"Starfleet is a promise. I give my life for you, you give your life for me, and nobody gets left behind. Ensign Sylvia Tilly is out there and she has every right to expect us. We keep our promises."
– Captain Pike (Anson Mount)
The latest episode of CBS All Access' Star Trek: Discovery "Saints of Imperfection" starts with grief, faith, and a promise – but ends up being so much more. Over the past three episodes, as the search for Spock continues, almost every single principle crew member of the Discovery has been put through the emotional wringer. This week, it was the viewers who found themselves careening through a rapid succession of surprise, curiosity, apprehension, mistrust, disbelief, sorrow, love, and hope, like being stuck on a roller coaster that only hits the very highest hills, biggest bumps, and most gut-wrenching curves.
— Star Trek on CBS All Access (@startrekcbs) February 15, 2019
This episode was simultaneously everything you expected it to be and nothing you expected it to be, and therefore it is impossible to discuss it without spoilers.
DO NOT READ THIS REVIEW IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN "SAINTS OF IMPERFECTION."
Spoilers would make this show an empty shell of the beautiful work of art it was meant to be.
The episode starts out with a promise to viewers: the promise of finally seeing Spock (Ethan Peck) – and a promise that is promptly and chillingly broken. The Discovery finally catches up to Spock's shuttle and disable it and bring it on board – except that when the shuttle door opens, out walks Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), and not the long awaited half-Vulcan.
This viewer immediately feels betrayed. After four episodes of being tantalizingly close to our first glimpse of Spock, we finally think we are going to see him, only to have him slip through our fingers. I was almost frustrated enough to throw something at my screen, until I saw the first few scenes between Captain Pike (Anson Mount), Georgiou, and Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green).
I liked Yeoh as Captain Georgiou and Emperor Georgiou, but nothing compares to her portrayal of Super Section 31 Spy Georgiou. Yeoh moves like a cat and oozes an aware, all-knowing, dangerous energy – like a sparking electrical wire. She lets her expressions and bland tone do the talking while she takes in everything and gives nothing away. The scene between Burnham and Georgiou as the latter is leaving the Discovery was pure art. The women challenged each other physically, emotionally, and mentally – and the perverse joy that Georgiou got from the exchange was written all over her face.
Unfortunately for Burnham, the "This is your life" hits kept on coming as Section 31 sent Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) aboard as a liaison. While the initial meeting between Tyler and Burnham in the mess was polite-cool, both simultaneously want to get more and less out of the exchange. The real fireworks – non-verbal though they were – flew when Tyler entered the bridge. While Captain Pike knows who Tyler is, every other person on that bridge had witnessed Tyler go from colleague, to friend, to murderer, to cautious ally – and they could not hide their discomfort at his presence. And then there is the look on Stamets' (Anthony Rapp) face as he saw the man who murdered Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz): the pain and grief in that millisecond of look was remarkable.
The rescue of Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman), the mission we all thought would be the primary focus of the episode, ended up seeming more like a plot vehicle than an individual plot. As predicted, Stamets parked the Discovery in the mycelial network itself, letting the isolation room in engineering work as a safe doorway between the fungal dimension and ours. The interior of the network itself was colorful and dreamy, but had a sense of unreality to it that make it hard to take the threat to the JahSepp seriously.
Tilly's rant after being kidnapped, and then her prompt promise (with pinky swear) to help her jailers was pure Ensign Tilly and pure Star Trek. Too often we see Tilly and Burnham solve problems with their heads – it was nice to see Tilly solve one with her heart.
If you thought like I did that the Georgiou/Spock switch was going to be the big twist to the episode, then we could not have been more wrong. The May (Bahia Watson)-spore brought Tilly to the mycelial network because some monster was killing the JahSepp. However, once Stamets and Burnham joined Tilly in the network, they learned the shocking truth: the "monster" was actually a partially feral… Dr. Hugh Culber.
Last season, when Stamets held Culber as he died, the former inadvertently sent his husband's essence into the mycelial network. The JahSepp, who take the raw materials from what they can find and make them into something else, remade Culber based on his energy – but the only way Culber could protect himself from the spores trying to digest him was killing the JahSepp. Culber couldn't stay in the network, but he was made from the network, and couldn't leave.
Stamets then said goodbye to Culber again in one of the most heartbreaking scenes I have ever watched. The love, peace, acceptance, and grief shared by the actors was absolutely perfect, you believed they were Stamets and Culber and not two actors portraying them.
Culber's speech to Stamets was more romantic than any love poem:
"You are devoted to creation, to life. And there are a million reasons to love you, but that's mine. Please don't ruin it for me."
In the end, Tilly thinks she has found a way to transport Culber to the outside universe, but it would ruin May's ability to transport herself in and out of the network to visit Tilly. However, our Ensign Tilly is always the optomist, and believes she and May will meet again. Despite Tilly's theory, Stamets and Culber must still make a leap of faith. Stamets has to leave the network before he knows for sure if Culber will be able to follow him. As Stamets, Tilly, and Burnham stand and watch the spore pod – waiting for news on Culber's condition – the mental battle between hope, faith, and logic is obvious on their faces. Hugh is eventually reborn into a human male body like a replicant from Blade Runner. But one has to wonder what difficulties he will face after such a long time in a lonely, hostile environment.
One of my favorite scenes of the episode came at the very end. When Pike learns that Burnham, Tilly, and Stamets have safely returned to the Discovery, he leaves the bridge to see them. Tyler falls in behind Pike, obviously anxious to see the condition of those he still thinks of as crewmates – but Pike stops Tyler, making him stay on the bridge.
The exchange between the two and the look on Tyler's face are poignant. In that moment, Tyler realizes that while he may be back on the Discovery – he is no longer where he belongs.
It is not often that a science fiction show with as much of an action focus as Star Trek: Discovery has an episode centering on faith. Given some of the themes in this season, the visit to New Eden, the appearance of the red angel, it is impossible to not consider the possibility of things beyond understanding. But this episode was not only about faith in some unknown force, it was about faith in friends, faith in comrades, and faith in yourself – with trust also playing a big role. In a show where so many of the characters are damaged in some way – even more so after the events of the last few episodes – it seems that faith in ones own ability, trust in ones own judgment is what they are really searching for.
Below are a few more random thoughts I had from "Saints of Imperfection" to ponder until next week.
● Being buried alive in a fungus cocoon looks terrifying and I'm not sure getting to see the inside of the mycelial network is worth it.
● I will never look at pinky swears the same way again.
● The Georgiou Section 31 spin-off show cannot come soon enough.
● How are they going to fit Section 31 having cloaking/disguising technology 10 years before The Original Series into canon?
● Latif as Ash Tyler and Chris Evans as Captain America should keep their beards and long hair forever.
● Tachyons are Star Trek's Midi-chlorians.
● What is the strange Starfleet badge that Admiral Cornwell is wearing?
● Cornwell/Tilly 2020
New episodes of Star Trek: Discovery premier every Thursday at 8:30pm EST on CBS All Access.