The Good: Special effects, Moments of performance
The Bad: Terrible characterizations, Banal plot, Less-than-subtle racism
The Basics: "Battle At The Binary Stars" continues the Star Trek: Discovery retcon of the Star Trek universe into utter ridiculousness.
Despite my many, many, trepidations about Star Trek: Discovery, I was actually quite excited about watching the second episode of the series. When I sat down to the pilot episode, I was mired in the many problems with the show's concept and the behind-the-scenes issues surrounding the show (that it was intended to launch the CBS All Access streaming service, rather than being developed based upon a strong, Star Trek concept). But, when I sat to watch "Battle At The Binary Stars," I had vented the angst about the concept and suffered through the terrible pilot episode that was kindly evaluated to be a complete mess.
"Battle At The Binary Stars" is, sadly, no better than the pilot episode to Star Trek: Discovery.
"Battle At The Binary Stars" picks up immediately after the events of "The Vulcan Hello" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the second episode of Star Trek: Discovery. After all, "The Vulcan Hello" climaxed with the U.S.S. Shenzhou, a power struggle having broken out on the bridge between the Captain and first officer, facing off against a decloaking fleet of Klingon starships. As the name suggests, "Battle At The Binary Stars" leads to a conflict between the StarFleet vessel Shenzhou and the least-Klingon looking Klingon starships yet seen in the Star Trek franchise.
Seven years before she mutinied against Captain Georgiou, Michael Burnham arrives aboard the Shenzhou where she behaves more like a Vulcan than a human. In the present, Burnham is relieved of duty. The Klingon, T'Kuvma, acts as a prophet to attempt to unify the twenty-four Klingon houses and get them to fight the StarFleet presence as a threat to their way of life. The wounded helm officer, Connor, visits Burnham in the brig moments before the Shenzhou is significantly damaged. With Burnham trapped in the brig, the Shenzhou is crippled.
With the StarFleet fleet decimated, T'Kuvma informs the Shenzhou crew that they have been warned against exploring further into Klingon space. Burnham manages to escape the brig and when she is reunited with Georgiou, the two hatch a plan to avert a war with the Klingons. When the Klingons begin collecting the bodies of their dead, Georgiou beams a bomb onto one of the corpses. When trying to capture T'Kuvma, Burnham and Georgiou encounter resistence and Burnham is beamed back to the Shenzhou alone. Burnham is court martialed for her various crimes.
"Battle At The Binary Stars" has admittedly wonderful special effects. When the Shenzhou has holes blown in it so that Burnham's brig is basically a cube next to vacuum, the effect is awesome. The destruction of the Europa is similarly cool.
Effects, however, are a minor part of a show. The Klingons in "Battle At The Binary Stars" do not sound at all like prior, established, Klingons. The Klingons fret about their losses, as opposed to acknowledging up front that their casualties in the battle with the StarFleet are honored dead who fell in battle (for Klingons, there is no greater honor). T'Kuvma is essentially a religious figure and he is thinly, but uninterestingly, characterized in "Battle At The Binary Stars."
The title of "Battle At The Binary Stars" pretty much details the entire plot of the episode. The Klingons square off against the Shenzhou and when more starships arrive, shooting occurs. There is no real character development in "Battle At The Binary Stars;" the most interesting character dynamic continues to be the relationship between Captain Georgiou and science officer Saru, but they are not given a significant number of scenes to carry the episode.
Instead, "Battle At The Binary Stars" wastes time showing how Burnham escapes the brig - apparently the Shenzhou's central computer has an ethics routine that rivals that of Commander Data's - and fleshing out T'Kuvma's backstory. But, essentially, "Battle At The Binary Stars" is a starship fight that culminates in a physical altercation between two humans and two Klingons that goes on far longer than one would expect hand-to-hand combat to last between the two groups.
For a show set in the Star Trek universe that is being championed as a triumph of progressive casting, it is hard not to cringe at the racism in "Battle At The Binary Stars." Captain Georgiou is of Asian descent (actress Michelle Yeoh is of Malaysian descent; it is unclear where Georgiou is from in the narrative). She quotes Sun Tzu, captains the Shenzhou, and prepares to make a kamikaze flight on the Klingon flagship. The white Admiral who leads the StarFleet fleet captains the U.S.S. Europa (ethnocentric much? Sure, it's a Jovian moon, but it screams "Europe!"). And by the end of the second episode, the mutinous black protagonist is headed to jail. Perhaps next week, Star Trek: Discovery will find some pleasant stereotypes about Native Americans, Jews and arabs to insert into Star Trek lore (read that with as much sarcasm as possible).
Sarek continues to be problematically rendered in Star Trek: Discovery and the concept of the Vulcan katra is completely bastardized in "Battle At The Binary Stars" to transition from an end-of-life way to save the Vulcan soul to a marginally uncomfortable video chat inside Burnham's head.
"Battle At The Binary Stars" seems like an important plot event for Star Trek: Discovery, though the titular starship still has not made its appearance. Beyond that, the episode sucks. The Orville feels more like smart, classic Star Trek than Star Trek: Discovery does two episodes in. The custodians of the Star Trek franchise continue to prioritize flash over substance and the result is television that might appeal to fourteen year-old boys, but if it does, they aren't the fourteen year-old boys who fell in love with the cerebral episodes of the original Star Trek and I shudder to think of the world they might create.
For other works with Michelle Yeoh, please visit my reviews of:
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2
The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor
Memoirs Of A Geisha
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Tomorrow Never Dies
See how this episode stacks up against others in the Star Trek franchise by visiting my Star Trek Review Index Page where the works are listed by rating!
© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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