Star Trek: Discovery – Season 2 Episode 5
“Saints of Imperfection”
Star Trek: Discovery has the crew embark on a daring rescue mission to retrieve Tilly from the clutches of the Mycelial Network.
The search for Spock is really becoming tedious. Yes I do want to make use of that title reference as much as I can but the point still stands. Each week there is some discussion about finding Spock to learn what his connection to the Red Bursts mystery is. This is in service of furthering the main season plot in an effort to make the episodic storytelling feel purposeful. On one level it doesn’t make sense for the crew to abandon their priority one mission to deal with weekly distractions but framing each story with mentions of the ongoing plot only reminds the audience that the story exists rather than actually furthering it.
This episode picks up from last week with the Discovery in pursuit of Spock’s shuttle. It’s making a dash for a nebula where it will be able to hide so Pike orders a photon torpedo to be fired and detonated near enough to the shuttle to disable it. Unfortunately the occupant is Georgiou, not Spock. She mentions that his shuttle was adrift when she caught up to it with no sign of Spock though it’s unclear why she decided to pilot it and give Discovery the runaround other than the writers wanted the shock value of Georgiou emerging from the shuttle instead of Spock. It’s possible she was heading back to the Section 31 ship though that doesn’t make sense either as she must have used a ship to catch up with Spock’s shuttle in the first place. I like this show but the writers often focus on a reveal without building a proper framework to have that reveal make sense.
As I’ve mentioned before, Discovery revolves around Michael Burnham so most of what happens has to emotionally connect to her in some way. If Spock had been on the shuttle the emotional connection would have been hers while also tying into Pike. Georgiou is a very different emotional connection for Burnham as she represents a dark reflection of her former Captain, friend, mentor and -arguably- mother figure. Seeing her face is a constant reminder to Burnham of the mistake she made in the first episode that led to her death and she has reservations about the former Emperor of the Terran Empire being given such freedom to operate. Her mistrust of Georgiou and anger in all of her interactions make for a fun dynamic between them that feels earned. Georgiou’s mention of being invested in Starfleet needs further exploration and it’s clear she still has a soft spot for Burnham as shown by her putting the Section 31 ship in further danger to buy Discovery and Burnham a few more minutes.
Despite the narrative convenience of her appearance it’s always good to see more Michelle Yeoh and the fleshing out of Section 31 is interesting. The most compelling thing about it how different the organisation is in comparison to its depiction in Deep Space 9 and Enterprise. In this show it’s a well known covert ops arm of either the Federation or Starfleet Command with its own funding, ships, tech and personnel. They have more advanced tech than the rest of Starfleet such as the adaptive camouflage system on the ship -possibly a reference to the Romulan ship seen in Enterprise– and comm badges instead of the hand held communicators used by everyone else. In Deep Space 9 and Enterprise, Section 31 was known only to those who were a part of it and some Admirals here and there. Granted in Enterprise its relationship to Starfleet Command was never officially clarified so it could simply have been a covert branch of the pre-Federation Starfleet that Archer hadn’t been told about. Either way it doesn’t matter as there was something seedy about it in both shows and it was made clear that they were as much an adversary as anything else threatening the characters.
Star Trek Into Darkness isn’t many years removed from this and as much as I loathe to acknowledge that film it’s conceivable that their depiction of the organisation being a recognised covert branch of the Federation/Starfleet most likely predates the divergence of the two timelines so there is precedent for this in some way.
In Discovery Section 31 has the same objective as Pike and the crew have. The Red Bursts are priority one and since Spock seems to have a connection to them he is the current objective for both parties. How they go about finding him and what will happen after they do is likely to be entirely different but Starfleet sanctions Discovery and Section 31’s involvement equally. This may be seen as a continuity error or inconsistency by some but I don’t believe it is. My theory is that Section 31 is going to undergo an arc of some kind whether it be in this show or in the announced spin-off headed up by Michelle Yeoh as Georgiou. What we may eventually see is the agency being disavowed and forced to go underground to continue carrying out its mission statement.
For that to happen they’ll have to be responsible for something that absolutely can’t ever be tied back to Starfleet so it will be pinned on a rogue agency that can be wiped out to maintain peace. Meanwhile they will continue to operate as those in power look away. It’s possible that the Section 31 series will take place after they have been disavowed and chronicle the sorts of missions they undertake when there is no actual oversight.
It’s fascinating to have Section 31 along for the ride in this instance as it allows for some effective contrasts to be made. Pike represents the pinnacle of Starfleet values. He favours honesty, non violence and sticking to his straightforward yet admirable principles. Georgiou represents the grey area and the less than ethical actions that some feel have to be taken for the greater good. In short, Georgiou is more than happy to get her hands dirty where Pike isn’t. Both are valid positions to take given the context and there’s a debate to be had over which is more realistic. Pike’s values certainly seem to be working for him considering where he is in his career but he may soon be faced with a situation where the only choice that can be made is one that might be difficult to live with. Lorca had no problem with such decisions for obvious reasons but I could see Pike being hesitant in that situation. Whether he will always have someone like Georgiou around to take the choice away from him remains to be seen but I’d personally prefer to see him faced with such a choice and explore how he would react to it. His morality has been established so it’s time to test it.
Having the two sides of the argument be represented by two characters is a common storytelling device both in Star Trek and in many TV shows; it simplifies the argument in a way that’s easily accessible to an audience and ties into who the characters are as people so it can function as meaningful character development if deployed correctly. The reemergence of Admiral Cornwell who tasks both sides with working the problem together forces them to butt heads on these issues which neatly ties the debate into the ongoing story. It’s a great setup and is rife for exploration.
There are small touches that highlight the differences between Section 31 and the standard Starfleet model. For example Section 31 agents are able to force their transmissions to be received on Discovery therefore giving Pike no warning or choice over whether to address them. It’s a clear violation of privacy and makes for an interesting way for Georgiou or Leland to have Pike on the back foot. Another example from the other side is that this is the first episode this season where a weapons has been fired either by Discovery or one of her crew aside from the accidental phaser blast in “New Eden“. It’s a different storytelling approach to season 1 and highlights Pike’s values.
On a character level I found the interactions between Pike and Georgiou to be immensely watchable. Pike remembers her from the Academy because of course he does. Apparently modern Star Trek can’t get away from there only being a handful of people skilled enough to do anything. Convenience aside it’s a good way to establish a prior relationship between Pike and our universe’s version of Georgiou in order to further explore his growing unease with the situation. It doesn’t take him long for him to feel unsettled as it becomes clear to him that he isn’t talking to the person he knew. Once again he favours honesty and can’t get on board with what’s going on because he feels that he isn’t being told the whole story. He asks Burnham about it and she confirms that there is a wider conversation to be had about the things he doesn’t understand. It’s enough for him at this point but he makes it clear that Burnham should come to him with the relevant information before too long.
The writers are doing really well with the Pike/Burnham dynamic as there is a mutual respect developing between them that isn’t quite there yet. Burnham is at the point where she is willing to trust Pike with the knowledge of an alternate universe despite being sworn to secrecy herself and Pike is open to trusting that she will be upfront with him. The gradually developing dynamic feels organic as the steps towards natural trust aren’t being rushed.
Section 31 are also represented by Leland (Alan Van Sprang) who Pike also knows. It makes a certain kind of sense as Pike is in the top pedigree of Starfleet officers so would naturally be in the company of those on a similar level. They don’t spend a lot of time together but the episode does a great job of quickly delivering a summary of their relationship. The tone of their conversations are light hearted and friendly which clearly shows that they are comfortable around one another even if Pike doesn’t completely trust him.
Another person Pike doesn’t completely trust is Tyler; he’s sent aboard Discovery as the Section 31 liaison because someone in that organisation must have a sense of humour considering any other agent outside of Georgiou wouldn’t be a potential distraction for Burnham. Perhaps that’s the point although I’m not sure why that could be. There’s not much to say about the Burnham/Tyler relationship at this point other than it’s about as awkward as you might expect given the outlandish circumstances all over the place. It’s still a fun dynamic and now that he’s back on Discovery for the time being there’s plenty of opportunity to see where this will go.
As for Pike and Tyler there’s definitely a long way to go. Pike is projecting his mistrust of Section 31 onto Tyler in part because he knows about Tyler’s past and doesn’t necessarily believe that there is no trace of Voq within him. As before Pike likes those who are honest and Tyler is very much the personification of dishonesty being a Klingon made to look Human working for a clandestine black ops organisation. As such he follows liaison protocol to the letter which means that he’s not privy to certain conversations, told to stay on the Bridge as per the protocol and not even given the right to speak unless he’s directly addressed. It may seem harsh but it’s the only way Pike can keep control of the situation.
This is one of those episodes where the main plot is less interesting than the secondary plot though that doesn’t make it bad. It’s a fairly standard rescue mission that doesn’t make full use of the potential it has. Tilly being kidnapped by May in order to kill a monster that’s threatening her species within the Mycelial Network ties into the communication idea that the previous episode was playing with. May seemed entirely hostile last week but upon further examination she appears to be doing what she felt necessary in order to ensure the well-being of her people. This changes the narrative somewhat from Discovery’s Spore Drive being what was killing her people so I’m not sure if that’s still a thing but the idea of understanding May’s true intentions and having her actions turning out to be an elaborate distress call is a great example of how careful we should all be when interpreting the actions of others.
Tilly agrees to help following her initial reluctance after being brought her against her will because she’s Starfleet and fully believes in the values that define the organisation. A distress call must be answered and she approaches the situation professionally. She could also be looking for a personal catharsis by making up for how she treated the real May by doing right by this one though the episode doesn’t really explore this if that was the intention. The existence of a distress call and Tilly being a Starfleet officer is more than enough justification for her to take action.
Thankfully she almost immediately gets help when Discovery does a half jump which wedges her between normal space and the Mycelial Network. Pike likens it to a doorstop which about the best simple explanation there could be. Stamets and Burnham cross over into the network to retrieve Tilly and end up helping her with May’s problem before bringing her back.
This is where the episode gets weird. It turns out that the “monster” is Doctor Culber who is alive within the network because Stamets somehow created a duplicate of him when he served as a physical link to it. This is all fairly well explained though I’m not sure how scientific it all is. It also has the problem of Stamets coming to conclusions without really having enough information to do so. This is a problem common to all of Star Trek so old habits most certainly die hard. Usually a character will explain everything to the audience so that the plot can move on and that’s exactly what happens here. All of this talk of Culber being duplicated within the network because Stamets in his delirium willed it so is something of a stretch but it allows this character to come back which is no bad thing. There was a lot of justifiable criticism of the first stable same sex relationship depicted in Star Trek history being ended by a death used for little more than shock value. This doesn’t entirely make up for that decision but goes some way towards rectifying it.
One of my major concerns with this is that the writers are once again using the Spores as a reason for something seemingly impossible happening. They are effectively magic at this point which makes Discovery less of a science fiction show than I’d like. Pike’s line about going on faith to accept the Spore Drive in the first episode of the season is suddenly more resonant given this situation. In fairness at least incomprehensible technobabble is largely avoided so that’s something.
There is some good science in the episode through the exploration of the basic scientific principle that nothing can be created or destroyed in the universe. Creation or destruction is actually alteration. This applies within the Mycelial Network when Culber can’t cross over into normal space because the energy that created him isn’t comparable. This leads to s well acted goodbye scene between Culber and Stamets showing the strength of their connection far better than the on the nose description of their third date. It’s not actually a goodbye as there’s a magic solution involving a cocoon birthed in our universe to transport him out of the network. The explanation is easy to understand as it makes use of that simple scientific principle even if it feels like a convenient fix. There is also an awkward motivational speech from Tilly to May about finding each other across the universe and anything being possible that doesn’t quite work.
The action on Discovery was a nice throwback to Trek of old. It ticked all the boxes such as a ticking clock, exploding consoles, rising percentages as indicators of increased urgency and a shaking bridge causing people to flail around. The major difference that makes deploying these old school Trek Tropes effective here is that there are meaningful character stakes elsewhere that enhance the dramatic tension. That ticking clock is the time they have to save Tilly and layer Culber. The fact that the crew put their lives on the line after a genuinely inspiring speech by Pike about risking themselves for the sake of another officer adds to this greatly as there is a palpable sense of determination attached to the situation. This combines with the strong acting from Anthony Rapp and Sonequa Martin-Green clearly highlighting their friendship with Tilly and how deeply her loss would affect them especially with Stamets already dealing with loss and being extra determined not to experience it again. Combining all of this with classic Trek Tropes is nostalgia done right and makes for a capable update of the franchise.
A strong episode that offers an intriguing character driven clash of values and an expansion of gaining understanding through communications. Georgiou’s presence in the episode comes from a contrived setup lazily connected to the ongoing search for Spock but having her around is very useful in a lot of ways. As with most things on this show it connects to Burnham on a personal level but also links to Pike who acts as the physical representation of the core Starfleet values where Georgiou is very much the opposite with her morally grey approach. Pike valuing honesty is brought up a number of times such as his mistrust of Georgiou when he realises that there’s something off about the woman he once knew and his treatment of Tyler who is the personification of dishonesty as far as he’s concerned. It’s consistently handled and feeds into the naturally growing Pike/Burnham dynamic.
The main plot is less interesting and features magic spores once again in order to resurrect Culber. This strays too far into the realm of fantasy for me though there is good science through the basic principle of creation and destruction actually being alteration. It plays into the resurrecting nicely by demonstrating that principle. Culber coming back isn’t a bad thing as it goes some of the way towards rectifying a rightly criticised aspect of season 1 in the treatment of the first same sex couple in Star Trek history. The action on Discovery was a refreshing and meaningful callback to old school Trek Tropes while creating meaningful stakes attached to them. It’s nostalgia done right and makes for a meaningful update of the franchise.
- Pike and Georgiou acting as the embodiment of clashing values
- consistent application of Pike’s core principles
- the promise of an engaging Section 31 arc
- going some way towards making up for killing Culber
- nostalgia done right through the meaningful application of classic Trek Tropes
- making good use of a basic scientific principle
- a tenuous connection to the ongoing mystery bringing Georgiou aboard
- contrivances around Pike knowing both Georgiou and Leland
- further examples of magical spores solving problems
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