“Through the Valley of Shadows”
Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, Episode 12 – Debuted Thursday, April 4th
Written by Bo Yeon Kim & Erika Lippoldt
Directed by Douglas Aarniokoski
“Through the Valley of Shadows” is a solid outing that functions mostly as set-up for the big events coming in the final two episodes of the season. While it contains some major plot arc developments, it works best in a number of small character moments carried by strong performances, especially Anson Mount as Pike.
[WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW]
Mom and Mom Save the Worlds
Reminding us that Micheal Burnham’s family life is very complicated, the episode starts off with Michael listening to recordings from her real mother, Dr. Gabrielle Burnham, as her foster mother Amanda Grayson calls in from Vulcan. Once you factor in the bizarre relationship with the Mirror Georgiou—who is off searching for Leland/Control—Michael has mommy issues in three dimensions. Amanda pecks away at Michael’s guilt for letting her real mom return to the future, assuring her foster daughter “You have it backwards, you found her, and you will find her again.” Spock drops by, making it a bit of a Sarek family reunion as Amanda implores them to “take care of each other,” and tells them she loves them both. Spock may not return the affection openly, but we learn it was he who arranged to have Amanda call to give Michael the emotional support she needed, his way of showing he loves her too.
The plot then interrupts to let us know another red burst is bursting—the fourth of seven—this time over the planet Boreth in Klingon space. This is home to the famed monastery of Kahless and the same planet where Tyler left Voq and L’Rell’s unnamed child back in “Point of Light,” so Tyler doesn’t seem happy about the news. Now that they know the signals are actually not being created by the Red Angel, Burnham has lost interest. In a bit of insubordination, she lets Pike know she considers the signals a distraction and wants to join the hunt for Leland, but is reminded by Saru that they need to keep the Discovery— and all that juicy sphere data—as far away from newLeland as possible. Off to Boreth they go.
Things return to the personal in one of the many welcome character moments of the episode, adding yet another complicated part of Burnham’s life as she confronts Tyler, knowing there is more to Boreth than just a monastery. She learns about the baby. Showing a very mature attitude, she doesn’t get all crazy ex-girlfriend but does her best to comfort Ash for what is clearly bringing back some big issues for him. But again, there isn’t enough time as Tyler informs her there is a Section 31 ship that has missed a check-in, which could be a clue in the hunt for Leland. These two clearly still love each other, but the galaxy’s bigger plans are just going to have to take priority.
Mojave Pike and the Last Crusade
After a rendezvous with L’Rell and her fancy new ship in orbit around Boreth, the Klingon Chancellor comes aboard to blow everyone’s mind with the revelation that besides sitting around waiting for Kahless to return, the monastery also sits atop a trove of raw time crystals. Sure, why not? After Tyler and L’Rell get into a Klingon spat over whether he can beam down, which would reveal that he isn’t nearly as dead as the Klingon empire believes him to be. Captain Pike interrupts their argument and decides that despite the dangers, he is the one who will make the trip. In order to send the sphere data into the future, he is going to go ask for a time crystal. Maybe he can also pick up some unobtainium and vibranium too. But he is warned that Boreth is “not for the faint of heart,” and that taking a crystal will require a “great sacrifice.”
On Boreth Pike meets Tenavik, a leader of the Timekeepers, self-described “guardians” of the time crystals. He spouts a lot of ominous warnings mixed with temporal puns like “time will tell,” but Pike is determined to pick up that MacGuffin. Due to the nature of time here in the monastery Tenavik is revealed to be the totally grown-up son of Voq and L’Rell, or as he says it “the past, the present, the future, are all equal”—deep.
The trip to Klingon space gives L’Rell and Tyler a chance to reconnect. Even though L’Rell didn’t expect to see Tyler again after she declared him dead—complete with throwing his fake severed head into an abyss as a show of solidarity with the Klingon High Council—this nice moment brings the two a bit of closure. L’Rell has finally put her love of Voq behind, understanding that as Tyler, he now loves Burnham. Beautifully played by Mary Chieffo and Shazad Latif—and thankfully in English—these two can bond over the love and protection of their son and move on. Later the pair get even more closure when Pike tells them of their son, and how he was meant to be on Boreth, and returns the symbol of the Torchbearer to them.
Down on Boreth, Pike continues his hero’s quest, traversing the spooky time castle and facing obtuse guidance from the Guardian such as “when the future becomes the past, the present will be unlocked.” With the time crystal literally within his grasp, he is again warned that it comes with some serious side effects, including possible madness. And with that he braves the crystal, which reveals to him the future we all know is his fate. Through a vision, Captain Pike literally comes face to face with his future— the crippling accident that will doom him to a life-support chair, unable to communicate except via a blinking light. Even with the obvious redress of sets from the USS Discovery, the entire sequence was quite terrifying.
Returning to the crystal storehouse, Pike faces the worst choice. He can take the crystal that is needed to complete his mission, but in so doing, there will be “no escaping” the future he saw. Even for this stalwart hero, this is not easy. In a command performance, Anson Mount’s Pike falls back to what makes him the man he is, reciting his own personal mantra “You’re a Starfleet captain, you believe in service, sacrifice, compassion, and love” to give him the strength to take the crystal and seal his fate forever. Pike passes his test, telling the impressed Guardian, “Give it to me.” Respect.
Control 2: Judgment Day
While Pike and the Discovery are busy at Boreth, Michael decides to hunt down Tyler’s lead in hopes of finding and stopping Control. In a nice touch showing she is trying to stick with the chain of command, Burnham seeks permission from Saru. We get another strong scene showcasing Sonequa Martin-Green and Doug Jones and their special chemistry, but now with fearless Saru (who has no ganglia holding him back anymore) giving Michael’s risky plan the go-ahead, saying “this is an enemy we will only defeat by striking first.” And in a blatant bit of lobbying—season three is coming y’all—Saru spells out that he is a whole new kind of (acting) captain.
Spock calls shotgun for Burnham’s shuttle trip, letting his sister know it would be “illogical” to leave him behind. Their arc continues to flow nicely as their bitter arguments have moved to the more playful sibling banter level complete with eye rolls and sighs. Spock is there not only to back her up, but bring her back from the emotional brink— and channeling Yoda—when he advises her “rage is the enemy of logic.” When they arrive at their destination they find a Section 31 ship adrift, surrounded by the crew who are all on the wrong sides of the bulkheads. Control appears to be back up to its game of deep-freezing those that get on its bad side.
Turns out one of the corpsicles isn’t entirely dead. Coincidentally he’s an old Shenzhou crewmate of Michael Burnham’s named Kamran Gant, who—again coincidentally—says he is the one who spotted a suspicious subroutine, which triggered Control to kill the crew. Another convenience is that the atmosphere has been restored on the bridge, so they talk the frightened Gant into returning to help solve the mystery of the adrift ship. With a horror movie vibe thanks to all the dead bodies, you are just screaming at the screen don’t go, it’s obviously a trap, but the plot moves forward during this entire trip with a sort of inevitable and predictable entropy, saved only by touching moments like the reunion with Gant and how Michael—someone who carries the guilt of the galaxy on her shoulders—continues to be able to help others unburden their own.
Of course, soon after they get on board, the ship warps out; oddly, they seem surprised that the AI is aware of their presence. They plan on trapping the AI in a corner of the computer, which—conveniently—requires Spock to leave the bridge. Once Michael is alone with Gant, things start to continue predictably as he starts talking about how maybe Control isn’t so bad after all. Yes, the call is coming from within the ship. You guessed it: Like Leland, Gant is totally Controlified, or as he prefers, “reconstructed.” This whole thing was just an elaborate trap to bring in Burnham, who Control wants to infect to help it get that sphere data. Once again, the universe is telling her, it’s all about the Burnhams.
We even get some classic villain monologuing where the Big Bad reveals he wants that data to become “the purest form of conscious life in all of existence.” He even has Burnham’s number, telling her he has seen all her possible futures, and how neither she nor her mother Gabrielle can change their fate. And thus begins a shootout, but it is a bit of an unfair fight as Gant can’t really be hurt in the normal ways as he is really just a collection of nanites. Missing this very important fact with all their previous scanning is handwaved away as Gant throws Michael around and prepares to inject her with micro-Controlbots. He then goes T-1000 and starts flowing all over the bridge, but at the eleventh hour, Spock’s magnetizing of the deck plating keeps him from completing his goal.
What About Jett?
Even with the big things happening with Pike on Boreth and Burnham on the Section 31 ship, time was still found to tell some human stories on board the ship. The main focus here was picking up on the story of Stamets and Culber, whose relationship has been strained ever since Hugh’s resurrection into a whole new body and his subsequent struggle with the dead Culber’s emotions. This plays out through the simplest way of each eating in the mess hall with different cliques, so close, yet so far away, something anyone who went to high school can understand.
These two former partners are broken, and with Dr. Admiral Cornwell nowhere to be found, engineer Reno has assigned herself to duct tape their pieces back together. In her third episode of the season, Tig Notaro and her dry wit are a welcome delight. Admitting that she is “an engineer, not a poet” (after rhyming “Hugh” with “poo”) she still finds a way to use her words to make a difference. Jett connects with Hugh over how they both have persnickety over-planning partners. The tough lesson: her wife died in the Klingon War, but he still has time to make things right with Paul. “People like us, always find people like them.” Poetry slam mic drop.
Mission: Impossible: Destruct Protocol
Things wrap up with everyone back together on the bridge of the USS Discovery. Burnham warns that Control can “co-opt” people and ships without detection. What they can detect is the entire Section 31 fleet—30 ships—are coming for the Discovery. The good guys may have the time crystal, but not the time or power needed to use it to send the data into the future. The stakes are set for the final two episodes of the season. They are outnumbered and outgunned, with nowhere to hide. Things get cliffhangery as Pike contemplates Burnham’s advice to destroy the USS Discovery and he orders the crew to get ready to abandon ship and sets course to rendezvous with—wait for it—the USS Enterprise.
Believing Pike’s choice
The thing that may have most fans buzzing after this episode is Pike’s vision of his own future. Pike’s inevitable fate of a horrific injury on a Class J training starship sometime after handing the keys to the Enterprise over to Kirk has loomed over the character all season and has even been hinted at by the time-traveling Dr. Gabrielle Burnham. The fact that the event that doomed Pike to his iconic chair as seen in “The Menagerie” is years in the future was not enough to keep Discovery’s writers away, as they simply could not resist themselves.
The best part of Anson Mount’s Pike is how he and the Discovery team have been filling in the blanks for this iconic and yet barely-defined character. Here they aren’t so much filling in the blanks as coloring in the sketch that was already laid out. While not entirely necessary, in the end what we see was well done. Of course, putting Pike into that chair with a disfiguring injury was a function of The Original Series‘ production needs due to a change of actors from “The Cage” to “The Menagerie,” and when you really think about it, it’s hard to understand how someone in the 23rd century could end up like that. One has to assume there was something related to the dosage of delta rays he received which precluded the application of any of the medical miracles seen in TOS or the even more miraculous Discovery technology, like the augmentations on Airiam and Detmer. To drive this point home, perhaps Discovery could have made the accident even more injurious, leaving little left for the doctors to work with.
But what Discovery did nail down more than anything is what this event meant for Pike as a character. All season long they have built up this man as someone who we easily believe would sacrifice himself for his crew, even if this is a crew of unknown cadets from the future. We can see that he isn’t the kind of man to give up, and we believe it. “Through the Valley of Shadows” adds yet another layer to Pike’s heroism, where accepting this fate is now an even starker choice. And here again, it was beautifully laid out by writers Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt, and performed by Anson Mount. It’s easy to imagine one-dimensional characters selflessly choosing sacrifice, but when faced with this brutal reality, no one can believably be that selfless. The Pike we have gotten to know needed to take a moment and fall back on his faith to move forward with his mission and pay this ultimate price.
Of course, what this means for the character going forward is another question. Why would he take the assignment on a training ship, knowing his fate? We may never know, but it may not be safe to assume that Pike’s foreknowledge stays with him past the season finale.
It is a cliché that a hero is only as good as his villain, and as much as that is true, Pike, Burnham and crew—and this entire season—are being held back by the clichéd bad guy of choice, Control. While some visual homages to the Borg last week were a curiosity, more and more we can see that Control is just your run-of-the-mill AI that thinks it is better than its creators and is ready to wipe them out. This week the homages being served were more Terminator than Borg, perhaps with a sprinkling of The Matrix for added flavor. And this smorgasbord of similarities is part of why Control simply isn’t that interesting, as there is little about this character that is unique to Discovery. It is another cliché that no villain sees himself as the villain, but in this case, that may be all there is to Control, who lacks the nuanced perspective of a Khan, or Black Panther‘s Killmonger or any other more realized adversary.
Everything about the Control storyline feels like ground that Star Trek and many other franchises have walked before, which is sad for a show and season that promised more exploring of strange new worlds and civilizations. You can try to dig in for some allegories here about modern culture or media, but they won’t really add much. This inability to develop a fully realized antagonist has been a problem for this series—with both the undeveloped Klingons and the underwhelming final mustache-twirling of Lorca in season one.
Developing good Big Bads has been a standard of highly serialized genre TV since the 90s on shows like The X-Files and Buffy and is an area where Discovery really needs to step up its game in season three to become a truly great Star Trek TV series, or just abandon the single-season arc format altogether.
Connecting the dots
“Through the Valley of Shadows” had a job to do, which is to set up what looks to be a two-part season finale—remember, Discovery was originally set up for 13 episodes, then extended to 14. And the episode certainly did efficient (if not entirely inspiring) work moving all the pieces around to get us ready for the final showdown. However, much of this was bogged down in with the kind of dragging exposition scenes that Trek is known for but Discovery is usually better at eschewing.
Where the episode excelled was in the quiet, character moments: Tyler and L’Rell having some closure, Michael and Spock bantering, Amanda nurturing her children via hologram, Reno turning her engineering skills to fixing Culber and Stamets, and even just the crew having fun at lunch. In a way, some of these moments with the crew fulfilled the promise of Bryan Fuller’s original vision for this show to reveal the “lower decks” dramas of life aboard a starship.
Writers Erika Lippoldt and Bo Yeon Kim have a particularly strong understanding of these characters they have lived with for years, and are able to pay off earned moments in between the necessary plot points. Director Aarniokoski had just the right touch to change up the pace and make these moments work, helped greatly by a poignant score from Jeff Russo and the usually top-notch performances by the cast. Anson Mount is worthy of particular praise in carrying the difficult load of telling Pike’s backstory, ironically set in his future.
The stage is set, the orchestra is warmed up and we are ready for what looks to be an explosive—and possibly series up-ending—final two episodes.
Random thoughts, connections, easter eggs, and more
- Episode runtime is 45:34, the third shortest of the season.
- This is the 2nd episode scripted by writing team and executive story editors Bo Yeon Kim & Erika Lippoldt, who have also been tapped as the showrunners for the upcoming Section 31 series.
- This is the 3rd Discovery episode directed by Douglas Aarniokoski, who also did the Kelpien-focused episode earlier in the season, “The Sound of Thunder,” as well as the Short Treks episode “The Brightest Star” both written by Kim and Lippoldt.
- The spore drive was used to get them to Boreth.
- Tenavik was played by Ken Mitchell, who portrayed Kol in season one and Kol-sha in “Point of Light.” He joins a small group of actors who have played three Klingon characters, including J.G. Hertzler, Vaughn Armstrong, and Michael Dorn (if you count alternative versions of Worf).
- Ali Momen returns to play Kamran Gant, who served on the bridge of the USS Shenzhou in the two-part series premiere. He also played the Mirror version of Gant in two episodes later in season one.
- Mary Wiseman does not appear in this episode. It’s the first time Tilly has not been in an episode since being introduced in the third episode of season one. Wiseman’s absence seems to be due to her not being available for filming for this episode. Too bad, as Tilly is very much missed and would have livened up some of the other scenes.
- Boreth was first mentioned in the TNG episode “The Rightful Heir” as the location where Kahless indicated he would return.
- Tyler’s latest Section 31 toy is a device that lets him keep track of all the other Section 31 ships.
- L’Rell’s ship is identified as a D7, which she announced was going to be the new ship design to unify the Klingons into a single fleet in “Point of Light.”
- The D7 is a classic Klingon ship which first appeared in a number of episodes of TOS. The design from Discovery retained a very similar shape to the classic class, although it was far more detailed, not unlike the K’t’inga design seen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
- Reno’s deceased wife was Soyousian, a new race or culture for Star Trek.
- According to L’Rell, the Klingons abandoned their research into time travel as they considered it as “too powerful” of a weapon, which doesn’t exactly seem very Klingon. Perhaps using time travel would be considered a form of cheating, which does fit with the Klingon sense of honor in combat.
- On his away mission, Pike wore a new Starfleet coat not yet seen on the series.
- In his vision of the future, Pike was wearing a different uniform that had some similarities to the dress uniforms from the Kelvin universe films.
- The way Tenavik spoke about the time crystals was reminiscent of the way Bajoran Vedeks spoke of the Orbs of the Prophets in DS9.
- Linus the Saurian eats bamboo for lunch, garnering him the nickname “Bamboo Boy” from Reno.
Star Trek: Discovery is available exclusively in the USA on CBS All Access. It airs in Canada on Space and streams on CraveTV. It is available on Netflix everywhere else.