Designed as a mid-season finale, Star Trek: Discovery‘s ninth episode eliminated another poorly-developed adversary while deepening its break-out character: Anthony Rapp’s Lt. Paul Stamets. It also introduce a number of doubts about some of the other characters, added a possible new wrinkle to the Burnham/Tyler romance and magically returned Admiral Cornwell from her apparent demise last week.
Oh, and it definitely set up the so-called “Chapter Two” story line for the latter half of the season.
But first, I want to spend some time talking about Tyler and his post-traumatic episode aboard the Ship of the Dead. In Gene Roddenberry’s notion of the 23rd Century, mankind was supposedly so evolved that issues of grief and trauma were literally a thing of the past. Granted, there are a number of episode of the original Star Trek which prove this idea to be a post-release rationalization on Roddenberry’s part. But this concept definitely impacted the writing of Star Trek: The Next Generation and the subsequent series. Deep Space Nine doubled its cast with non-Starfleet characters to get around the notion. Nevertheless, the characters of those shows are poorer for losing something so essentially human.
Discovery disagrees with Roddenberry in the strongest sense and uses Tyler to illustrate just how bad it can get for a soldier on the front line. Tortured for months, Tyler agreed to enter a sexual relationship with L’Rell in order to survive. The rapes continued until Lorca arrived and helped Tyler escape. That is some brutal stuff and Shazad Latif gave a great performance as a man utterly shaken by his experiences. I’m also glad his PTSD-induced flashback was followed up with a visit from Burnham to discuss he ordeal. Perhaps more revolutionary than Roddenberry’s idea that we’d be beyond grief and trauma is the idea that men will be allowed to talk about their grief and trauma in the 23rd Century. It might be subtle, but Tyler’s 21st Century-style manner of repression is seen as an anomaly; even by Burnham, who had to repress in order to survive on Vulcan. But in addressing what happened on the ship — and what happened to Tyler for 270 days — Discovery makes a genuine innovation to Star Trek.
And, yes, I am aware Picard talked about his trauma after being violated by the Borg, but he literally had to wrestle his brother in the mud before he could access those emotions. For Tyler, it took Burnham being there to listen. That is a significant difference that should not be overlooked; even if Tyler ends up being Voq, Son of None in a deep sleeper persona. Based on tonight’s presentation of trauma, I’m genuinely hoping Tyler isn’t the long-missing disciple of T’Kuvma and lover of L’Rell. It would almost feel like a betrayal of this week’s story. But even if he is Voq, there is something to be said for the unintended consequence of becoming human. His memories of L’Rell now read as rape and, even if he recovers his true persona, he will never parse those events the same way again. If given the sensitivity Tyler’s PTSD brainlock was afforded this week, it could still be a great story line.
And speaking of great story lines, Stamets and his willingness to perform 140 jumps in quick succession is the greatest example of what Star Trek should look like in the modern era. Knowing the risks, he’s swayed by the desire to discover new things that was also embedded into Roddenberry’s 23rd Century humanity. The scene in Lorca’s ready room highlights that above all else, Stamets wants to know the universe. In the midst of his choice, we also see his love for Dr. Culbert find an expression it never could before he became the spore drive navigator. Finally telling Culbert that he loved him was new for Star Trek and beautifully true for the character as we’ve come to know him. And then there was that kiss. Star Trek has been historically gunshy about LGBTQIA characters, but that shyness has been swept away thanks to a genuinely tender and emotionally resonant moment: both within the events of the episode and for fans invested in Stamets and Culbert. I haven’t seen the moment on my Tumblr dash yet, but I bet it will be there soon.
Do they have a ship name yet?
Meanwhile, the scene between Stamets and Lorca once again made me question my assumptions about the captain. His speech about discovering alternate realities seemed so genuine. His thirst for exploration seems as true as Stamets’s own. But it’s still possible he tailored the speech to manipulate Stamets into doing the jump experiment. Lorca knows how to get the best out of his crew. That’s an admirable quality for a Starship captain to have, but Discovery appears to illustrate the dark side of that ability. At least, I think it does. Right now, I’d be willing to accept Lorca as a great captain or a danger that must be put down. Either way would be great for the character and actor Jason Isaacs.
Of course, all of that is moot as the Discovery will be facing mirror images of themselves soon enough. I’ll bet five bars of gold-pressed latinum that Harry Mudd is a resistance fighter in the Mirror Universe.
Star Trek: Discovery returns on January 7th.