Star Trek: Discovery – Season 1 Episode 4
“The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry”
Star Trek: Discovery continues to build the mystery around the experimental engine as the War with the Klingons continues to rage.
This episode seems to mark a rough format that the show will follow and it’s not dissimilar to a formula followed by many of the previous Star Trek series. This isn’t a bad thing as the formula is a proven one and works in this case as it allows the different plot lines to pull together.
There is a sense of urgency attached to this episode after Captain Lorca receives a distress call from a mining colony under attack by the Klingons. Discovery is the only ship with a chance of making it in time to save the colony so Lorca is tasked with ensuring his crew pull together to activate the Spore Drive and save the colony.
We get our first real look at Lorca’s command style early on in the episode when we glimpse the end of combat drills where the crew perform at less than his expected standards. He’s very harsh in supplying feedback on their performance and notes that if it had been real combat then they would all be dead. According to him there’s nowhere to go but up. I really like the scene where he plays the distress call from the mining colony on a ship wide broadcast to remind the crew what’s at stake. It’s harsh but also shows that he isn’t without compassion and does embody the Federation ideals in his own way.
As a commander Lorca seems to be blunt and has high expectations. I get the impression that he knows his crew are capable of what he asks of them so becomes frustrated when they are unable to meet his requirements. He mentioned last week that there are no “free rides” on his ship and this is reflected here. When it comes to using the Spore Drive he won’t take no for an answer and Lieutenant Stamets’ excuses fall on deaf ears. He gives and order and expects his crew to figure out a way to make it work.
Lieutenant Stamets actually has a vested interest in protecting the mining colony because he is a compassionate man who doesn’t want to see innocent people killed. His concerns aren’t about making excuses; they are legitimate scientific concerns. The drive isn’t ready to be used and a lot of work is still required before he figures out how the U.S.S. Glenn could travel such long distances successfully. Without knowing what caused the death of the entire crew it’s dangerous to attempt to replicate their experiments.
Last week, Stamets was established as a really standoffish presence who took a lot of pride in his work and didn’t want inexperienced people messing with it. This episode adds layers to the character by showing his passion for science. He is willing to hear Michael out and shows excitement when that pays off in a positive way. His stubbornness and pride aren’t enough to stand in the way of scientific advancement which says a lot about him.
I really like the uneasy interactions that he has with Captain Lorca. He protests Lorca’s orders to use the Spore Drive despite the obvious dangers and reiterates his displeasure with the situation he’s in. He signed on to Starfleet to work on his theories rather than wage a War and is disheartened that his work is motivated by military application. Lorca tells him he’s welcome to leave if that’s how he feels and reminds him that all of his research belongs to Starfleet. it’s cold and uncompromising but Jason Isaacs exudes unquestionable authority. He is a Captain who won’t be defied and makes no apologies for what he has to do to get the best out of his crew. Lieutenant Stamets is noticeably taken aback by this but can’t do anything about it. I like the idea that not every member of the crew is happy with their current posting and that Lorca isn’t their preferred Captain. It creates conflict organically and makes it complex as Lorca’s argument about needing to win a War can also be understood.
Michael is officially made part of the crew but is noticeably missing her Starfleet insignia showing that she still hasn’t redeemed herself. Her job is to study the creature discovered on the U.S.S. Glenn last week which allows her access to Captain Lorca’s secret menagerie. It’s a great set with a number of interesting artefacts including what seems to be a Gorn skeleton. It adds to the moral complexity of Lorca and the show itself.
The plot around the creature reminded me of the Original Series episode “The Devil In the Dark“. Both creatures are misunderstood as being hostile but turn out to have different motivations. In this case the Tardigrade only reacts violently when provoked as shown by the savage mauling of Commander Landry who surprisingly doesn’t survive the encounter. Her death genuinely shocked me as I expected her to be among the main cast.
Interestingly the Tardigrade becomes something of a metaphor for Michael herself. She points out that it’s a creature that doesn’t know how to be anything more than what it is and has been judged on “one single incident”. The connection that Michael feels is obvious and it fuels her desire to understand it. By making an effort to look beyond what the Tardigrade did on the U.S.S. Glenn she is rewarded with a deeper understanding of its true nature. Looking deeper at someone or something and not judging on first impressions is vintage Star Trek and helps to offset the darker tale being told by this series.
This doesn’t quite tie into Michael’s arc involving her coming to accept the gift left to her by Captain Georgiou in her will or if it does then it’s really tenuous. Considering this is established as being something she has to work up to earlier in the episode I would expect it to be part of her learning curve throughout but the connection doesn’t quite work. The only real link is that Michael begins to find her place on Discovery so feels more comfortable accepting the fact that she is on her way to redemption. Part of it could have to do with Cadet Tilly who endears herself to Michael by trusting and helping her. All of these are well and good but the link is tenuous.
Voq (Javid Iqbal) -last seen cradling T’Kuvma’s body in the second episode– returns in this episode along with the knowledge that he and his crew aboard T’Kuvma’s ship have been stranded at the location of the battle for the past 6 moths. Resources are becoming strained and attempts to find a damaged Klingon ship with functioning engine parts have turned up nothing. Voq refuses to salvage the necessary component from the adrift abandoned U.S.S. Shenzhou seeing the use of Federation technology as blasphemy. He is a firm believer in the purity of Klingons which seems to extend to their technology.
To his mind using a Federation engine component would be tantamount to “assimilation” which is always an interesting word to use in this franchise. These zealot Klingons see the Federation in the same way the Borg will come to be seen in the future. Flipping the perspective like this is a good idea as it provides a different perspective on the Federation and encourages viewers to consider the pros and cons of both unity and isolation. Nothing definitive is said either way as both sides make their arguments and clearly have their flaws. It’s somewhat disturbing that L’Rell uses the example of eating Captain Georgiou’s body to talk him into scavenging the required part from the Shenzhou but it at least shows how hardcore the Klingons in Star Trek: Discovery are.
The arrival of Kol (Kenneth Mitchell) seems to bring salvation with it but it turns out he is being deceitful to lull Voq into a false sense of security in order to win over his crew with simple food. Considering they have nothing that’s all it takes for the crew to shift allegiances showing that the Klingon Empire aren’t as united as Voq would like to think. By the end of the episode he finds himself cast out on the ruined Shenzhou bridge after his entire crew have betrayed him. It’s an interesting piece of symbolism as he finds himself surrounded by everything he rallies against.
All is not lost for Voq as L’Rell (Mary Chieffo) remains loyal to him and inspires him to rally others to his cause. There are hints of a romantic edge to their relationships though she almost seems to worship him as well so their connection is a complicated one.
Interestingly, Michael’s prediction came true in how the Klingons would react to the death of T’Kuvma. She mentioned that his death would make him a martyr which is certainly true for both Voq and L’Rell. The rest of the Empire don’t seem to see T’Kuvma the same way but Michael’s prediction is at least partially true.
The Klingon scenes contain a lot of interesting ideas and character beats though they are a little difficult to watch. I applaud the production team for shooting for authenticity in having the entirety of their dialogue be subtitled Klingon but the dialogue is so heavy that it can be difficult to keep up with everything that is being said. I mentioned on the podcast that employing a device similar to Hunt for the Red October to make the audience aware that they are speaking in Klingon but we hear the dialogue in English would be a more effective way of doing this.
Despite all of the good in the setup the show still has some systemic issues. Dialogue being the most overt as many of the exchanges feel somewhat overwritten especially when it comes to Michael. Much of what she says or feels can be inferred through context or body language but the writers choose to have someone state it plainly which comes across as really clumsy. This is also true in the Klingon scenes as I have already mentioned.
Visually this show continues to impress. Zooming into the creation of Michael’s uniform was really striking and the CGI on the Tardigrade was also very impressive. I also really liked the visualisation of using the Spore Drive. It was noticeably different to Warp Drive and also led to an exciting escape sequence from the gravity of a star.
The climactic action sequence where the Discovery took on the Klingon attackers was a mixed bag. It looked great and showed some interesting tactics but also fell into the age old Star Trek trap of trying to manufacture tension by continually reading out declining shield percentages. I did really like Captain Lorca managing the situation as if he was conducting an orchestra. It was a nice touch and Jason Isaacs was perfect as the voice of tactical experience. Seeing his plan play out added a lot of excitement to the sequence.
A great episode that doesn’t quite manage to overcome the issues the show has had since the first episode. Captain Lorca continues to be an engagingly complex presence and this episode allows the viewer to get an idea of his command style. The scenes between Lorca and Stamets are especially interesting as it shows that the crew are far from harmonious. Michael working with the captured creature is also an interesting development as not judging something by the first impression is vintage Star Trek. It also acts as a metaphor for Michael as a character.
The Klingon scenes have some interesting content but are also very dialogue heavy and difficult to watch because all of the dialogue is in subtitled Klingon. Over-explaining things is a systemic issue of the show in general and many of these things could be better executed by letting the body language do the talking. There are also issues in the execution of the action sequences as it falls into the trap of manufacturing tension by reading out declining shield percentages. This is somewhat offset by Jason Isaacs’ commanding performance though.
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