This is my guide to Star Trek Discovery episode: Saints of Imperfection. Spoilers ahoy so turn back now if you haven’t seen episode 5 of Star Trek Discovery’s second season.
The Search for Spock Takes a Detour to the Underworld
Through the weightless throng our heroes travel in the name of love. The episode begins with Burnham running through the corridors of Discovery in slow motion, having just heard the news that Tilly has disappeared. We get a Burnham voice-over during these dramatic moments. “Words define who we are, officer, orphan, widower, ship-mate.” As she says widower, we see Stamets's pained face as he looks at Burnham trying to make sense of what has happened to Tilly and foreshadowing the episodes events. The use of Burnham as the narrator has been inconsistent this season, as if the writers occasionally remember the show is supposedly from her perspective, but it is a powerful opening. Stamets believes that Tilly survived her fall down the rabbit hole. Burnham says in her opening monologue that she wants to have faith that Tilly is fine, which is an interesting counterpoint to her views on faith in New Eden. She throws herself into her duty to take her mind of the uncertainty.
The Disco have caught up with what appears to be Spock’s shuttle. Pike communicates with the shuttle that he is here to listen. Spock opens fire on a nebula to disrupt Discovery’s sensors and they fly past him. Pike uses his tactical ingenuity to disable the shuttle and they bring the shuttle onboard. The shuttle door opens, and it is, shock of absolutely no shock, NOT Spock. It is the smiley face of Section 31 and former emperor of the Terran Empire, Phillipa Georgiou. Georgiou continues in her role as pantomime villain, twirling her cape, scowling and making liberal use of the double entendre. People in the mirror universe like whips and chains and we shall never be allowed to forget.
Pike: You like being back in the saddle?
Georgiou: “It’s an invigorating ride.”
I was surprised to the see the return of Section 31 so soon after their backdoor pilot and they are clearly going to play an integral part in the search for Spock as the episode closes with the return of Admiral Cornwall ordering Pike and the head of Section 31 (the organisation that supposedly has no authority but itself) Leland to work together. The Georgiou character does have some emotional nuance as she appears to go out of her way to try and save Burnham, she no doubt has an ulterior motive. Burnham is of course one of only a few people that know that this is mirror Georgiou, so Pike picks up on Burnham’s reluctance to drop her weapon when Georgiou appears. It transpires that Pike met Georgiou at the academy, and they reminisce during a walk and talk as Pike try’s to figure out what Section 31 have to do with Spock and the red signals. Georgiou merely states she is tracking down an officer wanted for murder. They are contacted by the head of Section 31 Leland and Pike and he are old/former friends. Pike claims jurisdiction over the mission, but Leland doesn’t back down, saying they can’t have Spock’s commanding officer or his sister appearing to interfere with his investigation as it would look like he was doing an old friend a favour. Leland agrees to send a liaison from Section 31 to Discovery. Pike agrees to cooperate, sardonically noting “anything for an old friend.”
In the spore lab Stamets has made a breakthrough, the cocoon that sucked in Tilly is an organic transporter, he thinks they can use it to get her back. He will scan the network to find the cocoon’s counterpart within the network. Tilly awakes within the network, which looks visually stunning, and May tells her that the network used to be a paradise. May’s friends, in the form of the tiny JahSepp, try to eat Tilly. May reveals that she needs Tilly’s help in killing a monster otherwise her entire species will die.
The Section 31 liaison is Ash Tyler, Pike wants an explanation as to why the Klingon torch bearer, who also murdered a fellow officer, is now in black-ops. Burnham says she knows Tyler, but Pike says, “call me provincial but I prefer people whose truth I can take at face value, so what truth are you keeping from me.” Burnham asks Pike to bear with her as it is a longer conversation to explain her relationship with Tyler and Georgiou. He grants her this leeway but asks her not to make him chase her for the information. Tyler and Burnham catch up and we see that Commander Nhan is the new chief of security and she is detailed to keep tabs on Tyler.
Stamets explains his plan to enter the network to rescue Tilly, they will jump half in and half out of the network. They must be careful though otherwise they will end up like the bodies they found on the U.S.S. Glenn in season one. This reminded me how Season Two seems less violent than the first season, an issue that I raised several times in the blog last year, this is a shift I welcome. Pike opens a ship-wide channel. “Starfleet is a promise, I give my life for you, you give your life for me, and no one gets left behind. Ensign Sylvia Tilly is out there, and she has every right to expect us, we keep our promises. Good luck and Godspeed to us all.” The remaining scenes aboard the Discovery are very reminiscent of those in the Wrath of Khan, the sense of a crew and a ship getting ready for battle, a well-drilled and brave ensemble of comrades. Stamets makes the jump and shifts them into the network, they can only access it from certain parts of the ship, where there is a barrier. Tilly sees the Discovery appearing in the network and they get onboard, she promises not to abandon May by using the solemn oath of the pinkie swear.
Burnham and Stamets enter the network, they find Tilly and May. And together they find the monster. The monster turns out to be Culber, but not a ghost Culber, but an apparent flesh and blood version of the good Doctor. The return of Culber isn’t a shock as they have been hinting at it for some time, but I was pleased at the potential to see a full version of Culber and not just in flashbacks. Saru, who is a secondary character this week we only see him occasionally leading the bridge efforts, tells Burnham that the mycelial spores are attempting to degrade the hull, they do not have much time. Culber it turns out was reconstructed after he died using his DNA that was on Stamets when he crossed over into the network and this explains some of season one’s scenes when Stamets appeared to be looking elsewhere and speaking to someone who the viewer could not see. Culber had been using a tree bark like substance in the network to protect himself from the JahSepp and this has caused havoc to their ecosystem. May still wants Culber killed but Tilly refuses, forcing May to reconsider the facts.
Stamets makes it back but as he is pulling Culber with him, he looks back and we see Culber’s arm de-materialise as he cannot travel back to the topside with his lover. And like Orpheus, who the writers are paying homage to, it looks like Stamets is to be denied. Culber is only fully formed in the network, but he cannot safely stay there, it is an awful realisation for them all. Culber tries to convince Stamets that it is time for him to finally let him go and it is a great scene, Wilson Cruz and Anthony Rapp bringing home this story-arc quite beautifully. Just as tragedy appears to be the outcome thankfully some Treknobabble saves the day as Tilly convinces May to help; by using the cocoon transporter there is a way of reconstructing a fully organic Culber, with his memories intact.
The Discovery is in extreme danger, Leland wants to disengage the tractor beam his ship has been using to assist Discovery as it is too dangerous. Georgiou blackmails him by threatening to reveal incriminating behaviour and he agrees to give her an extra few minutes. Culber is brought back and we get a cameo from Admiral Cornwall. We have an interesting story-arc for May and Tilly, they have bonded, and Tilly is somewhat bereft at losing May for a second time in her life, May also has seen that humans aren’t necessarily a threat and she shows that the JahSepp have compassion by saving Culber the monster that, albeit unwittingly, has caused so much damage to her and her people. The episode ends as it starts with a Burnham monologue and the search for Spock continues into episode six.
We need to talk about Section 31, my memory of this shadowy organisation is that its existence is only ever whispered, no one really knowing of its legitimacy, in Discovery we are being asked to believe that they are like the CIA, a known agency that works as part of Starfleet, an official black-ops agency. For me though it felt a little odd how open everyone was with mentioning it like it’s just an extra department. Admiral Cornwall kind of shrugging their methods off as necessary collateral damage on the road to harmony. My view was Section 31 existed as a rumour and operated on the fringes, by a minority, and it was almost a rogue operation with no official oversight. I get that their methods are supposed to clash with Federation ideals, but I am not sure how this really sits with Starfleet’s philosophy and it feels uncanonical. Another interesting aspect of this episode was some of its clear nautical imagery, as it was the overtly military/naval stylistics of the Wrath of Khan that Roddenberry was uncomfortable with as it didn’t fit the utopia, he felt Trek should represent. For most of the 80’s and some of the 90’s the Great Bird kept pitching his idea for a Trek movie involving time travel, the Guardian of Forever and Spock assassinating JFK for the good of humanity. To me this doesn’t sound any sillier than travelling back to the 80’s to save whales. This is an obvious segue to recommend “The City on the Edge of Forever” as this week’s delve into the franchise back catalogue, like we ever need an excuse to watch this classic TOS episode.
Book ten of Metamorphoses by Ovid, which details Orpheus’ descent into the underworld to reclaim his wife Eurydice. Orpheus is told he must not look back at his wife as they leave the underworld. Orpheus starts his ascent but, worried about Eurydice, looks back at her. This time, she is lost for good and Orpheus sings. This is a scene that is mirrored beautifully in this episode with Stamets (Orpheus) and Culber (Eurydice), and May possibly representing Persephone. Thankfully the Disco writers have given us a happier ending. I didn’t read this text in Latin so relied on the brilliant translations of D.E. Hill, A.S. Kline and my clever wife, who studied classics. She also suggested that Tilly in part represents Orpheus, because she undertakes some of the tasks.
What an episode as we finally fell down the rabbit hole and travelled to the underworld. I think the network and the introduction of May has been one of the most unique and visually exciting story ideas in Trek history. The innovation of the network’s version of the transporter is brilliant. This was certainly spectacular stuff, a cinematic blockbuster hour of Star Trek reserved ordinarily for the movies. A minuscule grumble is that the whole network arc is resolved in one episode, but I hope there will be more unpacking of the consequences and perhaps more May to come. My red signs time travel theory might be coming true with the mention of tachyon signals and now that Ash is back maybe he can apologise to Culber for breaking his neck. Pike remains very awesome and one of the strongest elements of season two. I'm loving every scene he's in and we see his tougher side this week in his mistrust of Georgiou and Ash. He is a straight shooter and I just hope that Burnham doesn’t let him down and provides him with that Ash update sooner rather than later.
What did you think of the episode as a whole? How is the series panning out for you so far? There is still no sign of Spock, despite the obvious red herrings being chucked about with his shuttle pod. And my Spock as Skywalker, Force Awakens theory gathers pace. I would love to hear your thoughts in the Claytemple Star Trek forum where the search for Spock continues.
Through the weightless throng, and the ghosts that had received proper burial, he came to Persephone, and the lord of the shadows, he who rules the joyless kingdom. Then striking the lyre-strings to accompany his words, he sang: ‘O gods of this world, placed below the earth, to which all, who are created mortal, descend; if you allow me, and it is lawful, to set aside the fictions of idle tongues and speak the truth, I have not come here to see dark Tartarus, nor to bind Cerberus, Medusa’s child, with his three necks, and snaky hair. My wife is the cause of my journey. – Ovid from Metamorphoses Book X
John is a writer and clinically diagnosed Trekker. You can get the latest news about his published work and read about his work with Star Trek Magazine at his website at his website The World Outside the Window. Live Long and Prosper.