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When Star Trek: Discovery first aired, it was lauded for its diversity — including presenting the first gay on-screen couple in the franchise’s history with Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) and Lt. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp). However, when Voq murdered Dr. Culber (a shocking and difficult moment), some accused the show of subscribing to the “bury your gays” trope — in essence, that gay characters are often ones to meet tragic fates.
However, we were assured that this wasn’t the end of the road for Hugh and Paul. In an interview with SYFY FANGRRLS, Wilson Cruz said, “When I tell you that it's not over, it really isn't. There are reasons why the story has taken a turn, but I just ask that you guys trust us in the storytelling.”
And trust we did. And now, the payoff. Not only is Wilson Cruz back in “Saints of Imperfection,” but he’s got his name in the opening credits, signaling that he’s a series regular.
There are two major storylines that run through “Saints of Imperfection.” In the first, Discovery goes into the mycelial network after Tilly because, as Handsome Dad said in one of the best descriptions of Starfleet I’ve ever heard, "Starfleet is a promise — I give my life for you, you give your life for me." Stamets and Michael are ready to lay down their lives on the chance they can get Sylvia back. Indeed, the entire crew of Discovery is.
There are a lot of great duos on the show, and Stamets and Michael is one of my favorites after their dancing and conversations about love in the time loop episode "Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad." I’ve been wanting to see them on screen together more, so this episode was an extra special treat for me.The look on Sylvia’s face when she realizes that her friends have come for her is everything. Many of us can sympathize with the feeling that we don’t quite fit in, that we’re left behind. This might have been the moment that Tilly fully understood she was part of a team.
But Tilly isn’t just ready to head back into our universe. She’s promised May that she’ll help defeat the monster that is killing May’s people. But it turned out that the monster was actually a sort of mycelial echo of Hugh, and that he’s only been defending himself. There is such depth in the relationship between Culber and Stamets; we only knew Hugh for a few episodes, but in that time we got to see so much of their love. The scenes between the two of them were gorgeous and hopeful (“I’m here now; here’s my hand,” thanks for making me cry again, Discovery), which made the realization that they can’t take Culber with them all the more tragic.
In the end, though, May is able to construct a new body for Hugh. And it’d be easy to say that it was a happy ending, with a neat little bow on top, but it’s not that simple. Hugh was brutally murdered. The force of Paul’s love carried him into the mycelial network, where he’s been under constant siege and attack for the past year. He had no real hope of escape. No respite. No chance of seeing his friends, colleagues, and the man he loves ever again.
And then, all of a sudden, it’s over. He’s back on a ship with the people he cares about, but also the man who murdered him. There’s no telling what that kind of psychological trauma will do to a person. Hugh has always been a steady personality, a rock for the more volatile Stamets to lean on. Much like Saru's trauma from last week's episode, Culber’s recovery is not going to be easy. Much like Saru in the last episode, these are uncharted waters, and it will be interesting to see the course that Discovery’s writers set.
The other storyline in “Saints of Imperfection” is, funnily enough, about perfection. Specifically, the perfection of Ash Tyler’s windswept hair and majestic beard. Seriously. I could write odes to that hair. (And yes, I did consider emailing CBS to ask if they could provide a press photo of Ash’s hair in this episode.)But, alas, instead I suppose I should talk about Section 31 and Discovery working together. Burnham might be under orders not to share what happened in the Mirror Universe, but Pike is too smart. He can see there’s something not right; the question is how long it will take her to confide in him. (Knowing this show, it will either happen offscreen or near the beginning of the next episode, because the writers aren’t ones to make us wait!)
It turns out that Starfleet detected tachyon radiation near one of the red signals, which could indicate time travel, a cloaking device, a transporter, or something else entirely. Admiral Cornwell (so nice to see her back!) ordered both Section 31 and the Discovery to work together to find Spock, which means a whole lot of shenanigans are in order for coming episodes. I really loved the scenes between the Emperor and Burnham in this episode. There is no way Michael can trust Georgiou, but she can’t quite puzzle out what the Emperor’s end goal is here. It also means that Ash Tyler is back for the foreseeable future and reunites the Discovery crew (I can't help but wonder if Lorca will make an appearance at some point).
That’s basically it for the episode, but I wanted to mention the amazing monologue that opened and closed “Saints of Imperfection.” Michael always has some interesting perspective to bookend each episode, but I found this week’s especially poignant. Between “there is no word for the unique agony of uncertainty” when it comes to not knowing what happened to Tilly and “that’s how we find our way, by choosing to walk forward together,” the writers are going all in on the theme of family this season. In a world that seeks to divide us, to separate us into boxes and often to pit us against one another, in a world that doesn’t seem to allow shades of gray, Discovery’s writers are bringing us the message that we’re all in this together. We are a family. It’s the type of healing that we all — including the crew of Discovery — need, and one that I can’t get enough of.