As always, spoilers abound, so if by some accident, you’re on this blog and haven’t actually seen “Deflectors” or “Saints of Imperfection,” you can’t blame me.
I. Quid Insanis?
This season of the Orville has explored Moclan culture in three of the seven episodes, and despite the attempt at toilet humor in “Ja’loja,” most of what we’ve seen has been negative. “Deflectors” does nothing to change that trend because the episode uses a character’s attraction to a female to explore societal tensions surrounding homosexuality. The basic plot is that Bortus’s old flame, Locar, boards the Orville to upgrade the ship’s deflectors, and he confesses to Talla Keyali that he finds her attractive, which is an admission that could land him life imprisonment on Moclus, which is a planet so unpleasant that the prisons do not even bear considering. Klyden deduces Locar’s proclivities and appears to murder Locar for his perversion when Keyali is called from the Simulator to deal with the situation in Commander Grayson’s quarters. At the root of that drama (see how funny I am!), is that Cassius is borderline stalking Grayson after she breaks things off with him. Of course, Klyden isn’t the murderer, and Keyali discovers Locar alive only to have the Moclans cart him off to pervert jail for the rest of his life. Grayson and Cassius not only do not get back together, but he actually leaves the ship and presumably the series. The episode ends with Keyali desolately staring into space.
Oh, did I mention that the episode aired on Valentine’s Day? Thanks, Seth.
The A-story roughly follows the TNG season 5 episode “The Outcast,” which is the one in which Riker romances Soren, a member of the androgynous J’naii. Their forbidden love is discovered, and the J’naii subject Soren to psychotectic therapy, effectively destroying her gender identity. The episode aired in 1992. Star Trek has always explored social issues with varying success, and indeed, the best science fiction is that which holds up a mirror in which we see ourselves, our flaws magnified, so that we may address them. That the Orville would follow in those footsteps does not surprise me, but what disappoints me most about the two episodes is that they’re so similar. Soren is subjected to conversion therapy in space, and Locar finds himself locked away for life and his family shamed. What is most distressing about this episode is that somehow, 27 years after “The Outcast”, “Deflectors” still feels like a relevant portrayal of how a dominant culture can enforce bigotry. Keyali viciously bites out to Klyden that whatever Locar’s relationship preference might be, it fundamentally does not affect him, and the point is a good one.
While I know that there are observations that the episode might be touching on the recent peace talks between the US and the Taliban. I don’t know that there’s enough here to support that argument. Rather, I think the criticism is more pointed. The culture clash here is between who we are and what we could be, and the episode strongly implies that the values that separate our current culture and the culture the Union represents may not be surmountable.
I will admit that I don’t think the episode treats Keyali particularly well. The Moclans blame her for seducing Locar, and honestly, that trope is tired. While I understand that we aren’t supposed to like the Moclans and that Bortus was under some very real stress, it was a very sour note in the episode. Keyali apologized to Bortus for being insensitive to his cultural need to be a bigot, but Bortus offered no such apology for accusing her of selfish behavior. I’m also not certain what the show intends for Klyden. He’s becoming increasingly hard to like, and while I want to hope that Bortus can keep his family together, Klyden has become the embodiment of that culture clash.
II. Omnia vincit amor: et nos cedamus amori.
If “Deflectors” is Star Trek critiquing society, “Saints of Imperfection” reminds us that we can indeed be better. Love has been at the heart of both seasons of Discovery. In season one, the love was eros. The very real love between Stamets and Culber literally saved the universe. Burnham’s love for Tyler shaped the man he became. In season 2, the love is closer to storge because this season is about family, both found and otherwise. Burnham wrestles with her relationship to her brother; Amanda wrestles with her guilt over having denied her son the expression of her love. Burnham and Saru find love as between siblings. Eros has a place in this season, too. Burnham and Tyler mourn the love they have had to relinquish. L’Rell mourns the love she had with Voq that she cannot find with Tyler, and they both mourn the loss of their son to the harsh reality of Klingon politics. The relationship between Tilly and Burnham is philia made manifest, and it’s that love between equals that drives “Saints of Imperfection.”
In the episode’s A-story, Tilly has gone missing, disappeared into a living transporter, and despite not knowing whether Tilly still lives, Stamets refuses to give up, ultimately proving that May transported her into the mycelial network. Burnham goes to Pike to ask him to enact Stamets’s thoroughly insane plan to rescue Tilly, which will put the entire ship at risk, and to Pike’s credit, he barely blinks. Anson Mount gets to flex some comedic muscles here, which relieves a bit of the tension, but fundamentally, his willingness to risk the entire ship to rescue one ensign is both insane and the most Trek thing ever. Some of you might remember an entire movie devoted to rescuing a single individual from a dying planet, and as in Star Trek III, the crew bands together to rescue Tilly.
Tilly, meanwhile, is coping with finding herself in the network. May revealed herself in the previous episode to be a member of the JahSepp, a species of spore that breaks down matter in the network. May confesses to Tilly that she needs her to slay a monster, one that is partially of their creation but who also follows the Discovery with every jump. We, the viewers, are meant to conclude that this monster is May’s term for the environmental damage the spore jumps cause, but the reality is a bit more complicated than that. Tilly brings May to the Discovery where they reunite with Burnham and Stamets, and everyone sets off after the so-called monster.
The monster just happens to be Stamets’s dead husband, Dr. Culber, who has been caught in the network ever since his death. The JahSepp have tried to destroy him, and he has fought back, using the bark of the yeel tree. As a point of interest, I’d like to know why, if the JahSepp exist to break down all matter in the network and repurpose it, there exists a native substance that is toxic to them, but I’m willing to handwave the issue. The easy solution would be for everyone to crowd back through the spore chamber, have Discovery leave the network, and pop back into normal space with a resurrected Hugh. Of course, that can’t work, so they have to send Hugh back through the spore cocoon, separating May and Tilly potentially forever.
Back on the bridge, Pike has been coping with Section 31. They catch up to Spock’s shuttle only to find Philippa Georgiou inside, and his old friend Leland is apparently also mixed up with Section 31. Pike’s forehead gets a few extra wrinkles as he tries to ascertain what Section 31 wants and why he’s been saddled with Tyler as a permanent liaison. Pike clearly doesn’t trust Tyler, and he treats Tyler with uncharacteristic rudeness, even during the height of the network crisis. However, Section 31 does save the day when Georgiou uses the Section’s incredibly advanced ship to stabilize the Discovery as it languishes half in regular space and half in the network. There’s a great moment in which Admiral Katrina Cornwell (Jayne Brook) makes a welcome reappearance to tell both Leland and Pike to play nicely because they need each other.
I wasn’t quite convinced by May and Tilly’s sudden affection for each other. Seriously, pinkie swears are involved, and the episode suffered very real pacing issues. In about five minutes, the episode jumps from us having to watch Hugh die again to Tilly and Burnham saving the day with science babble. As a longtime Trek fan, I understand the utility of deus ex technobabble, but this seemed a little out of character for Discovery, which thus far, has been very good at showing that decisions have consequences. Even in “Saints,” there’s a shot of Tilly on her bed, sobbing as she comes down from the adrenaline that has sustained her. The moment is saved when Burnham embraces her friend, encapsulating the theme of the episode: no one has to go it alone.
Tilly does really shine in the episode—sticking to her word with May even when it might have been easier not to keep her promise. She talks May down from killing Culber, reminding May that to Culber, the JahSepp are the monsters. That dovetails nicely with the introduction of Section 31 as a force in Starfleet; Leland and his crew may do monstrous things, occasionally to the wrong ambassador on Deneva, but theirs is a necessary task. Everyone on the Discovery is walking a path, and often, that path remains unclear. So long as they keep hope and love at the heart of how they proceed, however, they’ll make it through.
Stray observations from the couch:
1. The breakup plot between Cassius and Kelly was meant to lighten the tone of “Deflectors,” and it completely failed. Cassius comes across as a stalker, so none of the jokes really land.
2. I’m almost as tired of the Ed/Kelly “will they/won’t they” dance as I am of the Spock plotline. They’re better as friends, and developing a relationship between them is getting really, really old.
3. Bruce Willis is rumored to have voiced Groogan, the giant CGI flower. I’m sure this is the pinnacle of his career.
4. Speaking of Spock, we’re five episodes in, and still no Spock. There’s build-up, and then there’s whatever Discovery is doing. By the time we see his pointed ears, I’m either going to be so over the whole plot, or it’s going to be greatest moment in the season. I’m leaning toward the former.
5. Anyone complaining about Culber’s resurrection can just take a seat. Resurrection is already canon from Star Trek: III, and while yes, technobabble aside, having Stamets’s love as the catalyst for that resurrection is a little hokey, I’m willing to go with it.
6. Generally, Section 31 has been portrayed as being pretty terrible from DS9 to Enterprise, but part of me hopes this was the teaser for the Section 31 spin-off. I’d love to see more of Michelle Yeoh’s Georgiou as she grapples with being in this new, far less fun universe.
7. Can we talk about the Section 31 ship? It cloaked? Ish? I kinda wish we knew more about it, but then again, I kinda don’t.
8. The title and subtitle come from Virgil’s Eclogae. That’s what a liberal arts education gets you, folks.
9. Also, let’s give a brief shout-out to the great new feature images from GiN’s own John Breeden!