I’ll say this: Discovery is almost never boring. Even when it’s batshit-crazy bonkers, it’s pretty exciting.
Consider “The Red Angel,” which is equal parts respectable and loony, measured and overwrought, exposition-filled and visceral, and either benefits or suffers from numerous WTF moments — I’m not sure which. It advances the season arc by answering questions that raise more questions. It has substantial character work, but nearly all of it surrounds a single character. Guess which one. This is entertaining, but I can’t call it good. It’s a sci-fi potboiler.
The more I watch Discovery, the clearer it becomes this is a series that wants me to feel something above all else. I’m not saying it doesn’t also want me to think, or at least ponder its plots and puzzlements. But the creators of this show want me to experience it in a very immediate and visceral way, with scenes that are about emotions, conflict, camaraderie, action, peril, tension, and aesthetic and tactile conveyance. World building, problem solving, and intellectual debate are secondary.
The things I mentioned in the latter list are things I like about Trek. The things I mentioned in the former list are things I like about Trek that Discovery does more than any Trek series before it. Call me a hopeless optimist, but I like Discovery for what it is, even though I also long for some of the things it isn’t.
"If Memory Serves" is an episode that takes the qualities that are hallmarks of Discovery and employs them to tell a satisfying story. Against all odds, they’ve taken these disparate elements — prequel backfilling, strange old worlds, retcons on classic characters, impressive production values, vibrant and stylish filming techniques, Red Angel timeline shenanigans, Section Freaking 31 — and stitched together an episode that ultimately works because of performances and emotional resonance. It’s an absorbing and immersive dialogue-heavy outing that’s also a breathless plot and an homage to the franchise. And it’s the first episode of this series to reach greatness.
"Light and Shadows" is a connective-tissue piece-moving episode, rather than the more episodic-blended-with-serialized outing that has more typified season two. It’s significantly better than "Point of Light," despite being only a brisk 40 minutes long, because it takes time to breathe and deal with its characters and — well, it doesn’t have anything to do with the Klingons.
Connective tissue was what season one often lacked. Characters would drop off the map and then show up again under new circumstances, and it felt sometimes like we were missing entire episodes. Season two has been an improvement in this regard. "Light and Shadows" moves perhaps implausibly quickly in one regard: It moves Burnham from ship to planet to ship seemingly instantly.
“The Sound of Thunder” is probably the most riveting episode of Discovery yet (and was well on its way to an elusive four-star rating) for its first three acts — before it then rushes through a final act of overheated drama that has some considerable problems. Overall, this is still a very strong and satisfying hour of this series that ends with a major change in the status quo for two entire species. But the shortcuts and missed opportunities on the way to the conclusion take some bloom off the rose.
For the most part, this is an episode that has the necessary elements, weight, and established backstory to stand alone and work on its own merits. But the episode also tries to tie this standalone story into the Big Serial Arc of the season involving the Red Angel, while incrementally moving that arc forward. While I think tying your serial arc into individual standalone stories is the right way to do a season-long arc (as opposed to the “10-hour movie” that leads to lots of narrative drag), the way they do it here proves to be one piece too many.