Discovery‘s “Anomaly” in Review
Following on from last week’s cliffhanger of the destruction of Booker’s home planet, Kweijan, Starfleet is dealing with the problem of what is causing the deadly gravitational waveforms, while the regular characters deal with the events of last week.
It’s somewhat surprising and uninvolving to see everyone so upset about Nallis, the annoying Redshirt guest star from last week, when he was such a twat and there are several billion other creatures who also just got wiped out, on Kweijan. However, this does at least pay off in Adira’s case, in terms of character development, but hopefully we will never have to see or hear about Nallis again. Su’Kal is also rather superfluous now, so leaving him to his own devices probably wouldn’t hurt.
And that’s the main problem with this episode: every time it just gets an affecting hook in, it then goes off to something either superfluous or less involving, or even just at the wrong moment, and ends up spoiling the moment. Which is a shame, as there are plenty of good moments, especially David Ajala’s stunning performance as the shocked Booker, and the development of Gray preparing to incarnate in a Synth body like the one given to Picard in the finale of his show’s first season.
Actually, of course, this making use of developments from the other current Trek shows is a big help in continuing to intertwine the various series and encourage viewers to catch up with them if they haven’t already. It’s a nice touch, and it’s a lovely scene – it’s good to see Gray and Adira get scenes, and it’s yet another case where Wilson Cruz as Dr. Culber gets to show how far the character has come in being a watchable, likeable character since the ship made its 937-year jump.
Getting back to the main plot of the episode, Stamets updates us with the theory that a pair of black holes might be wandering through, trashing everything within five light years of them, and beginning to collide. Amazingly, nobody notices that there’ll be a way bigger problem – a sector-trashing x- or gamma-ray burst – when they do. And Stamets, whose IQ seems to have dropped fifty points recently, tells us gravity affects the closest things, without taking into account the effect of objects’ masses when it comes to figuring out why some things are more vulnerable than others.
As if that wasn’t enough to make an MST3K scene, we then get Michael trying to convince Book that the loss of his planet, brother, and nephew aren’t his fault and you can almost hear her finish trying to convince him not to go on the data-gathering mission by saying, “There’s only room for one near-suicidal guilt-fetishist on this ship, mate!” We also get the full Red Dwarf question of how one can be ambushed by black holes with nobody noticing in time, and they could really do with having Holly’s explanation from the episode “Marooned” dubbed on. Speaking of Holly, it’s worth noting that the ship’s computer has picked a name: “Zora”, referencing the Short Treks episode “Calypso” and perhaps named after Zhora from Blade Runner.
Nevertheless, the highlight of the episode is Book’s flight to gather data from within the anomaly’s accretion disk, accompanied by a hologram of Stamets. David Ajala totally owns the performance of the shell-shocked Book, experiencing PTSD hallucinations and flashbacks, while Anthony Rapp is marvellous as Stamets tries to both watch over Book, bond with him, and run the sensors. It’s great to see them share some screen time, running the gamut of reactions to each other so well. Ajala perhaps has the harder job, showing us guilt and trauma, and he certainly succeeds; anyone who has experience with survivor guilt or grief and PTSD will recognise and empathise. He nails it. Which is why, for his situation, Michael’s speech-making is a bit of a let-down, because it’s not convincing at doing the job it needs to.
As for the titular Anomaly, well, once the ship arrives, it doesn’t seem to be a pair of black holes, and in fact, when first seen on the main viewer, looks like an eye. This can’t be unintentional, as the final pull away at the end of the episode gives us a shot where it looks even more like an eye, complete with lid and tear duct. This is surprising for a big bad who we’ve been led to expect is an allegory for the pandemic, a force of nature, but it remains to be seen whether it’s going to turn out to be a creature, and whether it’s sentient, especially given its change of direction. (The eye image in the pull away shot is actually reminiscent of the image of the monster’s eye used in the poster art for Roland Emmerich’s 1998 film Godzilla.)
In a way, the sense that it might turn out to be a living big bad is disturbing on the potentially-disappointing front; Season 3 looked like having a force of nature as the main problem, and that turned out to be some magic effect by a screaming child. “Disappointing” was a very moderate term for that. Perhaps they’re looking to make up for it by doing it right, this time?
As for the rest, Doug Jones as Saru is back aboard, and excellent as always; he and Tilly are both great touchstones in this series. The music and visuals continue to impress as well. There is a fairly rare blooper – Michael (or Sonequa) can’t seem to pronounce Lieutenant Owosekun’s name this week. It’s also worth noting how long it takes before the titles appear in this episode; you’d be forgiven for thinking they weren’t going to use them this week.
Overall, then, some great moments, some stunning acting, but relatively little happens, and then some things are quickly handwaved over (which may be a result of filming schedule issues under Covid regulations), but with the most affecting of those moments somewhat undercut.
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.