Author Archives: tdmcgee
Lynn and Steve discuss an unconventional Hamlet, a female Lear, Albee’s A Delicate Balance, and new play Calpurnia.
The grand finale of the ‘High Seas’ arc finds our heroes locked in desperate combat with The Death Wind and it’s mysterious captain, with the aid of some unusual allies, the Dumb-Dumbs make a last stand in an epic, swashbuckling finale!
Star Trek: Discovery returns with a bang, but also an uncharacteristic sense of confidence and playfulness (which may well be due to the return of Jonathan ‘Riker’ Frakes to the directors’ chair) but also, unfortunately, this otherwise excellent episode evokes one of sci fi’s worst tropes: the result is still a great start to the season, but the big twist is soured by its target.
Read more with full spoilers on MyEntertainmentWorld.ca
Lynn and Steven continue their coverage of the Next Stage Theatre Festival with Leila Live, Rumspringa Break, That ‘F’ Word, Swordplay, and Jonno. fringetoronto.com/festivals/next-stage/events
New podcast! In our first episode, theatre critics Lynn Slotkin and Steve Fisher discuss the 2018 Next Stage Theatre Festival: The Harold Experience, Good Morning Viet Mom, Birthday Balloon, Moonlight After Midnight, and The Surprise. fringetoronto.com/festivals/next-stage/events
Hey pals! Needed to shake things up a bit, so I started writing a vaguely satirical Dystopian YA Novel that both embraces the genre’s tropes and subverts them…here’re the first three chapters. Super, super early, draft, but wanted to share what I’ve got so far to see if peeps are interested in reading more. Enjoy!
THE DAY OF MANY
“The Day of Many is one of our most time-honoured traditions: a time when our smaller communities come together to recognize and celebrate the contribution they make to the safety and well-being of The County and how they in turn are protected and taken care of by The County’s scientists and soldiers, who keep the Great Virus in check and maintain order. And of course, there are performances by local Perk Squads. Gotta love their pep.”
-Dr. Montgomery Graves, Dear Leader of The County
It is always dark, before we perform.
My fellow Perks and I are standing in a small shelter, hastily constructed at the edge of the town square. On the small permanent Example Slab that dominates the town square, I can just make out Mayor Wilkins, giving his traditional Day of Many speech. Beside me, my partner Hyno’s big hand finds mine and squeezes. He knows I’m nervous. I know he’s nervous, too. We’re all nervous: the Day of Many is the second most important performance we’ll give this year, aside from Leader’s Day.
But this time is different. This time, the County will be watching.
Which means Dear Leader will be watching.
If things go well, my family will be greatly rewarded – and truth be told, we need it. Ever since Mom contracted The Purple Flu last summer, things have been hard for Jann and me. She’s my younger sister, but people tell us we look like twins. We act like it too. But Jann can’t earn as many portions as me, no matter how hard she works. Doctors just aren’t as important to the town as Perks; and with Mom sick, we both need to bring in as many portions as we can; and my bonus for performing well today will go a long way.
“You okay, Evie?” Hyno asks from beside me in that oddly high voice of his. For such a big guy, his voice is gentle and high. Elegant in contrast to the thick muscles that line his squat frame.
“Yeah,” I whisper back. It’s a lie, but a comforting one. Around us, the rest of the Perks maintain a focused silence and I’m worried Lila McLeod will hear. As the squad leader, she enforces strict discipline over pre-performance chatter. Nell Winthrop got kicked off the squad for it a few years ago; no one has seen or heard from her since.
“Because, it’s okay if you’re not,” Hyno continues, oblivious to Lila’s ears perking up and her head beginning to turn, “It’s a big deal, today. It’s okay to be scared or nervous…”
He does this when he’s nervous. He tries to calm other people down, thinks he’s helping them. In this case, he may well be dooming me.
“I’m fine,” I say, slightly more sharply.
“Okay,” he concedes, “But even if you aren’t, we’ll get through this together. I’ve got your back.” He flashes a broad, earnest smile. It doesn’t help.
“Thank-you,” I mutter, just as Lila’s gaze falls upon us, cruel as a Gorgon’s.
“Evelyn!” Lila hisses and my cheeks turn the same shade of red as my hair, “Do you want us to fail today? Shut that misshapen mouth of yours and focus.”
I twist my lip, forever slightly crooked from a scar I’ve had since I was young. Most people actively ignore it, but Lila isn’t like most people: she knows what hurts and she uses it. Lila turns back without waiting for a response. She makes statements, not questions.
I release Hyno’s hand, which drops to his side with a thwack.
“Thanks a lot.” I mutter, not particularly caring about the hurt in his large, chestnut eyes. He may look like a kicked puppy right now, but my family and I would look a lot worse if Lila kicks me off the squad.
I turn my eyes forward and my attention back to the task at hand. Running the routine in my head, thinking of each motion, step, each lift and toss.
Mayor Wilkens is finishing up, almost our time. My squadmates begin to shift and move on their toes, psyching themselves up. I mutter a silent prayer to Dear Leader.
“And now in honour of The Day of Many, the people of the town of Threecy present: your Perks!” Wilkins announces and just like that, we’re running, all smiles, waving – the whole town is here along with dignitaries and of course, the Media. I catch the cyclopean eye of one of the cameras and flash it my very best smile.
As we make our way to the Example Slab, I see all the familiar faces I’m used to seeing looking up at us with keen eyes and expectant faces. I see Jann and she winks, mouthing ‘You’ll do great!’ There’s a man I don’t recognize in the back row, his features obscured by a hood of some sort, who seemingly nods to me.
I feel a chill go down my spine, but I don’t know why. I’ve never seen him before, have I?
Then I hear the first few beats of our backing track and it all falls away: it’s show time.
In retrospect, I wish I was paying more attention to that man in the back. After all, he was about to upend my whole world…and forever change my life.
THE FUTURE MRS GERRY HIGGINS
“Guard duty sucks on the best of days, but at least on The Day of Many we’ve got Perks to look at. I like the perky ones, if you get my drift…”
-Gerry Higgins, Citadel of Hope guardsman
In a guard post at the south entrance to The Citadel of Hope, a portly guard named Gerry Higgins’ wandering attention suddenly sharpened.
“Hey Dayle!” he hollered over his shoulder, “Get in here! The Perks are on!” He quickly muted the feeds from the other security cameras and dialled up the sound on the County state-feed. He could hear his fellow guard, Dayle Herberaut clambering into the small booth with all the grace of a drugged elephant. The gangly man forced his way into the small viewing alcove and took up a position over Gerry’s shoulder.
“Oh my, yes,” he whistled, “LOVE these country girls.”
The Perk Squad of Town 3C, one of the more remote, rural towns in the County – a major cog in the food chain, mind you – was filled with the exact kind of women that kept Gerry awake at night. One in particular caught his eye, an athletic red-head with a dazzling strange, twisted smile who looked directly into the camera and smiled, seemingly just for him.
“I think I just met my future wife,” Gerry grinned, wolfishly.
Dayle chuckled appreciatively, though his eyes were locked firmly on the man running two steps behind the red-head. He’d never admit it to a thug like Gerry, but he much preferred the company of men and the muscle bound man with his ebony skin and earnest smile looked just like his type.
“Tell me about it,” Dayle muttered.
Together, the two men watched the Perks mount the stage and give one final wave to the audience, before their backing track began, one of those shapeless, nationalistic pop songs that Dear Leader and the Ministry of Loyalty made sure was playing somewhere at all times. The song never mattered in these situations, only who was dancing to them.
The Perks began their routine, the women in their form-fitted spandex moving in fits and starts, shaping and reshaping their bodies into new and ever-enthusiastic angles to the beat, the men standing by for the tosses and catches that always ended the performances.
It was a fully competent performance, if somewhat uninspired; but what more could you expect from a backwater hole like Town 3C? The red-head, though, was really throwing herself into the performance: her actions precise, passionate, genuinely exciting. For a hot second, Gerry found himself overwhelmed by an actual sense of nationalistic pride in The County and shot a quick glance to Dayle to make sure he hadn’t been caught.
Dayle neither saw nor cared, which was pretty standard for Dayle.
Suddenly, the red-head tripped, stumbled, and fell.
Even with the sound-buffers the techies at the Ministry of Loyalty had running at high, Gerry and Dayle could hear the gasps from the audience. To trip during a performance that Dear Leader himself…that was as good as treasonous.
The rest of the performance continued without her, as she struggled to her feet, helped by the big guy that Dayle had been eying, but she fell again immediately, favoring her ankle.
“Looks like your wife is out of play there, Gerry.”
Gerry sighed, “A traitor like her? Nah. I’m into the blonde at the front now.”
Dayle didn’t particularly care.
At least, not until the shooting began.
“Of course I had no idea anything untoward was going to happen on The Day of Many! It is one of our most sacred and respected holidays and here at Threecy and we take it very seriously. And knowing Dear Leader himself would be watching meant we had spent all the more time preparing! Our Perks are second to none.”
[Mayor Wilkens looks down, sadly]
“Or at least they were. It is hard to believe they’re all gone…”
-Mayor Amos Wilkens, following the Day of Many Massacre
I was in shock when I felt Hyno’s hands on me, pulling me to my feet.
She tripped me. Lila McLeod tripped me.
“I, I can’t –” I muttered, uselessly as Hyno hoisted me up.
“Don’t worry about it,” Hyno’s reassuring voice did little to quell my shock, rage, and embarrassment.
“No, you don’t understand – ”
“It doesn’t matter right now,” his voice never wavered, “You have to finish the routine.”
I know what he is saying makes sense, but I’m so confused, so scrambled right now that I barely hear it. Instead, I feel a sharp pain in my ankle and fall once more, yelping.
Hyno swears under his breath but then I feel him loop his broad shoulder under my arm and start dragging me back toward the edge of the Example Slab.
“What are you doing?” I hiss, “I have to-”
“No.” He says simply and firmly, “Not on that ankle.” And brokering no further debate, he pulled us off the back of the Example Slab, down the small ramp, and leaned me against the six feet of stone we’d just descended from. Much as I hated to admit it, I couldn’t stand and thus couldn’t perform – but it was Lila’s fault. Lila had just cost my family the extra portions, we do desparately needed…what I couldn’t figure out is why.
Hyno was examining my foot, when I finally realized that he wasn’t on the stage.
“What are you doing?” I yelled, “Get back up there, Hyno! You can still –“
He shakes his head, still cradling my ankle gently in his large hands, “Not until I’m sure you’re okay…”
I grab his head with both hands and look him square in the eyes that I can see are full of concern and worry, “I’M FINE. Go, finish the routine, there’s no reason we should both suffer because of Lila’s betrayal.”
I can see he’s still worried, but he’s a fool to stay down here when he could still earn the bonus; his family needs it too. He’s got a baby brother at home who is too young to know how hard things are in Threecy. I know he’s my partner in the Perks, but still…
“Go,” I implore.
He nods and lowers my ankle to the ground. Giving me one last look, he takes one of my hands and gently kisses it.
“I’ll be right back,” he says, then he’s gone.
My eyes follow Hyno as he mounts the ramp in one, big step, striding confidently back up and onto the stage. I feel blood rush to my face, a flurry of emotions rushing through me. What was that? I’ve known Hyno my entire life, but he’s always just been…Hyno. But the way he was looking at me, the way he took my hand, that kiss…could he be something more?
All these thoughts are rushing through my head as I hear the first gunshot and see Hyno’s head explode.
I’m deafened by a scream I barely recognize as my own.
The gunfire went on long after my throat grew dry, raspy, and my scream collapsed in hysterical sobs, as I dragged myself over to Hyno’s body, which had fallen sideways off the ramp onto the opposite side from me. Crawling awkwardly, I drag myself around, hearing screams and death above me, but my only thoughts are of Hyno. His kind smile, the comforting warmth of his hands, of the kiss that still lingers gently on the back of my hand.
On the future I only just realized I wanted with him.
It was too late the moment the bullet hit him, but still I shake his body, the warmth not yet faded. My mind won’t let me eyes register what has become of his face, the remains of which stay angled away from me as I shake him. I can’t stand it and finally look directly at it, but see nothing left of my friend in the mess of red that remains. I try to scream again, but my throat is too raw – my grief has no release.
A hand lands on my shoulder and a voice as cold and certain as steel whispers urgently, “We must go. Now.”
I barely hear it, eyes fixed on Hyno.
“You can’t help him, but you can still help yourself,” the voice came more urgently, “But we need to go now. They’ll be upon you soon.”
Rage overtakes grief – I’ve always been told I have a temper – I spin, shaking his hand off and throw a right hook into the stranger’s jaw. It’s like punching concrete, but his head cranks away never the less and I lunge at him. The man in the hood. The one I saw in the crowd.
“What did you do?!” I cry, with sudden, horrible certainty that he was behind this. That Hyno’s blood is on his hands.
“I’m trying to set you free, set us all free,” he snarls, checking his lip for blood, when he turns his gaze back upon me, I see his eyes are grey with violet irises. Then I see the teeth; his incisors are drawn to fine points.
Surprise out-weights my grief and rage.
“You’re, you’re…one of them?”
He nods solemnly, then looks to his right and hisses. Two County soldiers in their jet black armour are running around the corner, guns up.
“Too late. Good luck, Evelyn Kaspian.”
From somewhere in his cloak, the stranger throws a pellet at his feet, that erupts in a blast of grey-black smoke. I begin to choke and cover my eyes, but can feel him move away.
Then it dawns on me: how did he know my name?
This and all other thoughts abandon me, as the choking smoke overwhelms me and I lose consciousness. With my last ounce of strength, I reach out and take Hyno’s hand, but there is no warmth or comfort left in it.
“I’m sorry,” I rasp as I slip into darkness.
Wanted to catch-up on my reviews before the finale, but due to a variety of circumstances (including prepping to launch a Star Trek Adventures narrative roleplaying game podcast featuring actors and comedians called Star Trek: Redundancy, coming soon from GarbageProductions.net!) I only had time to write some quick thoughts: full review of the finale coming tomorrow!
- Felt the most like a classic Trek of anything we’ve seen, while still carrying on with the meta plot
- Finally gave us more Klingons
- Still hate that design
- Interesting seeing Saru in the role of the aggressor
- Explanation for space madness best we’ve seen, almost ever, in Trek – the fact that Saru is constantly feeling his flight reflex is truly tragic and a neat detail to learn about the character
- Oh Burnyler/Tyham…you’re gonna implode so hard in the finale
- The admiral continues to be a fairly ‘meh’ character, though I do love remembering that everyone in Starfleet has hand-to-hand training (and love that Discovery has kept it in the Kirk style)
- Stamets back to being cranky is good, though makes last episode seem like a gift of convenience rather than a legitimate character shift
- Love that he’s still out of time – calling Cadet Tilly ‘Captain’ was a beautiful little moment. Can likely also work as a bridge to future Trek content (Borg, etc) if they need it.
- That’s an interesting thought: maybe the Discovery will become capable of time travel, allowing it to realize its anthology show ambitions without actually sacrificing the crew and the ship. We’ll have to see.
- The problem with the show running as heavily serialized as it was early on is that the filler episodes REALLY feel like it. The away mission was interesting-ish, but felt like much ado about nothing (though the ending was pretty rad)
Predications going into the finale: either full Tyler betrayal or confirmation to the audience that he’s the a double agent
- Mirror Universe either directly shown or Stamets gets switched out
- Probably a death…hopefully not Stamets’ boyfriend Dr. Culber. We know Tilly is safe now as she is a captain in the future, but that was a pretty safe conclusion
- Love hearing folks I know from the Toronto theatre scene on the bridge getting names and more screen time…makes me worried for their safety: killing regular minor crewmembers is a time-honoured tradition and a way to keep your core cast safer longer…hang in there, bridge crew.
In any event, I’m excited to see what a mid-season finale looks like for this show!
Star Trek Discovery Ep, 7: Magic To Make The Sanest Man In The World Go Mad
Let’s Do The Timewarp Again
Some of Star Trek’s greatest stories have taken place in a timeloop (you can kill the cast and blow up the ship SO MANY TIMES) and Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad is no exception: we get lots of dramatic deaths, ‘this could only happen in the timewarp’ romantic actions, some fun character moments, and the best example yet of the crew working together as one to solve a problem with all their combined wit and ability (feeling the most like a classic Trek of any episode to-date). There’s still plenty of weirdness (Harry Mudd’s helmet…?), space whales, and a disco party on the Disco, and it all amounts to a fun, engaging episode that proves Discovery is capable of great one-offs as well as serialized stories.
Romance is in the Air
Discovery, being a shorter season than traditional 22 episode Trek seasons, occasionally needs to speed up certain events or relationships in order to make them work (Ash Tyler’s immediate welcome and position aboard the ship, etc), but the show makes great use of the timeloop to rapidly advance Burnham and Tyler’s relationship via the time-displaced Stamets. Keeping Stamets out of the timeloop due to his interfacing with the spores is a handy device (there’s always gotta be one person who knows it’s looping – Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow, etc) and allows the growth that occurs in each loop to actually affect the world moving forward. Usually the progress made during time loops or alternate timelines is wiped away (though usually leaving a key item or memory behind), but having Stamets on-hand to fill everyone in allows us to keep the broad-strokes and advance the Burnler (Tynham?) romance in a condensed timeframe.
Now, if the predictions of Tyler’s true intentions we’ve discussed here in posts-past prove true, this super-condensed-timeframe relationship actually makes a lot of sense: if Tyler is a double agent, this highly-specific , high-pressure situation allows us to reasonably believe he and Burnham have grown much closer without having to question how long he can hold up the facade. If that’s the way we’re going, it’s a clever bit of business. With the mid-season break approaching, I suspect we’ll know sooner rather than later.
Anthony Rapp is getting to flex his charming-wacky-guy muscles a bit as Stamets is experiencing heightened euphoria after interfacing with the spores. I’ll miss the snark, if indeed it is gone forever, but in the interim it’s a fun take. He also now has an implant that lets him interface without getting impaled, which is nice. I was having a hard time believing they’d just keep letting that happen every time they needed to jump.
Still no word on the Mirror-verse Stamets, but stay tuned.
Harry Mudd: Murderer
So, Rainn Wilson promised us a more bloodthirsty Harry Mudd and boy did he deliver. Mudd’s revenge on Lorca involved a fun montage of him killing the captain repeatedly (though I wish there had been more variety like the teleporter kill than the over-used disintegration), and watching him conduct the teleporters like a symphony was a blast. It sits somewhat oddly with the silly tone of the original character, who was seen more as a nuisance than a threat, and easily ranks as one of the bigger ‘grimdark’ takes on a character the show has delivered…and yet…Mudd was SELLING WOMEN when we first met him (women he’d given a drug to make more beautiful, no less…ugh). The danger, and I found myself guilty of this while watching, is in taking this Mudd’s violent actions as at odds with his character – they aren’t- rather than at odds with the tone of his original episodes. If you’d told me that Harry-fucking-Mudd was going to be the Khan to Isaacs’ Lorca, I would have laughed you out of the room, but it works surprisingly well; Lorca is a dour, driven man and it’s fun seeing his arch enemy (until the Klingons come back around…) be someone who has fun. He is also defeated in a classic sting, which is delightfully appropriate, right down to the Agatha Christie-style full cast explanation of ‘how we conned you’. I don’t know that we’ll see Mudd again this season (great tying him back to his constantly estranged wife), but even if we don’t, this has been a great use of a classic character.
I’ll never stop loving that this show refers to wacky space phenomenon in the vaguely exhausted way that my nerd friends and I do.
“Wait, what thing?”
“Oh, you know that space whale thing from that one episode?”
“Right! The space whale!”
Having Saru desparately trying to give the science-y version is a joy. More of this forever, please.
Star Trek: Discovery Episode Six “Lethe”
Lethe is an interesting oddity in Discovery so far, in that it feels the most like a stand-alone episode we’ve seen to date. We get to see some major character growth from Burnham, see more of Sarek’s history, and gain further insight into Lorca’s state of mind, but ultimately the episode feels more like classic Trek than anything we’ve seen so far…and that’s both a good and bad thing. Fundamentally, this episode is fine; nothing outstanding, nothing damning…which is a refreshing sign of stability from a series still in flux (despite the recent announcement of renewal for Season Two, something thought impossible just before launch). Just don’t expect to be blown away.
Fan buzz on the ‘net following this episode was mostly focused on the problematic nature of Discovery being a prequel series and with good reason: the show has consistently integrated modern tech and favored modern sci-fi tropes like holograms into an era in Trek where we know these things don’t exist. In the J.J. Abrams films, we get an Original Series redux that looks and feels how we now imagine future tech, but Discovery is set in the Prime Timeline of the TV shows and original movies: they still carry archaic phaser pistols and use flip out communicators, yet also teleport around the ship, communicate using holograms and have a fully functioning holodeck.
Not to mention a teleportation spore drive…
Ultimately, in order to have an enjoyable, modern show, we fans of the classic Trek shows just need to accept that the design of Trek and it’s technology has been soft rebooted, but not the continuity (sigh, even the Klingons…). Star Wars suffered a similar re-design in the prequel trilogy, where everything was slicker and shinier, a far-cry from the lived-in grit of the Original Films (happily remedied in the new films); however, in Wars the re-design lost a fundamental element of tone and style, whereas this design reboot actually moves to re-position Trek in the future of viewers in 2017. Given that my fucking smartphone can double as a VR simulator and tablets are now a dime-a-dozen, tech that was futuristic in Deep Space Nine (iPads) and Next Generation (holodeck) either are our reality or not-far-off…thus, to keep Trek feeling futuristic, we need to keep pace with modern technology, even when dealing with a prequel (hell, if we pay too much attention to everything the Original Series set up, we have to content with a large portion of the world having been ruled by a genetically augmented Ricardo Mantalban back in 1992…granted, I’d take Khan over Trump, but still…).
Trek is about our future, even when it’s about Trek’s past…and loathe as we are to lose some things or to see future-tech incorporated early in the Trek timeline, it’s a necessary evolution. Wars has always been a fable of a mythological past, Trek has always been predictive science fiction about the future: both new iterations reflect that and I suspect a modern Trek show that featured design of the 60s would feel a parody of itself. Strange though the design reboot may feel, it’s for the best.
Also, apparently the Discovery, science and secret black ops vessel, has t-shirts that say ‘DISCO.’ I…what? This is right up there with the Klingon redesign for baffling choices. Does this mean the Enterprise has shirts that say ‘ENTER’? Does Janeway have a ‘VOYAG’ shirt in a drawer of shame somewhere? Or do you only get one if you ship’s name can be truncated to a cute pun? There’s so much I need to know about these shirts, but I suspect we’ll never know…
Full spoilers follow
The Problem with Sarek
Contrary to my feelings about the design reboot, the focus on Sarek continues to be vexing at best and frustrating at worst. Lethe finally brings in a mention of Spock, as we learn that Sarek prevented Burnham from joining the Vulcan Expeditionary to leave room for Spock (also considered not Vulcan, as a half-human), who in turn rejects the Expeditionary to join Starfleet, meaning Sarek’s sacrifice of Burnham’s career was for nothing. At work here is the idea that Sarek is seeking to prove that humans and Vulcans are not so dissimilar, which tracks given his human wife, half-human son, and now – in this new series – human ward Burnham…but the question that the show has done little to prove is: “Do we need it?”
Currently, the answer is a resounding: no.
I was damn excited when I heard that James Frain was going to be playing Sarek in Discovery, remembering Sarek as a complicated and interesting character from Next Generation that can bring interesting perspective to episode plots while also loosely tying the show to classic series. I assumed, prior to the premise announcement that he raised Burnham, that he would be a recurring guest-star similar to Rainn Wilson’s Harry Mudd. Instead, he was chosen to be a pivotal father-figure, even given a weird, cross-galaxy, permanent mind-meld with Burnham. Up until now, we’ve basically seen the Spock story replayed (hell, even child Burnham at the Vulcan Academy looked like the Spock at the Vulcan Academy scene from the 2009 Star Trek film) and it feels…off. Any Vulcan could have served this purpose, but instead we fall into the ‘One Degree of Separation’ trope of characters having to be connected to everything of note. The mere lack of mention of Burnham by Spock is so incredibly bizarre to begin with, that piling more baggage on Sarek also feels disingenuous. At the moment of his death in this episode, Sarek is only thinking about Michael Burnham? BULLSHIT. We know he’s a shitty dad, but his and Spock’s entire arc was Spock coming to understand the depth of emotion present not only in his half-Vulcan heart, but that of his fellow Vulcans, most of all his father; but this scene suggests that Sarek cares more about Burnham than Spock…which would be TOTALLY FINE if he was any Vulcan but Sarek. Hell, make him Sarek’s brother. Problem solved. But instead, we get a pile-on onto a character that we only really cared about in connection to an iconic character that isn’t present in this show.
The good news coming out of this is that Burnham has started acting like a full person now, which is a delightful change of pace: Sonequa Martin-Greene is charming and capable, but all too often seems to get hamstrung into being quiet and intense (happened for several seasons in The Walking Dead before her genuinely touching final episode) and it’s nice to see her getting to embrace the elements of the character that are most engaging.
We finally have a hero to root for (other than poor, lovable Tilly, who is definitely this show’s Wesley Crusher, but with less screen-time and better lines)…which we’re going to need, because Lorca is definitely not okay…
The War Captain
Lorca’s storyline this week further explores his damage, bringing in clearer elements of PTSD while still refusing to let him off the hook for his obsessions. It’s a delicate balance, but I’m glad the show kept him in the role of manipulator and fanatic, despite his trauma. When visited by Admiral Cornwall (who is also a psychologist? Oh, Starfleet…) Lorca gets to play romantic lead, rekindling the on-again, off-again relationship the Admiral implied existed last episode. After a night of scotch and romancing, Lorca awakes with a start to find someone in his bed and starts choking her while pointing a phaser to her head. Cornwall realizes Lorca was just manipulating her as a smoke screen for his deteriorating mental health and does something few Starfleet Admirals ever do: she sees he’s unhinged and demands, despite his desperate pleas, that he resign his command, rightly assessing that Starfleet’s best weapon is in the hands of a madman.
Now, here’s where the plot misses a major opportunity (or did it?): with Sarek saved but injured, Cornwall goes to meet the dissenting Klingon houses, telling Lorca they’ll announce his resignation when she gets back. In my heart-of-hearts I wanted Lorca to orchestrate her mission as a means of disposing of her: it would be a tremendously conniving, Machiavellian move on Lorca’s part and really cement him as a mastermind…unfortunately, the Klingon peace talks are a trap and while the result is the same, Cornwall captured and the resignation delayed, I wish Lorca had had more hand in it.
We do get a great beat between Saru and Lorca following this, where Saru is surprised that they aren’t going to break Starfleet regulations to mount a rescue mission (it would be a first in Lorca’s career not to break Starfleet rules), but instead Lorca opts to await Starfleet orders, with his phaser tucked ominously in his belt (who knows, he may still find a way to dispose of Cornwall during the rescue).
This is a story beat we’ll see play out in a future episode, but as it stands it’s a missed opportunity. But, at least we know the show isn’t going to let-up on the villain captain concept (he only saved Sarek so Burnham would personally owe him and he’s made the suspicious Ash Tyler security chief). Speaking of…
The Romantical Adventures of Michael Burnham
With Ash Tyler being integrated into the crew (along with Burnham receiving her bridge role), we finally have the entire announced cast on-board the ship, with Burnham and Tyler having a slightly-flirty-antagonistic relationship that echoes Leia and Han in Empire Strikes Back. With Burnham and Tyler both being combat mission types, it’s nice to get a pair of buddy cops on the ship (as opposed to the mentor/mentee relationship she has with Tilly) and gives us a sense of what away teams will look like moving forward (plus giving Burnham a romance option). However, Tyler is still a question mark: although Lorca looked up his history, the circumstances of his imprisonment still raise a lot of questions. If he is indeed a double agent, this is a great set-up for having Burnham close to him and provides a fascinating lens by which to watch their scenes.
With tin-foil-hat firmly on head, I will continue to watch this relationship with great interest.
Vulcan Terrorists and Treacherous Klingons
So, this was interesting: Sarek’s mission is endangered by a Vulcan suicide bomber (who unironically flashes Sarek the ‘Live Long and Prosper’ as he detonates). Traditionally, we’ve seen some infighting by Vulcans, but nothing on the scale of this: the centre of the issue being the integration of Vulcans into Starfleet, which is objected to by the Logic um…terrorists. It’s an interesting enough angle, I suppose, that Vulcans would have this kind of behaviour in their society, but I can’t help but feel it falls a bit too thoroughly into the grimdark trope: we’ve established that war-is-hell, but does everyone, everywhere have to be as terrible as they can possibly be all the time?
Same goes for the infuriatingly predictable Klingon ‘peace talks’ betrayal, where two houses that are on the outs with Kol’s rising empire seek to talk to the Vulcans about joining the Federation…only to immediately betray everyone to earn Kol’s favour. It unfortunately continues to cast the Klingons as the WORST and furthers the single minded drive of Lord of the Rings’ orcs: right now, they are single-mindedly evil, rather than a complex, full society as we saw in previous Treks. We had a brief chance to see some depth and dissent here, but it’s immediately passed over to service the Cornwall plot and further cement that the Klingons are bad (#NotAllKlingons?). I know the show is playing into the villainous Klingons from the Original Series, but it seems to forget that we really fucking like Worf and have spent a lot of time with enjoyable Klingons over the years…it’s odd that while the design has been completely changed almost universally across the show from the Original Series, the villainous, treacherous Klingon trope is held here as sacrosanct. Hopefully we’ll see some more depth soon (and no, an albino religious fanatic does not count as depth).
…I’m still not over it. Maybe Q made them?
This post originally appeared on MyEntertainmentWorld.ca
In thinking about last week’s episode, I made the argument that the reason for the ‘grimdark’ tone of Discovery was to show our characters struggling to evolve from morally ambiguous, wartime characters into the hopeful utopians of The Original Series and happily this week’s episode, Choose Your Pain, re-affirms this by taking a key opportunity to separate the crew from Captain Lorca. The result is Lorca making the wrong call (which has caused minor outcry from Trek fans) and the crew struggling, but ultimately making the right call. We also get the return of a fan favorite from The Original Series, con man Harry Mudd (played in Discover by Rainn Wilson) and the introduction of a PTSD-afflicted Federation prisoner-of-war who may be more than he seems. The episode also finally puts more on Saru as he takes command of Discovery’s mission to rescue Lorca and decide the fate of Ripper, being increasingly damaged to navigate the teleportation drive. Both plots are engaging and advance the overall story nicely, leading to a solid episode of Trek.
Plus, there was cussin’! Trek dropped its first two f-bombs in this episode, which were…fine? Honestly, I was mostly just reminded of the South Park episode about how once everyone can say ‘shit’ on TV it stops being interesting. Did love that it was about science, though.
And finally, we get our first proper introduction to the promised relationship between Stamets and Doctor Culber (Wilson Cruz) and it’s exactly what I hoped it would be: a relationship. On a starship. That no one particularly cares or makes a big deal about, including the show. Their relationship is actually a tremendously big deal for the Trek-verse, bringing the first canonical gay couple into the TV timeline (Sulu’s orientation was shifted in the Kelvin timeline for Star Trek Beyond as an homage to actor and activist George Takei, but many – including Takei – objected to the change, preferring that new characters be introduced, rather than old ones altered). But the show know what’s it’s doing with these two, having them just enjoy a moment of domesticity not unlike those of roommates Burnham and Tilly, rather than exoiticising the couple. Just as Roddenberry did with Uhura, Sulu, and later Chekov as bridge officers in The Original Series, Discovery continues to present diversity as an accepted given of the future.
And there’s nothing grimdark about it.
Full spoilers follow.
Much has been made of the return of Harry Mudd and as Rainn Wilson suggested during the press conferences leading into the show (he often served as panel moderator for the cast), in Choose Your Pain we get a slightly grittier Mudd (surprise! #grimdark) who is more fitting for the tone of a wartime period in Discovery. Wilson argued, when asked for feedback on the early scripts, that while Mudd needed to be recognizable as the same character, that the whimsical tone of his cons in The Original Series would be out-of-place in war time. The result, so far, is Mudd as a Klingon prisoner, a civilian trying to survive in a POW camp. It’s an interesting set-up and allows Mudd be as clever and conniving as ever, but in more dire circumstance. It also brings one of our few civilian points-of-view in the show (other than Burnham’s fellow prisoners in the third episode), as Mudd denounces the Federation as ignoring the needs of the ‘little people’ down planetside. Mudd’s argument, though not entirely legitimate as his business was a scam, holds water: the war against the Klingons comes from the Federation spreading out into the universe and an alien race’s aversion to be assimilated by them. Wilson gets to deliver an amazingly snarky version of the famous “to boldly go” line and echoes sentiments expressed recently by Idris Elba’s villain in Beyond: you push the frontier, sometimes the frontier pushes back. Mudd presents a rather bleak view of space exploration (though knowing what we know about the Klingons eventually joining and thriving in the Federation, maybe less so) but while this may seem a pessimistic, post-modern (dare I say, grimdark?) take on the nature of Star Trek, it’s worth remembering that ideas like this are not new to the franchise: hell, the Prime Directive is violated almost every episode. Discovery points directly at it, but the question of whether the good outweighs the bad of diversity, exploration, and making contact with other cultures has been constant in Trek; with Trek’s thesis always being that diversity is strength – that we can learn from each other and better each other. Mudd doesn’t take this stance, but we shouldn’t make the mistake of taking him as a character with a valid moral centre: he is a career con man we first met when he tried to sell women to the Enterprise. But this, I suspect, is the point of Lorca: his skewed morality is there as a litmus test against which to check other characters. Kirk versus Mudd? Kirk comes out as in the right. Lorca versus Mudd? Mudd is right.
Which brings us to Lorca’s big decision, which has been taking a lot of heat online: after successfully orchestrating an escape, Lorca leaves Mudd – who has betrayed them by smuggling info to the Klingons and choosing other prisoners to take the beatings from the Klingons –to his fate. I read an article over on io9 whose headline declared that this episode and specifically this action were when “Discovery finally lost its soul,” which though an eye-catching headline, is ultimately a misleading one: the article posits that Lorca leaving Mudd to be tortured and killed without hesitation or remorse is inexcusable for Starfleet and for a captain. Agreed. But I think that’s the point: Lorca is the bad guy. He’s a fanatic, an Ahab, and mercy to one’s enemies doesn’t fit that model. The thing that is upsetting most Trek fans right now, it seems, is not being able to reconcile hatred of a captain with a Trek show. We’ve been conditioned to believe unfailingly in the heroics of our captains (though all have done some pretty morally ambiguous things, in their time), but we know from SO MANY GUEST STARS that Starfleet is rife with villains. We’ve just never had to live with one before.
This is what makes removing Lorca from the ship for an episode so important: we need to see what the Discovery looks like without his influence and the results are telling. Saru finally gets his command but is unsure of himself, as he later admits, he never had a mentor like Georgiou, so he begins by setting up a computer algorithm based on the greatest captains in Starfleet history (some nice Easter Eggs, there) to monitor his choices and cross-check them against other captains’ records. It’s an adorably logical way to try and gauge one’s success and fits what we’ve seen of Saru perfectly. Saru’s command is (of course) challenged by Burnham, who is really making an effort not to, on the issue of Ripper, who is suffering brain damage from the spore-drive. Here, Saru makes the wrong call: he demands that until Lorca is saved, the question of whether or not Ripper is sentient or being damaged is moot. By doing so, he consigns a sentient creature to slavery and death in the name of the cause, a very Lorca decision. Through some quick medical discoveries, Stamets and Burnham realize that a human could also navigate and willingly give consent to the process, but Saru demands immediate results, causing the ship to teleport but putting Ripper into a protective coma. After ordering the waking-up of Ripper at any cost, Saru manages to save Lorca and jump to safety; because Stamets defied him and acted as navigator himself, at great personal risk. Here’s the important thing: Burnham, Stamets, and the doctor were given a war-time order that was morally wrong and they couldn’t live with themselves if they followed it: as a result, they defied that order and made the moral choice: the result was Saru recognizing his error, apologizing, and asking Burnham to save Ripper’s life. In the course of this episode, we saw our crew evolve toward the Trek ideal (or standard, depending on your point-of-view) by not choosing Lorca’s way. With Lorca back in command, this will be put to the test, particularly if new character Ash Tyler, the POW Lorca saves and brings back with him, turns out to be a double agent (as his convenient story and introduction seem to suggest).
This episode also lays some AMAZING ‘crazy Star Trek premise’ groundwork, with the teaser at the end of the episode. While this could be a timeline that operates a little slower, my money is on the infamous Mirror Universe (home of the ‘evil Spock goatee’): with Discovery teleporting around a sub-dimension via the spores (possibly the most Trek sentence I’ve ever written), there is plenty of opportunity to break reality and in classic Trek fashion, that can lead to some great stories (and some pretty terrible ones…) Of particular interest: the Mirror Universe features a warlike Federation dedicated to Empire and domination…what does Lorca look like in a universe of ‘evil twins’? Is he good? Because that would give a lot of insight to our cast as to the Captain’s true nature. We’ll see; fingers crossed for an evil Saru goatee.
There’s one more major thing to address from this episode, however it’s a bit of a meta-spoiler (in that information from the process of making the show suggests it rather than the episode itself). I’m going to go into it below, but don’t want to spoil something for viewers that could otherwise be a well-plotted storyline, so if you’re enjoying the show and don’t want to have anything ruined, then thanks for the read and I’ll see ya next week.
However, if you don’t care about such things, read on…
Well Substantiated Spoiler Theory Follows After the Bump
So, let’s talk about Ash Tyler…who is suspicious as hell and may well be Voq, our albino Klingon, in disguise. We’ve seen Klingon infiltrators made to look human before (in The Trouble with Tribbles, no less) and Tyler’s track in the episode certainly reads as a traitor (in a classic, ‘meet a spy in jail’ kinda way).
But here’s the biggest proof: the actor playing Voq is Shazad Latif…who also plays Ash Tyler. Since io9 brought this to my attention, the posting on IMDB has been taken down, but there was also word during the ‘troubled Dark Ages of Discovery development’ that Shazad Latif, originally cast as ‘Klingon Commander Kol’ was being recast as Lieutenant Ash Tyler. There’s now conjecture that this was all smoke and mirrors to hide the twist, similar to the kind of stunts pulled to hide Khan’s identity in Into Darkness (worst kept secret in the universe) or the obscuring of Marion Coltiard’s Tahlia al Ghul in Dark Knight Rises…to the degree that the actor cast as ‘Kol’ may not even be real (!) Extreme measures, but desperate, spoilery times call for desperate measures.
This all tracks with last week’s episode (which chronologically was a month or more ago), which saw Voq travel with L’Rell to House Mokai (house of lies and illusions!) and “give up everything.”
This plotline would definitely bring the Klingon guerilla war suggested by L’Rell and the Discovery main plot together quite nicely, keeping the main Klingons out while Voq attempts to steal the Federation’s best weapon. As an added bonus, if our main Klingon is speaking English now, we don’t have to put up with as much halting Klingon…which would be GREAT for all involved.
So, a promising plot and a huge twist…as long as one can forget the news of Latif’s recasting, which at the time was highlighted as bizarre and troubling production news. Turns out, it may have just been tactical news; time will tell.
This post originally appeared on MyEntertainmentWorld.ca