Star Trek Discovery Reviews: “Anomaly” + “Choose to Live”

You’re about to read an unfair review. My decision to consider a few episodes at a time (due to the story-arc heavy nature of season four) ran into difficulties right away, as Discovery followed the season premiere with one of the weakest episodes and one of the strongest episodes. I stand by my comments, but the scores will be a bit divided in areas other than acting and production, both of which remain strong. Feel free to adjust the scores accordingly (or search for absent tachyons).

Titles: “Anomaly” and “Choose to Live”

Directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi, Christopher J. Byrne
Written by Anne Cofell Saunders, Glenise Mullins, Terri Hughes Burton

Cast
Sonequa Martin-Green as Captain Michael Burnham
Doug Jones as Commander 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
Sonja Sohn as Dr. Gabrielle Burnham
Bill Irwin as Su’Kal
Chelah Horsdal as Federation President Laira Rillak
Blu del Barrio as Adira
Ian Alexander as Gray Tal
Oyin Oladejo as Lt. Joann Owosekun
Emily Coutts as Lt. Keyla Detmer
Oded Fehr as Admiral Vance
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 Cheesman as Lt. Cmdr. Airiam
Ronnie Rowe as Lt. Cmdr. R.A. Bryce
Ayesha Mansur Gonsalves as J’Vini
Ache Hernandez as Kyheem
Tara Rosling as T’Rina
Annabelle Wallis as Zora
Oded Fehr as Admiral Charles Vance
Luca Doulgeris as Leto
Khalil Abdul Malik as Credence First Officer
Andreas Apergis as Guardian Xi
Mimi Côté as Qowat Milat Nun
Giovanni Spina as Provost Sta’kiar
Linford Mark Robinson, Katherine Trowell as Starfleet Captains
Fabio Tassone as Voice of Book’s Ship Computer

Premise:

The crew of the Discovery assists with two serious problems, the first of which connects directly to yet another galaxy-threatening problem.

High Point:

The main plot of “Choose to Live” is classic Trek, science fiction centered on an SF mystery and a moral issue. The first has an explanation that makes sense; the second has a resolution that isn’t easy. The main story gets cluttered by the subplots, but they have been handled effectively enough that the episode holds together.

Low Point:

“Anomaly” is a lot of confusion and doubletalk interrupted by other plots, with an explosive finale that should have far weightier implications for the characters than I suspect we’re going to see and an introduction of a story arc that feels too much like previous nu-Trek story arcs.

“Choose to Live,” while a strong episode, is not perfect. The decision to take along Tilly makes some sense, but one of the stated reasons is because she puts people at ease. My wife and I cracked up when we heard that line. Tilly does not put people at ease. Tilly, even now, annoys the frack out of nearly everyone.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6 The first is a mess without a lot of original concepts; “Choose to Live” brings back an interesting if problematic (and derivative) group from Picard and some interesting SF ideas that have been handled with some originality.

Acting: 5/6 Discovery benefits from the core cast and generally strong supporting actors. I’m a huge fan of the classic series, but the expectations for performances in series television were different in the 1960s. I don’t mean that the acting is bad in those old shows (though sometimes it is), but performances were stylized in a way that seems odd to the younger audience the newer series has to draw in order to be successful.

Even “Anomaly,” which I did not like, works better than it should thanks to the cast.

Effects: 6/6 “Choose to Live” features an affecting close-up of one of the aliens and “Anomaly,” despite dubious science, has impressive visual effects that would have been impossible to do convincingly in the past. Once again, Discovery delivers a range of visual effects…

Production: 6/6 …and high production values that, when used in service of the plot, work very well.

Emotional Response: 4/6 “Anomaly” should get maybe a 3 for its general confusion, much of which is pointless, while “Choose to Live” would receive a 5. Feel free to adjust the final scores accordingly.

Apply the same math to the next two categories.

Story: 4/6: I’d give “Choose to Live” a 5 despite the predictability of the “artificial body” subplot. Hallmark goes SF, saved by convincing performances.

Overall: 4/6

In total, “Anomaly” and “Choose to Live” receives 32/42

Lingering Questions

1. Twenty-first century television has demonstrated the viability and power of story-arc-driven shows. I keep asking myself, however, if these episodes are improved by being a part of a story arc. The central premises of “Choose to Live” would have worked in any prior Trek series. The premises aren’t equally good, but either could generate an episode. My question isn’t whether Discovery should have an arc this season, so much as whether the current incarnation of the series is best served by one. Is it necessary or even a good idea this season?

Also, a note to writers: the future of the universe/galaxy does NOT have to be at stake for a story arc to work. Stop making everything about THE FATE OF THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE!!!! We have apocalypse fatigue about now, and it doesn’t make the fictional stories more interesting. Make me care about the fate of Lt. So-and-So and I’ll watch.

2. My wife finally stated aloud what has been bothering some viewers about the dialogue. We understand they’ve adjusted the tone of the series for contemporary expectations, and neither of us blink at the use of obscenity and slang in The Expanse. They suit the series and its characters. With Trek, broadcast standards 50 years ago resulted in a stylized dialogue that the initial subsequent shows embraced. It felt lofty, and we imagined this is what the people of the Utopian future might sound like. Granted, Discovery has arrived centuries in the future in difficult times. However, they always sounded like this.

How does anyone else feel about the Starship Pottymouth?

And what will Strange New Worlds sound like?

3. Tig Notaro confirmed she appears in this season. Is anyone else missing Jett Reno?

5 replies on “Star Trek Discovery Reviews: “Anomaly” + “Choose to Live””

  1. J_W_W says:

    The Expanse built an entire in world Language out of obscenity and slang! (I really do love that show) The worldbuilding Includes the reasons why the factions are the way they are and say the things they do, the belter language is so rich in character itself that it just makes the show that much deeper of a story.

    Star Trek Discovery just added 21st century swear words. Hell, ever the original Battlestar Galactica was cool enough to create its own spicy vocabulary for the 12 colonies. For Discovery, its just lazy writing.

    • I think adding in 21st century swear words might be an attempt to bring the lofty, utopian, more high-class, “I only watch PBS” feeling of Star Trek back down to the general populace’s level.

      • J_W_W says:

        If that’s why they did it, it shows an amazingly condescending view of “the general populace”, but then again they’re the “I watch PBS” crowd, so.

  2. JD DeLuzio says:

    Well, at least we have that: The Expanse returns Friday.

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