SPOILERS AHEAD … GROWN BABIES, TIME CRYSTALS AND A TEMPORAL PARTRIDGE IN A PEAR TREE …
Well, strike me down, fill me full of nanobots, try to take any sense of freewill and personality (and decent fashion sense) and call me a bio-mechanical life form, Star Trek: Discovery went all out this week to hand us, on a glittering “resistance is futile” platter, a possible origin story for the Borg.
Not, I must stress, that anyone is actually calling them the Borg not predicting the rise of a tyrannical, sentient-life engulfing race that will come to terrify multiple galaxies, abduct and change, temporarily at least, Picard and Data, and become a narrative mainstay of Star Trek: Voyager.
Rather what we get is Control, hellbent on being the biggest, baddest, bestest, “most pure” AI out there, luring Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), with Spock (Ethan Peck) along for the ride, to a disabled Section 31 ship that was late for its scheduled call-in, with the intent of removing her as the one variable that could derail its plan to rule the known universe mwahahahahaha.
How is it doing all this, you ask? (Go on, it will make the rest of the review much easier on you.)
By filling yet another person, and god knows how many more (31 ships full perhaps? Yup, the entire Section 31 fleet), with nanobots, all controlled by a single AI mind — sound familiar to anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Burnham?
In this case, it was an old shipmate of Burnham’s from Shenzhou days, Specialist Kamran Gant (Ali Momen) who was the lone survivor of Control taking over the Section 31 ship’s computer, purging everyone out of the airlock and getting ready for what exactly?
Why, trying to turn Burnham into a Bor … a Control nanobot-filled vessel of AI bidding, the better to ensure that a future free of pesky biologicals comes to pass.
He almost succeeds too were it not for Spock magnetising the floor and stopping a remorseless wave of nanobots that were coursing straight for a phaser-toting Burnham.
They stopped just in the nick of time, and thus spared, Burnham, a little angry after last week’s aliveness/death/aliveness of her mother, which would emotionally mind fuck with anyone, agreed with Spock that maybe there was something in the red signals that they should investigate, the latest of which had just appeared over the Klingon holiday world of Boreth.
Ha! Kidding — it just looks like a Klingon holiday world.
It is in fact the home of a sacred shrine built into an imposing crevasse-like valley which guards time crystals which apparently merge future, present and past in such a potent temporal brew that the son of L’Rell (Mary Chieffo) and Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif), last seen being dropped off for the weirdest lifelong day care in the galaxy, was now a fully-grown monk with so much wise zen that Pike (Anson Mount) sent down to grab a crystal or two, wasn’t sure what he was dealing with at first.
Try telling the parents al that! Actually Pike kinda does and they are understandably a tad confused their infant son is now walking, talking and dispensing advice like some sort of Klingon Cobra Kai.
Their confusion aside, and apart from a few shouty Klingon “chats”, which includes an admission by L’Rell that Ash’s heart belongs to Burnham (awwww), the main game in town is Pike trying to get a time crystal so thehy can do Something with it to stop Control.
Frankly, and this is where “Through the Valley of the Shadows” didn’t so much skip over plot conveniences so much as not bother really bother explaining why they’re there in the first place, a symptom of a somewhat overblown episode, no one is really sure what to do with it.
Yes, they’re going to manipulate time somehow but no one is entirely sure how; even Burnham, at that stage of the episode, still needs convincing that the lights mean something and should be used, somehow – there we go going vague again – to stop Big Bad Control, who simply needs a bushy pornstar moustache to fill his destiny as a Big Baddy in an old Western.
So essentially Pike goes to the surface, gets all zen and future-revelatory with the main monk, discovers that the price for taking the crystal of uncertain use or future purpose is having a future play out where he is horribly burned in a radiation leak on board a ship full of cadets and has to live out his life as a shrunken Davros figure, wheezing like Darth Vader on a bad day.
It’s all presented as very portentous and Important, Super Important, with breathless phrases about the present being a veil between anticipation and horror – actually, kind of poetic but still more than a little overdone shall we admit – and is undone because the time crystals sound like something out of a cheesy ’50s sci-fi serial.
Honestly, at the time, you go along with it because it’s all very convincing narrative bells and whistles but in the end, you’re not left with very much, save for mourning the fact that Captain Sexy aka Pike is going to end up looking like a particularly overused birthday candle sometime in the future, without James Earl Jones voice to make things better.
While all this Big Narrative Stuff was happening, Tig Notaro’s Jett Reno was having a hoot, and frankly when does she not, playing relationship counsellor with Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and undead Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) telling them to get their collective relationship shit together.
It is not entirely, or even mostly because she just read a heartfelt Hallmark card she really liked and wants to live out every last vacuously romantic word, but because they soon have to do stuff with time crystals – yeah, yeah, no one knows what but they will Do Things and soon! – and she wants Stamets being all science-y and not romantically melancholic.
Turns out though she’s not entirely devoid of actual human emotional motivation; her wife, a Soyousian with a planning mania, much like Stamets, was killed in the Klingon War and she bluntly warns Culber, though with a softness borne of much loss and pain, that you usually only get one shot at true love and that if you do get a second one, courtesy of Star Trek: Discovery‘s writers (or sci-fi fate, that works too), you need to grab it with both hands.
Culber looks thoughtful and you know, you just know, that he is going to think it over, decide he’s been an ass and true love will be restored; or not … time, as the Boreth monks say (seriously, rewind the episode, they actually do), will tell.
“Through the Valley of the Shadows” was a fun, big action episode that advanced plotlines and gave us some heartfelt big “E” emotional moments such as between Spock and Burnham as they went off on their mission to confront the Bor … Nano Thingies … but it was all a big cheesy and overdone.
Still, after all the seriousness of late and there has been a starship-ton of it, maybe having an overblown episode with a preposterously-silly premise wasn’t such a bad idea, especially if it gives Tig Notaro a chance to strut her fabulously no-nonsense stuff …
Next week on Star Trek Discovery in “Such Sweet Sorrow” …