Star Trek: Discovery – Season 1 Episode 15
“Will You Take My Hand?”
Star Trek: Discovery wraps up its first season by tying up many of the loose ends and setting the stage for the second season.
The inaugural season of the first new Star Trek TV show in 12 years has been very strong overall. It feels like a natural update for the franchise and still retains many of the ideals that make Star Trek what it is. The focus on a single character’s journey instead of making the show a true ensemble piece was a bold choice and has worked out very positively.
Michael Burnham appears to live in a universe that revolves around her. The quadrant spanning conflict with the Klingons is blamed on her and the events depicted in the Mirror Universe all revolve around her in some way. It’s standard storytelling practice to have characters that are instrumental to the plot taking place around them but it’s notable that such an expansive universe is made to feel that much smaller because of the focus on a single person.
This has its advantages and disadvantages as does everything but in the case of this show the positive aspects far outweigh the negatives. Focusing on a single character means that everything that happens is intensely personal and allows that character to grow. The presence of Mirror Georgiou is proof of that as she represents a lot of things to Burnham. She’s the duplicate of the deceased mentor whose death she had a hand in, she is something familiar yet completely different and she’s the embodiment of everything the Federation isn’t supposed to be.
That last one is the underlying conflict that fuels this episode. Mirror Georgiou has been many things for both this show and Burnham generally so it makes sense that her presence in the finale would have a defined purpose behind it. In this case she is the reminder of Humanity’s baser instincts and the temptation that exists to compromise the principles of the Federation in a time of great desperation. She is the physical representation of the question “What would you do in this situation?” and leaves it to Burnham to answer it.
Everything that has happened to Burnham this season has been building to her answering that question. Being arrested for mutiny and manoeuvred onto the Discovery by Lorca who had a hidden agenda, having her principles tested by fighting a War that she is arguably responsible for starting, coming face to face with the darker side of Humanity in the Mirror Universe and now dealing with a duplicate of her mentor who is prepared to do the unthinkable to secure her freedom have all contributed to Burnham’s development into the person faced with a difficult choice in this episode.
Burnham’s experiences have helped her realise that the ideals of the Federation are the most important thing because they provide lessons on how to be better and how to constantly challenge yourself to improve even in the face of unwinnable odds. They may not be practical lessons but living those values allows alternate solutions to present themselves that might be harder than the obvious but are far more rewarding.
Admiral Cornwell was clearly broken by the desperation of seeing a Federation devastated by War and wanted to take the easy way out. Last week L’Rell confirmed to her that the Klingons would never stop fighting because victory is their only goal and that can’t be achieved until the Federation is completely wiped out. The lack of unity in the Klingon Empire means that reasoning with them is impossible so Cornwell sees genocide as the only possible solution. This is disguised as an attempt to take out some Military targets on Qo’Nos and use that as leverage to force the Klingons to retreat but the real plan is to lay waste to the Klingon home world with a bomb. This tactic is inarguably counter to everything the Federation stands for so it provides a clear obstacle in the form of the darker alternative.
This puts Burnham in the position of making the better choice though it does mean inciting another mutiny which brings her journey full circle. In the first episode she was willing to betray her Captain to stand up for what she believes in and now she is willing to betray the Federation –represented by Admiral Cornwell- to stand up for what she believes in but also the ideals that the Federation was founded on. Her decision in the first episode was selfish and misguided which is a stark contrast to her more informed choice made with the benefit of reflecting on that mistake and understanding what needs to be preserved.
The true indication that the choice she makes here is the “right” one is the fact that the entire crew are behind her. Admiral Cornwell has no power over them because the crew are united in their belief that their principles are more important. Saru proudly states that they are Starfleet and the crew are united in common cause. It’s an inspiring scene that shows how powerful retaining morality can be. Instead of being willing to kill to preserve what they are this is a crew willing to die for what they believe in and risk everything to save a people they have been at War with. It’s a clear lesson in being the better person and very much what Star Trek is all about.
Mirror Georgiou as a representative of everything the Federation isn’t works very well though there are some logical issues with how this comes across. Part of the plan is for her to pretend to be the Captain Georgiou native to our universe which falls apart within seconds of her taking the Captain’s chair. The way she behaves and statements that she makes aren’t anywhere close to what would be expected of her counterpart. Some of the bridge crew served with the native Georgiou as well so this would be very easy to see through not to mention the fact that they are all aware that they were recently in an alternate universe so the deception should completely fall through in the eyes of the crew. In fairness there’s no indication that it doesn’t though I fail to see the point of pretending in the first place.
The previous episodes have flirted with the idea that she might be redeemable in some way even though it’s impossible to forget that she literally had a Kelpien made into soup before eating it. Since this is all from Burnham’s perspective it’s easy to see how she might hope that the goodness defining her old Captain is in there somewhere but the fact of the matter is that Georgiou is a ruthless Terran who has no respect for the ideals of the Federation and no love for non-Humans. It is made clear that Cornwell gave Georgiou the assignment because nobody else would be able to carry it out and offered her the only thing she would accept in the form of her freedom.
Ultimately Georgiou does get what she wants as her freedom is still granted and the Federation doesn’t have to win the War by committing genocide because another way is found thanks to the resources they have at their disposal. The bomb serves an important purpose as it can be used as leverage for L’Rell to unite the Klingons and lead them. It’s morally dubious to force them into cooperation by threatening to destroy them otherwise but for Klingons it feels apt enough as a first step towards actual unity. It is mentioned that Klingons appreciate strength so for now this Apocalyptic Deterrent is an acceptable compromise when the alternative is genocide. L’Rell is the perfect one to lead because she has gained an understanding of what the Federation is as well as why they are no threat to the Empire so in terms of bringing the War to an end she is the logical choice.
The end of the War feels like it’s a little too neat in terms of how it wraps up which is a symptom of how quickly this show tends to burn through plot. We go from L’Rell blackmailing the other houses into ending the conflict to the crew being honoured in what feels like no time at all and it feels clumsy. Not that I want to see a long scene of a treaty being signed but treating the end of a conflict that has been part of the framework of the season like something of an afterthought is a huge error on the part of the writers. At times the War has struggled to have weight or scope especially when compared to The Dominion War on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and this conclusion completely lacks in weight. It is very much a character driven conflict for Burnham and the resolution stems from who she is as a person but there has already been a limited sense of the loss felt by the Federation which is only worsened by the casual dispensing of what should have been a large scale story.
I can’t fault this show for focusing on the characters and making all of the large scale decisions be an extension of their arcs. Tyler’s multiple personalities are used to intriguing effect in ending the Klingon War. He has access to Voq’s memories without having to deal with the problem of his personality complicating his interactions so he basically amounts to a resource that can be used for information. He has a conversation with Burnham about understanding both sides and is very definite in his choice to take her side as well as the side of the Federation. For him it’s not about defeating the Klingons but using what he knows to help others understand them. He seems to have compartmentalised Voq as if he were someone he once knew which allows him to rationalise all that he has done an make use of what he knows.
Ultimately he chooses to stay with L’Rell to help her in her difficult task of leading the Klingon people. Instead of being a symbol of the atrocities that Klingons are capable of he can be symbolic of the cooperation that can happen between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. It’s a solid poetic sentiment that makes enough sense given what has been set up about the character though the fact that the reveal has transitioned into what we see here in a short period of time is problematic. His choice suggests that Tyler and L’Rell could be used next season to further the Klingon angle though I’m hopeful that we might say goodbye to long subtitled scenes where multiple characters speak Klingon.
Burnham’s relationship with Tyler reaches the best possible resolution in this episode. Previously Burnham found it difficult to be around him because all she could see is the man who tried to kill her but the mission on Qo’Nos helps her see the conflict that rages within him and everything he is doing to resolve this. Ultimately she is able to see him for who he is and the two have some really well performed conversations where they discuss the impact recent events have had on their relationship. This is enhanced through Burnham telling Tyler about the Klingon attack where she lost her parents. It sounds like a brutal experience and the fact that she feels responsible for the loss she suffered because she asked for a vacation to be delayed only adds more heft to her motivations. In essence she was used to hating Klingons because of what they did to her family but she has learned that not all Klingons are responsible and her ability to fall in love with one even though she didn’t know the truth teaches her something about herself. Once again it all comes back to the Federation principles and she is living them within herself and making informed choices that conform to those ideals.
Many have criticised Star Trek: Discovery for not being Star Trek enough. I don’t agree with that assessment as I think there are many examples of just how Star Trek it really is but I can also see why people would think that. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine tested the idealism in an unfamiliar and hostile environment which is exactly what this show does albeit in a very different way. The Captain was a warmonger, the time period the show belongs to has the Federation in a state of War, the morality wasn’t quite as clear cut as it might have been in previous Star Trek shows and there was very little exploring. It’s easy to get bogged down in that and forget the little touches that brought out those better qualities. Characters like Stamets and Tilly were always excited about scientific breakthroughs, Burnham upheld the Federation principles consistently outside of being tested at different points and there was a growing sense of optimism as the season progressed due to the character relationships growing deeper.
This episode seems to address the idea that this isn’t a Star Trek show in the traditional sense by acknowledging how different it is and earning the right to become something more familiar. The Klingon War ends, the characters reaffirm their commitment to their values and there is a promise of seeking out new worlds. Every one of the main characters -except Saru- is promoted, Michael is pardoned and there’s an undercurrent of excitement about the next adventure. It suggests to me that this show will become something more traditional next season while retaining the modernity that has made it so unique among the canon. The cameo appearance of the Enterprise at the end of the episode could be symbolic of the movement towards becoming a more recognisable Star Trek show which suggests that this whole season has been in some way about earning that right.
I have mixed feelings about the appearance of the Enterprise in this episode. None of that has to do with the aesthetic as I think the slight redesign is wonderfully fitting with the visual style of this show. The ship looks enough like the original with a modern flourish which puts it far ahead of the JJ Abrams movies in terms of how it looks.
The problem I have with it is more to do with the staging. A trip to Vulcan to pick up the new Captain is interrupted by a distress call from a ship that turns out to be the Enterprise. The reveal is played like the declaration of the winner on a talent show by artificially building suspense with the suggestion that something huge is coming while waiting until the last second to reveal it. In short the moment is really cheesy and feels somewhat tacked on.
I do like the potential this brings. An earlier episode failed to measure up to its potential for me because there was a gap in Sarek and Burnham dealing with the lingering resentment over Sarek’s decision to favour Spock over her only to have that blow up in his face to some degree. Bringing the Enterprise into this show with Captain Pike commanding presumably with Spock on board. Sarek being on Discovery allows Michael and Sarek to address their connection to Spock and actually deliver on the references that have been dropped throughout the season.
Of course the next season could begin with the crew talking about that great adventure they had with the Enterprise crew that can be experienced in a tie in novel/comic. I hope that’s not the case as I think the family dynamic has a lot of mileage to it and should be explored with Spock being present. In terms of who will play Spock and Captain Pike I couldn’t even speculate though Zachary Quinto and Bruce Greenwood would be my first choice. It’s a dangerous choice to attempt another recast of these iconic characters if that’s what is going to happen and redesigning the Enterprise albeit slightly shows the courage of the production team of this show.
Despite all of the compelling character drama on display I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed by the finale as a whole. It’s an interesting choice to deliver a season finale that is bereft of action and can work out well if done correctly but this episode fails to excite throughout. As an exploration of characters and the completion of a very particular character arc it does what it sets out to do very well but a much better example of what a season finale could be can be found in “What’s Past Is Prologue“. That episode also concludes personal stories along with the overall narrative, delivers an exciting conclusion and teases an altered status quo for the show following these events. It’s admittedly a fairly dumb episode in many ways but it does accomplish what it sets out to do.
This episode is definitely more cerebral but it gets bogged down in confusing plotting such as what caves on Qo’Nos need to be mapped and spends far too much time in the Orion Embassy exploring the underwhelming debauchery that can be found there. Qo’Nos should be a highly dangerous and tense location but that doesn’t come across at all. The lack of focus on characters outside of Burnham, Tyler, Mirror Georgiou and L’Rell is also not in its favour. Season finales should be exciting, meaningful and impactful but this one falls short of the mark though does manage the latter two to varying degrees.
A well executed if somewhat underwhelming finale that does right by the characters and takes a firm moral stance on various important issues. The ideals of the Federation are rife for exploration thanks to the difficult position the presence of Mirror Georgiou places on Burnham and the other characters. She has been ordered to destroy Qo’Nos by Admiral Cornwell who is so desperate to preserve the Federation that she is willing to compromise everything she believes in. Burnham doesn’t accept this and mutinies for the right reasons with the full support of the crew. This brings her full circle and takes account of everything she has learned. The Klingon War comes to an end, the characters reaffirm their commitment to their principles and the promise of a more traditional Star Trek show is made. It’s really well executed character drama and makes excellent use of the unique structure of this show.
There are some problems in here as this isn’t all that exciting as a season finale with an earlier episode serving as a much better example. I gets bogged down in confusing plotting and spends too much time exploring the underwhelming debauchery of the Orion Embassy. Qo’Nos fails to feel dangerous and the episode in general doesn’t quite manage to be exciting, meaningful and impactful. It does accomplish the latter to to varying degrees but doesn’t manage to be exciting. The cameo appearance by the Enterprise is a nicely symbolic moment though it’s far too cheesy in its execution.
I would like to see the next season take a different approach to storytelling. Narratives that are driven by the characters and focused on their personal journeys are great and shouldn’t be cast aside but instead of telling a War story the next season should be more about peaceful exploration and the excitement that comes with scientific discovery. The name of the ship indicates the type of show this can be and it would be allow the characters to react differently.
Focusing on Michael Burnham and her journey was unique for the franchise but the next season should expand on this to become more of an ensemble. Digging into Tilly, Stamets and Saru as characters can only make them more interesting. I would also like to see the recurring roles such as Detmer receive more focus and actually be given definable characteristics making them a functioning part of the tapestry that makes up the show.
Naturally I would love to see what the bridge of the Enterprise looks like under the production umbrella of this show and I’m eager to see if the characters of Pike and Spock will be introduced to the world of this show. To my mind they should be and I’ll be disappointed if they aren’t.
One thing’s for sure it’ll be a long wait to have more Star Trek: Discovery but I am fascinated to see more.
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