The third and fourth episodes of Star Trek: Discovery’s second season revisit threads from last season while continuing the overall return to more traditional Trek storytelling.
(Red Alert! Spoilers below.)
Episode 2×03: “Point of Light”
I originally hadn’t planned to wait until the fourth episode had also aired before writing my thoughts on Discovery’s third episode in its sophomore season, but in many ways, “Point of Light” works better when viewed as just the first part in the longer story that continues into “An Obol for Charon,” specifically regarding the Tilly/May plot.
The main story for “Point of Light” itself concerns the Klingons, which we see for the first time since last year. The episode’s title refers to the point of light that Kahless promises to return to, which the Klingons later understood to be Boreth and built a monastery that Worf went to in the following century. In this episode, however, Boreth is only seen at the end as the location Tyler/Voq and L’Rell’s baby is sent to for safekeeping. While the reveal of the child in this episode is sudden to the audience (and to Tyler), the point is to both force L’Rell to make yet another sacrifice and to give Tyler a new reason to rekindle whatever feelings he might have had with L’Rell. On the latter, I didn’t feel it was as effective, but both Tyler’s relationship with L’Rell and Burnham were never that convincing to me, a victim of the show’s fast pace and shortened seasons compared to previous Treks. For L’Rell herself, I could see this as being another slight that will ultimately come back to bite the Federation and Section 31 in particular if L’Rell decides to rebel against her Section 31 masters.
If it weren’t for the trailer reveal for the fifth episode coming up, I might have thought this episode overall was more of a backdoor pilot for the upcoming Section 31/Georgiou show, and some part of me would be fine with that honestly. While overall I found this episode’s examination of Klingon politics more interesting than last season (and pretty on par with the kind of internal Klingon court intrigue we saw in TNG and DS9), Discovery has shown in these first few episodes of the second season that it doesn’t really need the Klingons, which were where the most controversial creative decisions were made in the first season. This episode’s attempt to walk back many of those decisions, from the retcon of the D7 identified by Lorca’s shuttle computer to the overall bald look, are okay, but when the show has the characters explicitly reference these changes rather than just let them be seen and understood by the viewer, it feels like the show is writing too clearly towards the loudest critics on social media and YouTube.
The worst of fan fiction and even published Trek novels are those that try to explain everything too clearly and make all the connections explicit. While fans enjoy debating on forums for pages on the significance of a costuming change or an error by the art department (see discussions of Commander Chakotay’s rank or the registry of the USS Yamato), giving all the answers actually makes the universe feel more artificial. When Pike tells Number One in the next episode to rip out all of the holocommunicators, we the audience know that the only reason that line is in there is because of the complaints from some fans over the lack of seeing holocommunicators in TOS (nevermind that someone from the 19th century might find it odd to learn that 21st century humans often send text communication akin to modern telegrams more frequently on their phones than make video calls).
The Klingon storyline for “Point of Light” is overall a pretty complete episode, even with the appearance of Georgiou and Section 31 at the end. The other two storylines, however, feel a bit too hollow. They both are clearly setting things up for subsequent episodes, but they could have used a bit more plot over exposition, particularly the Burnham/Amanda story.
Episode 2×04: “An Obol for Charon”
While I enjoyed Discovery’s first season for the most part, my biggest personal misgiving about it was the move to total serialization. While I understand modern television has moved to that model of storytelling, it makes it harder to go back and rewatch Discovery if you can’t commit to several hours or consecutive nights. As one friend put it, sometimes you just want to put on an hour of Trek for a bit.
In this regard, I’m liking the approach of the second season where there is an overall arc for the season–the Red Angels–but that each episode so far could be seen by itself on a rewatch. I can describe “New Eden” as “the one with the pre-warp humans” or “An Obol for Charon” as “the one with the dying organic library.” Only a few such episodes like the Mudd episode from season one can similarly be described so distinctly.
Much like “New Eden,” “An Obol for Charon” reintroduces many familiar Trek tropes from previous Trek series. We get an actual briefing scene with the senior staff (and a clever introduction of the universal translator with Linus the Saurian before the subsequent novel scene on the bridge where we see it malfunctioning completely). There’s a bit of “Disaster” (TNG) and other “the ship has been disabled” tropes as well with the Stamets/Reno/Tilly scenes, and they really work here now that we know more about these characters to care. Also, Reno needs to be made chief engineer of Discovery, so we can enjoy more Reno/Stamets banter.
In contrast to last season’s overall grim tone from the war with the Klingons that culminates in an unearned speech in the finale that attempts to recast the season’s message as one of ironically not taking shortcuts on the path to righteousness, stories like “An Obol for Charon,” where Captain Pike must show faith in the beliefs and values he swore to uphold (as well as show faith in his officers’ assessment that the unknown out there means no harm), do far more to illustrate Star Trek’s overall message of hope and faith in our ability to overcome our fears and baser instincts. In other words, “show, don’t tell,” and this last episode shows it quite well.