Who had Epic Space Battle Unlike Anything Before Seen on Television? Because I sure didn’t.
If you told me this time last season that Star Trek: Discovery would end its second season with a visually-stunning space skirmish that wouldn’t forget its characters and plot in the process of trying to Be Super Cool™, then I might not have believed you—even if you had wings and called yourself the Red Angel. I am very glad to see my expectations proven wrong, and to see how far Star Trek: Discovery has come in its second season.
The Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 finale is very much the second half of a two-parter. If “Part 1” of “Such Sweet Sorrow” was about building the stakes for the epic battle to come, then “Part 2” is about following through on risking those stakes. There aren’t a lot of plot twists in this final hour—everyone, The Original Series fans and not alike, can see the writing on the wall going into this season-ender—and the show is much the better for resisting the urge to try to shock the viewers.
Plot twists are overrated, and this show has proven on more than one occasion that it is not very good at them. Instead, plot-wise, we mostly get what we signed up for. Michael leads the Discovery through time, presumably never to return. Spock is unable to go with. The “mystery” of the Red Angel is tied up in a bow and presented to us: Michael was the one who was sending the signals, making sure that the Discovery would have everything it would need to defeat Control in battle and travel through time, forever keeping the Sphere data from falling into the wrong hands.
(It’s unclear why Discovery couldn’t just stay after Georgiou killed Control, especially given that of course it is just as likely that there are going to be people and robots in the future that could use the Sphere data for their personal gain. But shhh! I want to travel into the future. Let’s not mention it to anyone.)
The art of the Discovery finale is all in the execution, and let’s all take a moment to appreciate director Olatunde Osunsanmi’s work here. This episode is almost entirely a space battle, taking place on different ships, all with a myriad of characters, scenarios, and locations within them.
We have large-scale exterior shots set in space, and we have lots of interior scenes with different characters doing different things. We need to understand how each location relates to the others in terms of both space and time, and the episode needs to do all of this without also losing track of why we should care about all of it, both collectively and in terms of its parts. A lot of this is script and performance, but more of—in this action-heavy episode—is direction.
If that weren’t enough, Osunsanmi is also given the challenges of recapping the Red Angel plot, traveling through time, and recreating the bridge of the Enterprise (complete with OG uniforms and OG beardless Spock). Oh yeah, and they also pop down to San Fran for a Starfleet Headquarters scene that is visually very different from everything else in the episode.
How does he pull it off? With a lot of visual effects. From the fireworks-like chaos of the space battle to Michael being pulled through a time-bubble to the visual reminders of just how gorgeous the planet rendering has been over the past season, this episode was a joy to watch from an aesthetic perspective. Some may have found the battle sequences too chaotic, especially by the time the Klingons and the Ba’ul/Kelpians showed up to help the Enterprise and Discovery fight Control, but I was too busy reveling in the wonder of how this story managed to pull everything together in this final episode to notice.
The signals, while not a particularly good mystery, worked well to give the season the kind of consistent, quest-like structure that Season 1 was lacking. If you’re going to wander off the well-trodden road of the season-long, plot-driven arc that is so common in modern TV, then you need a strong commitment to theme. Given that Discovery is still trying on themes (picture your classic rom-com wardrobe montage), plot was a good choice. (Though the balance between faith and logic was an effective, if not totally original theme to explore in Season 2.)
In terms of tying the The Original Series elements back into the larger Star Trek universe before Discovery peaced off forever, the show did an admirable, if sometimes clunky job. I think Season 2’s inclusion of Pike’s character was, for the most part, a resounding success. Aside from the reservations I still have about how his character’s fate is framed—a framing that is inherent in the original story and not adequately (at least for my tastes) addressed here—Pike’s character has had a chance to grow and flourish in a way he never had a chance to in previous canon.
Spock’s character worked less well for me—probably because he already has so much narrative space elsewhere in the canon and there is, therefore, less new truth to easily be revealed about his character. Spock’s character grew on me as the season progressed and he became a part of a larger ensemble rather than given narrative prioritization the character had not earned within this series.
In terms of fitting it back into canon come season’s end, the agreement that Spock, Sarek, and Amanda make never to speak about Michael around others again feels so forced—as does Spock, Number One, Pike, and Tyvoq’s decision to say the Discovery was destroyed. At this point, I’m not sure what we’re supposed to believe about Starfleet. Here, they’re treated like a shady organization that cannot be trusted, even by someone as idealistic as Pike. Section 31 was certainly a misstep for Starfleet, but this series has never done a good enough job defining what the Federation looks like here for this explanation to have the context it needs to work.
That being said, the final moments between Spock and Michael were wonderful. It may have been very cheesy and oddly specific for Michael to basically tell Spock to go become best friends with A Kirk-Shaped Force of Nature, but this part is some solid advice: “There is a whole galaxy out there full of people who will reach for you. You have to let them.”
I think Discovery has always over-estimated how much I care about Michael setting Spock on the path to become the character we know and love in The Original Series and beyond. I’ve only ever needed to know how Michael has shaped Spock (and vice versa) in the context of this show, in the context of family and being outsiders and never giving up one another.
“You came into our lives and you taught me it was possible to follow both [the path of my mother and the path of my father],” Spock tells his sister. “That was never me,” she tells him. “That was always you.”
“I’ll send the last signal to let you know I’m OK,” Michael promises her little brother—even now, when she is about to make an uncertain jump through time, she is looking after him. “I will watch the stars for it,” Spock tells her, and we believe him. Because Michael never lost him. Not really.
This show is at its best when it stands on its own two feet, when it treats Discovery as an ensemble (as a family), and when it lets Michael do what she does best: demonstrate empathy and take a leaps of faith, sometimes in only a supersuit through the vacuum of space and the uncertainties of time.
“Go, go, go,” Po chants as Michael and Discovery make their run for the wormhole and the next, great frontier for this franchise. Star Trek: Discoveryis finally boldly going where no previous Star Trek show has gone before, per the tradition. While the show has done a better job this second season, I am excited to see a version of this show that isn’t constantly looking to its left to check with canon.
Let’s go explore strange new times, fam. Spock is watching the stars for it.
For those keeping track at home, here’s who traveled with the Discovery through time: Tilly, Reno, Saru, Michael, Stamets, Culber, Nhan, Joann, Bryce, Reese, Georgiou (hey, what’s she doing there?—isn’t she supposed to have her own show?), and The Blond Lady We Showed Up Last Episode Out of Nowhere And Whose Name is Apparently Lieutenant Nelson.
Saru’s captain now, right? Yeah, Saru’s captain now. (You just gotta make declarative statements with authority.)
There were a few great character dynamic moments, but you better believe the reconciliation between Hugh and Paul was a highlight for me. I am a sucker for the trope that sees one character declaring their love to another when one of them is also in a hospital bed. “I thought I could make my home on the Enterprise and then I realized you’re my home. Everything, always, comes back to you.”
But, seriously, someone get Hugh a therapist.
“Follow the [teen] queen.” Pike, about Po. This is why Pike is the best: he never lets ego get in the way of surrendering power, leadership, or authority when it makes sense to do so.
“He means in case one of us gets dead along the way.” I continue to love Reno so much. So glad she made it to the time travel part.
Did Cornwell really have to die? This was one half-hearted aside, a poorly-plotted attempt to raise stakes that were already satisfyingly raised. Cornwell never got the screentime she deserved, and it would have been cool to see her pop up in one of the many other Star Trek TV series in the works, in particular the Section 31 TV series or, yes, that Starfleet Academy TV series I will never, ever give up hope for.
Even though the head doctor is worried about not having enough manpower, I have never seen so many people in sickbay on this show. It is usually like skeleton crew levels down there, with only one patient.
“I’m your family. Wherever we go from here, we go together.” This may be a thing that Hugh says to Paul (which: <3), but it is also kind of Discovery‘s theme in this two-parter. The crew of the Discovery is a family. Whenever they go, they go together. They’re not letting Michael go alone.
Control was a stupid villain. We can all agree on this, yes? Has this show ever had a good antagonist?
I’m glad Saru’s sister and the other Kelpians showed up to help, but, like, doesn’t it take training to pilot a Ba’ul ship? Was there a crash course?
“This isn’t where your story ends, and I think that you know that.” Cornwell has seen “The Cage”!
The Saru-centric and Tilly-centric Short Treks became very relevant over the course of this season. Now that the Discovery is in the far future, I am hoping to see how the Michael Chabon-penned story that focused on the Discovery’s computer, abandoned by its crew in the far future, might come into play.
Do you think anyone has ever called Michael “Mike,” “Mikey,” or “Mickey” as a nickname?
Wow, aside from some of the Boreth stuff, I really did not like the Klingon stuff this season (or last, if I am being honest). Also, it kind of felt like Discovery was doing a lot of it out of obligation versus actual interest, which is not a great way to approach a storyline. With the Discovery in the future now, I’m not sure how or if L’Rell will be part of a Star Trek show. Will she follow TyVoq to Section 31? I feel like she deserves more than that?
“It’s your mother, and it’s you. Trust what you’ve done together.” I am really hoping we see Dr. Burnham again!
You want to make TyVoq commander of Section 31? Tyvoq? Are you sure?
Other episodes Olatunde Osunsanmi has directed: Season 1’s “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry” and “What’s Past is Prologue,” Season 2’s “Point of Light” and both parts of this finale, and Short Treks’ episode “Calypso.”
Seriously, the entire Star Trek VFX team better be on vacation right now. I got tired just watching all of the work that must have gone into this one episode.
“Goodbye, Captain Pike.” “Goodbye, my friends. My family.”
Yes, reader, the TOS theme song layered into the credits did, in fact, get me.
“We’re on our way, Paul. We’re on our way.” We’re on our way!