It’s strange to watch an episode of any Star Trek show and find the central external dilemma to be the weakest part. And, yet, that’s where we’re at with Star Trek: Discovery‘s fourth episode, “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry.” While the episode is more about the Discovery and the Klingons perfecting their war machines, there’s a recognizable Starfleet problem at the core of the episode’s plot: prevent the Klingons from killing the miners on Corvan II. But that mission only serves as a reason to once again force Burnham into a high-stakes gamble.
But let’s talk about tardigrades.
As I said last week, the bio-organic FTL drive — now known as the “Spore Jump” drive — is a fantastic Star Trek idea. And this week, the idea is backed up by the equally thrilling assignment Captain Lorca gives to Burnham: weaponize they creature they recovered from the Glen. As Security Commander Landry points out, the Discovery is a ship of war now and Lorca aims to make everything a weapon. Even a creature Burnham discovers is somehow related to the microscopic tardigrades; just larger on an order of magnitude even a Vulcan-trained Starfleet officer finds hard to express.
Not that Landry is all that impressed by it. She’d also like to find a way to weaponize the creature. But in her conflict with Burnham on the matter, we also find another wonderful Star Trek idea: perception is important. Because Burnham cannot help sate her own curiosity, she once again goes off-mission, but uncovers something much more vitally important to the mission than a weapon. The Glen was trying to use the tardigrade as a navigator during spore jumps. It would also seem the creature was enlarged or came into existence during one of the Glen‘s test jumps. Definitely a result Burnham would not have found had Landry convinced her to stay on mission and look at things only as weapons.
Come to think of it, Landry and Lorca’s narrow focus underscores the most interesting internal conflict on Discovery: the ship is a science vessel press-ganged into a war.
The tension we glimpsed last week comes to the fore when Lt Stamets finds himself injured and in sickbay. He reminds Lorca he never wanted his technology to be used this way. We also get a strange mention of Elon Musk in relationship to the achievements of the Wright Brothers and Zefram Cochrane, but maybe we’ll save that for another day. Instead, I want to point out that the Discovery was built specifically for the Stamets’s Spore Jump and used as an exploration vessel. In fact, it appears Lorca, Landry and the black badge guards all came to the ship after it was staffed with scientists ready for do some serious science. While this tension has yet to lead to an interesting drama between any of the characters, it does say something Lorca himself.
Unlike Kirk — who trained for war, but sues for peace whenever possible — Lorca is a man of war absolutely stifled by Starfleet’s mission of exploration. He studied war and was ready for conflict long before the Klingons became a threat to the Federation. If nothing else, it’s an interesting inversion of a Starfleet captain, but I have to wonder if it means Burnham will mutiny again before the season ends.
But in the midst of all of this ship-side conflict is so terribly realized, I had to laugh whenever it was mentioned. Rescuing the mining colony on Corvan II was the stated mission of the hour, but the messages from the colony were so poorly acted and staged, they undercut the importance of the situation. Granted, there have been similar distress calls on other Star Trek shows as terribly directed and equally manipulative. But on the serious-minded Discovery, the distress calls did not fit the tone. Instead, they felt like something from a Star Trek parody. And to make matters worse, the awful dubbing of the child asking “Who saved us?” after the Discovery jumped in and dispatched the Klingon ships was the most cringeworthy thing on the show to date.
The episode also featured some advancement of the Klingon plot. Kol, son of Kor, wrestled control of Kahless’s ship from Voq, leaving him seemingly stranded on the carcass of the Shenzhou. Luckily, he’s saved by his only remaining loyal follower. It seems Voq has a long way to go before he can unite the Empire as T’Kuvma had hoped. I hope it leads to an interesting journey. I also hope Kol learns how to get the cloaking device working on Kahless’s ship.
Until next week, let’s say goodbye to Commander Landry. Rekha Sharma was never listed as a series regular, but who would think she’d go that way? Also, let’s welcome Wilson Cruz as Dr. Hugh Culber. He never gets enough work and deserve a high profile gig like a Starfleet doctor. Hopefully, he’ll be a sickbay staple. Maybe he’ll even get through to whatever humanity Lorca has left.
Star Trek Discovery streams Sundays on CBS All Access.