Star Trek Discovery Through the Valley of Shadows Review

Captain Pike gets served a horrifying slice of his future this week on Star Trek Discovery. This week’s episode, “Through the Valley of Shadows,” was this season’s second filler episode, teasing us for the action coming in the final two episodes. Unfortunately, we get a lot of questions with not many answers. Let’s explore the rabbit hole we’re taken down this week.  

What is a time crystal?

This is the third week in which I question the validity of “time crystals” as a viable Star Trek device. In other words, what is a time crystal supposed to be, and how important is it to the Star Trek universe as a whole?

Apparently, it’s more integral than I originally thought, because there are quite a few Trekkies who are excited by the presence of these crystals. Case in point, these tweets, which showcase my gap in Trek knowledge:

Apparently, a bunch of time crystal information was part of Star Trek: Voyager, a series I only watched in passing growing up. For Kid Me, if it wasn’t The Next Generation, I wasn’t interested. Therefore, I’ve missed a huge chunk of information that could have helped me navigate Discovery, which is diving deep into the Star Trek archives this season.

If you’re like me, here’s a short version of the information we’re missing, courtesy of a kind reader:

However, as you can see from one of the above tweets, there’s another show we must consider when mulling over the time crystals: Star Trek: Enterprise. Whereas I watched Voyager every now and again (and only truly binged part of it in my adult years during a SyFy marathon one weekend), I have no frame of reference for Enterprise except for my love for Scott Bakula. But apparently, the time crystals were in that show as well. (If a reader wants to fill me in, I’m definitely listening!)

I write all of this to state that I still have problems with believing time crystals, whether or not I know their importance to Star Trek. First of all, there’s got to be a better name than “time crystal,” which sounds like an interstellar Deus ex machina. Secondly, what is a time crystal? I get that it’s a thing that can make the user travel back and forth in time. I know that the Klingons were using them to develop time travel. But what is their makeup? How do they grow? What caused them to form? Are they matter made by the universe itself?

I was hoping an episode would answer these very basic questions for me so I could suspend disbelief. But alas, I have received no such answers. If anything, the presence of Tenavik, Voq and L’Rell’s baby Tyler sent to the Boreth monastery, made everything even more confusing.

How do you solve a problem like Tenavik?

If the case hasn’t already been made to designate Discovery as the franchise’s trippiest show ever, I think the introduction of Tenavik (Kenneth Mitchell) seals the deal. This character, a grown man, was a baby just a few months ago. He tells us that time acts differently within the monastery, since the past, present and future all coincide. The scene visually reiterates this by showing us a monk planting a rock-like seed that grows into a tree in seconds.

But I would argue that time wouldn’t work like this at all if this monastery were real. If the past, present and future were always one, wouldn’t Tenavik fluctuate between every age and every version of himself? He wouldn’t just stay a grown man, would he?

The evidence I’ll present to the court is Charles Dickens’ description of The Spirit of Christmas Past in A Christmas Carol, one of my favorite stories ever. The description reads that the Ghost seemed to appear “like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium…[T]he figure fluctuated in its distinctness: being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts, no outline would be visible in the dense gloom wherein they melted away. And in the very wonder of this, it would be itself again; distinct and clear as ever.”

Since the Spirit can travel through time, it would seem that its ethereal makeup is that of space-time itself, existing as one unit even though it’s comprised of many timelines. Therefore, when Scrooge sees it, the Spirit doesn’t make itself known as a just a man like the Spirit of Marley or even the Spirits of Christmas Present and Future. The Spirit of Christmas Past seems to be what infinity would look like if it had to draw itself as much into a “human” figure as possible.

Another piece of evidence is the description of God Itself. According to the book of Exodus, God said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” Since God is a being that encompasses all of infinity as well as all of creation, it should make sense that a human couldn’t comprehend God’s true face, because it would be to much for our minds to handle.  

If we take this and the Spirit of Christmas Past into account, then how is it we can see Tenavik as just a mere Klingon man and not some incomprehensible being? It just seems more realistic to me that Tenavik would have become a being that fluctuated through all time periods of his life simultaneously, which would explain why the time monastery is so revered and mythologized in Klingon legend. The monks who reside in the monastery should truly be depicted as awe-inducing, mind-melting creatures. By that same token, that tree should continuously fluctuate between being a seed, a sprout, a sapling, and a full-grown tree, not just magically grow in a linear fashion. If we recall, time itself is not linear; that’s a human construct (and, if you take into account the belief systems of non-white civilizations, such as Native Americans and Africans in a general sense, it’s a largely white Western construct as well).

The purpose of pain

Regardless of how I feel about the time monastery, Tenavik provided us with this episode’s biggest reveal: Pike’s future.

Of course, we already know what is in store for Pike; he becomes badly injured due to delta-ray radiation (as we learn in the original series episode “The Menagerie”). But seeing Pike realize this about his future sends him in a minor panic attack, which leads Tenavik to present him with two options: leave the crystal and have his future altered or take the crystal and seal himself to that injurious fate.

What’s great about this scene is you can see him think about the alternative for a second. Like any human in a fight-or-flight situation, we think about self-preservation first. But he recites the Starfleet oath to himself, reminding himself of the type of character he wants to exemplify. As Tenavik and L’Rell both said, a time crystal comes with sacrifice, and Pike’s sacrifice of a comfy future for the sake of the universe is beyond admirable. Basically, Pike gets first-hand experience of what the phrase “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” truly entails.

Thankfully, though, we know that Pike still ends up landing on top in the end. As seen in the original series, Spock will transport him to Talos IV, where the Talosians will give him a life free of pain. It’s also a life where he can finally live with Vina. Perhaps this backstory provides us with another life lesson; painful moments in our life just might have a purpose we aren’t aware of yet. Pike wouldn’t ever be able to live with Vina while in service to Starfleet. But his injury provides him the best opportunity yet to live out his days with Vina, and what could be better than to live forever with the person you love?

Indeed, Spock himself alludes to the purpose of pain when he relays to Michael his own process of dealing with the unimaginable grief and anger of everything you know turning upside down. All of the seeming randomness of life—the painful parts especially—must have some grander meaning in the cosmic scheme of things.

A Better Borg

Spock and Michael go on a mission to investigate a rogue Section 31 ship with the possibility of stopping Borg Leland. But instead of finding Borg Leland, we find the crew members dead, floating in space. The only survivor is Kamran Gant (Ali Momen), a former member of the Shenzhou bridge crew. Upon seeing a familiar face, Michael immediately lets her guard down, which is the worst decision, since Kamran is actually a Borg!

Borg Kamran breaks Spock’s arm and nearly kills Michael before Spock can magnetize the floor, stopping Borg Kamran’s nanobots in their tracks. But aside from the quick action, we’ve learned some key things. First of all, Control has upped its game since Borg Leland. Instead of inhabiting a human host, Control can now replicate human beings via nanobots. Secondly, Borg Kamran says the key Borg mission objective: become the most perfect sentient life and eliminate all others. If you are somehow still on the fence about Discovery fighting the Borg despite Borg Leland essentially saying “resistance is futile,” then I think this episode clinches it.

Third, it seems like this mission finally knocked some sense into Michael’s head. As much as I love Michael, she can sometimes act way too impulsively. And frankly, it seems like some of that impulsiveness has rubbed off on Saru, since he of all people should have told her to investigate the ship from afar in case Borg Leland was setting a trap.

To be honest, I put some of the blame on the script, since I feel Saru, post-Vaharai or not, would have told her to hold her horses and think through things instead of relying purely on emotion. Yes, the mission gave us quality brother-sister time with Spock and Michael, but it was clear to everyone that Michael was only going because she was angry at Leland for not protecting her mother in the first place, and now she’s lost her mother all over again because of Borg Leland’s actions.

Maybe I sound too much like a Vulcan right now. At the very least, Saru sent Spock there to keep her in line, so that was good leadership on his part.   

It probably sounds like I hated this episode. Not at all—just consider this review an expression of my anxiety and annoyance at having to wait until next Thursday to know what all of this means. This season’s mystery has been tightly scripted overall, and I literally have no idea how this season is going to end. But I’m ready to know the answers! I need the answers! Let’s hope next week is when some those answers come to light.  

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