Did you watch Short Treks, streaming on CBS All Access? You’d better hope you did, because Star Trek: Discovery’s two-part finale leans heavily upon two instalments in particular. This week’s main-show episode sees a character from one short make a return, and a situation from another get heavily hinted at. We’re on our way, folks. The end begins.
“Such Sweet Sorrow” - a title as apt as any this show has seen so far - kicks off with Discovery under threat from a very large AI-controlled Section 31 fleet indeed. Everyone’s prepping to abandon the ship, through some rather silly evacuation tunnels, to take refuge on Enterprise while Discovery - and the data on board - gets destroyed. Tough situation for everyone - especially Michael Burnham, who makes the mistake of touching the newly-acquired time crystal and getting a vision of their imminent demise.
I’m thrilled with the design of the Enterprise on this show. The exterior hull hasn’t seen many changes, obviously, but the interiors are frankly a spectacular, borderline-miraculous feat of design. In a way that JJ Abrams’ teams never managed, this production design team has created interiors and costumes that truly bridge two completely disparate eras of the Star Trek franchise - and built something that feels at home in both. Using modern materials but retaining the essence of the 1960s Enterprise sets, with an assist from the sound design team, they’ve done a terrific job with an incredibly tricky brief. There are even handles in the turbolifts.
Discovery isn’t done yet, though: thanks to the ship’s computer being merged with the enormous archive of data attained earlier on in the season, a sort of self-preservation instinct kicks in, preventing the self-destruct from taking effect. Torpedoes, also, have no effect, and apparently Starfleet has no idea how to breach its own ships' defences. What’s a crew to do but to send the ship elsewhere in the timeline, so that Section 31 and its psychopathic AI Control can’t get to it? It's the most obvious and logical choice.
(Eagle-eyed viewers will remember the Short Trek that took place a thousand years into the future, and featured a USS Discovery with a sentient computer system; there’s no way that’s not where all this is heading.)
The bulk of the episode is divided into two parts, the first of which is all plot - stupid, stupid plot. Queen Po, of the aforementioned Short Trek, arrives on the ship to assist with engineering a new Red Angel suit - using an impossible-to-find material that’s apparently readily available on the ship. A fifth signal appears, drawing the ship into a spot they can use to, through the magic of spore-drivey, dark-mattery technobabble, generate the power required to drive it. The crews of Enterprise and Discovery prepare for battle, somewhat eye-rollingly refitting all their shuttlecraft and worker pods as starfighters. And Michael comes to the realisation that her trip into the future will be one-way. Of course.
In both quality and quantity, the better part of the episode concerns Michael’s farewells to her crewmates, and - once they decide, selflessly, to accompany her on her one-way mission - their farewells to their loved ones. These scenes struck a real emotional chord with me. Having moved away from all my loved ones a couple years ago, and recently returned to find them as loving as ever, I really relate to Michael’s emotional journey - a journey Sonequa Martin-Green sells beautifully. That the crew decides to stay with her is obvious from a plot perspective, but viewing it from Burnham’s perspective, it’s genuinely touching. I found the episode extremely emotionally distressing - even Michael’s teary farewell to Ash, who’s staying behind to work against any future Control-like developments.
The rest of the crew get just as much loving from the writers. All the major players are shown writing letters to their own loved ones back home - Saru to his sister, Tilly to her mother, Detmer to her best friend and/or lover, Owosekun to a family member (from whom she begs forgiveness), and Stamets to his brother. It’s a great sequence, smoothly transitioning between each character in a fluid faux single take. Stamets and Culber get a wee farewell scene of their own, and while I’m sad they seem to be breaking up, I admire the maturity with which their story is being handled. Breakup stories are hard to write, and they’ve threaded a tough needle with this one.
Finally, Captain Pike gets his own farewell, as he heads back to Enterprise to lead the battle to come. There’ll need to be a new captain for Discovery, but that’s left to later. For now, it’s all about the crew and the impact Pike has had on them. In a sense, it’s also a farewell from the audience; Pike and actor Anson Mount, embodying the resolute goodness of Starfleet, have had an immense impact, and I’m genuinely sad to see them go (as they supposedly will be doing at the end of the season). Between the crew standing for him as he leaves the bridge, and his pride at Burnham having “discovered her heart,” I absolutely lost it, everyone. Best use of the word “discover” in the whole show.
The episode’s final minutes see Section 31’s armada arrive. Jet Reno’s working frantically on the time crystals, seeing visions in the process; Pike’s prepping the tiny fleet for battle; Ash is off to do...something; and the various ships get into position. Discovery is “surrounded” - infuriatingly for this viewer, only on two dimensions - and with a ridiculous-looking fleet of armed shuttles, gets ready for battle. Next week, they’ll have to pull out all the stops to protect Burnham as she goes about her mission, and the show’s VFX team will have to do the same.
“Such Sweet Sorrow” is the perfect title for this episode. Not only is it an episode full of partings - it’s an episode full of the sweet sorrow that implies. The writers and cast pulled out some great work in creating an emotional climax for the season - certainly to be matched by an action climax next week. By its cliffhanger ending, the episode ends up a mixture of just-in-case character resolutions and heavy, heavily stupid plot setup. Next week looks like all action, all the time; hopefully all the dumb plotting has a payoff as cathartic as the character development.
- Was stated earlier that the Red Angel suit bore two pilots' signatures? Did I miss something?
- If Vulcans can track people - even people unrelated to them - by their katra, what’s the point of any kind of tracking technology in this universe?
- “Trust the mystery.” I love you, Discovery writers, but for that one line...fuck you.
- Some very strange camera work here, as per usual - the technique of the week being the use of snorricam for Burnham and Reno’s flash-forwards.
- Rebecca Romijn’s Number One is great and we should have gotten to see more of her.
- What if Discovery is sent into the future, and the show’s third season is just set there, as the crew tries to find a way home like a temporal version of Star Trek: Voyager? Could be a fun way for the show to do another soft-reboot.
- “I don’t have to listen to any snark. I made it an actual law.”
- I’d totally watch a spinoff show where Po and Jet solve engineering problems and fall in love.