Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, including the latest episode. There are also spoilers for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1, and other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
1998 was a pretty good year. Japan hosted the Winter Olympics, Windows 98 gave the world’s computers a major upgrade, and Billie Piper (later of Doctor Who fame) released Because We Want To, her debut single, which went straight to number one in the charts. Catchy stuff. It’s also the most recent year in which three different Star Trek productions all debuted. We got the film Star Trek: Insurrection, the seventh season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and the fifth season of Star Trek: Voyager. It seemed in those days that the franchise was an unstoppable juggernaut! It’s taken over two decades for there to once again be three productions in one year, but here we are. Despite everything going on in the world we’ve had Star Trek: Picard’s first season, Star Trek: Lower Decks’ first season, and now finally the third season of Star Trek: Discovery!
Oh boy it’s been a long wait! Season 2 wrapped up in April 2019, meaning we’ve had to stay on the edge of our seats wondering what will become of Burnham, Saru, and the rest of the crew for eighteen months! If you missed it, I’ve written a summary of the story so far, up to the end of Season 2. I think that serves as a decent recap of the adventures of the ship and crew over the first two seasons, and if it’s been a while since you last saw Discovery it could be worth a read to get back up to speed. You can find that article by clicking or tapping here.
After the abject failure of ViacomCBS to secure an international broadcast for Lower Decks, I confess being a little concerned that Discovery would have similar issues. With Paramount+ – Star Trek’s new digital home – supposedly being rolled out internationally in 2021, I could quite understand Netflix saying they didn’t want to broadcast a show that will soon be taken down and made available on a competing service. Luckily, however, Netflix is content to broadcast Discovery here in the UK – and in 187 other countries and territories too! The episodes are broadcast on Netflix a day after their CBS All Access premiere, and since that’s the version I have access to, it means I’ll be 24 hours behind the curve when it comes to writing my reviews this season. Sorry, but there’s nothing I can do about that!
Without further ado, let’s jump into the season premiere. That Hope Is You was decent. It wasn’t Discovery’s finest, but it was far and away not the worst episode! Like the premiere of Star Trek: Picard earlier in the year, That Hope Is You builds up slowly and lays a foundation on which the story of the season can build. There was one especially bad line of dialogue, but other than that no colossal negatives to drag it down. The episode focused exclusively on two characters – Burnham and new character Book. This idea of slowly introducing characters instead of dumping them all in at once worked well in Picard, and I’m sure will work here too based on what we saw this week.
After the mandatory recap of last season’s story, we get a slow opening to the new season depicting the Federation official from the Season 3 trailers as he goes about his routine. I loved the holo-bird alarm clock, and the way the furniture in his room rearranges itself. Though other parts of the episode would struggle, at points, to show technology that looked suitably futuristic, much of what we saw in Mr Sahil’s quarters and at his workplace did seem well-suited to the 32nd Century.
This sequence set up, for folks who hadn’t seen either of the trailers and had avoided online speculation, the entire premise of the season. It communicated to us as the audience – entirely wordlessly – that the Federation exists in a vastly weakened state. But it also showed, thanks to Mr Sahil himself, that some people were still hard at work, even if things looked bleak and they weren’t able to find what they’re looking for. I actually inferred from the moment where Mr Sahil begins scanning that he was deliberately looking for Burnham and/or the USS Discovery – that somehow he had been forewarned of their arrival. Luckily this wasn’t the case, as I think that would have complicated the plot significantly.
Burnham’s arrival in the future was not smooth. Through what can only be described as colossal bad luck, given the absolute vastness of space, she exits the time-wormhole and immediately crashes into a ship piloted by new character Booker, who had been in a dogfight against a character who I believe is a Yridian (a race first seen in The Next Generation sixth season two-parter Birthright). Both Burnham and Book crash-land on a nearby planet.
After the sequence in space the action jumps to the planet’s surface, and begins with a (slightly cliché) animated moment featuring two bugs. The animation and CGI work in Discovery has always been fantastic, and these two critters, while clearly alien, managed to look very real. Burnham then disrupts the peace of the planet’s surface by crash-landing, and while the sequence showing her struggling to reboot the damaged suit was certainly tense, as the audience we expected her to survive her fall from space. And she did.
After struggling to her feet, Burnham removes the Red Angel suit. The suit’s on-board computer confirms that there are life-signs on the planet she crashed on, resulting in an outpouring of emotion. In the trailer I was a little sceptical of this scene and Burnham’s screaming reaction, but after seeing it in context I’m happy to say that it worked. Burnham is elated that her mission to save lives worked, and it shows.
With the wormhole about to close – despite the USS Discovery nowhere in sight – Burnham programs the suit to send the final “red burst” to confirm to Pike, Spock, and everyone left behind that they made it. She also tells the suit to self-destruct (though why she did that wasn’t completely clear). The suit, apparently undamaged by its fall through the atmosphere, launches back into space just as the time-wormhole is closing, stranding Burnham on the surface of what we assume to be Terralysium.
Terralysium, by the way, was the planet first encountered in the Season 2 episode New Eden, and was apparently the “anchor” point of Dr Gabrielle Burnham, Michael’s mother, when her own Red Angel suit malfunctioned. In the finale of Season 2, Burnham deliberately chose Terralysium as her destination for that reason. The year she arrived is confirmed to be 3188 – though why the suit chose to use the Gregorian calendar instead of stardates is unclear. Perhaps that was to make it easier for us as the audience to understand? It does seem a little odd, though.
Now all alone in the future, and with no indication of where she is or where to go, Burnham grabs her emergency kit. Inside we see a communicator, tricorder, phaser pistol, and a couple of miscellaneous items that Burnham identifies as ration packs. A nearby hill is smoking from what appears to be the crash-landing of the ship Burnham slammed into when she exited the wormhole, and with no other landmarks on the semi-barren world she sets off.
Here’s one thing Discovery has in its favour over Picard: filming locations. Picard was filmed in Los Angeles and the surrounding area, and if you recall what I said during Season 1… it showed. Every location that the crew of La Sirena visited was a barely-disguised California, and as the season wore on my enjoyment of those settings wore out. Discovery, by contrast, is filmed in Canada. As such many of its filming locations are either wholly new to Star Trek or have only been seen once or twice before, giving its worlds a much less familiar feel. Something as abstract as the filming location can be hard to put your finger on when caught up in watching an interesting and engaging narrative, but in Picard, the obviously-California setting began to get in the way. Here we get something new and fresh, and I appreciate that.
After a montage, Burnham makes it to the crashed ship and is set upon by its pilot. This fight scene dragged a little, at least for me. Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent so long in past months poring over the trailers, but because I knew Burnham and Book were going to end up working together I just thought to myself “c’mon, let’s get this over with and move to the next part of the story!”
We also got the title sequence in between Burnham’s trek and the fight scene, and it’s worth noting some of the imagery from it. The main one that I noticed was the Starfleet badge. It transitions from the Discovery–Original Series style that we’ve been familiar with to an altogether different one that’s still based on the familiar Starfleet emblem, but is clearly quite different. Its oval outer shape reminded me at least a little of the Bajoran badges used by Major Kira, Odo, and others in Deep Space Nine, and perhaps we could suggest that the fact that the logo is split into a couple of pieces is somehow a metaphor for the divided Federation. Too far? Maybe!
The titles also showed off Book’s ship, which sports a design unlike anything we’ve really seen before, being almost wedge-shaped. The phaser pistols also transition from the style we’ve seen in Discovery (and obviously based on The Original Series) to a new style which reminded me at least a little of The Next Generation-era Klingon disruptors. The title music has remained the same (and after the enjoyment of Lower Decks’ theme feels a bit of a downgrade!) and of course we have the new font used for the main titles.
Book brings Burnham aboard his ship after she gives him a speech about needing to trust someone. The damage to his ship appears minimal, but he mentions that he needs to get more dilithium in order to complete his courier run. I liked the name-drop of both slipstream technology (seen in Voyager) and the tachyon solar sails (seen on an ancient Bajoran ship Sisko recreated in Deep Space Nine). We’re also introduced to Grudge – Book’s cat. What a majestic cat she is, too!
After establishing that they could trade Burnham’s “antique” tricorder for some dilithium at a nearby settlement, Book and Burnham set off. And it’s during their journey to the trading post that Burnham learns what we’ve all known since the trailers – the Federation is gone. Book tells her of the Burn, an event that occurred over a century earlier. Somehow this event destroyed much of the dilithium in the known galaxy. And let’s be honest for a second: Book’s line explaining it was atrocious. Truly terrible writing. “Dilithum… One day, most of it just went ‘boom'” has to be a contender for one of the worst-written lines in Star Trek. Ever. It just felt completely unnatural, like Book wasn’t speaking but reading a script. And that’s no criticism of actor David Ajala, who put in an astonishingly good performance across the whole episode. It’s purely the writing.
I get that the writers want to keep the events of the Burn mysterious. Indeed, part of the story of the season is going to be unravelling this event, figuring out what it was, what happened, and perhaps finding a way to undo it or prevent a reoccurrence. But there had to have been a better way to explain it that to say “it just went ‘boom.'” I’m astounded at how bad that line is, and honestly it detracts from the entire episode.
However, we do have the beginnings of an explanation for the Burn and the Federation’s collapse. The Burn, somehow, has destroyed dilithium across the known galaxy, seemingly explosively. It also sounds as though this happened near-simultaneously. Curiously, Book is aware of the Federation’s response to the Burn, which was to tell the peoples of the galaxy that they didn’t know what happened and couldn’t guarantee it wouldn’t happen again. I’m inferring a lot here, and we will deal with this in a day or two when I write up my theories and predictions, but it sounds as though the poor response from the Federation is as much of a reason for its collapse as the Burn itself. Perhaps people were dissatisfied with the response, and star systems began withdrawing or seceding until there were very few left. Book’s next line that the Federation had collapsed “I guess,” strongly hints that he’s never encountered Starfleet or any official Federation representative.
The settlement Book and Burnham visited in the aftermath of this conversation reminded me of Freecloud, the planet visited by the crew of La Sirena in Picard. Though this place was perhaps a little more run-down, both have that “dystopian futuristic city” vibe that we often get in modern science fiction. I did like the design of part of the settlement, with large rotating rings seeming to orbit a walkway as Book and Burnham entered.
The Andorians are an interesting race in Star Trek. Though they appeared in The Original Series, and were heralded as one of the founding members of the Federation, they were almost entirely absent during The Next Generation era. It was only in Enterprise that we got to spend any real time with Andorian characters, and though they have made background appearances in modern Star Trek, the scene we got with Book and Bunham at the entry to the trading post is the first to prominently feature an Andorian in years. I’m a big supporter of bringing back classic races and factions, and this time is was done exceptionally well as the grouchy Andorian guard has to be persuaded to let Burnham inside the trading post.
After strolling through the trading post, Book and Burnham make a trade – he directs her where to go to try to contact Discovery, and in exchange she gives him her tricorder, which now has value as an example of very old technology! However, it soon emerges that Book has not been true to his word, and has instead sent Burnham into a restricted area (described as a “vault”) where she is immediately captured. Book steals her emergency kit and leaves. As a surprise twist, I think this worked quite well. I’m sure a lot of viewers will claim to have seen it coming – Book’s nature had been well-established by this point as someone untrustworthy. Even so, the suddenness with which Burnham was trapped and then robbed made the moment work very well.
The story splits in two at this point, following both Burnham as she’s drugged and interrogated by two of the trading post’s security guards, as well as Book in his attempts to pawn Burnham’s gear. Whatever drug was given to Burnham clearly has a major effect on her, as she begins blabbing about everything that’s happened to her over the last few days – remember, of course, that this episode is set immediately after the Season 2 finale (though walking from the ship to the trading post clearly took time).
As a sequence depicting Burnham under the influence of this “truth serum,” I think it worked overall. However, its success depends much more on the camera work and effects used to represent the impact of the drug rather than on Sonequa Martin-Green’s performance. For all my earlier criticism of Burnham as a character, especially in Discovery’s premiere, Martin-Green has always done a standout job in the role. Here, though, I have to say the performance was a little unconvincing. The sequence worked as a whole, but was salvaged thanks to the way it was filmed and edited.
Book has no luck selling Burnham’s emergency kit, despite the fact that someone higher-up at the trading post saw the gear and let Burnham in. This is a minor inconsistency, as it initially appeared that the now-antique kit would have value, yet the way the traders behave (at least towards Book) indicates that it doesn’t.
After the drug causes Burnham to tell the guards about Book they take her out of her cell and back onto the main floor of the trading post to point him out. Meanwhile Book has been accosted by the Yridian he was battling in space – Cosmo. Cosmo is looking for his cargo that he claims Book stole when Burnham and her guards arrive. Cosmo is a tad one-dimensional as villains go, but his threat to hurt Grudge the cat definitely spurred me on to support Book all the more!
After being surrounded by the facility’s guards, Book and Burnham team up to fight them off in what was a very exciting sequence. I stand by what I said during my look at the trailers – the weapons used by the people of the 32nd Century don’t appear to be particularly advanced compared to the 24th or 23rd. Partly that’s a result of the Burn and the impact on galactic events. But at the same time, the Burn is something a long way in the past, and something which doesn’t appear to have been quite as devastating as feared. While the 32nd Century is definitely different to how we as the audience (and Burnham) may have expected, it isn’t exactly fair to call it “post-apocalyptic.” There is still technology, and there is still a functioning society, even though that society isn’t the Federation. So my point about technology is valid, and this is an issue any science fiction franchise can fall victim to. How do you make technology feel suitably advanced?
During their fight against the security team, Burnham was able to grab a number of fragments of dilithium crystal – hopefully enough to power Book’s warp drive. The duo then go through a prolonged escape-fight, escape-fight sequence using Book’s portable transporter. The third time of escaping they transport inside a body of water, where apparently they can’t be tracked. It’s here that we finally get a break from the constant battling, long enough to slow the episode back down and to allow Book and Burnham to have another conversation.
Book has figured out that Burnham is a “time-traveller,” despite time travel in the 32nd Century having been prohibited. I’m not 100% convinced on that point – and I wonder whether we’ll see the remainder of Starfleet abide by that ban later in the season. However, it was interesting and contained an oblique reference to Enterprise when Book mentioned the “temporal wars.”
We also see a mysterious side to Book. Not only does he offer up a prayer in some alien language, but doing so leads to some kind of glowing marks on his face. My bet is that these are technological rather than biological (they looked similar in colour to his holographic interface) but exactly what the prayer means and what Book’s true nature is is unclear at this point. His prayer allowed him to pull from the water some kind of plant which contained a healing serum for a wound to Burnham’s arm. How all of this works, and whether Book has some kind of cybernetics or other augmentations is a mystery.
After returning to Book’s ship, the duo are once again set upon by Cosmo and the trading post’s guards. The guards execute Cosmo for losing his cargo, then plan to do the same to Book and Burnham. As we’ve now seen several Orions amongst this group, I wonder if the operators of the trading post – and thus at least one of Book’s employers – is the Orion Syndicate. The Orion Syndicate first appeared in The Original Series and was referenced a few times in both Deep Space Nine and Enterprise. In the 22nd-24th Centuries it was an underground criminal group, kind of analogous to the Mafia or similar gangs today. It’s possible that, in the power vacuum caused by the Burn and the collapse of the Federation, the Orion Syndicate is now out in the open.
Rather than simply shoot Book and Burnham, the group insist on seeing Book’s cargo. The guards had become interested in it when Burnham mentioned it was temperature-sensitive, and upon opening the hold of his ship the cargo is revealed: a giant worm-like creature that looked kind of like a cross between a puppy and Jabba the Hutt! The space-worm makes short work of the assembled guards, eating one and forcing the others to flee. Book is able to calm it – apparently it’s another of his pets – but not before it can eat Burnham!
Okay, “eat” is a strong word. It picks her up with its mouth before Book convinces it to spit her out. But considering it had just chopped an Andorian in half with its mouth, I’d say Burnham got lucky! This is the second Star Trek season premiere this year which involved a main character being chewed on by a large alien creature! Ensign Boimler was similarly picked up and chewed by a large critter in Lower Decks’ premiere episode, Second Contact. I wonder if that’s purely a coincidence or if it was planned that way?
Back aboard Book’s ship, and the true purpose of his mission is revealed. The space-worms are an endangered species, and Book – along with a collective of others – is rescuing them and relocating them to sanctuary worlds. I had theorised only a few days ago that the Burn might have caused warp drive to not function. Though the loss of much of the galaxy’s dilithium has certainly limited warp drive, as we see from Book’s ship that theory was incorrect. Our first debunking of the season!
After releasing the space-worm at the sanctuary, Book takes Burnham to a “waypoint” that couriers like him use – a damaged Federation relay station. This is the facility operated by Mr Sahil, who we saw at the beginning of the episode. Though the performance was great from guest star Adil Hussain, I can’t help but feel that Sahil is an underdeveloped character. We’re told that he, like his father and grandfather, mans the relay station because he believes in what the Federation used to stand for. Yet he’s been there for his entire life (or so it seems) without any contact from anyone else in the Federation. There are very few people who would have that kind of semi-religious dedication to a long-dead cause, and while on the one hand Sahil’s story here was emotional, particularly when Burnham spoke highly of him and offered him a commission, it also felt just a little unrealistic.
Sahil’s relay station has the ability to scan a radius of 600 light-years, and assuming it’s located somewhat close to Hima/Terralysium, should be able to detect the arrival of the USS Discovery. Assuming, that is, that Discovery arrives in the future not the past! Time-travel stories can get complicated like that, which is why they’ve never been my favourites in Star Trek.
I do like Mr Sahil, despite my criticism above, and the sequence between him and Burnham was the emotional heart of the episode. It’s implied that he’s never met a Starfleet officer, so even meeting Burnham is a big deal for him, and the emotion on his face when Burnham tells him she’s proud of his dedication to the Federation was just beautiful, really. Together, Sahil and Burnham raise the Federation flag on the damaged outpost, signalling – in line with the theme of the season as a whole – that the Federation is coming back.
One point of interest from the flag is the missing stars. This is what first prompted me to consider the season as perhaps seeing a declining Federation way back when we got the first Season 3 trailer last year. The missing stars could simply be an aesthetic choice on the part of the Federation – but equally, those missing stars could represent seceded or withdrawn planets and races. If the latter is true, I wonder if it means those secessions happened before the Burn. Perhaps the Federation was already in decline, and the Burn was simply the last straw? Let’s save the theorising for my theory post!
Interestingly, Mr Sahil noted that two Starfleet vessels were in flight in the area he was able to scan. I had speculated that Starfleet and the Federation weren’t entirely gone, and this settles it. There are still Starfleet ships, even if there are only two within 600 light-years and even though Book has never seen one! I’m sure that, as the season progresses, we’ll get to spend time with this era’s Starfleet. Rebuilding the Federation is going to be a major theme of the season, and I’m excited for that. But I’m also excited to see what the contemporary Federation looks like.
And with that, the episode was over. That Hope Is You was a genuinely interesting start to the season. It built up slowly, introducing us to only two major characters, and perhaps a recurring or side character depending on how often Mr Sahil will return. Book is interesting, and I’m curious to learn more about his potential augmentations and/or cybernetics, as well as why he dedicates his time to rescuing space-worms.
There were a couple of badly-written lines that, unfortunately, detracted from the episode. Of course we’ve covered the line about the Burn, but there was also Book referring to himself as being “space broke” that I felt just didn’t work. Other than that, though, there aren’t any massive points to criticise from the premiere. The story worked well, it had some exciting moments, some quieter moments, and an emotional tug toward the end. It was a decent, solid way for Discovery to return to our screens.
One thing I hope we see more of are references to past iterations of Star Trek, especially to the events of the 24th Century. There wasn’t much of that at all this time, and although we are hundreds of years further along the timeline, finding ways for Discovery to tie itself to the wider franchise – and especially to series currently in production – will be important. Even more so now that we have a fourth season confirmed. That’s right, Discovery is coming back for Season 4 next year, much to the chagrin of followers of anti-Star Trek social media groups!
The setting for Season 3, while still shrouded in mystery, is not as strongly post-apocalyptic as I’d feared. Even the Federation itself is not entirely gone – Sahil confirmed this when he said that there are two Starfleet vessels in operation just in his relatively small patch. Though the Federation is clearly far smaller and lesser than we’ve ever seen it, there is a rump from which it can be rebuilt. The Burn is also not as catastrophic as feared, and there are clearly many millions, billions, or more who survived those events. All of these are positive things. Star Trek has always been a franchise that presents an optimistic future, and while I wouldn’t call the 32nd Century “optimistic,” it’s also not as pessimistic as perhaps I’d feared from seeing the trailers.
That Hope Is You has given Discovery a solid foundation upon which to build. The next episode will reintroduce Saru and the rest of the crew, and I’m really excited to see them back! I hope you’ll join me in the next few days for some theory-crafting, and next week I’ll be back to break down and review episode 2 – Far From Home. I’m looking forward to it already!
Star Trek: Discovery is available to watch now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.