Star Trek: Discovery season 5 episodes 4 and 5 review | the two sides of a coin

Star Trek Discovery season 5
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Star Trek: Discovery season 5 finally finds its form with its latest episode. Here are our spoiler-filled thoughts.

Everyone loves a good time loop story, don’t they? Star Trek: Discovery already has one in the bag, far back in the mists of the first season with ‘Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad’ (the days when they tried to name episodes as flowery as The Original Series), but this time the mechanics work differently in ‘Face the Strange’, the first genuinely good episode of the fifth season.

Both of the episodes under discussion here, followed by fifth episode ‘Mirrors’, entirely encapsulate the frustration of watching Discovery. In ‘Face the Strange’, written by Sean Cochran and directed by Lee Rose, we have a clever and inventive spin on the well worn time loop trope that doesn’t necessarily sustain sixty minutes (Discovery has never once needed to be more than 45 minutes apiece), but works more than decently as a solid bit of science-fiction.

‘Mirrors’, conversely, written by Johanna Lee and Carlos Cisco, and directed by Jen McGowan, feels guilty of all the elements with Discovery that frustrate. Languid serialised plotting, pointless action sequences, underwritten and simultaneously overwrought character development, and the profound sense of a show just killing time before reaching revelations to come. Considering the scope of the Progenitors idea, there feels massively little in this Indiana Jones-style galactic race for knowledge of any interest.

Let’s go back to the good for the moment in ‘Face the Strange’ because, yet again, Discovery proves itself a far stronger show when it weaves character development into a core science-fiction idea rather than serialised narrative work that covers over a hollow core with action and spades of emotion.

Here, the neat notion of a ‘time bug’ loops Captain Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and her new XO, Commander Rayner (Callum Keith Rennie), in a cycling dimensional as well as temporal space designed to delay the Discovery catching up to rogue bounty hunters L’ak and Moll (Elias Toufexis and Eve Harlow).

Cue various visits to different time frames within a contained series of sets which, unlike in ‘Mirrors’, which I’ll get to, works around a sparse budget inventively. Burnham and Rayner actively need to figure out a means of working together, despite conflicting personal and professional styles, to escape the bug and set Discovery back on course. The central dynamic between Burnham and Rayner here, with a dab of help from Lt Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and others in the crew carries the narrative and the drama forward in a manner that is compelling without drowning out the sci-fi heart of the story.

All in all, though not in any way shape or form classic Star Trek, or even as good as the last season of Strange New Worlds, I wish that Discovery did more episodes like ‘Face the Strange’ and fewer like ‘Mirrors’, which though far from Discovery’s nadir just typifies how average the show can be.

Also, how unimaginative and in this case, so clearly restricted by financial realities that it chooses to utilise similar sets and locations from the wider Star Trek production world without doing much of interest with them.

I’m talking here of the Enterprise. Not the U.S.S. but the I.S.S Enterprise of the famed Mirror Universe, a key pulp part of Star Trek lore from The Original Series in the 1960s, and more enjoyably various episodes of Deep Space Nine, which Discovery last visited in a major way during the first season (when it was a very different show in many respects) and played a key role in the origin of this show. Finding a science-fiction technobabble means to reintroduce the Mirror Universe as part of the series wrap up makes a lot of sense, and to bring in a classic era Enterprise to do so even more potentially thrilling.

Yet in time honoured Discovery fashion, these ideas are wasted.

The Enterprise, redressed to have a few Terran Empire affectations, is the same as used in Strange New Worlds and in ‘Mirrors’ feels a mechanism to tell a contained story on the relative cheap. It could have been an Enterprise from any alternate universe or time period. We see nobody from the Mirror world, despite the title, with the episode choosing instead to front load the dual partnerships of Burnham and Book (David Ajala) and L’ak and Moll.

Metaphor. I get it. It’s just all much less interesting than it could have been. A chance to explore the Mirror Universe of the 32nd century utterly squandered.

Instead, we get a greater exploration of the isolationist Breen race than we’ve ever seen before. The Breen are one of the most interesting Star Trek races. First introduced in Deep Space Nine, they served to be serious antagonists in the Dominion War; a militaristic, secretive, encounter suited race who spoke only a guttural, synthetic dialect. Imagine Mandalorians from Star Wars, only sinister, and you’re close. I loved the mystery of them in DS9. Discovery removes some of that.

Amidst a pointless action scene, Discovery shows us the origin of L’ak and Mol’s partnership and we see more of the Breen than ever and it’s… well, underwhelming.

I also cannot tell you how much I loathed the perky, smart mouthed dialogue Moll spouts when she meets the Breen, talking more like she’s in Love Island than Star Trek. I can cope with Starfleet characters throwing expletives around these days (I’ve made my peace with that one), but this kind of cheesy, tacky dialogue the current crop of writers fall back on again and again and again. They love a sassy, leather clad female villain, and they’re always crap. Moll is no exception, even if steps are taken here to redeem her humanity down the road.

Ultimately, who cares? The fact Discovery feels it needs to devote this amount of time to two two bit rent-a-villains at this stage of the game speaks volumes about how unambitious the whole show is. Everything is just running in place. ‘Mirrors’ doesn’t even give us any major new developments in the Progenitor story. If you threw out all the L’ak and Moll guff and crafted an episode focused more on a pocket Mirror Universe with a sci-fi hook, we might have had an entertaining piece of television. This just ends up contributing largely nothing, unless you’re a fan of Burnham and Book’s drab ‘romance’.

So yeah. No surprises. Still only one good Discovery season five episode out of five. Dare we hope the back end of the season is more fun?

You can find A J. on social media, including links to his podcasting and books, via here.

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