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Recap – Star Trek: Discovery S1E4 – “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry”

Blimey, these episode titles.

Anyway, we’re back. And this time I even managed to watch the episode and write the recap with a degree of urgency, so with any luck we’ll be ranked 6,347,425th in the Google search rankings and as many of you as possible will get to read exactly how I feel about “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry”, aka “Which of These Letters Should Be Capitalised in the Title?” aka “It Cannot Be Safe To Keep That Thing on the Ship.”

And how do I feel about it? A little bit indifferent, if I’m being honest. The show continues to fizz with imagination, and I’m confident it can deliver momentous action sequences – the one this week was brief, but the most memorable of the series thus far – but I’m still lacking a reason to actually care about any of it. The show is tonally confused and dramatically inconsistent; these characters aren’t likeable, to each other or the audience, and everything they do seems to be in service of the wavering needs of the moment, rather than any long-term development.

Consider, for instance, one of the episode’s earliest scenes, in which Burnham walks in on a combat simulation that the Discovery’s bridge crew – staffed almost entirely by scientists and engineers – miserably fail. As a consequence of this, Commander Landry (Rekha Sharma) gets thoroughly chewed up and embarrassed by Captain Lorca. Shortly afterwards, Landry is assigned to assist Burnham in figuring out some way of making the captured alien from last week useful to the war effort – and she’s an absolute prick about it. She acts like a completely different character to the one we’ve just seen undermined moments before. And this isn’t framed as her making herself feel better by bossing Burnham around; we’re supposed to accept that this no-nonsense, any-means-necessary go-getter is who she is as a person. Except she wasn’t that person just a scene ago.

It’s a minor thing, I know, but it’s symptomatic of bad writing and wonky priorities. Landry is killed off later in the episode by the creature her and Burnham are supposed to be examining – she names it Ripper – and I was so irritated by this that I almost switched the show off and abandoned these recaps altogether. It makes no sense for her to behave the way she does in that scene; her hypothesis has already been proved incorrect, and even if it hadn’t, letting a giant, marauding alien monstrosity loose into a small room cannot ever be a good idea. Landry’s death is designed to explain how Ripper works – he’s not a predator, and only attacks if threatened – but this has already been explained in dialogue, and is proved again later in the episode by First Officer Saroo’s gangly danger-ears. The whole scene shows complete mistrust in the audience’s ability to put together the information they have already had explicitly explained to them. The idiocy is insulting.

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The thing is, though, all the stuff involving Ripper otherwise is fun, interesting science-fiction; he’s a supersized microscopic lifeform that has some kind of symbiotic relationship with the curious space-mould that seems integral to interstellar travel in Discovery, and he eventually ends up serving as the ship’s navigator. That’s awesome. It’s clever and optimistic and a neat inversion of how Ripper was introduced to us last week. It just seems that for all Discovery’s bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ideas, it still hasn’t quite figured out how to implement them in a way that isn’t amateurish and sloppy.

The Ripper stuff is all in service of establishing a unique technology that lends the Discovery eye-blink travel speed. It can teleport to any point in the galaxy instantly, thus making it equipped for any and all plot needs – this is a contrivance that reminded me of Euron Greyjoy’s magical fleet in Game of Thrones, but Discovery at least gave us the courtesy of an explanation. This stuff doesn’t bug me. I could care less about the accuracy of the show’s quantum physics just so long as it allows for interesting action and drama, and besides, we got to see that the saucer part of the Discovery actually consists of spinning discs, and when the spore drive is engaged the whole ship looks like a disco Beyblade. If nothing else, this show continues to be visually sublime.

And look, the Klingons are back. If you’ve ever wondered about the logistics of a long-term military engagement, these boys – and girl – have you covered: Everyone is starving to death. The followers of the late T’Kuvma have their loyalties swayed when Kol (Kenneth Mitchell) comes aboard with a persuasive feast; without provisions, they can’t continue to follow Voq (Javid Iqbal), who is promptly deposited back in the skeleton of the USS Shenzhou from the first two episodes, betrayed by the very people he was anointed to lead. Well, all except one – L’Rell (Mary Chieffo), who sets him on a new quest that I’m sure will become more engaging in subsequent episodes, when these characters stop communicating entirely in tropes.

I do like the dynamic between the Klingons, though, and I especially like how blasé they were about Captain Philippa Georgiou’s fate – they all fucking ate her.

Speaking of Georgiou, her prized telescope made it back to the Discovery as a gift for Burnham, along with a heartfelt farewell message that suggests a more empathetic version of this character that we might actually care about and want to root for. Perhaps next week. Until then, though, what we have is, I guess, a fairly typical episode of Star Trek: Discovery – a good-looking, sometimes exciting chunk of space adventuring that is brimming with ideas, but thus far lacks the pervading sense of wartime danger, and also any characters whose fates might actually matter to us. Discovering the mysteries of the universe can’t be rushed, but I hope they get a bit of a move on in the coming weeks.

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