This Star Trek: Discovery review contains spoilers.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, Episode 12
When storytelling is at its best, you don’t see the strings. Characters are motivated by qualities they have been previously depicted to possess based on backstory we understand or are understanding. Plot develops organically, spurred by elements like the actions of character and the quirks of setting—the worldbuilding. Star Trek: Discovery, a show set in one of the most popular and richly-realized narrative universes in modern mainstream storytelling, has a worldbuilding problem.
“Through the Valley of Shadows” is an episode in which plot happen, but none of it particularly feels informed by the world or characters—both of which have, honestly, been pretty inconsistent over the course of the show’s run so far, which makes their unmotivated actions here somehow simultaneously both less and more frustrating. We still don’t totally know who most of these characters are, so why wouldn’t they act in this way? But, also, we still don’t totally know who most of these characters are, which is pretty infuriating two seasons in.
In tonight’s episode, characters respond to stimuli, but their decisions to move forward feel spurred by the plot rather than any genuine character motivation. When Burnham and Spock notice a Section 31 ship is late on a check-in, they decide to investigate in the hopes that it will lead them to more information about Control and Dr. Burnham. Why do they have information about the check-in times of Section 31, a subgroup of Starfleet was highly secretive before it was taken over by an all-powerful rogue A.I.? I guess Tyler gave them the access codes or something? This show doesn’t care.
So Spock and Burnham set out, finding a ship that has jettisoned all of its cure into the cold grip of outer space, killing all but one of them… Lieutenant Gant, a character Michael served with on the Shenzhou. (Pro tip: If you need to remind viewers who a character is via the use of flashback, they’re probably not worth bringing back.) Rather than becoming suspicious of the durability of this one officer, Burnham and Spock set about teaming up with Gant to figure out what the heck Control is up to.
Unsurprisingly, Gant ends up being a Control-controlled body. He was biding his time until he could get Michael alone so he could take her over. So, I guess this means he floated everyone on the ship and then hung out in outer space until Michael and Spock showed up, assuming that they would notice the 10-minute-late check-in one Section 31 ship made? I don’t know—I’ve given up on Control’s motivations, too.
I’m not sure why the A.I. wants to take over the universe and kill all sentient life, but from Control!Gant’s ramblings, it sounds like it has something to do with preventing wars like the one the Federation just had with the Klingons. It’s the classic be careful what you wish for: Section 31 created a threat assessment program to prevent future wars, and said program came up with the perfect solution of killing all sentient life. That for sure takes care of the war problem.
Anyway, Spock and Michael make it out OK, but it involves a pretty stupid scene in which Michael shoots at a swarm of A.I. nanorobots taking different shapes as to make a convenient target while Spock comes up with a long-term solution that has something to do with magnets and the ship floor. The big takeaway? Control thinks Michael is a major threat to their evil plan.
While Michael and Spock are off gallivanting across space, Captain Pike is fully committed to continuing to follow the Signals. Because why not? The latest leads him to Boreth, the Klingon planet you may remember from earlier in the season when TyVoq dropped his and L’Rell’s secret baby off there to be raised in seclusion by Klingon monks.
Well, apparently, the Klingon monk orphanage is also chock full of Time Crystals, that handy element that fuels Dr. Burnham’s time-travel suit. L’Rell pops up long enough to grant Pike access to the planet (but why?). So Pike gets cozy in his Starfleet-issued parka, and heads down to the planet to convince the Klingon Time Crystal guardians/monks/orphans to give him a Time Crystal… for reasons. Because it would be cool to have one? Because time travel hasn’t already caused enough problems? Because the Federation, or anyone, should have that kind of power?
At first, the Time Crystal Guardian seems disinclined to give Pike a Time Crystal. Then, he makes up a weird ultimatum that Pike can have the Time Crystal, but only if he first survives getting a glimpse into his future, and then accepts that path—because, for some unexplained reason, giving Pike the crystal will ensure that he ends up paralyzed in a terrible training accident, the consequences of which we first saw depicted in The Original Series. Never you mind that Pike now has a Time Crystal and could, technically, change the future with it.
Personally, I would have been horrifed by the nightmare of the future Pike sees for himself, which manages to be even more gruesome and depressing than what we saw depicted in The Original Series, and would probably seriously consider trying to change the future—especially because there is no reason for us to believe that there couldn’t be a better future in which Pike doesn’t get seriously and permanently injured. But Pike isn’t the type. He is a full-on Boy Scout.
You know what type he is, though? The kind to order the self-destruction of the Discovery in order to destroy the sphere data that Control needs to end the world. Honestly, if the DISCO crew had just sat down in Pike’s ready room and brainstormed some ideas, they probably could have come up with this plan and avoided doing any of the things they did in this episode, which makes this episode extra pointless.
With Section 31’s entire fleet knocking at Discovery’s door, blowing up one ship seems like a small price to pay for saving all sentient life on the galaxy… even if it is a ship that we all have grown fond of. Maybe we could have just skipped this entire episode and started with this scene?
When storytelling is at its best, you don’t see the strings. Unfortunately, “Through the Valley of Shadows” was all strings.
While I’m not sure how Boreth fits into how we’ve seen the Klingons represented on Discovery so far, its depiction was the best this show has been when it comes to depicting already-canon alien planets. The scenes on Boreth were beautiful, and it was nice to see a more complex depiction of Klingon culture, even if I still have no idea how it relates to every other Klingon depiction we’ve seen previously seen on the show.
Oh yeah, the Time Crystal Guardian is none other than L’Rell and TyVoq’s grown son (played by frequent Klingon Kenneth Mitchell). He seems like a total badass, and pretty well-adjusted for a kid who was once a baby whose murder was faked. Did they seriously do this whole, stupid storyline for this reveal?
I love how Ash is like: But why can’t I go to Boreth? And L’Rell’s all like: Because you’re supposed to be dead, remember? But, also, it seems like their kid is the only Klingon who lives there and he knows all about his secret parentage, so: ¯_(ツ)_/¯.
The Klingons, as represented in Discovery thus far, do not seem like the types not to use a weapon like Time Crystals to win a war. Just saying.
I’m really angry L’Rell’s entire Season 2 storyline has been a half-baked secret baby plot. I was promised the Mother of Klingons, dammit!
Amanda Grayson is back this episode to do some part-time parenting.
Meanwhile, Stamets is the saddest Starfleet officer to ever sad, and Reno has very little empathy. It’s been weeks—weeks, I tell you—since Hugh moved out of Paul’s quarters, so how is he not over it, asks Reno. You’d think she would be extra empathetic, given that, apparently (backstory alert!), she lost her partner in the Klingon war. But nope.
Meanwhile, Hugh still doesn’t seem to have a therapist following his death and resurrection. Our long, national nightmare continues.