After another quick call with Georgiou, and another quick cry with Tilly, Burnham returns to voice-over mode to remind us of the theme of this season. After witnessing what some would consider the miraculous, she wavers in her rigid Vulcan point of view, now open to possibilities. Gathered with her new family on the bridge of a starship headed into the unknown, her message is one all of us Trek fans may be feeling about this episode, this season and this expanding franchise: “If there is a greater hand leading us into an uncertain future. I can only hope it guides us well.”
Truth and consequences
Culber returning is something we knew would happen literally since the day his character was killed off. So concerned over being accused of using the “bury your gays” trope, the usually secretive producers revealed on After Trek, and in many subsequent interviews and appearances, that Culber was not dead and Cruz would be back. It’s good they didn’t rush it, dropping in some visions and a flashback to hold over fans until this episode, and the method he was resurrected with was deeply entwined into something key to this show—and Stamets—the mycelial network.
Importantly, the show didn’t create a new loophole which negated death itself. I doubt anyone will wonder why they don’t use this method again. It is also promising that Anthony Rapp has stated that this resurrection “has to have consequences,” and hopefully the consequences go beyond May losing her connection to regular space. Culber has just gone through a very traumatic experience, and it should be something that he carries with him. Also, having his murderer on board should lead to something more than just awkward looks. Culber should simply not be the same. This could take the form of some interesting sci-fi stuff and/or acknowledge what nine months in a nightmare would do to someone.
Discovery has a mixed record when it comes to consequences for these characters. Of course, much of the first season obsessed over Burnham’s redemption arc for her mutiny in season one, but other cases of character consequences seem to have been dropped or forgotten. In just this episode we see Admiral Cornwell, who arguably is guilty of attempting a war crime (along with Sarek and other high ups in the Federation), but she seems to have landed on her feet. Saru went through a radical transformation in the previous episode but seems mostly fine now, and everyone seemed pretty cool with his insubordination on Pahvo last season.
And then there is the issue of death itself. One of the stated goals of Discovery was to play with the big boys like Game of Thrones and be willing to go there when it came to killing off characters, which it did in a big way in the two-part pilot. However, since then, the show has been tame when it has come to casualties, never even making the war with the Klingons feel like it had consequences. And when they do get around to killing off a character, too often the show either pulls a fake out where they don’t die or when they kill them off, or they ensure the audience hates them like Lorca and Landry in season one and Connolly in the season two opener.
Discovery should not be afraid to take more risks, to truly depict the danger inherent in exploring the final frontier. They should trust the audience and be willing to live in the grey areas with their characters. These are not only lessons from peak TV but Trek history itself.
Welcome to Section 31, brought to you by the fine people at Starfleet
Our review of the third episode of the season—which introduced the Section 31 storyline—noted that it was unclear exactly what Section 31 was within Discovery. This episode cleared up all ambiguities. Not only do Section 31 agents walk around with badges that everyone recognizes, but it is clearly stated that the organization is part of Starfleet Intellig ence and part of the chain of command, taking orders from Starfleet admirals. Cornwell describes Section 31 as “a critical intelligence division.” This is a not-so-secret secret organization, and very different than the extremely covert one introduced in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which may have claimed to work in the shadows on behalf of Federation interests but was entirely a rogue operation unaccountable to anyone.
So, this is a violation of canon and another example of Discovery twisting a piece of Trek history, right? Well, not so fast. Speaking to Digital Spy and other media outlets at the TCA event a couple of weeks ago, showrunner Alex Kurtzman said the conflicting portrayals of Section 31 isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Kurtzman states:
If you know Section 31, you know that by the time Deep Space Nine comes around they’ve gone underground and they are this mysterious organization—but there’s nothing official about it. In the promos [for season 2] that you’ve seen so far, Section 31 has a badge. There’s a ship and all these different things, so the question is: how do they get from here to there? What happened in that window of time between those two pivot points in Section 31’s evolution?
It looks like they are giving Section 31 as an organization its own arc. At some point they go from a known part of Starfleet Intelligence to something known to only a handful, and run outside of Starfleet. But what about Enterprise you say? Well, that is a good question and something hopefully we can ask episode writer and “keeper of the canon” Kirsten Beyer about. I suspect it could be noted that Enterprise takes place before the establishment of the Federation. Also, while Enterprise depicted Section 31 as a very secret organization, it was never clearly stated that it was not part of Starfleet Intelligence. In fact, Section 31 agent Malcolm Reed (who was a by-the-book Starfleet officer) referred to his handler, Harris, as “sir” and told Captain Archer his obligation to Section 31 was greater than his obligation to the ship.
For now, like so many characters implored each other in “Saints of Imperfection,” the producers want us to trust them and their motives when it comes to Section 31, or as Georgiou said to Michael in the episode, “have a little faith.”
Patience of the saints
“Saints of Imperfection” continued the trend seen in the first four episodes of the second season, both in terms of general improvements to the show as well as addressing issues left over from the first season. While finding some moments for levity, the episode brought in a horror element, which has always been part of Trek from its very first episode aired (TOS “The Man Trap”).
Even though previous episodes this season have downplayed the mycelial network or even joked about it, this episode leans in. Kirsten Beyer deserves credit for remembering that the spore drive was a core part of the USS Discovery. There are still some open questions, but “Saints of Imperfection” added a lot to the lore that has been the heart of Discovery. As she is considered one of the bigger Trekkies in the writers’ room, Beyer knows how to pepper things with just enough references and a few deep Trek cuts without turning to the ham-fisted fan service that has plagued the show. However, she still relies too much on voice-over and exposition when she could be showing and not just saying. The audience should also be respected enough to pick up on the themes and allegories without using metaphorical spotlights.
The return of Wilson Cruz has been long anticipated and brings back another core element of this show: the relationship between his Dr. Culber and Anthony Rapp’s Paul Stamets, with both actors bringing back all the feels. The episode also featured a strong performance from Mary Wiseman, whose Tilly continues to grow and is finally toning it down a bit. Michelle Yeoh usually elevates episodes she is in, however, her turn as agent Georgiou is now entering the realm of cartoonish.
Turning what was essentially a bottle show on the USS Discovery (and the Section 31 ship) into a compelling and creepy adventure, director David Barrett (who also helmed the fun season one episode “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad”) was able to seamlessly weave all the story elements happening around the ships together, making this episode feel the most whole of any season two outing since the premiere. This effort was helped by top-notch work by the production design, music, editing, and visual effects.
The first act of this season now feels complete. “Saints of Imperfection” has hopefully set the final pieces into place for the main arc of the season to return to the fore.
Random thoughts, connections, easter eggs, and more
- The episode title plays off a quote from director Guillermo del Toro: “Monsters are patron saints of imperfection.”
- The episode featured an inordinate number of “walk and talk” and other scenes set in corridors, showcasing the newly elongated corridor set.
- Pike says last time he saw Leland was dealing with alligators on Cestus III, the planet where Kirk will fight the lizard-like Gorn in TOS “Arena.”
- Stamets’ mention of Lavoisier refers to 18th-century French chemist Antoine Lavoisier who is considered the father of modern chemistry; his “Lavoisier’s Law” states “nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed.”
- Adding on to a number of things he has said in previous episodes, Pike’s mention of attending church with his cousin and his “path” seems to cement his position as a person of faith, which is one of the themes for the season.
- Burnham and Stamets refer to “twisted” bodies found on the USS Glenn, which was the sister ship to the USS Discovery seen in the third episode of the series, that had a catastrophic accident during a spore drive test, killing the crew.
- With the “intruder” Dr. Culber removed from the mycelial network, the threat to the JahSepp may have been abated. It’s not entirely clear how much damage if any the Discovery is doing to the network when it jumps, but there is no indication that they will stop using it in the short term. This brings back the longer-term issue of explaining why the technology didn’t survive into the TOS-era and beyond.
- Stamets recalls visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art with Culber to see paintings by abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning. Perhaps his most prominent work at the Met is “Easter Monday” which is described as depicting the “simultaneous processes of creation and destruction, a perpetual state of both realization and erasure that finds some analogy in the continuous growth and decay of nature,” not unlike how this episode describes the mycelial network.
- To intimidate Leland, Georgiou threatens to expose a secret from a mission he conducted on Denova, an inhabited planet affiliated with the Federation which first appeared in TOS “Operation Annihilate.” In the IDW 2018 Star Trek: Discovery Annual (which Kirsten Beyer co-wrote), Denova was where Stamets first worked on his mycelial network theories and where he first met Dr. Hugh Culber.
- The “class 5” torpedo launched by the Discovery was more of the round missile shape like the spatial torpedoes used by the NX-01 before the introduction to the more eyeglass case style photonic and later photon torpedoes.
- The USS Discovery hull is described as being made from titanium, which is also used in Starfleet ships in the 22nd through to the 24th centuries.
- The reference to article 14 of the Starfleet Charter has previously been established to be where Section 31 gets its authority to take extreme measures in times of extraordinary threat.
- The Section 31 ship has some kind of active camouflage system, possibly using the same technology as the Romulan ‘Flea’ drone ship from Enterprise.
- While Pike ordered the holographic communication system removed from the USS Enterprise in the previous episode, the system remains in place on the USS Discovery.
- Both Leland and Georgiou appeared as holograms from the Section 31 ship before people on USS Discovery even entered their rooms to activate their displays, possibly indicating Section 31 can remotely trigger the systems (which is why you need to put tape over your camera and emitters people!).
- Section 31’s black badges also work as communicators, which is tech doesn’t become standard for regular Starfleet until the 24th century.
- How Admiral Cornwell ended up on the Section 31 ship is a mystery. Was she always there? Did she arrive on another ship? In season one, Cornwell had her own cruiser, but we have yet to see this elusive ship. People beaming in from—or out to—unknown and unseen places is a recurring thing on Discovery.
Star Trek: Discovery is available exclusively in the USA on CBS All Access. It airs in Canada on Space and streams on CraveTV. It is available on Netflix everywhere else.
Keep up with all the Star Trek: Discovery news at TrekMovie.