Matt and Sean talk about earning your audience’s emotions, and what to do when your AI goes haywire. Star Trek Discovery took some shortcut storytelling that both worked and didn’t at the same time.
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So we are currently in Discovery Season 2, which means we are currently talking about 2019. And who are we? Well, I’m Sean Ferrell. I’m a published author. I’ve written some sci fi. I’ve written some stuff for kids, including the most recently released sci fi adventure, The Sinister Secrets of Singe. And with me, as always, is my brother, Matt.
He’s the guru and inquisitor behind the YouTube channel Undecided with Matt Ferrell, which takes a look at emerging tech and its impact on our lives. Matt, how are you doing today? I’m doing
How about yourself? I’m doing okay. It’s another rainy weekend. It seems like the algorithm has decided that we shall have rain every Saturday and Sunday from now until the end of time.
So that’s what it’s doing. And I’m trying to make the matrix, isn’t it? Isn’t it?
So before we get into our conversation about today’s episode, we always like to revisit your comments on previous ones. Matt, what did you find the mailbag for us?
Bunch of comments about Spock, Sean. Spock is really stricken. Oh, there’s a lot of, a lot of opinions on Spock. And I love this debate and the conversations.
Um, there’s a comment from, from episode 116, If Memory Serves, uh, where we were talking about the Spock differences between the different performances, like the Nimoy, the, you know, the J. J. Abrams, all that kind of stuff. Uh, we had Wayouts123 wrote, Liked what Matt said about the differences in the Kelvin Spock and this Spock.
I justified it by assuming that Quinto Spock is older and has had time to deal with some of the issues. I thought that was kind of interesting of like, You can, in your head, kind of like retcon in how these different performances actually fit within a timeline of Spock’s life. Um, which is exactly what the writers of Discovery are doing with Spock in his early days being overly emotional.
Um, another comment on that episode from Pilgo69, It’s kind of weird how copies of Spock don’t feel like Spock, but this actor feels like a young, immature Spock. And that’s kind of like, I think where you and I both agree and have that same kind of feeling of it’s like, he’s not emulating Nimoy, but he feels authentic
to Spock to us
in this earlier stage.
But at the same time, lots of comments about like, I don’t like this, uh, and value of nothing 2487 has commented on this before, but I really liked this comment from him. I think the showrunners will realize their mistake in trying to go back to this material. It seems exploitive, seems arrogant that they can write and change them this way.
This is not Spock and it’s not, and it’s certainly not the Talosians. So clearly he doesn’t like Uh, how they’ve kind of reframed how the Tolosians motivations work, how they look, how they act. And the same thing for Spock. The retconning of it seems to really kind of rub them the wrong way. I don’t necessarily agree with it in this specific instance of this show, but I can totally see where he’s coming from.
It’s absolutely valid to have that sort of response that there’s a. There are many people who’ve put together their own Star Trek programs that they put up on YouTube, and they don’t go about, like, reimagining them. Like, what’s an in between phase between this and that era and figuring out the bridge work?
Like, they emulate the original series. They put on those costumes. They make their sets look like the original sets. This approach, these modern contemporary programs are doing is the opposite of that. They’re not just… Emulating the original series. They are honoring the original series. And there’s an audience that is not going to want that.
And I completely, it’s valid. It’s valid. There’s nothing wrong with saying like, what did they do to the Telosians? These don’t strike me as the same. Type of, of characters as in the original pilot, but at the end of the day, it worked for me and it didn’t work for another audience member. And both responses I think are perfectly okay.
Yeah. The last one is a comment for you, Sean, because in episode 115, Late in Shadows, Sean talked about how he spent countless hours in front of a mirror as a child holding one eyebrow so he could learn how to do the Spock eyebrow raise. And he’s not lying about that story, ladies and gentlemen. He actually did do that.
Comment from Kindredsgirl wrote, Oh my gosh, Sean. I did the same exact thing. Emulating Leonard Nimoy’s eyebrow moves. I also held one eyebrow down until I could make the other one move more independently. And then I felt so cool on all caps. I also like to say. Fascinating, and make the Vulcan live long and prosper hand gesture.
Wow. Nerds from an early age, you and I, and yes, you sound like you’re cut from the same cloth as my brother. Yes. For sure.
It is. Like, we are out there. We are, we are legion. Uh, I just want to jump in with, uh, a response to one of the earlier. Comments that you read, which was about the from Pale Ghost talking about how Spock doesn’t feel like Spock, but the actor feels like an immature Spock in this instance.
Mm-hmm. , um, as you read that, I flashed back to something that Martin Landau said, Martin Landau, uh, Was originally considered for the role of Spock and he and Leonard Nimoy were friends and Martin Landau pulled himself out of consideration for the role because he said, I don’t want to play somebody who’s completely emotionless.
I just, that’s not interesting to me. And he said after Star Trek aired and he watched it. He realized I’m an idiot because he said, I realized that Nimoy’s portrayal of it was to play an incredibly emotionally turbulent person who is trying to hide that turbulence. And that’s the genius of Nimoy’s portrayal.
And that was something that Nimoy brought to the character that they then mined later on. Early depiction of Spock, the very first depiction of Spock from the original series, you see Spock smiling. So, he was just an alien. That was literally just like, oh, he’s not human because he’s got those ears. Then they recraft the character into being this emotionless character, but Nimoy’s portrayal…
reveals a turbulent undercurrent and that became mind later on the series as the original series grew. What I really like about the various reimaginings of Spock using different actors is those actors have to touch upon Nimoy’s depiction. And I think that is where it’s really remarkable the impact that Nimoy had on Star Trek as a whole.
If you look at Star Trek as like a tree and the root system that goes underground, the things you don’t see that feed the living organism that you do see, he impacted the root system permanently. Every depiction of a Vulcan has That element of, Oh, you wouldn’t want to see what’s running underneath the skin.
And that as a direct element in Star Trek stories has been used. Oh, you dare to mine the depths of a Vulcan mind. You wouldn’t want to see what runs in here. And then a flooding of imagery, which is violent and painful. And. I think Ethan’s depiction in this episode in particular really touches on that.
So I’m looking forward to talking about that in more depth in this episode. Before we get into that, that noise you’re hearing in the background is of course the lead alert, which means it’s time for Matt to tackle the Wikipedia description.
Starfleet Admiral Katrina Cornwell secretly boards Discovery to interrogate Spock and brings video footage depicting Spock murdering the three doctors.
Saru discovers that Section 31 faked the footage using holograms and Cornwell directs Discovery to Section 31 headquarters, where Starfleet’s control artificial intelligence is kept. Control is behind the forgery and has been directing Section 31 to pursue Spock. Burnham, Security Officer Nhan, and Airiam beam into the headquarters to find the personnel, including Section 31’s leadership, dead after Control turned off life support systems.
Airiam is tasked with restoring Control to Starfleet’s intended purpose. But the virus from the future she carries is actually con, actually control itself. And instead attempts to upload the sphere’s knowledge of all artificial intelligence into control’s. Database Airiam asks to be ejected into space before control gains the knowledge it wishes.
And Burnham hesitates, but Commander Nhan Jet Jettisons Airiam before it’s too late Airiam dies reliving. Her favorite memory from before she was technologically augmented. And I’m laughing because I have so much to say about
Airiam in this discussion. I’m laughing because of, I mean, we talk, we will be talking in this episode about AI. I can’t help but look at this Wikipedia description and say, like, Why does it always seem like AI is already here and writing these descriptions where like this is so out of order and strangely confusing and.
All the points are there, but are they in the right places? I don’t know. Anyway, episode number nine, Project Daedalus, directed by one Jonathan Frakes. Don’t know whatever happened to him. Don’t know where he came from. No. I do have a question though, Matt. Have you ever learned to ride a bicycle?
Written by Michelle Paradise, originally broadcast on March 14th, 2019. Main cast, as always, Sonequa Martin Green as Burnham, Doug Jones as Saru, Anthony Rapp as Stamets, Mary Weissman as Tilly, Anson Mount is still in the captain’s chair as Captain Christopher Pike, and we see Jane Brooke as Admiral Cornwell once again, Ethan Peck as Spock, Rachael Ancheril as Commander Nhan and Hannah Chesman as Lieutenant Commander Airiam. And we haven’t really talked about Hannah Chesman as an actress or her character of Airiam in much detail. And we will get into the nuts and bolts of that later in the discussion. I keep shunting us forward instead of taking a moment to describe something because this is going to be a lot of talking about The thatness of that.
14th, 2019. What was going on in the world at that time? Well, Matt, I don’t have to tell you that you were singing Seven Rings by Ariana Grande. Do you want to give us the closing refrain? Beautiful. Unfortunately for you, Matt, that’s going to be the last time you’re going to be able to share Seven Rings with us.
And that’s because next week for the first time in a long while. It’s going to be a different song at the number one spot on the streaming services. At the movies, people were lining up to see Captain Marvel, which opened with 153 million, breaking Wonder Woman’s record of 103 million for the highest weekend debut for a female directed film.
This, of course, is the Marvel film featuring Brie Larson as Captain Marvel and Samuel Jackson reprising his role in a prequel to much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The one movie that springs to mind that would have… Taken place prior to this was the first Captain America movie, the first Avenger.
This movie was not really a retcon, but just telling of a story of a character who hadn’t appeared in the Marvel movies up to that point. There was a reason why. Very strong opening box office for that film. And on television, we’ve talked about the top streaming series as we’re trying to compare Apples to Apples, so a streaming show compared to other streaming shows, and up to this point, we’ve talked about the programs Lucifer, Stranger Things, 13 Reasons Why, Money Heist, Orange is the New Black, The Handmaid’s Tale, Sex Education, and Elite.
And now at the number nine spot, the ninth most popular streaming show in 2019 is you. I do not mean you, Matthew. Nor do I mean you, the listener or viewer. I mean you, the American Psychological Thriller television program based on the books by Carolyn Kepnes and developed by Greg Berlanti and Sarah Gamble.
This program Have you ever watched it, Matt? No, I haven’t. It is the story of, it’s effectively a constant deconstruction of toxic masculinity because the main character is effectively a serial killer and he gets his sights onto a woman and he decides that he will do everything he can to allow their romance to flourish.
And that means isolating her and getting her friends and family out of the way. And it is lots of mind games and lots of disturbing, uh, story elements, all from the perspective. Of that character, who in the program is played by Penn Badgley, and he’s really brilliant in it. It’s all from his perspective, including narration from his perspective.
So from his perspective, he’s just the nice guy. Who’s doing everything he can to make sure that this person is loved the way they need to. The show has been on for several seasons now, and every season it kind of reinvents itself. I don’t watch it consistently, but I have seen it because my partner loves it.
She thinks it’s a terrific show. And whenever I’ve watched it, I have always found it compellingly disturbing. I have moments where I’m just like. This is hitting notes of a little too oogie for me to actually enjoy. So, uh, but it is, it is very well done. And in the news on this day in 2019, New York Times was sharing major news stories, including the UK lawmakers.
Reject the no deal Brexit and defy Theresa May yet again. Parliament’s actions undercut the, undercut the prime minister, worsening the power vacuum in British politics and making an extension of the Brexit deadline more likely. This is 2019. It wouldn’t be long before it would continue. On for seemingly forever.
Also in the news, also in the New York times was the story about Boeing planes finally being grounded in the U S after days of pressure. This was during a period of time where Boeing’s 737 max planes were. Crashing. And nobody yet knew why. And Boeing initially was like, it’s not anything we’re doing.
It’s human error. Well, guess what? It turned out it wasn’t human error. It was a design flaw in the plane itself. Also in the news, Paul Manafort’s prison sentence was doubled. To seven and a half years, Paul Manafort eventually would be released after a pardon from president Trump and Facebook data deals are under criminal investigation.
A federal grand jury is looking at partnerships that gave major tech companies broad access to Facebook’s users information. So, the recurring theme I see here, we see the political world of Brexit, we see the criminal exploits of Manafort, but two of these major headlines from the New York Times I think tie into what is being talked about in this episode.
Humans reliance on technology. What does that do? What does that mean? Users heavily invested in social media, people who find their identity through social media Easily exploited. We’ve seen that now play out for many years now. It is constantly being talked about, especially in political world, in the political realm, where misinformation guiding and shaping political thought and action is incredibly dangerous.
And then technology, which is supposed to be better than the previous iteration, leading to catastrophic failures like the Boeing planes that were going down. These kinds of stories are not new. But I think that this episode demonstrates them leaking into the zeitgeist in a way that the, the awareness of a coming debate, I think it’s very interesting how this episode seems to be without arguing either side.
Just the context of what control is and how it’s operating is about an AI debate and I think it’s a very timely episode and it’s timely then and it’s timely now because now the AI, we’re on a different side of the barrier of the AI debate. It’s no longer a, Oh, it’s coming. It is here and we are living through it and some of us are living through it in ways where we think it’s.
It’s fine and fantastic and others of us are seeing some muddy terrain. I say that as an individual who has been directly impacted by it. One of my books is one of the more than a hundred thousand books that were uploaded to the AIs, the ChatGPT, to teach it how to think, to teach it how to write. And there are a number of lawsuits from authors, including the Authors Guild being a part of a lawsuit against those companies on behalf of authors like me.
So. I discovered that not only my book, I have a friend who has a dozen books. I looked up his name through the database of all the authors who are, whose work was basically just stolen. They didn’t buy books to do this. They went to a pirating website, took pirated versions of our books, and then uploaded those as data.
And this friend of mine, every single one of his books had been Taken and used in this way, I couldn’t help but marvel at the idea of using fiction as the means of teaching an AI how to respond to questions. No wonder AI responses are so wildly misinformed. You
mean the, the lucid dreaming that
The Lucid Dreaming is born. It’s effectively living in the AI is apparently living in a virtual reality created by all the works of fiction that have been uploaded to it. And I couldn’t help but think about the Book of Mind that was uploaded as Man in the Empty Suit. It is a book that. relies on time travel, and a New York City that is decrepit and decaying and filled with parrots.
Like, how is that going to be helpful for an AI? Why steal from me to teach the AI things that don’t exist? I don’t get it. But, that’s a bit of a tangent. We’ll get back to the main discussion. We’re going to talk about the story here. I think the first place, the most obvious place for us to start, is with Airiam.
And I want to talk to you about Airiam and her story in two different avenues. Which one would you like to start with? Airiam’s story in isolation, or Airiam’s story as part of the series?
Oh, wow. Uh, Airiam’s Story as part of the series, is where I would like to start. Why don’t you jump off then? Okay. This has been my, the drum I’ve been beating the entire show, as we’ve been talking about this.
This show takes so many damn shortcuts with storytelling and building characters and letting us know who they are to build a Connection to them and Airiam is one of those characters a while back where I was like, I thought her name was Arian. Like, I didn’t even know what her name was. We didn’t know the names of the bridge crew for the entire first season.
They just shanked it when it came to building camaraderie and they told us there was camaraderie without showing us that it was building and these characters were loving each other. Um. The fact that they decided to tell her story, what the hell is this robot lady, in the mid, almost the end of season 2, they finally get to her, to kill her off, and that makes me so angry.
Because it’s so manipulative, they’re only telling us her story at this moment because it’s convenient to try to pull on some heartstrings to make us feel sad at the end. Where, guess what? If you’d been building her up for two freaking seasons… And then you killed her off. I’d be bawling my eyes out, like, no, I can’t believe you killed Airiam.
Instead, I’m like, okay, like, I see it, it disturbs the entire crew, they’re all crying, but guess what? I didn’t know who she was. I didn’t know all these touching moments that they’re showing us in her memories. What the hell? Like, it’s like, it was very clever storytelling. We can talk about it in, look, when we get into the context part of the storytelling versus the meta part of the storytelling.
For me, the meta part is where I think they did an incredible disservice to this actress, to the character, to the potential of what this could have been. Man, what were they thinking? That’s kind of like the high level view
I’ve got of this. Yeah, I mentioned when I went through the cast list, Hannah Cheesman is the actress playing Airiam.
And I… I was upset on her behalf. I think that there were moments in this episode where they played out with some details around what her character would be capable of that I’m like, okay, so they created a quasi data. She had reflexes and strength that went beyond a normal human. She had lost Her humanity as a result of an accident, uh, so her body is keeping her alive, but is it the same kind of life?
And holy cow, just saying that out loud, it’s like, how is this not a major character? How is this like, if this is what you were doing with this, you’ve effectively created a kind of quasi-data and a quasi Geordi LaForge.
Because you’re effectively saying technology is what’s allowing this individual to not just be sequestered somewhere in isolation or in pain or even potentially dead. It’s also a strange creation in a show which is supposed to be a prequel to all those other programs where we’ve never seen anything even close to this.
So, it’s almost a misstep in the very creation of her character, including her in any way shape or form, is almost a problem. And ultimately, to go into the meta of it, this felt to me like an episode that was focused entirely on a red shirt from the original series. Showing somebody we’ve never seen before, walking around, having lunch, having laughs.
Having friends, and then beaming down with Spock and Kirk. And McCoy and dying within 60 seconds of getting to the planet. It felt, as you mentioned, manipulative. It didn’t, it doesn’t work because we haven’t been given an opportunity to get to know them. And to have the story that they’re trying to tell here, I think now, you know, segueing into the isolation.
In isolation, expand this out to a 90 minute film about an individual who has been saved from an accident and given this kind of body and then has this kind of experience. I loved it. I loved the idea of it. The, the aspect of the human in the machine effectively being locked out of their own body and being used in this way by an artificial intelligence.
I thought was. Uh, really hard sci fi coolness. I really like, in isolation, I like that story. I like the Burnham Airiam fisticuffs, uh, when they get to the Section 31 headquarters and are battling it out. And Airiam, they don’t, I mean, I almost went to, they don’t pull any punches. They’re effectively showing Airiam beating Burnham to death.
Burnham is losing that fight at every turn. And we have seen Burnham go toe to toe with Klingons and beat Klingons. We have seen her go to toe with Georgiou and beat Georgiou. And here we see Airiam is going to kill her. And it is obvious the grunts from the fighting. There is no Burnham is holding her on.
Burnham is just barely keeping herself alive. And then when Airiam awakens inside that moment and says, in seconds, I will open this door and I will kill you. And is saying it not as a threat, but as a panicky, as a panicky explanation of what’s about to happen. You’ve got to eject me into space, because I will kill you.
And then I will kill everybody aboard Discovery. And then everything we’re trying to stop will happen. You’ve got to kill me. That, as a dramatic, tense moment in a sci fi story, it worked. It worked for me. But I kept thinking… I was pulled out of those moments constantly by what a wasted opportunity, what a wasted opportunity.
I was never not aware of watching a show that felt like they were playing with the character in an unfair way because they simply hadn’t bothered to lay enough groundwork. And if they knew, I’m very, very, very curious, did they know that this episode was going to be in this when they started season two?
Because if they did, if they did, every moment of her memory… Where we see her supposedly culling her memory to save space in her head so she can download what that sphere from the previous episode had brought. All that information about AI that this AI control wants to have. So she’s making room in her memory storage so that she can carry that over to the Section 31 control computer.
And in doing that, we see these moments from the past. If they knew before beginning this season, before beginning filming, that that was going to be what would happen, why not build some scenes with Airiam and other crew people so that those can be the flashbacks we’re seeing from her perspective. Give us moments we remember.
Give us a dining hall conversation between those four women joking about the game, Domjot, that they like to play, and how good she is at it. Give us that game of Domjot. Give us those moments so that this feels true because it didn’t feel true. Yeah.
Yeah. I don’t want to sound like I’m just parroting you, but my take on the specifics
of this story around
I absolutely adored too. I thought it was fantastic. It’s, it’s sci fi catnip. It is gripping that the human lost in the machine and the, the idea that she was human was killed in some fashion or almost dead and basically brought to life. So she’s kind of like. Had her humanity stripped of her and then the what’s happening her to her again is her humanity is getting stripped from her again Yeah, so she’s having it happen to her twice, which is so tragic.
It’s a tragic story that’s happening to her but her finding herself at the very end of like Kind of taking enough of a control, having that like, the last memory moment playing in her mind as she’s dying. That was just, it’s beautiful. It’s so well done and I’m right there with you of like, I was angry at how much they cheated this actress and this character because there was so much great storytelling to mine there.
She’s the precursor to Data. Like, yeah, it’s, it’s the same cybernetic brain kind of stuff in her that’s in data, but it’s a hybrid,
which is why it works. It’s a human. It’s like data was,
data was one of a kind because nobody had done it on its own. Here’s the hybrid. Okay. Oh, it makes sense that we could figure out how to do the hybrid.
It’s a human brain connected to this stuff. So that’s how we kind of made the glue work and it’s interesting to see that precursor to data. What the hell were they thinking not doing anything with her? And I will tell you, I don’t. Obviously, I don’t know for a fact, but it’s hard to decide, it’s hard to think they didn’t know they were going to do this in the beginning because she was the linchpin for control from the beginning.
So they knew they were building her up as the, the, the, the key to the whole story. And the whole little red dots in her eyes for episodes they’ve been teasing. They knew for the entire series, this is what was going to happen for this season. Why the hell were they not showing us that dinner scene that was in her memory back in Episode 2?
And then in Episode 3, show that moment with Burnham looking out the window. And then in Episode 4, like, why were they not having those moments? It’s not like you have to make her the central character of those episodes. No. But to show us that… It’s a 90 second sequence that shows these two characters bonding and then do it again and then do it again.
And then you’re also laying the groundwork back in episode two of her finally explaining to the viewer. I’m a human android hybrid because I almost died. And then in episode 4, we find out that she was engaged to be married and then her fiancé died in that tragic accident. So we’re learning this stuff over time and we’re finding these connections and then by the time we get to this episode, they’re doing what they already did.
You don’t even have to rewrite it. We’re like right there like with the rest of the crew getting a little misty eyed of like, Oh my God, it’s like we’ve been learning about this awesome character all season and they’re killing her off. I can’t believe this is happening. Instead, it’s completely manipulative and I don’t understand why.
It’s like you can look back at the previous episodes and it would have been so easy. It would have been so easy to work her in. And I don’t understand why they just left her out. Um, but on, on the micro storytelling side, I’m right there with you, especially that fight scene and that argument between her and Burnham desperately not wanting to eject her out the airlock, but she’s saying you have to.
And then the… The, uh, what’s her name, the security officer, how she did it. It’s like, there was so much about what happened in that sequence that I thought, this is fantastic like sci fi storytelling and it just felt completely undercut from how they executed
it. Yeah. For me, that, that conclusion too, also with Nhan, um, being the one to pull the lever.
to eject her into space. I thought it was, I thought it was really compelling that you end up in a moment with Burnham not overcoming the very thing that she was wrestling with for the entire episode. That’s to come in the future. So I thought, great way of highlighting that this character is stuck in amber a little bit.
And I mean, Burnham is stuck in amber a little bit because she’s faced with a dilemma, which you would think Oh, this is the overcoming that hurdle moment, and it’s not. Nhan steps in. My one complaint about Nhan, they go out of their way earlier in the episode to say, like, oh, those things in your face, they’re there to help you breathe, right?
It’s Chekov’s gun. Wink wink wink, Chekov’s gun, so that you know, like, as soon as like, oh, those things are there to help you breathe, right? That wouldn’t come up in conversation the way that it did. But the moment you hear that, you’re like, oh, so those are going to get ripped off our face. And they do. But did you notice what I noticed, Matt?
She’s in an EV suit.
Why wear your breathing apparatus if you’re going to wear an EV suit? And if you are wearing them in your EV suit, does that mean that an oxygen rich atmosphere is being pumped into your suit despite the fact you need some other Gas provided and why, and then if they do get ripped off your face, why didn’t she just put her helmet back on?
Because we’ve already seen that the EV suit helmets come out of the neck and just collapse over your face. So. Okay, Nhan’s in danger and we are giving the climactic shot literally of her trying to crawl in a way that looks like, suspiciously to me, here’s another moment that I noticed where I was just like, well, that’s a weird choice.
It looked very much like if she just extended her arm fully, she would actually reach what she’s reaching for. Instead, it looks like she is dinosaur arming it and just like. It’s too far for these little arms. Like, lady, extend your arm.
For, for me, I didn’t get hung up on the, the EV suit part, but I totally see where you’re going with that.
For me, what, what bothered me with the ripping it off is like, wait, she’s supposed to be this badass security officer and all somebody has to do is go. Doink! Yeah. And then she’s out of commission. It’s like, wow, that’s kind of a very big Achilles heel that you’ve got exposed right there.
Yeah. It’s like she went to the, uh, Three Stooges School of Starfleet Security.
Like if anybody attacks you, don’t forget to put your hand up in front of your nose. That way they can’t poke you in the eyes. Okay.
Can I say one other thing about Airiam before we move on? Absolutely. I felt, even though they, I felt like they cheated her in the big picture, there were moments that really kind of hit me.
And one of the ones that hit me was when, when Nhan is getting suspicious, like it’s clever when, when she says those things make you breathe, right? And she’s from that moment, Airiam’s like, what’s going on here? She gets a little suspicious
of like, that’s a little odd. You mean Nhan gets suspicious? Yeah.
Yeah. So, Nhan, on the bridge, watching Airiam, on the bridge looking suspicious, and there’s this moment where Airiam turns to Tilly and says, You stay with me, stand with me this entire time and do not leave me. Yeah. And it was just this sad moment of, she knows she’s losing something, she’s losing time. Yeah.
Something’s happening and out of her control. And she knows something’s off and she’s starting to suspect herself. And it was like, for me, it was like, oh, that’s so tragic. She doesn’t want to say what it is yet, but she needs somebody’s help to confirm that she’s doing something bad. Yeah. And I was just like, that’s really, it’s such a sad, sad moment that she’s.
Trying to get help, but doesn’t know how to completely ask for it.
I just like that a lot. Yeah. It certainly had all the elements to touch a lot of intellectual and emotional moments. And it, and it was just not earned in the form of having been explored in a way that made it feel like you were watching the same program.
It felt like watching a standalone movie as opposed to watching a TV show. Series episode. And that’s where it just felt like, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s an unfair fight. You’re watching Burnham over a two ser two season long story arc for that character. And then we’re supposed to have an episode about a character that has only been a background and never fully explained.
Like, this is literally the first moment where they’re saying like, Oh, did you know she’s human? What? So yeah, difficult to get over that, um, as a story element. Next, I’d like to talk about the AI aspect of all of this. The We’re informed that control is a thing that is used by Starfleet Command to feed data into it and get its recommendations.
Clearly a sophisticated AI system, which is looking, I would imagine, at a history of conflict analysis, leadership decision making. So control spits out recommendations and then It’s up to the command structure, the individual officers, to make a decision about what to do. So this is not, control is in charge, but it is an informative device, a tool, for Starfleet officers.
And I wanted to know, It’s interesting to take a look at this, and it’s, there’s within the story itself, which I think is fairly standard fare. It’s an AI system gone amok. It is Terminator. It is, like, we’ve had other… Episodes of Star Trek do very similar things. Next Generation, I can’t even begin to guess how many episodes of Next Generation had to do with a computer somewhere suddenly saying, I’m sentient and I’m going to do these things.
Had that so many times. There’s the great episode with the character of Minuet, which is a hologram construct of a woman whose entire goal is to be so enticing and interesting as to keep the key officers off the bridge so that the ship AI can do its own thing. So like this is not new territory for sci fi or even for Star Trek.
The original series had episodes. In fact, there’s an episode from the original series in which an AI is given control of the Enterprise and then the Enterprise crew has to wrest control back. So not new territory. But what I think is interesting to think about is how does this depiction of, Oh yeah, there’s a system it’s called control.
It feeds information to officers and then officers make decision making. How did you feel about the introduction of this given the breadth of Star Trek that we already know, how did you feel about this being presented as an element in the past? Given what we know the original series and other future programs say about computers, AI, and lifeforms like data.
I thought it worked, um, and
fit to me because There’s things that happen in the future in the, which are actually the past series, which are actually in the future. Yes. Timeline. Yes. There’s things that happen and are stated as offhand comments that elude. It’s kind of like the, um, augments are banned.
Augmentations are banned. Well, why are they banned? Oh, well, here’s con. It’s like, there are things that have happened in the past that explain why they are doing what they’re doing. And AI is one of those things that has been mentioned in other series as to be like, you know, it’s never. In control. Yeah.
Why is it never in control? Because something went haywire in the past and they learned, Hey, this is a bad idea. And we’re seeing what that bad idea is. For me though, calling it control is a little, uh, on the nose. It’s like, what, what are you doing? It’s like you’ve, you’ve built a system that’s not technically in control.
It’s it’s, it’s an, it’s a tool. It’s a tool that you’re using. It’s like what we have AI today, which is it’s not going to write you the next great American novel, but you could use it to help you write the next great American novel. If you know what I mean? Like you write it, you can write a story and then you can put it into an AI machine to act as your editor to help you get rid of passive voice and things like that.
So there’s, it’s tools that can be up to the human about how they want to apply it. And that’s exactly what control is in this episode. But why do you call it control? Because it’s not in control. You only called it control because it makes sense for it’s the big evil guy and we have to like, you know, it’s, it’s, we’re alluding that it’s going to take control because it’s called control.
It made no sense to me why they would call it that in the first place. But yeah, it was a little bit like, I thought it
fit into the universe. Yeah. When Admiral Cornwell was talking about it, it jumped out at me too. And I was like, Oh, they might as well have just said like, yeah, we’ve got this computer system.
It’s called Nefarious. And we feed all this information into Nefarious. And the Nefarious tells us what it recommends that we do. You don’t have to do what Nefarious says, but Nefarious is full of great ideas. And so we want to get back in touch with Nefarious. And I’m like, Ugh, really? Like, and, and I, I find myself kind of on the other side of what you’re saying.
Like, Does it make sense? I get what you’re saying about there have been references in the, in other elements of this isn’t a good idea. AI is not to be like given full control of things, but I found myself thinking it’s so expansive, it’s, it’s depicted as being so expansive in Starfleet’s thinking. That it felt distracting to me like, whoa, wait a minute, like they really kind of introduced not a experimental thing that’s being tested, but a Tool that’s been relied on for a while, and I was just
like, go ahead, go ahead.
Just look at today, Sean, like you just said at the beginning of this episode, a couple years ago, AI was like, it’s going to be a thing that will happen in the future. And just a couple years later. It’s already here. I was going to say to you when you said that. Technically, Sean, AI was here a couple years ago.
We just weren’t aware of it. And it, and in the past year, it has become so overused. It is so in everything. And it’s not an exaggeration to say that. It is literally in everything today. Anything software written has machine learning and AI applications. into it already. It is permeated everywhere. We’ve jumped in to the deep end of the pool, not completely understanding what the hell we’re doing with it yet.
It’s like, so the idea that Starfleet would be doing this and it would be so pervasive through Starfleet and it’s like, wow, how is it so expansive and this experimental thing? We’re basically playing a massive experiment today in our current lives with tech. We don’t fully understand the implications of five years now, 10 years from now.
It is not a stretch of belief. That Starfleet would be doing the same thing in the Star Trek universe. Which is why I totally bought into this. Cause it’s like we’re actually watching this exact thing play out right now in our lives. It makes perfect sense that Starfleet would be like, Oh, this is a great tool.
Let’s have it do this and this and this do. What could possibly go wrong? We are literally doing that. So it’s like, for me, I had no problem with
it. I, I may have not made my point clear. I do hear everything you’re saying and I completely agree with everything you’re saying. My point was within the storytelling itself, the presentation of a thing that’s this drastic And this struck me as being distracting because I was just like, I was like, they did.
It was a little bit like saying, uh, Oh, well, this character, like, you know, Oh, here’s what they did to Airiam. It is a little bit like what they did to Airiam. It was, they didn’t, they didn’t create a construct of control within the story that felt like it fully fit within the Star Trek universe that we know. And that’s the thing I found distracting.
I was just like, I was like, suddenly there’s literally a. gigantic space station where this thing is murdered. And I, again, from, from a different storytelling perspective, I was fascinated by their exploration of that station, finding that the gravity and life support systems had all been turned off. The bodies are frozen and floating in around in, in the rooms.
And it like the, the graphic and gross nature of all of that, the use of a hologram. of a Vulcan to have a conversation. I was like, yeah, how lucky for the AI that the key person was a Vulcan because how much easier would it be for the AI to imitate a Vulcan than it would be to imitate somebody who expressed more emotion.
So it’s like elements like that, that once we see what’s happening, the sci fi nature of all that, I was like, cool, cool, cool, cool. But I kept going back to, but they’re making claims about what Starfleet is doing. This is literally just a few years. Yeah. Prior to Kirk being in the captain’s seat. And in that era of Trek, we do not hear anybody say, Oh, AI is just forbidden because we all know what that did.
We hear like, Oh, I don’t trust computers. Computers can’t do what a human can do. But this is a big splash. This is as big a splash, like for a series that has already said like, Oh, you know Spock? Yeah, he had a sister. Like that’s a big leap. That’s a big leap. This is another big leap. You can tell us with all of the storytelling to get us to buy into, Oh yeah, I could understand how Spock could have a sibling.
I can like, but this for this story element, I kept getting distracted by the fact, like, it feels a little bit like something glued onto the outside of the Star Trek universe that I can enjoy the story. But I’m constantly aware of like, it doesn’t quite feel like it fits within the universe the way we know it.
So that was my response. I mean, it’s
what you’re saying. I was gonna say, what you’re saying is exactly what we just said about Airiam. It’s like in the, in the isolated story, it’s like, this is cool sci fi, but in the grand arc of what they’ve been doing this season, it’s like, what, what are you doing? And it’s the same thing with this.
It’s like, there’s sci fi aspects of control that are like awesome, but they didn’t weave it in to the Star Trek universe over the course of the entire season. They’re just kind of like. Hit us between the eyes in this episode. I get that. I do find it funny how it parallels kind
of what we were saying.
It really is of the era. Yeah, it really is. And it’s very much of the 2019 to 2023 of it all of wait, what do you mean this AI is kind of pulling the strings? And here we are. We’re seeing how it’s pulling the strings. There’s a lot of elements in the story that Just in general, I think there’s just a lot in this story, and there was a lot of emotional components.
We get some nice scenes with Tilly, especially toward the end when Tilly becomes the key to unlocking Airiam’s human side. Um, Tilly’s very good in this. Stamets has some nice moments. Stamets in pushing back against, like, Will you people help me do my work? Wait a minute, get the hell out of here, you’re distracting me.
Some nice moments between Spock and Stamets that… Came out of nowhere, but I really liked, I really liked their, their interaction with each other and Spock giving some very wise and kind guidance to Stamets and saying, like, I understand you have this thing with your husband. Perhaps it’s not about you.
Perhaps it is entirely about him. And I thought, holy cow, that was such a lovely little nugget. Hidden in this episode. Um, but as far as the emotionality, the heart of this program, I wanted to focus in instead of like all those little disparate moments, which are so nice, including a very funny moment of Pike being offended.
By Cornwell’s, Cornwell’s, you know, like decision to keep him out of the fight. And she reveals the reason why is because if everything went south, the best of us had to be out there and that’s you. So he’s then in a position of furiously having to say, thank you. And then yeah, kind of embarrassed. Like Skulk back to his chair of like, the reason I wasn’t in the fight against the Klingons is because I was the best of the best.
Oops. Yeah. Uh, so all of that to the side, I don’t think we have enough time to dive into all of those moments, but I want to dive into one emotional moment that has a huge splash for me and worked really, really well. And it’s the Spock Burnham conversations in this episode. I. Before we get into that, Matt, were there any moments that stood out for you?
no, we can talk about that stuff after we talk about Spock.
Okay. The Spock Burnham moments in this episode are, it wasn’t until they were happening that I realized how critical these moments were. This is bringing these two characters, finally, both of them at their fullest capacity. Two completely butt heads up to this point.
It hadn’t really occurred to me like, Oh, Spock has not yet been in his right mind through most of these moments where he’s been on screen in order for us to see how is Spock right now in his relationships, not only to Burnham, but his entire family. And, we find out that Spock is, for lack of a better term, pretty freaking pissed off.
And is exhibiting a proto Spock, to go back to the earlier comment from PaleGhost, I loved this depiction, because this feels like the immature Spock, who is saying, logic, logic, logic, but… It is all saddled and he doesn’t realize how it’s affected by his anger while also saying, Oh yeah, I get that I’m angry.
I am not denying that. I am trying my best to be a Vulcan, but I also recognize I am pissed off. He refers to the non existent relationship he has with his father. He And Burnham argue beautifully, point, counterpoint, point, counterpoint, and Burnham brings out the 3D chess board and they have a game in which he proves his point by playing, not poorly, just completely unexpectedly in a way that makes her say, like, she’s gloating at the beginning of the game, Dad taught me.
More sophisticated moves, like she’s trying to elicit a reaction from him by evoking Sarek and He won’t take the bait and it’s only by the time we get to the end of the scene that we realize oh She’s been trying to bait him but he never took it because he was successfully baiting her and getting her to Completely lose control in a scene.
I did not see coming And when she is in his face and making claims that he completely then turns on its head and like, Oh yeah, cause it’s all about you because you’re the center of the universe and you have to fix everything because clearly a child should have known the Klingons were going to attack and clearly a child should have been able to rescue her parents from the Klingons and clearly a child like throws all these details of absolute truth.
In her face causing a PTSD flashback the way that it goes into that moment. I don’t take that as a reminder to the audience of what she’s gone through. I took that as he talks her into a PTSD flashback so that she is that scared child hiding while her parents are being murdered. And shuts everything down completely and ends the conversation with an emotional, angry smashing of the board.
And he’s basically like, yeah, I’m a Vulcan, but you’ve never seen a Vulcan like me. And then walks out right before she has to then return to the bridge. Returning to the bridge, she carries this with her in the form of… Oh, this is an AI directing all these minds to attack us. We need to be chaotic in order to set it off because an AI is going to anticipate logical maneuvers.
But if we become illogical, it will help defend us. And I thought that was a very nice moment of calling out random characters to suggest offensive maneuvers to keep the AI off its toes because it’s not one individual being in control. It’s all of them collectively. Metaphorically, really great way of saying like all of us humans can outsmart the computer because all of us together are stronger than this thing, like nice moment to depict, but to keep it in the room where the 3D chess game takes place, what for you there was just like, Oh, that’s.
That’s working so beautifully, or to the opposite end, was there something there that you were just like, Oh, this, this isn’t happening. This isn’t, this isn’t true. Oh, no,
it worked for me across the board. Um, I, I just, the, the underlying rage, this, we talked about this with the Nimoy portrayal of he was seething with emotion underneath and it was Nimoy’s portrayal of keeping it in control.
This is that same exact thing uncorked, like he’s uncorked the bottle and so we’re seeing it not hidden. And I thought it was a great way to kind of reveal this stage of Spock’s life. And then everything felt so wonderful in that turning point, the conversation where you mentioned how like Burnham felt like she was trying to bait her brother, but realized she was being baited.
And at the end. It was just crushing blow. I mean, he is outright mean. Like, it’s, it’s not, it’s not him putting her in her place. He is mean about it. He is trying to hurt her as best he can. Yeah. And it’s all, it’s a, it’s an interesting. Flip of the storytelling of how she hurt him drastically as a child and now as an adult, he’s turning that over and he’s really hurting her, getting her back essentially for what she did to him as a child.
I thought that was a really nice kind of like turning of the tables sequence. Wonderful moment. And the performance of Burnham in that moment where she is wrecked and then the signal goes off. Yeah. Saying you have to report the bridge. And she lets out this little faint audible huh, like, she’s almost, she almost is laughing at the absurdity of this moment of like, of all times you need me right now, now is the time you need me?
It’s like that, it was such a wonderful just, not a word was spoken, just that little faint like sad laugh that kind of came out of her, I thought was so perfect, um, and not to go out of the room, but when she’s on the bridge. I love that her best friend Saru, I thought this is one of those moments of, they show how he is attuned to her of like, something’s wrong, but yet, she just looks like Burnham.
Like, she’s on Burnham, she’s, I’m Burnham, I’m on the bridge, but
yeah, they don’t even go into, yeah, they don’t even go into an explanation of why, but in my head, immediately I was just like, he’s got all these heightened senses, and she could walk in, he might have smelled her tears, like, there’s like, or her heart was racing, or something, yeah, there’s like, anything’s going on, and she steps onto the bridge, and he’s immediately like, what, this isn’t.
Normal. Like, and she’s, she shirks it off, but with a knowing, like, I know, you know, but please don’t like, it’s like, I’m going to manage it. I also thought like all of that scene did such a brilliant job of reminding the viewer that our heroine. is damaged goods. She is broken. She has done things throughout this series in the name of protecting people that she cares for.
She has made mistake after mistake again and again, but she’s ostensibly the lead of the series. So we continue to like circle back in behind her and like her vision of the future, her vision of the world is ours. And this was a beautiful moment to remind us like she’s damaged. She is not making.
Complete, she’s arguing to him, you should be following logic and he makes the great point. His entire reversal is, you are not in any position to lecture me about logic. You are doing everything from an emotionally damaged child’s perspective and you’re using logic as a prop to get what you think you should be getting.
But the truth is, you are not the center of the universe. You are not in control. That all comes to roost when she is fighting. Airiam, on the station, and it’s clear, Airiam herself says it, you gotta kill me, everybody is sending her the messages from Discovery, do it, you’ve gotta pull that door, you don’t have a choice, Airiam knows it, you’ve gotta do it, this is not murder, you are defending all of us, you’ve got to do it.
She can’t, and she keeps saying, she is told by Airiam at one point, I will open this door in 15 seconds. And her response is one more minute, please. And I love the writing there. That was perfect. She’s told you’ve got moments and she asks for a minute. She doesn’t have a minute. And this is effectively a beautiful rendering of the hero failing.
If this was. Yeah. The damsel’s on the tracks. The train is coming and the hero is trying to untie the knot. The hero doesn’t untie the knot. The train hits the heroine. The train hits the damsel. She’s dead. And the hero is standing there. Having failed, she fails in this moment. And that moment at the end with Nhan having pulled the switch to be able to eject Airiam out, it is a compelling ending for Airiam being ejected into space, seeing her reliving, replaying one memory that she has with her husband on the beach.
It is, again, Matt and I’ve talked about this extensively through this, it would be incredibly compelling and moving if it had been earned differently. Even without that earning, it is a powerful moment. You can see what they’re going for and it, and it, and it hits a note in a certain way, but for me, the stronger moment is back with Burnham and Nhan looking at each other and Burnham looking at Nhan with a thank God you were here.
Because you saved the day in a way I couldn’t. Burnham is incapable of being the hero in this moment. And what a remarkable place to put the hero in the lead of the show. This is a failure. She failed in this moment. And, and it’s all because of that conversation with Spock that we know what happened because he is yelling at her in the room.
You think you can save everybody and everything at all times, but that’s the wish of a hurt child. And here is the Hurt Child screaming when she’s told, you’ve got moments. You’ve got to kill Airiam. Her response is, just one more minute. Before we sign off, Matt, was there anything else about this episode that really caught your eye and you wanted to talk about?
Briefly, I wanted to talk about Jonathan Frakes, Johnny Frakes, uh, he has turned into such a good filmmaker. Um, and I just want to compliment him on this episode. He’s not, his battering average is not perfect. He’s had some episodes and things he’s done on this show and other shows that have been kind of, eh, not so great.
But I would say his battering average is damn good. Like his stuff tends to be way better more often than it’s bad.
And this episode
felt so filmic to me. It looked filmic. It was exciting. And there was some amazing visual storytelling that was happening in the episode. I just wanted to like, the first shot is gorgeous.
Just the gigantic planet. Zip. This tiny little, uh, you know, ship shows up. Those kind of moments. And in the, uh, the sequence when they go aboard the section 31. Moonbase thing. Yeah. Uh, and they’re going in there and they’re finding the dead bodies. There’s this camera shot where it’s up above them slowly coming down and you see these faint silhouettes of what look like floating bodies and the lights start coming on as it’s going through it and you start to see more of the, Oh my God, this is a horror show.
He’s really good at that. Tension and that horror storytelling, like first contact with the Borg sequences aboard the ships. Yeah. There’s some really tense filmmaking that he’s really good at. Uh, when they’re boarding the, the, the base and they’re walking around, the way he does his filmmaking. I just gotta give him a slow clap of like, it was evocative.
Yeah. It was evocative of aliens. That, that boarding of the ship and how they’re all queued up with each other, um, in a defensive formation and how they’re walking and lining up behind each other. And then you see what the Discovery is seeing on the big screen, the breakdown of each helmet cam, giving a feedback so that you get this idea of like, Oh, if there’s something there, Pike and the crew are going to be watching it like three separate.
Television screens and it’s going to look nightmarish. And yeah, yeah, I agree. He’s able to evoke the horror genre within the sci fi in a really nice way. And it’s, and it feels seamless. It feels Trek, like they beam over for this. This isn’t like suddenly reinventing what it means to be a Starfleet officer.
This is like, these are Starfleet personnel in a different type of story. And it’s a kind of murder mystery thriller when they get over to that station and start finding all these bodies and then they don’t shirk. In earlier series, they would have just found some bodies. And it would have been like, uh, you know, we had some things in some episodes, like Next Generation has somebody who’s partly transported into a wall.
That’s horrific, but there’s no blood. And the person looks like they’re just holding still. Here we watch bodies fall and they’re supposed to be frozen solid and they shatter. We see some shattered bodies. We see some moments that are just like, this is grizzly. And it’s really, I hate to say it, cool. I mean, like, yeah, I was like, this is, this is good
Well, his, his, his visuals are so good. And in this episode, uh, as I’m watching, I’m like, I would love to see Jonathan Frakes direct a big budget sci fi action adventure movie. That is not Star Trek. Like have him do some kind of. Big blockbuster thing that is completely devoid of this. ’cause he’s done so much Star Trek and he’s so good at it, but it’s like you know that he would be good at another thing.
Yeah. Yeah. And I would like to see him do something like that.
I agree. So I’m curious about our viewers and listeners’ response. Do you agree with Matt and me that this episode, while technically having. A really amazing pedigree. It just doesn’t land in the right way because of big picture decision making.
Or did you think that this worked perfectly fine, even though we hadn’t really been introduced to some of these elements very much in episodes prior? Or do you think for very different reasons that it just doesn’t work at all? Let us know in the comments. Jump into the comments. Let us know. We look forward to hearing your thoughts about all of this.
Next time, we’re going to be taking a look at the next episode, The Red Angel, and please, as usual, jump into the comments, share your thoughts on what you think it’s about, but wrong answers only. And just a general heads up for our viewers and listeners, Matt and I have been trying to carry through on the practice of when we have a two parter, we will watch both of them and discuss both of them.
Not this coming episode, but the end of this season. This is a really big heads up for a few weeks from now, but the final two episodes are a two parter. So just to prepare yourselves, if you’re trying to keep up with our viewing and be a part of the discussion in the same pace that we are, you’ll want to watch those two episodes at the end of the season back to back.
Before we sign off, Matt, is there anything you want to remind everybody about that you have coming up on your main channel? Sure. Uh,
yeah, I’ve got an episode that should be out by now about there’s a big problem with wind turbines, uh, that’s kind of rearing its ugly head right now, uh, in the industry.
And there’s some really clever new technology that’s trying to address a lot of those shortcomings. I try to highlight like there’s turbines are just getting so big. And big companies are kind of revealing, like Siemens Gamesa recently revealed that they have a manufacturing defect that’s causing a bunch of these turbines to prematurely age and die out.
And so it’s basically doing a recall on these multi million dollar
wind turbines. That’s one heck of a recall. Oh. Right. So there’s all these issues. You have to drag that back to Costco.
Yeah. And there’s some new technologies that are really cool to focus on around how they’re being, how that’s going to be addressing the future of wind energy in the world.
It’s pretty cool tech. Yeah. Sounds really interesting. I look forward to watching that one. As for me, you can check out my website, seanferrell. com, or you can go to your local bookstore, your major bookstore, Amazon, Barnes Noble, wherever it is you buy your books, you can find my books there. If you’d like to support the show, please do consider reviewing us on Apple, Google, Spotify, YouTube, wherever it was you watched or listened.
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Thank you so much everybody for listening or watching, we’ll talk to you next time.