This Star Trek: Discovery review contains spoilers.
Star Trek: Discovery Episode 15
Never let it be said that Star Trek: Discovery doesn’t know how to wrap things up. Many of the storylines addressed in the season finale didn’t have particularly solid middles, but their beginnings and ends were delivered with enthusiasm. This quality was on prominent display in tonight’s season finale, which made up for the unrealistic neatness with which it tied its season-ending bow by expanding this world for the first time in thorough and energetic ways.
We begin with something we haven’t gotten for this entire season: quadrant context. On one end of this episode’s geographic map: Quo’noS, the Klingon homeworld. On the other: Earth, our homeworld. They’re both in danger, though Quo’noS doesn’t know it yet. The Federation is about to risk everything, including their very principles, in an attempt to end this war. The plan? Emperor Georgiou, masquerading (for some reason) as the Phillippa Georgia from our world, will lead a team of Discos to drop a drone into one of the planet’s subterranean caverns in order to map the best targets for the Discovery to attack.
It’s the kind of vague plan that the Federation really shouldn’t have needed the Terran Emperor to come up with, but how else would Discovery neatly deliver the moral dilemma of this episode and season? We need Emperor Georgiou to act as the Terran devil whispering in the Federation’s ear, so that the Federation can, ultimately be the good guy. It’s a simple strategy, but one that Discovery is inevitably able to pull off.
As far as themes go, “How far will institutions and governments go for the safety of their people?” is a meaty one—a question that has pretty much always been relevant for America, with its military industrial industrial complex, to ask itself. We like to think of ourselves as explorers and diplomats, but we’re really soldiers first. That’s where much of our budget, resources, and institutional power go. And perhaps that’s why the more recent Star Trek stories have been so unable to give up the military/action angle and focus on the exploratory science that so defined the earliest series; it’s hard to tell stories of science when it’s been so de-prioritized in our society—though I would argue that’s why we need a more exploratory-based Star Trek more than ever.
At least we got an away mission in this episode, a Star Trek trope that Discovery hasn’t utilized very much in its first season. This one is to Quo’noS and it involves the Disco dream team of Georgiou, Burnham, Tilly, and Tyler. Yes, a still traumatized Tyler is being allowed to go on another mission, though at least he offers insight (of the Klingon) variety that the Discovery seemingly couldn’t get elsewhere. Our first look at Quo’noS is not of the seat of one of the planet’s many ruling families, but rather a black market district where the outcasts from many of the Federation’s planets land. There are down-on-their-luck humans, Orions looking to make a pretty isik, and Klingons looking for a good time.
Once there, the team splits up. Burnham and Tyler get thrown together to look for information about a specific shrine they must fine to release the drone. Of course, really, this is a narrative excuse for the two to talk about their issues. Tyler wants to be simply human, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that his identity is much more complicated than that. He speaks Klingon fluently, understands the nuance of the culture, and can remember everything Voq went through and felt. It’s a lot for Burnham, who explains to Tyler for the first time what happened to her family. They were killed by Klingons so unfazed by the gruesome act that they then sat down to eat the family’s dinner while a young Michael hid in a cabinet.
Tyler understands why Michael would hate both the Klingons and Tyler himself, but Michael informs him that she doesn’t hate them. She can’t de-“humanize” an entire species, even if they have caused her so much tragedy. Considering Klingons not only killed her parents in front of her, but also feasted on the meat of her mentor, this is a tremendous demonstration of empathy. It informs her feeling on their current mission: She doesn’t want to war to end at the cost of the deaths of more families, this time on Quo’noS. When she looks around this fringe black market, she doesn’t see a worthless backwater; she sees a community.
It’s a hell of a time for Burnham to realize she doesn’t want to resort to such tactics to end the war, given that the Emperor has been given the mission not to find Klingon targets, as the rest of the away team has been told, but rather to drop a bomb into the active volcanos of Quo’noS that will destroy the entire planet. It’s the plan Sarek and Admiral Cornwell were discussing at the end of last episode, and it’s one that would forever change the direction of the Federation and Starfleet. In the most thematically-resonant scene of the entire episode, Michael confronts Cornwell about it, threatening another mutiny if she doesn’t call it all off.
It’s a bold move, one that is treated very differently from Michael’s first attempted mutiny—both by Michael’s fellow Starfleet officers and by the show itself. Here, it is a heroic bid, a last stand for the soul of Starfleet. And it’s a risk that pays off. Saru and the rest of the (still, mostly character-less) bridge crew backs Michael up on. This moment would have held more weight if we have gotten to know these familiar faces at all over the course of the season, or if we had seen Michael struggle with this moral dilemma over the course of the season, but it still strikes a chord for a show that has, thus far, only flirted with the institutional optimism Star Trek has always been known for.
Sufficed to say, Cornwell calls it off and it’s left to Burnham to stop Emperor Georgiou from detonating the bomb and destroying all of Quo’noS. In the tete-a-tete that follows, Georgiou asks Burnham to join her in leveraging the bomb for galactic power, but Burnham refuses. If she’s not going to destroy Quo’noS to ensure the safety of the Federation, then she’s sure as hell not going to do it for the acquisition of personal power.
Georgiou still looks tempted to go for it, but, when Michael declares she will have to kill her first and will then be hunted to the ends of the galaxy, Georgiou decides it is too much trouble. Emperor Georgiou has never felt more like a real character—she isn’t evil for evil’s sake; she’s evil for power and the life that comes with that power. Sure, some people just want to watch the world burn, but most people need an actual reason to light the match.
Rather than give the power of Quo’noS’ fate to Starfleet, Burnham transfers it to L’Rell, hoping that her bid for power will serve as a unifying force for the Klingon Empire. It’s the kind of gamble that I, personally, would not have felt comfortable making. L’Rell is a Klingon that shown a capacity to listen and learn in her interactions with Cornwell, but she is also a Klingon prisoner who has more or less been in solitary confinement for the last few weeks or so. (Um, how much time has passed on this show for the crew of Discovery?) Outside of this story, this is a terrible decision. Inside of this episode, where the watchword is “empathy,” it’s an inspiring moment. We know L’Rell has the ability to empathize because we have seen her care about Tyler past his identity as Voq, and we saw her give Cornwell insight into how to end the war.
Ultimately, because this is a neat bow-tying of an episode, the decision is a good one. L’Rell leverages the bomb for control of the Klingon Empire. So, as it stands now, L’Rell is the leader of a unified Klingon Empire, which has pulled its forces back from attacking the Federation. It’s seemingly the start of a new era for Klingon and, while the moment doesn’t feel particularly earned by this show, I’m excited to see where this storyline goes in Season 2. L’Rell is one of the characters who has seen the most growth in Season 1, and remains the only Klingon character (if you don’t count TyVoq), who is nuanced in any real way.
With Tyler deciding to return to the Klingons with L’Rell, it seems like Discovery is committed to continuing this exploration of the Klingon Empire in Season 2. It seems like Tyler wants to use his truly unique status as both human and Klingon, and neither human nor Klingon, to help shape future relations between the two peoples. Will Tyler try to mellow out the Klingons a bit? Will they listen to a Klingman? What kind of relationship will Tyler and L’Rell have now, if any? Will Tyler and Burnham ever see each other again?
That last question is the one that gets the most play in the season finale, as we see Ash and Michael say goodbye to one another in the shadows of the Quo’noS night. “I will miss looking at your face,” an emotional Ash tells Michael (and, man, does Shazad Latif slay the delivery of this line). “I see you,” Michael tells Ash, another way of saying “I love you,” and also possibly the sweetest thing you can say to someone who has suffered through some kind of dual personality squash and is going through an intense identity crisis. They kiss, and part ways… hopefully to both find some excellent therapists. (Do Klingons have therapists? Probably not.)
While Tyler heads off with the Klingons, Michael returns to Earth, marking the first time we’ve been on the planet in this series. The location? Future Paris, to the Federation headquarters. (Are we getting sick of San Francisco or something?) Michael meets up with her parents, Sarek and Amanda, who check in with their adopted daughter following the traumatic last few months. Amanda, who I would like to see given more to do in Season 2, is happy to see her daughter, while Sarek speaks of his gratitude for Michael’s decision on the Quo’noS mission. Without it, he would have been part of a mission that made an entire species endangered. That’s a hard one to logic your way out of.
It is Sarek who gives Michael the news that she has been reinstated as a Starfleet Commander, an awkward reminder of how often this show manages to eschew real consequences for its characters. (Though Georgiou’s line that we don’t get second chances was a particularly poignant one, the first time that this show truly embraced the idea that our Mirror Universe doppelgängers are not the same as we are—we are, all of us, unique and, when we die, that uniqueness is gone forever.)
It’s all part of a sequence that sees the crew of the Discovery given commendations for their work, presumably both in the Mirror Universe and on Quo’noS (because isn’t it all connected). It’s a different kind of context than the geographic markers we got in this episode’s opening minutes. It’s the first time Starfleet has felt like more than a few sparsely-manned ships, to be honest, and I would love to see more of this context in Season 2.
The Discovery crew embarks to Vulcan to pick up its new captain… Which, first of all, who could it be? And, second of all, why can’t Saru be captain? I think he deserves a promotion after his work commanding this crew in some of the most dire of high-stakes situations. Captain Saru with First Officer Burnham is not only a great combination, but one that feels cyclical from where this show started out. When we first met these two, Saru and Burnham were at complimentary odds as Georgiou’s #1 and #2. Michael’s decision to mutiny fractured the trust that made them such a good command pair. I’d like to think that their time on the Discovery has rebuilt that trust.
Whoever ends up captaining the Discovery in Season 2, it’s not the most pressing question that Season 1 ends with. That has everything to do with the USS Enterprise, which causes the Discovery to drop out of warp on its way to Vulcan to answer its distress signal. As this is 10 years before the events of The Original Series, this isn’t the Enterprise under the command of Captain Kirk, but rather the Enterprise under the command of Captain Christopher Pike. Pike was the captain in the original pilot of The Original Series, “The Cage,” which is set 11 years before Kirk’s time, and served as Spock’s commanding officer before Kirk did. This leads us to the big question: Will Spock be in Season 2 of Discovery?
Going by the looks Sarek and Michael give each other in the finale’s final moments, I suspect that Spock is on that ship—or at least is meant to be. Could the distress signal mean that some of the Enterprise’s crew is missing or in danger? There are many reasons why the ship could have sent that call for help out, but very few eventualities in which Sarek and Michael do not at least ask about their son/brother. If this is where Discovery has been heading all along, to the exploration of a pre-Kirk Enterprise, it’s an odd detour of a way to get there. If this is more of a reference than an arc and characters that will be thoroughly explored in Season 2, then I hope Discovery does this cliffhanger justice in some way before moving on to whichever story it wants to tell.
Either way, I hope Discovery stays more focused in Season 2. These past 15 episodes have been a hell of a ride, but I’m not sure Discovery has ever been fully in control of its narrative path or that I have always fully trusted it with its story. For now, it’s enough that this weird, wonderful, diverse version of Star Trek is on the air, but I’d like to see this show truly hit warp after a wobbly, sublight first season. It is a Star Trek tradition.
The finale begins with a voiceover from Michael, which we later find out is part of her speech to Starfleet. I miss this narrative device, which we saw more in the beginning of the season, but it was pretty disorienting without the context of the speech.
Watching Michael interact with Amanda and Sarek separately really put into focus how unwilling Discovery is to write character-driven scenes with more than two people. It’s like characters have to pair up for their character development. My friend and co-watcher also pointed out that Discovery isn’t so good at scene featuring only one character, either.
Stamets doesn’t get much to do in this episode, but he gets even more to do than poor, still-deceased Hugh, who is depicted as a medal in Stamets’ hands during the commendation ceremony. I’m trying to hold on with this not-Bury Your Gays storyline, Disco, but it’s getting difficult.
Um, why doesn’t Amanda travel with Sarek to Vulcan? She’s just really into Future Paris, maybe?
Speaking of Future Paris, its mentioned as a location of a Starfleet Headquarters in The Next Generation episode “We’ll Always Have Paris.” I still wish this scene were set in San Francisco.
If you guys were wondering, Tilly has been accepted into the command program, a fact which she acknowledges with a bold, delighted wink.
Per the usual, Tilly is an absolute scene-stealer in this entire episode. From her realization that she is eating space whale to her declaration that she is high, there is not a moment when she is on screen when she is not delightful.
Was it just me or was everyone holding their communicators in this episode like Captain Kirk does in The Original Series, all cool and casual-like?
“Be good, Phillippa.” Sonequa Martin-Green’s performance has been consistently good this entire season, but she is asked to carry a lot of this episode’s big moments, and she does it with an empathy and consistency that guarantees this episode will work. Discovery has made some missteps in its first season, but one of its great victories has been bringing this character to life, and so much of that success has been up to Martin-Green’s casting.
Michelle Yeoh seemed to have so much fun in this episode. From her double-meaning banter on the bridge with Michael and Saru to her more honest heart-to-heart with Michael on the planet of Quo’noS, from the demonstration of her martial arts skills in her beating up of L’Rell to her gleeful threesome, Emperor Georgiou was loving life in a way most characters (aside from Mudd and maybe Tilly) have not been allowed to on this show thus far.
See you next season, Disco-ers.