“If you’re telling me that this ship can skip across the universe on a highway made of mushrooms, I kind of have to go on faith.” -Captain Pike
Previously on Star Trek: Discovery: Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) grappled with her relationship with estranged brother Spock (Ethan Peck), and tried to repair it by going through all of his stuff, Tilly (Mary Wiseman) helped Pike (Anson Mount) prove that his face really is like that and he’s not going to betray the Discovery like Lorca (Jason Isaacs) did, Saru (Doug Jones) had to relinquish his captain’s chair for almost a whole episode, Stamets (Anthony Rapp), still reeling from his #SpaceBoo’s (Wilson Cruz) death, contemplated leaving Starfleet to teach resting bitch face at the Vulcan Science Academy, Detmer (Emily Coutts) and Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo) continued to make hilarious faces at each other and kick ass on the bridge, and a Red Angel appeared so mysteriously that we all went, “whattttttttttttt!???”
Burnham briefs Pike on what she found when reading Spock’s diary on the Enterprise. Mainly that Spock had drawn a rendering of the mysterious red lights long before they lit up Starfleet and sent them into a frenzy. This is a mystery worth of an entire season of Discovery! Where are they? What are they? How did Spock prophecize them? Where is Spock now that he’s decided to cash in all of his vacation days? Well apparently the answer to that last one is that he checked himself into a psychiatric unit. If we don’t get a later scene of Spock in his cell, with a wall of batshittery and “Pepe Silvia” circled in a mess of paper tied together with string WHAT ARE WE EVEN DOING HERE!?!? Carol! Carroolllll!
Pike looks deep into Burnham’s eyes and tells her that she can trust him. Is there anything she wants to tell him? Burnham considers telling him about the Red Angel for like .047 seconds. Is she going to come clean? Tell her captain what’s going on with her? Open up emotionally? Hahahaha of course not. This here is Michael Burnham, hater of feelings and complete closed book. But at least she thought about it! Progress, Burnham. Small steps.
Luckily for Burnham, she’s saved from having to emote by a call to the bridge from Saru. One of the mysterious red lights has made itself known again. Tilly is sciencing the heck out of this, and she’s nearly figured out a way to… uh… deflect the particles? Of the modulation… and stuff. Yeah. Burnham beams with pride upon her protégé. All of the jogging has paid off! Tilly’s science is almost there and Burnham completes it by suggesting that they… um… measure the gravitational well with red shift lasers and warp the sensors through the ionization. This sounds like solid science to me, an expert in science. As long as they remember to reverse the polarity, it should work. And it does! The bridge full of science-y women beam at each other as they receive the coordinates for the signal which is one billion miles away.
I mean, they could use the spore drive, but the spore drive was only supposed to be used in an emergency. Like a Klingon-killing war. Would Starfleet give them permission to use genetic manipulation for something as non-emergency as ominous sky lights? Well, Pike thinks so and so Stamets gets ready to strap himself back into the spore drive. I think it’s interesting that the Federation has this ban on genetic manipulation but it’s like, yeah, except if we NEED it. Then it’s fine. Ok, y’all. As long as you’re sleeping at night and winning your wars, I guess.
Stamets has apparently learned from last season, because he finally tells Tilly that he’s been seeing Culber in the mycelial network. He’s struggling, not only because of the bone deep grief of losing your love, but also because if he goes into the mycelial network and sees Culber… is it really him? Is it just a manifestation of memories? If it is him, what does that mean? Stamets’ place in the cycle of life and death is on the life side. What are the moral implications if Culber somehow pulls himself from his place along the cycle? It’s a heavy mix of philosophical and moral questions that’s a lot to take when you just want to do some spore piloting. He pushes it down into the hidden place, because his duty right now is to go to black alert. Discovery jumps, but despite the smiles on the bridge, Stamets is suffering.
The red light signal is gone, but they have found a Class M planet looping a distress call from 200 years ago. The settlement below doesn’t even power, but they do have a lovely clapboard country church. The bridge crew has QUESTIONS, okay? How on earth did humans from pre-warp earth find themselves stranded out in the Beta quadrant of all places? Pike’s wtf face is still kind of eye-meltingly handsome and I’m sure we’ll see more of it throughout this season. Pike wants to know why the signal wanted them there, and Burnham wants Pike to remember that they do not have any evidence that the signals are sentient, or even driven by a sentient intelligence.
The conversation that follows is essentially a distillation of the major theme of this episode, the conflict between faith and science. Both religion and science at their core are fundamentally a way to explain the world we live in. Clarke’s Third Law, cited here, makes the case that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” or in Pike’s variation “any sufficiently advance extra terrestrial intelligence is indistinguishable from God”. Basically, if you don’t have the scientific capability of explaining a phenomenon that’s when it gets understood as magic, or divine being. The difference between believing the seasons are a product of a fuckboy kidnapping a woman who likes pomegranate vs. a rotation of the planet on its axis. This is a theme that has been explored on Star Trek numerous times before from ‘Who Watches the Watchers’ (TNG: Season 3, Episode 4) all the way to “What does God need with a starship?” in Star Trek: V. Well, the only way they are going to solve this mystery is going to the planet, so that’s what they prepare to do.
Tilly, meanwhile, is doing what Tilly does best. Questionable experimenting with science driven by her emotional attachments. I mean, I personally would NOT laser a giant asteroid made of weirdness that I don’t understand, but that’s why Tilly is enrolled in Starfleet’s School for Wayward Baby Captains and I am not. She has some idea that the asteroid has some properties that could? Replace Stamets? In the spore drive? Okay. Unsurprisingly, the meteorite does something weird and Tilly smashes into the bulkhead like a ragdoll.
Meanwhile, we’ve finally got Owosekun on an away team and there was much rejoicing. (Yayyyyy!) Apparently, Owosekun is from a Luddite community on Earth and BOY do I hope we learn more about that. They set phasers to stun and start prowling. In the church they find out that the religion practiced here is basically a ‘Coexist’ bumper sticker brought to life, complete with Red Angel stained glass windows and a brand new scripture. Their reading of scripture is interrupted by a man who wants to know why they aren’t in the fields. Pike lets them know that they’re from the north, which makes sense, because lots of planets have a north. The man decided to bring them to the All-Mother. Alright.
The All-Mother (Sheila McCarthy) helpfully gives an oral history of the settlement. They were hunkered down trying to survive World War 3 in the church, when a Red Angel appeared and whisked them to New Eden, saving their lives. They couldn’t decide which god to give thanks to, and so they created a religion that thanks them all. Burnham would like to know if anyone tried to find a scientific explanation, but Jacob (Andrew Moodie) tells them that they can’t without a way to make the technology that came with the First Saved work. They’ve tried, but they can’t even get the lights on. There’s a video from a soldier’s helmet camera, but it’s broken. Pike asks permission to take shelter in the church, which is granted.
Tilly wakes up in sick bay, helpfully watched over by a very enthusiastic and not at all Uncanny Girl (Bahia Watson) who rightly runs the fuck away when Saru shows up to scold Tilly. Tilly was just trying to help her friend with extremely wacky science but Saru is ready to throw some truth down. How I wish Saru had given this speech of “before we can care for others, we must care for ourselves” to everyone who needed it last season ESPECIALLY poor Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) who absolutely disintegrated his mental health trying to be strong for his crew.
Towards the end of the season basically everyone on the crew of Discovery was ignoring their own health/ethics/regulations in order to “help” those they loved, to absolutely catastrophic results. Listen here, people at home. Listen to Saru. YOU are important. It is IMPORTANT to take care of yourself, both mentally and physically, and you can’t be a support to the people you love until you shore up your own strength. My reaction to this scene is basically the both hands raised emoji. PREACH, Saru, PREACH. This is Leadership, y’all. With a capital L. I like Pike fine, but I hope that Saru remains the captain of Discovery.
Saru’s captaining is immediately tested, as the crew let’s him know that the radioactive debris circling Terralysium is about to fall from orbit and create an extinction level event. Bryce (Ronnie Rowe Jr.) can’t cut through the interference to contact Pike, Burnham and Owosekun, and even if they could, neither a shuttle nor a transporter could get through to get them out. Not only is the entire population of the planet about to be vaporized, but also the away team. Well, shit. Saru listens, and decides that, no. No, this will not happen. It is the responsibility of Discovery to save the landing team AND the planet, and that’s exactly what they’re going to. They have 62 minutes to pull off a miracle? Well, get to work! #TeamSaru
Back on the planet, Pike really says the words “no one needs rescuing” and then makes the case that because of General Order One they need to get the info they need and then leave this society to their development. To Burnham, they owe the people of this planet answers about what happened to Earth and the chance to reintegrate into society.
Owosekun tracks down the transmitter only to find that it’s been maintained, just before Jacob appears and calls them out as people from the sky, not the north. Pike tries to lie, but it is extremely weak tea and Joseph is not buying it. The away team tries to leave and Jacob straight up grenades them and steals all of their tech before leaving them locked in the basement. Obviously, Owosekun is not the type of gal to let a bolted door stop her, and the away team is out of that basement almost as soon as they regain consciousness, but Pike reminds them that General Order One applies, and they MUST follow it.
Tilly, completely hopped up on espresso, is bouncing ideas for saving the planet off Uncanny Girl. Uncanny Girl is like, “it’s too bad we don’t have something on the ship with extremely strong gravitational force. Bummer.” and Tilly is like, “OH MY FUCKING GOD WE DO HAVE SOMETHING LIKE THAT I GOT IT I KNOW WHAT TO DO OKAY BYE” and runs the fuck out of sickbay.
Tilly screeches onto the bridge with her plan. As she explains, we get to do one of my absolute favorite Trek things – GROUP PROBLEM SOLVING. The science zooms from person to person across the bridge, and the whole team does their part, especially Detmer, ace fucking pilot, and Stamets, groovy mushroom pilot. We asked for more bridge crew this season and it is very, very clear that they heard us loud and crew. More! I need more “I got my pilot’s license at 12, bitch” swagger from Detmer, please and thank you. Stamets runs. Seriously, there’s an outrageous amount of running.
On the planet, Jacob is trying to convince the All-Mother that he’s found proof that Earth wasn’t destroyed, but she’s is not hearing it, and the away team is not backing him up. A girl playing with a phaser manages to set it to explode and Pike dives on it and takes the blast straight to the chest. Burnham and Owosekun haul his ass to the church, Burnham saying they need to pray for help from the angel.
Meanwhile, the bridge of Discovery is full of people ready to pull off a miracle, and they do! There is much rejoicing. (Yayyyy!) The planet is saved and the debris is sent out to space just in time to beam the away team on board and Pike to the medical bay. The All-Mother and Jacob see them transport, and the All-Mother sees another miracle from God and Jacob sees his last chance to prove his theory disappearing.
Saru congratulates Tilly, because disobeying direct orders is fine if it turns out well, and Uncanny Girl is there as Tilly heads to bed to give her a, “way to go, Stilly!”
Dr. Pollard (Raven Dauda) would really like it if everyone would stop trying to murder themselves, but Pike is going to be fine, if a bit sore. His face remains undamaged and also sculpted by angels.
Tilly is looking through old yearbooks to find Uncanny Girl, who must have known her when she was “Stilly”, but although she finds May Ahearn, there’s no May Ahearn on Discovery? What? Well, then what about Earth archives. Well, yeah, but that May Ahearn is deceased! DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN
Pike and Burnham wrap up. Pike thanks The Mutineer for actually following orders and Burnham tells him that she learned her lesson last season. And in that vein, she’s ready to tell him that she saw the Red Angel, though she’s not ready to call it an angel. Pike thinks that’s pretty revelatory, and that the folks on New Eden would probably see it as pretty revelatory as well, given the context. Burnham counters that Jacob deserves context as well, and they have the power to give it to him, in exchange for the helmet camera of the soldier.
Pike heads back to New Eden, where he gives Jacob the answer to the mystery his family has been studying for the last two hundred years, as well as a power cell, in exchange for the soldier’s broken helmet camera with footage of what happened to the First Saved. Jacob agrees, and he finally gets to turn the lights in the church on.
Reviewing the footage back on the Discovery, Pike watches as the Red Angel comes into a church of screaming people, and saves them.
And that’s all folks! ‘New Eden’ did a good job of balancing themes and action, arced and stand alone, character development and sciencing. We’ll see more of where the lights are leading us all next week!
I’m preety sure we’re only going to get Owosekun childhhood in a book form. And only in at least five or six books. We get it Burnham and Spock have issues, thank you,next!
It sucked they couldn’t rescue these people. I fully understand they couldn’t do it because of the Prime Directive. They rescued descendants of a town in the Old West on ENTERPRISE. We’ll never hear of these people again. They were already intervened with. The angel rescued their ancestors.
It’s certainly interesting that Star Trek is tackling issues of faith and belief, something that they’ve tended to stay away from in the past – except for some TNG episodes that show a less-developed people believing in an entity they sometimes name “God” – an orbiting satellite in “Justice” and “The Picard” in “Who Watches The Watchers”. And Star Trek V, of course. I was struck in last week’s episode, “Brother”, when Tig Notaro uttered a Christian expletive for what I think is the first time in the franchise’s history (except for “Bread and Circuses” where Kirk says “Caesar and Christ, they had them both”, which is a quite different context). One wonders where this will lead in Discovery. Guess we’ll find out.
Let’s not forget DS9. The entire show is based on faith and belief in “gods”: the Prophets and, later, the Founders.
You’re right, of course; and I sabotaged my own point by bringing up “Who Watches The Watchers”. I was really referring to Earth religions in general, and a monotheistic deity in particular, which Star Trek has pretty much avoided until Discovery season 2.