I feel like this week’s episode had an entire “Constitution-class starship” of goods to unpack, even though its three major plot points weaved a narrative that was easy to follow, and devoid of any unnecessary story “fat,” or rather, “superfluous buns,” as I like to call it (that one’s for my fellow fans of Father of the Bride). However, this doesn’t mean it lacked emotional depth. Oh, no, quite the contrary, actually. There were several instances that caused me to get the “feels” all up in my chest, and that’s when Star Trek is at its best.
Let’s begin with the highly anticipated introduction of Discovery’s newest visitor. We finally make the acquaintance of the Enterprise’s first officer, and Pike’s “Number One” (played by Rebecca Romijn). Since the first pilot for The Original Series never really had the chance to flesh-out her character (played by the beloved Majel Barret), I’ll be curious to see what the writers do with her, and if they’ll utilize the established backstory some of the expanded-universe books have given her. I’m specifically referring to the Star Trek: Legacies trilogy, which revealed to readers, among other things, that her name is “Una”:
“That was not her real name, Kirk knew, but her actual Illyrian sobriquet was supposed to be all but impossible for outsiders to pronounce, so she had adopted the name ‘Una’ at least as far back as her Academy days. A prodigy raised in an independent colony in the Illyrian system that prized personal excellence above all else, she had always been first in her class when it came to academics, athletics, intellect, and accomplishments, so she had been known as ‘Number One’ – or ‘Una’ – even before she rose to the rank of first officer under Pike.”
If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading this trilogy, which was written for The Original Series’ 50th anniversary, I highly recommend it. The story takes place over three novels, all of which showcase not only our “Original Series” crew, but also known players within that time-period, as well as treating us to cameos from characters we’ll get to know a wee better in the movies.
Upon Number One’s arrival on Discovery, she debriefs Pike on the repairs being made to the Enterprise. For whatever reason, Pike believes that the ship’s holographic communications system is partly to blame for all of the Enterprise’s primary systems failures (we’re not really told why he believes this). So, he tells her to have their chief engineer rip it out:
“From now on we’ll communicate using good old-fashioned viewscreens. Truth is, I never liked the holograms. They look too much like ghosts.”
So, that’s why the Enterprise never had a communications system like Discovery. Things that make you go hmm….
I’ll also forgive Pike for not having the forethought to believe Starfleet could ever employ another chief engineer capable of loving his ship more than Chief Louvier:
“I don’t think the Enterprise will ever have a chief engineer more in love with his ship.”
I’m sure Mister Scott would have a thing or two to say about that, sir.
For me, the major emotional beats of this episode congregated around two major incidences: Discovery’s first-contact with a 100,000-year-old dying spherical species, composed of organic and non-living matter, attempting to share its knowledge and experiences with Discovery before its inevitable demise; and the revelation that the sphere has inadvertently triggered, in Saru, the Kelpien biological process known as “Vaharai”. If you haven’t watched the Star Trek “Short Treks” episode “The Brightest Star,” I recommend giving it a look. Everything that transpires with Saru will be processed with much more clarity once you have.
Because the underlining themes of this episode seemed to revolve around the ideas of “death,” and “finality,” it made sense that the attributed title for it also encapsulated these ideas. According to the Interwebs, “Charon’s obol is an allusive term for the coin placed in or on the mouth of a dead person before burial. Greek and Latin literary sources specify the coin as an obol, and explain it as payment or bribe for Charon, the ferryman who conveyed souls across the river that divided the world of the living from the world of the dead.”
Even though “death” and “finality” were the pervading ideas, the story delved much deeper than a mere surface-level account. It explored the fear we all have of meeting our inevitable fate with nobody by our side, of not having our life’s story remembered and our legacy carried forward upon the lips of those who knew us best. The sphere had a wealth of life-experience to share, without a soul to share it with. It reached out, and made first-contact with Discovery because there was nobody to tell its story. And, on a basic “human” sort of level, didn’t want to take its final bow alone. Concurrently transpiring as this played out, was Saru’s story, and his making peace with what was to be an assisted suicide at his behest. Although, as we came to learn, it wasn’t “death” he was about to experience, but instead a type of biological evolution. Even so, the most poignant scene was when Saru asked Burnham to help him to his quarters, after Discovery had successfully downloaded the sphere’s transmission of data, so that he too could take his final breath, and the entire bridge stood for him as he exited. Man, talk about the “feels”!
The episode also demonstrated why we love Star Trek so much. Even though Pike knew they were risking their own deaths by not skedaddling out of the way of the sphere’s explosion, he was bound by his oath and conscience not to let it die alone, and allow its existence to vanish forever. This is the Star Trek we all know and love. This is why we all long for a 23rd century existence aboard a Federation starship.
The third plot point of the episode revolved around Tilly. Last week we learned that “May” was really a multidimensional fungal parasite that was infecting the ensign, and was manipulating her into doing “something” for it (we still have yet to learn what that “something” is). Well, this week gave us some more insight into the “why” of it all. The entity’s species is called the JahSepp, and it lives within the mycelial network. Because of this, every time Discovery made a “jump,” it ravaged the ecosystem of this home irreparably. Stamets does his darndest to convey their regret, and offer assurance that this will never happen again, but the JahSepp basically tells him, in not so many syllables, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” It releases some sort of hallucinogenic spore, and while Jett Reno and Stamets are tripping balls, “May” kidnaps Tilly, trapping her within the mycelial network.
“An Obol For Charon” did little in the way of furthering the overall arc of this season, but despite this minor quibble, I rather enjoyed it. Of all the threads woven together over the course of its hour, my favorite part was the scene in which the dying sphere made the ship’s universal translator go haywire, causing the entire crew to speak in various languages, all at once. I had to put on my television’s subtitles in order to make out every language that was spoken, so in case you didn’t catch them all, here is the list in order of utterance, fellow geeks:
- Tau Cetian (Detmer’s controls)
I laughed out loud when Saru, in Spanish, replied to Burnham’s explanation of the ship’s communications debacle: “Tengo ojos y oidos, Burnham.”
And I said this before, but I’ll reiterate once more – I want Jett Reno to be my homie in the 21st century. Girl can bust balls with the best of them, and seeing her bust Stamets’ was pure television gold:
Jett Reno: Chief Engineer sent me to firewall off the critical propulsion systems. I didn’t realize a greenhouse could be “critical” or “propulsive,” but, eh, what do I know? I’m just a gearhead, not a farmer.
Stamets: A “farmer”. Oh, please, let us know what you think, because we care.
Jett Reno: You should. Antimatter and dilithium might be old-school, but they don’t let you down.
Stamets: Why soar when you can crawl?
Jett Reno: You don’t know me, Doc. I’m un-insultable. Especially by a guy who thinks he can run a ship on mushrooms that I pick off my pizza.
Stamets: Spores are clean, renewable.
Jett Reno: And do they come with house dressing?
Tilly’s face throughout the entire back-and-forth was the icing on top of this deliciously sweet cake.
Additionally, and on a completely unrelated tangent, it makes me happy that Bowie will still be remembered and loved several centuries from now. Crew of the Discovery has impeccable taste in music.
Before I shut this rant down, and blow this popsicle stand, there’s one, final observation I’d like to share, if you would be so kind as to oblige me for a few seconds more: I’m glad that, even in the 23rd century, amidst all of the leaps in technology and human evolutionary behavior that we, as a species, have achieved, a “cheeseburger, fries, and habanero sauce” combo is still considered a well-balanced meal. The future’s looking brighter with every proceeding episode of Discovery this season. I wonder if you’ll also be able to get an “In-N-Out” burger a few centuries from now. My double-jointed fingers are crossed. Don’t let me down, future.