Discovery‘s “The Examples” in Review
Examples, eh? Good examples to set, or bad examples? That’s the obvious question to instinctively ask, and, as it turns out, the answer is a mixture of both.
As you’d expect, there are a couple of plotlines running side by side, with a toe dipped into a third. They’re all viewable as examples of something, but the clearest front-and-centre examples are the eponymous ones: prisoners on a former Emerald Chain colony under threat from the Dark Matter Anomaly. (Remember that?) They’re called Examples by their society because they’re following the Emerald Chain justice protocol, which apparently involves jailing six example criminals as a representative warning to other potential criminals.
This actually sounds a bit tame, going by what we saw of the Emerald Chain last season – they seemed much more likely to be into off-hand executions and sending criminals into slavery, since they had a big slavery thing going. Apparently not, at least not in this episode. Anyway, things are still dodgy because their six Examples consist of five harmless political criminals, and one actual murderer who turns out to be one of the good examples, both in terms of being a character with honour, strength, and humility, and in terms of being a great guest shot from a scene-stealing Michael Greyeyes. Maybe that was his real crime – grand theft scenery.
Our heroes are sent to evacuate the colony, with Michael and Book having to go out of comms to evacuate these prisoners, while Lieutenant Rhys volunteers to get involved with other parts of the evacuation, giving us a random bit of unrelated backstory to justify being on the show… er, mission… which immediately seemed to wave a big red “I’m going to be killed off this week” flag. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case, and he returns to the ship by the end, without us seeing him actually do any stuff, so there’s a bad example of characterisation, being told not shown.
Michael and Book continue to work well as a buddy action team – and not so much as an audible couple – here having to risk being out of transporter and comms connection, and braving robots disguised as cute wildlife, to get in and out of the prison. However, David Ajala remains more convincing when it comes to the moral and ethical questions raised when the Michael Greyeyes character chooses to remain.
Meanwhile, on the ship, it’s an unexpected joy (because there had been announcements that she wasn’t going to appear this season, over Covid worries) to see Jett Reno back, to be almost a Shakespearean chorus on the interactions of Stamets and another guest visitor, in the form of The Expanse regular Shawn Doyle as Ruon Tarka, a super-arrogant scientist who thinks he knows how the DMA was created. Tarka and Stamets have a hastily-info-dumped history, with Stamets thinking Tarka ripped off his work and then giving him the cold shoulder. Again, this backstory element is badly info-dumped in dialogue, but things brighten up when they actually interact and play off each other, with Reno in the mix, and Saru rather stressed about it all.
Tarka is indeed bloody annoying, but that doesn’t mean Doyle isn’t giving a fine performance; he’s just giving a great performance as a bloody annoying arse. Which is actually good, as that’s what the character is.… He’s also pretty smart, and has indeed figured out what makes the DMA tick – an artificial device that he believes he can replicate and control, leading him to create a scaled-down DMA in the lab, much to Saru’s concern.
This element is the big one for the story arc, but it seems slightly disappointing that the DMA could be artificially made and unleashed. A force of nature – as the pandemic is – being the Big Bad would seem so much more satisfying, but now we immediately have the questions of who made it and why. We haven’t seen Klingons in the 32nd Century, so what are they up to? Could it be the creatures from TNG’s “Conspiracy” episode? (Tarka does finger his neck, which could hint at them or the Emerald Chain.) What about the Caretaker’s species? The future machines from Picard? Control? The Borg? V’Ger?
Given that there’s mention of a temporal element earlier in the season, perhaps it’s even the thing Tarka created in the lab here, grown huge in the future and come back to find its creator.… It would be nice if it’s still not an evil thing or a weapon, but perhaps a travelling thing that doesn’t recognise the damage it causes in our space?
Anyway, there is a C story as well, which features Kovich. What exactly is the role David Cronenberg’s character serves in the Federation? Section 31 Chief? Academy Chief? Here, he seems to be a Counsellor – at least a counsellor for Culber, who can now admit to his own issues about being busy after having died and come back. Both actors are great, and at first it looked like Kovich’s advice would be one thing, but then was something else. Perhaps not every return from the dead is the same. There must be a lot of individual variances, speaking from experience.…
Anyway, overall another great episode, mixing buddy action and (pseudo)scientific mystery-solving, filled with excellent examples of acting and direction, if faltering on the showing instead of telling front. After all, storytelling is one thing, but a visual medium needs some showing.
David A McIntee is a writer and historian who has written for properties such as Doctor Who, Star Wars, Final Destination, and Stargate, as well as having written several adventures in the Star Trek franchise for Pocket Books. He has contributed many pieces to the magazines Star Trek Explorer (née Star Trek Magazine) and Star Trek Communicator, as well as having written nonfiction books about Star Trek: Voyager.