Tuesday, February 13, 2018

CBS All Access Asks Fans: "Will You Take My Hand?" Into Star Trek: Discovery's Second Season.

The Good: Speeches exemplify Star Trek values well, Most of the acting is good
The Bad: Terrible characterizations, Awful direction, Simplistic plot, A couple of lousy performances, Continuity issues
The Basics: Star Trek: Discovery completes its first season with "Will You Take My Hand?" and it's a lackluster end to a disappointing first season.

The first major chance Star Trek: Discovery has to make a massive course correction has arrived: it is season finale time! Having spent the weekend with die-hard Trekkers - I was at a wonderful fan-run convention populated by the Star Trek fans who remember watching the original series, supported the boom of Trek during the mid-nineties and have kept fandom and the franchise alive for fifty years - who either refused to watch Star Trek: Discovery because they were not going to pay for CBS All Access or because the first two free episodes completely offended their sensibilities (seriously, CBS - I found ONE person who vocally enjoyed Star Trek: Discovery at a convention attended by thousands!), I was in no real rush to watch the first season finale of Star Trek: Discovery. But, upon returning home, my wife - with hope in her eyes - asked, "Did you watch the season finale while you were on the road?" The look of disappointment in her eyes when I said "no" broke my heart. So, while she's sleeping in today, I'm taking in "Will You Take My Hand?"

"Will You Take My Hand?" is a chance for Star Trek: Discovery to make an attempt to re-steer Star Trek: Discovery toward something more recognizably Star Trek and more in line with Star Trek canon (which would be a virtually impossible task). Instead, the show generally digs itself in deeper with an attitude of "we'll do whatever the hell we want with this show!" "Will You Take My Hand?" picks up where "The War Without, The War Within" (reviewed here!) left off, with the U.S.S. Discovery headed on a dangerous mission to the Klingon Homeworld in an attempt to end the war.

As the Klingon fleet closes in on Earth, Emperor Georgiou - impersonating the lost Captain Georgiou - commanded the Discovery on its mission to Kronos. As the ship closes in, Georgiou is harsh with her crew and Saru and Burnham resist her authority and jibes. Georgiou and Burnham visit L'Rell in the brig where Georgiou attempts to torture the information of where she should send a landing party out of L'Rell. Failing that, Burnham brings the Captain to Ash Tyler in an attempt to get the information a nicer way. Tyler advises a team to visit a volcanic site that was leased to the Orions and Georgiou enlists Tyler and Tilly to help deploy a mapping drone needed to better define targets on Kronos. Saru and Stamets take the Discovery under the planet's surface, while the Away Team beams to the Orion marketplace and attempts to gather information.

Shocked by how Tyler's interactions with the Klingons triggers memories of her parents' death, Burnham becomes sympathetic to the Klingons on Kronos. Waking up from being drugged, Tilly discovers that the mapping drone is actually a bomb capable of almost entirely destroying Kronos. Realizing that StarFleet has sanctioned a genocidal action, Saru and the Discovery crew turn on Admiral Cornwell and devise another plan. L'Rell and Tyler leave to end the war by taking control of the Klingon High Council. The Discovery returns to Earth, where Burnham is given a pardon and re-commissioned as a Commander.

"Will You Take My Hand?"actually manages to embody the adage from "Mirror, Mirror" (reviewed here!) that it is easier for civilized people to play the barbarian than the other way around; from the outset, Georgiou is impulsive, short-tempered and cruel, exactly what one would expect from the Mirror Universe version of the character. It proves a severe lack of judgment on the part of the Federation leadership and StarFeet that they would attempt to use Georgiou to end the war. Unfortunately, the fact that no one in the leadership of StarFleet or the Federation foresaw the stupidity of putting Georgiou in command is insulting. How did so many people rise so high in such an ethical organization only to completely lose their principles?! It's a conceit that plays to the idea of a heroic starship crew, but plays poorly to the idea that they are part of something larger; how are they the only capable people in StarFleet who actually adhere to the principles of the Federation?

In a similar fashion, it is utterly ridiculous that Tilly would be part of the Away Team to Kronos. Tilly is a cadet and there is no decent explanation within "Will You Take My Hand?" for what particular skills she had that make her of use to the mission. She is a terrible liability, which is evident almost immediately - especially when Georgiou outs herself to Tilly. Saru is still, technically, in charge of the Discovery and he could easily have ordered a security officer to accompany the Away Team. Allowing Georgiou free range to assemble her team without any oversight makes no real sense.

So, "Will You Take My Hand?" is utilized as an opportunity for Tilly to swear, have StarFleet personnel hang around a strip club and lope into a heroic first season ending. The episode feels like it wants to be audacious, but it pulls its punches. Sure, Tilly gets high and swears again. That's a fairly juvenile way of "being edgy." Georgiou has a threesome and appears almost fully-clothed in the aftermath; the producers were not willing to push the envelope the way something like Altered Carbon (season one reviewed here!) did with naked people in combat.

Akiva Goldsman directed "Will You Take My Hand?" and it doesn't take long before the viewer wishes someone would get him a camera stand. There are almost no shots in the episode where the camera is not shaking and moving in an inorganic way. "Will You Take My Hand?" is nauseating to watch. And the movements make no rational/storytelling sense. For a show that makes viewers pay for the privilege of watching the final product, one would think there would be money in the budget to afford something to hold a camera steady!

"Will You Take My Hand?" is hampered by convention to form over sensibility. While there are continuity issues like a Klingon female taking over (much less serving!) on the Klingon High Council and a Klingon fleet massed right off Earth (seriously, did none of the writers watch Star Trek: Deep Space Nine?!), the episode is far more gutted by its forced attempt to stick to the familiar. Michael Burnham is the protagonist on Star Trek: Discovery and Sonequa Martin-Green gets top billing for the show, so she is utilized like she is the most important character in this corner of the Star Trek universe. As a result, the convicted criminal is the character who upholds StarFleet and Federation values more than anyone else and that plays poorly in "Will You Take My Hand?" As the episode comes to a close, Burnham gives a rousing speech to an assemblage of StarFleet and Federation personnel . . . for no particular reason other than the fact that she is the show's focus. A newly-recommissioned, barely exonerated, officer addressing the top brass in such a fashion is roughly equivalent to me being able to address the United Nations General Assembly. The list of people given such an opportunity before me (or Burnham) is so long as to make such an appearance laughable. It severely diminishes Saru's character that he acts as a supporting character in "Will You Take My Hand?," especially in the climactic speech scene.

On the acting front, James Frain continues to shit all over the legacy of Sarek with his performance - smirking through a key scene between Sarek and Burnham in a way that is decidedly un-Vulcan. Frain cannot be blamed for the writing of Sarek (one supposes Sarek learned his lesson on using force against the Klingons, which is why he was not part of the cabal intended to wipe out the Klingons in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, though his actions in Star Trek: Discovery would have made an approach by any member of that group logical, in which case Sarek failed to disclose?), but when he outright smiles in a scene it is hard for fans not to wince.

The rest of the acting is fine, though Michelle Yeoh and Sonequa Martin-Green dominate the episode. The dramatic standing of many of the characters is well-performed, but given how little is known of their characters, it lacks impact. And Martin-Green delivers her several big speeches well, but they feel forced for the character she plays.

Ultimately, "Will You Take My Hand?" does what it can to resolve the Klingon war arc that has dominated half of the first season and it gets there . . . but it does so in a way that leaps to that end without making it feel organic or incredible. L'Rell becomes suddenly critically important to wrapping up the arc and the way the episode plays, Klingons are undermined for their resolve, personal strength and even their established cultural values. The result is that Star Trek: Discovery ends with its characteristic lack of respect for canon and an emphasis on style . . . though at least "Will You Take My Hand?" pays lip service to Star Trek values and ideology.

For other first season finales from the Star Trek franchise, please check out my reviews of:
"In The Hands Of The Prophets" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"Learning Curve" - Star Trek: Voyager
"Shockwave" - Star Trek: Enterprise
"The Neutral Zone" - Star Trek: The Next Generation
"Operation: Annihilate" - Star Trek


For other Star Trek episode, movie, and seasons, please check out my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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