With its fifth episode, Star Trek: Discovery finally feels traditionally Star Trek. And that’s even considering it features the franchise’s first use of a very strong “colorful metaphor.”
Nevertheless, the show finally seems to be firing on all thrusters. Saru gets a featured spot, giving the character room to articulate his greatest concern. It also shed a new light on Lorca; something I’m sure he’s quite unhappy about. The bridge crew felt like a traditional Star Trek team, even if they are little more than extras. Even Rainn Wilson’s recreation of Harcourt Fenton Mudd hit the right notes. The key here was, at long last, the plot served to reveal characters as people we want to continue watching. Without that, you don’t have Star Trek.
One again, the major issue resided in Engineering, where Burnham is convinced the tardigrade’s health is deteriorating with each successful spore jump. Not that Saru wants to hear that — more on him in a moment. Even Dr. Culber was skeptical, but apparently found some readings to back up Burnham’s assessment. It was enough to get Stamets on board, revealing another great wrinkle in the character. Though short on social niceties, Stamets is very much a traditional Starfleet scientist. He desperately wants to advance Federation knowledge, but confront him with evidence that his research is hurting another living thing and he will use all of his talents to alleviate that suffering. Of course, his solution was, well, positively Spock-like in its approach: he injected himself with a DNA modifier so he could act as the Spore Drive navigator. Sure, it was probably a dumb risk, but Star Trek is built on people making dumb risks. Only Michael Burnham ever gets ostracized for it.
And that tendency to ostracize her comes into focus with Saru taking temporary command of the Discovery to rescue Lorca from the Klingons. One might suspect Saru’s real problem when he tries to compare himself to “Starfleet’s greatest captains” — did you all notice Robert April, Jonathan Archer and Matthew Decker in that list with Philippa Georgiou? — but it seems Saru’s genuine concern is feeling unprepared to captain a ship. As he finally tells Burhman, he’s jealous that she learned from Georgiou as her first officer and he never had the privilege. It’s an interesting place to take the character as Saru is an almost effortlessly exemplary Starfleet officer. And though it seems he answered his own quandary by not evaluating his performance as acting captain, I imagine this isn’t the last of Saru’s anxieties. In fact, a species with such a highly evolved sense for danger must be racked with anxieties all the time. Wonder what the ship’s counselor makes of him.
Oh, right, we’re a century away from ship’s counselors.
Meanwhile, let’s say hello to the new Harry Mudd. Wilson did a fantastic job recreating actor Roger C. Carmel’s sense of flair and theatrics. He was also a consummate slime-ball, selling out Lorca and the other Starfleet prisoners aboard the Klingon prison ship. In short, he is very muh the sort of person a younger Mudd would be even if he’s not quite doing what the Original Series Mudd would do. I mean, he’d definitely sell people out to avoid Klingon torture. But I suspect Mudd would manage to evade capture; getting Starfleet ships in to trouble as he flees his Klingon pursuers. At the same time, it’s interesting to consider if Mudd is capable of an actual vendetta against Lorca for leaving him behind. The Mudd of the original series never let such petty ideas get in the way of his latest scam.
I also imagine Mudd will be prone to swear in future episodes now that Tilly has broken the “f*ck barrier.” I suppose one of the advantages of Star Trek‘s streaming-first status is the latitude to use profanity, but it was a truly unexpected choice for the series. That Tilly gets the honor of saying the first f*ck on Star Trek is just perfect, though. And considering the way this show is shaping up, it also makes sense that Stamets would approve of the nomenclature.
Lastly, I’m glad the show confirmed that Stamets and Culber are in a relationship. It certainly seemed that way last week, but I didn’t get the sense that it was text until they were brushing their teeth together; a perfect symbol of domesticity. No matter when it was confirmed, they are cute as f*ck together. Like I said last week, Wilson Cruz never gets enough high-profile work and while Culber may not be the ship’s Chief Medical Officer, he continues a proud tradition of vocal and opinionated Star Trek doctors. Learning that he is in a relationship with the Chief Engineer also feels like Star Trek evolved. I just hope Stamets’s experience as the Spore Drive navigator won’t lead him somewhere that will jeopardize his life with Gruber. Or is his life at all, for that matter.
Star Trek: Discovery streams Sundays on CBS All Access.