Saturday, 26 January 2019

New Eden: Going Planetside S2 E02

Following the explosive events of Brother last week, it felt like we stepped down a notch this week with New Eden.

Returning The Next Generation actor/director Jonathan Frakes to the franchise behind the camera, the second episode of the new season continued the story arc surrounding the Red Angel but managed to pull off an exceedingly Star Trek scenario as its centre piece.

Investigating the red bursts which were it becomes clear, detected before their arrival by Spock, Discovery finds a new instance and breaks out the Spore Drive one - sorry - two more times to perform a jump into the Beta Quadrant to save themselves a 150 year trip.

The planet they arrive at is home to a human colony that should not exist complete with wooden church and vegetable patches sending out a repeated distress call. Pike, Burnham and Lieutenant Owosekun beam down to take a look all the while citing the Prime Directive since this group appear to be a pre-warp civilisation.

Did like the whole mix of religions piece within the community's holy texts and the way in which the church was decorated with different symbols and signs plus the distinctive Red Angel form in its windows to tell the story of how the building came to be billions of miles away from Earth. Budget restrictions for a TV episode do the same thing that happened with Generations in that a larger population is mentioned (Veridian IV in that case) but we don't see more than four people or converse with more than two and thus lose any real sense of the humanity and level of danger and potential loss.

On board the Discovery the crew work out that the planet is doomed do highly radioactive material in its rings leading Tilly to take action contrary to orders involving the asteroid the ship collected in its shuttlebay in Brother. However, without that link to the bigger picture of society on Terra Lyceum the emotional link to the danger just never kicks in.

Discovery's Red Angel storyline seems to take an age to unwind this week after the "big reveal" in the season premiere and everything about New Eden feels like we've put a foot on the brake and gone out for lunch. It does offer up a very familiar tale with displaced humans (their ancestors were taken from Earth in 2053) but skirts the much vaunted Prime Directive on more than one occasion and it seems there's little care to cover up their movements to an almost blase level. \Heck, I know that the ship and away teams can't communicate but even when they're back aboard Discovery, Pike does nothing about the blatant violation and even beams down in full uniform...hmmmmmmmph.

It's great to see the extended main cast/bridge crew recognised with Owosekun joining the team this week for a bit of location work which suggests that the Red Angel is a lot more powerful than we've been led to believe. Detmer, Airiam and Bryce are also well-served with the script involving them in the climactic shipboard events and giving them all more to do than punch a few buttons in the background.

Pike and Burnham's interactions with the inhabitants of the planet they call Terra Lyceum are strangely relaxed with the threats and danger posed casually tossed aside in a story that doesn't seem to really know what it wants to be from start to finish. The main character on the planet, Jacob, swings from near terrorist and crazed local throwing flashbang grenades around to being Pike's best friend in a whirlwind of sequences which aren't helped by the 42 minute run time that crams a lot of attempted character moments in but seems to avoid any real heart to the episode.

Even Tilly's storyline involving the asteroid and and managing to save the planet's inhabitants from a near catastrophic event is almost too overladen with the ensign's typical quirkiness turned up to 11. Mary Wiseman is a great actress with a wonderfully nuanced role in Tilly but here she's all over the place disobeying orders, bouncing around all over the place and getting only just a minor slap on the wrist from Saru at the end of the show. 

The fanfare around Jonathan Frakes directing New Eden will certainly have drawn fans new and old to Discovery this week. As a standalone story of the ship investigating an unknown colony it's been done before in various variations from A Piece of the Action to the non-interference and observations of Who Watches the Watchers through to later works such as Northern Star, all of which have executed this kind of tale more effectively and with more heart. 

New Eden is a big disappointment and verges on feeling like a filler episode with only the question of exactly why Tilly is seeing an old classmate from school to really push you to want to see next week's instalment. I suspect it's all going to be linked together somehow with the main Red Angel/Spock thread which will unravel over the next 11 weeks. 

Some cool little things this time through with the news that Spock is in a psychiatric ward after self-admitting himself a week into his leave. Good to see Star Trek history getting some respect with World War III mentioned and also the point around the 2053 origin point being before warp technology would be invented on Earth exactly a decade later.

Visually the show is getting more and more cinematic each week with the best example of its evolution from season one being some of the jaw-dropping, saliva inducing fly-bys of the Discovery which highlight every panel line and even go down to the accuracy of being able to spot the asteroid fragment in the open shuttlebay.

Final point - what the hell is going on with the Spore Drive? As I seem to recall it was due to be dismantled at the end of season one and mothballed for safety reasons. That clearly hasn't happened yet with the arrival of Pike and the instigation of the Red Angel investigation and pretty quickly we're all fine with spooling it up again and jaunting across the galaxy.

In this regard and concerning the Prime Directive, Discovery seems to be incredibly happy to just go with the flow with no apparent long term concerns and certainly Stamets has speedily changed his mind on wanting to use the micelial network (although that might be down to whom he is seeing in there).

Discovery tries its best here to be '60's The Original Series and late '80's The Next Generation in its moral standpoint but abandons it on beamdown. The choice to do a story type that is steeped in Star Trek history is a big risk and for this series it's not a good fit. Discovery is Star Trek but yet maintains (or did til this episode) it's own identity. Through the attempted emulation of "proper" Star Trek it may have made it's biggest failing.

Is New Eden Discovery finding its feet or tripping over its shoelaces?

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