This episode annoyed the hell out of me. Maybe because I was expecting something… significant, for the mid-season finale in an ostensibly highly-serialized show. Maybe because I think DISCO is trying to do “significant”, and I find its ideas of significance pretty horrifying.
SPOILERS, up through S1E09, plus a popular fan theory involving Ash Tyler.
This episode was a sort of (partial) capstone to the pilot. And the arcs that the pilot set off were (a) Burnham’s mutiny, her betrayal of crew and captain, and (b) the sparking of the war. And yet somehow this episode is all about… killing K’or?
Why is that even important? Who is K’or to Burnham? To Lorca? To me, the viewer?
He’s not the person who started the war (Burnham has already killed the person who did); he wasn’t even there. He’s not the one who killed Georgiou. He’s one opportunistic warlord in a whole empire of warlords, and killing one guy and blowing one ship is practically the most insignificant thing I can imagine.
(I mean, it saves Pahvo, I guess? Not that the show has actually bothered to introduce us to actual Pahvans; that’d be silly)
The episode puts all its weight on Burnham fighting K’ol aboard the Ship of the Dead. But those have no importance, nor are they given any. We get a moment of K’ol gloating “Hey, remember how you got your captain killed,” which, hey, yes we do, and none of it matters or makes an iota of a difference.
There is one nod to this, and one only:
Given the time I spent on that Klingon vessel, I'm the most qualified crew member to place those sensors.
Otherwise, I have no purpose here.
To which I say: ummm. What?
Burnham was on that Klingon ship, yes. She and Georgiou beamed directly onto the bridge, had a firefight with Klingons, and then Burnham was beamed right back.
How on Earth does that translate to “Burnham is the person best-equipped to do this”?
The answer, of course, is that she isn’t. But it’s very, very important to say that she is. Because otherwise we might realize that this action-packed spectacle of a finale doesn’t need Burnham at all. She has no purpose here.
Needless to say, nothing here even touches on Burnham’s actual flaws, or her supposed arc of redemption or acceptance. The underlying statement here seems to be that as long as Burnham’s fighting the same enemies against whom she failed and buckled and betrayed her own crew, then any victory she achieves against that enemy race, in any circumstances, is somehow “redemptive.” I have no words for how messed up that is — not to mention how unsatisfying.
(There is a significant war victory in this episode — the new countermeasure against cloaking devices. The thing is, that’s not Burnham’s victory. Burnham’s absolutely incidental to it (Stamets is much more central, and that’s fine). And it’s deeply weird to center so strongly on Burnham shooting and dueling Klingons, if what you think is actually important is the navigating and sciencing and tactifying. If Burnham’s significance this episode is enabling a whole bunch of other stuff to happen, then why is 100% of the focus on how well she stalls for time, and not on any of the actual work or accomplishments?)
The other major element of this episode was Tyler and his trauma.
On which, two short notes.
First note. Here’s Tyler:
But the thing is, if none of that had happened, I wouldn't be here.
On this ship.
And that almost makes it worth it.
No. No. NO. A million times, NO. This is an unimaginably fucked up sentiment.
Well, he’s a torture victim; maybe this is meant to be fucked up? Maybe this is intentionally warped and unhealthy, like the way Lorca is so warped and unhealthy? Quick, to the next line:
[Tyler] Is that weird?[Burnham] No. I'm glad you're here, too.
You get NO points for acknowledging trauma and male rape, if five minutes later you flip it around saying it’s “worth it” for a smidgen of a relationship that hasn’t even started yet. That’s just dismissing all of it; saying it’s something you’re going to just get over. Why, Tyler getting raped was practically an opportunity! That is MESSED. UP.
Nope. nope. Sorry, but nope. Just nop — oh, yeah, I had a second point.
Second point really is quick. It’s just this: This episode is trying really hard to get us to care about Tyler, and be pained on his behalf. Unfortunately, that falls 100% flat for me when I’m assuming that Tyler is actually an enemy spy (all but confirmed this episode in the Tyler/L’Rell scene, and also come on, where else has Voq been for the past five episodes?). All this romance and angst isn’t going anywhere except a big “never saw THAT coming, OH NOES” reveal. Which is probably the only reason they’re spending so much effort trying to get us to care about him now.
Sorry, DISCO. I see that you’re trying to do intrigue. Intrigue is super hard. And narrative twists need you to devote a heck of a lot more effort into actually building up a narrative.
So, what does this episode give us?
It pretends it’s showed us a huge milestone for Michael Burnham, when it really hasn’t.
It spends a ton of time trying to build sympathy for Ash Tyler, poorly, and probably only in order to pull a “gotcha” in a few episodes time.
And, I guess, the balance of the war has shifted? In some way, which we really haven’t established at all? Immediately before the Discovery leaps away from the war, into probably a whole different universe?
Well. I guess at least if Discovery makes it back to this universe, Lorca will have to change his catchphrase into “There’s a war going on, but our survival isn’t really under imminent threat any more, so I am super happy to follow protocol.”