Star Trek Discovery Review: “Su’Kal,” “There is a Tide…” “That Hope is You, Part 2”

A three-episode arc brings Season Three to a conclusion. Discovery has changed its premise each year, resulting in very distinct seasons. These episodes bring us to a new equilibrium, a new premise, and new uniforms.

Titles: “Su’Kal,” “There is a Tide…” “That Hope is You, Part 2”

Directed by Norma Bailey, Jonathan Frakes, Olatunde Osunsanmi
Written by Anne Cofell Saunders, Kenneth Lin, Michelle Paradise

Cast
Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham
Doug Jones as Captain Saru
Mary Wiseman as Ensign Sylvia Tilly
David Ajala as Cleveland “Book” Booker
Anthony Rapp as Commander Paul Stamets
Wilson Cruz as Dr. Hugh Culber
Bill Irwin as Su’Kal
David Benjamin Tomlinson as Young Su’Kal
Blu del Barrio as Adira Tal
Ian Alexander as Gray Tal
Doug Jones as Goshyertall*
Janet Kidder as Osyraa
Jake Weber as Zareh
Oyin Oladejo as Lt. Joann Owosekun
Emily Coutts as Lt. Keyla Detmer
Oded Fehr as Admiral Vance
Noah Averbach-Katz as Ryn
Ache Hernandez as Kyheem
Raven Dauda as Dr. Tracy Pollard
Vanessa Jackson as Lt. Audrey Wiilla
Rachael Ancheril as Cmdr. Nhan
Patrick Kwok-Choon as Lt. Gen Rhys
Sara Mitich as Lt. Nilsson
Hannah Spear as Dr. Issa
Hannah Cheesman as Lt. Cmdr. Airiam
Rekha Sharma as Landry
Tig Notaro as Jet Reno
Kenneth Mitchell as Aurellio
David Cronenberg as Kovich
Andrew Hinkson, Nicole Dickinson, Farhang Ghajar, Alain Chanoine as Regulators
Robert Verlaque as Kelpian Elder
Jinny Jacinto as Monster
Annabelle Wallis as Zora
Lisa Berry as Kanak
Noah Averbach-Katz as Ryn
Danny Waugh, Nelu Handa as Shiny Happy Holos

Premise:

The Discovery uncovers the source of the Burn, a treasure-trove of dilithium, a confused manchild inhabiting a program, and a confrontation with the Emerald Chain.

High Point:

Su’Kal’s world can be confusing, but the interactions with him are touching and credible. Actors, writers, and director did a particularly impressive job in his eponymous episode.

Low Point:

Star Trek has always used the deus ex machina and overused handwavium and dubious jargon. “That Hope is You, Part 2”, in particular, overuses that overuse, with such things as Burnham’s improbable escape, Book’s quick recovery from severe torture, and not one, but two successive last-nanosecond escapes by the Discovery at the story’s conclusion.

The Scores:

Originality: 2/6 The conclusion sets up another new premise for Discovery‘s fourth season. I liked that– but the journey that gets us there features nearly every Star Trek trope imaginable.

Acting: 5/6 Uneven, but mitigated by the High Point, and also Jake Weber’s performance of Zareh, a character I loathe but wish had been developed a little further before his dramatic, entirely deserved, derivative, exit.

Effects: 5/6 Given the budget Discovery now commands and the diverse range of effects…

Production: 5/6 …why are these scores not 6/6? The answer will involve some unfair references to other franchises. I’m using these as ways of illustrating my point, rather than saying we should compare space-apples to cosmic oranges.

Look. Anyone with money can do spectacular visuals now, and I’m impressed by what these episodes present onscreen. The turbo-lift scene, for instance, makes a good thrill-ride. However, compare how they use their budget and f/x tech with The Expanse. That show gives us visually inspiring imagery and well-conceived effects and sets that serve the purposes of the story. These episodes, Phantom Menace-like, throw as much imagery as possible at us. Some of it works, certainly. Su’Kal’s decaying cyberworld captures his distraught emotional/psychological state, and images such as the human interactions with the Sphere Data robot and the endangered creature are impressively executed. All too often, however, the show feels like having one’s head forced simultaneously into three different videogames halfway through play. What should be exciting (because we’re invested in the story and don’t know how it will turn out) feels like a confusing attempt to distract us from dubious plot points. Add to that excessive musical cues that overplay their attempts at emotional manipulation, and we have a 5/6, despite the obvious quality of the production and the impressive diversity of the effects.

Emotional Response: 5/6 “Su’Kal” stands out for the emotional quality of the performances, and we have other fine moments.

The conclusion tries too hard to make us feel. Let the story work on its own. The actors are generally good enough. Do not overplay the mood music and then, as a bonus, have a character state the theme in a manner so direct that it would have made even the TOS crew wince.

Story: 4/6:

Overall: 5/6 I took the average of one excellent episode, one passably good episode, and one featuring a lot of sound and fury.

In total, the final three episodes of Star Trek Discovery Season Three receive 31/42

Lingering Questions and a Note

1. We’ve never seen a Kelpian with hair before. Why does the elder suddenly have a beard? Why does Trek need so often to use too-familiar human markers of sex, age, and so forth? We understand that aliens are not us.

2. I wish they had not problematized Osyraa only to reveal that, no, she’s basically just evil. But if they had to take that path, couldn’t we have had her defeat celebrated with the Sphere Data robots singing, “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead”?

3. So, the source of the Burn was Emotional Traumadilithium x (handwavium + buttpullium)?

*Doug Jones is actually 193 cm or 6 foot 4, which is a fair height, but not gigantic. He wears prosthetic feet that give him a towering appearance.

15 replies on “Star Trek Discovery Review: “Su’Kal,” “There is a Tide…” “That Hope is You, Part 2””

  1. J_W_W says:

    Ok, I just gotta give you props for that epic equation in point 3 of your notes!!

  2. lost says:

    Hopefully now that they’ve established a framing narrative that can be used for “mostly self contained adventure of the week”, they actually do basically that while developing the through plots as B plots. They don’t seem to be up to landing an epic season long arc consistently. The adventure of the week structure gives plenty of room to run character development and world building along the way without having to force the narrative in service of an epic season arc that must conclude on time. They have plenty of smaller plots they can run through the next season without a grand overarching epic ranging from the sphere data to what, exactly, is up with Gray and including the ongoing “rebuild the federation” narrative which should obviously be an open ended one.

    • zocalo says:

      Agree with this. I suspect they’ll do a major arc again, but I think it would be much better to take a breath, return to their roots for a season and do a “planet of the week” giving us a kind of potted history of how some of the former Federation worlds and their foes dealt with The Burn while they bring them back into the fold (or not). They could still have a season arc, but keep that as a lighter B-arc which is strictly secondary.

      Given where we are IRL, the self determination of the apparently sentient sphere data, and especially how it views the deeply fractured former Federation each week, might be a really interesting thing to explore – and provide some very pertinent – but hopefully not too heavy-handed – messages on the importance of overcoming our differences. One of Gene Roddenberry’s goals for ToS was essentially to try and provide society with a vision what it could become, and we’re all (not just the US) quite badly in need of a reminder of that right now, IMHO, and the setup here is just about perfect to deliver that.

      • You are correct about Gene’s vision, and it was always what I love about Star Trek: They show a utopia, and one we can hope to get to someday.

        This is why I had some dread during the scene with the proposed alliance between the Chain and Federation. Given the view from the U.S.’s current situation of trying to rebuild a nation that still offers a home to the sort of people who storm out monuments, that scene made a lot of sense. If the U.S. wants to become a United country again, the incoming administration is going to need to offer a home to the insurrectionists (Emerald Chain) to get them brought into the fold along side those who are trying to just move forward.

        I also very, very much agreed with the Admiral that if the alliance were to work, it would need to hold to the ideals of the Federation and Emerald Chain would have to abide by those rules, and I applaud the show for showing that the Federation didn’t take the “easy” path of compromising those values.

        I may be reading too deep into it, but it gave me what I wanted to see from Trek, and it did it well.

  3. Jethro says:

    As usual, I held off on watching the season until I could binge-watch the whole thing.

    I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy… parts of it, but all-in-all I’m a bit disappointed.

    I’ll say this — one thing that was always perplexing was setting Discovery before the events of TOS. Lots of people were saying “They should’ve put it in the far future!” and, well, now they did. Yay.

    The thing is, I watched the first episode and went “Ok, so we’re stealing the plot from Andromeda.”

    They did had some fun, semi-dystopian stuff, and they had a Michelle Yeoh Centric two parter (with a cheesy-but-cool callback).

    But the entire Su’Kal arc broke a lot of the season for me. Nevermind the fantasy physics equation (kudos, btw), but… you now have a character responsible for the direct death of millions, and the indirect death of millions (if not billions!) more, the fall of dozens upon dozens of galactic civilisations, etc. From a narrative point of view, I find that… ridiculous.

    I also agree they were going in a very interesting direction with Osyraa only to throw that away in the last moment.

  4. > The thing is, I watched the first episode and went “Ok, so we’re stealing the plot from Andromeda.”

    I noted this too! However, Andromeda was taken from Gene’s plans for what happens to the future of the Federation, so, while it might have been made way before hand, Andromeda was actually stealing the setting from this.

    I also found the idea that Su’Kal was an interstellar Black Bolt to be a very difficult pill to swallow. I’d have been happier with the crash into “that much Dilithium” sending ripples through sub-space and causing The Burn, and then the just have a simple “This is an innocent, we must save him” story. If you need the mini-burn to confirm this was the cause, an errant torpedo at some point could have had a similar effect.

    Osyraa was interested, she’s gone, so be it, but instead of having her be the Load Bearing Badguy and the Chain collapsing after her, why not keep the chain and let us see the Federation rebuild and the Chain eventually stop being evil and join the Federation later, Klingon/Romulan style.

    Also, we haven’t seen it, but what are the 32nd Century Borg like? Did they switch from forced assimilation to voluntary and become part of the Federation?

    …. but obviously, all of this fires the imagination, which makes it a great show with plenty of places to boldly go.

  5. AveryRegier says:

    So to talk about the central character for a bit, I’m reasonably pleased with the outcome. She wasn’t both the cause and savior of all things. She made a bunch of hard choices and basically pulled it out through grit, determination, and using the big weapons at her disposal. Nice and convenient hand wavium solution to have a second operator of the Spore drive show up though. Did SHE know about that when she sent Stamets away? Not likely.

    One wonders if there might be DADA like curse on this Captain’s chair. Perhaps Burnham is out of the chair in Season 5?

    • JD DeLuzio says:

      She knew about Book’s Dr. Doolittle powers, so she may well have been thinking of him. Of all the dei ex machina in this ep, that one bothered me the least. It was like when Spock’s Vulcan special abilities suddenly helped him out in TOS, except here, they prepared us for it.

      • lost says:

        Indeed. That particular development doesn’t actually qualify as a deus ex machina since they actually set up the background for it to make some sort of sense ahead of time. Also, even if Burnham wasn’t thinking of Book’s powers when she jetisoned Stamets, it was still the best solution to keep the spore drive out of Osyraa’s hands without completely destroying it and it’s likely she would have made the same choice. In fact, assuming she didn’t suspect Book could serve as a pilot, it would indicate actual character growth (“making the hard choice”).

  6. AveryRegier says:

    So do Kelpians live for centuries then? Or is just this one guy having discovered the Dilithium Fountain of Youth?

    • JD DeLuzio says:

      We don’t know– but species who live much longer than humans are not unknown on Trek.

    • zocalo says:

      IIRC, there was a brief moment of technobabble at some point about how his mother had taken some steps to protect him from the environment, which may have also had an impact on his lifespan. I did get the impression that Su’Kal still had quite a bit of life left in the coda though, so I would assume this establishes that Kelpians typically have a longer lifespan than that of humans, despite the advances in longevity covered in Picard. Compared to the elder, I’d guess Su’Kal’s appearance was maybe late middle age on our terms, although aging and physical maturity needn’t be comparable across species, so that might not mean much if future plots demand it.

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