Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 4, Episode 6: Stormy Weather

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4.

Last week we learned that the DMA – the anomaly at the heart of Season 4’s story – is an artificial construct. Following up that big revelation was the challenge that befell Stormy Weather and director Jonathan Frakes, and I’m happy to report that Discovery rose to the occasion. Stormy Weather was a tense, dramatic, and incredibly exciting episode, one that has set a high bar for the rest of the season to reach.

Unfortunately, due to inexcusable corporate nonsense from ViacomCBS, Star Trek: Discovery is unavailable to many fans around the world. This short-sighted, self-defeating decision has been rightly condemned by Star Trek fans, but we need to keep the pressure on and continue to call out this misbehaviour at every opportunity. Star Trek is not the sole preserve of any one group of fans – it’s something all of us should be able to enjoy together. Denying that opportunity to even one Trekkie would be unacceptable; to deny it to millions in dozens of countries and territories around the world is just offensive.

Captain Burnham with her family tree.

So let’s take a look at Stormy Weather – an episode named for a song from 1933. There have been some connections between Discovery and sister show Star Trek: Picard, but one of the most unexpected thematic connections came in the form of this song. Picard Season 1 prominently featured the song Blue Skies, written in 1926, and to hear another older, slow-tempo jazz song in Discovery was an unexpected but interesting way to bridge the gap between these two very different parts of the Star Trek franchise.

Stormy Weather featured Captain Burnham prominently, and we’ll look at her contributions in a moment. But where the episode did remarkably well, in my view, was through a series of smaller moments that showed off several members of Discovery’s secondary cast – many of whom have had less to do so far this season than in Season 3 last year.

Several members of the secondary cast (Nilsson pictured) got things to do this week.

Commander Owosekun had a big centre-stage moment, objecting on the bridge in front of her colleagues and leading to a sweet moment later on between her, Detmer, and Saru. Dr Pollard, making her first major appearance of the season, got two significant moments in the spotlight, including one incredibly dramatic moment as a crewman was blown out into space through a hull breach.

Ian Alexander, who plays Gray, and Annabelle Wallis, who voices Zora, were Stormy Weather’s breakout stars for me. Gray had already given us one of the season’s emotional highs when he completed his transfer into a new synthetic body, but there was definitely a question mark surrounding his next steps. Adira was a commissioned ensign, but Gray didn’t really have a role aboard the ship – something that Discovery acknowledged this week when Gray found himself alone in the lounge as the crew scrambled to their posts.

Gray and Zora played Trill chess together.

There’s always something very relatable about this kind of storyline. Anyone who’s ever dealt with feelings of helplessness or loneliness should be able to empathise with Gray in this moment, and it’s certainly something I’ve been through before on more occasions than I perhaps care to admit! As everyone on the ship attended to their duties, Gray was left alone – and this led to a really touching sequence between he and Zora that ended up playing a major role in the story.

Zora was a background presence for much of Season 3, and it was only really last week when the revelation that she can feel emotions came out that she emerged as a major player. Zora’s interactions with Gray this week have done more to humanise her and lay the groundwork for future character development than any episode has since Calypso – and if Discovery chooses to, the show could now make Zora a major presence on the ship going forward.

Gray and Zora played significant roles this week.

I can’t be the only one noticing an homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey, right? Zora’s line to Captain Burnham when she refused to follow an order felt like it had come straight from HAL 9000! Of course, Zora went in a different – and thankfully far friendlier – direction shortly thereafter, but the reference was appreciated nevertheless.

The development of Zora’s emotions brings the character one step closer to her portrayal in the Short Treks episode Calypso, but at this point I’m still not sure how – or even if – the stories will line up. As we’ve discussed previously, for every step made toward Calypso since Season 2 we’ve seen at least one step away – and with Discovery in the far future already, the further development of Zora still leaves the show with significant hurdles to overcome if a full connection to Calypso is on the cards. But I guess that’s a conversation for another time!

“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

Gray and Zora were able to share a connection as two passengers on the ship who felt out of place and unsettled. There was a subtle continuation of the transgender theme present in Gray’s earlier incorporation story, as Gray made reference to choosing his own name; something Zora could relate to. Despite Gray’s incorporation feeling somewhat rushed at the beginning of the season, it’s been great to see him as a character in his own right, able to interact with others aboard the ship. Pairing him up with Zora was unexpected but an absolute delight.

Discovery has continued Star Trek’s use of storytelling by metaphor and analogy, and we see that again with Gray. His struggle to become visible, his comments about getting used to his new body, and again this week through his conversations with Zora all had serious things to say about the difficulty of transitioning, coming out as transgender, finding acceptance, and other trans issues. But they were told through a science fiction lens in the very best tradition of Star Trek. It’s hard to think of a more understandable and relatable depiction of a trans individual in all of entertainment, and the writers deserve a lot of credit – as does Ian Alexander, who stepped up this week and put in his best performance of the season so far.

Stormy Weather was a great episode for Ian Alexander and Gray.

Discovery as a whole is a series with a cinematic feel to it. That isn’t something unique among television shows any more, as we can see many other high-budget productions pushing hard for similar visuals and effects. But Stormy Weather definitely veered hard into the cinematic, with all manner of special effects thrown into the episode’s forty-five minutes. We had silent slow-motion sequences, stunning CGI visual effects – including a striking shot of the USS Discovery itself inside the void, tightly-focused shots of characters in motion, close-ups of faces, and a whole lot of fire and flame to name but a few. Such a varied mix of visuals, coupled with Jonathan Frakes’ clever cinematography, gave Stormy Weather a sense of weight, of gravitas, far beyond what the franchise usually manages outside of its feature films.

Let’s talk about the storyline itself. This week, everything was tied together. There were secondary plotlines with Gray and Zora and with Book, Stamets, and the doctors, but they all came together and connected with the main story in significant ways as Captain Burnham led the USS Discovery inside a subspace rupture that the DMA had left behind.

The USS Discovery approaches the void.

We learned something major about the DMA: that it’s of extragalactic origin, or has, at the very least, passed through the galactic barrier. This would seem to narrow down Unknown Species 10-C to a handful of suspects, assuming that the galactic barrier depicted in past iterations of Star Trek remains generally impermeable to residents of the Milky Way. There were comments from Book and Stamets that this evidence all points to Unknown Species 10-C being someone that “the Federation has never encountered,” but I don’t think we can be certain of that just yet. The Burn seemed to be connected to Ni’Var’s SB-19 project in Season 3… until it wasn’t! We’re barely halfway through the season, so there’s plenty of time for hypotheses to be debunked! In this week’s theory post I’ll go into more detail about what this revelation could mean for Unknown Species 10-C, so stay tuned for that!

Venturing inside a rift in subspace was a dangerous assignment, but one that was certainly necessary for understanding more about the DMA. There really isn’t much to nitpick on this side of the story, and Captain Burnham handled it about as well as any other captain could have. Captains Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway, or Archer would all have made similar choices under the circumstances, and we can point to many moments in past Star Trek shows where similarly dangerous scientific missions have gone awry despite the best efforts of the various captains.

Captain Burnham did everything she could to get her crew home.

Discovery has some very expansive sets when compared to past iterations of Star Trek, with the bridge in particular being larger and wider than basically any other to date. But despite that, this week I felt a real sense of claustrophobia in the style of old war films set aboard submarines. Stormy Weather was basically a bottle show – an episode set almost exclusively aboard the ship making use of existing characters. Rather than that being a limitation, as it sometimes has been in past iterations of Star Trek, the episode leaned into this in the best way possible, drawing on the inherent strengths of that style of story to create a genuinely dark and unsettling atmosphere aboard the ship.

This began with Gray and Zora alone in the lounge and culminated in Captain Burnham staying behind on the bridge, with only Zora for company, as the desperate last-ditch attempt to escape the void came to a head. Discovery has made interesting use of fire this season, and I’ve seen some criticism of the way the pyrotechnics come across on screen. But here, the combination of CGI plasma and jets of real fire worked exceptionally well, building up a sense of genuine danger that Captain Burnham, and indeed the whole crew, were in.

A combination of CGI and pyrotechnics made for a thrilling and dramatic presentation at the episode’s climax.

At this point, after more than three seasons of Discovery, we know that the show has a tendency to blitz through some of the technobabble and sciencey stuff to get to the drama and action, and so it proved again in Stormy Weather. As happened last week, when the DMA’s artificial origin was confirmed in a short scene with a few lines of dialogue, its extragalactic origin was likewise only included in a pretty short sequence. I liked the concept behind it – that the energy surge that hit Book left behind trace particles that could be used to uncover another piece of the puzzle. That setup was interesting. But the conclusion was once again very quick, almost rushed, and I feel more could’ve been made of both of these points.

Another point of criticism I had concerns Dr Pollard’s sequence in the hallway. I said before the season began that killing off a known character can be a great way for a show like Discovery to communicate the stakes involved. And as Dr Pollard raced to the hull breach, there was for a brief moment a feeling that she might’ve been running to her demise. In the end, though, it was a redshirt who ended up being killed – and the death was far less impactful as a result.

More could have been made of this moment.

Now I’m not on some anti-Pollard crusade wishing death upon the character! But hers is the latest example of how Discovery wants to have its cake and eat it too: the writers want all of the emotional impact of a character death but without being willing to commit to making it someone significant. We saw this in Season 2 with Airiam, and again in Season 3 when practically everyone survived despite the dangerous situations the crew found themselves in. The danger in flirting with character deaths but failing to follow through is that the show is slowly building up a sense of plot armour; there’s a developing feeling that basically no one who gets so much as a speaking line in an episode will be in any real danger. And that will have an effect as the season progresses – potentially making similar moments feel less impactful or tense in future episodes.

To be fair, past iterations of Star Trek had this problem too – but television storytelling has evolved since then. In a world where shows like Lost, Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead pioneered a concept that I call the “disposable cast,” where even major characters can be killed off at the drop of a hat, Star Trek has to take note. Audience expectations are shifting in some respects, and if Discovery wants all of the trappings of modern television storytelling, it has to be willing to boldly swing the proverbial axe on occasion.

This could have been a good moment to kill off a named character instead of a redshirt.

Last week, the addition of wonderful guest star Shawn Doyle as mad scientist Ruon Tarka meant that I didn’t really feel Tilly’s absence. Stormy Weather was different, though, and I think we’re seeing the first real effects of her departure. Tilly suffered with anxiety, and doubtless would have found the void a difficult situation to deal with. But even at her most nervous, she had a way of lightening the mood and ever so slightly lowering the tension. Perhaps a story like Stormy Weather needed her absence to function as intended – and I concede that argument. But at the same time, I look back on the episode and wonder what Tilly might’ve said, how she might’ve found a way to break through some of the more tense moments with Captain Burnham, Stamets, Book, Zora, and everyone else. Adira fills Tilly’s shoes in several key ways – but no one can truly replace the lighthearted energy that she brought to Discovery.

In a fast-paced sequence at the beginning of Kobayashi Maru, we got to see the crew working under Captain Burnham’s command as one well-oiled machine. After that, though, Discovery took the captain on several smaller adventures off to the side, and it wasn’t until Stormy Weather that we saw her in such a tense situation, having to really feel the burden and weight of command. Like Star Trek captains past, she stepped up. I was reminded of the scene in the episode Booby Trap where Captain Picard takes the helm and pilots the Enterprise-D as Captain Burnham arrived on the bridge, alone, to sit in the captain’s chair and guide her ship and crew to safety.

Captain Burnham in her EV suit.

Speaking of The Next Generation, it was neat to see an oblique reference to the episode Relics. In that episode, Scotty was found alive in a transporter pattern buffer, and it was this method that the crew of Discovery were able to use to survive the dangerous journey out of the void. Discovery hasn’t been shy when it comes to harkening back to past iterations of the franchise this season, which has been fun to see. Shooting so far forward in time has expanded the number of callbacks and references that the show is able to do, and the writers – who are clearly big Trekkies themselves – have taken full advantage.

Along with Ian Alexander, we also have to praise Sonequa Martin-Green for her performance this week. Captain Burnham had a complex role this time, one that required her to put any thoughts of failure to one side and to focus on getting her ship and crew to safety. But she also had to find time for empathy, to share her feelings with Zora to help the AI deal with her own newfound emotions. On both sides Sonequa Martin-Green really nailed it, and Stormy Weather is one of the absolute best Captain Burnham episodes as a result.

Stormy Weather really showed off Captain Burnham at her level-headed best.

The themes of trauma, empathy, and unexpected connections were all present in Stormy Weather as they have been all season. This time it was Zora who needed the most help, in a manner somewhat reminiscent of Data in Generations. Developing emotions for the first time led to Zora’s first experience with fear, just as installing his emotion chip did for Data, and both found themselves overwhelmed and struggling to cope. Just as Data’s friends rallied around him, so too Zora found help from both an old friend in Captain Burnham and a new friend in Gray.

It fell to Captain Burnham and, to a lesser but still significant degree, Saru, to remain level-headed as the situation deteriorated. Captain Burnham had to find a way to connect with Zora in order to convince the AI to go through with the plan to escape. Likewise, Saru had to calm Commander Owosekun when tensions on the bridge threatened to boil over. We’re seeing again the very different ways that people respond to trauma: in this case, Zora almost completely shut down, feeling overwhelmed and unable to do anything, whereas Owosekun wanted so badly to do something that she became angry. These themes are almost certainly going to run through the rest of the season, and will go a long way to keeping Discovery grounded in its characters rather than being lost in sci-fi wonders.

Owosekun, Saru, and Detmer on the bridge.

One scene in particular hit close to home for me. After Book had been hit by the energy surge and was recovering in sickbay, he had a moment with Doctors Pollard and Culber where he tried to ask if he was losing his mind, going crazy, and if the hallucinations he was experiencing would last. Having been in a similar position in hospital, struggling and not knowing where my mental health issues began and ended, I found David Ajala’s performance very emotional in that moment.

Book’s hallucination of his father stemmed from the fact that it was his father’s birthday – and we know that mental health issues can absolutely manifest from things someone is already thinking about or dealing with. His line to his father that he hoped he was real, because it would mean his spirit still exists and thus Leto, Kyheem, and others might still exist somehow too, was another deeply emotional line. Though the episode didn’t focus on Book, this presentation took him to completely different emotional places, and I found it resonated with me in a very personal way.

I found Book to be very relatable in this moment.

So I think that’s it for this week. Stormy Weather really has set a high bar for the rest of the season to reach! It would have been easy for an episode like this one to come across as feeling like mind-numbing action, but Discovery’s tight focus on characters and emotions elevated it to being so much more than that. Little moments with the show’s secondary cast were greatly appreciated, and almost everyone got a line or two of dialogue this week. It felt like the plans to escape the void were a real team effort – and not just another “Burnham saves the day” story that we might’ve seen in Seasons 1 or 2.

There was some disappointing news yesterday, though. At the last minute, it’s been announced that Discovery is taking a mid-season break after next week’s episode, going off the air for around six weeks before resuming in February. ViacomCBS and Paramount+ need to do better at communicating with fans, because this is the latest in a long line of unnecessary blunders. Fixing Star Trek’s scheduling conflicts has to be a priority, too – Prodigy only aired four episodes before taking a break, now Discovery gets half a season before it too has to take a break. It’s possible that there are behind-the-scenes delays, perhaps with post-production work on Picard or Strange New Worlds – but it’s not a good look for a company trying to market a big franchise and an expanding streaming platform. Fixing these problems needs to be a priority for Star Trek’s corporate overlords.

Next week looks to bring back Ruon Tarka, which should be a lot of fun! Stay tuned in the days ahead for my updated theory list – including several ideas about the DMA and its possible creators. And if you celebrate, I wish you a very Merry Christmas Eve! I hope your holidays are successful and fun!

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia. The show is on Pluto TV in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and other parts of Western Europe at 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Individual episodes or the full season can be purchased on iTunes, Amazon Video, and possibly other platforms in the UK, parts of Europe, and select other countries. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 3, Episode 7: Unification III

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Picard, and other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

A solid start to Season 3 with some genuinely interesting mysteries and beautiful world-building stumbled last week, when main character Michael Burnham appeared to go through a serious regression, undoing two-and-a-half seasons’ worth of positive growth to return to the arrogant, selfish, and unlikeable person we met at the beginning of Season 1. As I wrote in my recent theory post, in some respects Burnham’s regression makes her even worse than she was back then; her reason for abandoning her post is even weaker and more self-centred than the reason for her mutiny in the series premiere, and above all it demonstrates that she’s learned nothing from that experience.

Why am I diving back into the Burnham saga? The synopsis for Unification III stated that Burnham will “represent the Federation in an intense debate about the release of politically sensitive – but highly valuable – Burn data.” After being reprimanded by the head of Starfleet and fired by Saru as first officer, Burnham is going to be given such an important assignment? Really? Discovery needs to break its Burnham fetish and allow other characters do something of consequence. We’ve seen characters like Georgiou and Detmer take on storylines of their own this season, as well as Saru growing into the captaincy. But the writers are still determined that Burnham alone gets to advance the main storyline of the season, even if doing so shoehorns her into roles for which other characters would be far better-suited. In this case, her recent demotion and insubordination should disqualify her from such an assignment; the reasoning given in Unification III for putting her in that role was hollow and nonsensical considering what happened last week.

Burnham in Unification III.

I’d been discussing for several weeks a theory I had about Burnham potentially leaving the ship or even the series. Based on what we saw this week, that theory can probably be thrown out. The problem is that the events of Scavengers represented such a regression in Burnham’s character that as we approached Unification III I was almost looking forward to the moment where she’d leave! What we got instead was another Burnham-centric story, and the beginnings of the resolution to that conflict within her about whether to stay in Starfleet. That resolution, however, did not address any of her problems or the issues with her character; putting her at the centre of a story and having virtually no consequences for her disobeying of orders last week is a fault in Discovery’s storytelling.

When we first saw Season 3’s episode titles, Unification III was the one that seemed most intriguing. Unification was a two-part episode of The Next Generation, one which brought in Spock (Burnham’s adoptive brother) as he went on an unsanctioned mission to Romulus. Spock was pursuing the idea of Romulan-Vulcan re-unification; the Romulans having split from the Vulcans sometime around the 4th Century AD. Spock’s plan for re-unification was hijacked by the Romulan military who attempted to invade Vulcan, but the timely intervention of Data and Picard prevented that from happening. Spock would retain ties to Romulus, and travelled there to attempt to save the planet from the supernova, ultimately being pulled into the Kelvin timeline. So that’s a little background to inform us as we head into Unification III.

Spock in Unification, roughly 110-120 years after he last saw Burnham.

Unification III wasn’t bad, but perhaps the nicest thing I can say about it is that my complaints mostly stray into nitpicking territory. After what happened last week, Burnham has a lot of work to do to get back to being a main character worth supporting, and in that respect her scenes this week were reminiscent of early Season 1. Saru’s storyline was interesting, as he conversed with the President of Ni’Var. I would have liked to see more of their conversations, and I would have liked to spend more time with Tilly as she agonised over accepting the role of first officer. Discovery, as mentioned, has a Burnham obsession which meant that she was, once again, the main focus of the episode at the expense of these other, potentially interesting, elements.

The episode begins with Burnham recording her personal log, and she says aloud for the first time that she fears her time in the 32nd Century led to a change, and that she may no longer fit in. I’m not sure I’d say she’s changed significantly, but rather she seems to have reverted to type. Spending time outside of Starfleet amplified some of her pre-existing traits: lack of respect for authority, self-belief that often crosses into single-mindedness and arrogance, and an inability to learn from her own mistakes due to seemingly never suffering any real consequences. Her newfound freedom in the 32nd Century may have made some of these more prominent, but it isn’t the root cause. The root cause is Burnham herself; those traits are innate within her character.

There was a symbolism to Book helping Burnham take off her uniform during this sequence. Her love for him – though never stated outright – has been one of the main factors pulling her away from Starfleet, so watching him undress her in this moment was more than just a clichéd prelude to love-making, it was a metaphor for Book being a key factor in the way Burnham feels about Starfleet at this moment.

Book symbolically removes Burnham’s Starfleet uniform.

After the sequence with Book, Burnham checks in with Tilly. Continuing a theme present last week of Discovery attempting to pay lip service to Burnham’s selfish actions, Tilly briefly reprimands her for going on her jaunt. None of these criticisms from characters within the show ring particularly true, though, because Discovery continues to present Burnham as being in the right; if anything other characters’ reactions to her seem meant to elicit sympathy for Burnham, as if we as the audience are meant to feel she’s being unfairly attacked despite her obvious and undeniable brilliance. This is a theme which was present in Season 1 of Discovery very prominently, and simply adds to the notion that we’ve seen a complete undoing of the positive steps made since then.

Tilly and Burnham are able to use the three black boxes Burnham recovered (of which two were found off-screen during her year alone with Book) to discover that – as Burnham predicted – the Burn did not happen simultaneously, and thus had a point of origin. The USS Yelchin, whose black box was the missing piece of the puzzle, is a touching reference to Anton Yelchin – the actor who played the role of Chekov in the Kelvin timeline. He tragically passed away in 2016, and this is a very sweet way of honouring him within Star Trek.

Tilly and Burnham piece together the Burn’s point of origin.

Taking her findings straight to Admiral Vance, along with Saru, Burnham makes the case that the Burn had a point of origin and discovering this may lead to uncovering what caused it. That’s a logical assumption, but she needs more data to work with. She asks for access to data on a secret pre-Burn project Starfleet was running called SB-19. This was an attempt to circumvent the dilithium shortage by developing a new faster-than-light travel method. However, the data is no longer in Starfleet’s possession.

The data is present on the planet of Ni’Var – aka Vulcan. The Romulans and Vulcans succeeded in their re-unification attempts – hence the episode title – but have withdrawn from the Federation (like everyone else, it seems). They also consider SB-19 responsible for the Burn, and hate Starfleet and the Federation for forcing them to work on the project. It’s never explained why Starfleet doesn’t consider this theory any more valid than the myriad others, especially considering that, as we’ll soon see, the Vulcans are 100% convinced SB-19 was the cause.

Destination: Ni’Var.

This is the first of the nitpicks I mentioned in the intro. If the Romulans and Vulcans are so absolutely convinced that SB-19 caused the Burn, and have said so many times to the Federation, why does the Federation not consider this theory at least more likely than any of the others? The Burn has, until now, been presented as a mystery to which there are no answers, yet as soon as the story needs one, along comes a ready-made answer that an entire planet of Star Trek’s most logical and scientific minds believe. Burnham seems unwilling to believe them, thinking her data points to a different origin, but even so, everyone should surely be giving the Vulcans and their SB-19 theory due deference.

Admiral Vance believes the only way for Ni’Var to even consider sharing their information is to send Burnham. She’s wonderful, special, and unique, in case you forgot. And this all felt horribly rushed. The Admiral, who had seemed so level-headed and calm in his earlier appearances, makes a snap decision to send Burnham to Ni’Var as she’s Spock’s sister. He disregards her insubordination and disobeying of orders last week, he ignores Saru’s authority in the matter, and he doesn’t even consider the option of sharing Burnham’s data with Ni’Var to see whether the data alone would convince them to enter talks. It’s so clear that the writers and the director wanted to get into the “meat” of the episode that they blitzed through this scene. The end result is a bit of a mess, and frankly it would have been better to cut it entirely and just have Discovery jump to Ni’Var without the back-and-forth with Admiral Vance.

Admiral Vance’s snap decision to send Burnham doesn’t make much sense.

As we’re nitpicking this week here’s another: Spock visited Romulus eight hundred years ago, and if Nero – the villain from 2009’s Star Trek – is indicative of how Romulans as a whole felt about him after he failed to save their homeworld from destruction, he’s not exactly Mr Popular. But even if Romulans don’t hate Spock for failing to help them, why is his influence deemed so significant eight centuries later? Even if he arguably set in motion the events of reunification, his disappearance in the late 24th Century came a long time before re-unification occurred, and while Spock is an important character to us as Trekkies and the audience of the show, I’m not sure it logically follows that Romulans and Vulcans would revere him – or even know who he was. To think of a parallel from our own time, it would be akin to someone claiming to be the relative of a king or national hero from the 1200s. Would we afford such an individual much respect so many centuries after the events they claim a tangential relationship to? And a tangential relationship to re-unification is all Burnham can claim to have.

One thing from the opening titles that I picked up on is that the USS Discovery appears to remain in its original configuration, despite undergoing a major retrofit last week. The titles depict several major changes – the Starfleet badges and the hand phaser being two notable examples – but the ship itself hasn’t changed. I wonder why this is. Since we’re slightly off-topic, the theory of Burnham and the crew having somehow crossed into the Kelvin timeline can be debunked thanks to the existence of the planet Ni’Var! Vulcan was, of course, destroyed in 2009’s Star Trek, so if this is a parallel universe – as I have been speculating – it isn’t the Kelvin timeline.

Discovery’s original configuration in the titles.

Keeping up the nitpicking, Admiral Vance had seemed less than interested about figuring out the cause of the Burn until now. Though a devastating event, it took place a lifetime ago, and there’s nothing to indicate that uncovering what happened will actually do… well, anything. People may nod and say “ah, so that’s what happened,” and then immediately resume their post-Burn lives. Unless figuring out the cause also comes with a way to undo the damage – which it yet may, to be fair – it doesn’t seem like the hugely powerful event Burnham and the Admiral seem to think. To use another contemporary analogy: imagine it were revealed tomorrow the exact time and place that the coronavirus pandemic began. We learn who was “patient zero,” where they were, how they caught it, how they transmitted it, and so on. Would that make any meaningful difference to the way we as individuals handle our everyday lives?

Okay, enough of that for now. Discovery jumps to Ni’Var and Saru is greeted by the President. She declines to share the information on SB-19, claiming it is sensitive for political reasons among Ni’Var’s factions. Out of everything in Unification III, the conflict between the Romulans and Vulcans was perhaps the most interesting, as well as the story thread that felt the most organic. Though the Romulans and Vulcans were mainly relegated to background status in a story that was, as mentioned, all about Burnham, the sectarian rivalry was well-written and came across naturally on screen.

The three quorum members represent three of Ni’Var’s main factions.

Burnham uses her knowledge of the “old ways” of Vulcan to demand a quorum at which to present her findings, and as we’ve seen on many occasions in Star Trek (going all the way back to Amok Time in The Original Series’ second season) the Vulcans do love their rules and traditions. The President of Ni’Var feels compelled to agree, and a three-member quorum is assembled aboard Discovery, making Unification III somewhat of a bottle show. It would have been nice to spend some time on the surface of Ni’Var having travelled all that way, but every Star Trek show does this – setting episodes entirely aboard the ship to save money! I can’t be 100% certain that’s what happened in this case, but it seems like it.

Before we get to the quorum itself, Unification III had a shock to throw at us: Burnham’s mother is alive. When the President of Ni’Var set up this character (who, for the sake of drama, didn’t beam aboard with everyone else) I genuinely couldn’t think who it might be. Several Romulan and Vulcan characters flittered through my mind, as the episode was clearly setting up that it would be someone familiar. Dr Gabrielle Burnham didn’t occur to me, though… and that’s because, let’s be honest, it’s contrived in the extreme for her to show up here.

Dr Gabrielle Burnham is back, where we least expected to see her.

Dr Burnham’s arrival was a shock, and in that sense it worked… for all of thirty seconds. Seeing her in a relatively silly costume, and hearing that she plans to remain on Ni’Var as a member of the Qowat Milat order though, well I’m not sure that worked as intended. As a moment of pure shock value, which is at least partly drawn from sheer randomness, it unquestionably succeeded. But thinking about it more deeply, would Dr Burnham – a scientist – be content to stay on Ni’Var instead of helping Starfleet? Would she abandon the Federation? Having achieved her goal and helped save the galaxy, would she really want to be an armed nun?

What was fantastic, though, and had me grinning was that finally, after what seems like forever, Unification III tied together Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard in a meaningful way. Not only did we see Dr Burnham being a member of the Qowat Milat, but she mentioned the way of absolute candor – the philosophy of the order and an episode title from Picard. In addition, there was a reference to Picard’s personal archive, which of course we saw in the season premiere of that show. A connection between Picard and Discovery had been something I hoped the former would have done earlier this year; it’s something I’d been looking forward to for ages. Star Trek’s various projects are all split up at the moment, with different time periods all on the go at once. Finding ways to bind the franchise together is incredibly important, and I’m glad that, after a whole season of Picard went by with practically nothing, and half of Discovery’s third season as well, some effort has been made to do so here.

Elnor, from Star Trek: Picard, was a member of the Qowat Milat too, marking the first significant tie-in between the two shows.

After the contrivance of Burnham’s mother we get to the quorum itself, and it was nice to see Burnham go in unprepared and actually suffer a setback. I’m not rooting for Burnham to fail, but sometimes it’s cathartic to see her realise that she isn’t the best and most amazing person, and that listening to someone else’s advice can actually be helpful. It’s a lesson Discovery makes difficult for her to learn, but I appreciate the effort.

The quorum basically consisted of Burnham saying “but I have new evidence!” and a Vulcan saying “not interested.” It was only when in-fighting among the three members of the quorum broke out that anything changed. The factional disputes between the Romulans, Vulcans, and a group called the Romulo-Vulcans (who are assumed to be hybrids) was interesting, as mentioned, and one of Unification III’s more interesting story threads. But it set up what was a fairly obvious plot device: Burnham walking away from the quorum, only to get what she wanted anyway.

Burnham is grilled by the quorum.

This is a familiar trope in fiction. The hero seems to have been defeated – or in this case, forfeited – only for something to come along and hand them the victory anyway. It’s like a team in a football film who lose the championship game only to win the title anyway when the other team gets disqualified for cheating. Or something like that. My analogies are all over the place this week, but the point stands. The quorum was interesting for its Vulcan-Romulan storyline, but ultimately led to a fairly standard and uninspired outcome.

The other storyline this week – the C-plot, if you will – centred on Tilly. She may seem an odd choice for first officer, especially given her junior rank, but one of the main qualities of an XO, as Saru has recently learned, is the trust of their commander. Saru trusts Tilly, and sees that she has adapted better than most to the 32nd Century. He believes those criteria qualify her for the role. Is he right? Well, I’m not so sure. Tilly hinted that she felt she was being picked because she was “compliant,” and I can’t help but feel those lines are setting up something further down the road. Will Tilly follow in Burnham’s footsteps and disobey orders too?

Tilly has been offered the role of first officer.

Perhaps it’s partly because I’m annoyed by Burnham at the moment, but at the moment the crew came together and asked Tilly to accept the position, Burnham butted in and interrupted. By telling her she got the SB-19 data at that moment she took away from Tilly’s big decision and big promotion, or at least that’s how it felt. Great news on getting the data, but timing that smacks of selfishness – an ongoing trait, as we’ve already noted.

Star Trek can do courtroom drama very well, as we see in multiple episodes going back to Season 1 of The Original Series. This didn’t feel like one of the better offerings, though. It was a character piece, which is all well and good, but that detracted from the potential drama of the quorum setting. It became another opportunity for Burnham to be front-and-centre, and after last week I could have honestly done with a Burnham break. It was good for her to resolve her issues with Starfleet, if that makes her more committed to the cause in the long run. But her personal failings are still present, and she remains a difficult character to support.

Burnham in Unification III.

So that was Unification III, or rather, that was all I want to say about it at the moment. The absence of Georgiou was noteworthy, as was Stamets’ brief scene with Tilly. Anthony Rapp plays occasionally-curmudgeonly Stamets well, and the moment they shared in the spore cube was a brief respite from the Burnham show.

The mystery of the Burn remains enticing, and I am genuinely looking forward to seeing more movement on that next week. But Discovery once again has a Burnham problem that is self-inflicted, and Unification III failed to address it. In some respects it even made things worse on that front. Any story needs a relatable, understandable protagonist. Mistakes and flaws are all well and good if they provide background and a character arc, but having someone so arrogant and selfish, then putting her in stories where everyone tells her how wonderful and unique she is, just doesn’t work. A main character needs to be more sympathetic, or make some attempt to overcome their failings. Burnham has regressed to where she was in Season 1, and Discovery has – insofar as it pertains to Burnham – regressed too.

It would be great to see stories where other characters have genuine agency over the plot instead of being along for a ride on the Burnham Express. Maybe next week’s episode, The Sanctuary, will give us that. But I’m not holding my breath. As we enter the second half of the season, Discovery is at its best when other characters are on screen. Its mysteries continue to intrigue me, and I will always be grateful for more time spent in the Star Trek galaxy. I’m just having a hard time with a show where every story seems to amplify the worst aspects of Burnham’s character. I hate harping on about it, but that’s where I’m at.

Star Trek: Discovery is available to stream on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 3, Episode 4: Forget Me Not

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Picard, and other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

The first three episodes of Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 were all about world-building; establishing the 32nd Century setting as being very different to what Burnham and the crew imagined. There’s a lesson about hubris and naïvety in there too, as none of them could have envisioned a future which had seen the collapse, shrinking, or withdrawal of the Federation.

Forget Me Not was an emotional episode in parts, but one which had a few too many contrivances and a little too much forced drama for my liking. It was good taken as a whole – but not great. We got to learn more about new character Adira, specifically their background and how they became a Trill host. And in the secondary storyline, Captain Saru tried to help the crew to bond. There were some great visual effects, but unusually for Discovery there was at least one sequence where I felt the CGI was overdone and didn’t look particularly good.

DOT-type robots working on Discovery’s outer hull.

After a recap of the story so far, which focused heavily on Detmer as she was injured in Far From Home, the episode begins with Dr Culber recording the ship’s medical log. Culber was, for some reason, entirely absent last week, but this wasn’t addressed here. It’s nice to see him back, though, after we only got a few short scenes with him in Far From Home.

Dr Culber is concerned about the crew and how they’re coping with the psychological challenges of what they’ve done. I get the sense that, for some of them at least, they may have agreed to the mission into the future either so quickly they didn’t have time to think about it, or perhaps even while feeling a degree of peer pressure; not wanting to refuse in front of their friends and colleagues. This is something that crops up again with the dinner Saru hosts, when he recalls how they all agreed. I came away from that thinking “did they all agree, though?” and Dr Culber’s log sets up and informs that moment.

Dr Culber during the log montage.

After Culber’s log we get a sequence with Adira in sickbay. I was a little confused at first; last week they said that they know they’re carrying the Tal symbiont and thus that they carry the memories of Admiral Senna Tal, the Starfleet officer Burnham hoped to contact. However, this time Adira says they can’t remember anything, including how they came to have the symbiont in the first place. It just seems a little confusing that Adira knows they have the Tal symbiont but nothing else, including how they got the symbiont or anything related to it. This setup was interesting, though, and provides a solid reason for going to Trill.

So let’s talk about the decision to go to Trill. This was the first of several moments of forced drama that felt incredibly artificial, as we spent a couple of minutes with Burnham, Adira, Saru, and the doctor as Adira tries to decide whether or not they want to go to Trill. But there’s no choice – either they go to Trill and ask the Trill for help with the symbiont, or they do nothing in which case they’ll never get their memories and the crew will never find out about Senna Tal. Making it out to be a “big decision” and a dramatic moment didn’t work, and set up what was to be an unfortunate recurring theme throughout Forget Me Not – artificiality, plot contrivance, and forced drama.

Adira makes a big deal about whether or not to go to Trill, even with no other options. It ended up feeling artificial and forced.

There’s one thing that I’ve never been totally sold on with Discovery – and to be fair, Star Trek: Picard does the same thing. The aspect ratio in which it’s filmed mimics many big-screen films, and that’s a clear choice on the part of the show’s creators. Most of the time it barely notices, but sometimes it can detract from the story Discovery wants to tell. For example, there’s a significant height difference between Saru and Burnham, and when they’re stood next to each other this becomes very noticeable, especially if the director wants to use a relatively close-up camera angle. Lower Decks was filmed in the standard 16:9 format that has been common to television shows for a few years now, but Discovery insists on using this anamorphic ultra-widescreen format. It can look cinematic, but sometimes – like when Burnham and Saru are stood next to each other and we can only see the former’s head and shoulders – I often feel like we’re missing out by not seeing the “full picture.”

Discovery’s anamorphic 2:1 widescreen can lead to some shots that look off or don’t quite work.

After the “agonising” decision about going to Trill we get the opening titles, and I didn’t spot anything different or noteworthy this time. After the jolt of moving from Lower Decks’ amazing up-tempo theme back to Discovery’s understated one I’m getting used to it again, and the musical score for the series overall has been solid. I especially liked last week’s “Adira’s theme,” and it was a shame it didn’t return this time.

Discovery arrives at Trill in short order, and via the holo-communicator Saru speaks with a Trill leader who is eager to welcome a symbiont home. This was the beginning of the second contrivance, as nobody mentions to this Trill leader that Adira is human, leading to hostility when they reach the surface. Why that wasn’t mentioned considering it’s a big part of the reason for Discovery and Adira needing their help is a mystery; the answer seems to be “because plot,” which is never particularly satisfying.

Saru greets Trill Commissioner Vos.

We don’t have to wait long to come to the next moment of forced drama: Tilly and Stamets’ argument over technobabble. A combination of a silly premise, poor scripting, and a rare miss in Anthony Rapp’s performance as Stamets led to this entire sub-plot feeling like a complete waste of time; pure fluff to pad out an episode which needed no padding whatsoever. Rapp has been outstanding as Stamets across Discovery’s first two seasons and into the beginning of Season 3, but his argument with Tilly ended up feeling unconvincing.

From one plot contrivance to the next. Dr Culber inexplicably recommends Burnham for the mission to accompany Adira to Trill, even though the two characters seem to barely know each other. Culber is by far the best option for the assignment, but if – for whatever reason – he doesn’t want to go there were other options: Saru, most notably.

Burnham and Dr Culber.

This speaks to a much bigger problem that has plagued Discovery since Season 1: the show beats us over the head with Burnham, repeatedly insisting “she’s the protagonist!” Just because she’s the main character doesn’t mean she has to take the lead in every single story! This week, given Burnham has been stranded in the future without the crew for a whole year, it would have made infinitely more sense to have her aboard the ship partaking in the episode’s B-plot: bonding with the crew. As it is, Burnham missed that entire storyline, and the crew bonded without her.

When it comes to Burnham, Discovery sometimes fails to see the forest for the trees. The writers and producers want to make her the focal point, but in some cases the broader storyline of the show is better-served when Burnham takes a back seat. There was no need for Burnham to be the one to accompany Adira to Trill. Nothing she did couldn’t have been handled by Saru, Culber, or another character. It wasn’t a storyline that required Burnham’s presence, and her being there took her away from a storyline where she could have actually made an impact, helping the crew come together in the way a first officer should, and beginning the process of healing from her own experience away from the crew; re-learning to love and trust them. It’s a disappointment to me that still, three seasons in, the show does this with Burnham.

There were two storylines this week, and Burnham was shoehorned into the wrong one.

This scene marked Burnham’s reunion with Culber, as he had been absent in last week’s episode. But for some reason no mention was made of that in any of their scenes together, which was a missed opportunity. Culber’s reasoning for sending Burnham on the mission is complete nonsense, and comes across as nothing more than a contrivance. It’s a shame, because Wilson Cruz puts in an amazing performance, having a rare energy when he’s on screen that can brighten any scene. It was wasted here, and all for the sake of pushing Burnham into a role that didn’t suit her in this week’s episode.

To Burnham’s credit, even she seems surprised by the request and is initially unsure about taking the assignment. However, after a short conversation she’s convinced, and thus accompanies Adira to the surface of Trill – via shuttlecraft, for some reason. Perhaps the transporters were offline for maintenance? Adira also seems uncomfortable with the arrangement, but they come around to the idea.

Adira and Burnham aboard Discovery.

As Adira and Burnham make their way to the surface, Dr Culber checks in with Captain Saru. Culber explains that the crew are suffering from stress, anxiety, and mental health problems as a result of going to the future. While I’m sure the Burn and the Federation’s collapse is part of that, the main thrust of what the crew is going through is related to leaving things behind rather than the present they’ve encountered. Tilly put it best last week when she said that their friends and families have been dead and gone for centuries.

This sets up the B-plot of Forget Me Not; the episode’s stronger showing overall. Though the mission to Trill would bring some moments of strong emotion, as a whole the crew beginning to overcome their feelings and come together was a more enjoyable story. Wilson Cruz remains on strong form, and Dr Culber has clearly been successful in overcoming his experience in the mycelial network – which, of course, is another reason why he should’ve accompanied Adira.

Captain Saru and Dr Culber in the ready-room.

On the surface of Trill, Burnham and Adira are greeted by a welcoming committee of senior Trill officials. After exchanging pleasant greetings, things take an immediate sour turn when the Trill are vehemently opposed to the idea of a human hosting a symbiont. In theory this storyline works, especially in a post-Burn galaxy where – as the Trill would explain – many of their kind had been killed. However, there are a few points that came together to make this storyline feel, once again, rather contrived.

After a brief conversation with the Trill officials, it’s decided that Burnham and Adira would have to leave the planet. One of the Trill villains (or should that be the “Trillain?”) wanted to kill Adira to rip out the Tal symbiont, so I guess we could say they escaped lightly by simply being told to leave. However, this one-dimensional character and his seemingly-menacing idea don’t stand up to even the barest scrutiny. The Trill have an abundance of symbionts, but not enough suitable hosts to join with them, so why would they want to recover another symbiont? Surely it makes no sense for the Trillain to consider this as an option. If they aren’t interested in learning about non-Trill hosts for their symbionts that’s fine, I guess, and could be a comment on racism and racial purity if you want to slap a heavy-handed metaphor across the episode. But this Trillain doesn’t even have the defence of being a metaphor. He’s just a one-dimensional character with a plan that makes no sense, injected into the episode for – once again – forced drama. We could have had no Trillain and seen Burnham and Adira welcomed to the planet and the rest of the story would have played out just fine. I wonder if this is going to become a recurring theme in Season 3: travelling to planets to solve an obvious and pretty basic problem of the kind that’s better saved for children’s cartoons? I hope not.

The Trill welcoming committee greet Burnham and Adira.

The Trillain escorts Burnham and Adira, supposedly taking them back to their shuttlecraft. But he and a couple of Trill guards wielding neat-looking (but wholly impractical) elecro-spears turn to attack them instead, as he still wants to take the Tal symbiont. Burnham phasers the trio before they can harm Adira. I guess this is the reason Burnham was chosen for the mission: so she could have a moment of kicking butt and looking cool.

Maybe this is a personal gripe, but melee weapons in sci-fi almost never seem like a good fit. These elecro-spears looked cool and intimidating at first, but are entirely useless when confronted by an opponent – like Burnham – armed with a phaser. And remember, Burnham’s phaser is 930 years old at this point. To be generous, perhaps these Trill are using ceremonial weapons, as we do occasionally see this used even today. But considering the Trillain called on them to help him capture Adira, it’s at least implied that these are just the weapons Trill use at all times, and I don’t think they make a lot of sense – even if they do admittedly look pretty neat.

A Trill guard with his electro-spear weapon.

After Burnham makes short work of the inadequately-armed guards, another Trill from the welcoming committee shows up. This red-robed individual had stood up for Burnham and Adira, and appears to believe that the only way for the symbionts to survive in the long-term would be if they were willing to branch out to non-Trill hosts. He also has a line here that I’m afraid didn’t work very well, claiming that Trill society was “on the brink of collapse.” Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s a bit of exaggeration. But stories need to show as well as tell, and everything we’ve seen on screen so far shows the Trill homeworld as a Garden of Eden-like paradise. Maybe the Trill are hiding their societal issues, but if so they’re damn good at it.

The red-robed Trill is a caretaker of the cave where the symbionts live, and promises to take Burnham and Adira there. Before we get there, however, we get a scene back aboard Discovery with Captain Saru. Having been told by Dr Culber that the crew’s mental health is suffering, he’s trying to figure out what to do. And here we get another tie-in with the Short Treks episode Calypso, which I had been theorising was coming for a couple of weeks. Discovery’s computer and the Sphere data from Season 2 appear to merge, or perhaps the Sphere data asserts control. This appears to be the beginnings of Zora, the AI from Calypso.

The Sphere data is having a major impact on Discovery’s computers.

The set design of the symbiont caves was phenomenal. We had visited this location just once in Deep Space Nine, and there was no real reason for Discovery to copy that design; as we’ve seen a number of times across the series the producers and designers have been perfectly happy to redesign all manner of things from past iterations of Star Trek – including the original USS Enterprise! But the design used for the Caves of Mak’ala was beautiful. It paid homage to Deep Space Nine’s design, updating it slightly but certainly not overwriting it. As a fan of the older series, I felt like I recognised it immediately, despite the minor changes. We did get a brief look at the caves in the first Season 3 trailer, but the expanded look we got in the full episode really was incredible, and credit to everyone involved in the design and execution, because it looked amazing.

The Caves of Mak’ala in Forget Me Not…
…and the original version of the caves in the Deep Space Nine Season 3 episode Equilibrium.

The cave caretaker leads Burnham and Adira inside, and they have a brief conversation about how the process works. In short, Adira needs to get into one of the pools of liquid in order to communicate with their symbiont and unlock the memories that are currently blocked. This, again, tied in nicely with Deep Space Nine and the way the caves and Trill had been presented.

Back aboard Discovery, Saru hosts a dinner for the bridge crew. He’s so eloquent in his pre-dinner speech, trying his best to rally the crew when they’re clearly going through some very complicated emotions. The intention was to demonstrate to everyone present that, despite having sacrificed and lost so much, they have each other. That’s an inspirational message, and one which Saru, in his calm, soft way, is able to beautifully express.

Captain Saru makes his speech.

But it’s not what the crew were ready to hear! The dinner begins awkwardly, but with hope that something positive can be pulled out of it. However, it takes a turn for the worse as tensions boil over between certain crew members. We’ve already mentioned the Tilly/Stamets argument that fell flat, but others worked very well. I particularly liked Stamets and Detmer’s dispute over piloting and jumping the ship; this builds on what we saw last week with Detmer clearly suffering psychologically after the crash-landing and her injury.

Was everyone aware that Georgiou is Terran? I honestly can’t remember who else besides Burnham knew, yet it seems to be common knowledge at the dinner table! After Detmer and Stamets argue the dinner breaks up, leaving poor Captain Saru feeling dejected. However, I think we can argue that this is exactly what the crew needed, even if it wasn’t what Saru wanted. Some of these tensions and bottled-up feelings needed to be released, and getting things out in the open was important for the crew, even if it made for an uncomfortable few moments. But hey, my current favourite character – Random Blonde Bridge Officer – spoke her first line of the season when she got to say “Aye!”

The crew argue at dinner.

RBBO has become emblematic for me of the fact that, despite being over two seasons in, we don’t know a lot about many of the characters on the show. Saru had parts of his backstory explained over an episode of Short Treks and in Season 2, and of course we know plenty about Burnham. But many of the others that we see week in, week out might as well be set decoration. This is Detmer’s first significant storyline, and I commend that. Hopefully it’s the beginning of Discovery trying to expand its roster to include more of these secondary characters. Maybe we’ll even learn RBBO’s real name!

Back on Trill, Adira has got changed into a white robe and submersed themselves in the symbiont pool. After a moment of floating, an object the Trill calls an “orb” is placed in with them, leading to the process of communication with the symbiont and unlocking their hidden or repressed memories. The setup to this was great, including the orb and the performance from guest star Andreas Aspergis, who was convincing as the Trill cave caretaker.

Adira in the pool.

As Adira floats in the pool, other Trill leaders from the welcoming committee arrive, along with their spear-wielding guards. The leader rebukes the caretaker for allowing Adira to “defile” their sacred pool with their filthy human-ness, but as they’re currently communicating with the symbiont there isn’t a great deal they can do at this point.

When Adira gets in trouble and disappears beneath the surface, we get our next plot contrivance: the Trill are all perfectly happy to allow Burnham to dive in to save them. A moment ago they hated the idea of a human soiling their special pool, but when it’s Burnham they all jump at the chance to let her go in after Adira. It just feels like many points of the Trill’s anti-human storyline were tacked on and not particularly well thought-out, leading to moments like this that don’t logically follow. If the Trill hate the idea of Adira being in the pool, why are they fine with Burnham going in? If someone has to save Adira, shouldn’t it be another Trill in their opinion?

The Trill guards seem fine with Burnham getting into their sacred pool.

As Burnham jumps in after Adira, she’s pulled into a strange realm that appears to be taking place within Adira’s consciousness. Let’s call this place “Greenscreenia.” As you can probably tell, this was the part of the episode where the visual effects misfired. It wasn’t that the CGI work was bad per se, it’s just that the entire sequence with Adira, Burnham, and the Tal symbiont’s previous hosts was entirely taking place in this weird CGI world, with absolutely no physical props or any frame of reference aside from the two actors. The sequence ended up looking fake, as some scenes filmed entirely before a green screen can.

It’s a shame, because not only has Discovery been fantastic with its visual effects and CGI across its entire run, but the post-production work for Season 3 was almost entirely conducted by artists working from home during the pandemic, and I don’t want to just rip into the hard work they put in. Some CGI sets like this can overwhelm the story they’re trying to tell, and the criticism is that because there were so many CGI elements on screen all at once, not all of them looked or felt right. Both Burnham and Adira also don’t seem to be properly lit; there’s a light source in Greenscreenia that’s toward the top of the frame, but the light from that source doesn’t seem to fall naturally. Finally, there’s what I can only describe as a “ghostly” or “halo” effect around Burnham and Adira that some green screen/CGI scenes have, again contributing to the sense of the sequence being unreal.

When we look at the image below – which has been compressed for the website – it looks like Adira and Burnham are standing in front of a screen; it does not look like they’re in a 3D environment where they could turn their backs to us and walk away.

Adira and Burnham in Greenscreenia.

In Greenscreenia, Burnham encourages Adira to seek out her blocked memories. The Tal symbiont is offering them up to her, but she’s still blocking them out. Actor Blu del Barrio gives an outstanding and highly emotional performance as Adira throughout this sequence, which involved the death of their partner, a Trill named Gray. Gray is played by Ian Alexander, who was highlighted in the press along with Blu del Barrio before Season 3 premiered as being Star Trek’s first trans character. Gray seems like a very interesting character as well – but sadly, one who has already passed away.

In the next plot contrivance, the starship Gray and Adira are on appears to crash into an asteroid; the crash wounds Gray fatally meaning the Tal symbiont has to be transplanted. With no one else available, it is placed into Adira. This is the memory they had been repressing – quite understandably, given its traumatic nature.

The ship Gray and Adira are travelling on appears to hit an asteroid.

There is one point from this that I want to pick at, though, and that’s the ship crashing. In an already-stuffed episode, I understand that there wasn’t a lot of time to dedicate to this flashback. And I also understand that the director intended the crash to look shocking and dramatic, but I think we need a bit more explanation of just how a 32nd Century starship came to crash. It didn’t seem to be under attack, it just ploughed headfirst, Titanic-style, into the nearest asteroid. Why?

Regardless, the ship must have been in the vicinity of Earth, since that’s where Adira ended up in their escape pod. I’m trying to put the pieces together to make it all fit. Admiral Tal was on Earth 12 years ago, because he sent a message telling anyone from Starfleet to meet him there. He died 2 years ago, according to Captain Ndoye in People of Earth. At that point, presumably the Tal symbiont was transferred to Gray, but Adira says that they were aboard a generation ship, and the generation ship has to have been close enough to Earth for Adira’s escape pod to reach the planet at whatever speed escape pods can manage. Did I get that right? Perhaps the timeline of Senna Tal, Gray Tal, and the ship he was travelling on with Adira will be better explained in another episode, because I feel it’s confused right now!

Gray Tal’s death led to Adira hosting the symbiont.

Despite the muddled timeline, this whole sequence between Gray and Adira was intense and very emotional. At its core were two outstanding performances, depicting a young happy couple whose lives are torn apart. We didn’t have long to get to know Gray – or Adira, for that matter – so the brief moments we saw of them together had to be scripted, filmed, and performed pitch-perfectly to convey that sense of emotion. And they absolutely were; it was a heartbreaking watch.

Reliving this moment – the worst of their life – was what Adira needed to do, and they are rewarded with unlocking other memories, and meeting the Tal symbiont’s former hosts, including Admiral Senna Tal. Burnham is able to be present here too; the exact nature of Greenscreenia and how Burnham was able to interact with memories inside Adira’s symbiont’s mind was not particularly clear. However, it worked. It was cute to see a Picard-era Starfleet uniform – can we imply from that that the Tal symbiont is 700+ years old? I sure hope so, since that may or may not play into a theory I have!

The previous hosts of the Tal symbiont.

Burnham and Adira exit Greenscreenia – which, to be fair, looked a lot better in its more understated, dark form when the previous hosts appeared – and return to the pool on Trill. After getting out of the pool, Adira is able to recite the Tal symbiont’s former names to the Trill leaders, who are now satisfied with the idea of non-Trill hosts. Where a moment ago the leader had been telling the caretaker he made a horrible mistake, she was happy to do an immediate U-turn on, perhaps, her entire outlook on life and how her people live. A contrivance, once again, but thankfully the last one in Forget Me Not. It was a shame, coming on that back of that intensely emotional sequence between Gray and Adira, to be dumped back into this silly Trill anti-human story.

Aboard Discovery, Captain Saru has taken the computer/Sphere’s advice and screened a comedy film for the crew in one of the shuttlebays. A classic of the silent film era, starring Buster Keaton, this also sets up the AI Zora’s fascination with older works of cinema that we saw in Calypso, which was a neat touch.

The crew come back together despite their earlier arguments.

The crewmates who’d argued or been upset begin to come together. Stamets and Tilly thankfully put an end to their technobabble argument, and Stamets likewise makes up with Detmer. Owosekun – who was the only one at Saru’s dinner who seemed to be doing okay – was there too, enjoying a moment of downtime, and so was RBBO. After everything the crew went through, it was good to see them enjoying a moment together like this. Detmer even asks Dr Culber if she can talk to him – beginning her counselling, perhaps. My only worry with the Detmer storyline now is that it will be dropped and we’ll never see anything of it again; I would like to see more development and growth in subsequent episodes. And for others, too, perhaps creating that secondary cast I talked about earlier.

As the episode draws to a close, Burnham visits Adira, and receives what she wanted: a map to Federation Headquarters that Admiral Tal had. It was a lot of work and effort to get the location, so hopefully it will be worthwhile. The episode drew to a close with Adira and a hallucination/apparition of Gray – something I feel certain will become an ongoing part of their character.

Burnham gets the map to Starfleet HQ.

So that was Forget Me Not. It’s an episode in three parts: two great and one not-so-great, leading to a mixed episode that I’d say was okay but unspectacular, let down by one of its three constituent story threads.

The big point that I didn’t feel worked in Forget Me Not was the Trill anti-human storyline. The Trillain, as I called him, had a plan that didn’t seem to make a lot of sense, motivated by insubstantial fluff that seemed to be there solely to give Burnham an easy problem to solve. The Trill need more hosts. But the Trill hate the idea of non-Trill hosts. And then Burnham shows up with Adira and shows them that if they could just learn to be nice to other races instead of being horrible nasty meanies, everything will work out the way they want. It’s the plot of a My Little Pony episode, not of Star Trek.

However, the other two parts – Captain Saru bonding with the crew, and the deeply emotional story between Gray and Adira – were incredible. Despite my criticism of Greenscreenia, Adira and Gray’s story was intense and heartbreaking, and formed the emotional core of the entire episode. There were some plot contrivances, and an awful lot of forced drama in Forget Me Not, but there was some genuine drama too, and this reminds me that when Discovery is at its best it can compete with the best drama films and the best shows on television. Here’s hoping for more of that going forward, and fewer moments of silly forced drama and artificial tension.

Next week’s episode is ominously titled Die Trying. Surely the writers and producers wouldn’t use such an obvious title to kill off a character… would they? I guess we’ll see in a few days!

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.

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 3, Episode 3: People of Earth

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Lower Decks, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

The first two episodes of this season of Star Trek: Discovery served as our introduction to the 32nd Century, and both were pretty good. They provided background to a setting very different from Star Trek’s past, which is largely due to an as-yet-unexplained event known as the Burn. Episode three, People of Earth, continued the world-building seen in the first two episodes of the season, but definitely took the story in a darker direction. It also marked what seems to be a significant change in the character of Michael Burnham, who, after having spent approximately one year in the 32nd Century before Saru and the rest of the crew arrived, has had to adapt to a different way of life.

People of Earth dropped a bombshell that I don’t think anyone was expecting, and by doing so made the already-bleak setting feel so much darker. The Burn, as we know, had a catastrophic impact on the Federation and the wider galaxy, but the idea that Earth, one of the founding members of the Federation, would have withdrawn and become insular was a shock, one that was unimaginable even knowing how bad things were for the galaxy. It’s certainly the biggest revelation of the season so far, and raises the question of just who remains part of the Federation if Earth itself – which was the home base of Starfleet and where the Federation’s government was situated – has withdrawn from the organisation.

The USS Discovery approaches a militarised and well-defended Earth.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves! One of the points of criticism I’d level at an otherwise-outstanding episode is that it wasn’t always made clear how much time had passed. In moments we go from Burnham’s arrival aboard the ship to making repairs to jumping to Earth, and the way the episode was put together makes it feel as though all of these events took place over the span of just a few hours. But that would mean that, for Saru and the crew, they haven’t had time to take a break since the battle against Control’s armada at the end of Season 2. Other events would seem to hint at some time having passed, but it was a little confused in that regard.

Lieutenant Detmer, who appeared to be gravely injured until the final seconds of last week’s episode, now appears physically recovered – though perhaps her psychological state is not so settled. If Discovery plans to go down a mental health route with her I think that could be interesting, but if that’s the case I have to say that I don’t feel it was set up very well at all last week, as she spent her scenes in that episode looking injured, concussed, or perhaps suffering some kind of implant malfunction. I don’t usually address other fan theories here on the website, but one I heard repeated several times over the last week or so has been that Detmer may have been infected by Control (in the way Ariam had been in Season 2). I don’t agree with that at all, simply because it seems as though Discovery is moving on with a new story and leaving Control behind. While we may get the occasional mention or reference to events from Season 2 (as we even did this week) a resurgence of Control is something I’m sure we can rule out as a story point.

Lieutenant Detmer in People of Earth.

Jonathan Frakes has directed some of my favourite Star Trek episodes – including episodes of Picard earlier in the year. And he was back for his first of two directorial outings this season. Overall I enjoyed People of Earth, not just for what it brought to the table in terms of the overarching story of the season, but for some of its character moments, particularly involving Burnham and Saru.

After the mandatory recap (which included that truly awful line from That Hope Is You about how dilithium “just went ‘boom'” that I’m still mad about), People of Earth begins with a reunion between Burnham and the rest of the crew. After last week’s revelation that she arrived over a year ago I was expecting it to mean more to her than to them, if that makes sense. As relieved as the crew must surely be to see Burnham, from their point of view they only saw her a few hours ago at most. She’s the one who’s spent so long apart from them, and Sonequa Martin-Green put in a wonderful performance that really showed how Burnham must be feeling in that moment.

Saru and Burnham reunite in Discovery’s transporter room.

In fact, everyone in this scene gave an outstanding performance. Mary Wiseman was on form as Tilly, Doug Jones – who has to act through heavy prosthetics and contact-lenses – managed to convey plenty of emotion, and I liked the way Burnham was greeted by Stamets; a less intense, but just as emotional, moment. The only people missing were Nhan and Dr Culber, who were absent for the entire episode. While he wouldn’t necessarily have had much to do in the rest of the episode as the story was focused elsewhere, it’s odd to me that Culber at least wasn’t present during this reunion scene. Is a separate reunion planned for Culber and Nhan next time?

Burnham runs the gamut of emotions, going from shock as she learns of Discovery’s arrival through to her appearing on the transporter pad to relief and being overcome with joy at the survival and reappearance of her friends. It was a touching scene, accompanied by a great musical score.

Burnham and Stamets are reunited.

Saru and Burnham have a conversation in the corridor while making their way to the bridge, and we’ve learned that Burnham has – in her words – become a courier. How, exactly, she was able to manage that without access to a ship of her own or any supplies is left hanging, but later scenes strongly imply that what she should have said was that she became an assistant courier, working alongside Book. It’s still possible, because of the ambiguous wording, that we’ll learn in a future episode that Burnham spent some time working alone, but in a galaxy lacking in dilithium to power its starships, would anyone have hired Burnham and outfitted her with a ship? This is a complete tangent, but in a way this moment of what is really just awkward scripting kind of feels like Burnham exaggerating her own credentials. That’s something we might’ve expected from the Burnham of the Season 1 premiere, who was arrogant and seemed to revel in being told how special she was, not the Burnham we’ve come to know over the subsequent two seasons. However, it is also worth noting that Burnham has changed in her year in the 32nd Century, and perhaps this is part of it. Or, as I suggested, it was just an awkwardly-worded line in Burnham’s monologue.

Burnham tells Saru that working as a courier was the best way to find out what was going on with Starfleet and the Federation, though it seems that she hasn’t made very much progress beyond a single partly-corrupted recording that we’ll see in a moment. I’m pretty confident we’ll see some more of Book and Burnham’s escapades in later episodes, but I wonder how exactly she went about her search. Book, after all, has his own mission – saving the space-worms. And with dilithium the ultimate bargaining chip, was Book content to allow Burnham to trade dilithium for information, or to allow her desire to contact the Federation to dictate their travel schedule?

Burnham and Saru catch up.

People of Earth is – quite deliberately – a story that conceals from us as the audience quite a lot of information. Unlike with things like the Burn, however, where nobody knows what happened, we’re in a situation where Burnham has this knowledge and experience that we don’t have; we didn’t follow along with her story over the last year of her life, and thus, in a way, it’s like we’re picking up Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 having not seen Season 3. We’re left wondering what happened to Burnham for all of that time, the passage of which was communicated through a single time-lapse sequence that lasted barely two minutes. When Book and Burnham talk about their adventures, as they do several times across the episode, we’re aware that we missed those events. Structuring a story in this way is a risk, and because Burnham can already feel like someone who is aloof and selfish sometimes, a story which gives her an advantage not only over the rest of Discovery’s crew but also over us as the audience could backfire and make her difficult to root for. We’ll have to see how it’s handled in subsequent episodes, but it’s definitely a concern.

Burnham promised Book some dilithium in exchange for taking her to Discovery – and to his credit, Saru immediately promises to honour the agreement she made. On the bridge, Burnham breaks the news to the crew about the Burn. We got a little more information here than we had in the past, so let’s cover that briefly. Firstly, she offers two possible explanations: an accident or a natural disaster. In my opinion, she’s missed out a very important third possibility: a weapon or an attack. When she says that it affected all the known galaxy’s supply of dilithium simultaneously, Stamets pipes up to say that nothing should be able to do that, at least not all at once. Finally, Burnham believes that the Burn killed “millions” of people. And while that is certainly a large number, in the context of galactic-scale civilisations and empires with potentially trillions of inhabitants, it doesn’t seem as bad as it could’ve been.

Burnham explains what she knows about the Federation and the Burn.

Finally, Burnham confirms a theory I’d been kicking around that Book (and, by extension, other couriers in this part of the galaxy) are too far away from Earth to know what’s going on. Burnham had never been able to get enough dilithium together for a trip, but of course Discovery’s spore drive means the trip can be made in an instant.

The spore drive has been part of Discovery since the first season, but the show’s place in the Star Trek timeline made it difficult to use effectively, as it not only allowed for instantaneous travel across tens of thousands of light-years, but also between parallel universes. It was an incredibly useful piece of technology, and one that would have had many applications in Star Trek stories set after Discovery, not least in Voyager, whose crew could have been back home in the Alpha Quadrant in time for dinner if they had access to it. It’s also perhaps the only realistic way for a ship as old as Discovery to be of any use in this time period. Perhaps what we’ll see later in the season is a widespread rollout of spore drives across Starfleet! But I’ll save such things for my theory post.

Black Alert!

Saru (quite generously, in my opinion) offers to discuss with Burnham which of them should assume the captaincy of Discovery. However, I think we can all agree that there was only one choice – and that’s him. He takes the captain’s chair in a touching scene – but one that was slightly let down by his being out of uniform! Burnham can be a good officer, despite her mutiny in the series premiere. And she’s a character I can often get behind in terms of the stories Discovery has told, even if I’m not always sold on the way the show tries to put her at the centre of everything! But making her captain would not have been the right move, and I’m glad that the creative team behind the series recognise and appreciate that. Burnham is many things to Discovery, including its main protagonist, but I would never sit her in the captain’s chair.

After the opening titles we get a brief scene outside the ship showing repair work is ongoing. In addition to the “worker bee” shuttlepods, there were also some cute little robots that remind me very much of DOT – the robot protagonist of the Short Treks episode Ephraim and Dot. When we saw these robots in the opening titles last week I wondered what they were and how they’d make an appearance, and it seems as though they’re shipboard robots used for maintenance and repair – much like DOT.

A robot working on the USS Discovery.

Last week’s episode saw Tilly step up. And here, she’s once again the emotional core of the episode. We encounter her as she puts together a makeshift memorial wall – whether all of the crewmen and officers whose badges she places died during the trip to the future or if they’re simply those who remained behind in the 23rd Century is not clear. It seemed like a lot of people, though, and since the crash didn’t seem that bad I suspect it’s the latter. As Burnham approaches, Tilly speaks of her family and everyone else “left behind” who have now been dead for centuries.

With all of the excitement of arriving in a new century and a new environment, I appreciated the attempt to slow things down and remember those left behind. Tilly is a great character to initiate this, and we’ll see it again at the end of the episode. It would have been the perfect opportunity to talk about some characters we got to know across Seasons 1-2, like Tyler or Pike, but there will be time for more remembrances later, I suppose.

Tilly takes a moment to consider those left behind.

After Tilly notes that Burnham seems “lighter” after spending a year in the 32nd Century – which, if nothing else, means she’s changed – we get Book’s reintroduction after being absent last week. This is his first time aboard Discovery, and his introduction (after a transporter cycle that must be longer than he’s used to!) is with Georgiou, who gives him a short grilling as part of her Burnham obsession.

Book is paid in dilithium for transporting Burnham to the USS Discovery, and it seems like the ship isn’t going to run out of the rare mineral any time soon. Book expresses surprise at how much they have; ominously this will make Discovery a target for anyone seeking dilithium unless they can keep it hidden. The relationship between warp engines and other systems aboard starships has never been fully explained, but it may well be the case, as past Star Trek stories have hinted, that dilithium powers more than just warp engines. Discovery may be able to travel via the spore drive, but if all its dilithium were stolen the ship could lose all power.

Discovery’s dilithium vault.

Burnham then convinces Book to accompany Discovery to Earth, first with the suggestion of space-worms perhaps in need of help, then with the promise of a clean slate (presumably the Orions are still looking for him), and finally with an appeal to help her and Discovery conceal their supply of dilithium. Though I liked that Book wasn’t just willing to go along right off the bat, he didn’t take a lot of convincing!

Burnham and Saru talk in the ready-room – which still features the broken desk. Saru is initially unconvinced when Burnham suggests they place their dilithium aboard Book’s ship so it can be cloaked, and with several characters now noting changes in Burnham – something she acknowledges herself in this scene – I wonder if the story was trying to set up a “Burnham and Book want to steal the dilithium” fake-out. If that was the case I don’t think it worked; it never felt like a realistic possibility that either of them would steal from Discovery. However, there was certainly a sense that more was going on than what we were seeing, and Saru’s perceptiveness about Burnham and his unwillingness to trust her blindly are all good traits for a captain to have.

Burnham admits she has changed over the last year.

Saru continues by saying he had planned to offer Burnham the role of first officer – “Number One,” as he puts it, which was a nice touch in an episode directed by Jonathan Frakes! Burnham asks for more time, and I liked her speech in which she essentially admits it was hubris on the part of herself and the crew of Discovery to merely assume that the future they were heading to would be the way that they imagined: with an intact Federation. There’s a good point in there about how the future is always subject to change, and how it can be dangerous to make such assumptions. We saw this in a way last week with Tilly and Saru strolling into the bar proclaiming to be from Starfleet without realising how bad the 32nd Century was, and this moment with Burnham was an admission of that. I find myself agreeing with Saru, Tilly, and others than Burnham has changed – is it a change for the better?

Saru once again demonstrates his suitability for the captaincy as he talks about being responsible for everyone aboard Discovery. As a duo, I can absolutely see how Saru and Burnham could work well as a captain and first officer – provided Saru continues to show he has the strength of character to overrule her when she’s wrong. He’s been doing that since the Season 1 premiere, so he’s certainly capable of it.

Burnham and Saru talk in the ready-room.

Saru eventually agrees to allow the dilithium to be stored aboard Book’s ship. But he enforces conditions: the ship will be in Discovery’s shuttlebay, under guard, and Book himself will not be allowed aboard until after they reach Earth. Given he doesn’t know Book at all, all of these conditions seem perfectly sensible, and with Burnham’s agreement Book’s ship is brought aboard in a nicely-done CGI sequence.

On the bridge Burnham seems initially uncomfortable to be back at her post – but perhaps it’s less discomfort and more a sense of being overwhelmed? In either case, she snaps out of it as Book arrives on the bridge. Owosekun and Detmer exchange glances after checking him out, and that was cute. The ship is ready for the jump, and Saru politely orders Black Alert.

The USS Discovery near Saturn.

Having previously planned to travel to “outside of Earth’s scanning range,” Discovery arrives near Saturn. How short is Earth’s scanning range supposed to be, exactly? I know this is another nitpick, but even in Star Trek stories set in the 23rd Century it was possible for Starfleet on Earth to scan way out into the galaxy to detect, for example, the V’Ger cloud or the whale probe. The idea that 32nd Century Earth can’t scan as far as Saturn seems a little silly, but as a contrivance to allow Discovery to jump close to Earth – and, as we’ll see in a moment, to arrive near Saturn – I suppose we can let it slide!

It doesn’t take long for Discovery to travel from Saturn to Earth, and after the excitement of seeing Earth again, the mood quickly changes as the planet activates its defensive forcefields. Things get immediately worse, as Discovery is hailed by an organisation called the “United Earth Defence Force.” United Earth is a term used often in Star Trek; referring to a one-world government of Earth in the years before Star Trek: Enterprise. Saru doesn’t seem sure of what to do; Burnham shoots him an “I-told-you-so” type look, even though she didn’t know about Earth.

Captain Ndoye of the UEDF.

Saru offers the UEDF a cover story – Discovery was on a long-term mission and has managed to make it back to Earth at sub-light speeds. Captain Ndoye, the UEDF commander, seems unconvinced, however. She and her team of inspectors beam aboard Discovery – possibly beaming right through the ship’s shields. The 32nd Century transporters that we’ve seen are pretty cool. The almost-instantaneous beaming and the “pop” effect all work together to be visually interesting, yet at the same time feel like an evolution or progression from the transporter technology of the 23rd/24th Centuries.

As mentioned at the beginning, this was a real shock. We had been expecting Discovery and Burnham to travel to Earth to find the heart of the Federation; it’s capital. Instead we learn that Earth itself has withdrawn and is no longer a Federation member. Not only that, but as we’ll see with Wen, Earth appears to care little for any of its colonies within the Sol system. This is even more of an insular, nationalist move than we might have expected, and continues a trend in Discovery of criticising nationalism and isolationism as political concepts. Relevant, you may say, considering the big event taking place tomorrow!

The USS Discovery in orbit of Earth.

Book and Burnham are able to slip away from the bridge while Saru and Ndoye have their conversation, leading Random Blonde Bridge Officer to step up to her console. RBBO – as she shall be known – looks vaguely familiar as she appeared in Season 2, though I can’t remember her name. Though she didn’t have any lines in this episode she seemed to be a constant presence, the camera lingering on her at several moments. Book and Burnham managed to successfully sneak away before Ndoye and her inspectors boarded the ship.

Ndoye is a no-nonsense “police officer,” which makes for a interesting character. I liked that she gave Saru no time to prepare for the inspection, beaming her staff directly to the bridge and to main engineering. This kind of character can make for a flat antagonist, but her motivations in the post-Burn environment were sufficiently fleshed out that everything she did – and the manner in which she conducted herself – felt natural.

The inspectors board Discovery.

After a short montage of the inspectors – including Adira, who we’ll come to in a moment – beaming aboard, Book and Burnham take a moment in her quarters to get changed into Starfleet uniforms. Burnham makes the valid point that they need to blend in with the inspectors aboard, and I don’t really get Book’s reluctance. He’s supposed to be a “do whatever’s necessary to survive” kind of post-apocalyptic character, and it makes obvious sense to get changed and blend in. Why wouldn’t he do so? Being a “badass” isn’t just about dressing up in a leather jacket, and it seems to me that a character like Book would be willing to do something as simple as dress up for the sake of not drawing attention or causing a problem.

It was touching to see Burnham get her uniform back, even if it is just part of a ruse. As she put her badge on, it was the culmination of a slow sequence accompanied by a great soundtrack. Book doesn’t look half bad in uniform either, though there was less emotion attached to his dressing up than there was for Burnham! Outside in the hallway, Burnham meets up with Georgiou and the two have a proper conversation for the first time. Georgiou is the third character to note a change in Burnham, suggesting she prefers the freedom of life outside of Starfleet and the lack of structure and rules that a chaotic 32nd Century offers. In this scene, for the first time since Mirror Georgiou came aboard back in Season 1, it felt like the dynamic between these two characters actually worked. Georgiou is teasing and tempting Burnham with “freedom” – but what she really means is “anarchy.” Georgiou wants a kindred spirit, and of all the Discovery crew, she sees the greatest chance for someone like that in Burnham. Much of her Burnham obsession can feel out of place, and I haven’t been shy on calling that out. But here, in this scene at least, her relationship with Burnham works.

Georgiou – dressed as an Admiral, of course – and Burnham.

Burnham is summoned to the ready-room again, where Saru and Ndoye are midway through a conversation. After explaining that, in the aftermath of the Burn, Earth turned inward for self-preservation, Ndoye drops the bombshell that it’s been over a century since Starfleet or the Federation were based on Earth; Earth has withdrawn from the Federation.

Saru and Burnham are, of course, shocked by this revelation, as they should be! Captain Ndoye also suggests that a majority of ships lost to the Burn were Federation, which is interesting as it may hint at the survival of other interstellar factions like the Romulans, Cardassians, or Klingons. Though in such a scenario, why those factions – and their faster-than-light technologies – would not be a greater presence in the galaxy is not clear. The Klingon homeworld is depicted as being less than 150 light-years from Earth, for example, so if their technology were Burn-proof… where are all the Klingons? This revelation feels like it should be a step towards understanding the Burn, but so far it’s raised more questions than it answered!

Captain Ndoye in Saru’s ready-room.

On the plus side, Captain Ndoye seems convinced that Saru, Burnham, and Discovery are not out to steal from Earth, which does see a temporary drop in the tensions between them. At the very least we can now say that Ndoye is not an antagonist – though I was still concerned about the inspectors potentially discovering the ship’s supply of dilithium. However, she isn’t finished dropping bombshells! The Admiral Burnham hoped to meet – whose transmission she picked up – is dead.

In main engineering, Stamets and Tilly are annoyed by the arrival of the inspectors – including Adira. Adira goes on to look over the spore drive equipment, but before they can get too far, their inspector boss tells them that their job is to “inspect, not engage.” It seemed to me that Adira was inspecting just fine, but I suppose all the inspectors are really looking for is dilithium; the ancient tech and mushroom spores are of limited interest to them if they have such a narrow remit.

Adira in the spore cube.

Though Stamets is initially hostile to Adira, he will soon warm up to them. Adira’s introduction was great. They come across as over-zealous in their inspection duties, but not in a manner that would make us – or their colleagues – suspicious, and they aren’t as standoffish or openly aggressive as any of the other inspectors. Despite Stamets’ initial reaction, Adira is presented sympathetically.

Much was made in pre-release commentary of Adira as Star Trek’s first non-binary character, and they’re played by non-binary actor Blu del Barrio. So it was a great surprise to me to see Adira referred to as “she” and “her” throughout People of Earth. Is this mis-gendering? Kind of yes, but at the same time I suspect it’s being set up so Adira can have a coming-out moment in a future episode, perhaps explaining in more detail their non-binary nature and pronoun preference in a way that – for whatever reason – was considered not possible to accommodate in this episode. However, as someone who follows Star Trek news it was odd and even slightly uncomfortable to see Adira mis-gendered for the whole episode. Blu del Barrio, along with fellow Season 3 star Ian Alexander, who will be Star Trek’s first trans character, even hit the mainstream press for their roles in the run-up to the season, so something definitely felt off. If they’re saving it for a later episode, perhaps after Adira becomes more comfortable with the crew, I suppose that could work. But in the future Star Trek depicts, would coming out as non-binary be a big deal, or would folks in the 23rd or 32nd Centuries just accept right off the bat? I’d like to think we’re moving in that direction now, let alone in a thousand years. But as I’ve said several times across these opening three episodes, I’m willing to wait and see what Discovery has in store.

Tilly and Stamets meet Adira.

On the bridge, Discovery has detected several ships inbound. These are Wen’s vessels, the raider Captain Ndoye feared. Panicking, she attempts to withdraw to Earth, telling Saru that Discovery’s request to visit has been denied. However, something is preventing the inspectors from transporting. This was a great setup, as it forced Ndoye and Saru to work together, butting heads initially. Ndoye tells Saru to take his fight with Wen away from Earth, or risk starting a war. Is it fair to call a planet versus a handful of ships a “war?” We will subsequently learn Wen’s origin and that he’s from a larger group of people, but everything about the way he is introduced here suggests he and his ships are a small collective of pirates. If it’s so easy for Earth to “shoot them out of the sky,” why have they not done so already? I know… I’m nitpicking again!

We get another Book-Burnham moment that feels like we skipped something much more interesting. Burnham tells Book she has a plan to fight Wen, referencing a mission or adventure they had on Donatu VII. Donatu V was mentioned in The Original Series and is supposedly near to Deep Space K-7 (where Mudd sold the crew Tribbles). Whether these two planets are related is unclear; if they are it would suggest Book and Burnham have been relatively close to Earth/Federation space in the past year. I still don’t really like this sense of having missed so many of Burnham’s adventures, and I hope we’ll see more of them in future episodes.

Burnham has a plan.

I liked Book saying that he’ll accompany Burnham because he’s worried about Grudge (his cat). And in line with the changes to Burnham everyone is picking up on, she doesn’t tell Saru or anyone else what her plan is. She says she’ll apologise after instead of asking for permission. And I’m not sure how well this kind of change works. It took Burnham a long time to recover from her stupidly bad decision to mutiny in the Season 1 premiere, not just within the show but to us as the audience as a relatable and likeable protagonist. Sending her down a route of “I know best, I’m so smart, I don’t need to follow the chain of command” could, if not executed perfectly, end up feeling like a character regression, and worse, one that amplifies and exaggerates Burnham’s worst traits. Change is good, and giving her an arc and development and adapting to a very different environment are all potentially good things for her character. But I’m not sure that a whole season of “Burnham the renegade” is going to work.

Stamets and Tilly figure out the cause of the inspectors’ transporter malfunction – it was Adira who sabotaged them. The camera work in this scene was neat, circling around the pair as they went through Adira’s actions and motivations, figuring out how smart they are and how they’re several steps ahead of them.

Tilly and Stamets work out what Adira did.

Meanwhile Burnham and Book have taken off in Book’s ship, flying straight at the raiders with all of Discovery’s dilithium. It was obvious that Burnham was up to something; she was neither planning to bribe the raiders with dilithium nor steal the supply for herself and Book. However, her actions catch Saru completely off-guard, and for the first time this season he seems overwhelmed by being in command and unsure of his next move, at least for a moment.

Georgiou immediately realises Burnham’s plan; like her, she can think outside of Starfleet regulations. Saru can’t, and in a way that’s something Burnham is counting on as part of her plan. We get a neat scene aboard Book’s ship with Grudge, and it’s clear from a story he tells about how upset he was when she wouldn’t look at him how much he loves her. He even looks at her with affection while talking to Burnham – in the middle of a very complicated and dangerous mission! As a cat owner myself I can appreciate that, and I think we see the real genius of giving Book a cat as his dependent; it humanises him.

Book and Grudge.

Wen hails them, and Burnham offers Discovery’s dilithium. Meanwhile Captain Ndoye has ordered her colleagues in the UEDF to fire on Book’s ship. Georgiou tells Saru that he has only one option if he wants to protect Burnham and the dilithium, but Saru hits back. “Starfleet does not fire first!” he proclaims angrily, and this line is more than just an “optimistic future” Star Trek expression. It stands in direct contradiction to Burnham’s actions in the season premiere. Is this Discovery making up for past mistakes? It certainly feels like it. Doug Jones delivers the line pitch-perfectly, and if there were doubts about Saru’s ability to command moments ago, they evaporate in this moment.

At Saru’s command, Discovery is positioned between Earth’s defence platforms and Book’s ship, despite Detmer’s objections and the general chaotic nature of the bridge. As mentioned, it seems like the writers are trying to go for some kind of mental health/post-traumatic stress story with Detmer, and this was another example of it. To Discovery’s credit, for a 930-year-old ship she takes two quantum torpedoes like a champ.

Discovery is hit by two quantum torpedoes.

It was a nice callback to The Next Generation films/Deep Space Nine to use quantum torpedoes, but in a way it would have been just as interesting to learn that there are different and more advanced weapons in the future. Discovery takes damage, including losing shields, but there are no major hull breaches as far as I could see, and I don’t think anyone will have lost their lives in this attack.

On Book’s ship, the pair warn Wen that Discovery can’t survive another hit, meaning the next shots from Earth will come for him. He agrees to lower shields to receive the dilithium. Burnham and Book work very well together, and the console aboard his ship is neat. Presumably made from the same kind of tech as the reprogrammable matter we saw last week, it has a sleek, futuristic look that’s very different from anything we’ve really seen in Star Trek before. At the same time, though, the console shape and the viewscreen give the bridge area of Book’s ship enough familiarity as to not seem entirely alien; it could be seen as an evolution of past Star Trek vessels. Oh, and I adore how nonchalant Grudge is as she just sits on the bridge console. What a beautiful cat!

Grudge, Book, and Burnham speak to Wen.

The chaos on Discovery’s bridge continues for a moment, with Saru, Ndoye, Georgiou, and Detmer all arguing about what to do next. Suddenly the raiders power down their weapons, and Burnham enters the bridge – having somehow bypassed the transporter interference! She has her prize: Wen, the raider leader, having captured him when he lowered his shields.

After some initial arguing between Wen and Ndoye, it’s revealed that Wen is not an alien but is in fact a human wearing an elaborate costume/mask. Appropriate, perhaps, for an episode that aired so close to Halloween! But again, where are Earth’s sensors? Or Discovery’s for that matter? Nobody thought to scan Wen’s ship or Wen himself to find out what species he is? I know it’s a bit of a nitpick again, but this is someone that has supposedly been bothering Earth for months if not years, and they never bothered to take a proper scan of him, his ships, or anyone else? It starts to strain credulity when we know how detailed Starfleet sensor scans could be even in the 23rd Century.

Wen unmasked.

It turns out that Wen is from Titan, which is one of Saturn’s moons. The human colony there is suffering after losing one of their habitats and much of their food production to an accident some years previously, and that’s why he turned to raiding. The revelation shocks Discovery’s officers, but also takes Captain Ndoye by surprise, as she assumed Titan was fine and self-sufficient just like Earth.

In true Starfleet fashion, Saru and Burnham manage to be peacemakers, bridging the gap between Ndoye and Wen, who agree to work together to assist one another. In this moment we see the beginnings of a restoration of the Federation, which I know sounds like a big claim! But Earth has, according to Ndoye, stood independently for over a century. This is the first time they’re willing to reach out and work with another group on another world, and even though it’s baby steps compared to what the Federation was, it’s something – a step in the right direction. If Saru and Burnham can achieve this, there’s hope to achieve further dialogue and reconciliation with other Federation worlds and ex-members.

Saru and Burnham: peacemakers.

Stamets has managed to track down Adira, who is in one of the jeffries’ tubes. They admit to the sabotage when Stamets reveals what he knows, but want to know more about the spore drive. Stamets is happy to oblige, of course, and explains how the spore drive can be used for faster-than-light travel between two points using the mycelial network.

Stamets also reveals that he and the ship are from the past – did he get permission for that from Saru? Luckily it doesn’t matter; Adira isn’t about to get them in trouble. They sabotaged the transporters to spend more time aboard the ship, looking for traces of Starfleet and the Federation. The music used for this sequence with Adira and Stamets was really cute, a light-hearted, sweet little tune that I hope we hear more of in future stories. It suits Adira very well.

Adira is confronted by Stamets.

Adira, as it turns out, is Admiral Tal, at least partially. Tal was a Trill, and Adira is the new host of the symbiont. We’d seen in The Next Generation that it was possible for a human – Riker, in that case – to serve as host to a Trill symbiont, and apparently that’s what happened to Adira. Captain Ndoye agrees to allow Adira to remain aboard Discovery as they search for the remnants of the Federation and Starfleet, and resolves her argument with Saru.

Burnham and Saru have another heart-to-heart following Burnham’s escapades with Book and the dilithium. Despite what she did, Saru is still content to offer her the first officer’s position. The line that “trust must remain an assumption between us” was very clever, and again Doug Jones is just wonderful in his delivery, rebuking Burnham but doing so in such a calm manner. He sounds not angry but disappointed, to use that old cliché. As they stand over Georgiou’s telescope in the ready-room, Burnham accepts the position.

Discovery has a new captain and first officer!

Book prepares to depart Discovery, paid a handsome reward in dilithium no doubt. He will remain in the vicinity of Earth, at least for now, and presumably plans to continue his mission to save the space-worms that we saw in That Hope Is You. We certainly haven’t seen the last of him – David Ajala is set to be a main character this season – so it isn’t clear what will happen next for Book, or how we’ll see him reunited with Discovery. However, I’m sure it will be done in a relevant way that advances the story!

In the episode’s closing scenes, Tilly, Detmer, Owosekun, Bryce, Rhys, and RBBO have beamed down to Earth. They visit what used to be Starfleet Academy, and share a moment. A large tree in the Academy grounds – which we saw in The Next Generation – is still standing after all this time, an they appreciate that it represents a connection to the world – and the people – that they left behind.

Tilly and the tree.

So that was People of Earth. An interesting episode that doesn’t really answer a lot of questions, but certainly does a lot to build up the 32nd Century setting. We also got the second story of Saru and Discovery lending a helping hand and resolving a conflict; following Starfleet’s principles even when Starfleet itself is absent – just like a certain Captain Janeway once did in Star Trek: Voyager.

It was a good episode that took the story of Season 3 to unexpected yet genuinely fascinating places, and I had a good time with it. There were some minor points I could nitpick, but none that really overwhelmed or significantly harmed the story the episode wanted to tell. For an episode directed by Jonathan Frakes I think there were three references to Riker: Adira being a human host for a Trill symbiont, as Riker had been in The Host from Season 4 of The Next Generation, Saru and Burnham using the phrase “Number One,” which was Picard’s nickname for his first officer, and the most obscure one, perhaps, was that Wen was from the moon Titan, the namesake of the ship Riker commanded after leaving the Enterprise-E. The USS Titan recently appeared in Star Trek: Lower Decks, so this was an oblique reference to that show as well.

Discovery in orbit of Earth.

The timing of the Burn is still unclear; Burnham’s line that it was “700 years” after Discovery’s 23rd Century setting seems to place it earlier than Book’s original timeline, perhaps meaning the Burn took place 200 years before Discovery arrived. This would put it somewhere in the second half of the 30th Century, not the 31st. As we still know so little about the event, other than it rendered most dilithium inert and destroyed many ships that were at warp, the timing is less important right now. However, sooner or later the show will have to pin down a timeframe for the Burn, as well as begin to unravel the mystery of its cause.

I didn’t like what feels like a mis-gendering of Adira, even if that’s setting up something for another episode. With all of the attention paid to Blu del Barrio and the character before the season debuted it just felt uncomfortable, and I hope it’s quickly explained and resolved.

Saru’s line that “Starfleet does not fire first” was cathartic, in a way. It overwrites Burnham’s dumb motivation for her mutiny in the Season 1 premiere, and emphasises that Starfleet has a true moral core; even if this era’s Starfleet is absent, Saru is carrying the flag for Starfleet and its values – alone, perhaps, if Burnham continues to do her own thing. It was also great to see a brief glimpse of Earth underneath its forcefields right at the end. Whatever the Burn was, and despite Earth’s isolationist policies in the decades since, it’s still a paradise, and about as far from “post-apocalyptic” as it’s possible to get!

I’m looking forward to seeing what the next episode, Forget Me Not, will bring. Stay tuned for my updated theories, which I hope to get published before Thursday.

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.