“If you’re telling me that this ship can skip across the universe on a highway made of mushrooms, I kind of have to go on faith.”
“New Eden” owes as much to the Voyager episode, “False Profits” (with less “hilarious” results), as it does to The Next Generation’s “Who Watches The Watchers.” Both episodes deal with primitive cultures confronted by a technology far superior to theirs. Where one culture has embraced a quasi-logic and turned its back on religion, another culture embraces legend and myth while constructing a reasonable narrative to fill in their historical gaps.
If you remember the “Brother” episode that preceded it, there were signals emanating from different points in the perceived galaxy (and beyond), and that Spock had apparently become obsessive in tracking down what he called the “red angel,” or something along those lines. It made very little sense within the context of Spock’s character, but rather than being introduced as the traditional stoic and unemotional Vulcan, it was required to reveal him in a vulnerable, emotional state. I don’t know why it was required but this is where we are.
Pike (Anson Mount) continues to command this mission for reasons I can’t fathom. He decides to break with protocol (as well as Spock’s privacy) and tell Michael (Sonequa Martin-Green) about what is really going on. It seems he committed himself to Starbase 5 for psychological care. He didn’t want anybody to know, including his “slip-in,” retconned foster sister. Because Burnham thinks she knows what’s best for Spock (as well as everybody else), she decides not to tell Pike about the angelic figure she saw before being rescued in the previous episode.
Wouldn’t this kind of omission be considered a breach in protocol? I guess not. Another one of these “signals” is identified as being in the Beta Quadrant. I don’t think we’ve ever heard of the Beta Quadrant. Let’s get down to the geometry. Quadrant, as I’m sure you know, is a fourth of something—anything that can be split into four segments. In Star Trek, our galaxy is divided into four segments, and those segments are called “quadrants.” Most adventures are limited to the Alpha Quadrant, which is where we have our Star Trek fun.
We know the Delta Quadrant because Voyager was taken there courtesy of the Caretaker. The Gamma Quadrant is connected to our quadrant by means of a wormhole near Deep Space Nine. The Beta Quadrant is roughly 51,000 light years away. Burnham, Tilly, and Saru suggest using the spore drive, even though it was outlawed following its use in the Klingon war. Pike reasons this is such an important mission (though we have no reason to believe it is), he’ll authorize the use of the drive with Stamets’ assistance.
Before he is hooked up to the infernal machine, Stamets (Anthony Rapp) tells Tilly (Mary Wiseman) about his encounter with dead boyfriend, Hugh, in the mycelial network the last time he operated the spore drive. Pike, somewhat ironically given this episode’s premise, has to take it on faith that magic mushrooms are going to take him to the Beta Quadrant. After a quick burst, Discovery finds a planet at the signal’s designated coordinates.
A quick scan reveals the planet’s inhabitants to be human, but that makes no sense considering the distance from Earth. It is assumed that because they can find no evidence of electricity in use on the planet, they come to the puzzling conclusion that this is a planet of luddites. Even more puzzling is that while physical laws are referenced, they are not laws written by scientists. Pike makes mention of “Clarke’s Third Law.”* The law is named after science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke!
They’re seriously citing laws made up by science fiction writers? I wonder if there are Roddenberry laws? What about L. Ron Hubbard’s laws of Dianetics*? Even more hilarious, apparently Burnham and Pike can see no way of dealing with luddites on their terms, so they bring Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo), who grew up in a luddite community, but she does nothing to help them in any way. What was the point of having her along if Burnham was already the pre-ordained hero of this (and every) mission?
This is the problem with having one lead rather than working together in an ensemble. Every character wandering throughout this series is designed to make Burnham look brilliant. Burnham, Pike, and Owosekun beam down and investigate the source of the signal. They note that the colony’s religion seems to be an amalgamation of every Earth religion, as well as incorporating elements of the “red angel,” with whom they had run-ins a long time ago before their power went out. This is interesting, but we don’t get enough of it.
The people of this planet learned to survive without electricity or any kind of energy source. No one seems to make the connection to religion; that perhaps it was their faith that kept them alive. Burnham even seems to believe that “rationality” is the opposite of religion. Oh, but what if rationality is a religion in itself? Ever thought of that? One of the colony’s citizens, a devout man named Jacob (Andrew Moodie), tells Pike he has a visual record of the “red angel,” but the transmitter needs a power source to function.
Jacob somehow gets it into his head that Pike and his companions are god-like and he fires a phaser at him, wounding him. This is where I thought of “Who Watches The Watchers.” Later, when the landing party escaps and Jacob sees them dematerialize, the scene is reminiscent of the Sages in “False Profits” beaming away as a prophecy had predicted. Pike had previously made a big deal of not interfering with the planet’s pre-warp culture, but he trades a long-lasting power cell for the transmitter (located inside a camera mounted on a helmet).
This one power cell brings electrical power back to the colony. In the episode’s coda, we get a little bit of John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness with a video recording showing the “red angel” standing in a church doorway, and all the soldiers being attacked by it before the video goes dead. It’s interesting how the writers think combining elements of things they’ve seen before into one package is somehow original. Oh, and for some reason, Tilly is visited by the grown-up ghost of a friend (played by the incredibly annoying Bahia Watson) she once had who died five years previous. Huh?
“New Eden” was directed by Jonathan Frakes, which probably explains why it holds together better than most Discovery episodes, but very little time is spent on the more intriguing aspects of the planet and its people, as well as their curious acceptance of all religions. Are they supposed to be superior to humans of my time because they’ve managed to put aside their ideological differences? How did they reconcile the violence of Earth that was due in large part to religion? These are questions the writers refuse to answer. I’d love to know why.
*Any sufficiently advanced technology would be “indistinguishable from magic”.
**No fat chicks. Tilly is pushing it on this one.
***No personal checks!
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