Burnham's ta'al

Fan Collective Unimatrix 47 Examines Episodes Five Through Eight of Star Trek: Discovery’s Season 5

Marie Brownhill
Game Industry News is running the best blog posts from people writing about the game industry. Articles here may originally appear on Marie's blog, Fan Collective Unimatrix 47.

Yes, I know, I know. I have been absent from this column for a hot minute, and I am therefore, counting today’s episode, some four episodes behind. Let us simply say that life got the better of me, and now, I’m going to sum up some thoughts on these four episodes. That way, we can go into the final two episodes fresh.


From the beginning of the season, I’ve described this arc as a grail quest, and I’ve seen nothing but confirmation of that description. Captain Burnham herself has confirmed that each clue comes with a test that teaches a lesson of some description. For the first piece, the lesson was the importance of respecting other cultures. Piece two required an acknowledgement of the right of life that doesn’t necessarily look like you to exist. Digging through the detritus left behind on the I.S.S. Enterprise taught Burnham about the necessity of having hope for a better future. Finding piece four demanded of Burnham and Tilly that they acknowledge the great responsibility technology brings with it. Piece five’s test can perhaps best be described as facing the mortifying ideal of knowing yourself.

None of these lessons are new. Part of the grail quest has always been about perfecting the self in order to be worthy of touching that piece of the divine. The tests therefore not only evaluate but also instruct, and part of being found worthy is proving one’s ability to learn. Burnham’s path really is part of the point. There’s a theory that Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales aren’t as incomplete as we think they are because completing the pilgrimage is less important than the act of going on it. This is part of what Burnham tries to communicate to Ohvahz about the Journey of the Mother Compeer; bringing about the end of the sacrifices doesn’t invalidate the journey but lets the race take on a new meaning, one more in line with what the Halem’nites need as a people.

The episodes “Mirrors” and “Erigah” both make clear that Moll and L’ak are similarly focused on using the grail to find heaven. Moll’s heaven happens to be a colony in the Gamma Quadrant described to her by her father, and L’ak’s version is to be free of the Breen erigah and with his wife Moll. However, their journey serves as a foil to Burnham’s. They aren’t learning anything or growing, nor are they proving their worthiness to hold the grail. The pair serves as antagonists, but that’s not the entirety of what they are. They are, in a sense, the pilgrims who search for the grail but aren’t destined to hold it, but more importantly, they’re where the story turns from a medieval fetch quest and into Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. L’ak sacrifices himself for Moll so that she’ll be free from the Breen blood bounty, and now, she must find the grail to resurrect him. Ringing any bells?

Unfortunately, this development highlights the season’s weaknesses. Firstly, the antagonists are so generally written that they’re uninteresting caricatures. Moll and L’ak’s defining character beats are that they love each other. Otherwise, Moll is a blank canvas onto which the writers can project whatever the story needs. Rayner spends a great deal of time telling us how clever she is, but we only get to see that at the beginning of the season. Now, she’s just desperate and flailing. L’ak doesn’t really contribute much beyond his Yod-Thot and his willingness to sacrifice everything for his wife. Ruhn is just a stereotypical villain. He’s Scar from the Lion King but less interesting.

Burnham also manages to sustain a few hits from the bad characterization bat. The thing about these scavenger hunt stories is that the puzzles have to strike just the right balance between being believably challenging and easily enough resolved that we can do it in the thirty minutes we have for the A story, which is an incredibly hard feat to achieve. Discovery doesn’t manage it. From not following up on Anorah’s friend who won the Journey of the Compeer to somehow missing the real test in the episode “Labyrinths” despite Hallucination-Book basically having “Know Thyself” tattooed on his forehead in place of his Kwejiani lights, Burnham has had some epic moments of blinding stupidity. Sure, we all of have brainfarts or senior moments, but even chalking her lack of awareness up to stress and focus on the mission doesn’t quite work.

Between Burnham’s cluelessness and Moll’s utterly predictable gambit to wrest power from Ruhn, “Labyrinths” is definitely one of the season’s weaker episodes. That said, we’re set up for the final two episodes, and I have some thoughts about where we might go from here. First, I’m willing to bet that there’s a sixth component to that map. Hexagons have been a motif both visually (think the table in the Archive) and in dialogue (they fire in a hexagonal pattern to widen the wormhole’s aperture in “Mirrors”) throughout the season, which makes some sense given that hexagons form the most efficient balance between curves and angles. The Golden Ratio is derived from the Golden Rectangle that underpins the equilateral hexagon. All of that is a whole lot of math to say that hexagons are both efficient and pretty while also pointing to some fundamental truths about the universe and how we understand matter. That the map Burnham turns over to Moll has five components seems suspect.

Death and rebirth form key thematic elements throughout the season from Culber’s discussions with his dead grandmother to the constant reminders of the loss of Kwejian. That Hy’Rell just happens to hand him a cutting from the World Root seems awfully coincidental. Are we going to see the Progenitors grail used to bring back Kwejian? I don’t know, but I will say that if Book turns into a tree, I’ll be incredibly disappointed.

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