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Star Trek: Discovery‘s Season Finale Goes out With a Whimper

Michelle Yeoh as Philippa Georgiou

[Spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery. Black alert]

The first-season finale of Star Trek: Discovery was a solid Star Trek episode. It had a lot of the elements that I’ve often heard people complain have been missing this season. But it didn’t feel finale-worthy.

The 15th and final episode of the first season of Discovery, “Will You Take My Hand?,” certainly wrapped everything up with a neat bow of resolution. By the end of the hour, the Klingon war that kicked off the show was ended; Michael Burnham and Ash Tyler got a tender goodbye; Burnham’s record was expunged, canceling her life sentence for mutiny and restoring her to Commander status; everybody got shiny participation medals. Even Doctor Culber, who’s still dead.

It’s easy to see that on a whiteboard in a writer’s room somewhere, the events of “Will You Take My Hand?” made perfect sense. I can even picture the circular narrative logic drawn out: Burnham -> Hates Klingons -> Starts Klingon War -> Falls in love with a secret Klingon -> Shows compassion for Klingons -> Ends war. All of the conflicts introduced in the first episode were fixed by the finale! We did it, guys! [The writers’ room resounds with high-fives.] And yet the ease and speed of these fixes after so much time and plodding angst felt unearned to me.

What was good here? Well, in many ways, this episode played out like classic Trek. There was a mission, an away team in snazzy costumes, an outlandish alien outpost to infiltrate. Since we’re in a more progressive future, there was even a bisexual orgy and people doing drugs and a strip club on a planet far, far away (the Star Wars vibes were strong in this one, as were, of course, the nods to The Original Series).

Discovery let down its hair for a little while and showed that it knows how to have fun, an element that has been sorely lacking in a dark and foreboding season. (Michelle Yeoh’s reappearance has been like a breath of fresh air—she steals every single scene, and I pray for her future return.)

But then, of course, Discovery discovery’d, moving away from alien orgies and quickly into the threat of Klingon genocide, grandstanding about morality, and Michael Burnham having the singular conscience capable of saving the universe. After spending the last few weeks binging The Good Place and Altered Carbon, it’s been getting harder not to roll my eyes at Discovery‘s painfully black and white view of how things work.

The only character who really operated in any shades of grey was Lorca, and he didn’t even get a mention in this episode. Guess we forgot all about the Captain we followed all year who ended up being an imposter. After this week’s flirtation with inducing mass genocide, it sounds like Starfleet really needs an internal review.

“Will You Take My Hand?” tried to end by reminding us about the Federation ideals we love in Star Trek via a rousing speech delivered by Burnham to an adoring Starfleet that’s totally over the whole mutiny thing. I do have some hope that now that this first season of reverse-engineering the plot from a bunch of twists is out of the way, we may start to actually see more of that Star Trek that we love, rather than just receive lip service about it.

Let Discovery discover. Let’s seek out new life and new civilizations, not give strange new faces and characterizations to old Trek standards in an attempt to earn credit via nostalgia instead of good plotting and good writing. More episodes like the Groundhog Day-esque “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad,” which showed that you can be fun and angsty and twisty all in one episode.

But the last minutes of Discovery‘s season finale soured the hope I’d started to feel with the Klingon war’s conclusion. Rather than ending with the hook of a reveal of a new Captain, which was the tease, or something totally out of left field, Discovery comes out of warp to a distress call from … the Enterprise.

What was I saying about not leaning on nostalgia? And how could a show that spent its last four episodes introducing twist after twist go out on such an anticlimactic note? Do we care that Captain Pike’s Enterprise is facing Discovery in space? I legitimately yawned. And I couldn’t help but compare this fade-to-black with The Next Generation‘s iconic, game-changing season 3 finale “The Best of Both Worlds,” in which Captain Picard is turned into Locutus of Borg, and we were left to wait until the next season to learn what happened. Now that’s how you do a finale.

Maybe by the time Discovery reaches its third season it will have found its pacing and developed its characters to the point that if their Captain was forcibly turned into the enemy, it would go off like the bomb that it did on TNG. At this point, Discovery tried turning its Captain into the enemy, and two episodes later, his name doesn’t even warrant a mention.

Discovery has so much potential, and so many pieces that would form a greater whole if given some stronger foundational glue, that I’m excited to see what they do with season 2—maybe some of the criticisms of its freshman year will be taken to heart. But the show has a lot of work to do to live up to the promise of its excellent pilot.

And Doctor Culber is still dead.

(image: CBS)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.