Star Trek: Discovery S01E15 Recap: 'Will You Take My Hand?' [Season Finale]

It's very fitting that Star Trek: Discovery spent a good chunk of its first season in the Mirror Universe, because one of the clearest themes that's managed to stay intact over the course of these fifteen episodes is the idea of holding on to your principles in the face of adversity. This show began with a very un-Starfleet like act by a lone, mutineering officer who figured that logic would dictate that survival supersedes principles. The idea being that there are no principles to adhere to if you're dead. Of course her logic is flawed, and she comes to realize over the course of the season that if you can abandon your principles every time you face adversity, then you might as well not have any at all, or be dead.

What I've liked the most about Star Trek: Discovery is the very notion that it could posit something like this and spend the better part of fifteen episodes (at least intermittently) discussing it, poking at it, prodding it and trying to pick it apart. It's as if the writers applied the scientific method to trying to break a science fiction drama, and it's the reason why I will continue to staunchly defend it as true "Star Trek", while its detractors seem obsessed with trying to prove that it's somehow anything but. It may not have been apparent on a weekly basis, but it's a message that's much clearer if you look at the season as a whole. Discovery starts with a philosophical problem and spends fifteen episodes trying to fix it.

This is true not only for the very notion of what makes Trek "Trek", or the principles of the Federation and where and when they see fit to break them for the sake of survival, but for many themes throughout the season; Burnham's arc of redemption, the true nature of characters like Tyler, Lorca, Mudd, and eventually, Terran Georgiou, the ethics of using the Mycellium Network. It's all related, and when you really think about it, it's incredibly well-written television.

But Discovery is not perfect, and it's unfortunate that the chinks in its armour were most visible in the season finale, "Will You Take My Hand?". It's an episode where the struggle between being a more introspective or philosphical show and being plot-driven are most apparent, where the forces that likely pushed the original showrunner, Bryan Fuller, out, were very obvious, where the struggle of the current showrunners and a hit-or-miss writer/director like Akiva Goldsman (who had his handprints all over this finale) to force the path forward, passed Fuller's intents and vision for the series came to ahead.

"Will You Take My Hand?" tasks itself with the monumental task of writing the show out of multiple corners. In order to get to season 2, the war between the Federation and the Klingons has to end, Mirror Georgiou needs to get off Discovery, Burnham's redemption arc needs to be complete and Starfleet has to be restored to what it was at the start of the season. As an added measure, it seems like the writers were unwilling to use time travel or anything else too universe-altering to fix the problem, so, unfortunately, the solution to the problems the show had created for itself devolved into the kind of world-saving action stunts you're more likely to see in a summer blockbuster flop at the movies than from a show I just spent half a page defending as introspective and philosophical.

The gist of it: Admiral Cornwell, in a fit of desperation much like other characters have faced in the past, does the unthinkable and puts the Terran Empress in charge of her flagship and the war effort. A version of Georgiou that may as well been twirling her moustache while trying to play nice undoes an entire season's worth of efforts to justify the notion of Terran Lorca hiding out in the Prime universe and eventually leads a pivotal away mission on an Orion-controlled colony on Qo'Nos. Burnham and co believe that they're there to scout and map Qo'Nos' underground tunnels. Georgiou is actually there to blow it all up and render the Klingon homeworld uninhabitable, at the behest of Cornwell and Sarek, no less. But Burnham and the rest of the crew manage to convince Cornwell that it isn't the Starfleet way and that principles are the only thing they have left to hang on to, so they find another way; they hand the bomb Cornwell gave Georgiou to L'Rell and tell her to use it as leverage to bring the Klingon houses together, so long as she ends the war in the process.

Yada yada yada, L'Rell succeeds, Burnham gets her rank restored and Discovery sets off to pick up its new captain, only to be sidetrack by a distress signal sent by (*gasp*) Captain Pike's Enterprise, in a season finale cliffhanger that will leave half the fanbase delighted, and the other half enraged.

Listen, I kind of get where they were going with all of this. This season of Discovery has been a compromise between the vision of a showrunner that's no longer there, and the realities faced by the people who have to actually bring the show forward. Showing the Federation at war, showing the darker side of what humans are capable of in a supposedly utopian society, and corners of said society that Star Trek has rarely ever explored in the past, that's some cool stuff and a lot of it landed very well. But it's not sustainable. The Klingon War is neat, but even as someone who liked it, I don' want multiple seasons of that. And hitting the reset button involved significant effort, and seemingly some action movie bullshit. That's fine, in a sense, why can't Burnham and the Discovery save the Universe and the Federation in one fell swoop? I'm willing to accept a mediocre way out of this mess if it means cool stuff going forward, and if it means not having to undo the cool stuff from most of the last fourteen episodes. But we're still critiquing an episode here, and it's still important to call action movie bullshit out for being action movie bullshit.

The other problem is that I don't really know what the point of the show is now, or even if the writers themselves know. There wasn't as much as hint left in terms of the thematic direction of the show for season two. All we know is that there'll be a new captain, that the adventure will somehow loop in a pre-Kirk Enterprise, and that some of the characters from season one that didn't belong on Discovery are still out there in some capacity. That's all well and good, but it doesn't really amount to anything. The Enterprise cliffhanger is kind of cheap, for starters. It turns the off-season conversation to who they might cast as Captain Pike, Number One and potentially Spock, not to mention the unnamed new captain. Georgiou and Tyler still being around but not on the ship simply means that they're characters available to the show to bring back at any time, but I don't know how they fit if Burnham is meant to move on from the mistakes she's made.

I'm not too concerned, the writers have a year to figure this stuff out and considering they managed to pull together a season that should have honestly been a mess allows me to give them the benefit of the doubt. But as much as I liked this first season as a whole, I wouldn't be honest to myself as a critic if I didn't say that, at least to a certain extent, this finale was somewhat bungled, and often cheesy in the way it decided to resolve stuff. I mean, there's literally a scene where Saru and the rest of the bridge crew "oh captain, my captain'd" Burnham in her speech to Cornwell. They actually want us to believe that even a desperate Admiral would put a tyrannical Empress in charge of the ship and agree to her plan of ostensibly blowing up a planet; as much legwork as they did to show us Cornwell's state of mind last week, and as much as the season has been bout desperate measures in desperate times, and wolves in sheep's clothing, I don't think they quite got there with the ridiculous Georgiou in charge twist.

But even when it's questionably written, Discovery still manages to be entertaining and even manages to retain certain aspects of its thoughtfulness, so the finale and its resolutions aren't exactly terrible. "Will You Take My Hand?" trips to its conclusion, to a certain level of finality with everything it didn't want to bring with it to season two. While I admire its efforts, and was thoroughly entertained by the final product, I recognize its faults, so it gets 7.5 simply unpalatable Kelpians out of 10.

Notes & Quotes:

  • We're burying the lede here; Clint Howard guests in this episode as a sleazy Orian, marking the lesser Howard brother's fourth appearance in a Trek show.
  • As cheap as that final twist was, that Enterprise remodel looks incredible, and I am excited to see what they have in mind with bringing that ship in, and who they might cast as characters we've already seen.
  • So Mirror Georgiou, Tyler and L'Rell are all still out there and will likely come back in some form next season, but I also think that Lorca is still out there in some form. Maybe his Prime counterpart survived, or maybe the Mycellium network turned him into something else. My ideal theory is that that somehow made him into the first Q, but that's probably fan fiction at best. Still, I think we'll see him again, somehow.
  • The cannibal jokes on this show are slowly becoming my favourite thing about Discovery. There's an exchange between Georgiou and Saru which is great, but L'Rell also trades barbs with her, seeing as, you know, the original Georgiou was eaten. Georgiou tells her "You have the wrong Philippa Georgiou", to which L'Rell replies, "Either way, I can tell you require seasoning." The scene ends with Mirror Georgiou fucking curb stomping L'Rell, so I guess this show is alright.
  • Tilly continues to be the best, if this episode is any indication. She accidentally eats space whale and gets Cosby'd by Clint Howard, and by the end of the episode she's an Ensign!
  • Sonequa kills it all episode, from her voiceover speech at the beginning and end to the scenes with Tyler, but this line to Cornwell takes the cake: "A year ago I stood alone. I believed that our survival was more important than our principles. I was wrong. Do we need a mutiny today to prove what we are?"