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Star Trek: Discovery S1E15: “Will You Take My Hand?”

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The Federation-Klingon War is nearing its end, as Klingon battlecruiser zero in on the planet Earth. The Federation’s only hope? The USS Discovery, enacting a plan for a surprise victory under the command of Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh). When the price of victory proves too high, however, Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) may be forced to betray her captain a second time.

Star Trek: Discovery comes to a temporary conclusion with this first season finale, although fans will be comforted by the show-stopping cliffhanger that promises a second in the future. The season-long story arc is by-and-large brought to a tidy conclusion that should mostly please most viewers; anybody left not enjoying it at this point likely didn’t enjoy the entire series. Sure, there are problems with the episode, but they are relatively minor in contrast to the satisfying way the story comes to an end. The series’ strongest asset from episode 1 has been Sonequa Martin-Green’s performance as Michael Burnham, and she gets plenty of strong material with which to work. Discovery has played with conventions of Star Trek quite a lot, and while I’ve chafed with some the decision to base the series almost exclusively from Burnham’s point of view has delivered tremendous dividends.

If one overlooks the slightly preposterous cliffhanger that led into this episode, there’s a remarkable amount of pulp fun to be had here. Fans of Michelle Yeoh will have an absolute ball, as will fans of the inexperienced and enthusiastic Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman). It occasionally over-steps its mark – there’s a string of rather sleazy moments in a Klingon nightclub that the episode could really do without – but ultimately this feels like a very traditional episode of Star Trek. More than that, it feels like a franchise statement of purpose; it just feels a little weird that it took 15 episodes for the series to get there. There is even a beautiful little cameo for the longer-term Star Trek fans in the shape of Clint Howard, who as a child actor played the alien threatening the original Enterprise in 1966’s “The Corbomite Maneuver”.

In the end, Season 1 of Star Trek: Discovery finishes on a much firmer footing than when it began. You can see the traditional Star Trek ensemble beginning to form, although I hope Season 2 spends a little bit of time fleshing out Lieutenant Detmer (Emily Coutts) and Lieutenant Commander Airiam (Sara Mitich). Both characters have been there on the bridge and in the crew mess hall since the beginning and seem ripe for interesting stories and characters. I also hope we are done with the Klingon Empire for now: the redesign was poorly thought-out, and their ongoing civil drama during the series’ early episodes really worked to drag things down.

Discovery has carved itself a worthy place alongside its fellow Star Trek series, despite what felt like some very poor and uneven episodes during the first half of its run. Its gradual improvement – the story shifting to more interesting places, and its characters finding some consistency – has been wonderful to see. Anyone who abandoned the series last year should absolutely give it a second viewing. Anyone who’s enjoyed the whole ride needs no such encouragement. They’re probably rewatching the first episode already.

 
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Star Trek: Discovery S1E8: Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum

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Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), Saru (Doug Jones) and Tyler (Shazad Latif) beam down to a strange planet in the hopes of utilising its natural harmonic transmissions to detect cloaked Klingon vessels. Their mission is complicated, first when they discover a species of intelligent energy-based aliens living on the planet, and secondly when Saru appears to fall under the planet’s control and begins working against Burnham and Tyler.

I honestly cannot pin Star Trek: Discovery down. It is a series visibly made by a lot of talented people – particularly its cast – and yet the end result each week veers wildly from well-observed drama to genre cliché, and then stumbles into bizarre tone-deaf moments of poor character development. It is the least Trek-like Star Trek series ever made, in which the upbeat Utopian values that typified its predecessors – yes, even the murkier Deep Space Nine – are sidelined in favour of a bleak setting, a war criminal captain, and an inexplicable obsession with straining franchise continuity to breaking point. At this stage I am loving Sonequa Martin-Green’s performance as protagonist Michael Burnham, and Jason Isaac’s committed portrayal of the horrifying Captain Lorca, and pretty much despising almost everything else.

Recent episodes have seen a partial shift towards the episode-of-the-week science fiction stories of earlier series. Last week saw Discovery revisit the well-worn ‘time loop’ story with fairly ordinary results. This week sees an honest-to-god away mission, with a bonus first contact scenario thrown in for free. Starfleet ships cannot pinpoint cloaked Klingon vessels to avoid getting ambushed, but the strange emanations from the planet Pahvo may hold a key to developing some sort of interstellar sonar that would pick such disguised ships out from the darkness. When the planet’s wraithlike inhabitants reveal themselves it throws this mission into crisis mode, since it means that in addition to investigating the crystal tower that is transmitting the signals the away team also has to beg permission to touch it. Saru tries to negotiate with the Pahvans, but their constant alien signals do something to his brain and lead him to sabotage the mission in order to live with them forever.

It’s difficult to know what to make of Saru. Doug Jones plays him wonderfully, and he is an exceptional piece of prosthetic design and application. At the same time he is a grossly inconsistent character. At first he seemed so risk-averse one questioned why he would have joined Starfleet at all. By three weeks ago he was willingly torturing a sentient creature to complete a mission. Now he is sabotaging mission-critical work in order to escape the war and live in peace. One spends much of the episode assuming he is under alien control, however later scenes reveal he knew exactly what he was doing all along. It turns his character into a joke, since he cannot be taken seriously as the first officer of a warship any more – assuming he ever was. Between his treachery, the captain’s willing betrayal of his superior to the Klingons, and Lt Stamets’ hiding of serious medical issues to the captain and ship’s doctor, this is the most wildly incompetent Starfleet bridge crew since they let a teenage boy pilot the Enterprise.

The production values are top-notch, with each episode looking and sounding great. Burnham is a truly brilliant lead character. The rest is just a weird mess. If Discovery was simply bad television, it would be easy to dismiss and ignore. Instead it’s actively frustrating: you can see the decent series that is almost in view, and cannot help but want the production team to somehow find it under their noses.

 
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Star Trek: Bridge Crew VR

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The Klingon Warbird decloaks before me and the heroic crew of USS Aegis. They don’t look friendly. I give the order to scan.

“They’re arming torpedoes!” Helmsman Jase yells.

“Should I raise shields, Captain?” Asks Tactician Adam.

“Give ‘em both barrels, boys! Fair up the clack!” I growl, all manly and tough-sounding.

The torpedoes shoot from the ship, streaking towards the Warbird. Direct hit! But the Warbird’s still moving, and two more have decloaked either side of us.

“Well… shit.” I mutter as enemy torpedoes blast towards us.

”Raise shields, chuck a doughie and get us the fark out of here!” I shout, hoping against hope we’ll be able to warp to safety in time.

Today may indeed be a good day to die… because, after all, we can just try the mission again.

Welcome to Star Trek: Bridge Crew VR – the new Ubisoft VR game that may be the killer app the PSVR needs. The premise is simple: you’re part of the bridge crew of either the USS Aegis or The Original Series’ version of the Enterprise. With three other friends you can occupy the engineering, helm, tactical or the captain’s chair.

Your enjoyment of Bridge Crew is dependent on two major factors. The first: mates. You’re going to need them, preferably three (to fill all four seats), although you can manage with a three-person crew. The second: Star Trek. How do you feel about it? While you by no means need to be a superfan (I’m certainly not), having some familiarity with the show will definitely add to the enjoyment of the game.

The five main story missions are of a decent size, and offer a mounting challenge, with mission 4 in particular being a white-knuckle ride. There’s also a mode that randomises events so you can keep playing long after the story is done. You can also access a set-accurate version of ToS’ bridge but it’s an absolute confusing nightmare, and for hardcore trekkies only.

The graphics are solid, if occasionally a tad clunky, the sound design is excellent and the mechanics of the game are smart and strategic in ways that give the proceedings a lot of depth. But ultimately, it’s the social interaction with you and your mates that gives Star Trek: Bridge Crew its feeling of joyous escapism. You’re taking fire from some enemies, so do your raise shields or run? You’re hidden in an anomaly, do you leave it to rescue the federation vessel or continue hiding to stay safe? You’re beaming survivors aboard but an attack begins – do you stop beaming to save yourself or take the damage heroically? All of these hard questions and more will be answered – often very swearily – in real time by you and your crewmates.

Star Trek: Bridge Crew VR is a hoot with friends, although not much fun by yourself. The clever interaction of crew roles is such a fresh take on familiar material and offers hours of genuinely exciting, thoughtful exploration and tense battles. The one negative here is: what about The Next Generation-era Trek or even Voyager? Battling Borg with your buds would be a hoot and we can only hope for future DLC.

In the meantime, however, if you have sci-fi savvy mates and either PC or PSVR – you need Star Trek: Bridge Crew VR in your life. Make it so.