good thing about it is that Saru caught a good look at the Red Angel, which suspiciously resembles a bipedal, rather human-shaped being in a red spacesuit. So I suppose this episode advanced the season's overarching plot a bit, and it did give Saru some character development (losing his threat ganglia has apparently turned him, at least temporarily, into an arrogant jackass) and some appropriately badass scenes. But man, the show spouted a lot of contradictory, not-so-good stuff to get there.

Look, every show has less-than-stellar episodes, and a lot of this season of Discovery has been trying to fix and/or retcon the missteps of the first season (particularly killing off Hugh Culber). And the revelation about Saru's people is certainly a game-changer. But this is not a good way to handle the aftermath of that, and I certainly hope the show improves going forward.