Star Trek: Discovery Goes Out With Sound and Fury, Signifying...Something

Michael gets ready to chart Discovery—the ship and the show—on a bold new path.
Photo: CBS

Star Trek: Discovery’s second season has come to an end, and it’s ended with one hell of a bang. Several bangs, even. Actually, its season finale was approximately 90 percent bangs. It was Star Trek unlike Star Trek as we’ve seen it before, for better or worse, but it all built up to something potentially far more explosive than any amount of photon torpedoes could match.

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Seriously though: This episode was explosive! Not in particularly revelatory ways, outside of the ending that we’ll get to discussing later on, but through the sheer mania of action that spooled forth for much of “Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2”—unlike anything the TV side of the franchise has committed to the screen since the biggest space battles of Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War. It was like something out of Mass Effect, grandiose to the point of incoherence at times, as the Enterprise, the Discovery, a flotilla of retrofitted shuttles and survey pods, and eventually, some friends old and new faced off against Control’s fleet of Section 31 ships. Which, it turns out, could break down into even smaller ships, all the better to ping phaser fire and explosions across the screen constantly.

And I mean constantly. Explosions were in the Discovery and Enterprise, they were out of it. They’re even in the press photos!

So many EPS conduits explode in so many consoles this episode that it honestly might be a Star Trek record.
Photo: CBS

We can’t escape them.

But while there was plenty of shock and awe to be found in the scope of the episode’s battles—Star Trek likes to think itself a more cerebral space saga but can’t resist a bit of action-packed razzle-dazzle, and never really has—the main purpose it really served was to distract us from the fact that not much was really happening between the booms. Outside of a few emotional beats left to consider after last week’s rollercoaster of Michael Feelings mowed through most of the season’s biggest character narratives already, “Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2” is mainly spent running down the clock to the one big moment it could pull off in its climax.

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One beat that worked? Stamets and Culber realizing, amid the furor of the battle, that they needed each other in their lives. One that didn’t? The incredibly awkward attempt to forge a bond between Number One and Admiral Cornwell (two characters who have barely interacted, or had the chance to, given how little Number One ended up appearing this season) over the course of a scene and a half, before the latter decided to sacrifice herself so the Enterprise could safely contain the detonation of a torpedo stuck in its saucer.

Given the sheer quantity of pretty, but dramatically empty action that populated the episode elsewhere, I found myself longing for a tighter, single episode—albeit perhaps slightly extended—version of “Such Sweet Sorrow” that better wove last week’s clearing of the board into this week’s wild action.

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RIP, Admiral Cornwell. I wish you’d gotten a slightly better sacrifice.
Photo: CBS

The consequences of the ginormous scope of everything unfolding out in space would have felt a bit weightier with more of that emotional heart more directly enmeshed with it. But Discovery papered over those thoughts with another one of its favorite distractions: nostalgic indulgence.

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Why is barely anything happening? Look, the Enterprise is firing old-school phaser beams! Why is Cornwell’s sacrifice rendered so hollow that her final moments are with characters she’s barely had the chance to be with on screen? Hey the Klingons are here, they brought the D7s, and they said that today was, in fact, a good day to die!! No seriously though, why is the build-up to Michael and Spock’s big moment taking so long? Just look at the explosions for a little while longer, aren’t they cool!!! 

I haven’t even been able to mention that at one point Leland gets aboard Discovery and attempts to harvest the data directly, leading to an elaborate, gravity-shifting corridor fight between him and Georgiou that ends with the latter killing the former by magnetizing the spore drive chamber...somehow? It’s brushed over very quickly. Maybe Georgiou found a scoop and dumped the bits into the waste system afterward? But hey, Michelle Yeoh did some kickass stunts, woo!

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At least when we do get to that big Michael and Spock moment “Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2” takes a moment to calm itself, cast aside that sound and fury, and focus on its strongest duo this season one last time. The double-barrelled realization that not only must Michael first go back into the season’s past and plant the signals to guide her to this aforementioned moment, and that heartbreakingly, a wayward explosion, (again, one of many) means Spock can’t return to the Discovery and journey into the future with it, is beautiful. It’s once again a scene knocked clear out of the park (the park, by the way, is exploding) by Sonequa Martin-Green and Ethan Peck. And unlike a lot of the incoherence elsewhere in the episode, it felt like it had real stakes because it was paying off, one final time, an emotional relationship that had been built up over the back half of this season. It finally, among the flames of battle, gave this episode the heart it was lacking underneath its fearsome spectacle.

With it Discovery found, through Michael, it could let go of its past and take an incredibly bold step into an uncertain future. Because god, they really did the thing!

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Georgiou takes a brief break from the rest of the action in this episode to just go have her own gravity-switching fistfight with Control.
Photo: CBS

Finally able to set her jump coordinates, Michael becomes the Red Angel, a crimson light guiding the Discovery through a wormhole that’ll open up and dump the ship 900 years into the future, onto a planet where this season first truly began its adventure. The show is no longer a prequel to the original Star Trek, but a far-flung sequel.

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We don’t actually get a hint of that future quite yet, however. Michael and the Discovery’s crew end their story this season in a blinding white light, as they go through the wormhole and ensure the timeline where Control succeeded never happens. Instead, in one final indulgence, the episode’s last moments are spent staying behind in the 23rd century to see what the Discovery left behind: the Enterprise, gloriously restored after the battle. Pike, aboard his familiar bridge. Spock, with a shave and a hair cut, in his blue science division uniform, taking his station, the station we will go on to see him in throughout the original Trek. We even get to see a hint of Trek beyond that as Ash Tyler is given the mission to reforge Section 31 into something better, and more open, than the hubris of the organization that let Control take root, laying the ground for its existence into the time of Deep Space Nine (where...it is very much neither a better or more open organization, so...good work, Ash?).

But once again, this nostalgic indulgence is in service of the hope that its thrill will distract you from the clunky severing of Discovery from Star Trek’s official past, (a necessity now that it’s flung itself into the far future), as it attempts to answer many questions fans of the franchise have been posing since the early days of the show. Why does Spock never mention the sister who meant so, so much to him by the end of this season? Why does Starfleet apparently never work on the Spore Drive technology ever again? Why does the ship that saved the Federation from seeming destruction at the hands of the Klingon Empire only exist as a footnote?

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Pretty sure that, at least in this picture, the glow in the background is just from Enterprise’s retro console buttons and not the sparks of an explosion.
Photo: CBS

Because Spock tells Starfleet in his debrief that they shouldn’t talk about it, demanding an entire regulation be drafted that acknowledges the Discovery was lost mid-battle due to a spore drive error, and that no one ever mention it, the drive, or most of its crew (namely Michael) ever again, on penalty of treason.

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It’s...extraordinarily clumsy? But please, just look at that restored Enterprise! Look at Spock’s Vulcan fringe!! Please, do anything besides pay attention to how utterly bizarre it is that while simultaneously delivering the most shocking upending of its entire premise, Discovery also managed to find the clunkiest, silliest way to rationalize the fannish question of how to square the circle on the prequel format as a concept.

In that way “Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2” was a lot like the rest of the back half of this season for me. That is, after I accepted that some of the more intriguingly cerebral questions set up in its first half weren’t really going to be picked up on in its endgame. It stormed in, flying by the seat of its pants at a million miles a minute, winging it all on a bit of great acting here or capitalizing on an emotional beat there—all the while desperately hoping that either the heart or the breakneck pacing would be so dazzling you’d not notice that very little was actually happening, and what little was only just made narrative sense.

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But I think I’m fine with a bit of deafening sound and fury, as long as it fades out with the promise—or rather the hope—that Discovery, now having gotten its biggest nostalgic indulgences out of its system, is finally ready to boldly go. Not just into a future of untapped potential never explored by the Treks that came before it, but truly into a realm where the show can, at long last, be its own thing, and not have rely on the simple thrill of nostalgia for classic Star Trek to paper over the flaws in its stories.

We’ll have to wait and see if it will live up to that great promise next season. For now, I’ll be fine with just being excited with the potential in the road that lies ahead.

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CBS gave out so few publicity pictures from this episode that you must now enjoy this random, contextless shot of... Georgiou flipped from the position she was in the other, very similar photo you saw above.
Photo: CBS

Assorted Musings

  • I’m sorry, but I have to say it: after a season of being able to get used to (and love) Panic! At The Discovery Spock, seeing Ethan Peck in the classic Vulcan bowl cut was a) incredibly disarming and b) kiiiiind of hokey? Those sideburns just do. Not. Suit. Him.
  • I can’t tell if it was intentional but that last glory shot of the Enterprise flying through the debris left behind when Discovery time-jumped, with a big ol’ bite missing from its saucer, kind of made it look like the saucer design of the NX-01 from Star Trek: Enterprise. Probably not, but so far if something has seemed like it could be a reference on this show, it’s probably a reference.
  • So it’s interesting, and a little concerning, that Georgiou is still aboard the Discovery as it goes into whatever future it’s boldly gone into, given she’s meant to be getting her own Section 31 series. With Ash left to build Section 31 into what we see of it in Deep Space Nine, maybe we’re going to see Georgiou encounter a far future’s Section 31? Maybe Section 31 isn’t going to be as much of a focus as we were lead to believe, and she just peaces out of whatever setup Discovery has now to do her own thing?
  • Okay fine, fine: I have always hated that Discovery’s title theme ends by just swiping the fanfare from the original series’ theme—it always felt like not letting the new leitmotif stand on its own, while you get aurally bludgeoned over the head with the reminder that this is a prequel to the original show. But hearing that brilliant blend of both show’s themes over the end credits was lovely, and if this really ends up being the end of Discovery’s time in the 2250s for good, a fitting final indulgence.
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About the author

James Whitbrook

James is a News Editor at io9. He wants pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man!