"Majority Rule," while obvious and unsubtle, feels like a modern-day take on a Twilight Zone episode crossed with Star Trek: TOS. It takes the frequently employed "alternate Earth" approach of those series and gives us an alien society that’s essentially ourselves plus an exaggerated twist — and then mines that for an hour of whimsical social satire/commentary that our heroes find themselves mired in. This is consistently entertaining, albeit not particularly challenging. It alternates scenes of wry observation with others of grand absurdity. In both cases, I got the sense that’s what they were mostly going for.
The story presents us with a "pure democracy" in the form of an alien society that conducts all its legal proceedings (in particular, punitive criminal measures) through social media votes — up or down. Everyone is required to wear a badge with an up and down arrow (you can press someone’s badge with an up or down vote if they do something you like or dislike), and you can vote online to pile on for someone’s mild transgression that somehow ended up in the public eye. If you get more than 10 million down votes during the "judging window" (how the timing of the opening and closing of this window works is not really clear, but who cares), you are sentenced to a "correction" measure to fix your bad behavior — essentially a lobotomy that turns you into a docile mental simpleton.
Gabriel Lorca is like the Schrödinger’s Captain of Star Trek. Either he’s a well-intended military man who bends the rules for the greater good and has gone a little crazy because of traumatic events — or he’s an amoral self-server willing to sell you out and do who-knows-what-else to save his own ass. You can read the clues of "Lethe" both ways and come to either conclusion. The series seems agnostic on the character so far because it wants to shroud his motivations in mystery and play the long game.
Again, this can be frustrating. I don’t have to root for the guy to necessarily get something out of watching him. But I feel like I should at least know I have enough information to make some sort of moral judgment about his actions. But the series is vague and doesn’t seem to believe there’s merit in having the truth be in the details; instead, the mysteries are in the fog.
“Choose Your Pain” is an intriguing, entertaining, confusing, and frustrating hour that’s proving Discovery to be, at times, a maddeningly murky narrative engine that can work well moment to moment. This series operates in a very gray area. I’m not talking about gray morality (although there’s plenty of that for sure); I’m talking about gray narrative clarity. I’m doing my best to keep up with the characters’ motivations, but the vagueness and choppiness of the plot are not helping. Watching this show can be like walking on ground that shifts beneath your feet.
Is this show merely trying to keep me off guard, or is it kind of a mess? Characters’ actions can seem wildly inconsistent, perhaps because I previously read them wrong, or perhaps because the writing was done haphazardly by committee. Time will tell — unless, of course, it doesn’t. My comments from last week apply again here: I’m not sure if this series is just sloppy, or if they’re strategically hiding things so they can reveal more later. Maybe both. But that makes for a sometimes strange viewing experience.
“Chris” and “Devin” (Fox)
The Orville comes to the rescue of a Union colony under attack by a Krill vessel. Mercer’s tactical cleverness is able to outmaneuver the Krill’s superior firepower to win the battle and destroy the Krill ship. In the wreckage, the crew discovers an unscathed Krill shuttlecraft, which presents an opportunity for the Union: They can use the shuttle to send some operatives undercover as Krill crew members in an intelligence-gathering mission to learn about this mysterious enemy and their motives. Specifically, the assignment is to retrieve a copy of the holy book that guides the Krill’s deeply held religious beliefs, in the hopes that we might learn what drives their society. Mercer and Malloy take on this task — for which they are not particularly well equipped.
"Krill" is the best episode of The Orville yet. It’s the first episode that from start to finish feels like it’s living in its own skin and starting to build its own universe, rather than reassembling pilfered pieces from here and there. Sure, the plot (undercover characters pose as the enemy) is another take on a reliable standby, but that’s perfectly fine. I have no problem with new takes on reliable devices if the writers can bring a sense of energy or specificity. This is an entertaining, well-paced, breezy hour that works on the lightweight terms where this series lives.
One of the things about Discovery’s serialized format is that it’s hard to know whether questions I have with the story will be answered soon, later, or never — whether gaps are a result of unfinished long-form storytelling or simply sloppy writing. With certain aspects of "The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry," I’m leaning toward the latter.
Consider the plot’s central motivation, which is that the tactically crucial dilithium mines on Corvan II — which are responsible for nearly half the Federation’s fuel supply — are under attack by the Klingons, and Starfleet needs the Discovery to come through with a miracle by making its experimental spore-drive engine technology functional so they can get there before the defenses fall and the Klingons kill everyone and destroy the facility. Why is this crucial facility so utterly defenseless that only a hail-Mary pass employing a starship using untested, dangerous technology can now save it? Starfleet must really be out of practice when it comes to war strategy.