The strongest second-season Discovery episode to date brings us a Big Not-So-Dumb Object, a dying Saru, bickering techies, comparatively thoughtful social commentary, and some by-the-way explanations for discontinuities between the tech of this series and Kirk’s era.

Titles: “An Obol for Charon”

Directed by Lee Rose
Written by Gretchen J. Berg, Aaron Harberts, Andrew Colville, Jordon Nardino

Cast
Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham
Anson Mount as Captain Christopher Pike
Doug Jones as Commander Saru
Anthony Rapp as Commander Paul Stamets
Mary Wiseman as Ensign Sylvia Tilly
Tig Notaro as Jet Reno
Rebecca Romijn as Number One
Hannah Cheesman as Lt. Cmdr. Airiam
Emily Coutts as Lt. Keyla Detmer
Patrick Kwok-Choon as Lt. Gen Rhys
Oyin Oladejo as Lt. Joann Owosekun
Ronnie Rowe as Lt. R.A. Bryce
Raven Dauda as Dr. Tracy Pollard
David Benjamin Tomlinson as Linus
Julianne Grossman as Discovery Computer
Noah Davis as Lieutenant (2053)
Rachael Ancheril as Cmdr. Nhan
Bahia Watson as May

Premise:

Discovery encounters a Big Scary Object, Saru enters the Kelpian death phase, Reno, Stamets, and Tilly confront an extraterrestrial with a disturbing message, and

High Point:

Doug Jones gives his all as a dying Saru, and Sonequa Martin-Green keeps up. For once, a principal’s reprieve from imminent death doesn’t feel like a Cop-Out Ex Machina. Here, it serves a greater purpose. This new discovery hearkens back to TOS‘s social commentary, without the Epic Cheesiness that often accompanied it, and marred NextGen’s first-season attempts at recapturing that element of the show. We have a contextually plausible development that fundamentally changes our understanding of an alien culture and, by extension our own.1

An entire culture has incorporated a convenient falsehood so entirely that it never occurs to them to question it.

Low Point:

The scenes involving the Tilly/May plot are great, but the Tilly/May plot seems to be dragging. Perhaps my ruminations under “Story” address why. Perhaps they do not.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6 The Universal Translator malfunctions.

Effects: 6/6

Acting: 6/6 See High Points.

I want to see more Paul Stamets / Jet Reno interplay, though the writers need to exercise restraint. Only the performances of the actors kept those scenes, as written, from going over the top.

I hope we see more of Rebecca Romijn as Number One. She differs from Majel’s version, but we see a version of the Pike/Number One partnership hinted at in The Cage, and it works. A Captain and First Officer better understand each other this well if they’re commanding the flagship.

I’m also pleased we’re seeing more of Linus.

Production: 6/6

Story: 5/6 This episode illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of the story arc approach.

Character and plot development are good things. I like that television shows can transcend the episodic disconnectedness of the past. The trend can enhance the viewer’s emotional and intellectual engagement with the story and its characters.

Overuse of the story arc, however, can dampen those very elements. The Big Dumb Object/Dying Saru plot works very well. The Tilly/May plot works, to a point. The two plots might work better contained in their own episodes, where they don’t distract from each other.

At the same time, this episode uses the interconnectedness of the Star Trek universe effectively. I’m not talking here about the throwaway explanations for why future Enterprises don’t use holographs for communications, but the fact that this episode builds bridges to both the original series and the recent Short Treks (which we were remiss not reviewing. If you didn’t see them, go back and watch).

Emotional Response: 5/6 At this point, the over-arcing Search for Spock is the least interesting plot element.

Overall: 5/6 Bonus: the episode’s title can go head-to-head with any title from TOS.

In total, “An Obol for Charon” receives 36/42

Notes

1. We also have a personal change for a series character, but that’s perhaps a bit more predictable and TV-typical, though still interesting.

I suspect his new mindset may lead to the era of “Sure, the Prime Directive matters, but….”