Star Trek: Discovery – Jinaal & Face the Strange – Double Review: “Magic to Make the Sanest Man…”

Spoilers


Star Trek: Discovery 5.03 “Jinaal” – Review

Jinaal continues the race to hunt clues that will take the crew of Discovery ahead of their competitors by heading to Trill and dragging Burnham, Book and Culber along for the ride. It’s an interesting combination of the team as the episode spends much of its time reckoning with Burnham and Book’s relationship and how that’s changed. A lot of Discovery has been empathy and values; and individual character focused – but this feels like this season, they’re really making each and every character matter – fleshing out the bridge crew here and in Face the Strange, whilst not being the point of the show, it’s Burnham’s story rather than that of ensemble after all, and that’s fine, not every Trek show needs to be, it shows the values of having a bridge crew.

There’s a lot of connections here both on the Discovery itself and on Trill. Performances by pretty much everyone across the board are excellent here, as Book and Michael race to get the next clue they work out that the monsters’ weaknesses are while being under fire. It turns out it’s much the same as the previous episode but Book as a stand in for Saru here this time, now that Saru’s off Discovery. Distractions ensure and the next clue is found after they work out that the aliens are just protecting their eggs – which leads to them being worthy for the next clue. I liked watching Cruz work with Dr. Jinaal and the past scientists in his body, showing his acting range – and the goodness in Book and Burnham proves their strength for him. The second clue is under a decoy on another rock – and they’re ahead of the game again. Cruz playing Dr. Jinaal was one of the highlights of the episode in terms of his performance, with the show early on evoking memories of some classic Saturday morning serial adventures: the MacGuffin of the quest has given free reign for some monster of the week storylines, like the Trek of old.

Back on Discovery, Rayner, now Saru’s replacement, is struggling with the concept of relationships and building them with his team. He schedules short meetings with each of them in turn but after Tilly is aggravated; we’re shown a display of loyalty from the crew – and I really like how they back Tilly to the end so Rayner can learn his lesson about understanding the teammates, and these last few episodes have just been about Rayner as much as they have been about anybody else. We learn fragments about Rhys, Linus, Christopher and Pollard – and when Stamets shows some enthusiasm he’s ignored by Tilly, which is the final straw for her – who lets him know that he’s a giant… but we never find out, as that’s 20 words. Oh, I’ve missed Mary Wiseman as a regular on this show, so much. Rayner has some way to go to become Shaw 2.0, but he makes some headway in this episode, and Wiseman and Rennie are both excellent together butting heads. Rennie is the closest this show has come to replicating the abrasiveness of Jason Isaacs’ Lorca since the show began, and I’m really enjoying his character this time out.

Gray and Adira are on Trill and are just realising that with time apart, their relationship isn’t quite what it used to be. They still deeply love each other but they’re both on different parts, Adira thrives on being on Discovery whereas Gray’s role as a Guardian is dominating his life and he’s happy about it. Their breakup is the second of the season, and relationships are falling apart everywhere – this feels like a retread of the Book/Burnham storyline – but it’s important to focus on the dynamics of these characters as much as anything else in the final few episodes that we’ll spend time with them. I like that Discovery is putting these relationships first and foremost this time around – even if it feels a bit like the same storyline being played out three times, as we have it last of all with Saru and T’Rina, but this one is probably the most interesting of the three.

First and foremost because it signifies that this isn’t Saru’s farewell from the show, yes it may be from Discovery, but he’s such a good character it’s hard to say goodbye to him for good. But their political situation means that any votes that Saru and T’Rina make on the same page will be placed under scrutiny by T’rina’s opposition, and after being influenced, Saru makes the call to back up with T’rina. But her feelings outweigh her logic, and her logic allows them to talk it through with each other – and the two are on the same page, communicating and working together, but the end of the episode. So we have a relationship episode – with some interesting Federation politics taking a back seat to relationship drama but allowing the opportunity to flesh out the world of this far future outside of Discovery’s bridge really makes this season an interesting one, indeed. It only feels low stakes compared to what has come before purely because the stakes in the series have always been super high – this is still early stages in the season, so there’s plenty of time to come.

And speaking of raising the stakes – things are about to get interesting…

Star Trek: Discovery 5.04 “Face the Strange” – Review

It wouldn’t be a final season of Discovery without having time for a time travel gimmick episode, and this allowed Burnham to explore how far she and the crew of the ship had come since the early days. Whilst it would have been a prime appearance for Jason Isaacs here as the show returned to the time of Burnham as a mutineer, not a captain – it meant that the show allowed to put a nice little cap on Burnham’s arc as to how far she’s come. Plus also, Isaacs is a very busy man – and at the time of writing, the showrunners didn’t know it’d be the final season for Discovery, yet that doesn’t stop the show from having one last ride vibes. I just hope the finale doesn’t end on a whimper, but we got the best episode of the season so far here. A time bug sends Burnham, Rayner and Stamets back (and forward) in time to key points in Discovery’s history – and they have to work together to work out what went wrong and how to get back.

This is an episode about Rayner learning what it’s like to be a team player as much as it’s an episode that allows Burnham to evaluate just how far she’s come. Nobody else in Starfleet history has gone from mutineer to captain before, and no more has this episode ever been important than here. Rayner’s old habits die hard as a crew member who survived the Burn when Burnham did not, and we get to experience an Avengers Endgame style time jump where we’re pulled through different eras consistently with a short time window. It’s a callback to Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad, dragging both Stamets and Burnham back to time travel again – and Burnham’s right, if one crew would be used to the explanation of “time travel” as a concept then it’s the crew of Discovery. It’s quite a feat to see what happened to this show over time – so much has changed since then that the 32nd century wasn’t a figment in Bryan Fuller’s eye when he set down to write this show.

San Francisco and the fleet yards provided Rayner with a chance to discipline a key worker on Discovery by showing him that they’d inspect the weakest area of the ship first – fail to prepare, prepare to fail, and all that – and this episode does a good job at allowing him to break down his walls and showcase his status as a likeable First Officer. It’s too easy to like Rennie in this role to hate him for long and I’m glad we’re seeing another side to Rayner here, as him and Stamets end up working together to aid Burnham by the end of the episode and that really allows him to be shown that old dogs can be taught new tricks. Rayner really is great at getting out these idioms.

We get quite a lot of time jumps to the battle with Control and the Red Angel that’s pulling Discovery into the future, and it proves that even in San Francisco, it falls victim to the Paris syndrome where the Golden Gate bridge must be visible no matter where you are. It doesn’t take long for the crew to find a mechanical spider that has been left behind from Adira’s uniform and it’s wrecking havoc for the crew – and we even get a confrontation between past Reno and Rayner, who instantly have chemistry because Notaro has instant chemistry with anyone that she works with – Reno’s deadpan humour about passing off Stamets being stuck in a time loop was perfectly executed it feels so befitting of her character.

Perhaps the most crucial time jump takes us to the future – rather than the past, and we get to see an aftermath of the failed attempt to rescue the Progenitor’s tech. It shows a future where the time paralysis was not uncovered quickly enough and the Breen were successful in their quest, wiping out the Federation. It’s a future that cannot be solved – but luckily, Zora is on hand to provide help to Burnham and Rayner, the only member of the crew that can’t leave – after being convinced it’s not a dream and pulled out of her Que Sera, Sera-infused funk. That has to be one of the most overused needle drops in television, but it works her, I’m assuming they couldn’t get the rights to Bowie’s Changes.

The final time jump is the one that gets the job done, with Burnham ending up beating her past Burnham – the hair makeup is just fantastic here with real effort by the costume department to make the two Burnhams distinctively different, and major props to Sonequa Martin-Green for playing an earlier, blunter version of her character. They’re two different people, practically – and nothing better than a time loop episode to showcase just how much things have changed across the board. The fight was well choreographed too, and I really liked how brutal it was in such a short timeframe.

We lost Ariam during the battle against Control so it was good to see her act as the beating heart for the crew; and Burnham recognising that Ariam was the key to getting the rest of the team to understand what she was saying was true and the importance of it really helped, beyond just the uniform. Hannah Spears reembraced the role superbly, but it did feel a bit forced when they tried to stall for time – are you trying to say that Ariam wouldn’t sacrifice herself for the ship? I would’ve liked Ariam to play a more important role in this episode especially given how long she’s been absent from the crew, but the speech Burnham gives works here – whilst past Burnham and Rhys are talked down from arresting Stamets and Rayner. Rayner is just a delight here working with Stamets, and Rennie has chemistry too with everyone, just like Reno, these experienced actors with a heart of gold are delightful, and now we’re getting caught up with Moll and L’ak, with all their advantage in the race gone. We’re even again… and six hours gives us a lot of catching up to do.

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