Discovery’ Goes On A Spiritual Journey In “Whistlespeak” – TrekMovie.com

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“Whistlespeak”

Star Trek: Discovery Season 5, Episode 6 – Debuted Thursday, May 2, 2024
Written by Kenneth Lin & Brandon Schultz
Directed by Chris Byrne

A classic Trek setup delivers a solid episode exploring character arcs and big ideas.

Hey, I’m in this episode too!

WARNING: Spoilers below!

RECAP

“The most important thing is to work in harmony”

Picking up on the clue they nabbed in the previous episode, Paul and the geek squad run into a science wall deciphering the simple vial of water so the captain suggests they try cultural analysis instead before she pops off to the mysterious Infinity Room. Kovich tells her that another ship is tracking Moll and L’ak, and the Disco has to stay on task for the Progenitor Tech. He does offer a bit of help, providing a list (on actual paper!) of all the scientists from Vellek’s team. Returning to the science lab the team quickly sorts out which scientist left the water clue, it was a Denobulan named Dr. Kreel who designed rain-making weather towers. A bit more detective work narrows things down to an arid world on an old Denobulan trade route and presto shroomo, they arrive at Planet Helem’no. The good news is they found one of Kreel’s weather towers. The bad news: the tower is surrounded by some “weird energy” preventing scans… and a pre-warp society. The captain flexes her xenoanthropology, revealing Helem’nites have three gender identities and no concept of class status; sounds like just the kind of place a Denobulan would party. Tilly is tagged to join on the field trip and so it’s good ol’ alien disguise time!

On the planet, they have a bit of a hike to get to the tower so they walk and talk about Tilly’s new life as a teacher at Starfleet Academy, where she is concerned one of her students is thinking of leaving. Soon enough they follow some “whistlepseak” (title alert!) leading to a group of pilgrims, only to witness one collapse due to spending too much time in the dust storms. Michael and Tilly struggle over that old Prime Directive, but the local woman ends up being saved by High Priest Ohvahz and his cool “sound cure,” which has the surprise side effect of knocking Michael out. She wakes up to find Tilly making friends with the priest’s kid Ravah who is super excited to get to the temple at the high summit, which is actually an 8-century-old Denobulan weather machine. Shhh. There is a traditional “Journey” race with the winner getting the honor to enter the temple and so Michael and Tilly sign up as a way in to search for the clue. Ravah signs up too, but priest dad is suspiciously not into the idea. Tilly encourages them, seeing the same kind of ambition she admires in her cadets. Michael takes a surreptitious sidebar to talk to Rayner and the gang on the Disco. Adira discovered more old (and broken down) weather towers and this last one is about to fritz out too. This fun day trip just turned into one of those “everyone is going to die if we don’t fix it” kind of things.

Why am I getting a sense this is no “fun run.”

“Let’s go meet the gods together”

Meanwhile on Discovery, Culber is still feeling a bit off. He decides to get counseling from a holo grief program based on his own abuela, who was known to dabble in the spiritual. He is looking for answers to what’s been happening to him since he merged with a Trill, but grandmother reminds him she was also a doctor, suggesting he stop trying to examine his soul before examining his body. So he grabs his hubby and they head to sickbay because “nothing is as romantic as a neural scan.” Aww. All Paul can detect is Hugh’s brain is normal, and of course “handsome.” Adorable. Culber was hoping for more, revealing ever since Trill he feels “more connected” to something big, but he just doesn’t know what to do it about. Is someone about to meet a Koala?

Michael has a curious chat with the cured woman from earlier talking about how she really misses her old friend who won the last big race. Like priest dad, she suggests there are other ways to show devotion besides participating in the Journey ritual. Hmm. The race begins with the sucking of a cube that parches the competitors as they head up a course lined with water bowls, which they can’t drink without being disqualified. After spotting some mutated moss, Michael leaves the race to find the radiation-leaking control panel. Eventually, Tilly and Ravah are the only two left, both tripping big-time with dehydration. The ritual now calls for carrying water bowls, which seems particularly cruel. Ravah drops theirs and Dad is elated, but Tilly steps up and shares her water with her new little protégé, and they continue to the high summit together. Teamwork! They tie up and both get to enter the temple. As Ravah takes in the spiritual moment, Tilly uses her cool new retinal tricorder but isn’t finding any clue. Priest dad shows up looking miserable, telling the winners their sacrifice will bless Helem’No for many seasons. Sacri-whatnow?

Upon reflection, fire was not a good call for the vacuum chamber.

“Beliefs can evolve”

As the walls are about to literally close in on Tilly, Michael gets some tech support from Adira to fix the weather system’s control panel, which is in the middle of the forest for some reason. The ensign is still feeling out of sorts since letting the time spider on board (not their fault) but Rayner rallies them so after some technobabble, the system is fixed. Tilly is now trapped in a vacuum chamber and can’t be beamed out so Michael breaks the Prime Directive and beams into the room right next door where Priest Dad is hanging out. With the air escaping, Ravah is now having second thoughts as Michael goes all in with their father, revealing his whole world is a lie so he should just open the door. Yeah, that didn’t work so Michael makes contact through the impenetrable wall using her subcutaneous communicator and starts humming a song she hears from Ravah that their mother used to sing. That gets Ohvahz’s attention and with “I am not a god but maybe I was sent here by one,” he opens his mind to a new reality… and the door. By this time Ravah has collapsed but Culber’s medical team can now beam in for the save. Heisenberg be praised!

As Culber and his team work everyday miracles, Ohvahz takes in the wonder of a hologram of his planet as he learns aliens called Denobulans saved them centuries ago. Now it’s his job to keep their technology working… no prayer required. Michael plays agnostic on whether this big reveal disproves the divine, leaving him with the thorny issue of getting his society to stop the pointless (yet popular) sacrifices. As Dad and Ravah reunite, Tilly has big news, showing Michael wall markings matching those on that persnickety water vial clue. They are in the wrong tower, but the next map piece and clue is in tower #3. Back on the ship, Book is sulking for not getting picked for the fun away mission, doing what dudes do… playing video games – technically shuttle combat simulation, but it looked just like Asteroids. Culber joins to cheer him up with a snack and to find a new outlet to talk about his burgeoning “spiritual awakening.” The former courier offers solace saying it’s okay for Hugh to have a part of his life he doesn’t share with Paul, while Book inadvertently shares how much he misses what he had with Michael. As the boys share a nice moment, Tilly and Michael have one too as they put the fourth piece of the map in place and ponder the big picture, and how each of the scientists seems to be sending them a message through time, warning of the “massive responsibility” of the Progenitor tech. Before they work all that out, the word comes that Moll and L’ak have been found. Black Alert!

Wait ’till I tell you about Denobulan marriages, it’s going to blow your mind.

ANALYSIS

Faith of the heart

“Whistlespeak” is a decent mid-season episode that takes a moment to pause and reflect on the season’s themes and impact on the characters. The pacing was slower by design, giving time to take in the location, performances, and character development. And they threw in the world-ending stakes to keep it interesting. Like other season 5 entries, the premise is classic Trek with an actual visit to a strange new world. Exploring a pre-warp society and coming into conflict with the Prime Directive, evokes episodes like “Who Watches the Watchers,” and many others. You may not even notice it but the facial markings and even Tilly’s hairstyle were added as they beamed down, a subtle 32nd transporter tech upgrade to having the doctor handle alien disguises. It’s always hard to come up with a new culture on Star Trek but keeping it simple worked for “Whistlespeak.” The events on Helem’No were also a bit of a microcosm of the season itself, a race to receive the grace of the gods is not so different than the USS Discovery’s race to find the Progenitor’s tech. Confronting the Prime Directive — one of the core tenets of Federation philosophy — isn’t so different than how the High Priest had to evolve his worldview. The season’s focus on connection was nicely woven throughout the various plots and stories with a strong emphasis on the recurring theme of exploring spirituality without getting too heavy-handed, showing respect, and learning lessons from different points of view, which is all very Star Trek.

This was a great episode for Mary Wiseman as she showed off all the familiar aspects of Tilly from her dry wit to her whip smarts, with the season’s added layer of her growing into a mentor figure, such as how she immediately bonded with Ravah, ably played by guest star June LaPorte. And once again this final season reminds us where it all started, bringing back some of the Michael/Tilly bonding seen in the first couple of seasons, including a bit of running together as they used to do around the USS Discovery. Extended scenes with Wiseman and Sonequa Martin-Green have been missed. But as this was a Tilly-focused episode, the show could have held back some of its tendencies, giving her more of the “aha” moments to move the plot along. Burnham will also be the hero, but share the character wealth. Wilson Cruz also stood out as we explored his character’s spiritual awakening. This storyline has been playing along nicely and seems to be setting something up. Simple things like paying off namedrops of his abuela show how much Discovery has improved on layering in these season-long character arcs.

Tilly is concerned about her listing on ratemyprofessor.com.

Reach for any star

While the intriguing big Breen reveal from the previous episode was set aside for this week, the search for clues structure continues to allow for these nice little episodic adventures. It’s always great to meet a new culture and expand on the canon. Once again the season doesn’t shy away from utilizing franchise lore, in this case bringing in a few bits of Denobulan society through Dr. Kreel. However, after we got to (sort of) meet the first two Progenitor research scientists in episodes 1 and 3, the show is missing an opportunity to continue that by introducing the others. Instead of just talking about Denobulans, it would have been a treat to actually get to see Dr. Kreel (and Dr. Cho in the last episode, too), and that could have also helped sell some of the episode’s themes. On the other hand, it’s always great to get to learn more about the enigmatic Dr. Kovich, with David Cronenberg continuing to intrigue us with more tidbits about his character who has a penchant for old legal pads. This and his “Infinity Room,” all feel like it is leading somewhere and hopefully this series doesn’t wrap up without finally explaining what is his deal.

Of course, the episode also has some of the usual frustrations. Discovery needs to find some more creative ways to explain away when and how and where the 32nd technology doesn’t work. It seems every episode has some weird energy field preventing the transporters from working so that the episode can progress at the desired pace, specifically a walking pace. That being said, the retinal tricorders were a nice new bit of tech, although perhaps not discreet enough if someone checks out what’s happening with one of your eyes. And while it may only be the “Prime Suggestion” to many Trek captains, it still isn’t clear if the season plot “Red Directive” supersedes the Prime Directive, but for obvious reasons, it’s not likely Burnham will face the same kind of tribunal as (formerly) Captain Rayner. The disruption to this society was pretty profound and they probably should have noted that Starfleet would be back to check in to make sure they didn’t just kick off a religious war. By the way, why didn’t the Denobulans ever check in after leaving all their tech running? These quibbles are not episode breakers but are the usual kinds of things that Discovery doesn’t seem interested in tying up, and perhaps they are a bit nitpicky, but that too is a Trek tradition. Finally, this may not be a nitpick, but the crew seems a bit blasé in how they treat the slowly-assembling map, which seems to be left around various parts of the Discovery. Like every hero ship before, the USS Discovery has been boarded by the bad guys on several occasions, so maybe this is setting up for a coming heist.

The most important thing in the Federation makes for a nice conversation piece.

Final thoughts

This (dare I say) “filler” episode was a solid outing that delivered some classic Star Trek to Discovery. With four out of five pieces of the map assembled in six episodes, it feels like we are making progress without getting sidetracked. The pivot in Season 5 continues to be finally finding the sweet spot in episodic adventures, serialized plot, and character development.

Only four more, y’all.

Bits

  • For the third episode in a row, Doug Jones is not credited. Saru is confirmed to appear in at least the finale episode, so he will be back.
  • The actual whistlespeak heard in the episode was performed by professional whistler Molly Lewis.
  • Michael studied xenolinguistics on Vulcun under a Dr. T’Prasi.
  • Denobulans use silver iodine to make it rain on Denobula, which is used today in cloud seeding.
  • The walls of the Denobulan vacuum chamber were made of solid Tritanium, which was commonly used by Starfleet in the 24th century, but perhaps the thickness prevented beaming.
  • The (replicated) Culber family Mofongo con pollo al ajillo is a traditional Puerto Rican dish with rice, chicken, and garlic.
  • The “sound cure” bowls used by the Hilem’No are like so-called Tibetan “singing bowls” which have been used in the modern era for “music therapy.”
  • The sound wave pattern shown during the “sound cure” is a real phenomenon called cymatics.
  • The weather control interface was in the Denobulan language, first seen on Star Trek: Enterprise.
  • If Kovich’s 21st century legal pad is made of acid-free paper, then it could indeed survive for centuries.
  • The full list of 24th century scientists (in clue order) is…
      1. Vellek (Romulan)
      2. Jinaal Bix (Trill)
      3. Carmen Cho (Terran)
      4. Hitoroshi Kreel (Denobulan)
      5. Marina Derex (Betazoid)… obviously named in honor of Marina Sirtis.

Four more?… for you maybe.

More to come

Every Friday, the TrekMovie.com All Access Star Trek Podcast covers the latest news in the Star Trek Universe and discusses the latest episode. The podcast is available on Apple PodcastsSpotifyPocket CastsStitcher and is part of the TrekMovie Podcast Network.

The fifth and final season of Discovery debuted with two episodes on Thursday, April 4 exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S., the UK, Switzerland, South Korea, Latin America, Germany, France, Italy, Australia, and Austria. Discovery will also premiere on April 4 on Paramount+ in Canada and will be broadcast on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel in Canada. The rest of the 10-episode final season will be available to stream weekly on Thursdays. Season 5 debuts on SkyShowtime in select European countries on April 5.


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