REVIEW: “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not For The Lamb’s Cry”
Star Trek: Discovery Season 1, Episode 4 – Debuted Sunday October 8th
Written by Jesse Alexander & Aron Eli Coleite
Directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi
Free from necessity of providing backstory and introductions, the fourth episode of Star Trek: Discovery breaks out as the best episode of the series yet. Mixing the right amount of character, plot, action, science and a little bit of fun, “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not For The Lamb’s Cry” also delivers the most Star Trek experience yet.
Rankless, but not witless
Like last week’s episode, the teaser reminds us that our point of view character Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) has hit rock bottom. This time it comes in the from or a synthesizer (revealed through some pretty cool FX shots of its inner workings) delivering a science uniform with “Rank: none.” And if that wasn’t enough, her morning gets worse when Sylvia “I babble a lot when I’m nervous” Tilly shows up with Captain Georgiou’s last will in the form of a persistently annoying beeping box. Mary Wiseman’s frazzled roommate routine provides some good levity, but there is still an emotional punch to this opening. Burnham’s redemption has a long way to go, and she is still haunted by her former captain.
Through the prism of Burnham, we see a lot of character development in this episode, not just with Tilly. Having Burnham and Saru back together and bantering and bickering throughout the episode is a welcome return to the early parts of the premiere. “My ganglia remain unconvinced,” is such a great Star Trek line. The relationship seems to take one step forward and two steps back as Burnham shows she is not beyond manipulating her old shipmate. We also learn that even though Saru is ready to defend his captain, he doesn’t exactly trust Lorca either. So, comparing Burnham to Lorca was a sick Kelpian burn with Doug Jones continuing to delight in overt and subtle ways.
Lorca’s ticking colony
While he isn’t the main character of the show, Captain Lorca continues to dominate through an energetic performance by Jason Isaacs with more layers of mystery and menace woven throughout the episode. He is a man with a mission to win a war at any cost. Risk may be Starfleet’s business, but Lorca continues to push it to the point of recklessness. However, even though Lorca is like no Starfleet captain we know, Isaacs, and writers Jesse Alexander and Aron Eli Coleite, never have us not believe he is the real deal.
To Lorca, the tardigrade captured in the last episode is just another weapon of war to be studied. And he doesn’t bat an eye at lying to Admiral Cornwell, if it will get him into the fight he so desperately desires. With the Klingons attacking a critical dilithium mine, Lorca gets a ticking clock. And, he uses the cries of the besieged residents of Corvan II to manipulate a crew of eggheads to get into his game after they let him down either through their battle readiness, or the ship’s first failed jump that nearly landed the Discovery in a star.
Landry’s stupid pet trick
All this pressure seems to crack Lorca’s apparent sole ally on the ship, Commander Landry. Rekha Sharma really doesn’t have much to work with as this one-note character barrels forward pushing Burnham to ignore her curiosity and turn that poor tardigrade into a weapon. The previous episode left us with some promise that this character might have something going on, but in the end she ends up just a hard-ass and glorified red shirt as she inexplicably releases the creature. Although with “It’s amazing how much I hate Vulcan proverbs,” she did get in one good jab before becoming a chew toy. No one will shed a tear for Landry who didn’t seem to fit into Starfleet and her main purpose may be to now completely isolate Lorca as a warrior alone on a ship of nerds.
Stamets needs a doctor
Discovery is taking advantage of the long-arc structure of the series to give characters time to develop and to bring in new characters along the way. Stamets began as a somewhat stereoptypical gruff scientist in episode 3, but in episode 4 we see him progress as Burnham was able to deal with the astro-mycologist on his level. Sonequa Martin-Green and Anthony Rapp really dig in on some dueling techno-babbling that does get a bit tedious, then again, that is a Star Trek tradition. Burnham apparently wins when all Stamets has left is lamenting “I always wanted to converse with my mushrooms.”
We also finally got to meet Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) and his impressive sickbay which was both full of high tech equipment, yet still had a good number of touches from The Original Series, even down to the sounds of the bed monitors. The romantic relationship between Stamets and Culber was only hinted at in this episode, with Rapp and Cruz showing great chemistry, helped along by their long-time real-world friendship.
The spores must flow
While the plot of the episode focused on the fate of Corvan II, the heart of the episode was about the tardigrade in Lorca’s menagerie. The captain and Landry only saw something that was able to kill Klingons with ease and they want in. But Burnham, the same character that mutinied so she could fire first at the Klingons in the premiere, shows her inner xeno-anthropologist and takes a questionable leap that there is more to this creature. This sparring between Landry and Burnham was clunky at times, but the classic themes of Star Trek shone through with the lesson that you should not be so quick to judge others by outward appearances.
The turn with the tardigrade echoed many past Treks, notably “Devil in the Dark.” What was just a monster chasing and eating crew members in episode 3 becomes a creature of sympathy and understanding in episode 4. OK, “Ripper” also took out Landry in episode 4, but that’s no big loss. The tardigrade also becomes a metaphor for Burnham herself, maligned, underestimated and misunderstood. And, importantly to Lorca and the plot, it also proves essential to making the Spore Drive actually function. It may be all a bit too obvious, but it still works.
But, even with everyone rejoicing at the success, we get a hint that the story of Ripper is not over. Discovery continues to telegraph its punches by showing us that the tardigrade doesn’t seem too happy in its new job. And so far only Burnham seems to notice. There is a good chance the reason this instant-jumping via shroom-tech was only used on the USS Discovery is that the only way to make it work is through enslaving a possibly sentient creature to act as navigator. Obviously Lorca won’t bat an eye at that ethical issue, but the Starfleet we know in the 23rd and 24th century doesn’t seem likely to agree.
That escalated quickly
The pacing of episode 4 really picks up from the previous entries and even at times seems a bit rushed, but that may be part of the point in order to push the tension. Not long after killing Landry we have Ripper in the reaction chamber hooked up and ready to play Guild Navigator for the USS Discovery. And whammo, the ship and its spinning saucer sections are at Corvan II. That’s right, the gaps in the ship’s saucer spin around and get rid of excess energy when the ship goes to Ludicrous Speed.
Lorca finally gets a chance to kill some Klingons. Still refusing to sit in the throne chair in the back of the bridge, he commands his crew from the front and if he gets any closer to the viewscreen, he may need to replace his already-damaged eyes. The battle was short with the USS Discovery saving the day by luring the Klingons in and Shroom-driving out at the last minute with a present or two for the Klingons left behind. It all seemed to go by too fast, buttoned by corny moment with a child looking up at the sky and wondering who saved them, while dad was probably wondering why the only available Starfleet ship just left this key installation full of suffering people alone with no other protection.
“The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not For The Lamb’s Cry” also brought back the Klingons, who were absent from episode 3. This time the story of T’Kuvma’s remaining crew, struggling in the graveyard of ships left after the Battle of the Binary Stars, was its own little mini-episode. While a show like Game of Thrones deftly pulls off these jumps around the universe, it feels a bit of a mismatch here and perhaps they could have found a way to tie the two plot lines together.
The Klingon scenes still drag, but were an improvement over the premiere. The endless speechifying is done and Mary Chieffo stands out as being able to add levels of intrigue and nuance with her performance as L’Rell. There are a lot of parallels between L’Rell and Burnham, and while their plots were not linked this episode, there were thematic parallels. Both are haunted by the loss of their former commanders. And both had to make key choices this episode on which path to follow. Burnham chose science and Stamets over Lorca. L’Rell chose faith and Voq (Javid Iqbal) over Kol (Kenneth Mitchell).
Chieffo was even able to work through all the makeup and language to convey a hint of romance and sensuousness with Voq. Although at this point it isn’t clear if the feelings are genuine or if she is manipulating Voq towards some other unseen agenda. Does she believe T’Kuvma is the Klingon Jesus like Voq, or is she working for her former House of Matriarchs? There is certainly a hint of Lady MacBeth with L’Rell and this character appears likely to play a key role as the season progresses. It would not be surprising to find Burnham and L’Rell being the ones who put an end to the war in episode 15. Although if they are to become allies, it may be best for L’Rell to not mention how they ate Captain Georgiou.
Stay curious my friend
After saving the day with science Burnham – and with a nice little pep talk from a more relaxed Tilly – Burnham is finally able to open the last will and testament box from Captain Georgiou. For those who had “recording” for how Michelle Yeoh will return to Discovery in your fan pool, congratulations. Yeoh nails an emotional scene with Georgiou imagining Burnham has her own command and wants to remind her to keep exploring.
More than any other character in Discovery, Georgiou embodies all the hope and optimism that we viewers love about Star Trek, making her death in the premiere all the harder to bear for Burnham and the audience. Giving her telescope to her former first officer reconnects these characters. Without saying a word, Martin-Green shows us how this message sets the foundation for the rebuilding of the broken Burnham.
Like Kirk at the end of Wrath of Khan as he mourns for his friend Spock, Burnham can also see the hope. And this episode as a whole conveys that same hope for this new Star Trek series. It’s new and different and not always firing on all thrusters, but “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not For The Lamb’s Cry” fills me with that same hope for what is to come next for Star Trek: Discovery.
- Namedropping for this episode: Elon Musk, Zefram Cochrane, Tellarites, and a Zaphod (presumably a nod to Beeblebrox).
- Corvan II was also from a mention on an episode of TNG.
- While the story is in the Prime universe, the music and direction is still being beamed in from the Kelvin universe.
- The “zoom to the bridge” thing is getting overused already.
- So, someone went on board the Shenzhou to get Gerogiou’s telescope?
- Who is taking bets that this isn’t the last time we will see Michelle Yeoh, this is Star Trek after all.
- If you haven’t caught on yet, Lorca’s catchphrase is “Go!” Rather ironic considering that, when Lieutenant Detmer engages the Spore Drive, the button on the console literally says “engage.”
Star Trek: Discovery is available exclusive in the US on CBS All Access with new episodes released Sundays at 8:30 pm ET. In Canada Star Trek: Discovery airs on the Space Channel at 8:00 pm ET. Discovery is available on Netflix outside the USA and Canada with new episodes made available Monday at 8 am BST.
Keep up with all the Star Trek: Discovery news at TrekMovie.