Star Trek: Discovery 1.04 – “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not For The Lamb’s Cry”

First of all, that is a very pretentious episode title.

Second, this episode had a lot to like, and also a fair bit that I strongly disliked and may end up deciding I hate, so this is not a wholly positive review.

Let’s get it out of the way:

Things I strongly disliked

  1. The line about the Klingons eating Georgiou’s body

Not only gratuitous and horrible, but I don’t think we needed another way for a woman’s body — a WoC’s body — to be objectified and degraded. At least it was entirely off screen?

(It also makes it harder for Georgiou to come back as a Klingon Winter Soldier. I’m gonna have to go with some kind of cloning + memory implantation deal. But that’s by the by.)

I did see an argument that it’s narrative balance for Georgiou’s decision to plant a torpedo on a Klingon corpse, which is technically a war crime. And I can see that, but I just don’t like it — and that’s before we get to the bit where it’s not especially consistent with what we know of Klingons. Although even humans will eat each other if they’re starving, and it’s not technically cannibalism since they’re different species, and also “it’s not technically cannibalism” is not a phrase I thought I’d have to use for this Fuller-linked show…

Anyway, I’ve defended Discovery from accusations of grimdarkness, but here I had to throw up my hands and go, “You know? Fine. You are rapidly approaching grimdark territory, and it’s bullshit.”

2. Landry’s death

We’ve had three women of colour in major roles, and now two of them are dead.

I’m not especially cut up about Landry herself — she basically died of stupidity, and I’ll get to that shortly — but I dislike the pattern that we’ve established.

Michael Burnham had damn well better be immortal, that’s all I’m saying. And Joann Owosekun, the beautiful young black woman with amazing hair who sits at Ops, needs to O’Brien herself into the main credits.

If Landry is also replaced by a white dude, I’m going to throw something. (But not at the TV, we’ve barely started paying it off.)

3. Klingon business

I didn’t mind the Klingons in the premiere, but they fell flat here. Voq’s prosthetics and speech were much more distracting than T’Kuvma’s, and the demeanour of all the Klingons was weirdly subdued. What happened to the obnoxious fratboys of the galaxy who so plagued Worf? Where are the drinking songs about honour and victory?

And I like L’Rell, for reasons I’ll get into below, but traditionally, Klingon woman have been more violent and dangerous than the men. (Which makes it especially weird that they weren’t allowed to serve on the Klingon High Council in the 24th century, but that’s the sort of worldbuilding you could get away with in the ’90s.) So L’Rell, promising as she is, could have been a lot more aggressive.

But then, that goes for all the Klingons. Is it the requirement to act in a fake language? Surely not — if Emilia Clarke can emote in Dothraki and High Valyrian in Game of Thrones (and, with all due respect to Emilia, sometimes she can barely emote in English), the guys in the Klingon suits can manage that.

And it might be the prosthetics making it difficult, but the TNG-era Klingons often wore prosthetic teeth, and they were fine.

I actually think the big problem is the direction — Klingon is a language for bombastic speeches, not quiet conversations, but the overall intensity is too low. Would filming these scenes in English help? Maybe? But, again, Game of Thrones has given us many long scenes where much of the dialogue was in Dothraki or one of its other fake languages, and that was fine.

Anyway, those are the things I have strong negative feelings about. Everything else, while I may not be hugely positive, I’m a bit more accepting.

I guess this is where I’ll talk about the prequel thingo

I mentioned last week that I don’t really understand why this has to be a prequel, beyond a corporate desire to profit off nostalgia. Setting Discovery a couple of generations after DS9 — long enough that the trauma of the Dominion War is well in the past and we have a fresh, new generation of Starfleet officers who haven’t experienced anything so devastating — would have sidestepped a lot of the distractions around technology and aesthetics.

But since that apparently wasn’t a viable option, I don’t know why we had to have this Klingon plotline, when TOS gave us a traumatic pre-series war — with the Romulans. Who are a much better fit for quiet, talky scenes about politics, and also have a connection with Michael via her Vulcan upbringing.

The main issue, in terms of conforming to the canon, would be ensuring that the Starfleet characters don’t see the Romulans’ faces, because it’s an important plot point that the whole war goes by without the Federation realising the Romulans are related to Vulcans. Masks and hoods and helmets: GO.

(I realised that I don’t have strong feelings about the Klingon redesign because I’m still mad about the TNG-era Romulans — they went from being Vulcans, but with more bronzer and better hair, to having some fairly pointless forehead prosthetics, and also terrible shoulder pads.)

If Discovery was about the Romulan War, we could have had James Frain playing a Romulan Commander! Mark Lenard did! Alas for what might have been…

Ship of Jerks

This week’s Jerk Rankings, from Asshole to Cinnamon Roll:

  1. Captain Lorca. Playing the audio from the colony under attack isn’t a good way to motivate your crew, unless you think trauma is motivating.
  2. Landry. The desire to be a jerk was stronger than basic intelligence, and she died.
  3. Michael. I love her and I want nothing but the best for her, but manipulating Saru with a fake apology was a dick move. A brilliant dick move, mind. Gosh, she’s smart (and a jerk).
  4. Stamets. I verged on liking him this week, which is kind of a relief.
    (Note: you could argue for swapping Stamets and Michael, because Michael is the one who sees that the Tardigrade is being tortured by the spore drive hook-up, and Stamets either doesn’t know, or doesn’t care. IDK. My jury is kind of out there.)
  5. Saru. He’s just so honest in his mistrust of Michael, yet so courteous in his interactions with her.
  6. Hot Doctor Who Flirts With Stamets. (His name is Dr Hugh Culber, and he is indeed Stamets’s love interest.)
  7. Tilly. Keep on keeping on, baby girl.

How did these people even get commissions?

And by “these people”, I mean Lorca and Landry.

Lorca would probably make a great security chief and tactical officer, but his whole outlook is so antithetical to Starfleet’s mission that I keep wondering how he got command of a ship at all. I can only assume that he was either promoted at the start of the war, or he has been working for Section 31 all this time.

Lorca seems mostly competent, though. Landry is killed because she’s so busy trying to prove herself to Lorca that she abandons basic common sense.

Now, this was bad writing. We needed to escalate the tension and highlight the validity of Michael’s approach, and this was a simple way — but it’s much too simple, and makes Landry look like a complete idiot.

But, growing up a Voyager fan, you learn to recognise bad writing, and then figure out an in-universe explanation for it. But I’m struggling, because … it’s just so stupid!

Anyway, speaking of Section 31 and overall Starfleet shadiness

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to notice that the USS Discovery has the registry number NCC-1031.

This week we learn that Lorca sees Michael’s curiosity as a liability, whereas Georgiou considered it her greatest strength. This, more than anything else, confirms for me that Lorca is a Shady Dude — and I suspect that, not only will the season end with Michael (and probably Saru, for maximum narrative irony) leading a mutiny against him, but Michael will replace him as captain of the Discovery.

A matter of pacing

Okay, one thing I do like about the prequel setting is the slow unfolding of a plot which would last a single episode in TOS or one of the ’90s series.

Trying to figure out the motivations of a seemingly hostile alien? Spock, The First Vulcan In Starfleet, would just have to get close enough to do a mind meld, but his human foster sister has to do it the hard way, using her skills as a xenoanthropologist.

“We have this amazing new technology, but using it is effectively animal cruelty” is classic TNG. (Or Voyager, where Janeway would sadly conclude she had to free the Tardigrade, and Voyager would keep on trekking slowly back to the Alpha Quadrant.)

In short, we get the idea that the later crews will have the benefit of Michael’s experience. This is a nifty in-universe explanation for the slower pace of contemporary serialised television, and I like it.

Back to the Klingons

Despite all my criticisms above, I like L’Rell a lot, and I have to commend the show for giving us a non-sexualised Klingon woman. For a while it seemed like boob windows were a standard part of Klingon armour for women, and though I think L’Rell’s costume is a bit dull — almost pyjama-like — the camera treats her the same way it treats the men.

Also, I have to congratulate Mary Chieffo and Javid Iqbal for managing to create sexual tension through all that make-up. Which, come to think of it, is another sign that it’s not the prosthetics which are the problem here.

L’Rell comes from an outcast House known for lies and deception, which doesn’t sound terribly Klingon to me, but between that and the promise of all-wise matriarchs (Klingon matriarchs are definitely a way to my heart), I’ve decided that the House of Mokai will soon change its name to the House of Gowron.

Other observations

  • Lorca’s meal bears a strong resemblance to the Klingon feast — our stream was a bit rough, so I couldn’t tell if he was actually eating Klingon food, or if it was just canny prop design.
  • I really enjoy the relative simplicity of the women’s hairstyles — most of the female Starfleet officers wear their hair in ponytails or neat shoulder-length bobs; Michael and Joann, the most visible black women, have natural hair — which I don’t remember seeing after Uhura in The Motion Picture — and even though Joann’s hair is in an updo with shaved sides, I see women in Footscray with similar styles right now. I’m not completely convinced that a loose side fringe is all that practical for a security officer, but it’s a nice change from the overstyled hairpiece, buns and chignons of Voyager. That is, I don’t spend whole episodes wondering how a character managed to do her own hair.
  • (Just think, we’re only ten years away from Janice Rand’s basket-weave beehive!)
  • (So, yes, Michael’s asymmetric cut will look very dated soon, but Star Trek fashion is as much about the era it’s created as the future.)
  • Did you cry every time Michelle Yeoh appeared? ME TOO.
  • It occurs to me that, with Georgiou gone, we don’t have a single major character (or cast member) who isn’t from North America. Which is a bit frustrating when you compare it to something like The Expanse. Star Trek has always been an American story masquerading as universal, but it’s especially frustrating now.
  • UPDATE: It has been pointed out to me that Jason Isaacs is a cast member who is not from North America. On a related note, I am never allowed to complain about his accent again (even though I think Lorca should have been English).
  • I want a lower decks episode about Keyla, the helmsman from the Shenzhou and Discovery — the one with the cerebral implant following the battle at the binary stars — and Joann and Jira Narwani, the woman inside the concealing tactical helmet (aka Ensign Daft Punk), and Milton Richer, the improbably handsome guy on the bridge. I love them all, and would be particularly keen to see Jira’s face. We don’t even know who plays her!
  • (Probably a stunt actress at this stage. Hopefully not a white one.)

  • I love her too, random guy whose tweet turned up in my google search.
  • Let’s hope this episode was an aberration and next week’s is better, and also doesn’t kill any Women of Colour!
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