Star Trek: Discovery S2E3 “Point Of Light” Review
With the euphoria of Star Trek: Discovery’s first two episodes now past, it is time to get into the meat of the season with “Point Of Light.” This third episode, written by Andrew Coleville and directed by Discovery alum Olatunde Osunsami, returns to the troubled, poor decisions characters made in Season 1 and aims to answer at least one question about the gulf between Spock and Burnham.
But let’s get something off our chest right up here at the top. Specifically, we want to touch on some of Discovery’s choices in the craft of filmmaking.
In that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” (a phrase popularized by the late, great Carl Sagan), a similar aphorism can be expressed for films and TV: extraordinary on-screen circumstances require extraordinary craft in filmmaking. And by that I simply mean, a film or episode must earn the emotion of the plot. And the more ridiculous the circumstance, the more extraordinary the filmmaking required to make the final product emotionally believable. The medium of film is an empathy machine, using tricks of light, writing, music, and camera to make an audience believe an emotional reality.
One big issue with Discovery’s first season was an imbalance between highly-produced, powerful filmmaking and emotional believability. Season 1 situations and character actions often felt engineered and unrealistic. For example, the whole way the Klingon war ended felt unnatural and hurried. It wasn’t a uniform problem; some first season episodes, like “The Wolf Inside,” did manage to find the right balance. For Discovery, that right balance seems to come down to letting the cast’s performances breathe, i.e., being subtle with camera movement and musical scores underneath dialogue.
With “Point Of Light” in particular, a moment near the beginning of the episode illustrates Discovery’s tendency toward imbalance. Right around the 4:00 minute mark, a Vulcan ship shows up and the Discovery bridge crew reacts to its presence. We start this roughly one-minute sequence with a big, one-take shot; the camera spins to land on several actors in turn, each delivering a line of dialogue about the current situation. The tense score underneath sells the moment as fraught with importance and gravity, and the spinning camera movement reinforces that.
But, once we leave this one-take wonder shot (around 4:38), and we find out who the Vulcan shuttle belongs to (Amanda), the situation has effectively stabilized. We can forgive the music for being consistent as it carries us through confusion and into the debrief. The camera, though, also keeps moving and continues to push the drama of the moment. The camera is still in its spinning motion when Captain Pike goes over to have a quick conversation with Michael Burnham. The big dramatic question of the scene has already been answered. So why is the camera still building tension?
Now, filmmaking is a subjective creature — what is spectacular for one will land as boring for another. But, in our view, this moment of conversation between Pike and Burnham is a textbook case of how Discovery overly heightens an already-manufactured moment. Frankly, it can be exhausting to have the camera and the score and the writing all turned up the nth degree, to say nothing of the vertigo.
This scene would have been better served, in our opinion, if, after the big introductory spinning one-take, the camera had stood still and let Pike and Burnham discuss. This would have allowed the moment to be carried by the performances instead of the camera. And would have given the audience a break from the sense of emergency. In short, more subtlety in filmmaking craft could have made this scene more emotionally believable.
But enough of that. Let’s discuss the fallout of “Point Of Light.”
Perhaps the biggest reveal in this episode is why there is a rift between Spock and Michael Burnham. In a conversation with her mother Amanda Grayson, Michael reveals that she had to distance herself from Spock in an effort to protect him from the Logic Extremists of Vulcan.
Wait, let’s back up a bit.
We learned in Season 1 that The Logic Extremists are a group of hard-line xenophobic Vulcans who opposed Vulcan’s membership in the United Federation of Planets and, in particular, Sarek’s odd family experiments (marrying a human woman, adopting humans, siring half-Vulcan children, etc…). They tried to kill Sarek once. They also tried to kill Michael when she was only a child. Her life was threatened and so, in an effort to protect Spock, she pushed him away. Which must have been tough on the young Spock because he was apparently Michael’s “little shadow.” (although the show has shown us the opposite from young Spock in the flashback).
This doesn’t give us a satisfying answer as to how or why Spock is connected to the Red Angels. At least not yet. However, in terms of the gulf between Spock and Burnham, this answer works. There’s a thread of logic here to explain why Spock never mentions his foster sister in all of The Original Series or any of the Star Trek films. If Spock was rejected by someone he admired, it stands to reason that he might find that rejection too great an emotional weight to bear. The situation is all still part of a weird, contrived prequel setup, but it is believable that children would be mean to each other, even in a misguided effort at protection. So we’ll go with it for now.
Moving on to other beings who are allowed to feel emotion, perhaps in abundance, Tilly has a major breakdown in this episode. We learn that her imaginary friend, a representation of a dead former classmate, is actually a denizen of the mycelial network. And this denizen, currently called May, pushes Tilly to the breaking point.
But Tilly’s situation does give us a chance to learn why the spore drive is eventually abandoned by the Federation. Sentient creatures live in the mycelial network — and they are apparently holding a grievance toward Paul Stamets. May erroneously refers to him as “the captain.” Why? Perhaps May’s race of beings consider Stamets’s actions to be an intrusion into their home. Maybe they are referring to a different Stamets. After all, the mycelial network is the pathway to multiple universes. More likely is that May’s people don’t understand Starfleet command structure. This is a question we look forward to having answered.
But before we go fully down the road of who else may live in the mycelial network (ahem, the Red Angels ), let’s take a stop by Qo’noS and see what’s up with the Klingons.
In several ways, returning to the lives of L’Rell and AshVoq, currently residing on and ruling Qo’noS, feels like a return to Season 1. Despite the physical and emotional pain AshVoq endured in the first season, his role as a Klingon spy failed spectacularly. Now he’s back on Qo’noS where other Klingons fail to do him honor — classic Klingon complaint. This side-story seems little more than a check-in to see how the characters are doing and to explain what’s happened after the war, at least until Section 31 shows up (more on that in a moment). Honestly, it all feels out of place in a story about the Red Angels and Spock. But perhaps “Point Of Light” wants to show us how AshVoq will interface with Michael Burnham and her quest to investigate the Red Angels. Or perhaps the long game of the episode is to set up a larger Klingon story arc down the road.
In another important way, this Klingon encounter felt remarkably like the Klingon drama of the 24th century (i.e., the 1990s). We witness an attempted coup, plus power-hungry, distrusting Klingons snapping at each other, insulting each other, hitting each other, wiping paint off of each other’s faces. Truly, General Martok or Chancellor Gowron could have been in the room and felt as content as a targ in a bloodbath.
The Klingon side-story also gives Section 31 a reason to show up in its strongest appearance since Star Trek: Enterprise back in 2005. At the spear tip of this appearance is the former emperor, now operative, Phillipa Georgiou from the Terran Imperial Universe. It is a role that suits her, as it involves palace intrigue and assassination, though it must come with a substantial pay cut. She seems to have fun intervening in Klingon affairs on behalf of the Federation, an intervention designed to keep a Federation-friendly head of state in the Klingon Empire.
And no doubt this whole Section 31 moment is also a setup for a future Trek spin-off centered around the adventures of the Mirror Georgiou. We get to see a Section 31 crew and ship, plus evil-looking biker jackets and snarky comments. It is all a Section 31 starter kit, a pilot-within-an-episode if you will, much like the TOS episode, “Assignment: Earth.”
The Section 31 scenes also give AshVoq a place to be when L’Rell is forced to fake his death, and the death of their child, so she can maintain control. Georgiou’s appearance helps him find a new place among a crew of misfits. Plus, L’Rell’s maneuvering gets us a truly grisly scene in which she uses the (fake) severed head of her own infant to make a political point. Classic Klingon.
Speaking of L’Rell and AshVoq’s child, there are a couple of good canon references in “Point of Light” as well. AshVoq leaves the baby in the Klingon monastery on Boreth, the same monastery that will see the return of Kahless in a little over a century (where no less a canon character than Worf witnesses the religious leader’s reappearance).
But another thing about that child — he’s an albino, just like his father. It’s a long shot theory, but perhaps this child will grow up to be the infamous Albino that Jadzia Dax, and the Klingon warriors Kor, Koloth, and Kang, track down in order to administer some good, old-fashioned Klingon vengeance in DS9’s episode “Blood Oath.” Fans did initially think the same think when Voq was on screen for the first time, but the timing would work even better for Voq’s child. And we all secretly want Jadzia’s epic side-quest to have an origin story, don’t we?
And speaking of origin stories, we do get one for the popular Klingon D7 cruiser, a ship that haunts Captain Kirk’s stars in TOS. The sub-population of Trek fans that are into ships will likely have some warm feelings about seeing the plans for the cruiser onscreen.
In either a shout-out or a correction to Season 1, it is also mentioned that the Klingons are “growing their hair out.” This is a handy, dialog way to reference the change to the Klingon look from Season 1. Quite a few fans took issue with the aesthetic changes to the Klingons from earlier Trek series to Discovery…perhaps ignoring that even bigger changes to Klingon appearance that had happened between TOS and TNG. Discovery has made a smart decision to frame the change in terms of Klingon culture; the writers suggest that in times of war, some Klingons of certain houses during the 23rd century shaved their hair ceremoniously. We can live with that explanation, and it gives us a little more to chew on in understanding this warrior species.
A super-quick side note is a reference the Section 31 characters made to a Control. In the beta canon world of Star Trek novels, Control is an artificial intelligence that is part of the command mechanism for Section 31. More can be said of this; in fact, there’s much more in the novel Control (written by David Mack) and other novels in that series. Will much of what we learn about Section 31 from those novels be officially canonized? It is anyone’s guess at this point, but it seems so.
The only other thing to discuss is the Red Angels themselves. It is clear (isn’t it?) that they are not a menace to anyone — and characters like Michael Burnham are figuring that out. The part of the Red Angel mystery that was deepened in “Point Of Light” was their connection to the children of Sarek. We learn that Spock has been seeing the Red Angels since he was a child. We strongly suspect that unraveling Spock’s childhood experience — and thus allowing him to confront the damage to his sibling relationship with Michael — is the key to understanding the Red Angels.
And each episode that passes without mentioning Sybock’s name furthers our conviction that this whole Red Angel business might just be a Sybock origin story. Sybock, of course, is the older half-brother of Spock who so famously flaunted his emotional connections in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and sought an experience of God.) What if Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery is a redemption of Sybock, or of at least the fifth Star Trek film? It is all still possible. The lack of acknowledgment of Sybock seems more and more conspicuous.
Here’s our new Hail Mary theory: Sybock is using the Red Angels to bring Spock and Burnham together. What if Sybock needs the Angels to help Spock and Burnham reconcile their differences? Does that fit the profile of the abnormal Vulcan who asked strangers to “share their pain” with him? Sybock used his mild Vulcan telepathy to influence other humanoids, to bend their will toward his. Perhaps he can do the same thing with these Red Angels.? At the very least, it’s a fun speculation.
That is it for our observations and thoughts this week. Check back with us next week after Discovery’s fourth episode, “An Obol For Charon.”
Oh, and we will leave you with our favorite quote from this episode, which is an exchange between Captain Pike and Amanda Grayson, speaking about Michael Burnham:
Pike: “Was she this bossy as a kid?” Amanda: “On Vulcan, we call it ‘persistence’, and yes, she was. She learned that from me.”
Written by Kyle Sullivan & Katie Boyer.