Season finales in many shows act as patchworks of closure for narrative threads that writers have tugged at throughout the series. And, as any TV watcher knows, you don’t need to look hard to find a season finale that features a cliffhanger ending. Star Trek: Discovery’s season one finale “Will You Take My Hand?” boldly went where many have gone before by featuring both of the aforementioned TV traditions, but because this season overall provided a semi-progressive episodic personal journey for the lead character Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and, by extension, all of Starfleet, the pace at which narrative elements unfolded in Discovery’s first season made me reflect on how this show is, like some of its binge-watching age contemporaries, shaping the future of how serial television is both produced and consumed.
“Will You Take My Hand?” – “END SIMULTATION”
No, I didn’t misspell the word “simulation.” Well, I did … but I did it on purpose! I suppose that was the same defense used by the proofreader in Discovery’s graphics department just before being canned. Sure, the featured text was written backwards so the mistake was easily missed, but unless this is another loose plot element that Discovery’s writers will address next season, e.g. the ship’s computer core is infected with a virus, then someone seriously dropped the ball. Also, I know I’m not alone in thinking that it was annoying, rather than clever, to show a planet being destroyed in the previous week’s promotional trailer only to find out when the episode aired that it was just a simulation.
It’s difficult enough to suspend disbelief when, say, Sasha from The Walking Dead is talking to a gigantic cockroach who claims to be a Klingon. Do viewers have to also put up with spelling errors from what’s supposed to be a 23rd-century computer display. Or, maybe the intense light coming from everywhere is bothering my eyes … I’m from the Mirror Universe, after all. *rolls eyes*
“Will You Take My Hand?” – Michael, Impulse Your Shuttle Ashore
Like I said earlier, Burnham’s personal journey, from cold-blooded mutineer to hot-blooded mutineer, over the course of Discovery’s first season made the whole thing seem worthwhile. The distinction I’m making here might not seem like much, but it made all the difference in context.
At the beginning of the show, Commander Burnham mutinies, causes the initiation of open hostilities in the Klingon–Federation War, loses her commission, and is sentenced to life in prison. At the end of season one, Burnham threatens mutiny, averts a war crime, and earns back her commission.
“Will You Take My Hand?” – A Mutiny By Any Name…
Some might argue that one mutiny is as bad as another, but the important thing when committing mutiny is to do it for the right reason, like if your captain is about to commit a war crime sanctioned by the admiralty of the military/exploratory force you’re a part of.
A mutiny for the wrong reason, like blind adherence to the advice of your apparently racist father figure, is another thing altogether. That Burnham learned, at the least, that it’s important to pick the right battles provided evidence of some level of moral progress on her part. Where her actions in “The Vulcan Hello” made Burnham out as Sarek’s unquestioning accomplice, her actions in “Will You Take My Hand?” showed her as a somewhat principled person.
Although I still take issue with Admiral Cornwell’s amazingly bad command choices, that the main characters of Discovery are standing up to the hostile admiralty reminds me of the very creepy “Conspiracy,” the penultimate episode of The Next Generation’s first season.
“Will You Take My Hand?” – Puppet Masters
For those watching Discovery from a post-colonial point of view, it’s easy to see parallels between Michael’s assisting L’Rell to reunite the Klingon houses and real-world global powers setting up puppet states. That L’Rell isn’t constrained by a treaty or agreement of any kind with Starfleet to rule according to their instruction makes Michael’s actions less obviously oppressive. But because the reunification of the Klingon houses serves Starfleet’s ends, L’Rell’s installation as leader left a bad taste in my mouth. That said, others, Kirk and Sisko for sure, do much worse during their Starfleet careers.
“Will You Take My Hand?” – The Emperor’s New Clothes
It was fun to see Michelle Yeoh tap into her dark side, and I’m glad, for the sake of the show, that the deposed emperor from another universe is still running around. I hope she reappears some day … maybe she’s the one who’s really responsible for the destruction of the Klingon moon Praxis …
“Will You Take My Hand?” – Thoughts
This was a fun episode that had a few questionable elements, like the decision to include a closeup on an apparently double-membered Klingon urinating. I guess the directorial idea here was to highlight the seediness of the beam-in site by showing a local urinating against a wall, but the close-up on the double urine stream was a tad excessive, pandering to the d*ck-and-fart joke crowd rather than to our best selves. That said, it did remind me a bit of Kirk’s “knee” kick while imprisoned at Rura Penthe in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
I thought Tilly’s experimentation with none other than Star Trek’s toddler-alien himself Clint Howard was a great exchange. In fact, Howard’s appearance in “Will You Take My Hand?” makes him the only actor to appear on every iteration of Star Trek.
I think Mary Wiseman is doing a great job developing her role as Cadet Tilly, though I know some disagree. For my part, I think that Tilly must be a difficult character to play well, especially on a relatively grim show like Discovery.
I was surprised that Tyler will no longer be following Burnham around. I had thought that he was being set up to act as Starfleet’s resident Klingon expert, but I’m glad this isn’t the case since having an expert on Klingon culture in the ranks of Starfleet in the year 2256 would interfere with plot points set up in episodes of Star Trek, so well done creative team!
“Will You Take My Hand?” – A Familiar Ship
To many viewers, the biggest news in the final episode of Discovery’s first season was the appearance of a familiar ship and captain. Responding to a distress call from a Starfleet vessel on their way to Vulcan to pick up their new captain, acting Captain Saru and company, with Ambassador Sarek in attendance, drop out of warp to find Starfleet’s flagship, the U.S.S Enterprise NCC 1701 requesting assistance.
The big chair is not yet occupied by its most famous captain, Jim Kirk, though. It currently supports the somewhat reluctant hero, but hero nonetheless, Captain Christopher Pike, the man whom audiences would have seen calling the shots in Star Trek’s original pilot episode “The Cage” if it had aired in 1965. However, because “The Cage” was rejected by NBC, the first episode that viewers saw was Star Trek’s retooled pilot, which featured the dashing James T. Kirk as the Enterprise’s captain, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”
The first time viewers learned of Captain Pike was in Star Trek’s “The Menagerie Part I,” in which Spock commits mutiny so he can bring Captain Pike back to Talos IV. “The Cage” was eventually released in its entirety on VHS in 1986, about a year before Star Trek: The Next Generation aired.
Discovery Easter egg hunters unfamiliar with Star Trek’s original pilot episode or “The Menagerie” may have seen Pike’s name included on the list of most decorated Starfleet officers featured in “Choose Your Pain.”
“Will You Take My Hand?” – The Number One Question
More than I’m looking forward to finding out who will take over the Discovery’s captaincy, I’m looking forward to finding out how writers intend to work characters from Discovery onto the pre-Kirk Enterprise and vice versa. A big rumour before Discovery aired was that the show would concern the career of Captain Pike’s first officer, only ever called “Number One” and originally played by Majel Barrett in “The Cage.”
It seems doubtful that the show would take such a left turn after being so concerned with Cmdr. Burnham up to this point, but I hope that, at the very least, viewers get to see the nameless first officer in an episode or two.
“Will You Take My Hand?” – The Changing Face of Serial Television
Finally, like I said earlier, Discovery strikes me as the kind of show that benefits from being binge-watched. An episode or two watched individually might not impress, but the stunning visuals combined with familiar properties and the odd enjoyable episode makes for satisfying binge-watching, I’m sure.
Watching each episode as it aired left me nervous about the future of the show and how producers would turn what I was seeing into something resembling what I think of as Star Trek.
But rather than worry about losing the interest of viewers like me who are watching week to week, the powers that be seem more interested in producing episodes that can be scarfed down by greedy TV binge-ers. The introduction of the Enterprise in “Will You Take My Hand?” is a great example of this.
Rather than trying to hook viewers by making Captain Pike and his ship an important part of the first season, the creative team held off until the season finale to introduce both. A viewer watching week to week might have already gotten frustrated at Discovery’s infrequent references to familiar Star Trek properties, but the binge-watcher is raring to go, having watched all 15 episodes in one day as if Discovery’s first season were some kind of sub-par epic movie.
I’m not sure if this apparent change in format is a good or bad thing for viewers. As a rule, I don’t mind waiting as long as the payoff is good. So far, Discovery’s writers have kept me hanging on, but I hope that as the second season airs, we Trekkies will get to see a bit more of the Star Trek we know and love.