STAR TREK: DISCOVERY Review: 2.14 “Such Sweet Sorrow, Part II”

A weak season finale with a strong setup for Season 3.

Star Trek: Discovery’s second season finale is, for better and worse, the perfect capper to the season. It’s breathlessly paced and heavy on action; it delivers some potent character beats; it’s full of utterly baffling decisions; it looks incredible; and it bends over backwards to appease Original Series canon. And while it doesn’t entirely satisfy on its own, it makes bold promises for a future whose possibilities seem endless.

After last week’s litany of emotional farewells, Discovery made room for this second part of the finale to be all action, all the time, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint on that count. The majority of the episode is taken up by an enormous space battle that feels more Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica than Trek, pitting Section 31’s AI-controlled drone ships against Discovery, Enterprise, and a phalanx of armed shuttlecraft and worker pods that frankly makes even Star Trek: Voyager’s unrealistically copious shuttle complement look paltry. It’s all very exciting visually, but hardly the kind of tactical brilliance we (read: I) want from our (read: my) Star Trek. Saru studied Sun Tsu; surely he could have gleaned something from that other than a nice speech.

Even the arrival of a combined Klingon and Kelpien fleet, spurred on by Ash Tyler (who took off in the midst of battle preparation last week, and whose expediency in this matter renders the two-parter’s communications disruption moot), doesn’t add much to the fight. Granted, it’s terrific to see L’Rell in battle-commander mode, and there’s a nice emotional beat as Saru’s sister comes to her brother’s aid, but it’s just more ships in a battle with lots of ships already.

Naturally, the two “hero” ships take quite a beating in the mostly-uneven fight, with plenty of stuntpeople being flung around sets, and plenty of pyrotechnics being detonated on those sets. Stamets is gravely injured, resulting in a touching if unmotivated reunion between him and Culber, who’s decided that Paul is his home, and he’s not going to transfer to Enterprise after all. I don’t recall what it was that changed his mind; this scene rings less true than the surprisingly well-observed falling-out between them.

Among the dumbest plot devices in the episode is an undetonated photon torpedo that embeds itself in Enterprise’s hull. It’s dumb in its very concept, but more so in its effect on the story - as the crew consider how to disarm it, it becomes clear that the torpedo will be used as a means to eliminate a cast member, and it’s merely a question of which one. At one point, it seems like it’ll take Number One out (which would be a shame). Then, it seems like Captain Pike is gonna bite it (which would screw up continuity). Ultimately, the fate falls to Admiral Cornwell, who’s had a good run, and who just before her death closes a blast door that apparently can withstand a point-blank photon torpedo detonation, while the entire front of the ship can’t.

All of this is in service of one thing: protecting Michael Burnham as she hops into a new Red Angel time-travel suit and vanishes Discovery into the future and away from rogue AI Control. The silliest stuff in this thread comes at the top, as engineers race to build the suit before the ship is destroyed, and as a fleet of shuttlecraft form a protective cocoon around her while she flies through space. Looks cool; makes no sense. Once Burnham reaches, unprotected, the bit of space junk she’s to use as an operating platform, she gets a nice moment with Spock where both adopted siblings credit the other with their personal growth. Unfortunately, that’s outweighed by a colossally groan-inducing resolution to the “seven signals” mystery, wherein each was set by Burnham to bring Discovery to the elements it needed to survive this battle. This kind of temporal causality loop is annoying as hell in time-travel stories, and this is no exception - no matter how mind-bending the effects sequences are.

Meanwhile, the former Captain and current AI drone Leland manages to beam onboard Discovery, instigating a series of fight sequences between him, Georgiou, and Commander Nhan. The show had to deal with Leland somehow, and given how brainless his late-season arc has been, it makes sense that it’d be done with fisticuffs. The hints in earlier episodes that he’d be some kind of Borg progenitor appear to have been red herrings; he’s more of a human body puppeteered by grey goo than a cyborg. Though a gravity-altered corridor fight is an impressive setpiece (if too long and too taken with its own impressiveness), it all comes to a head in the spore chamber, where Georgiou giggles with glee as she magnetically draws the goo out of Leland’s corpse. Shame on Control for using magnetic materials.

Despite the elimination of Leland/Control (on board Discovery, no less) rendering the Section 31 fleet lifeless and the time-travel mission unnecessary, Michael still opens the wormhole and Discovery shoots through it. It’s a pretty great sequence, as figures from around the battle gaze up emotionally at the ship vanishing into a big glowing space-anus, and the crew onboard go wide-eyed as they travel 930 years into the future. As of the end of the episode, Discovery is gone; we don’t see it or its crew at all once they’ve disappeared through that wormhole. Who knows what will happen to them?

The final minutes of the episode are its most curious, following as they do the crew of the Enterprise. In keeping with this season’s mission of conforming the show with Star Trek canon, Spock creates a Starfleet directive wherein nobody will ever speak of Discovery, the spore drive, or the crew, while Sarek and Amanda Grayson vow never to speak of their adopted daughter to outsiders. In what must be Starfleet’s quickest promotion ever, Ash Tyler is made head of a Section 31 that will receive a radical overhaul and greater transparency, which also helps make that division seem less openly villainous. Then, in the final moments, we jump back to a clean-shaven Spock who’s more comfortable in his own skin, boarding a repaired Enterprise and setting off on new adventures with Captain Pike, Number One, and the rest. 

In a bizarre way, “Such Sweet Sorrow, Part II” feels like the setup for three completely different Star Trek series. There’s Discovery, shot a millennium into a future where no Star Trek show (barring one Short Trek) has gone before - a truly exciting prospect for a franchise that’s sometimes constrained by an interlocking puzzle of continuity. There’s Ash Tyler and Philippa Georgiou’s reformed Section 31, which we already know will be a show in its own right (and which will thankfully be free of asshole Leland). And most painfully tantalising of all, there’s Captain Pike’s Enterprise, setting off on a new mission much like the Star Treks of old. As far as we know, that third show isn’t happening, though given the strength of the three core cast members (Mount, Peck, and Romijn), the fairly serious set build undertaken for Enterprise, and the winking way the episode ends, it’s tempting to believe it might. CBS has stated that their presence in Discovery was a one-season deal, and the ending works as a button on their involvement. But what if?

What if, indeed. The future is wide open for Star Trek, with multiple new shows on the horizon. It almost makes me forget how stupid the majority of this finale was. Now that it seems headed toward new frontiers, I’m newly - possibly foolishly - excited for my favourite franchise in the whole world.

Stray observations:

  • Georgiou, getting the best lines as usual: describing Leland as an “AI sausage,” and telling him “everybody hates you - congratulations.”
  • Enterprise has repair droids that look like something out of WALL-E, and I hate them.
  • Reno says she can’t violate the laws of physics, which makes me want her as a regular cast member even more.
  • Casting the Enterprise in a support role in the battle is odly moving - we’re so used to it being the centre of attention, the flagship, that it makes the mission seem all the more important.
  • Attention-Grabbing Filmmaking Technique of the Week: split-screen editing, three ways, with red dividers.
  • The effects team really outdid itself on this episode. Tons of effects shots, nearly all of which look terrific, even if their purpose often isn’t.
  • Having learned the Klingon for “today is a good day to die” for a stand-up set once, I was pleased to recognise that phrase without reading the subtitles.
  • Nhan may be the most sadistic security officer ever on a Starfleet vessel, responding “yum yum” to the prospect of making Leland scream.
  • That’s the end of Season 2! Been a wild ride, with high highs, low lows, and a lot of fucking weird shit in between. Until next year (and hopefully beyond), live long and prosper.

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