November 27, 2021

Streamin' Meemies: Star Trek Discovery Season 4 Ep 2, "Anomaly"


The second episode of Discovery features one important real-world update. Apparently someone at Paramount realized how badly they shat the bed by yanking the series from Netflix two days before the Season 4 premiere, as there has now been some frantic backpedaling:

Starting with countries that have already begun rollout of Paramount+ outside the U.S.— Australia, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Finland, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Sweden, Uruguay, and Venezuela—the first two episodes of Discovery season four will release this Friday, November 26, a day after episode two releases in the U.S. and Canada.

Across Europe in Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and the UK, episodes will be released at 9:00 p.m. local time through the free streaming platform Pluto TV—which is owned by ViacomCBS—“each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday,” with simulcast releases airing on the dedicated Star Trek channel for Pluto in Austria, Switzerland, and Germany. Several of those markets and more—including the UK, Germany, France, Russia, South Korea—will also be able to purchase new episodes of Discovery on select digital platforms, beginning on November 26.

I suppose this was the best they could do at this late date, but let's face it, this was absolutely bungled. I don't have any issue with Paramount eventually migrating all the Star Trek series to the streaming service: that's certainly their right. But they could have waited until Paramount Plus finished rolling out, then given viewers plenty of notice: "Discovery will begin airing exclusively on Paramount Plus starting XX date." Of course, people would then have to make up their minds if they were going to pay for yet another streamer, but if everything Trekkian, from movies to series, is going to end up on Plus, that seems to me a sufficient draw. (It is for me, anyway.)

Ah well. Far be it for me to judge the labyrinths of corporate minds. 

 This episode of Discovery doesn't do all that much in advancing the overall plot, but it more than makes up for it with its explorations of the characters. It deals with the consequences of what happened in "Kobayashi Maru," and for Stamets, some lingering trauma from last season. I've always said Discovery's cast is their greatest asset, and this episode gives at least one or two scenes to let the characters shine (except for the bridge crew, dammit--I've been beating this drum since the first season and they have yet to listen to me). However, both Anthony Rapp, as Stamets, and David Ajala, as Book, give excellent performances. Especially Ajala: you see and feel every ounce of Book's grief and pain over losing his brother, nephew and home. In the final scene when he finally admits to Burnham how deeply he has been hurt, and breaks down and cries, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. 

Saru returns to Discovery following the tragedy at Kwejian, and while I completely understand the character's decision to postpone his own captaincy to support Michael Burnham during this crisis, it's frustrating. Saru made such a good captain, and this is shown in his scenes both on the bridge and with Tilly, re-establishing their relationship. I jotted down most of the dialogue from the latter:

Tilly: "Did you get taller?"

Saru: "Not that I'm aware of."

"I don't know if Kelpiens grow later in life, but you seem taller."

"Do I?"

"Maybe you have a little more swagger going on or something. [This said as Saru walks by Tilly's side, with his habit of swinging his arms] That's a compliment."

"Then I thank you." 

"I'm really glad you're back."

This was played to wry perfection by Doug Jones, and awkward affection by Mary Wiseman. 

Saru is also christened with the term Mister Saru by the bridge crew, and has a couple of scenes with Burnham showing the value he will be to her as a wise, pragmatic counselor. Indeed, at the climax of the episode, when Burnham has to talk Book out of his grief to bring him back from the anomaly, where his ship has been stranded, Saru tells her: "Perhaps now is an appropriate time for you to set aside the captain in favor of the partner." 

For her part, Tilly has not quite settled into her new rank of Lieutenant, and is still suffering aftereffects from the death of Commander Nalas last episode. In fact, she approaches Culber and says she needs to talk to him professionally about this. But Tilly has also grown, as seen by the mentoring relationship she is taking on with Adira, the newly-made ensign who undergoes a baptism by fire. 

We also see Adira's boyfriend, the incorporeal Gray, presented with the synth body soon to be made available for his transfer. This is recalling Star Trek: Picard's first season, with the admiral being name-checked as having undergone the process: "The artisan did a wonderful job with the body. She used the Soong method, named after the 24th century cyberneticist who developed it."

Gray: "This is 800-year-old technology?"

Culber: "The process was attempted a number of times after Dr. Soong first used it on a Starfleet admiral--Picard was his name--but the success rate was so low that eventually people just stopped trying." (Also, I imagine the 24th-century prejudice against synths had a bit to do with that as well.)

Adira, alarmed: "What--should we be worried?"

Culber: "Well, the fact that Gray's consciousness has already survived transfer to a new host once seems to be a good sign." 

Gray is still fully committed to this, but Adira is not completely on board, I don't think. 

Paul Stamets also has a reluctant heart-to-heart with Book, who he has barely spoken to for months. When Discovery is ordered to scan the anomaly--described as a "five light-year-wide roving binary black hole," although when they get to it Stamets admits, "I have no idea what we're looking at. It's bizarre"--Book insists on taking his ship into the accretion disk (which, remember, is made up of the remnants of his planet and people) to get the data Starfleet needs to determine what this is and predict its path. Burnham tries to talk him out of it, saying he isn't ready, but Book says he isn't Starfleet and will go with or without her permission. Saru comes up with the solution of sending a hololinked Stamets aboard Book's ship. While they are inside the anomaly, getting the data (and losing the tether to Discovery because of the anomaly's sudden gravitational waves, in a couple of cool scenes where the artificial gravity generators cut out and everyone floats out of their seats [what, no seat belts on this starship? Come now!] before crashing to the floor), we find out why Stamets is so awkward around Book. 

Stamets: "You know, I was told to follow your lead. That you would let me know what you needed."

Book: "What are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about me trying to be sensitive, and you being you."

"You do realize you've spoken more to me today than you have, what, in the past five months?"

"That's not true."

"Ever since you found out I could run the spore drive, your ego got bruised and then you blamed me."

"Nothing to do with it."

"What is it, then?"

Stamets, reluctantly: "You remind me of how helpless I was. When I look at you, all I can see is how close I got to losing everything. Again. You were the one who saved my family. I wasn't able to do anything, and I hate that feeling." 

This may seem dry just seeing it on the page, but trust me, both actors were outstanding throughout. 

Book loses navigation and engine power inside the anomaly, and the bridge crew (mainly Tilly and Bryce, who contributes the idea of Book literally riding the anomaly's gravitational waves and "surfing" his way out) comes up with a plan to rescue him. But Book, overcome by his grief to the point where he is hallucinating seeing his nephew Leto on the bridge, is nearly suicidal, demanding Stamets remove his hololink and let him go. That's when Burnham has to basically talk him into living again. Sonequa Martin-Green has the annoying habit of sometimes whispering her dialogue instead of speaking it, but for this scene, it works. 

At the very end, Tilly starts sifting through the data and finds something quite disturbing:

Tilly: "I did find something. The reason the distortions got worse, even though Discovery held its position? So this is the anomaly when we arrived. [gesturing to bring up the holoscreen displaying what she's talking about] And this is it after we left."

Saru, with dawning horror in his voice: "It changed direction? What could have caused that?"

"That's the thing. There is nothing in my understanding of astrophysics that can explain it."

"But we gathered this data in order to predict its path. Are you saying we cannot do that?"

"No sir, we can't. It could go anywhere, at any time, and we may not have any kind of warning at all."

So I guess the 31st-century Federation is now up shit creek.

All jokes aside, this was a good episode with excellent performances and and a nice emphasis on character. It really seems like that jumping forward 930 years has made this show come into its own. I do wish the writers hadn't settled on yet another GALAXY-SPANNING TURNED UP TO ELEVEN CRISIS, but if they can alternate the ALL-CAPS NAIL-BITING ACTION with a focus on character as they did here, this season will be quite a ride. 

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