Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Alien Franchise Takes Over Star Trek: Discovery: "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not For The Lamb's Cry"

The Good: Effects are good, Acting is fine
The Bad: Unimpressive character development, Very basic plot, Prioritization of style over substance
The Basics: Star Trek: Discovery moves further into Alien territory with "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not For The Lamb's Cry," which has the crew of the Discovery figuring out the nature of the creature they found aboard the U.S.S. Glenn.

As Star Trek: Discovery has found its legs, the essential concept behind the "prequel" series has become painfully clear. By the time "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not For The Lamb's Cry" begins, it is clear to genre fans that Star Trek: Discovery - at least for its initial Klingon War plotline - is essentially doing The Alien Saga (reviewed here!) in the Star Trek Universe. Throughout the Alien films, there is a subplot that The Company wants a xenomorph for their military division. Sadly, it seems like in the writer's room for Star Trek: Discovery, at some point, someone said, "What if we did that in the new Star Trek?!" "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not For The Lamb's Cry" begins to explore how that would be executed with the Klingon War and the U.S.S. Discovery at the forefront.

"The Butcher's Knife Cares Not For The Lamb's Cry" picks up immediately after "Context Is For Kings" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the new episode without some references to that episode. After all, "Context Is For Kings" climaxed with Captain Gabriel Lorca looking at the captured alien after having offered Michael Burnham a place on the U.S.S. Discovery. This frames Lorca as, essentially, the science director of Weylan-Yutani in the war against the Klingons. Unlike the Alien franchise, where there is a reasonable explanation for the difference between the Prometheus and the Nostromo, "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not For The Lamb's Cry" does not offer a decent explanation for how the U.S.S. Discovery is so far ahead of the U.S.S. Enterprise in its technology.

Michael Burnham takes her place in the Science Department aboard the U.S.S. Discovery, without rank. En route to the Bridge, Burnham encounters Saru. On the Bridge, the officers find that the Discovery is in the middle of a battle with two Klingon Birds Of Prey. . . which is revealed to be a simulation. Lorca takes Burnham to his war laboratory where he reveals that he has his captured alien. While the Klingons scramble to keep their fleet battle-ready and powered, Burnham is teamed up with Commander Landry. Lorca is contacted by an admiral, who informs him that the Federation's dilithium process plant on Corvan II is under attack by Klingons and the Discovery must use its new Displacement-Activated Spore Drive to reach the planet before it falls to the Klingons.

Stamets informs Lorca that the drive is not precise and he cannot guarantee results when the spore drive is activated. The Discovery materializes in a star and Burnham notices that the alien in the lab reacted before the ship made the jump to the star. While Stamets resists Lorca's weaponizing of his experiments, the Klingons retake the derelict Shenzhou for its dilithium processor. When Burnham figures out how Ripper, the alien, relates to the spores and the spore drive, the destruction of the U.S.S. Glenn becomes clear and Burnham and Stamets work together to study the creature. On the Klingon beacon, Kol stages a coup against T'Kuvma's successor using food. And the Discovery gets where it needs to go to do what it was supposed to do.

"The Butcher's Knife Cares Not For The Lamb's Cry" continues to undermine completely the history of the Star Trek universe as well as the characters already established on Star Trek: Discovery. Saru, for example, is initially characterized as a new alien species that has the ability to sense death. In "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not For The Lamb's Cry," the Discovery is getting close to Corvan II while it is under heavy attack and Saru shows no particular distress or knowledge of the level of death going on. Saru's threat reaction is used as a plot device in "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not For The Lamb's Cry," but it is uncomfortable to watch Saru's blithe acceptance that Lorca might well be a bad captain without exhibiting any sense of judgement about that fact.

Burnham, in a similar fashion, quotes Vulcan proverbs, but continues to show no real clear characterization. She has no clear ethical core. "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not For The Lamb's Cry" allows Burnham to develop a scientific cleverness, though it takes a little bit for that to come out. Burnham's arc in "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not For The Lamb's Cry" leads her to get the strength to listen to her former Captain and mentor's last will. The idea is not a bad one, but the episode closes on a baffling note considering that the viewer has seen the derelict Shenzhou throughout the episode.

The plot of "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not For The Lamb's Cry" is painfully simple. The whole point of the episode is to provide a method of controlling the erratic new drive which will allow the U.S.S. Discovery to teleport anywhere in the galaxy with accuracy. The thing is, the moment the episode provides the viewer with the information about what the U.S.S. Glenn was doing, the nature of the alien life form becomes painfully clear.

Star Trek: Discovery continues to prioritize style over substance as the prequel fully introduces a level of science and technology to the franchise vastly in advance of any of the subsequent series'. The result is that fans of the existing franchise continue to be disappointed by Star Trek: Discovery and feel like it is an unfortunate discontinuity. Stamets continues to be miserable, Saru seems to accept he is serving a man with no moral core and he does not offer him contrary opinions, and Lorca shows no hint of being a Federation citizen, much less a StarFleet officer in his characterization. But the ship does a spinny teleport thing and there's a CG bear. The only thing less surprising than the revelation of the nature of the bear in "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not For The Lamb's Cry" might be the future reveal that Lorca is a member of Section 31. Whether or not the writers and executive producers of Star Trek: Discovery have the franchise knowledge to develop a character with a Section 31 background remains to be seen, but if "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not For The Lamb's Cry" is any indication, a Section 31-run starship is far less satisfying and philosophically-compelling than a StarFleet vessel.

For other works with Rekha Sharma, please visit my reviews of:
No Men Beyond This Point
V - Season 2
V - Season 1
Love Happens
Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem


For other Star Trek episode, movie, and season reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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