Trip Tucker holds a special place in the hearts of many ENT fans. To date, he is the only character killed in the show to be resurrected by the novels. Like other fans, I felt that his complexity made him a realistic everyman. It was also refreshing to see an openly emotional man on TV. For the first time, I didn’t see other characters make an issue of it, unless it was about his humanity. How beautiful it is to see such a future. Surely Trip was a progressive example of what a sensitive man looks like.
Or so I thought until I saw this review of “Horizon.” As a Trip/T’Pol shipper who watched this knowing they would get together, I was only thinking of how cool it was for them to go on a date, albeit platonic. Despite being an introvert, I somehow missed that Trip and Archer were pressuring T’Pol to go do a social activity. I wondered if anyone else saw a problem with what Archer and Trip did to her. Using keywords like “horizon” and “movie night,” I searched some Trek forums. It so was tough to find criticism, I had to combine my keywords in order to find one person who said T’Pol was bullied on TrekBBS. On one hand, I was relieved not to be the only one who didn’t notice such a thing. But if forums represent the population, that’s a very troubling trend.
The biggest reason I didn’t see Trip as problematic for all these years is because he’s not a macho stereotype. I still feel weird saying that a man who cries at movies more than me can be a bro. He is also not a typical ladies’ man because he rarely does the chasing (a woman always kisses him first). Although it is now more acceptable for a woman to ask a man out or propose, being pursued is still stereotypically feminine. And whose heart wouldn’t melt when Trip cries while mourning for his sister and daughter? Ideally, we would all think grief is grief no matter who is affected. But the uncomfortable truth is I wouldn’t feel the same if he was a woman. Since many studies show that people generally view crying more positively when done by men, I’m sure there are a lot of fans who feel the same way I do about Trip. Ironically, when some of the ones surveyed said that tears “humanized” men, it can sometimes lead us to idealize them enough to excuse them when they engage in bad behavior.
Fans however, give T’Pol no such pass, especially for her infamous morning-after talk in “Harbinger”. Some feel so strongly that they criticize Trip for being too easy on her. Let’s take a look at some comments.
“It wasn’t until he left for Columbia that he started acting like something resembling a man. Prior to that, he showed all the dignity, pride, and self-respect of an altered poodle.”
“Personally I’ve never known whether Trip should be praised for his really quite saintly patience with the on/off thing, or kicked in the bum to wake him up to the fact that he’s letting himself be used as a floor cloth. That ‘experiment’ line was really quite unforgivable (in my view at least); and to take him back to Vulcan and make him watch her get married to someone else when she KNOWS he cares about her – Heavens above, how callous do you get? I’m sure she had her reasons, most of which probably centred [sic] around her inability to cope with her own emotions, but surely she could have been just a bit more careful about his!”
“I have to admit that T’Pol seriously rubbed me the wrong way from “Broken Bow” on, and this on again/off again thing with Trip made it worse. Now, I like Trip, but I won’t give him a pass. I wish he had shown more self-respect and stood up to her, not run off to “Columbia” and certainly not that whole “dead man walking” thing from the reboot profic.”
“I’ve never met a guy that would put up with that much drama.”
A few words came up over and over again to describe Trip. Doormat. Lacking backbone. No man (emphasis mine) would ever put up with what T’Pol did to him. Unexpectedly, gender made little difference on how outraged a fan was over Trip’s “emasculation” and conversely, T’Pol’s behavior (though women are more likely to use coded words than men like the one who compared him to a poodle). But I shouldn’t be surprised when women get harsher punishments for workplace violations than men. This study and how fans react differently to these characters show that we still hold women to higher ethical standards. Despite quibbles that “no one says boys will be boys anymore” (a common criticism of a certain Gillette commercial), that phrase is very much on people’s minds whether they realize it or not. Yes, leaving your partner high and dry is worse than pressuring someone to go to a movie. But the criticism of T’Pol is still way out of proportion. The experiment line is so unforgivable she can never make up for it? And what was she supposed to do when she got married, not invite him?
Trip is both idealized and criticized for his emotional nature; an example of what I call the sissy-saint complex. The halo effect of crying causes many fans (including myself) to overlook when he may be problematic. But he also gets bashed for being too “soft” on T’Pol. While there were times when I wished he was more assertive with her, I don’t think he would have got nearly as much backlash for being a “doormat” if he was a woman. It’s ironic that fans reduce Trip to these extremes when he probably turned out more complex than the writers intended. That shows just how much power unconscious biases have to shape our perceptions of people. While managing them is difficult, a good first step would be remembering that personality is not as binary as we think. As Soval said about humans, “Of all the species we’ve made contact with, yours is the only one we can’t define.” We all have the potential to be “sensitive” or “bro” depending on the circumstances. Strange as it seems, both of these things coexist in Trip. It’s time that we stop using personality traits as boxes to pigeonhole people into.
In 1985, Donna Haraway famously wrote that “the boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion.” On my many Trek binge-watches, I’ve frequently been struck by how the social norms of the time make their way into the show’s vision of the future. As a lover of fashion studies, for me this is most clear in the costumes. In almost every episode of Star Trek, we see women as scientists, engineers, and explorers, occupying the same professional roles and spaces as men. The characters on the show frequently reference this gender equity, making comments about how women can “achieve anything men can” in their society. However, much of the costume design of the 24th century is born from 20th century fashions, a time which was decidedly unequitable in its treatment of men and women. I often find myself thinking about how the costumes in The Next Generation and Voyager in particular affect Star Trek’s feminist ambitions.
As with any other show, the TNG and Voyager production teams were bound by ideas of the kind of women that were ‘allowed’ on television. That’s not to say that there is a literal rulebook about who can be on TV (although there are standards and practices), but that beauty standards are so ingrained they become unspoken rules. In Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdman’s brilliant book Star Trek Costumes: Five Decades of Fashion from the Final Frontier, the authors include a quote from costume designer William Theiss discussing the skant introduced in TNG; “Having the actresses and actors both in skirts was to diffuse any sexist accusations that might have been associated with designs from the old show.”
Notably, the skant is rarely seen outside of the first season of TNG, and Troi was the only character on the bridge crew to appear in the outfit. This pull between a vision for the future and the constraints of the production time is one that marks most of the costumes in this era of Trek. Costuming decisions are driven by everything from world-building to budget, but they are also influenced by the norms of their own era. Given those norms, there was little chance of an entirely androgynous future, or even a future where women are not recognizably feminine, that wouldn’t spark pushback or confusion.
Troi’s short-lived skant appears alongside the standard uniform, worn by both male and female characters
Even within the limits of acceptable 20th century femininity, Star Trek often struggles to settle upon a vision of utopian womanhood. Both TNG and Voyager don’t seem to know quite how they want to imagine futuristic femininity (the journey of Captain Janeway’s hair is one legendary example of the producers’ Woman Befuddlement). Star Trek doesn’t know how feminine women should look or behave in a post-feminist society, and this lack of clarity leads to some rather incongruous costume design. In many ways, TNG and Voyager were just two more shows echoing the gender norms of their time. What makes them more significant, however, is the assertion that these shows represented an ideal, utopian future – particularly for women. Because of this, the shows end up implying a judgement about who would or could exist in the ideal future. And despite the characters’ assertions, if we only look at the costuming of the series, we see a surprisingly constrained future for women.
So, what kind of women would exist in a Trek-like utopia? Feminine women certainly exist, and exist in abundance. Colorful, flamboyant women exist (a la Lwaxana Troi), as do modest and elegant women. Sexually desirable women (by 20th century standards) exist. What kind of women do not exist? Women who do not wear makeup are nowhere to be found. Even Seven of Nine, whose entire character is modeled around her struggle with human social rules, is done up in the kind of feminine hair and makeup one might wear on their wedding day.
Jeri Ryan’s infamous silver catsuit allegedly took 20 minutes to take on and off
Butch and masculine women are either totally absent in TNG and Voyager, or softened enough to not appear out of place. In short, women in this utopia are strikingly feminine. Even the female villains of the shows are unmistakably gendered in their designs. The infamous ‘boob windows’ of the Klingon Duras sisters, and the bizarrely pretty Borg Queen (in First Contact she appears to be wearing peach lipstick, along with her hour-glass cut costume) are two standout examples. Neither TNG nor Voyager seem comfortable with depicting truly unfeminine women, even if these characters are portrayed as frightening or disturbing.
This is not to say that there is anything inherently dystopian about women who wear elaborate makeup, skin tight outfits, or high heels. The implications of these choices are just as contextually derived as is the very idea of femininity. Indeed, much has been said (on this very site!) about the power of seeing a feminine woman exhibiting supposedly masculine virtues such as intelligence, strength, and determination. What is problematic is making femininity the only choice available to these (supposedly) utopian women. Occasionally, Star Trek will dip its toes into more experimental waters. Captain Janeway’s incredible white suit in “The Killing Game” is one of my favorite examples, which has sparked comparisons to Kathryn Hepburn from fans.
However, costuming moments like this stand out precisely because of their rarity (although TNG-era Romulans are a notable example of a more androgynous look). Neither Voyager or TNG tried to consistently include women who weren’t at least somewhat feminine. In fact, the softening of female characters’ appearances (and the embracing of a more feminine look) tended to coincide with moments of personal growth or fulfillment, even when those characters had seemed resistant to a ‘pretty’ aesthetic. The most obvious example of this is Tasha’s first season arc on TNG (especially in “The Naked Now”), however this trend pops up numerous times in Trek stories from this period. There isn’t room to discuss these moments in detail here, and the costuming of any one of these characters alone merits further thought.
Despite everything I’ve said, I love Trek’s costumes. I love the campiness, the resourcefulness, and the recognizable visuals. For all their problems, the costumes on Voyager and TNG are genuinely fun to see on screen, and have undoubtedly influenced a broader science fiction aesthetic. Beyond that, Trek’s costuming has even had some undeniably feminist moments. That men and women (almost) wear the same uniform still feels significant. In the end, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the costumes on Star Trek. Clothing is inherently neutral, and the meanings items collect will change over time. However, to paraphrase Haraway, sci-fi costumes reflect their contemporary audiences. It seems too early to dissect the costumes in Star Trek: Discovery, the newest addition to the franchise, although there does seem to be some significant progress. Costumes are ingrained with the symbols of their time, and it’s for this reason that they are so hard to judge. It will probably take a few years before we’re able to see them clearly.
A few months ago, we asked you what in the Star Trek multiverse you were most looking forward to, whether that be predictions for Discovery or upcoming shows. Here’s what you had to say (edited for length, clarity, and content).
* * *
Patrick Stewart/Jean Luc Picard! (Pretty sure that particular new series won’t come out this coming year, but a woman can dream!)
Editor’s Note: Last we heard, the premiere is schedule for “late 2019.”
So I REALLY want a wacky holodeck adventure and I’ll be super sad if it doesn’t happen. Also, less queer pain.
In the coming year, I hope to see more character development of the bridge crew of Discovery, and I hope we find a way to get Dr. Culber back on board.
For 2019, I hope to see in Trek:
*more of the future. I love Disco, but the timeline around the end of Voyager/TNG/DS9 seemed to be at a point when humanity had truly begun to become “the Change They Want To See in the Galaxy.” …. I want to feel like we really do want Peaceful Exploration.
*I am hopeful that we will get more aliens. (new and old) Kelpians, Orions, and Andorians..?! Oh My!
*I would like to see Q stories. The Continuum is overflowing with omnipotent beings to tinker with humanity.
*I hope we will also see more shows that I can introduce my kids to. Star Wars Rebels and Clone Wars (Ahsoka Tano, anyone?) did a great job of getting my now 8 & 9 year old daughters into Star Wars, but TAS is not something they cared about.
I’d like to see a lot of Spock and Michael interaction. And Klingons! Plus, I’m already fond of Pike! Thanks!
I am most looking forward to learning more about the relationship between Michael Burnham and Spock.
One of the things that I’m really looking forward to in Discovery is the little moments that there used to be in DS9 – I want more of what Dax and Kira had, but with Tilly and Michael. I’m also looking forward to the Section 31/Georgiou show. Michelle Yeoh has been a long time crush of mine so I’m so excited to see things I love overlap.
I want to see Discovery do a straight-up episode of TAS. Animate it like filmation in the 1970s, fill it with a ton of exposition and put 3 times as much plot into the episode as it can handle. Okay, maybe better for a Trek Short?
I am looking forward to seeing the Philippa Georgiou/Section 31 show, but would like to see that Section 31 is not the completely “evil” organization that they appear to be in DS9. While there are plenty of books which depict the TV series’ after the TNG finale, I would love to see what happened to everyone (maybe on the Picard series.) And while I understand that the Lower Decks TV animated series will be on the sillier side, I just hope that it won’t be too silly as to boarder on stupid. Finally, I would like to see Discovery show first contact between the federation and other featured alien races like the Cardassians.
Is the animated series starting this year? If so that’s what I most want to see!! If not, then just Discovery coming into its own!
With virtual reality (VR) permeating global markets, I thought that my initial reaction of resentment was the beginning of being officially Old and Out of Touch. That’s when I realized that what I was seeing in our world parallels all the Star Trek episodes that used VR in the Holodeck to violate my favorite powerful women of the Alpha Quadrant.
Often the Holodeck is used in Star Trek as a plot device to put female officers into sexualizing situations they wouldn’t consensually participate in. In The Next Generation’s “Hollow Pursuits” and Deep Space Nine’s “Meridian,” the power of female officers is undermined and their right to their bodies is degraded through the use of their likeness in the Holodeck.
Given that pornography is a driving force advancing VR technology, how are these ethical issues of consent and technology currently being addressed in our own society? In a world where a Toronto-based company named “Holodexxx” is already creating VR adult games, how long will it be before these scenarios are a reality for today’s women?
In “Hollow Pursuits,” we follow the bumbling Lieutenant Barclay into his personally designed Holodeck programs. Here, he is the sword-fighting “Master Barclay” who makes women swoon, rather than the nervous and chronically late “Broccoli”, as he is known to his crew mates. We find him napping on the lap of a dolled-up Dr. Crusher, joined by a toga-clad Counsellor Troi who declares herself “the Goddess of Empathy” and encourages all to “cast off your inhibitions and embrace love, truth, joy.”
This use of Troi and Crusher’s bodies without their knowledge or consent demonstrates rape culture, which is the result of societal attitudes that normalize sexual abuse and non-consensual interactions with others’ bodies. It is clear in this case that Troi and Crusher did not have the sexual agency to choose if their likenesses would engage sexually with Barclay whenever he should enter the Holodeck. This culture is enforced by the reactions of Barclay’s crewmates upon discovering his personal programs. Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge feels that “what you do in the holodeck is your own business” and that Barclay’s use of Troi demonstrates “quite a healthy fantasy life.” Commander Riker is initially outraged when seeing Barclay sword fighting the ship’s commanders, but becomes good natured and laughing when he discovers Troi’s sexualized image. This ‘boys will be boys’ attitude of finding the use of Troi and Crusher’s bodies comical minimizes the harm of these non-consensual interactions.
La Forge also argues that for Barclay “there’s a part of this that is oddly therapeutic.” On the one hand, VR holds as much potential for sexual education and therapy as it does for sexual objectification. As when we saw The Doctor and Seven of Nine in Voyager explore empathy and human interactions through Holodeck programs, VR could be a medium through which people could practice disclosing an STI to a partner, discussing their desires, or recognizing the signs of affirmative consent. For an example from today’s stardate, a series called “Virtual Sexology” run by BaDoinkVR has created a series of videos to help people overcome common sexual problems. A video geared towards men that demonstrates how some women need to be physically touched to become aroused before sex was the company’s most downloaded video, educational or otherwise, in 2016.
With the proper consents in place, VR could provide a safer environment for users to engage in any variety of sexual practices. With the ability to choose any virtual representation, users could have a body of any gender and appearance they want, exploring their tastes and expression in a way that could lessen gender dysphoria or body dysmorphia. They could engage in practices that are taboo or socially restricted without harm to themselves or others.
Undoubtedly, today VR pornography is a game changer. Like it has revolutionized the printing press and online payment systems, pornography will be the driving force behind VR technology, according to the New York Times’ Virtual Reality Gets Naughty. Currently, all the lifelike avatars available for VR programs are of porn performers who have been recorded from every angle to create VR representations of the sexual acts they have consented to. This brings to mind the lighthearted way that we watch Commander Riker cheekily instruct the computer to create his ideal partner for a date at the jazz club.
However, the creation of avatars without their knowledge or consent is a different matter entirely, and the pornography industry is notoriously difficult to regulate. The sector, and society as a whole, has not yet decided where our ethics lie regarding using someone’s likeness to have sex with them in virtual reality. Currently in the sex doll industry, one manufacturing company requires written consent from a model when creating a commissioned doll based on a real person. But can you do something to an avatar that they would not consent to in real life? How does revenge porn fit in? Will there be an option to “computer, end program” when one no longer consents to their VR avatar being used in this way?
In the Deep Space Nine episode “Meridian”, Quark’s business associate Tiron, who has enough money to own his own personal holosuite, requests a program featuring Major Kira Nerys. Quark attempts to create this program from a holoscan of Kira, as well as the data contained in her personnel files, gaining her image, voice, and psychiatric history. This use of her image is particularly egregious as Quark intends to profit off the program, but luckily, Kira remains a step ahead and is able to sabotage the program so Tiron finds a woman with Quark’s head in bed in the Holodeck).
In today’s vernacular, this type of program is a “deepfake,” a video generated by artificial intelligence which, in this context, consists of a particular person’s face attached to the body of a porn performer. For those who would prefer a personalized program of a specific woman over Quark’s suggestion of “a picnic with the pleasure goddess of Rixx,” the technology is becoming more and more accessible. Reddit user “Deepfakes” began posting such videos in 2017, and by 2018 had released a simple application called FakeApp which democratized the process of creating deepfakes. Suddenly, all the Tirons of the world needed were hundreds of photos of someone and the FakeApp algorithm to create their own customized video, allowing Reddit users to create full VR programs as easily as Quark could with a quick holoscan of Major Kira.
Media attention has largely glazed over the gendered implications of this technology to focus on the potential for ‘fake news’ to circulate. The classic example is of the ability to create a video of the President launching nuclear weapons. (For an innocuous, SFW example, see this video of Steve Buscemi as Jennifer Lawrence). As Samantha Cole writes for Broadly, “we must first acknowledge that the technology that could start a nuclear war was born as a way for men to have their full, fantastical way with women’s bodies.”
The rape culture implicit in Star Trek’s holodeck episodes not only made my skin crawl, but demeaned the characters’ leadership and authority by casting them in non-consensual, scandalous holodeck adventures. As a plot point, the writers put Troi and Crusher in situations they would not enter as the strong officers they are. These scenes upped their status as sex symbols to appeal to the male gaze while maintaining that they are equal crew members living in a post-patriarchal utopia. I find the TNG writing room as guilty as Barclay of casting Troi as a ‘goddess of empathy,’ rather than the valuable leader, diplomat, and crew member she is.
Sci-Fi can act as a tool to radicalize viewers’ subjectivity, and to push beyond our ‘cognitive frontier.’ Ironically, the holodeck (as the fiction within the fiction of the show), instead dampens and reinforces the status quo of rape culture and objectification in the workplace. In this way, the holodeck functions as a suspending of the utopian ideals of the federation when it comes to gender relations and misogyny.
These Star Trek episodes disturbed me because we now live in an era where this could happen to anyone. Not all of us have a shape-shifting security guard beside us to stop nosy bartenders from taking a nonconsensual holo-image or downloading public images of us. As we further explore the frontier of VR pornography, both amateur and professional producers can be held accountable to ethical production, and we can all help to ensure that our colleagues are not objectified without their consent. As Commander Riker says upon discovering Barclay’s programs, “there ought to be a regulation against this.” VR is another space where we can all work to create a safer space for all users to enjoy and explore their sexuality.
“Wherever we go from here, we go together.” -Culber
Previously on Star Trek Discovery: Control won’t stop coming for the Sphere Data, which has merged with Discovery. The crew devises a plan to send Disco into the future, where the data would be out of reach, by building a new Red Angel suit from the Section 31 specs. Culber (Wilson Cruz) decides to take some steps to move forward and join the Enterprise crew, leaving Stamets (Anthony Rapp) behind. The fifth Red Signal appears above Xahea, and Tilly (Mary Wiseman) just happens to know Po (Yadira Guevara-Prip), the Queen and a brilliant engineer. They use her tech to charge the crystal, but expect the constant use necessary for this mission to burn it out, so this will be a one-way trip. Tyler (Shazad Latif) and Burnahm (Sonequa Martin-Green) make out, and the Section 31 Armada arrives, surrounding Disco and Enterprise.
Pike (Anson Mount) is back in command of Enterprise, and Saru (Doug Jones) is in the center seat on Discovery. Their one goal is to make sure Burnham and Discovery make it through the wormhole to the future, and keep Section 31 out of their way. Spock (Ethan Peck) and Burnahm are racing to Engineering to build a new Red Angel suit. Both ships have launched all of their shuttles and pods to battle Section 31 and protect Burnham on she launches… in the suit the entire engineering team is scrambling to build.
Personal Pet Peeve: During the pre-battle sequence, Number One (Rebecca Romijn) and Detmer (Emily Coutts) have an exchange in which Number One response to Detmer’s specific piloting instructions with, “In English, please. I can’t blow a path through what you’re saying.” Number One is first officer and helmsman, and the apocrypha surrounding her character is that this nickname comes from her being the top of her year on Illyria before joining Starfleet. My personal affinity for this character means that this line makes me rather angry. Number One is an officer who should not need arcseconds explained to her. I understand that the writers may have felt the need to explain this to the audience, but they could have used a different character rather than undermining the intelligence of this one. Okay, I’m done.
Jet Reno (Tig Notaro) is still charging the time crystal, and they’ve got about 4 minutes before the battery is full. Rhys (Patrick Kwok-Choon) reports that there’s only one lifesign on any of the Section 31 ships: Leland (Alan van Sprang). And subspace relays are down, so they can’t call for backup. Just for the before the battle, Saru takes a moment to quote Sun Tzu, surprising/impressing Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh). Disco receives a hail from Leland, demanding the Sphere Data. Which Saru rejects. And suddenly, all of the shuttles launch from the Section 31 ships, putting our heroes at a distinct disadvantage. And the battle begins, with Disco and Enterprise both taking significant damage as Burnham and Co. continue to build the suit.
Po has stolen a shuttle to join the fight, and contacts Pike – she’s noticed that the Section 31 shuttles have advanced shielding, and can’t be taken out one on one. They need to be hit simultaneously on both port and starboard if the Federation ships are to stand a chance. Pike relays the commands to his squadrons, and designates Po as their squad leader. Georgiou suggests that Saru invite Leland on board, and she’ll deal with him. But Saru wants none of it – he’s focused on getting Burnham to open that wormhole. Reno’s finished charging the time crystal, and she and Tilly head to Engineering.
Suddenly, the ships turn their attention away from Enterprise in an attempt to bring down Disco‘s shields. But Pilke won’t let that happen. Enterprise diverts power to shields and flies between Disco and the Section 31 armada. The engineering team is putting the finishing details on the Red Angel suit as they run it to the shuttle bay, and are severely jostled as Disco takes a hit… one that results in Stamets being impaled. Tilly and Nilsson (Sara Mitich) take Stamets to Sickbay, Reno cleans up the debris, and Burnham and Spock continue to the shuttle bay.
With sparks flying all around them, Spock puts the time crystal in the suit, and then Burnham puts it on. He’s going to pilot a shuttle to guide her, but she’d much rather he stay on Discovery. Not gonna happen. They share an additional moment of familial reconciliation before getting on with the mission. In order for Burnham to launch, Discovery has to lower their aft shields. Shuttles will form a tactical escorts for her while Enterprise falls into the protect Disco while shields are down. As they fly, on of the shuttles takes a hit, which ricochets into Burnham’s path, but she’s able to stabilize and continue.
Intruder Alert on Discovery – someone beamed on board while the shields were down. Of course, it was Leland, who enters the bridge, guns a-blazing, taking out several of the crew. He quickly exits again, presumably to go after the Sphere Data, and locking the door from the bridge. Georgiou attempts an override.
When Burnham and Spock reach a safe distance, they land on a piece of debris, but the suit won’t allow her to set coordinates in the future. Enterprise is hit with an un-detonated photon torpedo right in the saucer section, and it is definitely lodged in there. They attempt to lower the blast doors, but one is stuck. Cornwell (Jayne Brook) and Number One head out to take care of the situation manually. Disco only has 9% shield strength remaining, and Burnham continues to struggle with her navigational controls. This is the moment she saw when she touched the time crystal, the beginning of the end.
Just in the nick of time, a Klingon Cleave Ship decloakes, taking out a few of the Section 31 ships by just ramming into them. Oh, and there are Baul fighters, too, one piloted by Siranna (Hannah Spear), commanding the “warriors of Kaminar.” Turns out that Tyler not only reached out to the Klingons, but the Kelpiens as well. They may not all be “friends”, but L’rell (Mary Chieffo) confirms that “The Klingon Empire will always fight to preserve our future.” Oh, and a D7 is on the way, too.
Spock has an epiphany: Each of the signals is directly linked to an element needed for them to win this battle. The time crystal showed her one possible future, not the definitive outcome. And in order for her to take Discovery into the future, she must send the first 5 signals.
On Enterprise, Cornwell and Number One have received the torpedo, and estimate that they have only 15 minutes to find a solution. On Discovery, Georgiou finally gets the door open, and she and Nhan (Rachael Ancheril) confront Leland. Sickbay is overflowing with causalities, but Culber finds Stamets and treats him… and also professes his love. He’s realized that he doesn’t want to make a new home, because Stamets is his home. Our Space Boos are back together.
Burnham is setting the final coordinates for her jump as the debris where they’re parked is hit again. Spock’s shuttle was hit, but he insists she go. And the jumps begin; They take us back through each of the first 5 signals we’ve seen so far, and how Michael directed their fate at each location (and catching up anyone who didn’t feel like spending 13 hours watching all the other episode this season).
Meanwhile, the shields have failed in Zone 4, but Tilly on it (but she’ll have to fix it with her eyes closed, because the only time she’s done it before while blindfolded for a drinking game). Leland, still looking for the Sphere Data, has an epic fight with Georgiou and Nhan in the corridor, and the gravity systems are failing. So the “downward” orientation of this fight shifts several times throughout, and it’s pretty darn cool. Leland knocks out Nhan, but Georgiou is able to retrieve a phaser and shoot him… only for his nanobots to immediately repair the damage. So instead, she lures him away.
On Enterprise, Cornwell and Number One have tried disabling the torpedo and reprogramming the guidance system, but neither have worked. And for some reason, they’re not able to reprogram the blast door. With less than 5 minutes before detonation, Pike calls Number One back to the Bridge, and he’ll take her place. Cornwell and Number One share a knowing goodbye as the camera focuses on the blast door’s manual override. Outside, the battle rages on as the Klingon Cleave Ship is taking some hits, and L’Rell is loving it. And also seems to have the full devotion of her crew and fleet.
Georgiou and Leland arrive in Engineering, and it’s suddenly obvious to him that Georgiou would want the two most valuable assets on Discovery – the Sphere Data and the Spore Drive – in the same place. Fortunately, Georgiou is able to lock Leland into the Spore Cube.
Pike catches up with Cornwell, but she kicks him back out right away. She’ll bring down the blast door manually. This isn’t his time. Cornwell brings down the door manually and turns to face the torpedo head on as it explodes and Pike watches. After the explosion, Saru checks in on them. Pike reports that they’re okay, but they’ve lost the Admiral.
Michael returns to Spock after sending all the signals, and is able to set her coordinates in the future. For the first time, Saru mentions that they’ll have trouble tracking her in the wormhole. So she’ll have to send the 6th signal so they can follow her through. Unfortunately, Spock’s engines were disabled when his shuttle was his, and he’s not going to be able to make it back to Discovery. She’ll have to leave him behind. But not before she encourages him one last time to both reach out and let people in. And she promises to send the last signal, through the wormhole, when they’re safe on the other side.
Pike returns to the Enterprise bridge, as Spock calls for rescue, and they beam him out. Tilly gets the shields on Disco back up to 40%. And then Michael takes off, with Discovery close behind. As they enter the wormhole, Saru and Pike bid each other a final farewell. In Engineering, Leland’s trying to punch his way out of the Spore Cube, but not so fast – Georgiou’s magnetized it. Leland falls to the ground, losing nanobots all the way. The Section 31 ships are dead in the water, and Enterprise picks them off, one by one. Po, Siranna, L’Rell, Tyler, Spock, and Pike all watch as their friends family disappears through a wormhole, aiming for a time 930 years in the future.
Back on Earth, in San Francisco (with the Golden Gate Bridge seemingly covered in solar panels – nice touch), several of Enterprise‘s officers – and Tyler – are being interrogated by Starfleet Command. They’re story is that Discovery was destroyed, and they’re sticking to it, despite long range sensors picking up gamma rays and gravitational waves that would indicate a quantum singularity (wormhole). But Pike, Number One, Spock, and Tyler all insist that they saw Discovery explode. Starfleet believes that they’ve completely eradicated Control. Tyler is been promoted to Commander of Section 31. And Spock suggests that, in order to protect the timeline, all remaining officers be ordered to never speak of Discovery, her crew, the Spore Drive, the Red Angel, or any of the connected events ever again.
Several months later (124 days, to be exact), Spock believes they have successfully concealed Discovery‘s true fate from Starfleet. And Sarek and Amanda understand that they cannot speak of Michael in public. Spock feels more certain of himself, and who he wants to be. He is still looking for that 7th signal, but chooses to believe that they were successful.
In the final scene of the season, a clean-shaven Spock enters Enterprise‘s bridge, donning his blue Science uniform… much to everyone’s surprise. Number one has detected an anomaly – a red signal – in the beta quadrant. Spock heads to his station for analysis and it’s such a beautiful update of the backdrop we’re used to seeing behind Leonard Nimoy, including his little viewfinder. Let’s be real – the entire Bridge is just gorgeous. And with that, Enterprise is on its way to explore a new moon, and the credit role over a mashup of the Discovery theme and TOS theme that’s absolutely beautiful.
Gene Roddenberry dreamed of a peaceful and unified Earth. A world without war or hunger, a world where acceptance was the norm and not the exception. It is this mentality that started the United Federation of Planets.
One exceptional theme of Star Trek is the acknowledgement of human history, from the Original Series to the Next Generation to Deep Space Nine to Voyager and now Discovery, Star Trek has acknowledged the history of slavery, war, famine, etc. on Earth. Quark himself used Earth’s history of slavery and concentration camps to “prove” that Ferengi were better than humans. One part of human history that Star Trek has not discussed blatantly but does actively work towards not repeating with the implementation of the Prime Directive is colonialism, which the Stamford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines as “a practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another.”
The Prime Directive, or Starfleet General Order 1, states that members of Starfleet are prohibited from interfering with the internal and natural development of alien civilizations. In other words, colonization of inhabited worlds is a no-go. The first step in achieving this was applying the same value to Earth’s diverse cultures. This has been demonstrated in Star Trek with the celebration of the Hindu Festival of Lights on the Enterprise-D and the fact that multiple Earth languages sill exist and are spoken throughout the galaxy (see Star Trek Discovery “An Obol for Charon” for an example). Currently the professional world has adapted a similar ethic in order to prevent neocolonialism (the use of economic, political, cultural, or other pressures to control or influence other countries, especially former colonies) and promote effective aid without causing harm. For the purpose of this conversation, I will focus on my area of expertise: International Psychology.
Traditional psychology was developed in the Western world. When working internationally, psychologists often utilized Western techniques because this is what they learned in school. Recently, psychologists have noticed that applying Western techniques and measures in other contexts can be detrimental and is reminiscent of colonialism when Western laws were applied to colonized countries. For example, utilizing “individual therapy” in a collectivist culture can cause psychological trauma rather than healing it. In order to combat this, the fields of Cultural Psychology, Cross-Cultural Psychology, Indigenous Psychology, and International Psychology were developed.
International Psychology is a branch of psychology where the practitioners work in a country or with a culture different from their own and/or with psychologists from different countries/cultures. The work could be research, program evaluation, consulting, or mental health treatment. International Psychology stresses the importance of using research tools or psychological techniques that were developed specifically for the culture in which the international psychologist is working. Think of it in this perspective, if I were to use a human psychological technique with a Vulcan, the Vulcan would probably be confused and annoyed. Also, the technique may actually cause harm to someone from a species that trains their entire life to control emotion. The number one ethical principle in International Psychology is to not negate the cultural beliefs and practices of a foreign country/culture by applying Western norms, sound familiar?
You can’t necessarily counsel a Vulcan the same way you would a human
However, like our favorite captains in Star Trek, international psychologists also have dilemmas they must face when dealing with cultural practices. At what point do we intervene if there is a practice that is detrimental for all or part of the population? A good example of this is the practice of arresting homosexuals in Ghana. The Ghanaian law that states homosexuality is illegal and punishable by two years in prison is a law that was written by the British when Ghana was a British colony. The law was never changed when Ghana became an independent country and is still practiced today. Is it right for the Western world to condemn Ghana for practicing a law that was forced upon them during colonialism?
The UN has stated that the practice of confining people based on their sexuality is a human rights violation and should be terminated immediately. Some would argue that the law isn’t Ghanaian so the Western world should push Ghana into changing it. Others, myself included, believe that forcing Ghana to change the law with threats of withholding aid, the UK threatening to withhold aid from Ghana if they don’t change the law, is an example of neocolonialism that could actually make the situation worse for homosexuals in Ghana due to possible retribution from the Ghanaian government. Is it right to take clean water and food from a county’s populace because they are doing something that we find abhorrent?
To be clear, I’ve been a supporter of gay rights for years and I identify as bisexual, a fact I kept well-hidden while I was working in Ghana. It just makes you realize that noninterference is not as simple as it initially seems.
Let’s put this in another more familiar context. In the Next Generation episode “The Outcast,” Soren, from the androgynous species J’naii, identified as female and fell in love with Will Riker. Although Riker tried to prevent it, Soren received psychotectic therapy and lost all traces of feminine identity. This was a practice that Riker in particular found abhorrent but the Federation did not step in to change the J’naii culture or push the idea that all J’naii have the right to identify anyway they want. The UN would probably describe the J’naii androgynous practice as a human(oid) rights violation but interfering would have interfered with the internal and natural development of the J’naii civilization, a violation of the Prime Directive. Again, noninterference is not as easy as it sounds.
I feel fortunate to be a part of a growing trend in the social sciences which acknowledges the different cultures of the world and works to preserve them. However, the line between preservation and doing the “right” thing is narrow and difficult to see sometimes. Like the Federation, we international psychologists have to make hard decision that may lead to a lose-lose situation if foreign cultures are to be preserved.
To go back to the Ghana example, if I, an international psychologist, was asked by a gay rights group in Ghana to help them in their plight to change the law, I would give them resources, I would help them secure funding, but I would do it anonymously because as Nana Addo Dankwa, the president of Ghana said, “I don’t believe that in Ghana so far a sufficiently strong coalition has emerged which is having that impact of public opinion that will say, change it.” In other words, the change must come from within Ghana and not from outsiders. Just like a Federation captain who may offer asylum for an individual but cannot actively work to change the conditions that caused the individual to seek asylum.
As long as Discovery exists here and now, this will never be over. – Burnham
Previously on Star Trek Discovery: Another signal appears over the Klingon world of Boreth, which turns out to be the world where L’Rell (Mary Chieffo) and Tyler (Shazad Latif) stashed their kid earlier this season. It’s also the home to a time crystal monastery. L’Rell (who has rendezvoused with Disco in her sweet D7) and Tyler both want to go down to the planet but Pike overrules them. It’s dangerous for the kid, plus he’s jonesing for a time crystal. On the planet Pike (Anson Mount) meets their child, now a grown-up monk (thanks to magic time crystal powers) named Tenavik (Kenneth Mitchell). In order to take the time crystal, Pike must glimpse his future, and when he does he sees himself in a familiar wheelchair, flesh melting on his face. Present Pike remains determined to continue his mission. Meanwhile Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Spock (Ethan Peck) chase a Section 31 ship and end up being attacked by a Control-possessed Gant (former Shenzhou crewmember) and his body full of nanobots. They get back to the ship, but Disco is quickly surrounded by Section 31 ships that appear to be controlled by Control, coming for the Sphere data. Pike summons the Enterprise and gives the order for Disco’s crew to evacuate before they set the ship to self-destruct.
Sue is out this week celebrating the other Star fandom so I’m filling in with your regularly-scheduled Disco recap.
We open on a (presumably) Vulcan beach, where Amanda (Mia Kirshner) is bringing a bowl of plomeek soup to the planet’s worst husband/father. Sarek (James Frain) is meditating when his eyes suddenly fly open and he whispers: “Michael.”
Cut to the Discovery evacuation montage, featuring our heroes picking out the most sentimental items in their crew quarters, touching looks back at various rooms on the ship, and a nearly-impossible-looking set of foldy ramps from the Enterprise to evacuate the other ship’s crew.
Michael is having trouble leaving, worried that it means her mother’s sacrifice has been in vain. Pike talks her into getting going with a not-so-veiled metaphor about how sometimes it’s not so awesome to know the role you’re meant to play. But before she leaves she grabs the time crystal and sees a bunch of things happen really fast: it looks like the Enterprise’s hull is pierced by something, we hear the sounds of a red alert, see Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo) on the ground, and hear Leland (Alan van Sprang) say, “Goodbye.”
On the bridge, Saru (Doug Jones) and Pike enable the remote auto-destruct and walk the foldy corridor to the Enterprise, which I gotta say looks and sounds so awesomely nostalgic.
Cornwell (Jayne Brooks) (Was she just hanging out counselling people last episode? Does she not get a say in destroying Discovery?) hands over the bridge to Pike and Number One (Rebecca Romijn)says, “Welcome home, Captain.” She informs him they’ve done away with holographic communications – it’s all viewscreens from now on.
Even though I love the look of this updated Enterprise bridge (and it’s way more diverse cast), Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) is not impressed when she arrives (on her presumably cloaked ship) and asks permission to come aboard. She sneers at the color and then pulls Burnham aside to say she read Burnham’s report and looks forward to watching the nanobots exit Leland’s skin one-by-one.
Everyone is somber as they start the countdown to auto-destruct, but then they’re shocked when it fails. It’s like they don’t know it always goes to one on the show. Next they try photon torpedoes but Discovery‘s shields are up – the Sphere data is protecting itself.
As Leland’s ships close in Burnham has a longer vision of the fate she witnessed when she grabbed the time crystal – they’re on the Discovery bridge with Saru in charge. An undetonated photon torpedo becomes lodged in the hull of the Enterprise. Explosions are happening all around and Burnham and others are thrown to the deck. Nhan reports Discovery has been boarded and Leland enters the smoky bridge and shoots everyone. We watch everyone die, including a particularly awful long shot on Owosekun slumping down the console after she’s been shot. Leland kills Burnham last, lifting her by the throat and shooting her with a phaser as he says, “Goodbye.”
Flashing back to the Enterprise bridge, Burnham yells, “Stop,” just as Pike’s about to order another spread of photon torpedoes. She knows it won’t work, but what other options do they have?
“Of course,” she realizes, “As long as Discovery exists here and now, this will never be over.” She believes they have the time crystal so they can use it to remove the data from this time and stop it from falling into Control’s hands.
“Discovery has to go to the future.”
After the credits, the senior Disco senior staff plus important friends assemble in the Enterprise conference room to formulate a plan. They decide to try to rebuild the suit, and because it was tailored to Dr. Burnham’s DNA, Michael will need to be the one to use it. But what if she can’t get back? Pike says he’s trusting in the signals.
Spock agrees, saying if Dr. Burnham didn’t set the signals, Michael must have.
There’s some science talk – they need an unstable red giant to activate the time crystal. Georgiou is into the idea of speeding up a supernova by firing an antimatter missile into its core.
SARU: We would be directly responsible for destroying all life within dozens of lightyears, if not more!
MICHAEL: We’re not doing that.
GEORGIOU: I thought there were no bad ideas!
PIKE: That’s a lie.
CORNWELL: That’s a bad one.
Just in time a new signal shows up. Pike takes “essential crew” plus Georgiou back to Disco and the Enterprise under Cornwell prepare to try to evade Control and meet Discovery at the signal.
Just gonna pause here to grumble over not getting to see Number One command the ship. Cornwell’s great and all that but it’s Number One, people!
Anywho, my mood turns around pretty quickly when Discovery arrives at Xahea and Tilly (Mary Wiseman) excitedly realizes she knows the Queen, Po (Yadira Guevara-Prip). That’s right, if you didn’t watch the summer Short Treks you’re gonna want to do that, or at least read our recap of the episode “Runaway.”
You know when things are really busy at work and you think, what would be helpful right now? I know, an unannounced visit from my ex! No? Well too bad for Stamets (Anthony Rapp) (and my heart) because we’re about to have a sad Culmets interaction in Engineering. Hugh (Wilson Cruz) has come to let Paul know he’s going to transfer to the Enterprise, and Stamets wants to let Hugh know that he’s going to take a break from starships after all this, and he just hopes Hugh will be happy with whatever he chooses. “Forward motion is the most honest choice, for both of us,” he says.
Luckily shit’s about to get adorable and heartwarming real fast, as Po beams aboard, runs straight over to hug Tilly and accepts a bowl of ice cream from her friend. In the conference room Po refuses to take any snark from Georgiou, and does a bunch of advanced physics in her head, impressing Reno. Together they come up with a solution to charge the time crystal, but the plan will burn out the crystal, stranding Michael in the future along with the ship.
On Disco, they brief the staff on the bridge and Tyler, Detmer and others are visibly upset to be sending Michael on a one-way mission to anywhere in time and space.
Here’s hoping Michael has room for a copy of this book in her suit:
Don’t worry, she says, it’s what I’m meant to do. Skeptic Jarrah is casting serious side-eye at this whole, “Trust the mystery” scene.
“I wish there was more time, but there isn’t,” Michael says sadly, “I love you – all of you.”
Yup, even Georgiou. Oh how quickly we forgive someone for eating the mirror version of our best friend.
Cut to Engineering, where Po and Tilly are working on a weird-looking contraption and sharing feels. Po tells Tilly she’s not going back to Xahea until this is over – she needs to stay and fight for her planet, her twin sister.
Side note: when I wrote that last paragraph I originally wrote “sisterly feels” then deleted that and wrote “bestie feels” but now I think I might be shipping Po and Tilly. Anyone else?
Georgiou tries to talk Michael out of going by saying she’s being a martyr and that it’s possible she’s being exploited, but she’s not listening.
Next, Sarek and Amanda come aboard, apparently having located their ship by Katra powers. They also try to convince Michael she doesn’t have to leave them. She tearfully tells them she does, and thanks them for all they’ve done for her.
It’s a scene that really tugs at the heartstrings as Sarek actually kinda apologizes for vague mistakes and not always being the best father. He even gets in on a group hug.
I’ve always had social anxiety, but when I was eleven years old Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) premiered and I felt like I had finally found an outlet for my fears. Whenever I watched TNG I felt like I was in a safe space free of judgement. Lonely and depressive, I obsessed over the characters, whom I viewed as my second family. My real family was distant and reserved. My parents never fought, but they never showed much affection either. I wasn’t told there was something wrong with showing emotion, but through their behavior, my parents modeled stoicism and emotional unavailability. I learned that the best way to interact with others was by hiding how I really felt.
Due to my fear of judgement, I longed to be able to read other people’s minds. For this reason, my favorite character was the empathic Deanna Troi. But since I didn’t have Betazoid abilities I needed a different strategy for dealing with social interactions. Enter the Vulcans. There were only a few episodes about Vulcans in TNG but by this point, I’d started watching reruns of the original Star Trek (TOS). I wasn’t a huge fan of TOS but I loved Spock. He and other Vulcan characters, such as Selar from TNG or Saavik from the movies, became my role models. Since I’d already subconsciously decided that emotions were the enemy, a race that practiced emotional suppression was worth emulating.
All my TNG faves
As a teenager, I became so dedicated to Vulcan philosophy that anytime I encountered a difficult situation I would repeat a mantra to myself: “I am Vulcan, I am Vulcan, I am Vulcan.” Having this mantra was often genuinely helpful during times of physical stress, but it proved useless in dealing with anxiety. No matter how much I repeated these words I still couldn’t navigate the turbulent waters of my own self-doubt. In fact, idolizing the Vulcans only made things worse. Anytime I felt like I had botched a social interaction and assumed others hated me, I doubled down on my Vulcan beliefs and convinced myself that I was a failure because I was still too emotional. Rather than embrace how I felt, and explore my feelings, I further suppressed my anger and sadness, believing this is what a Vulcan would do. I became cold and judgemental towards others and self-righteous about this standoffishness. In retrospect I can think of many times I alienated other people by dismissing their feelings. All I really wanted was friends, but my adherence to Vulcan philosophy was making me inaccessible, which exacerbated my loneliness, as well as my self-hatred.
As I matured, I came to understand that emotions are normal and expressing them is healthy. It’s also healthy to care about what other people think. To truly not value other people’s opinions is sociopathic. I still have social anxiety but now, as an adult, I can forgive myself for my “failures.” I’ve let go of my mantra and have finally allowed myself to be completely honest with myself, my close friends, and my significant other.
Recently, in addition to watching Star Trek: Discovery, I rewatched all of TNG, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise. It was during the TNG episode “Sarek” that I finally had an epiphany: the Vulcans are villains. Each series has at least one episode that showcases the Vulcans in a negative light. What I had viewed as strength as a teenager was actually weakness, perhaps even malevolence. There are countless examples of Vulcans behaving badly, with many performing non-consensual mind melds, including Spock, who forcibly melds with Valeris in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country in order to extract information from her.
Only the pettiest Vulcans play baseball
Even as a kid I couldn’t help but notice some of the more egregious Vulcan behavior, such as that of Captain Solok in DS9’s “Take Me Out to the Holosuite.” Solok is correct in his assertion that Vulcans are stronger and faster than humans, but he’s so arrogant and petty about it that I can’t blame Sisko for resenting him. But when I was younger, I believed that such Vulcans represented anomalous individuals. I now realize their entire culture is toxic.
In VOY, Tuvok is initially so dismissive of Neelix’s overtures of friendship that his behavior borders on cruelty, and he is so cavalier about mind melds that it’s a wonder anyone on Voyager escaped unmelded. Vorik is even more problematic. He sexually assaults B’Elanna Torres in “Blood Fever” because he is experiencing his first pon farr. Certainly, he’s not in his right mind during this exchange, but the fact that he is never disciplined for this attack sets a dangerous precedent, implying that his violence is justified because it is part of his culture.
V’Las shows T’Pol how to be a jerk
ENT is the series that is most clear about the Vulcans’ toxic society, showcasing many episodes where the Vulcans treat others with disdain. They illegally spy on the Andorians in “The Andorian Incident” and try to hold back human development under the guise of protecting us from our own immaturity. They are even discriminatory towards other Vulcans when they don’t perfectly adhere to mainstream principles. In “The Forge” they frame the Syrrannites for a bombing, and in “Stigma” they severely stigmatize those suffering from Pa’nar Syndrome. In “Kir’Shara” the Vulcan High Command is revealed to be corrupt, which leads to the Vulcan Reformation, but Vulcan culture remains harmful.
Sarek being the worst.
This is perfectly illustrated through Sarek in his appearances in TOS, TNG, and DSC. He is a terrible father to both Michael Burnham and Spock, rejecting his son simply because Spock chooses to forge his own path and not attend the Vulcan Science Academy. As is shown in “Lethe,” he then lies to Michael about her own abilities, telling her she didn’t gain entry into the Academy. In “Light and Shadows,” he’s also revealed to be a pitiful husband to Amanda Grayson, ignoring her efforts to reach their son when he is struggling with a learning disability, and influencing her to act coldly toward the boy so as not to contradict his parenting style.
And yet, in spite of all this unkindness, Sarek is actually more tolerant of humans than other Vulcans. His peers are disdainful of his human brood, with logic extremists issuing threats towards his children. I used to think it unbelievable that such logical people would go to such shocking lengths, but upon reflection, it makes perfect sense. Vulcans are a people utterly convinced of their own rightness, and great conviction leads to extreme behavior.
Vulcans supposedly adhere to the philosophy of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, which celebrates variability. Yet, few Vulcans seem to practice this belief in their attitudes towards others. The ones who do, like T’Pol, Spock, and Tuvok, get there through their interactions with humans, and they are the exception rather than the rule. Generally speaking, Vulcans are so convinced of their own superiority that they end up being hateful, prideful, and malicious. They may be founding members of the Federation, but Vulcans are secretly villains, as sneaky and duplicitous as Romulans, but all the more insidious because of their status as allies. I can only breathe a sigh of relief that I finally realized this and no longer strive to be like them.
“When the future becomes the past, the present will be unlocked.” – Tenavik
Previously on Star Trek Discovery: The Disco crew still can’t figure out where the seven signals came from and The Red Angel aka Burnham’s mom (Sonja Sohn) can’t offer any help. But she needs theme to delete the Sphere archive to prevent it from falling into the virtual hands of Control. But the archive wouldn’t let itself be destroyed, so instead, they decide to it into the Red Angel suit and let the micro-wormhole snap is back to the future. Meanwhile, Culber (Wilson Cruz) broke up with Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Control infected Leland (Alan van Sprang) with nanoprobes, now controlling him. Control/Leland hijacks the data transfer and destroys the time crystal in the Red Angel suit. In order to keep the Sphere data from Control, the Disco crew brings down the containment field, sending Dr. Burnham and the suit into the future, with no clear way for her to return.
Michael (Sonequa Martin-Green) is watching her mother’s logs again, when she gets a call from Amanda (Mia Kirshner), who knows all about what happened. Spock actually calls his mom, it seems. Michael is feeling a new guilt – while she no longer blames herself for her mother’s “death,” she’s now bearing the burden of the current situation, with her mother stuck in the future and unable to fight Control. But Amanda insists that she didn’t lose her mother, she found her. Spock (Ethan Peck) interrupts, as the two are needed on the bridge – because another signal has appeared.
The signal is over the Klingon world of Boreth, information which visibly shakes Tyler (Shazad Latif). As a debate begins over who created the signals, their meaning, whether they’re a trap – all the stuff we’ve been through before – Burnham interrupts with frustration. Speculation is unproductive, waiting for answers isn’t fruitful. And Control/Leland is on the loose. She wants Discovery to join forces with Georgiou to hunt him down. Saru (Doug Jones) reminds her that they were unable to delete the Sphere data, and it’s most important that the archive be kept away from Control. And Pike (Anson Mount) would prefer to focus on his mission – the signals. So why Boreth? All that’s there is a monastery. But Tyler will reach out to Chancellor L’Rell to secure safe passage.
Disco jumps (?!) to Boreth, and Michael goes to see Tyler – she knows that he’s hiding something. And he just comes right out and tells her all our his/Voq’s son with L’Rell, who is being raised by these monks. He apologizes for not telling her, but she only wishes she knew so she could support him. They’re tender moment is interrupted when Tyler received an alert that a Section 31 ship missed it’s checkin. But it’s probably nothing, right? Nope, Burnham wants to go check it out, and Tyler isn’t about to stop her. He just wants her to be careful.
L’Rell (Mary Chieffo) has arrived on Discovery (via D7), and explains to Pike that this monastery is the most sacred site in the entire Klingon Empire, and barely has contact with anyone offworld. But the monastery isn’t there just to serve Kahless – the monks also protect a rare natural resource of this planet: time crystals. A new time crystals could solve all of their problems. But L’Rell isn’t on board – even the Klingons stop using the crystals, realizing just how destructive they could be. The Klingons! But Pike doesn’t have a choice. It’s this or the end of all sentient life in the universe. Tyler volunteers to beam down, which L’Rell immediately rejects. She doesn’t want to have this conversation in front of Pike, but not 30 seconds later, spills all the beans and explains that their son is on the surface, but that no one can know. The two begin to fight in Klingon, until Pike has had enough and says that he’ll take care of it himself. L’Rell agrees to arrange and audience, but she doesn’t think he’ll have much luck retrieving a time crystal – it requires a great deal of sacrifice. #foreshadowing
With Pike headed down to the surface, Burnham approaches Saru with her plan to go after the Section 31 ship (with a shuttle, keeping the Sphere data safe). Saru easily agrees, a bit to Burnham’s surprise; The crew is still adjusting to post-Vahar’ai Saru. And perhaps this new-Saru was the intent of whoever created the signal that appeared above Kaminar. He understands that Control is “an enemy we will only defeat by striking first” (anyone else flashback to “Battle at the Binary Stars”?), but asks that she not allow her anger to affect her judgement.
Pike arrives at the monastery, greeted by a Klingon (Ken Mitchell) who just happened to have the same distinct skin tone as Voq. The Klingon knows who he is and why he’s there, but believes that the effort is in vain. The Timekeepers are guardians of the crystals, not traders, and the crystals to not leave these walls. Even if a a crystal has Pike’s answers, this Klingon has seen too many people broken by the crystals to believe he’d strong enough to handle it. Pike insists on trying.
Burnham is packing up her shuttle, when Spock comes to join her, supposedly as ordered by Saru. She’s a bit annoyed that she has a babysitter, but doesn’t fight, and off they go.
In the mess hall, jovial conversation all around him, Stamets is sulking. Jet Reno (Tig Notaro) approaches, congratulating him on another spore jump. But Stamets is focused on all the other problems on his task list, like an evil AI. No worries, Pike wants the two of them to work on powering a time crystal. But first, its time for some word games… until Hugh comes in. Reno acts surprised that Stamets hasn’t yet moved on, causing Stamets to leave in a bit of a huff, but not before a longing glance at his ex.
The Klingon introduces himself to Pike as Tenavik, Son of None. That’s a title that Pike has heard before, and Tenavik nods, saying, “He was my father.” That means that Tenavik would have been an infant just a few months ago. You see, time works differently for those monks who work with time crystals. To prove his point, they watch a monk plant a vine-tree-thing that experiences years worth of growth in mere seconds. At this point, most Klingons thing the time crystals are a myth or a symbol, but their power is very real. Is Pike prepared for that?
As the shuttle approaches the last known location of the Section 31 ship, Spock reminds Burnham that while he understands her desire to stop Leland, the signals seem to be leading them on the path to defeat Control. And the center of all this is her. Burnham refuses to accept that, or see meaning in the signals. But Spock insists on this connection, because it gives everything meaning. As the shuttle drops out of warp, they see the bodies of the entire crew floating in space and the ship apparently undamaged. They’re getting life signs from one of the bodies and beam it on board. It’s Kamran Gant (Ali Momen) former tactical officer on the Shenzhou. Gant had been trying to clear a suspicious subroutine when the ship suddenly opened all airlock are the crew blown out into space. He assumes it was the AI acting in self-defense. Luckily, Gant was able to get into an environmental suit before he passed out. Burnham wants to beam over and figure out what’s happening on that ship, and with a little convincing, Gant agrees to go with them.
L’Rell is monitoring Boreth while Pike’s on Boreth, and she will do whatever it takes to keep her son safe. She confesses to Tyler that she didn’t expect to see him ever again, but now they have the chance to talk. She has come to realize and accept that Tyler is in love with Michael. She was in love with Voq, and Voq sacrificed everything – including their relationship. And she fully understands now that the Voq she loved is not the Tyler standing in front of her. That being said, she knows that he will also do whatever it takes to protect their son.
Tenavik walks Pike to a room full of time crystals – and I mean full of them, the incredibly rare mineral. I’ve poked fun at the time crystals before, but I really don’t like this device. Here’s the thing: No matter how preposterous the science, Star Trek usually tries to give some kind of [psuedo-]scientific explanation. I’ve even defended this practice. Even in Deep Space Nine, the series that explored faith more than any other, they provided a spiritual explanation on one hand, and a scientific one on the other. What’s different about the time crystals? For me (and I realize this doesn’t matter to everyone), the time crystals have not been significantly explained. Yes, we’ve seen them used in S1 of Discovery, but we haven’t gotten any kind of explanation as to how or why they work (except that they must be charged). I was willing to let this go the first couple times they were used, but now it seems that there is no intention of giving us that technobabble. Without explanation, the time crystals take me out of the realm of Science Fiction and plant me firmly in Space Fantasy territory. So that’s my hangup. And now back to your regularly scheduled recap…
Pike and Tevanik approach one particular cluster, instructing him to “see for himself” by touching the crystal. But not before providing a warning that the crystal will life the veil of the present and reveal the potential horror of the future. Pike touches the crystal, and we suddenly see him on a starship at red alert with radiation reaching critical levels. He’s trying to get his people out of there, but gets hit with a plasma burst, throwing him across the room as the area goes into lockdown while he’s still inside. He then sees himself in after the accident, in the motorized wheelchair we’re all familiar with from “The Menagerie.” Both Pikes begin to scream, and the Pike on Boreth is startled from his vision. Tenavik tells Pike that he can change the future he was just shown, unless he takes the crystal. Pike knows that he chose a life of sacrifice as a Starfleet captain and refuses to abandon his principles because of an unforeseen ending. Tenavik breaks off the crystal and hands it to Pike, who again sees flashes of the future. There are a lot of ways they could have really effed this up – “The Cage” and “The Menagerie” are both pretty damn ableist – and IMO, I think they did a pretty good job with this.
Burnham, Spock, and Gant beam from the shuttle to the Section 31 ship, but they don’t have limited access to the systems. As they try to gain more access, the ship powers up its engines and warps away.
Jet Reno bursts into sickbay, requesting medical attention for a hangnail. Oh, but it’s all just an excuse to try to talk some sense into Culber. Stamets’s angst is affecting her work, so she needs them to figure this out. Culber notices Reno’s wedding ring, and she tells him about her wife, who died in the war, and was an awful lot like Stamets. “People like us always find people like them.” Culber has a second chance.
Control has… control of nearly every system on the Section 31 ship. They’ll need to manually reboot the computer core, but someone will have to physically hold open the cage door in the control room. Spock volunteers, leaving Gant and Burnham on the bridge. He’s able to isolate Control in the start-up system, and has the computer do a sweep of remaining systems, just in case. Burnham and Gant chat while they work, and Gant takes the opportunity to praise Control. Burnham reaches for a phaser, but Gant’s voice takes on a robotic tone as he threatens to break her hand if she even tries it. Spock’s search identifies another instance of Control that’s not contained – housed in a carbon-based life form on the Bridge. Spock tries contact Burnham, but there’s a system malfunction, unsurprisingly. Gant explains that he was reanimated by the AI, just as Leland was, and once he absorbs the Sphere data, he will be the “purest form of conscious life in all of existence.” (If this is not a Borg origin story, I will eat my shoe. Though I, personally, am still suffering from Borg-fatigue.)
Gant’s goal was to isolate Burnham from Spock. Not to kill her, but to recruit/assimilate/reconstruct her, as using her will be the most effective way to obtain the Sphere’s data. And that’s why Spock is finally able to reach her. Gant attacks, as Spock has to manually force open a door to get back on the Bridge. Gant is just about to inject Burnham with the nanobots when Spock pulls him off of her. Burnham shoots at Gant, multiple times, and the nanobots come spilling out of him as he collapses, forming a wave or a swarm or a swarmwave that’s after her. Just in time, Spock is able to magnetize the floor plating, immobilizing the bots.
In Trek’s bold future, women work on the bridges of starships; lead resistance cells; are engineers, botanists, doctors, mental health professionals, captains, admirals; and so much more. Though beyond the autonomy afforded these great professional accomplishments, do Trek women have similar autonomy over their personal lives? When it comes to sex and relationships, we’re conditioned to not bat an eye when Riker, Kirk, Tom Paris, Picard, Bones, or many of the Trek men make their own personal decisions (including “fully functional” Data and Voyager‘s Doctor, who mentions making an “addition” to his program).
So, which Trek women are smashing the patriarchy, and which were failed by the writers?
One aspect in which media rarely shows women in a positive light is the role of the sexual aggressor. Star Trek gives us not only Phillipa Louvois fabulously calling Picard a “damn sexy man” (with all the wonderful implications that accompany her seductive eyes), but we also see Jadzia Dax actively pursuing Worf. Dax begins with a friendly flirtation; when Worf doesn’t seem to notice her advances she steps up her game in a big way, culminating in a physical duel on the holodeck and her outright demanding that they pair off. This sort of aggression in women on screen is usually met with moral retaliation and some harsh warning about the behavior of “good girls,” though Trek came through with a strong finish instead.
Prior to The Great Worf Seduction, in DS9 season two’s “Playing God” we again get a win with Jadzia Dax when a Trill initiate arrives early to her quarters for a morning meeting. Instead of Dax, an unknown biker-looking alien answers the door moments before we see Dax, still dressed in a towel. The biker alien leaves with suggestive words and a kiss from Dax, and while the Trill initiate is obviously uncomfortable, we the viewer are meant to laugh at his discomfort since we clearly accept Dax’s actions and decisions.
Is this a trend with one-night-stands; is Star Trek showing us a sex-positive future in which all people can make their own private decisions about coupling? A prime episode to consider is TNG’s “The Price,” in which delegates from several planets bid on the rights to a newly discovered wormhole. One of the negotiators is hiding the fact that he’s a telepath and uses his advantage to not only manipulate the bidding process and the other delegates, but to sleep with Troi as merely a bargaining tactic. His methods in pressuring her into sex are exceedingly sleazy, though the reactions of Troi’s colleagues are fantastic when NO ONE judges her afterward, even our sometimes-problematic Riker, who had only positive words. This was a brilliant saving grace for a sub-par episode: Star Trek so clearly trusted a woman to make her own decisions about sex.
But, do they always? Let’s look at Kes. She initially runs off with Neelix to live aboard Voyager and is not judged for leaving her own people for love and adventure. However, in season three the episode “Darkling” introduces her to a potential new fling. She’s staying out late with Zahir, even contemplating leaving Voyager to travel with him, only to be greeted back aboard by the Doctor throwing shade at how late she’s been staying out. Hinting that this isn’t an isolated incident, Kes laments that, “everyone seems to be treating me like I’m still a child.” Room for improvement, Trek writers.
Where Trek failed spectacularly in this regard was on behalf of Commander Nella Daren, who ascended her career so far as to be a department head on the flagship of the entire Federation. While working at the pinnacle of her career she met a man with whom she could envision a real, enduring partnership… then made the mistake of pursuing that love. Two such well-adjusted adults as themselves could easily have continued a working relationship if the romantic one didn’t pan out (how often does the Captain really interact with Stellar Cartography?). Instead, at the first sign of trouble, she was whisked away for his comfort and his alone. The saddest part of that episode is not seeing the lovely relationship end, it’s watching such a highly qualified Starfleet officer as she’s forced to cheerfully take a professional demotion and disappear quietly into the wind.
Among these wins and loses is a special honorable mention. TNG‘s “Transfigurations” is especially notable for the I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-awkward conversation that Wesley starts with his own mother about her love life and newly forming relationship with John Doe. It’s a non-judgmental conversation where he seems genuinely interested in her happiness: a future in which parent and child can discuss matters of love in such an open way is a bold future indeed.
Whether Troi continues to defy familial expectations and choose her career over marriage, Kira has yet another long-distance relationship, or Janeway keeps her enemy much closer, women in the alpha, gamma, and delta quadrants are primarily in control of their private lives. With some clear failures and marked room for improvement, the Trek writers did quite a nice job overall in providing opportunities for women to match the romances and affairs afforded men. Let’s keep going boldly forward with Discovery!