Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Bring Your Pet to Work Day: S1 E4 The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry


It’s Burnham’s first day back in the uniform following Lorca’s ‘request’ for her to join the crew of Discovery.

As first days go it’s probably run of the mill when it comes to Starfleet, dealing with Saru whose nose is well and truly out of joint since he expected her to be on a shuttle to prison, helping to fight off Klingons oh - and there’s the small matter of That Creature in Lorca’s menagerie.

As it turns out it’s not really a menagerie but more his War Study containing brutal weapons from numerous cultures as he studies the core of warfare. Is it correct to call him a warmonger? No, because at the centre of it Lorca is attempting to END the war rather than make it last. His work might take him to the very extremes of what might be acceptable but in his heart this guy is just looking for a way to restore the peace - or at least that’s what it looks like four episodes in. 

Certainly here we get to see Lorca as the military commander whether it’s running a battle drill or taking the Discovery into atmospheric combat to save a Federation mining colony and it’s evident where his real skills lie. Discovery is perhaps not the ideal warship for him when it comes to a bristling arsenal and instead he has a crew of scientists however he’s working with what he has and some of that is going to come in very handy. His choice to play the transmissions from Corvan II is a controversial moment in the episode. Very out of kilter with anything Star Trek before but keeping with the character of Lorca. He wants to elicit some sort of emotional reaction from his crew, to hone these scientists into the fighting machine they may well have to become due to the rather handy abilities of the Discovery. Cruel to be kind? Absolutely because a softer touch could see everyone dead.

It’s hard to review this episode and not discuss the spore drive. Somehow for fifty years of Star Trek this technology has remained totally hidden, classified and buried out of reach of us mere mortal fans (!) but it’s one heck of a plot device and makes the show very unique. Pretty much the Discovery can be anywhere it needs to be in a blink of an eye thanks to the wonders of Lieutenant Stamets work and also Burnham’s logical reasoning which brings in a familiar face from episode three (I say face but...). 

The effect of the Discovery going to Black Alert (stealth running) followed by the activation of the drive is beautiful. As Stamets notes, the Discovery is built around the spore drive technology and it’s evident in the very fabric of the ship with the rotating saucer discs and the space folding maelstrom. It’s a little bit reminiscent of the pilots from Dune when you think about just what’s going on here. I absolutely expect fans of the franchise to have issues with the spore drive but it makes the show even more interesting and exciting. It’s something different and unique to this piece of the universe and while it’s still in the experimental stages it’s surely going to be used more and more advantageously.

Stamets continues to be brilliantly watchable in his opposition and uncomfortable relationship with Lorca. The dislike for each other is ever more evident while they are abiding each other as part of their work. He is much more the engineer in this episode and whereas Scotty would have jumped to solve every problem, Stamets weighs in with a much more negative reaction to anything Lorca throws his way. Ironically the two are equally cold and devoid of outward emotional displays making them, here, more alike than they might want to admit. 

The story to defend the Corvan II mining colony merely acts as the vehicle to demonstrate the wonders of the spore drive and Burnham’s ability to see past the tardigrade’s vicious behaviour to its more peaceful nature and the way in which it forms a symbiotic relationship with the engine powering spores. 

Further to that there’s the parallel Klingon plot. Having spent six months drifting near the binary stars morale as well as food supplies are running horribly low. With T’Kuvma dead and Georgiou apparently the main course, we are left with Voq, a Klingon of no name and the Torchbearer/heir apparent and L’Rell, House battle commander, left in charge. 

As the pair debate whether raiding the abandoned USS Shenzhou is against what T’Kuvma would have wished, we see Kol from House Kor making his moves in the background. Subtle at first but eventually with devastating consequences. As T’Kuvma’s apparent successor, Vow remains highly optimistic that the answer will just appear and ensure that his people Remain Klingon. Problem is that that is easier than it seems. His partnership with L’Rell looks to be turning into something else with her mentoring and advising the younger, outcast Klingon while at the same time there may well be a more personal partnership coming to fruition. 

As we leave the pair its fairly cemented that they will be back to try and regain control of the 25th House which Kor seems to have bribed to follow his lead. Seeing the Shenzhou again is fantastic. It seems its all CG but we have the bridge and Georgiou’s ready room frozen in time plus there's a stunning shot of the adrift Walker Class ship with all its lifeboat doors open, left to the vacuum of space. Have to say I'm loving how these story parts are tying back together, even to the extent that Michelle Yeoh gets a special guest star credit and to the final moments of the episode and Burnham’s begrudging acceptance of her former captain’s last will and testament which will surely have made uncomfortable listening for the disgraced Starfleet officer.

The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry doesn't answer a lot of the bigger picture however it manages to expand on the learnings and introductions from Context is for Kings. One noticeable difference storywise is that Discovery is going for a bigger epic feel and as yet avoiding telling stories about the individual characters much outside of Michael Burnham. In the ‘old days’ we might have had a Picard episode or a Bashir story but now with Discovery there seems to be a simple format akin to the first couple of series of The Next Generation and is more situational. The war is clearly the backdrop and here we begin to see Burnham caught up in matters that she would rather leave behind. Apart from the unsurprisingly short-lived Commander Landry (Rekha Sharma), does anyone on this ship actually like Lorca? Is he turning into the most disliked character in-universe? I'd take a punt that the answer to that is a resolute yes. I think he's great!

This is a solid episode that manages to balanced two narratives with both sharing the limelight. The Discovery’s story does end with a slightly cheesy line from a saved child and its very out of flavour for the show but ill try to ignore it - with difficulty. The Klingon story shows immense potential and how this will eventually dovetail into the main plot can only be cataclysmic by the end of the season. I think, L’Rell is one to one and Mary Chieffo has an excellent character to work with who is using all the skills available to her to manipulate her position seemingly as you would expect from someone who was partially brought up in House Mokai.

The lack of individual character development to allow greater plot exposure and focus on Burnham might be Discovery’s failing when there are such wonderful characters as Airiam (Sarah Mitich), Saru and Lorca on the ship who at times are genuinely confined to background roles. Visually a solid and perfect addition to Star Trek however the script really needs to embrace its people more than the CG monsters in the cupboard to truly keep me satisfied.

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What were your thoughts on episode four?

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