Discovery follows in fine Trek tradition with this installment. Not only do we have a suitably erudite title—the obol is the coin that was placed in a corpse’s mouth as payment to Charon for passage across the Styx—but we have two standard Trek conceits as far as the A-story’s plot goes: A Mysterious Outside Force Captures the Starship and the Equally Mysteriously Ill Crewmember. Surprising absolutely no one, the two tropes are related. The A-story feels a little bit like the probe in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home meets TNG’s “Night Terrors” with a side of shameless emotional schmaltz thrown in for good measure. A giant sphere in its death-throes captures the Discovery because it wants to gift the crew with the wisdom gained from its 100,000 years of life. Weirdly, despite Burnham noting that the sphere seems to be vibrating at a particular frequency early on in the episode, the crew takes a frighteningly long time to deduce that the sphere wishes to communicate.
While the giant sphere never really seems like a threat, the writers opt to use Saru to reinforce the drama, giving Doug Jones free reign to emote in the process. Saru mirrors the sphere’s decline as the sphere’s presence triggers what he believed to be his own death process, known as the Vaharai. Once they secure the sphere’s library, Saru retreats to his quarters for an emotional sequence with Burnham. Jones and Martin-Green manage to nail what could have been an awkwardly schmaltzy scene, and despite their somewhat thorny relationship at the beginning of season one, I found myself believing that Saru and Burnham really could have forged a familial bond over the course of their shared life-experiences. With respect to Saru’s threat ganglia, I do not mourn their passing. The ganglia were a great idea that frequently fell by the wayside during season one, and I like the thought that the Vaharai, rather than a death process, is actually a version of puberty. I’m also looking forward to seeing how Saru’s new arc plays out with respect to the Kelpien population on Kaminar.
Turning to the episode’s B-story, Tig Notaro returns as Jett Reno to do verbal battle with Stamets, and their repartee really does comprise the best parts about the May storyline in this episode. While Mary Wiseman gave quite a performance as Tilly descended into madness, May here serves to explain why the Federation no longer uses the spore drive in franchise installments that take place later in the canon timeline. Pike’s comment to Number One (Rebecca Romijn) regarding removing the holographic projection communication array dovetails nicely with the previous episode’s attempt to portray Pike as old fashioned—remember that Captain Diego Vela mocked him for preferring viewscreens. It similarly serves to bring Star Trek: Discovery more in line with existing canon, and while I understand both the impulse and its unfortunate necessity, I don’t think I’m a fan of making those particular choices. I do like that Discovery opts to downplay at least the viewscreen issue. I hope that the environmental issue gets more development.
Speaking of more development, I feel like a bad Star Trek fan when I admit that I am getting very tired of the Spock storyline. Sure, the writers tried to add to the suspense involving the Mysteriously Stuck Starship by implying that Spock was going to escape, but at no point did I believe it. Unlike with Saru’s death, which had legitimacy precisely because we know Discovery has been willing to kill off significant characters in the past. However, the Spock storyline is clearly SO IMPORTANT that of course the Great Library Sphere would enable them to track him. I just hope he finally gets some screen time soon because the constant build-up without a real payoff is getting more than a little bit old.
Stray Observations from the Couch:
1. I love that Pike sided with science over practicality. It’s just so Star Trek, and frankly I love the idea that the future belongs to giant knowledge-loving space nerds.
2. I hope we see more of Rebecca Romijn’s Number One. I have always felt that Roddenberry’s decision not to fight too hard for her character was a bit of a disservice, especially as the show never quite did much with Nurse Chapel, also played by Majel Barrett-Roddenberry.
3. I really, really want Jett Reno to show up with a roll of Duct Tape. Please Script Gods, just give me this.
4. Also, Tilly seems to recover rather rapidly from having a literal hole drilled into her head. Sure, I get that May secretes the good drugs into Tilly’s system, but y’all…clearly Tilly is the most metal of Discovery’s crew.
5. I know, I know. I was all excited about the May storyline in “Point of Light,” but it just didn’t really sit well with me for this episode. Clearly, I am fickle.