SPOILERS AHEAD … AND A REALLY NICE RECIPE FOR MUSHROOM RECIPE … WAIT, NO, AS YOU WERE …
Apart from its idealistic view of the future, which given current trends looks so Pollyanna-ish that you could be forgiven for thinking we’ll blow ourselves up long before the Vulcans stop by for “Hey, you got warp!” visit, one of the aspects of Star Trek that has always appealed is its emphasis on the bonds of friendship and camaraderie that exist between people who, far out in space, only have each other to rely on.
The really good episodes of Star Trek, and “Saints of Imperfection” was right up there, really make a thing of the fact that people would go to hell and back for their crewmates, and while the mycelial network actually looks like a shiny, pretty, neon hallucinogenic experience that’s a million miles away from hell, it does a pretty good job of subbing it for it this week.
As far as Tilly (Mary Wiseman), who has been transported there through a cocoon pod which frankly has some major hygiene issues that really need to be addressed if the inhabitants of the mycelial network are going to keep kidnapping people, and surprise! surprise! Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) who’s been fighting for his “life” since he died (trust us, it makes sense eventually), it probably feels like hell.
After all, through two very different avenues, Tilly and Culber who – SPOILER ALERT! – makes it back to our reality by episode’s end, making Lt Stamets (Anthony Rapp) one very happy man indeed and those of us who keeps watching as the gays always seem to die in TV shows and just wish it would stop already dammit, have ended up in May’s Land, as no is calling it, and can’t get out.
Culber, who died and then found himself reconstituted in the mycelial network where he’s been unintentionally killing the spore people such as May (Bahia Watson) to stay “alive” – OK according to Stamets he is alive because the universe never discards any energy (good to know) but he’s not alive alive, well, not yet anyway – is confused and verging on mad, while Tilly, well, Tilly is really very, very angry.
It takes her, understandably, a while to calm down when she realises May has kidnapped her to help kill the monster who’s killing her people, a fury she eventually dispenses with when she realises that May is actually a Really Nice Person.
Well, once she stops kidnapping people she is anyway.
The confusing thing here is, and yes Culber you’re not the only one who’s a tad befuddled mushroom-wise, you got the impression in previous episodes that the issue was Discovery merrily transporting along the Mushroom Highway as Pike (Anson Mount) rather jocularly referred to it when it seems it was Culber coating himself in the poisonous bark of a tree in the network which was digested when the spore people tried to chomp on him.
(Nothing personal, apparently they eat anything that enters the network, much like, so says May, the way insects do back on Earth, and they certainly make a real meal of Discovery when it dives partly into the shimmering translucent network to rescue Tilly who is, quite understandably, happy to see them.)
Regardless of whether Culber is the beginning and the end of May’s people’s troubles or not, everyone from Discovery, including most especially Stamets and Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) who venture into the network, put their lives on the line to get the Most Caring Person on the Ship aka Tilly back home safely.
It’s a gallant gesture but it’s also heartwarming and a reaffirmation of the fact that the bonds referred to earlier in this piece are very strong with this particular group.
We knew that already right but “Saints of Imperfection” magnificently and movingly highlighted it again by putting Tilly in danger and requiring a huge effort from everyone including Section 31’s Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), who was in sparklingly-wicked good form and, awkward!, Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif), to get them to safety.
But just as importantly, the script by Kirsten Beyer, gave us a complicated story which didn’t pivot the idea of good guys and bad guys.
In fact, with Tilly and May as the foci, it made the very necessary point, and again one that Star Trek has made repeatedly over its 50 or so years of franchised life, that goodness and badness often depends on your perspective.
Not always, of course, since some denizens of Roddenberry’s future perfect world are as evil as they come, but in this instance, neither Tilly nor May are the good or bad cop, with both having reason to be angry with and forgive the other and to understand where the other is coming from.
Quite apart from the rescue of Culber which couldn’t help but move you unless you are made of mycelial concrete (I’m not sure if that’s a thing but it should be), it’s this unexpected friendship and bond between May and Tilly, and the way Stamets and Burnham, who, caught up, in mourning for her good friend is giddily delighted she isn’t dead in a way that makes you smile, that really makes this episode pop.
Sure, there is the ongoing hunt for Spock, which yields nothing but a superbly-entertaining, wisecracking Georgiou who frankly should be given the MVP award for the episode, but the big story is not much what happens to Tilly, and by extension the crew of Discovery, but why.
Time and again in the episode, which manages to balance between otherworldly and very, very human with pleasingly narrative aplomb, we are reminded that you can have all the mysteries and aliens and riddles in the world but if you don’t have people who give a damn about each other, and who will go to the ends of the galaxy to live that out, then you really have nothing at all.
What has really marked Star Trek Discovery this season is its willingness to invest each and every episode with a great deal of humanity.
Not the kind that graces your average Hallmark greeting card, though that is lovely, but the sort of humanity that demands something, really demands something of you, a laying-your-life-on-the-line kind of thing, a sacrifice that can be metaphorical or actual, or as “Saints of Imperfection” beautifully lived out, both.
The episode was classic heart-filled Trek, that didn’t advance the arc so much, though there were a few small steps here and there, as it reaffirmed with spectacular heart and soul, and cracklingly-good dialogue, what makes the franchise tick and why, Red Angels and what the hell is up with Spock aside, we tune in to watch every week.
Next week in “Sounds of Thunder” …