This review contains spoilers.
2.4 An Obol For Charon
One of the refreshing things about watching Star Trek: Discovery is that you never know what show you are going to get week to week. Will it be a Klingon soap opera, an attempt to fill in canonical spaces that nobody ever asked about, or perhaps a fond return to one of the franchise’s classic formulas? (Note: This narrative mania is also one of the most frustrating things about watching Star Trek: Discovery.)
This week, Discovery fell into the final, aforementioned category, where it has arguably found the most success. (See also: season one’s Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad, which played with the time loop formula and season two’s New Eden, which gave us an away mission to a pre-Prime Directive planet as a story structure.)
An Obol For Charon is reminiscent of those classic Star Trek episodes that saw some kind of incident incapicitate the ship, forcing the crew to work together to solve the problem(s) and save everyone. Extra points if at least some of the crew members are trapped in a section of the ship. (A favourite example of this kind of episode is The Next Generation‘s Disaster, which sees Captain Picard trapped in a turbolift with a bunch of kids, singing “Frere Jacques”—he’s French, OK?—to distract them.)
An Obol For Charon wasn’t as good as the best of this kind of Star Trek episode, but it was still pretty goddamn delightful and, in the context of this show, easily one of the most enjoyable episodes. Much of this had to do with the way Discovery felt like a real, lived-in setting, using spaces like Saru’s quarters and people like Linus (hey, Linus!) to create a much more textured world. In general, this show has never used its supporting cast so well.
I legitimately thought Saru was going to die and I was bereft. I was convinced Doug Jones was going to make The Shape Of Water 2 and we were never going to see him again, and all of this after getting the sweet taste of an episode (not a Short Trek, dammit) that highlights his character so wonderfully. This would have been a shame for several reasons, not least of which he is one of the truly alien characters we have on this version of Star Trek.
Fear not, fellow Saru fans, for this cruel fate was not meant to be. While Saru thought he had entered his death throes, a period of preparing for death that Kelpians apparently enter before offering themselves up to the slaughter, he just needed to let it pass. This didn’t make total sense? There was a mention of Kelpians who didn’t submit to the slaughter going mad from this illness, so what makes Saru different?
I hope Discovery delves further into how Saru has been changed by the loss of his threat ganglia. I hope he doesn’t lose his immense capacity for empathy that so defines his character. And I hope he challenges Starfleet on its use of General Order One, and the nuance of the non-interference law in relation to situations like Saru’s home planet of Kaminar. The storytelling device has always been one of the Federation’s ethically-murkier ideas, and I mean that as a compliment.
Saru’s illness was tied, thematically and logistically, to the epic death of a 100,000-year-old (which apparently makes it “ancient”?), spherical being. What at first seemed like a malevolent viral attack on the Discovery was actually the being’s attempt to communicate its life story before its death. Discovery was heavy-handed with the message of this storyline, as is its endearing way, but that didn’t keep my optimistic science fiction-driven self from digging it. May we all have the courage to explore the world and universe with curiosity first, assuming benevolence from the beings we meet along the way.
Let’s hope benevolence is what Tilly finds down whatever plane of existence she was just pulled into. At first, it seemed like Tilly had been saved from the clutches of the spore being we know as May, but the fungal plane, which unsurprisingly we were messing up with our spore drive trips, is much too clever for that. It distracted Stamets and Reno long enough to pull Tilly back into its coccoon and into SporeWorld™.
I’m worried about Tilly, but I am glad someone is addressing the Discovery’s unprecedented use of the mycelial network under Lorca’s command. Will we get another heavy-handed climate change metaphor? God, I hope so. (I mean… I’d take a nuanced climate change metaphor, too, but I’ve learned not to be overly ambitious when it comes to this show.) Whatever happens with Tilly’s trip down the rabbit hole, Discovery better double down on the Alice In Wonderland references or what has all of this been for?
Read Kayti’s review of the previous episode, Point Of Light, here.