Sunday, October 08, 2017

Wielding the Butcher's Knife

SPOILER WARNING
for episode four of
STAR TREK: DISCOVERY

In "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry," we begin to see more explicitly what Star Trek: Discovery is about, at least in my still-hopeful view: the rocky road to finding a civilization's soul.

In this episode, Captain Lorca and the Discovery crew are still trying to perfect their mycelium drive, which, I presume, uses quantum entanglement to transport the ship anywhere in the universe instantaneously. It turns out the key to the drive is the tardigrade creature that wound up leading to the demise of the USS Glenn last episode. The only problem is, the tardigrade doesn't have any say in the purpose it's being used for, and so far only Michael Burnham seems to have a problem with that, though she does go along with it. It's been established in other Star Trek shows that future humans don't use animals for food, labour or other purposes anymore (though they do ride horses and keep pets). Here, ten years before the original series, most humans don't seem to be so high-minded. The episode's title is a pretty big clue that we can expect to see two conflicting views expressed by the characters in the near future: those who argue that using the tardigrade is immoral, and those who argue that winning the war with the Klingons is well worth the life of a perhaps non-sapient creature. Captain Lorca and mycologist Paul Stamets are the butchers here, while the tardigrade is the lamb and Burnham the lost soul torn between duty and compassion. Hey, it's not like Star Trek has ever been particularly subtle, right? White side on the left good, black side on the left bad!

This episode also includes some pretty interesting character reversals and departures, all of which caught me by surprise - again, definitely a new direction for Star Trek, and, so far, a welcome one.

Character-wise, it feels very real and honest to see Michael Burnham in a state of deep mourning for all she's lost, an advantage of this Trek's deliberately arc-based, rather than episodic, format. I'm also enjoying the further development of Sylvia Tilly, Paul Stamets, and Saru; each has significant character notes this episode, and the performances are excellent. Lorca is a bit one-note this time around, but the story demands it in this case; his job is to be the at-all-costs warrior at the moment, and he certainly sells it.

One final kudo: I love the mycelium drive special effects, including the silly but very retro, very fun spinning saucer section. It felt like a callback to the kind of pulp SF I love.

I suspect that we don't see the mycelium drive (I think I'll call it the mushroom drive, actually) in later series because of the animal rights aspect. An episode of Star Trek: Voyager features a very similar scenario, and Captain Janeway and her crew were horrified by the spectacle. I imagine the mushroom drive will be banned after this first season, in tandem with the completion of Burnham's inevitable redemption arc. Of course, that means they're going to have to come up with an entirely different arc for season two...

4 comments:

Jeff Shyluk said...

I thought this was a good episode as well. Stamets has become my favourite character: he's smart and able to express himself, but he's also quite tragic. I wish the writers had given him more emotional range, but I think there will be more for him to do, more Stamets-based surprises as the season goes on. If you didn't know, he's based on the real-life Paul Stamets who is also a mycologist and a scientific advisor to the show.

I agree: the USS Discovery must fail. I'm going to hazard a guess as to why, and see what you think:

Gabriel Lorca = Garth of Izar

His exploits were required reading at the Academy! I have no doubt that Lorca is a high-functioning sociopath. If this proves to be true, it would give a tremendous amount of depth to "Whom Gods Destroy". Even if Lorca doesn't become Lord Garth, I think we can watch that classic episode in a new way now.

Jeff Shyluk said...

I forgot to mention, I also really like the spinning hull as well! When we first saw the Discovery, I thought the outer ring of the hull was separated from the inner disc by choke points that could be easily defended in the case of a science experiment gone wrong - or to seal off the bridge from hostile action. The Glenn proved that theory wrong, but I thought the ring corridors were an un-necessarily sinister touch that doesn't belong to Star Trek. That still might be the case, but the spinning hull is something geeks can happily obsess about. I wonder why it goes counter-clockwise?

Stephen Fitzpatrick said...

I'm finally caught up now, and enjoying it a fair deal, despite the retconning and revisionism. Jeff's theory is fascinating, but I wouldn't be inclined to bet on it, as cool a reveal as it would be. My own distrust of Lorca stems from the fact that he never sits, even though we've seen him eating twice.

And in terms of drive names, they hinted at an acronym: DASH drive, for Displacement Activated Spore Hub drive, which I find preferable to your 'mushroom drive'.

Earl J. Woods said...

I think the Garth of Izar connection would be really cool if it pans out that way, but I'd be surprised if the writers went that direction. Who knows, though?

Another theory making the rounds is that Lorca is the Lorca of the Mirror Universe, and that the good Lorca is over on the other side, Jonathan Frakes confirmed there is a Mirror Universe episode coming up later in the season...