Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 4, Episode 9: Rubicon

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

Last week, All In took Discovery on a bit of a detour to a Star Wars-inspired gamblers’ den. With the season now building to what appears to be the climax of its story, Rubicon returned to the DMA in a big way, moving the story along in leaps and bounds while spending a little too much time on the dreaded Burnham Relationship Drama™.

I’m in two minds about Rubicon, really. On the one hand, the episode was by far the cinematographic highlight of the season so far, with some outstanding visual effects, beautifully-composed camera shots, and a sense of scale that would’ve made Rubicon feel right at home on the big screen. On the other, there were a couple of moments where I literally couldn’t stop my eyes from rolling at overplayed clichés that I’d hoped Discovery could’ve outgrown by now. What resulted, all things considered, was a mixed bag of an episode; there were some excellent moments and some very sub-par ones.

Captain Burnham on the bridge in Rubicon.

Stepping back from Rubicon for a moment, I want to consider the overall story of the DMA and Unknown Species 10-C in Season 4. As the season has rolled on, I’ve been feeling a growing sense of déjà vu. The DMA storyline is unfolding in a remarkably similar fashion to the Burn in Season 3, with the big, mysterious, galaxy-threatening event being slowly uncovered by Burnham and the crew of the USS Discovery.

When the first Season 4 teaser initially revealed another “big bad,” I wrote the following: “there are possible downsides to another ‘huge galactic disaster’ storyline so soon after resolving the Burn, in that it risks feeling tacked-on, derivative, or even anticlimactic…” Right now, with the very similar way that the two storylines are unfolding – with little tidbits of information about the DMA or Unknown Species 10-C having been tacked on to episodes throughout the season – I’m definitely feeling that Discovery is straying increasingly close to repetitive territory. There’s still time for the emergence of the second DMA or the reveal of Unknown Species 10-C to take things in a very different direction, but this feeling is something that had been building up for several episodes now, and it kind of came to a head in Rubicon.

The DMA as it appeared in Rubicon.

I don’t usually like to talk about too much production-side stuff, but while we’re taking more of a birds-eye view of Season 4, I thought it was worth noting that showrunner Michelle Paradise recently discussed Unknown Species 10-C during a social media event. Her comments seemed to imply that Unknown Species 10-C will be someone that we’ve never met before; someone brand-new to Star Trek. And while it’s possible these comments have been misinterpreted – Paradise could have been talking about an extensive redesign of an existing faction, perhaps – I wanted to briefly consider what that could mean for the show.

In Season 3, one of the reasons why the Burn storyline fell flat at what should’ve been its climax is that basically none of the hints that Burnham and the crew had picked up over the course of the season ultimately mattered – the ending was such a bolt from the blue that it was unpredictable, making for an unsatisfying end to a season-long mystery. Because Season 4 has followed such a similar mystery box-type setup, the DMA and Unknown Species 10-C have seen crumbs of information thrown our way over the course of the season thus far. And with myriad smaller references to past iterations of Star Trek, fans have been encouraged to speculate about possible connections and explanations. For the ending to be another “surprise!” might work… but it might not. And I can’t shake the feeling right now that the explanations for the two big mysterious elements of Season 4’s story are ultimately going to be disappointing for a lot of fans.

Okay, that’s enough of that! The speculation about who Unknown Species 10-C may or may not be will have to wait, and we may not know the answer for a while!

Unknown Species 10-C sent a second DMA.

One of the central conceits of Rubicon was this idea of searching for a middle ground in between Book and Burnham’s positions. Communication and compromise have been themes that Discovery has tackled on multiple occasions over the past couple of seasons, but here I’m just not sure it’s been handled very well. I said in my review of But To Connect that there has always been a middle ground in this standoff, and it’s such a basic one that it beggars belief that no one so much as mentioned it until now.

The dividing line was whether to attempt to make peaceful first contact, as Burnham wanted, or to deploy a weapon against the DMA, as Book wanted. But the answer has been right in front of everybody the entire time: do both. In the time it would take to build the weapon and plan for its deployment, the Federation could make its attempt at first contact. It didn’t need to turn into the big fight that it did, and the idea that none of the dozens of diplomats, the Federation President, Starfleet Admirals, and the entire crew of Discovery didn’t even consider it might be a clumsy metaphor for our current divided political climate, but it doesn’t really work as a story beat. And that means that when Burnham finally proposed the compromise to Book, instead of cheering it on and thinking what a wonderful idea it was, all I could think was “that took you long enough!”

Captain Burnham eventually came to discover a rather obvious compromise position.

If the story underlying this division was stronger, perhaps I would forgive the silliness of failing to propose a compromise sooner. But because this particular story focuses almost exclusively on Burnham Relationship Drama™, something that I would argue Discovery simply does not need at this point in its run, it feels even more disappointing, somehow.

Despite a weak start in the Season 1 premiere, I have genuinely come to like Captain Burnham. Her ascent to the captaincy, particularly across the back half of Season 3, felt great – and along with Captain Sisko from Deep Space Nine, we can absolutely say that she’s one of the few Star Trek characters who genuinely earned her promotion. We saw a lot of the process that took her from a subordinate to a commanding officer, and while she has her flaws, which Star Trek captain doesn’t?

Captain Burnham’s rise to the captain’s chair has been a great story to watch.

But after a lot of messing around with Ash Tyler in Season 2 in particular, the whole Burnham Relationship Drama™ angle is completely overdone. Giving her a new start with Book worked so well in Season 3, and to upend that over such a stupid disagreement that should have been solvable is disappointing. Female characters don’t need the support of male characters to be successful, so I’m not saying that Captain Burnham somehow needs Book in her life – but having given her that relationship, to strip it away from her so soon just for the sake of injecting additional drama into a series that’s already full to the brim with it just seems gratuitous and unnecessary.

It would still have been possible to have a conflict over the DMA, with Tarka taking off on a mission to detonate his weapon. All In and Rubicon could’ve played out almost word-for-word without the Burnham Relationship Drama™ detracting from other aspects of the storylines. Another character could’ve been teamed up with Tarka, if the writers felt it necessary, and he could have even swayed a member of Discovery’s crew. In Rubicon, we saw glimpses of the way this could’ve gone with Rhys being generally supportive of Tarka, and any of the secondary characters could’ve played the Book role on this side of the story. Tarka is the driving force here, Book is really just a pilot. And while Book’s story of grief leading him to dark places sounds interesting in theory, Discovery hasn’t really done anything significant with that angle for several episodes. Book got to his dark place earlier in the season, and has been fairly static since.

A hologram of Book in Rubicon.

In short, if I was going to make one change to Season 4 as it’s unfolded so far, it would be to keep Book and Burnham together. There was scope to see Book in therapy with Dr Culber, talking out his feelings with Saru or even Zora, and being comforted all the while by Burnham. Instead, the story almost suggests that Burnham is out of her depth with Book, unable to know what to do or say.

The only way I can see the Burnham Relationship Drama™ making sense in Season 4 is if it leads to some bigger destination that isn’t apparent right now. Rubicon saw Burnham hesitate, unwilling to give the order to stop Book because of her love for him essentially overriding her duty as a Starfleet officer – comparable, in some respects, to the choice Worf made in the Deep Space Nine episode Change of Heart. If she feels that she can’t ever make that kind of choice again, or that Starfleet is getting in the way of her relationship, maybe she’ll end up resigning her commission in order to stay with him. If there’s some kind of larger arc at work, perhaps we’ll look back on the way it unfolded and reflect, wondering if the ends justified the means. But right now, assuming that isn’t going to be the case, this aspect of the Season 4 storyline remains disappointing verging on irritating.

Captain Burnham.

None of that is to detract from two wonderful performances. Sonequa Martin-Green continues to be impressive as Captain Burnham, and in an episode that revolved around her character’s internal conflict between love and duty, Martin-Green put in an outstanding and beautifully complex performance that was, at times, riveting. David Ajala made a wonderful addition to the cast in Season 3, and his arc in Season 4 has seen him put in some harrowingly beautiful performances that truly succeed at communicating Book’s grief. This latest turn for his character and his disagreement with Burnham wouldn’t have been my choice, but there’s no denying that Ajala brought it to screen and did his utmost to sell it.

It was also great to welcome back Rachael Ancheril in Rubicon, with her character of Nhan making a return for the first time since Season 3’s Die Trying. I felt it was a shame to see Nhan shuffled off the ship so quickly after arriving in the 32nd Century, and although it seems like her role this time was a one-off and not the start of a full-blown homecoming, it was still nice to catch up with her and learn that her mission aboard the USS Tikhov came to a successful conclusion.

Nhan made a welcome return to Discovery this week.

Unfortunately, though, one of Nhan’s lines was so poor that I felt myself involuntarily rolling my eyes. At a crucial moment in the mission, Nhan revealed to Burnham that, rather than just following her orders, she had another motivation: she’d been on another mission somewhere else and had lost “half her team” because she waited too long to make a decision. This terribly clichéd moment added nothing to Rubicon, nothing to Nhan’s character, and nothing to the overall story. It was undeveloped beyond a single line and was nothing but unnecessary fluff thrown in seemingly haphazardly to try to further ramp up the drama.

Discovery has a tendency to do this: taking a secondary character and giving them one or two lines about something in their past that we never saw and that is never referenced again to try to inject additional tension and drama into a story beat. It occasionally works, but more often than not it just falls flat on its face because it’s so painfully obvious that these lines are purely there for dramatic effect. Nhan’s is a case in point: it didn’t flow naturally, it was too barebones to add anything of substance to either her character’s motivation or the storyline she was part of, and overall it just felt like a very clumsy addition to the episode; the kind of line that might be written by a middle school student in one of their first creative writing projects.

Unfortunately one of Nhan’s lines was the worst in the episode; an underexplained piece of exposition thrown in to artificially ramp up the drama.

Despite that one line being so poor that it detracted somewhat from her return, I liked the role that had been given to Nhan in a more general sense. There’s no denying that Captain Burnham is too close to Book to be objective, and the rest of Discovery’s crew know him well so couldn’t necessarily be trusted either. Bringing in an outsider – or at least somewhat of an outsider – who has the authority to override Captain Burnham in this specific case makes a lot of sense from Starfleet’s point of view, and it was neat that Discovery managed to find a way to address this conflict in a way that felt natural.

I also liked the way Nhan introduced Saru and Captain Burnham to her secondary plan – the secret briefing that she gave them when their first attempt to capture Book and Tarka failed. It fitted perfectly with Nhan’s very militaristic role as a Federation security officer, and the way she presented the plan after the shuttle mission was as close as Starfleet gets to feeling like a military organisation.

This briefing was a very cool idea that was executed perfectly.

Speaking of the shuttle mission, it was nice to see Saru in command for the first time since Season 3! I also really like the shuttlecraft set design, with its rounded consoles and expansive bridge area. We saw this set used when Tilly took a group of cadets on a mission in the episode All Is Possible, and it’s neat that Discovery is continuing to make use of this new space. Because the USS Discovery hasn’t really seen much of a redesign internally, it’s one of the few sets other than Federation HQ that has a 32nd Century feel, and I like that. The USS Discovery has always felt like a ship that blends aspects of the NX-01 Enterprise, the USS Kelvin, and to an extent, parts of the Constitution-class refit into its own somewhat spartan 23rd Century style. I was wondering if we’d see much of a redesign this season, but in lieu of that it’s nice to get scenes like the one aboard the shuttlecraft that incorporate more 32nd Century design elements.

Although it sadly didn’t take up much screen time and wasn’t really expanded upon in a significant way, the conflict between Rhys and Bryce was an interesting one. It makes sense that there’d be members of Discovery’s crew who were generally supportive of Book and Tarka, so giving that debate some air was neat to see. It didn’t last as long as it could’ve, and the resolution – with Bryce offering Rhys a hand after they were beamed back aboard Discovery – was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it affair, but it was nevertheless an attempt by the show’s writers to expand the story beyond Captain Burnham, Book, Tarka, and Nhan.

This conflict could have been expanded upon, but it was a nice inclusion nevertheless.

The visual effect of the shuttle being “eaten” and torn in half was spectacular, and definitely one of the highlights of the season so far. The “goo” that captured the shuttle seemed to be a visual blend of programmable matter – a stalwart of 32nd Century tech – and the living ice from the Season 3 episode Far From Home that almost consumed the USS Discovery. And as it gripped the shuttle, eventually ripping it in half as it tried to get away, it was an absolutely thrilling spectacle.

I genuinely felt that Saru, Dr Culber, Rhys, and Bryce were in danger during their away mission, and in a series – and a franchise – that almost always sees its heroes make it home safely, that can be a difficult thing to pull off. As Saru led his team, though, I was so immersed in the world of Star Trek that I fully suspended my disbelief! I would add, though, that this isn’t the first time in Season 4 that Discovery has put crew members into dangerous, life-or-death situations only to save them at the last second. Dr Pollard had a very lucky escape in the episode Stormy Weather, and that’s perhaps the most obvious example. It can feel as though Discovery is providing even its minor characters with some very heavy plot armour at times, and while I didn’t feel that way in the moment, as I was thrilled by an incredibly tense, well-constructed sequence, looking back it feels like yet another opportunity to demonstrate the dangers posed by the DMA, Unknown Species 10-C, and Tarka’s weapon that Discovery missed. A character death can be so meaningful and so significant, and even if it were one of the secondary characters involved in this mission, it would still have been impactful; they’re characters we’ve seen in dozens of episodes across more than four years.

This was an incredibly exciting sequence that benefitted from some outstanding CGI work.

After the failed shuttle mission, Discovery chased Book and Tarka into the heart of the DMA. I wish we’d got something – even just a clumsy line of obvious exposition – to explain how it’s possible for the ships to operate inside the DMA with impunity, especially considering how dangerous it was for Book when he piloted his ship inside it in the episode Anomaly a few weeks ago. I guess the explanation is that the central part of the DMA is more gravitationally stable than its outer edges… but something on-screen to confirm that wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Despite that, I greatly enjoyed this part of the episode. It began with a really incredible close-up of Captain Burnham ordering Black Alert – something I still find incredibly cool four seasons in! – and that led us into a ship-to-ship combat situation that was reminiscent of the Battle of the Mutara Nebula in The Wrath of Khan. This sequence was much faster-paced, as the two ships could use their spore drives to jump around, but the basic premise of having to fight without the ship’s full array of scanners, shields, and weapons in the confines of a nebula-esque setting definitely felt like it was drawing on inspiration from what is still one of the Star Trek franchise’s best space battles.

The USS Discovery inside the DMA.

The USS Discovery bridge set saw a significant upgrade this season with the addition of pyrotechnics that could spew jets of fire. That effect was, perhaps, ever so slightly overused earlier in the season, so to see the show return to a more typical “battle damage” style with sparks flying and the occasional chunks of scenery being thrown around was certainly no bad thing. Some effects are best used sparingly, after all!

Partly because Discovery still likes to give most of the significant story moments to Captain Burnham, and partly for the sake of increasing the drama and tension, there was once again a moment during this battle that felt rather contrived. Captain Burnham managed to single-handedly figure out that the DMA wouldn’t leave the area until it had hoovered up all of the boronite particles – something that doesn’t survive a second glance as you’d think everyone would’ve realised that far sooner. It worked to set up the “middle ground” part of the story, offering a compromise to Book, but it feels like something that Stamets and co. should have worked out sooner – they’ve supposedly been working on the DMA for weeks off-screen.

Book and Burnham searching for middle ground.

The shot of Book on the bridge of his ship and Burnham at the console of a shuttlecraft was another that was beautifully composed and cinematic. Discovery could’ve chosen to set up this scene using holo-communicators, and that would’ve worked okay, but there was something about seeing the two characters literally divided that really emphasised the point that the series is trying to make about compromise, reaching out, and doing the right thing. Although I think I’ve made clear that the whole Burnham Relationship Drama™ angle isn’t something I’m wild about, I can still appreciate that it was handled incredibly well at this moment.

It seemed obvious to me that Tarka – the driving force behind this whole renegade mission – would fire his weapon regardless, and so it proved. Perhaps because I’m less invested in the Book-versus-Burnham conflict I wasn’t so distracted by it that I was caught off-guard by Tarka’s actions, but it seemed like Discovery was trying to tee this up as a shocking twist near the episode’s conclusion. In that respect it fell a little flat, but I like that the writers didn’t just forget about Tarka or have him break character by standing down.

Tarka stayed true to his characterisation by launching his weapon.

Tarka was originally presented as an arrogant mad scientist – a character archetype that we’ve seen in Star Trek on a number of previous occasions. But he very quickly showed off a depth that went far beyond that character trope. I would classify Tarka as somewhat of a fanatic; he’s single-mindedly dedicated to his own goal, and is willing not only to go to extreme lengths, but to disregard the feelings and views of practically everyone else in the process. He would hurt – and perhaps even kill – if it meant he could accomplish his objective of going “home” to find the friend he’s been talking about. In that regard, I would compare Tarka with Dr Tolian Soran, the villain from Star Trek: Generations. Both characters share a comparable goal – seeking their idealised versions of paradise – and both are willing to go to extreme lengths to get there.

When the DMA was destroyed, however, we got a very rushed scene with Tarka as he realised the DMA controller had disappeared or been destroyed. He scanned the area for literally a few seconds before sitting down looking dejected, and the pacing of this moment just felt off. We’ve seen in Discovery that sensor scans can take a long time, but even if we set aside nitpicky canon reasons, just as a character moment I think this scene needed more. It wasn’t even clear if he’d miscalculated, destroying the controller, if it had been recovered by Unknown Species 10-C, or something else had happened to it.

This moment needed to be longer.

Shawn Doyle has done a remarkable job bringing the complex Tarka to screen in an understandable and occasionally sympathetic way, so at the moment of what appears to be his biggest gamble and biggest defeat (at least so far), we needed to spend more time with him. With the scene’s short runtime, Doyle did what he could to communicate the extent of Tarka’s disbelief, sadness, and even anger… but a few extra minutes spent here would have gone a long way to paying off an arc that has been running for several episodes. There will be more to come from Tarka, I have no doubt, but this moment feels like it should have been bigger and handled with more significance in his story. This is another consequence of Discovery choosing to prioritise Burnham Relationship Drama™ over practically everything else in the story at this point.

Finally in Rubicon we had a development in the burgeoning relationship between Saru and Ni’Var President T’Rina. In a story that focused on the growing separation between one couple and arguments between friends, it was cute and sweet of the series to dedicate some time to a story like this. It served as somewhat of a counterbalance to some of the heavier themes of separation and failure, but more importantly the chemistry between Tara Rosling and Doug Jones is intoxicating, even with the latter under heavy prosthetic makeup. Saru, despite his wisdom and calm demeanour, is inexperienced in this area, and that’s a nice new angle for his character, too.

T’Rina and Saru sitting in a tree…

Seeing Saru being the one to seek romantic advice toward the end of the episode was interesting, and the candour shown to him by Dr Culber says a lot about the respect and friendliness between the two of them, too. Aside from the away mission earlier in Rubicon, we haven’t seen much interaction between Saru and Dr Culber for quite a long time, so this reminder that other members of the crew have friendships with one another was very sweet. I’m looking forward to seeing how the Saru-T’Rina relationship plays out, and the fact that Discovery hasn’t rushed it is a good thing!

So I think I’ve said more or less everything I wanted to say about Rubicon. It was a mixed episode for me, one where a particular storyline really clogged things up and overshadowed others, but that managed to have some beautiful moments that shone through even when I wasn’t particularly interested in the approach being taken. It was a beautifully cinematic episode, one of Discovery’s best from a visual and technical standpoint, and one that used sound and silence to great effect. Seeing Captain Burnham silently looking around at the climax of the battle was one of the most intense, dramatic moments from all four seasons of the show, and I can’t fault it.

An episode with some stellar performances from both of its leads and a couple of guest stars stumbled under the weight of an unnecessarily heavy storyline that, unfortunately, had all the subtlety of a sledgehammer at times. There were a couple of places where more time could have been spent away from Captain Burnham and Book; stories that are just as deserving of attention that Discovery chose to rush through in favour of spending more time with its protagonist and her angst about her boyfriend. This is a choice that I wouldn’t have made for a series which is well into its fourth season, and it’s one that, unless it gets resolved soon, will continue to be a drag on what is an otherwise excellent and engaging sci-fi adventure.

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 Paramount/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 4, Episode 7: …But to Connect

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

Sorry for being a few days late with this review! I had several other things going on this week, including my big end-of-year article, a piece looking ahead to 2022’s entertainment experiences, and finally a review of The Matrix Resurrections that I worked very hard on. I also hoped to get around to a review of the new Disney film Encanto, but that ended up taking a back seat along with this review of Discovery’s mid-season finale.

As I said last week, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the way the mid-season break was announced. Doing so on such short notice adds to a growing sense that ViacomCBS and Paramount+ are being very poorly-managed, and while I don’t begrudge the creative team taking additional time to work on or rework episodes in the second half of the season if that work needs to be done, it raises some serious questions about the handling of the Star Trek franchise and the Paramount+ streaming service on the corporate side of things. If ViacomCBS truly aims to compete with the biggest names in streaming, nonsense like this has to stop. In addition, there are still many Trekkies and would-be viewers all around the world who can’t watch Discovery due to corporate bullshit, something else that ViacomCBS needs to fix as quickly as possible.

The opening shot of the episode.

But To Connect worked well as a mid-season finale. It was tense and had moments of high drama that demonstrated beyond any doubt that science fiction doesn’t need to drown in space battles and high-octane action to be exciting. It was also an episode that, unfortunately, made some of its moments of drama feel incredibly contrived.

After everything Michael Burnham went through in her rollercoaster relationship with Ash Tyler in Seasons 1 and 2, giving her the chance to settle down with someone like Book was an incredibly welcome change. Forcing them to go against each other – especially for a central reason that felt contrived in the extreme – would not have been my choice for the direction of their relationship. Discovery has, over the course of its three-and-a-half seasons thus far, felt a need to inject extra drama and extra conflict where none was needed, upping the character stakes to near-soap opera levels at times. Forcing Book and Burnham to work against each other is the latest example of this trend – and it’s a disappointing thing to see.

The last thing Discovery needs is more Burnham relationship drama. Let her settle down, for goodness’ sake.

Book fell under the influence of Ruon Tarka, someone who we’ll have to deal with in more detail in a moment. For now, suffice to say that Tarka pounced on Book’s emotionally compromised state, seemingly manipulating him to advocate for attacking and destroying the DMA instead of pursuing peaceful first contact with whomever created it. Tarka has his reasons for doing this – claiming he wants to preserve the DMA’s power source so he can use it for his own purposes.

Book was clearly not thinking logically – and given his grief and the external prodding by Tarka, that makes sense. But the idea that Burnham couldn’t help him push through that, especially given that the DMA is explicitly stated to not be an immediate threat to anyone, is the point that begins to stretch credulity and make this whole situation feel contrived and forced.

The DMA was not posing an active, imminent threat to anyone.

Here’s the central point: the DMA, despite its potential danger and raw power, hasn’t actually done that much damage. If we assume that Discovery Season 4 has taken place over at least a couple of months of in-universe time, which seems reasonable given how long some of the scientists seem to have been working on these problems, it’s destroyed precisely two places in that time – a rate of one per month. And aside from Kwejian, the only other place we know it’s hit was an asteroid colony with a population of a couple of thousand. The Federation and the rest of the galactic races present at the meeting clearly have time on their side: the DMA’s path doesn’t seem to be taking it near to any inhabited systems in the immediate term, and while its unpredictable nature could see it disappear and reappear somewhere more dangerous, that doesn’t seem to be its primary mission.

If the DMA were a weapon being actively controlled, it would have targeted more places by now, so the Federation’s plan to attempt to contact its creators makes far more sense than attacking it. Even if Book couldn’t understand that at first, being blinded by his grief or desire for revenge, surely of all people Burnham would have been able to convince him to see the logic behind this slower, calmer approach. If the DMA had been actively threatening a planet – especially a named world that we as the audience might be familiar with, such as Betazed or Sigma Draconis III – things would be different. But without that desperate and immediate need to stop another disaster, the rational approach is to try to contact Unknown Species 10-C.

Book fell under the sway of Ruon Tarka – someone who clearly has his own agenda.

Earlier in the season, we saw Burnham advocate a compromise position, and But To Connect should have offered another opportunity to do so: building the weapon capable of destroying the DMA before attempting first contact. If the DMA then changes course and presents an active threat, it can be destroyed. And in addition, having the weapon in reserve while making first contact would be a valuable asset. If Unknown Species 10-C won’t see reason, the weapon could be a threat. If there’s no one there to negotiate with, the DMA could be destroyed. In short, the answer to the pretty basic problem that the episode posed isn’t “do one or the other,” it should have been “do both.” Build the weapon as a back-up while preparing for first contact.

If Discovery hadn’t insisted on themes of compromise across its last two seasons, I guess I’d give it a pass on this false choice. But in context, it seems to run counter to much of what the show has been trying to say for at least the last two years: that there are always solutions to or ways around these kinds of conflicts. The question of how to approach the DMA did not need to be a zero-sum game, and someone like Captain Burnham should have realised that – even if Book couldn’t.

This didn’t need to be a “black or white” choice. Compromise should have been possible; this is a major theme that the show has tried to present all season long.

Not for the first time, I’m left with a sense that Discovery’s writers and producers have a definite goal in mind; an endgame for the story and characters. But they haven’t figured out how to reach that finishing point in a clear and consistent manner, leaving this side of But To Connect feeling contrived.

On the flip side, the speeches that both Book and Burnham gave were very emotional, and I can’t fault the performances of either Sonequa Martin-Green or David Ajala. Both came across as two people trying to do what they genuinely believed was the right thing; conflicted because of what it would mean for their relationship, but determined to press ahead regardless. Although this wouldn’t be the way I would have chosen to handle either character, there can be no denying that the performances were exquisite.

Both actors played their roles exceptionally well.

Also on this side of the story we had a muted role for President Rillak. Though she was on Burnham’s side – wanting to advocate for an attempt at peaceful contact – she chose to recuse herself from the debate, serving as a moderator only. I still get the sense that she has schemes in play – bringing Burnham along as an ally being one of the ways she tried to manipulate proceedings to get her way without being openly involved – but it was interesting to see her in a more centrist, unaffiliated role.

Among her ambitions from the diplomatic summit were showing the Federation as taking the lead in the fight against the DMA, but also opening initial channels to United Earth with a view to bringing the isolationist world back into the fold. We’ve seen a slight softening of Earth’s leadership since Burnham helped reunite Earth and Titan in Season 3, and it was nice to welcome back Phumzile Sitole as the newly-promoted General Ndoye. As a Trekkie, I want more than anything to see Earth rejoin the Federation – but only if it feels right. Earth shouldn’t be manipulated into coming back into the organisation, so this story beat will have to be handled delicately.

General Ndoye represented Earth and Titan at the diplomatic summit.

Ruon Tarka was perhaps the most surprising character in But To Connect. His self-assured cockiness was still there from his role in The Examples, but we got an idea of what could be driving him forward, and where his interest in the DMA may have come from. Stating that he wants to cross over into a parallel universe was certainly not something I expected – but at the same time it felt very familiar, and very Star Trek.

Tarka comes across as somewhat similar to Tolian Soran, the villain from Star Trek: Generations. Soran wanted to return to the Nexus – a paradise-like realm contained inside of an energy ribbon that periodically transited the galaxy. Tarka’s desire to enter the DMA and use its powerful controller to “punch through” to a parallel universe where he expected life to be better is at least somewhat comparable – and his willingness to break the rules and work against Starfleet shows the same kind of single-mindedness that Soran demonstrated.

Tarka is determined to use the DMA controller for his own ends.

We’ll save for my theory post a full discussion of Tarka, his possible motivations, and potential destinations. But suffice to say this character turn has piqued my curiosity. There’s the potential to get a more complex presentation of a “mad scientist” character trope, one which gives him an understandable or even sympathetic motive for his actions. I don’t think we’re at that point yet, but I see potential in this storyline.

Shawn Doyle was wonderful in The Examples, making Tarka stand out as a different take on a character archetype that has appeared on a number of prior occasions in Star Trek. This amazing performance continued in But To Connect, and Doyle deserves a lot of credit for the way he brought the character to screen with complexity – especially given the relatively small amount of screen time that Tarka has had in the season so far.

Tarka and Book formed an unlikely alliance.

As has happened several times already this season, though, Discovery quickly glossed over much of the actual work on the problems and puzzles posed by the DMA in order to get to the dramatic stand-off between Book and Burnham. Tarka’s weapon seemed to come out of nowhere, and although he’s clearly spent weeks or months of off-screen time working on it, in the episode itself it seemed to be a bolt from the blue; almost a deus ex machina solution to the threat posed by the DMA. As I’ve said on several occasions this season, the end result isn’t the problem – it’s that we as the audience really needed to see at least some of the process to get there, even if just by way of something like a montage.

In exactly the same way on the other side of the story, Zora’s discovery of the coordinates of the DMA’s origin was completely blitzed through in order to get to the story that the episode really wanted to tell. When it comes to the DMA, which is the season’s “big bad” at least thus far, Discovery has dedicated precious little time to actually dealing with it head-on, with much of the investigation happening off-screen. As the audience, we’ve been parachuted in just in time to see key moments: Stamets’ proto-wormhole theory, the DMA being an artificial construct, the DMA coming from outside of the galaxy, and now finally the discovery of its origin point. All of these points, so incredibly vital to the story of the DMA, feel like they’re scarcely even footnotes in a story which on the surface should be making more of them.

Captain Burnham, Stamets, and Adira listen to Zora as she refuses to share what she’s learned.

Before anyone jumps in to tell me off for missing the point: I get it. Discovery has other stories to tell, and wants to use this season in particular to look at issues surrounding trauma and grief. Practically all of the main characters seem to embody different responses to trauma: Stamets getting lost in his work, Culber desperately trying to help others even if doing so is at his own expense, Book’s journey through the stages of grief, and Tilly’s career switch all come from that same thematic place. And these individual, character-centric stories are absolutely worth telling. However, in a sci-fi series that also has the DMA as a major plotline, it feels that the first half of Season 4 has prioritised these character moments at the expense of this other major narrative. It should’ve been possible to balance the season’s story to give both appropriate weight and screen time – but Discovery has yet to find that balance.

So let’s tackle Zora next. The USS Discovery’s computer-AI-Sphere data hybrid has been developing slowly since Season 3, and until the very end of The Examples a couple of weeks ago felt like a relatively minor part of the season. Her transformation into basically an additional main character has been an interesting one, and this week was by far Zora’s biggest moment centre-stage. I got echoes of a number of past Star Trek stories – from The Ultimate Computer and The Measure of a Man through to Picard Season 1’s dealings with the synths and Data – in the way Zora was analysed and discussed by Dr Kovich, Dr Culber, Stamets, Adira, and Gray. It was an incredibly honest and frank discussion, one which absolutely embodied the spirit of Star Trek.

Zora’s status and rights were discussed in But To Connect.

Through this side of the story, But To Connect gave us by far the best and most sympathetic presentation of Dr Kovich. I maintain that, based on his earlier appearances, some kind of Section 31 or spy role was a possibility – and maybe that was the original intention for the character when he was created in Season 3. In But To Connect, however, we saw Dr Kovich as a firm believer in the values and ideals of Starfleet and the Federation: determined to seek out new life, and to ensure that very different forms of life have the same rights as everyone else.

Stamets also shone on this side of the story, and the writing here showed off a complexity that the relatively short half-episode runtime could have hampered. Stamets’ attitude toward Zora’s newly developed sentience could have come across badly, making him out to be some kind of “AI-phobe,” in the vein of something like Picard Season 1’s Zhat Vash. However, the way Stamets was handled – aided greatly by a wonderful performance from Anthony Rapp – ensured that we could understand his reservations and concerns without seeing him as some kind of futuristic bigot.

Anthony Rapp gave his best performance of the season so far.

As in All Is Possible, Discovery succeeded at taking a complex argument and ensuring that the views on both sides were sensible and understandable, allowing true understanding and trust to be reached. Likewise this week, Stamets didn’t simply try to put his foot down and declare that the existence of Zora was some kind of horrible, insurmountable problem, and nor did Zora attack Stamets or try to shut down his concerns.

In an increasingly polarised political climate here in the west, where politicians and activists on all sides are increasingly dogmatic and unwilling to listen to opposing points of view, Discovery once again showed us how debate and discussion should be handled: calmly, maturely, and with mutual respect. This is one of the lessons from this season of the show: that we can’t simply write off points of view we disagree with, nor should we try to shut down or dismiss them. Listening is the first step toward understanding.

Despite the stakes and the complexity of the arguments, But To Connect showed us how these kinds of conversations can and should be handled.

From my perspective as someone who’s non-binary, I felt there could be echoes of the real-world conversation surrounding transgender and non-binary folks in the way Zora’s movement toward acceptance was handled. There are many people who are dismissive of trans and non-binary people – something I sadly experienced firsthand recently in a conversation with someone I considered a friend. An unwillingness to listen and a desire to be dismissive of something we personally don’t understand is always going to be a temptation – but Stamets found that, by having a frank and honest conversation, his fears and concerns could be allayed.

There’s been a lot of debate around transgender and non-binary rights in recent years, and the issues of sex, gender, and gender identity have become highly politicised. Zora was struggling to find acceptance in But To Connect, and I felt that the show was perhaps drawing on the trans inclusion discussion for inspiration in this particular storyline. Speaking from a personal perspective, it isn’t easy to figure oneself out. To then present oneself to one’s friends only to be rejected is a horrible feeling – and I’m glad that Zora’s friends were able to remain on her side, even if they had questions about her at first.

It felt like the conversation with Zora may have had a real-world inspiration.

The Zora conversation also tackled the real-world issue of artificial intelligence and the growing impact of machine learning, algorithms, and AI on our daily lives. Star Trek has depicted “evil” AIs on several occasions, including in Season 2 of Discovery, so to take a break from that negative portrayal and to find a way to show AI in a positive light was a welcome change. I’m no longer convinced, for example, that we’ll see Zora go rogue or act against the crew’s wishes later in the season or in future stories; her status as a bona fide member of the crew feels settled.

Stamets was part of that, and voiced his concerns with eloquence before coming around to accepting Zora’s place in the crew. Dr Culber played a role too, as did Gray and Adira. It was very cathartic, after Stamets missed the entirety of Gray’s incorporation a few episodes ago, to see the two characters having the chance to interact. Gray’s future on the show is now uncertain following his departure with Guardian Xi bound for Trill, so it was even more important to give him and Stamets some small crumbs of screen time together.

It was great to finally see Stamets interacting with Gray and Adira.

In a very real sense, But To Connect felt like two distinct episodes haphazardly bolted together. In a longer season, both the conflict at the diplomatic summit and Zora’s moves toward sentience could have been explored while also giving more time to the likes of Tarka and his efforts to untangle the mysteries posed by the DMA. But because Discovery wanted to make a point – not a bad point, I concede – about Starfleet seeking out new life, we got both stories squashed down into the runtime of a single episode. Neither of these stories were bad, nor was the link between them, but the conflict at the summit in particular would have benefitted from additional development, and the incredibly minor side-story about Tarka and the DMA could have been fleshed out a lot more – as could Stamets, Adira, and Zora’s work to find the coordinates.

The similarities between the stories of Zora and the DMA would’ve still worked had they been longer or spread across two episodes, and I guess my big criticism of But To Connect isn’t that I hated or even disliked either, it’s that I would’ve liked to have seen a longer, perhaps slower-paced, version of them. Cutting the conflict between Book and Burnham – or finding a way to resolve it – would also have been a preference.

T’Rina and Tarka view a holo-model of the DMA.

But To Connect told two stories about seeking out new life: the very core of Starfleet’s mission. Zora’s story was the better of the two; it had more nuance, better characterisation, and a truly sympathetic presentation of both sides of the discussion. It dealt with incredibly deep and complex themes in an understandable way, giving rise to a conclusion that felt natural, but most importantly that felt earned.

The diplomatic summit, meanwhile, took what could have been a similar setup but presented it as a false “either-or” choice – a choice that, I would argue, felt unnecessary and thus contrived. Its conclusion, instead of being one that promoted understanding and dialogue, ended with one side claiming total victory and the other suffering defeat. This laid the groundwork for Book and Tarka’s rebellion – stealing a spore drive prototype and flying away to attack the DMA. That ending may have been a natural or inescapable one given the setup, but it didn’t need to be – and it seems to run counter to some very timely and important allegories that Discovery has tried to include this season.

Burnham casting her vote.

A few scattered final thoughts: Discovery seems to be going down the route of some of the ’80s Star Trek films by depicting interesting-looking background aliens… then giving them nothing to do nor even naming them. It would be nice to learn more about some of the galaxy’s races, but just dropping them in the background doesn’t feel like a particularly good way to handle things. The music in But To Connect was probably the best of the season so far, and the score used during the voting scenes in particular was incredibly tense – perfectly complimenting what was happening on screen.

Why does Burnham get a vote? I can understand why each Federation member world might get an individual vote, but giving everyone present the chance to vote could disproportionately favour one side. It feels like it was there for another moment of drama rather than because it makes sense in context.

We saw a full-blooded Cardassian, a Ferengi, and several other familiar races – including one who may be a Xindi. Missing from the summit, however, were races like the Klingons and factions like the Dominion. It’s possible that there have been major structural changes to those governments, or that diplomatic relations with the Federation are poor. Discovery may also be avoiding their use with a view to bringing them back in a future story – or to give room for the likes of Picard or Strange New Worlds to include these factions.

This character was a callback to the events of Kobayashi Maru.

Stamets flipping the issue of trust onto Zora was a clever one, and a great rhetorical way to begin to bring that argument to a close. Dr Kovich’s line that Stamets could have been reassigned if he couldn’t work with Zora was clever – but then who would have operated the Spore Drive? Saru and T’Rina make an adorable couple, and although I wouldn’t consider either Doug Jones or Tara Rosling to be “old,” it was still sweet to see Discovery giving screen time to a burgeoning romance between two people who aren’t 25 any more!

So I think that’s about all I have to say for now. Stay tuned, because later in the week I’ll be writing up my theories for the second half of the season. It’s only six weeks, but I really can’t wait to find out what happens next! The DMA and Unknown Species 10-C still present wonderful mysteries, and although my head says what we’ll ultimately get will be something brand-new to the franchise, my heart is still hopeful that there’ll be some kind of big connection or callback to a past iteration of Star Trek!

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 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 4, Episode 5: The Examples

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4, Star Trek: Picard Season 1, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

The Examples was a stunningly good episode. When the season draws to a close, no matter how key storylines are ultimately paid off, we’ll look back and say this was one of the highlights. This week we got three stories rolled into one, all connected to the DMA in different ways, and we also got the introduction of a wonderfully complex new scientist character played by Shawn Doyle.

Before we go any further, I want to continue to call out the corporate nonsense from ViacomCBS that has prevented Star Trek fans from outside of Europe and North America from being able to watch Star Trek: Discovery. ViacomCBS seems to have no interest in Africa, Asia, or even countries and territories like Ireland or Puerto Rico, and the rollout of Paramount+, which continues at what we might generously call a snail’s pace, means nothing to millions of Trekkies all over the world. Discovery has become one of the most-pirated shows in recent weeks – something that’s entirely the fault of ViacomCBS and their decision to pull the show from Netflix.

The USS Discovery’s main viewscreen as the DMA approaches.

Let’s set that aside for now and talk about The Examples. We’ll begin with the smaller storyline present in the episode: that of Dr Culber and his emotional struggles. For me, these sequences with Dr Culber – and especially his conversations with Stamets – formed the episode’s real emotional heart. There was a moment toward the end between Captain Burnham and a prisoner named Felix that was also emotional, but we’ve known Dr Culber and followed his story for more than three seasons, so I think it’s natural to feel that this was the one that brought the most emotional weight.

I’m increasingly convinced that Discovery’s main characters each embody a different response to grief and trauma. In Tilly’s case, which we saw come to a head last week, she chose to leave the past behind and strike out on her own. In the case of Stamets we see the workaholic, someone willing to set aside much of his personal life and family commitments and throw himself into his work. The same kind of applies to Captain Burnham, though she also embodies the “protective partner” through her relationship with Book. Book, of course, has shown us the depths of depression and grief. And with Dr Culber we have someone who’s dedicated himself to helping others – even if that comes at his own expense.

Dr Culber and Stamets in their quarters.

The scenes between Stamets and Culber were a complete inversion of what I’d been expecting – and I loved every second of it. After Stamets missed Gray’s incorporation and wasn’t there for Adira in Choose To Live, I’d been expecting Dr Culber to be the one to call him out for overworking himself, telling him he missed something important with his family – and with his friend, as he wasn’t really there for Tilly before she left the ship. But instead we got the reverse of that: it was Stamets who had to tell Dr Culber that he’s been the one overworking himself for the sake of the crew.

This moment was absolutely perfect, and I felt it really drove home just how these two came to fall in love in the first place. Stamets and Culber have been Discovery’s emotional core since the show’s first season, but this was the first time we got this level of insight into what brought them together – and what has kept them together even through all the sci-fi adventures they’ve been on.

Stamets and Culber gave the episode heart and emotion.

Kovich – or should that be Doctor Kovich? – continues to confound me. Who is this mysterious man? We’ve seen him seemingly working for Starfleet Intelligence in some capacity, working alongside Admiral Vance at or near the top of the organisation, playing a leading role in Starfleet Academy – including being able to appoint teachers simply on his say-so – and now, in The Examples, he appeared to be acting as a counsellor, therapist, and even psychologist for Dr Culber. I wonder if Discovery plans to nail down Kovich at some point in the future – or if he’ll continue to be used in a variety of roles like this, allowing the lack of a clear explanation or background to provide him with an air of mystery and gravitas. It’s hard to deny that it’s working!

Kovich certainly laid some harsh truths on Dr Culber during their very short session together. And I liked that it came back to what happened to him in Season 2; Dr Culber went through an almost unimaginable experience, one that’s bound to leave emotional wounds. Past iterations of Star Trek were pretty bad at following up with characters who went through what should’ve been traumatic events, so it’s cathartic in a sense to see that the franchise is using its serialised format to right that old wrong.

Kovich offered Dr Culber counselling… of a sort.

Some of the goings-on at the prison felt a little rushed and a little forced. After discovering the existence of the prisoners and finding out that they weren’t scheduled to be rescued, Captain Burnham and the crew seem to have made no efforts to follow that up. Could they, for example, have located the prison guards who were said to have fled? Or sought out someone else capable of opening the prison? I know it’s a bit nit-picky, but going there in person feels like it should’ve been a last resort.

There was definitely an interesting element to the prison stand-off, though, once we got into the meat of this side of the story. I said last week that Captain Burnham has a “moral certainty” to her; she knows what is the right thing to do. This time she came upon two challenges to that morality – and I think in the way she responded to those challenges, we can see how much she’s grown as a character over the past three-plus seasons.

Captain Burnham faced a very difficult choice this week.

Captain Burnham wanted to rescue all of the prisoners. She wanted to do so not only for Book’s sake, as he’d been suffering ever since the destruction of his homeworld, but also because she truly believed in her heart that it was the objectively moral thing to do. The prisoners immediately challenged that, with several of them expressing the desire to be left to die rather than return to confinement. There was a bit of a cliché as we were told that one of the prisoners had “stolen food to feed his family,” but other than that this side of the story felt complex and nuanced.

We also got a glimpse at the kind of clashing of cultures that happens out here in the real world. The Akaali – a race that first appeared in Enterprise – have a very different culture to the Federation, perhaps influenced in part by the Emerald Chain. In this case, their ideas of justice, punishment, and imprisonment seem draconian by Federation standards – and Captain Burnham had to deal with that culture shock.

The Akaali magistrate.

Felix was the most complex of the prisoners, a man who’d killed someone decades earlier and had lived with that regret ever since. Guest star Michael Greyeyes put in a stellar performance as someone not merely resigned to their fate, but actively choosing to embrace it. Felix seemed to truly believe that his punishment or penance for his crime required his own death, and had he survived if the DMA had taken a different path, I believe he would have sought out the Akaali authorities and turned himself in all over again.

His choice was difficult for Book and Burnham, though, who had endeavoured to save all six prisoners. Book appeared to be ready to intervene, saving Felix’s life even if it went against his wishes, but Captain Burnham eventually understood that this was something she had to do. After all the talk earlier in the season about the Kobayashi Maru test and no-win scenarios, here we got to see Captain Burnham confronted with her own small-scale version of that very challenge. She rose to meet it in a way that she would have struggled to in earlier stories.

Leaving Felix behind was a kind of Kobayashi Maru moment for Captain Burnham.

There are many different ways we could read Felix’s story in The Examples. There’s definitely an allegory for imprisonment itself; that prison can have value as a rehabilitative institution. But we can also read Felix’s final choice through a more metaphorical and philosophical lens: it’s a tale about the value of freedom, and the freedom to choose one’s own path and ultimate fate. It’s a story about agency and the right to determine the outcome of one’s own life. Felix could have been “saved,” but doing so would have cost him his freedom in a different way.

This story took what could have been a fairly simple and uninspired plot about rescuing prisoners in a different and unexpected direction, providing some much-needed complexity to Captain Burnham’s side of the episode. It also gave both her and Book an emotional moment toward the end of the episode, with Book in particular believing the decision to leave Felix behind was wrong. And as the audience, we can see both sides of this argument and acknowledge that there’s no objectively right answer. On the one hand, if Felix had been saved he could have found other ways to have meaning in his life or to complete his penance and rehabilitate himself. Giving him that chance, even if it was against his will in that moment, could have paid dividends later. On the other hand, though, Felix was a grown adult of seemingly sound mind, and if this was the choice he freely made, knowing the consequences, does anyone have the right to interfere? It’s a complex story with no easy answer – and this could be a whole essay in itself drawing comparisons with things like the right-to-die movement, suicide, and many more.

Felix made his own decision.

Sonequa Martin-Green played Captain Burnham with real complexity this week, and her performance nailed Burnham’s real struggle with this decision. As recently as the season premiere, Burnham had said to President Rillak that she wasn’t ever willing to leave anyone behind or make this kind of choice; a variation on Captain Kirk’s famous “I don’t believe in no-win scenarios” stance. But something’s changed for Burnham – perhaps the existence of the DMA, or simply the realities of command. This evolution allows her to remain true to herself – she still wants to do the right thing. She just seems willing to consider different perspectives on what is “right,” including those that fall outside of her own interpretation.

So let’s take a look at the biggest revelation in The Examples: the DMA is an artificial creation. This is something I’d been theorising about in one form or another since we first learned of the existence of the anomaly in the first Season 4 teaser trailer earlier in the year, and I don’t think many fans or viewers will have been terribly shocked. A natural disaster angle could’ve worked well for the DMA, presenting Captain Burnham and the crew with a scientific challenge to untangle rather than a villainous adversary to defeat. But that ship has sailed – and really, this is the way I think we all expected Discovery to go with the DMA.

Tarka and Stamets created a scale model of the DMA.

Though this story was great overall, there was one part at the beginning that felt very rushed. After Stamets noticed the DMA disappearing and reappearing, Captain Burnham asked Zora (the ship’s AI) if the DMA could be a natural ocurrence. Zora replied that it couldn’t be, and based seemingly on these two lines alone, the rest of the plot was left to unfold. It just feels far too quick and easy to have gotten a one-line answer from Zora about the nature of the DMA, and I feel it would’ve been nicer to see at least some of the workings that led to that conclusion – perhaps Stamets could’ve said he’d come up with an artificial DMA as a new theory after weeks of work; same result, same short scene, but perhaps a better overall feeling that this wasn’t all based on one very brief analysis.

This second point is really more of a nitpick, but here we go anyway: how did everyone in the galaxy find out that the DMA isn’t a natural phenomenon? If Stamets is leading the charge on this investigation, and he only figured it out with the help of Zora… how did that news get out? Starfleet might’ve wanted to keep a lid on something so explosive, and I can absolutely see someone like President Rillak wanting to keep that news on a need-to-know basis to prevent panic and possible political consequences for the very tenuously-united Federation. Maybe we can excuse it by saying the DMA’s disappearance and reappearance led others to figure it out independently, but again this all happened very quickly at the beginning of the episode. It’s a nitpick, though.

Kaminar – and other worlds – already know that the DMA is artificial.

There were references to past iterations of Star Trek – as well as the video game Star Trek Online – on this side of The Examples. Admiral Vance listed the Metrons, who first appeared in The Original Series episode Arena, the Nacene, who constructed the Caretaker’s Array that pulled the USS Voyager into the Delta Quadrant, and the Iconian Empire, who were believed to be extinct during the events of The Next Generation but ultimately appeared in the aforementioned Star Trek Online.

However, at the end of the episode, Ruon Tarka explicitly ruled out all three of these races as being the culprit. So who is Species 10-C? And perhaps a bigger question is this: will the DMA connect back to a past iteration of Star Trek, or will the storyline follow a similar route to the Burn in Season 3 and ultimately turn out to be something altogether new? Part of me wants to say that we wouldn’t have had all of these teases if there wasn’t going to be some big connection and a big reveal that would be meaningful for us as the audience – the Borg, the super-synths from Picard, or something of that nature. But another big part of me is saying “remember the Burn!” and feels certain that we’re going to encounter someone entirely new.

Admiral Vance has a list of possible culprits… but Ruon Tarka dismissed them.

We’ll save the theorising for later, though, because this side of the episode had far more going on than just that! Shawn Doyle arrived as Ruon Tarka, and he played the arrogant scientist exceptionally well. Tarka is a strangely relatable character – I think a lot of us have known someone who’s so incredibly self-assured and who comes across as very rude and even selfish. Tarka, to my surprise I must admit, backed up his arrogance with genuine skill, and by the end of the episode even Stamets seemed to have warmed up to him!

There’s always going to be the temptation to have a character introduced in this fashion ultimately be proven wrong and get some kind of comeuppance, but what makes Tarka such an interesting and nuanced character is that he really did have the scientific skill and know-how to back up what he was saying; all the trash-talking with Stamets actually led somewhere. We can dislike Tarka for his abrasiveness and the way he was rude with Stamets and Saru, but at the end of the day I’m still left with a strong sense that, arrogant or not, he’s someone I want on my side – especially given the nature of the DMA. Pulling off that balance with a brand-new character isn’t going to be easy to get right, yet Discovery pulled it off thanks to a wonderful guest star.

Ruon Tarka made for a wonderfully complex character.

It was very sweet to get multiple mentions of Aurellio this week. Kenneth Mitchell played the character in Season 3, and even though he wasn’t able to appear in person on this occasion, the fact that Discovery went out of its way to reference the character more than once was incredibly sweet. It’s nice to know that Aurellio still exists in the 32nd Century, and that he’s teamed up with the Federation to help solve the mystery of the DMA. Again, I feel better knowing Aurellio is working on this problem too!

The idea that Stamets and Tarka came up with, to create essentially a scaled-down version of the DMA, was a good one, and it worked well on this side of the story. We got to see the two scientists truly working on the problem, tweaking their theories as they went along. This is the scientific method – having a crazy idea and testing it out! Other sci-fi shows would’ve skipped this step and just brought us the conclusion so we could get into more space battles and laser fights, but one thing I’ve always liked about Star Trek is seeing the characters slow down and take their time working on a problem. Neither Stamets nor Tarka could figure out the DMA instantly – and we’ve seen Stamets working on this problem across several episodes now. They seemed to be close to a breakthrough before the experiment had to be shut down – so perhaps a future episode will pick up that dangling story thread.

Stamets, Tarka, and Saru examine their model of the DMA.

Though she didn’t have many lines, it was great to welcome back Tig Notaro as Reno during this story. Her dry wit cut through what was a very heavy scientific story, and provided some moments of levity that were definitely appreciated. Due to the difficulties of travelling and filming during the pandemic, I already know we aren’t going to get as many Reno appearances as we might want – so it was great to see her on this occasion, and I will definitely savour those light-hearted moments that she brought.

Saru played a guiding role here, ultimately shutting the experiment down as it got too close to the danger zone. But he brought a sense of calmness to the proceedings, something necessary given the hot-headedness of Tarka and Stamets. Seeing him “roar” was definitely something a bit weird… but it was neat nevertheless! Saru was very much back in his element as the senior officer on this side of the story, taking command of the situation but deferring to the scientists as much as possible. Since he underwent the vahar’ai transformation in Season 2, we’ve seen this calmer presentation of Saru. I’ve said this before no doubt, especially during his tenure as captain in Season 3, but he makes for an excellent commander – someone kind of in the mould of Picard as a considerate, level-headed leader.

Saru and Tarka having a stand-off!

So that was The Examples. We’re one step closer to figuring out the DMA thanks to Tarka and Stamets’ dangerous experiment – and I hope to see further progress on that storyline soon! The suspense, not knowing who’s responsible for the DMA or what their goal might be is really pulling me in right now – I desperately want the answers to those huge questions!

Some scattered final thoughts: the USS Janeway was a neat callback to Voyager. We’ve had several references to both Enterprise and Voyager so far this season – could either of those be a tease or indication of the direction of the story? The DMA makes an interesting climate change analogy – something ever-present that our heroes all have to work together to overcome. The episode opened by reminding us that Tilly has gone, and Mary Wiseman is no longer credited in the opening credits – so I think her departure from the series is permanent. I had a horrible feeling that something was going to happen to Rhys as he took a leading role in the evacuation… but luckily he lives to fight another day!

I had a fantastic time with The Examples. It advanced the season’s main story in a huge and very significant way, introduced us to a new scientist character who was a ton of fun, and gave us some cathartic emotional moments with Captain Burnham, Book, Dr Culber, and Stamets. All in all, a truly outstanding episode. I’m tearing my hair out trying to figure out who Species 10-C might be – so stay tuned for my next batch of theories for more on that!

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 4, Episode 4: All Is Possible

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

Last week we saw Captain Burnham and the crew largely leave the gravitational anomaly behind as Discovery told three distinct stories. The main thrust of the season still involves the DMA – as the anomaly is now being called – so it was interesting to see that All Is Possible once again shelved that story to take us on another pair of side-missions.

Unfortunately Discovery’s fourth season is still unavailable to large numbers of Trekkies. Fans from Puerto Rico to Tokyo still have no (official) way to enjoy the series, and this self-defeating corporate nonsense is something I’m going to continue to call out at every opportunity. The rollout of Paramount+ internationally next year means nothing to millions of fans in Asia, Africa, and other regions when ViacomCBS believes they don’t exist.

The USS Discovery at the beginning of the episode.

Though there were secondary and tertiary plotlines in All Is Possible, there’s one massive thing that we have to talk about first and foremost: the departure of Lieutenant Tilly. I have to be honest: I did not see this coming – at least, not this early in the season. We’re four episodes into a thirteen-episode season, and Tilly’s arc has already seemingly concluded. Though I had begun to make predictions last week about Tilly’s fate after she’d been seeming so out of sorts, I figured her departure – if indeed that’s what her arc was building towards – wouldn’t have happened until nearer the end of the season.

When All Is Possible kicked off and it became apparent that we were getting a Tilly-focused story, particularly another “Tilly tries something new” story, I was worried that the episode was going to feel a bit samey after she’d played such a big role last week. And although it now makes sense in light of her departure, I’m still left wondering if it was the right decision to schedule these two stories one after the other. We had some stirrings and indications from Tilly in episodes 1 and 2 that she was feeling this way, but because that story has now effectively run its course it feels if not rushed then at least unnecessarily condensed and perhaps poorly scheduled.

This was a huge episode for Tilly – and for Discovery.

The big question, of course, is whether Tilly’s exit will be permanent. It certainly felt permanent in All Is Possible; she even got the send-off from the crew that I argued Saru had missed at the end of Season 3. I don’t usually comment on cast interviews or The Ready Room (Discovery’s social media after-show) in these reviews, but when Mary Wiseman was interviewed this week after All Is Possible had aired she said that we’d see Tilly again before the end of the season. Good news on that front, at least!

That doesn’t mean that Tilly will remain a series regular, though, and her new role at Starfleet Academy has removed her from the ship and thus presumably the bulk of the season’s remaining episodes and storylines. And if the show is renewed for a fifth season – something which is surprisingly still unconfirmed – presumably Tilly won’t be back in a starring role. I think that’s a shame in a way; she was a fun character and after three seasons was beginning to grow in confidence and settle into her role. Or so it felt.

Mary Wiseman spoke with Wil Wheaton on The Ready Room after All Is Possible aired.

On the production side of things, it’s my suspicion that the show’s writers and producers didn’t really know what to do with Tilly or where to take the character. The addition of Adira to the regular cast was a double-edged sword for Tilly because they occupy a very similar role. In Seasons 1 and 2 in particular, we’d see Tilly working in the engineering bay with Stamets. Now Adira fills that role – and because of their deeper connection with Stamets, arguably fills it better. In Seasons 1 and 2, Tilly was the “baby” of the crew; young, fresh-faced, eager to please, worried about making mistakes, and keen to do her part. Adira once again has taken over that character space.

Tilly’s growth across Seasons 1, 2, and 3 was wonderful to see, and when we compare her to characters like Harry Kim – who essentially remained in a similar space for all of Voyager’s seven-year run – we can see the advantages of serialised storytelling. But Tilly’s growth as a character appears to have come at the expense of her roles on the ship, and the addition of Adira may well be the proverbial last straw. We can kind of see the snowglobe scene through this lens – Tilly was passing the metaphorical torch to Adira in that moment.

Tilly gave her snowglobe to Adira.

We can’t ignore the rumours of a Starfleet Academy series when discussing Tilly’s fate and future. Alex Kurtzman, who’s in charge of the overall Star Trek franchise for ViacomCBS, hinted that such a series is in the early stages of being worked on, and in more ways than one the Tilly side of All Is Possible feels almost like a backdoor pilot for such a show. We got to see Tilly both as a teacher and a leader across these sequences, laying the groundwork not simply for her departure from Discovery, but setting up her new role as well. Could all of that mean that the potential Starfleet Academy series would feature Tilly in some capacity?

I thought Mary Wiseman’s comment in The Ready Room that Tilly’s confidence had been knocked by the events of Season 3 was particularly interesting, too. Tilly had seen herself as being on a pathway that led her from the Academy to the captain’s chair, but when she got a taste of what being in command was like, she found herself out of her depth as she lost the ship to the Emerald Chain. I think a lot of us can relate to feeling overwhelmed by a difficult situation, or feeling the weight of responsibility and struggling with it. Perhaps, as Wiseman suggests, Tilly came to believe that command was not right for her.

Tilly came to believe that she was on the wrong path.

If that’s true, whose fault is it? There was a lot of talk during Season 3 that Saru’s decision to appoint Tilly as acting first officer was the wrong one, and while I defended that story point at the time, when seen through this new lens perhaps we could argue that Saru pushed Tilly to take on that role too quickly. He’s been a good friend to her, and has advocated for her when others might overlook her – as we saw last week, for instance – but might his friendship with Tilly have blinded him, at least somewhat, to her inexperience and limitations? Perhaps.

Tilly held her own when the Emerald Chain captured the ship, and ultimately played a huge role in retaking Discovery and defeating the villainous faction once and for all. But of course it makes sense that those events would completely bowl her over. She was in command of Discovery for a few hours at most, then lost the ship to the Emerald Chain with relative ease. As someone who’d hoped to one day have her own command, those events are going to take a toll, and it’s natural that she’d question her career path in light of what happened. We can empathise with Tilly, putting ourselves in a comparable situation.

Tilly had hoped to one day command her own ship.

It was sweet to see Tilly reunite with Captain Burnham, albeit briefly, before confirming her decision and departing the ship, and the choice of Tilly’s cabin for this conversation harkened back to the early part of Season 1 where we saw them together in that room on multiple occasions. Tilly had already made her decision, it seemed, before Burnham even sat down. Yet it was still nice to see her talking it out with her captain – and friend – before finally confirming that this is what she was going to do. The moments between Mary Wiseman and Sonequa Martin-Green added a lot to this story.

One person who was missing from Tilly’s story, though, was Stamets. Not only had Tilly and Stamets worked together since the beginning of the series, but earlier in the episode Tilly had expressed concern about “abandoning” him to go on the Academy mission – yet by the end of the episode she was content to leave him all alone with the problem of the DMA while she took on a new role. I think we could still have arrived at this point; I’m not saying Tilly needed to stay behind for Stamets’ sake or anything. But just as it was sweet to see her with Burnham talking things out, I think we could have also enjoyed a quiet scene between Tilly and Stamets in which she at least said her goodbyes. As it is, we saw Stamets incredibly briefly as Tilly left the ship, but that was it.

Stamets was noticeably absent from Tilly’s story.

This is the second story in a row from which Stamets has been absent after he missed Gray’s incorporation last week. I confess I’m not exactly sure what’s going on there – whether it’s simply a case of writing/editing (Stamets actor Anthony Rapp confirmed on social media that at least one of his scenes this week had been cut) or whether there’s some other reason for the lack of Stamets in some of these stories. He has a deep connection with Adira, which made his absence from that story last week feel very odd, but he also has a friendship with Tilly – so again, his absence from her story aside from one mention right at the beginning makes it feel like there was something missing; someone else she needed to talk to before departing.

One thing that wasn’t made clear is this: what exactly is Tilly going to teach? I presume it must be something scientific; she can’t be lecturing on subjects like command, surely? Starfleet Academy has usually been presented as something akin to both a military officers’ training college and a civilian university – with different teachers for different subjects. Tilly has a scientific background, so presumably she’d teach something in that department. Or maybe Federation history… since she’s 1,000 years older than all of the cadets! Perhaps this is something we’ll see more of either later in the season or in that potential Starfleet Academy show.

Will we soon see Tilly back on our screens in another Star Trek series?

We haven’t even talked about Tilly’s mission! She and Adira led a small group of cadets on what was supposed to be a training mission – but in true Star Trek style, things didn’t go to plan. I confess at first that I felt sure the whole thing was either a setup or a simulation, especially because of the involvement of the mysterious Kovich. However, it doesn’t seem like that was the case; Tilly’s shuttle really did crash-land on an icy moon, and the monsters she and the cadets had to escape from were real.

It wasn’t clear how much time had passed since the season premiere, when we were first told that there would be a new intake of cadets, so we don’t really know how long these cadets have been together. However, I felt that some of the tension between them was a little forced. The whole point of Starfleet Academy, especially in a post-Burn galaxy, is to work together and pull in the same direction, yet we had exaggerated moments of drama and tension between the cadets that just didn’t feel natural even in that context.

Adira and Tilly with the trio of cadets.

Even if many people in the galaxy harbour prejudices or preconceptions about other races and people from beyond their homeworlds, why would anyone who felt that way apply to join Starfleet? Surely we should be seeing if not “the best of the best” then at least folks who are superficially willing to work together; it kind of felt like the cadets were from some semi-scripted reality TV show, the kind that deliberately chooses the most belligerent contestants with clashing personalities. In that sense, I didn’t really like any of the cadets.

They had to start from a place that would allow them to come together, and in particular that would allow Tilly to be the catalyst for their coming together, and I get that. But it just felt like Discovery, not for the first time, had taken things to an unnecessary extreme in order to accomodate this storyline, putting up one-dimensional characters who behave unnaturally solely for the sake of presenting Tilly with an obstacle and a point of contrast. The young actors who played the cadets did very well with the material they had, but their characters were written rather poorly, in my view, and none came across as feeling either like a natural character nor someone we’d expect to find at Starfleet Academy.

Cadets Harral (left) and Gorev didn’t get along at first.

The puzzle that lay before Tilly and her crew felt like it came right out of The Next Generation’s era, and I’m absolutely there for that kind of story! After the shuttle crash the group was unable to stay aboard, instead needing to climb out of the crash site to use their communicators – but were unable to use their technology. This angle definitely added a lot to the story, forcing Tilly and everyone else to think outside the box rather than being able to fall back on phasers, tricorders, and the like. Again, this feels like a story that could’ve come from any of the 24th Century Star Trek shows and was a great throwback to the franchise’s past.

On a personal note, I have to confess that I’m sad to see Tilly go. If the move is permanent, as it seems to be at this stage, her absence from Discovery will be noticeable going forward, even if Adira steps up to fill the void she leaves behind. I liked Tilly as a character so much that one of my cats is named Tilly (if you want to see a couple of photos of her, follow me on Twitter!). Tilly didn’t just fill that “young and eager” role that characters like Harry Kim, Nog, Hoshi Sato, and Wesley Crusher had in past iterations of the franchise. She was always more than just a character archetype. Tilly was strong in her own way, brilliant in her own way, and funny to boot.

Tilly’s departure is a bittersweet moment.

Across the show’s first three seasons we saw Tilly as a scientist and engineer, working with Stamets on the Spore Drive. We saw her as a friend to Michael Burnham and Saru in particular. We saw her passionate about helping the jahSepp in the mycelial network, and how she came to the aid of Po in the Short Treks episode Runaway. She grew and developed from an anxious cadet into a true Starfleet officer – and while she will undoubtedly make an excellent teacher to a new generation of cadets, her departure is a sad one. She may yet have a role to play either this season or in Star Trek’s future, and I look forward to that. But for now, it seems as though Discovery is moving on without her. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels a stab of sadness as a result.

Just like Discovery plans to do we’ll leave Tilly behind and move on to take a look at the rest of the episode. There was a secondary storyline that involved Captain Burnham, Saru, President Rillak, and Ni’Var’s leader T’Rina. We talked last week about contrivances and forced drama, and in this story I’m afraid we did get some of that for the second week in a row. At what was supposed to be the final moment of negotiations to bring Ni’Var back into the Federation, the Ni’Var delegation dropped a diplomatic bombshell that appeared to sabotage the entire thing.

The negotiations on Ni’Var.

Both the timing of this and the way it was pretty easily resolved feel rather contrived – and it begins to stretch credulity to think that neither the Federation nor Ni’Var negotiators could’ve come up with Captain Burnham’s “independent committee” solution on their own. It seems like the perfect compromise, allowing Ni’Var the backdoor they needed without compromising the Federation’s unity. Captain Burnham wasn’t the only person capable of proposing such a solution, and while her status as a citizen of Ni’Var and the Federation makes her well-qualified to serve, I have to ask if she’s the only citizen of Ni’Var who’s also in Starfleet at this point. It seems quite plausible that there are others, and thus her claim to be “uniquely” capable of coming up with this solution might be stretching the truth somewhat.

All that being said, these negotiations reminded me very much of the negotiations that my country, the UK, has been taking part in for much of the past five years. I don’t know whether this story was intentionally written as an allegory for Brexit, but it certainly felt like it had elements of that, and to my surprise it was handled in what felt like a mature way. Brexit, much like certain American political issues, divides opinion sharply, and it would be very easy for a story like this one to come down firmly on one side of the fence, presenting one side as morally right and the other as morally wrong. All Is Possible didn’t do that, and instead tried to find a way to cut through the political machinations of both sides before ultimately settling on a compromise.

Captain Burnham’s compromise can be read as a metaphor for our current divided political climate.

If we ever needed Star Trek to shine a light on contemporary issues through its sci-fi lens, we need it at the moment! There are so many divisive political topics, including Brexit, all across the world. What we’ve seen over the past decade or more are moves away from the political centre ground toward the extremes of left-wing and right-wing politics. The art of the political compromise has been lost in too many cases, and that’s a driving force for further division. Finding ways to compromise and to maturely understand that it isn’t always possible to have everything your own way is something politicians of all ideologies – and their supporters – need to understand, and Discovery delivered this message in a simple yet meaningful way.

It wasn’t the perfect story, as I’ve tried to explain. It had its contrivances that definitely felt forced. But at the same time, any British or European person can tell you that, having watched years of Brexit negotiations, such things aren’t as unrealistic as they might seem. Diplomats for both sides have, at times, seemed to be negotiating in bad faith, waiting to spring the next trap or throw in a new uncompromising proposal at the last minute. It’s a wonder that the Brexit negotiations got as far as they did, all things considered!

President T’Rina was happy with the proposed compromise.

So perhaps calling this story “contrived” was too harsh in light of what we’ve seen in the real world! Though I maintain it’s a story with some imperfections, it was an interesting one nevertheless. Star Trek has tackled many political issues in its long history, from nuclear proliferation to the teaching of religion in schools, but this is one of the first stories to really feature politicians and diplomacy as a key part of the narrative, with nakedly political considerations having to be taken into account by our heroes. That alone makes it a very interesting story.

It was wonderful to welcome Ni’Var back into the Federation after seeing how many worlds had quit the organisation last season. It definitely feels as though the Federation is now making significant strides in reforming; Ni’Var is the first of the “original” member worlds to rejoin as far as we know. Perhaps we’ll see Earth do the same one day soon? It would be a shame if Discovery left that particular storyline unresolved, especially after we saw how isolationist Earth had become in Season 3.

Ni’Var has rejoined the Federation!

President Rillak once again showed her almost Machiavellian political style; her willingness to lie and use truly underhanded tactics to get her way without revealing the extent of her meddling. By sidelining Admiral Vance and bringing in Captain Burnham and Saru, she was able to execute a hidden plan to bring Ni’Var back into the fold and negate their last-second demand. It was, all things considered, a brilliant tactical move on her part – and re-emphasises her uncompromising nature and willingness to bend or even break the rules to advance the Federation’s best interests.

Despite what appeared to be a détente between Captain Burnham and President Rillak toward the end of the episode, I hope Discovery’s captain keeps her wits about her. If we’ve learned anything about President Rillak over these four episodes, it’s that she sees everything and everyone around her as means to an end. Working with Captain Burnham was, in this instance, advantageous to her – but Rillak will throw Burnham into the fire, and Discovery along with her, if she believes it will help her cause or advance what she considers to be the best interests of the Federation.

Captain Burnham would be well-advised to beware of President Rillak… no matter how superficially friendly she’s currently being.

We haven’t seen President Rillak do anything completely immoral or “evil” just yet. And Discovery may choose to keep this nuanced presentation going all season long. I kind of hope that’s the case, because right now I’m loving President Rillak’s “ends justify the means” approach to governing. Chelah Horsdal plays the character expertly. But Rillak is the kind of character with whom a major confrontation feels increasingly inevitable – her moral ambiguity and Captain Burnham’s moral certainty feel like they’re on a collision course.

There was a third storyline this week that involved Book and Dr Culber. As with Stamets, Book found a new but fun pairing with Culber and I hope they revisit this character pairing in future; it would be great to see them socialising or doing something else outside of a therapy setting. There seemed to be a hint that Dr Culber might need help processing his own trauma – perhaps from his time trapped in the mycelial network – in future, and if so maybe Book could have a role to play there.

Dr Culber may need some help of his own one day.

The programmable matter that Dr Culber and Book turned into sand reminded me a lot of the sequence from Lower Decks Season 1 where a character is in the process of “ascending.” Maybe that was unintentional, and tonally these sequences could not be further apart! But it was interesting to see nevertheless – or perhaps I’m grasping at straws as I desperately hope for the producers of Star Trek to do more to bind the franchise together!

Grief and loss have been themes that Discovery hasn’t shied away from, but they’ve come to the fore this season. Book and Tilly’s stories both connect to this theme as they’re both experiencing different kinds of loss. In a sense, everyone aboard Discovery is in Book’s shoes – they’ve all lost everyone they ever knew apart from each other, albeit in very different ways. And we’ve seen different ways of coping with that loss. Book seems to have made a small breakthrough this week, and I hope we see that process continue.

Book spent this week’s episode in counselling.

Captain Burnham, in Season 3, seemed to rebel against the confines of Starfleet for a time. At first I called this a character regression, as I felt it risked dragging her back to her early Season 1 portrayal. But thinking about it again, through this lens of loss and grief, I think we can see that Burnham is processing the loss of her friends, her family, and the world she had to leave behind. She did so at first by seeking freedom, then later by reconnecting with her mother and reaffirming her relationship with Starfleet. In Tilly’s case, she couldn’t make that renewed commitment and has chosen to walk a new path. Book’s destination is still unknown as he’s still processing his own loss and grief – and I’m glad. What Book has gone through is almost unfathomable, and it wouldn’t feel right if this element of his story and characterisation were resolved too soon.

So that was All Is Possible. Tilly’s departure is by far the biggest thing to come out of the episode, and while there were some minor gripes with the way both Tilly and Burnham’s stories unfolded, ultimately they end up feeling like little more than nitpicks in what was a solid, thoroughly enjoyable episode. I’m glad to see Discovery sidestepping the main serialised story and being bold enough to give us these semi-standalone episodes. I have no doubt that some elements will come back into play later in the season, but for the most part what we got is a self-contained story – albeit one with huge implications for the series going forward.

Onward to new adventures.

Unlike when Nhan and Georgiou left last season, I’m not scrambling around wondering who will replace Tilly. That question has already been answered: Adira. However, her departure does potentially open up another space for a new crew member – and with noteworthy absences in departments like security and tactical, perhaps we could be set for someone new to be promoted. Gray is perhaps the most readily apparent choice, but there are great cases to be made for Detmer or Owosekun to get bigger roles on the bridge, as well as for the return of Nhan, or even for a new character to be introduced.

A few scattered final thoughts: is Kovich the head of Starfleet Academy now? Has he always been in that position? I don’t recall him being referred to as “doctor” last season, but he could be some kind of professor holding a PhD. That’s an interesting take on the character! At first I wondered if he was responsible for the shuttle going off-course… it seems like something he might do! Beginning the episode with a traditional captain’s log was awesome, and another great callback to past iterations of the franchise. I believe this was the first time we heard a 32nd Century stardate, too.

Kovich made his first appearance of the season.

It was neat to see the Season 3-style uniforms being used for some secondary characters. Season 3 of The Next Generation and the film Generations both showed that there’s a kind of transition period when uniforms are being changed over where not everyone has the new variants, and that seems to still be true in the 32nd Century. I was a little worried when Admiral Vance seemed to have been shuffled out of the story in favour of President Rillak – but it makes perfect sense. Vance isn’t a politician and wouldn’t be capable of doing the kind of things we saw Rillak doing this week. Nor would I want to see Vance go down that road. Finally, is there a blossoming romance between T’Rina and Saru? I certainly felt the show was hinting at something to come!

Although it was bittersweet to say goodbye to Tilly, All Is Possible was a good episode all around. It didn’t feel overcrowded, which episodes with multiple competing storylines sometimes can, it had some well-made visual effects particularly on Tilly’s away mission, and though the politicking was somewhat contrived in one respect it was still genuinely interesting to see Star Trek trying something different. I think for me, All Is Possible is the high point of Season 4 so far.

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, Google Play, 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 4, Episode 3: Choose To Live

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4. Spoilers are also present for Star Trek: Picard Season 1.

When we saw the first few episode titles for Discovery Season 4 a few weeks ago, I completely missed something huge. “Choose to live” is a Qowat Milat saying, a phrase used by Elnor in Star Trek: Picard Season 1 last year. That was an oversight on my part, and meant that my original analysis of the episode before the season premiered was way off-base. Oops!

Although Discovery Season 4 is now available on Paramount+ in Australia, Latin America, and Scandinavia, and in western Europe and a few other regions via Pluto TV, or to purchase via iTunes, Google, and Amazon, there are still too many Star Trek fans unable to watch the new season of the show. Fans in countries and regions that ViacomCBS believes don’t exist still have no (official) way to access the season, and with the painfully slow rollout of Paramount+ also skipping over large swathes of Africa, Asia, and other parts of the world, that’s very disappointing. In my own small way, I’ll continue to point this out and call on ViacomCBS to do more to fix this problem and bring Star Trek to every fan around the world.

Captain Burnham at the beginning of the episode.

Choose To Live feels like a mid-season episode. It advanced the season’s main gravitational anomaly storyline in a pretty minor way, but in its place gave several different characters episode-long storylines that may or may not connect to the season’s ongoing themes. There are some nitpicks that we’ll get into, particularly surrounding one of the main story elements, but overall Choose To Live was a solid episode with some deeply emotional moments and throwbacks to past iterations of Star Trek. With its three concurrent storylines, I even felt it was structurally similar to episodes of Lower Decks!

As someone who’s spent decades struggling with my own gender identity, it’s really only in recent times that I’ve felt comfortable to be open and “out” as non-binary. Thus it was Gray’s story that perhaps intrigued me the most on a personal, character-scale level as Season 4 approached. We were promised that Dr Culber, Stamets, and Adira wouldn’t forget about Gray, and that his quest to be “seen” would succeed.

Gray watches his new synthetic body being constructed.

I’m absolutely thrilled to see Gray in a corporeal body for the first time. The scene with Gray customising his synthetic body in last week’s episode was absolutely the episode’s emotional high point, leaving me in tears, and I was hoping to see Choose To Live continue that trend. But something about Gray’s story this time felt… rushed. And although it was supported by amazingly emotional performances by Wilson Cruz, Ian Alexander, and in particular Blu del Barrio – who put in their best performance in Discovery so far – I actually felt that something was missing.

It was only when Adira beamed aboard the KSF Khi’eth in the Season 3 finale that Gray was able to be seen by anyone other than Adira. The end of that episode kicked off Gray’s quest to become corporeal again, fully confirming that Gray is indeed “real” and not a figment of Adira’s imagination. The first episode of Season 4 didn’t really feature any part of Gray’s quest, and we got one scene last week; a wonderful scene, but a single scene. And then this time, across several deeply emotional sequences, but in an episode that was packed with other storylines running at the same time, Gray’s quest has already come to an end.

Gray’s quest to be seen has concluded.

Gray’s invisibility had been an analogy for how many transgender people – and I would posit from my own experience, many non-binary people too – feel invisible, either ignored by the world or having to hide our true selves from it. Overcoming that, and finally feeling free to openly live one’s life is not a fast or easy process, and as much as I respect Discovery for putting together a story like this, the way it concluded so early in the season has left me feeling a little hollow.

Firstly, Stamets had no involvement at all – despite being a big part of Adira and Gray’s family. Stamets has had precisely one scene with Adira so far this season, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in the premiere. It was great this week to see Stamets away from Discovery’s engineering lab for once; his being on Ni’Var was fun to see and another emotional story. But it was also noteworthy that he was absent not only from the scenes featuring Adira, Gray, and Dr Culber, but from their story as well.

Stamets was entirely absent from this story – even though it’s a huge moment for his family.

Here’s what I mean by that: Dr Culber didn’t mention Stamets. Adira didn’t mention Stamets. Gray didn’t mention Stamets. And Stamets didn’t mention any of them – not even a throwaway line about how he was nervous for Gray or upset to be missing such a big moment. He didn’t hesitate about going on the mission; his only moment of pause before going to Ni’Var was thinking about Book and how to spare him from reliving the trauma of Kwejian’s destruction.

Maybe all of this will play into some other storyline as the season runs along. I could foresee, for example, Dr Culber delivering a gentle rebuke to Stamets for getting so lost in his work that he didn’t even check in to see how things were going with Gray and Adira. But I could also see Discovery rushing right past all of this, setting the various characters on different paths and dropping them into different stories as the season rolls on.

Adira and Dr Culber waiting to see if the procedure will succeed.

I don’t want the show to turn something beautiful – Gray’s incorporation – into some kind of Stamets-Culber relationship drama. We had too much of that in Season 2 – and frankly, it did not work. But the show should try to acknowledge, somehow, what’s going on. Think about it this way: if you sat down to watch Choose To Live knowing nothing about Discovery, you wouldn’t know Stamets and Culber even knew one another, let alone are married. You wouldn’t realise that the connection between Adira and Stamets developed first; that Stamets had to tell Adira that he and Culber come as a “package deal.”

For a story about someone becoming whole again… an important person, part of their family, was missing. And combined with the fact that this storyline didn’t run as long or as deep as I might’ve expected it to, I’m left feeling a little empty at its conclusion. I’m absolutely thrilled by the prospect of Gray finally being able to interact with the rest of the crew, and to perhaps offer his services during future missions or playing a role in different stories. And when you pull Gray’s story back to his appearances in Season 3, we did get quite a lot of his invisibility. But I can’t shake the feeling that the entire thing has been shuffled out of the way a little too quickly so that Discovery can race ahead to other stories that it wants to tell.

Stamets’ absence from this story was noticeable.

In a similar way, we talked last week about how much of the work that Captain Burnham and the crew of Discovery had been doing to restore the Federation seems to have happened off-screen. We caught a glimpse of it at the beginning of the season premiere, but then the anomaly story took over. Likewise with Gray – much of the actual work involved to get to this point seems to have taken place off-screen, in the months between the Season 3 finale and the Season 4 premiere. I tried to argue last time that seeing the Federation being restored at a slower pace would have been absolutely worthwhile – and so it is with Gray. We saw the culmination of a longer process, but it would have been nice to see more of the process itself, partly because it’s interesting sci-fi and partly because it’s an analogy for something significant here in the real world.

Before we wrap up the Gray storyline, I want to again point out how outstanding Blu del Barrio was in Choose To Live. I’d enjoyed what del Barrio brought to Discovery in Season 3, but Choose To Live gave them an opportunity to show off a fantastic emotional range, and they absolutely nailed it in every single scene. I went on a rollercoaster with Adira – the anxiety and nervousness as the procedure began, fear and regret when Gray seemed lost, then relief and joy when Gray finally awoke. Blu del Barrio put in the best performance of the season so far, showed off their range as an actor, and made these sequences feel incredibly emotional. Despite my criticism of the somewhat rushed feel to the Gray storyline overall, Blu del Barrio’s performance elevated it and made it so much better than it otherwise would’ve been.

Blu del Barrio put in an outstanding performance this week.

Star Trek as a franchise is full of plot contrivances; story moments that don’t feel genuine because of some inconsistency or other. Some contrivances are bigger than others, though, and on Captain Burnham’s side of Choose To Live we ran into a whopper. I can believe, for the sake of the story, that J’Vini was unable to trust the Federation. After all, in the post-Burn galaxy, trust seems to have been difficult to come by, and Ni’Var isn’t a Federation member. But what feels so incredibly contrived in this storyline is that J’Vini was so unwilling to trust other members of the Qowat Milat that she was prepared to kill one of her own sisters.

If J’Vini was leading some rogue Qowat Milat splinter group, I guess we could argue that perhaps there’d been some kind of split within the order or something. But it was made crystal clear that J’Vini had hired mercenaries as part of her quest to defend the Abronians and their cryo-ship. It simply doesn’t make sense that J’Vini – a proud member of this ancient order – would trust mercenaries when she was unwilling to trust her own sisters, especially considering the stakes, and I find this particular aspect of the story to be incredibly contrived.

J’Vini’s story felt rather contrived.

The contrivance didn’t ruin this storyline, but it certainly detracted from it in retrospect. Looking past all of that, however, we got a genuinely fun adventure romp, one which took Captain Burnham away from the anomaly for a side-mission that, as things stand at least, feels disconnected from the overarching story of the season. In that sense, this part of Choose To Live feels a lot more like the episodic Star Trek stories of The Next Generation’s era. If you removed the Qowat Milat and Captain Burnham from this story, I could easily see it being one for Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D to have tackled!

It was great to welcome back Sonja Sohn as Dr Gabrielle Burnham. I stand by what I said in Season 3, though: the choice to make Dr Burnham a Qowat Milat nun still feels odd! The connection between J’Vini and Dr Burnham was perhaps less developed than it could’ve been; aside from a couple of lines of dialogue, we didn’t really get to see much evidence of their supposed closeness. J’Vini was, according to Dr Burnham, the Qowat Milat nun who nursed her back to health after her arrival in the 32nd Century… but I didn’t really feel that connection; the story seemed to rush past it.

Dr Gabrielle Burnham returned for a Qowat Milat story.

Dr Burnham’s line about how context matters when considering J’Vini’s actions was an interesting one – and it’s a notion that Discovery has tackled before. Context is for Kings was the title of the third episode of Season 1, and that episode began the slow process of rehabilitating Michael Burnham as a character after her failed mutiny attempt. Dr Burnham compares her support for J’Vini to Michael’s support for Spock in Season 2 – and Michael really doesn’t have a leg to stand on in arguing the point!

Tilly was a welcome addition to this side of the story, too. She got a great moment with Saru, sharing her feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and homesickness that she briefly talked about with Captain Burnham in the premiere and with Dr Culber last week. She got more of a chance to talk with Saru, and he tried to help both by giving her access to his plants, but most significantly by recommending her for the mission.

Tilly and Saru make for a great character duo.

Saru and Tilly make a wonderful pair – something Discovery’s writers found out at the beginning of Season 3. Because they’re such contrasting characters in terms of age, temperament, and even appearance, they don’t necessarily seem like a natural pairing. That may be why Seasons 1 and 2 didn’t feature a great deal of Saru and Tilly together. But their differences complement each other.

Saru has a great deal of faith in Tilly’s abilities – something he made clear in Season 3 when he named her as his temporary first officer. This confidence from someone senior, and someone she clearly respects, gives Tilly a boost of her own, and we saw that play out again this week. I think we can all relate to wanting to step out of our comfort zones – as Tilly does on the away mission – so her inclusion in this story was a great idea.

Tilly stepped far outside her comfort zone this week.

Tilly and Burnham also make for a great duo, and we got to see some of that on the away mission too. Ever since they came together early in Season 1, they’ve established a firm friendship and an intuitive way of working together. Tilly trusted Burnham even when she was told she’ll be “bait,” and I think that’s something significant. Tilly had often been seen as a kind of fearful or anxious character – so to put her faith in her commanding officer in such dangerous circumstances and execute a complicated plan was positive and uplifting to see.

We’ll have to cover this in more detail in this week’s theory post, but I think there’s more going on with the Tilly situation than meets the eye. Since the beginning of the season – and arguably toward the end of Season 3 as well – she’s had this unsettled, almost restless feeling that many people who’ve experienced anxiety can probably relate to. But whether that can be resolved through counselling and talking with friends like Saru is an open question at present. Saru gave Tilly the opportunity to get out of her comfort zone this week – but will she seek to permanently get outside of her comfort zone? And if so, what form might that take?

Tilly and Captain Burnham watch the Abronians colonise their new homeworld.

Captain Burnham took the initiative on this side of the story, figuring out what had happened to the Abronians and how to help them. As mentioned, I liked this story as it definitely had a Next Generation flair to it. The design of the Abronians as a non-humanoid race was also exceptionally neat, and I kind of wish we could’ve seen more of them – but perhaps we will! This is another point I’ll pick up in this week’s theory post, but I suspect that the Abronians have some kind of connection with the gravitational anomaly.

Did anyone else feel that Dr Burnham’s “this isn’t a moon” line had the faintest echo of Star Wars? I surely did! The revelation that the moon base was actually a giant starship was pretty neat, and its stone engines, carvings, and computer interfaces were well-designed and contributed to the feeling that Burnham and co. were inside a tomb or other ancient structure.

The Abronians’ moon-ship made great use of stone to feel ancient and otherworldly.

While we’re talking about designs, the beginning of the episode showed off a brand-new starship: the USS Credence. The Credence has a fantastic design, incorporating elements from several prior Starfleet vessels. I felt I could see callbacks to the Oberth-class and Constellation-class in particular through the alignment of the ship’s body and nacelles. It felt like a 24th or 25th Century ship in some ways – it wouldn’t have looked terribly out-of-place in the Dominion War or in the armada seen in the Picard Season 1 finale!

The ship’s internal design, however, is another matter. I freely admit that this feels like a nitpick, but when I sat down to watch Choose To Live, my sense of immersion was immediately knocked off-course by the fact that the USS Credence’s interior was a barely-disguised USS Discovery. Discovery has, on a couple of occasions, shown us some pretty poor set redresses. The Ba’ul prison cell in Season 2 was so obviously the transporter room set that it was painful – and here, in Choose To Live, we get a sequence supposedly taking place aboard the USS Credence that was clearly just the USS Discovery hallway set. I can’t even charitably call it a “redress” of the set, because basically nothing had changed. Would it have been difficult or expensive to create something at least slightly different to represent the dilithium chamber or cargo bay of the USS Credence? Doing so would have made this sequence so much more enjoyable.

The USS Credence.

Back on topic, and it was another somewhat contrived situation that J’Vini’s whole plan for stealing dilithium and murdering people was basically for the sake of stockpiling it “just in case.” That’s a somewhat timely message, perhaps, given the panic-buying and stockpiling we’ve seen during the pandemic! But it felt a little forced considering that her plan was basically to just sit aboard this cryo-ship and wait for the Abronians to awaken. Did she bother to investigate their computer system at all? It took Captain Burnham barely five minutes to figure out that the Abronians should’ve woken up already! Simply using logic and analysing the situation – even assuming J’Vini had zero computer skills – should have told her that they’d arrived at their destination and could be safely woken up.

However, setting the contrivances of the story aside, it was neat to see Captain Burnham and Tilly working so well together to solve the puzzle and help the Abronians awaken. Seeing them depart their moon-ship to colonise a new world was a powerful moment, and everyone involved – J’Vini, Dr Burnham, Captain Burnham, and Tilly – all played roles in ensuring it could happen. Saving an entire race from what could’ve been extinction is a huge victory, and Choose To Live played it well – even though it was taking place in the context of a smaller, character-focused story.

Captain Burnham helped save an entire race from the brink of extinction.

The way this story concluded was interesting, and I think it shows a pragmatic side to President Rillak that may come into play later in the season. She was willing to turn over J’Vini to the Ni’Var authorities because she believed that doing so was a gesture of friendship that may help sway Ni’Var into rejoining the Federation. Putting the big picture first – or the “needs of the many,” to use a Star Trek quote – was something Captain Burnham didn’t like to see in this instance, but it’s another example of President Rillak being on a different course from Burnham.

It seems clear that Ni’Var will indeed rejoin the Federation at some point this season, which will be great to see. So President Rillak’s politicking will probably pay off – but as Captain Burnham reminded her, it doesn’t come free, and the price in this instance was Federation justice being applied in J’Vini’s case. The hard-nosed political pragmatism of President Rillak makes her a very interesting character – not always playing fully on Burnham’s side, but thus far never as a direct antagonist either. She has her reasons for doing what she does, and she doesn’t care too much if Admiral Vance or Captain Burnham disagree with her. She’s confident in her authority and her decision-making – and I can’t wait to see how that plays out as the season progresses.

President Rillak is a fantastic, well-written character with genuine depth.

That brings us to Stamets and Book’s away mission to Ni’Var. As mentioned, it was great to see Stamets away from Discovery’s engineering bay; it seems like he spent most of Season 3 down there! And after last week, pairing up Book and Stamets again was a good idea. Discovery seems to have found a character pairing it likes in Book and Stamets!

What we saw with this Ni’Var story is the scientific method playing out. Stamets had a theory: that the anomaly is a “primordial wormhole.” He presented his theory to the Ni’Var scientists, who analysed it using their technology and meditative method. But it turned out to be wrong – something Stamets seemed to be fighting against, but arguably must’ve felt was a possibility. We’re still no closer to understanding the anomaly, but it’s another theory that Stamets can cross off his list.

The Ni’Var Science Institute debunked another of Stamets’ anomaly theories.

The interaction between Book and T’Rina was neat to see. Both Kwejian natives and Vulcans are, as T’Rina pointed out, emotional, empathic races. But they take completely opposite approaches to emotion: Kwejian natives draw on it, Vulcans try to suppress it. Book couldn’t learn Vulcan discipline as a way to overcome his grief, but by reliving his last moments on Kwejian he got a kind of cathartic emotional release.

It was painful to relive those memories with Book, and David Ajala put in a wonderfully complex performance. Book is feeling almost unimaginable grief – not just for his family, but for his whole race. Losing one’s home and family would be difficult and painful enough, but to be left as one of the few survivors of his people is something difficult to fathom. David Ajala brought those feelings to screen in an understandable way, and keeping the focus primarily on Book’s family – and his nephew in particular – gave focus to this deeply emotional story.

By reliving his memories, Book found some measure of peace.

Book is moving through the grieving process, and helped by his time on Ni’Var has now moved on, ever so slightly, from where we saw him last week. As Captain Burnham remarked at the end of the episode, he was able to do something – watch a holographic recording of Kwejian – that would’ve been too painful a few days earlier.

So that was Choose To Live. The main thrust of the season’s story was sidelined for the most part as Stamets saw another theory fall down. However, Captain Burnham got her own mission, one which felt like a throwback to past iterations of Star Trek in the best way possible. The return of Dr Burnham and the Qowat Milat was fun, and we got some great character moments with Saru, Tilly, the Burnhams, Book, Stamets, Gray, Dr Culber, and Adira.

Gray and Adira at the episode’s climax.

My only real criticism of Gray’s storyline is that I had expected Discovery to make more of it. The outcome was pitch-perfect, and what I think we had all hoped to eventually see. But there’s a feeling I can’t shake that this story concluded too early in the season – too soon after the events of That Hope Is You, Part 2 had kicked it off. Much of the legwork of figuring out how to help Gray – and his own agency over helping himself – seems to have happened off-screen in between Seasons 3 and 4, just like the dilithium deliveries and Federation rebuilding work. That might be fine… but it depends what happens next, and whether the stories yet to come in Season 4 can compensate for not seeing those things play out.

In Season 3, what I loved most about Adira’s story was that their coming out moment to Stamets was so low-key. Being non-binary in the 32nd Century shouldn’t be a big deal, and that moment captured the kind of optimistic tone of Star Trek’s future absolutely perfectly. Gray’s incorporation was always going to be more complex because of the technobabble side of things, but that gave it the potential to perhaps take into account the false starts and complex emotions that transitioning and coming out can elicit. Some of that was present in Choose To Live, and the payoff to that story was deeply emotional. But I can’t shake the feeling that it happened very quickly, and at a very early stage in the season. Perhaps Gray will go on to play a significant role now he can interact with everyone else – and that will be fantastic to see. I’m optimistic about future storylines… but also a little underwhelmed that the story I’d been most excited for has already concluded after a mere three episodes.

Next week we’ll be watching All Is Possible – and I have no idea what it could be about! Perhaps a return to a story all about the anomaly is on the cards after it took a back seat this week. In any case, I hope you’ll stay tuned for my updated theory list between now and Thursday and another review after I’ve seen All Is Possible next week.

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, Google Play, 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 13: That Hope Is You, Part 2

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

Thirteen weeks have just flown by, haven’t they? Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 premiered in the middle of October – right after Season 1 of Star Trek: Lower Decks came to an end – and now, just after New Year, it’s over. I have to say that I miss the twenty-plus episode seasons we used to get! But that’s just one way that television shows have changed since the 1990s, I suppose.

For the third week in a row, the title of the episode was changed from what had been previously announced. That Hope Is You, Part 2 was previously known as Outside, but immediately after There Is A Tide aired last week, the title was changed. That Hope Is You, Part 1 was the title of the season premiere, and while it seems odd on the surface to call the season finale the second part – especially considering the entire season has been one continuous story – it works well and bookends the season. As an interesting aside, we saw two different numbering styles used for the multi-part episodes this season. Terra Firma and Unification III both used Roman numerals to denote their parts, whereas That Hope Is You uses Arabic numerals. I wonder why that is?

Burnham in That Hope Is You, Part 2.

There Is A Tide was phenomenal last week, and I was hoping for more of the same from That Hope Is You, Part 2. My only real criticism last time was that there seemed to be an awful lot of story left for the finale to get through, and I speculated then that the season may end on a cliffhanger – but that wasn’t the case. The episode was the longest of the season by far, clocking in at almost an hour, and while I would say one of its two storylines probably could’ve used more screen time, That Hope Is You, Part 2 did a reasonably good job at wrapping everything up. It certainly exceeded Star Trek: Picard’s finale in that regard!

I had a great time with That Hope Is You, Part 2… well, for about three-quarters of it. The sequences aboard Discovery that focused on Book, Burnham, Tilly, and other crew members were action-packed and exciting, equalling the heights Discovery reached last week. But the sequences with Saru, Adira, Culber, and Su’Kal didn’t reach that level. This storyline was not my favourite part of either the episode or the season.

Culber, Su’Kal, Saru, and Adira aboard the Kelpien ship Khi’eth.

And we do have to consider the role That Hope Is You, Part 2 has as the season finale. As mentioned, my theory that the season may end on a cliffhanger did not come to pass, so every story thread we saw across the season that hadn’t already been completely tied up was supposed to find a resolution here. The Emerald Chain storyline, which had been teased as early as the premiere and more firmly established by the halfway point of the season, certainly was concluded. And though perhaps it needed more screen time, or needed its sequences spread out over three or four episodes instead of two, Su’Kal’s story was concluded too.

In both of these, though, as well as in the very short, almost blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scenes showing Ni’Var and Trill, we come to what is perhaps the episode’s big weakness. After the main stories – both of them – were more-or-less over, we got an epilogue of sorts that was about six minutes long. This epilogue told us about some incredibly important events, and as you may have heard me say before, it needed to show not tell. In a rapidly edited sequence, part of which was narrated by Burnham in voiceover, we saw or heard that: Trill had rejoined the Federation, Ni’Var was on the brink of doing so, the Emerald Chain has “fractured,” Saru is taking a sabbatical – if he hasn’t outright left Starfleet, Mr Sahil has become a Starfleet officer, Aurellio has maybe joined up with the Federation – but maybe not, Stamets was reunited with Adira and Culber, the Sphere data is safe, and finally, Burnham was promoted and has become Discovery’s new captain.

Burnham was promoted at the end of the episode.

None of these points are problematic at all – in fact, I adore all of them, and the sequence itself had me feeling genuinely emotional. But there was a lot of important story crammed into those final minutes, some of which I really wish had been expanded upon and given their own moment in the spotlight instead of just being briefly mentioned in this epilogue.

Also, this epilogue was the moment where other characters and stories from earlier in the season should have been included, surely? What about the denizens of the Colony from Far From Home, the humans in the Sol system from People of Earth, Nhan, who had been left alone aboard the USS Tikhov in Die Trying, or the people of Kwejian from The Sanctuary? I’m not saying the sequence needed more jammed into its six minutes, but it feels like this was the moment to at least acknowledge the stories that happened across the rest of the season considering That Hope Is You, Part 2 had already tipped its hat to the others mentioned above.

Nhan was absent from the episode and its epilogue – as were several other characters and factions from earlier in the season.

So we seem to have started at the end, which is a little strange! But never mind. Let’s look next at Su’Kal and the Burn. Discovery Season 3 did a lot of things right, and my initial concerns about a “post-apocalyptic” Star Trek series turned out to be largely unfounded. The sense of optimism and hope that are – in my opinion – fundamental parts of the franchise were missing from the bleak, post-Burn 32nd Century – but they were present in Burnham, Saru, the crew of Discovery, Admiral Vance, Booker, Sahil, and many other characters across the season. In that sense the story of the Burn was a success.

The event itself, however, and the resolution to it that we saw in Su’Kal and That Hope Is You, Part 2 just doesn’t sit right.

We’ll come to narrative in a moment, because my primary concern right now is the Burn’s real-world messaging. We have Su’Kal, a man with mental health problems and/or a learning disability, as the unintentional cause of the Burn. There is a sizeable stigma around mental health and learning disabilities here in the real world, and I just feel that Su’Kal being presented as the man who accidentally ruined much of the galaxy plays into some harmful stereotyping. Su’Kal comes across similar to Lenny, the rabbit-loving man from John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice And Men. It’s implied that Su’Kal is the way he is because of the environment he’s spent his life in, but even so, there’s an obvious literary parallel. Lenny ends up accidentally killing someone in that novel, because he doesn’t know his own strength and he doesn’t realise what he’s doing. Su’Kal has done the same basic thing, only on a much bigger scale.

Su’Kal causing the Burn is not devoid of real-world meaning.

The message this seems to send is what I find at least a little upsetting in 2021. Though Su’Kal is portrayed sympathetically – and I would credit Bill Irwin with a wonderful performance – the sympathy he elicits is more like pity. We look down at Su’Kal as a pitiable idiot, someone too dumb to know what power he had and what it could do. We look at him like we look at Lenny.

People with mental health conditions – a category into which I fall – don’t want pity, nor do people with learning disabilities. Yet Discovery is playing into century-old stereotyping that we really should be trying to move beyond. This season has seen some wonderful storylines that deal with complex issues, but its two attempts to depict mental health – with Su’Kal and Lieutenant Detmer in earlier episodes – just didn’t work. Detmer’s story got so little time that it was basically meaningless, despite being well-intentioned, and Su’Kal’s story just rubs me the wrong way. I feel that the decision to make the Burn the fault of someone in his position was the wrong one, and the message it sends is one I’m not comfortable with.

Su’Kal with Saru.

Su’Kal himself is one aspect of the Burn that I feel didn’t come across well, and I hope my explanation and reasoning make sense to you. But narratively too, the resolution to the Burn feels anticlimactic. There’s a disparity between the epic nature and scale of the Burn and the man who we now know is the cause of it. It feels like a non sequitur; that the Burn cannot logically follow from Su’Kal getting upset – or screaming, as Culber and Adira would explain.

As I said in my review of Su’Kal a couple of weeks ago, there is something uniquely “Star Trek” about this resolution to the Burn’s story. And from that point of view, as a storyline which is perhaps closer to fantasy than sci-fi, it doesn’t feel out of place in this fictional universe, not when you stand it up alongside the storylines of episodes from past iterations of Star Trek such as A Piece of the Action, Masks, Facets, or The Gift. There’s a weirdness to the Burn being a telepathic child’s scream that is, in a peculiar way, something you wouldn’t see outside of Star Trek. I count myself among many Trekkies for whom this weirdness is precisely what was appealing about Star Trek when I first saw it.

Su’Kal’s home for many years – the Kih’eth.

So in a sense, the story of these final few episodes as far as the Burn is concerned fits right in within a franchise that can give us the episodes mentioned above. The Gift, from Voyager’s fourth season, is actually a pretty good frame of reference, as it’s a story which shows Kes’ mental abilities. She’s able to propel a starship thousands of light-years with the power of her mind, and that’s not a million miles away from Su’Kal’s connection to dilithium.

But the Burn was not a single-episode story, nor the kind of one-off story fit for episodic television. Not only did it impact the entire season, but it will continue to have ramifications for Discovery’s fourth season, and for any future Star Trek series or films set in or around this time period. Furthermore, it was a mystery that had been teased for over a year, since the first trailer for Season 3 was shown in late 2019. Expectations had been built up over thirteen episodes, and arguably for more than a year before the season premiered. As much as I can respect the Burn and Su’Kal and their place in the greater Star Trek canon, unfortunately those expectations were not met – at least not for me.

The Burn was set up as a huge and apocalyptic mystery.

The disconnect between the devastating Burn and the small Su’Kal is just too big a gap to bridge at the end of a season that has been so dominated by this one event. It makes sense, and I get it – it’s not that the Burn’s explanation is somehow incomprehensible – and I’m incredibly pleased that the writers chose to make sure the Burn did receive an explanation instead of trying to brush it aside and say it doesn’t matter. But the explanation that we got is one that I feel was weak.

The story of Su’Kal being trapped alone in a disintegrating holo-world, and Saru coming to his rescue is one that could have worked as another of Season 3’s semi-standalone stories, like Georgiou’s illness and trip to the Mirror Universe. It didn’t need to be connected in any way to the Burn in order to be emotional and significant; it was a good story all on its own. By tying it to the Burn and by saying that this is the cause of the Star Trek galaxy’s biggest and worst catastrophe, the overarching story of the season has unfortunately come to an underwhelming end.

The holo-world with its monstrous inhabitant was a very “Star Trek” story in many ways.

It almost feels like the writers and producers came up with the effects of the Burn and how the galaxy would look in its aftermath, and only then tried to come up with a cause. In the best post-apocalyptic stories and the best mystery stories aren’t written that way; Agatha Christie didn’t start by writing the murder and decide on a murderer later, and the Burn should have worked the same way. I’m not saying I know for a fact that they did it this way, but it certainly has that feel. The sheer randomness of the Burn may have been intended to be a shock or a surprise, and the disconnect between the scale of the event and the single individual who caused it may likewise be intentional – but it wasn’t successful.

Because the Burn is really quite unlike any other storyline in Star Trek, it arguably needed a better and more substantial payoff. I’m not saying that it needed to have one of the causes that I speculated about before the season began, nor am I saying that my disappointment and sense of being underwhelmed comes from a fan theory not being met. Instead what I’m saying is that the ultimate explanation needed to be something more than the scream of an upset child.

A recording of the moment the Burn occurred.

Finally on the Burn, its cause was only really explained in a handful of technobabble-heavy lines of dialogue. In Su’Kal, Burnham and Dr Culber had a couple of lines each, and this week Culber and Adira likewise had a scant handful of lines in which they tried to explain what happened. None of these lines of dialogue were bad – though a couple were perhaps heavy on exposition – but combined with the already-underwhelming narrative, the fact that the season’s biggest mystery was resolved with such little discussion again makes it feel as if it were an afterthought instead of the most significant storyline we’ve been watching.

There were some things to like, though. Guest star Bill Irwin put in a wonderfully complex performance as Su’Kal, showing a range of emotions as he wrangled with the idea that his entire life was changing. Despite my criticisms of the mental health aspects of Su’Kal’s story, one thing the writers managed to convey very well was the sense of isolation and loneliness that many people with mental health issues feel. I’ve been in Su’Kal’s shoes, feeling trapped and fearful, and from that point of view the depiction was something understandable and that did a good job conveying its message. Though the current state of the world wasn’t known at the time Season 3 was being written and filmed, there’s also a strong metaphor in someone who feels trapped, isolated, and disconnected, stuck in an artificial world. Many people watching in 2021 can sympathise with Su’Kal far more than they would’ve been able to a year ago.

Many people in 2021 feel trapped and isolated, making this a timely metaphor.

Saru and Dr Culber were both highlights of this storyline too. Both got the chance to show off their sympathetic sides, and while Saru was the focus, as he was someone who had more of a connection to Su’Kal, Dr Culber contributed too. Su’Kal’s ability at the end of the story to push through his fears and to understand what had happened was a result of both of their efforts. Adira didn’t interact much with Su’Kal himself, but it was an inspired choice to put them in this side of the story. I feared that Adira may have been shuffled away to the dilithium planet simply to give Stamets more of an intense emotional reaction, but they contributed to the story both by bringing the lifesaving medication and by helping the others work through some of the puzzles.

Gray becoming corporeal for the first time was also a fun part of the story on the dilithium planet. Having been a phantom presence all season, it was great to see Gray finally able to interact not only with the “real world” but also with other characters. Gray’s presence has yet to be explained – and it was left completely unclear as of the end of the episode whether Gray has been given a new holo-body or if he has returned to being someone only Adira can see. But Gray, despite really only participating in one sequence, did well in That Hope Is You, Part 2, and I hope his status is clarified so he can have a role in Season 4.

Gray and Adira.

So the Burn and the action on the dilithium planet was the side of That Hope Is You, Part 2 that I felt was weakest. Now we come to the bulk of the episode, and I’m happy to say that I had a whale of a time with Burnham, Book, Tilly, Admiral Vance, and everyone else.

Scenes aboard Discovery played out like an action film for the second week in a row. There were some clichés, a couple of confusing moments, and one rather awkward line, but even so it was action-packed fun. Star Trek can do action very well, and it surprises me in some ways to see Trekkies criticising Discovery or the Kelvin timeline films for being “brainless action,” then turning around to heap praise on The Wrath of Khan or First Contact. That Hope Is You, Part 2 was up there with those films and other action-heavy stories in the franchise, and it’s one of the better examples of how Star Trek can be an action-sci fi franchise when it chooses to be.

What was great about this part of the episode’s story, considering how much of a Burnham-cenrtic show Discovery can be, is that other characters got to take turns being the action hero. We certainly got to see Burnham in that role, and perhaps if she’d been alone it would’ve continued the trend of making her, and her alone, the show’s focus. But Tilly and Book in particular got big moments that not only put them at the centre of the action, but gave them genuine agency over the story, driving it forward. Burnham played one role in a larger story as the crew struggled to regain control of the ship – and that’s something the show needs to do more of!

Tilly in command of the bridge crew.

Burnham’s mission to the data core would have been useless had Tilly and the bridge officers not been able to force the ship out of warp, and if Book hadn’t been able to defeat Zareh she would have had a much harder time. So both of them got significant roles to play – even if we could argue that, narratively speaking, it would have been nice to see Tilly be the one to kill Zareh.

I just can’t bring myself to criticise Zareh’s death, though! Book has a loving attachment to Grudge, the beautiful cat who we’ve seen as a constant presence aboard his ship this season. And when Zareh threatened Grudge I got genuinely angry with him, so to see Book use that moment to regain his strength and send Zareh falling to his doom was incredibly satisfying and more than a little emotional. I have several cats, and they’re incredibly sweet animals. No one should threaten a kitty, so Zareh got exactly what was coming to him. And Book’s action hero quip as Zareh fell from the turbolift capped the sequence off perfectly. I honestly can’t fault it. Book got his heroic moment, the creepy, evil Zareh got a fitting end, and Grudge is safe! What more could you want?

“She’s a queen!”

The second action hero quip was Burnham’s, and it just didn’t quite stick the landing in the same way! As Osyraa pushed Burnham into a wall of programmable matter in the data core, she said that she “already tried that [negotiating] with Vance. I won’t make that mistake again!” and then, moments later when Burnham shot and killed her, she responded by saying “Yeah, well… unlike you… I never quit.” And I honestly burst out laughing, because the response to Osyraa was just so unrelated to what she’d said a moment earlier. It feels like it was written in response to a totally different line, and it doesn’t seem to make sense in context of what Osyraa said. Osyraa never mentioned quitting, she never said that Burnham should quit, or that she had quit doing something… so it just doesn’t follow. It’s a non sequitur. The writers wanted to give Burnham an action hero line, but unlike Book’s, which is almost his catchphrase any time someone talks about Grudge, Burnham’s just didn’t make sense.

In fact it reminded me of that moment in Family Guy where they make a big joke about action movie lines. Peter Griffin uses the famous line from Lethal Weapon 2: “it’s just been revoked,” but does so in completely the wrong context. And that’s kind of how Burnham’s line felt here. That might be due to script rewrites and revisions but even so, more attention should have been paid to this line. If we’re comparing That Hope Is You, Part 2 to an action film, this was the climax of the hero-versus-villain story, and if they wanted to give Burnham a hero quip to round it off… it needed to at least make sense in context. And I know that picking on one line is a minor thing. Compared to how well the storyline as a whole worked it’s incidental, but I wanted to highlight it as it made me laugh in the moment.

“It’s just been revoked!”

There are a couple of points from this side of the story that I feel may be prone to criticism, and I want to look at each in turn. First is the sequence in the turboshafts – or rather, in the large empty space beyond the corridors on some of Discovery’s decks. This is new to Star Trek, and while there are spacious areas inside some starships that we’ve seen – particularly in engineering sections – I can foresee that some fans may feel that this huge area isn’t what they expected the inside of the ship to look like. While I don’t personally have an issue with it, and I would suggest it may be connected to engineering, the Spore Drive, or programmable matter as explanations for the large spacious area, I didn’t want to ignore this point, as it does represent a change to how starships in general – and the USS Discovery in particular – have usually been shown.

The second point is Book’s ability to fly the ship. I would argue that Aurellio, Tilly, and Stamets have all set up this moment at points throughout the season, hinting at ways to expand the Spore Drive beyond Stamets, so I don’t think it came from nowhere. I do think, however, that we could have seen a little more of Aurellio talking about or even just mentioning the possibility for empaths to connect to the mycelial network. There was an opportunity for him to have done so last week when he and Stamets talked for some time about Spore Drive options – this would certainly have better set up what was to come. As a story point, though, I don’t dislike it, and perhaps a second Spore Drive can be created for another Starfleet vessel as a result. Other members of Book’s tribe or race may even be able to join up with Starfleet to serve as Spore Drive operators, and even if only Book and Stamets can use it, well at least Discovery now has a backup!

The interior of the USS Discovery.

Osyraa fell into the Bond villain trap of leaving the crew to be killed slowly and then rushing off to do something else. While Tilly, Owosekun, Detmer, Bryce, Rhys, and random dark-haired bridge officer (what happened to Nilsson?) were slowly suffocating, they managed to come up with a plan to regain control of the ship. Burnham gave Tilly an instruction via the intercom and Tilly rallied the crew to set off a bomb in one of the nacelles – knocking Discovery out of warp.

I’ll forgive the minor contrivance of Osyraa leaving them to suffocate. It’s the kind of thing I could imagine her doing, and again if we’re using the action film analogy, it’s something we see often enough. Tilly remained in control of her officers, and handled herself well in what were undeniably difficult circumstances. Her line to them that they didn’t need to join her on what looked to be a suicide mission was very much something we could imagine other Star Trek captains saying – and indeed we have seen other captains in the past telling their senior officers that a mission is voluntary. Despite losing the ship to Osyraa, Tilly stepped up and was a big factor in being able to regain control of it.

Osyraa in command of Discovery.

My only criticism of this side of the story is that the stakes were lowered significantly when no one was killed. Even when it seemed as if Owosekun wouldn’t survive the explosion, a last-second intervention by the Sphere data in one of the remaining DOT 23 robots saved her life. Since returning to the small screen in 2017, Star Trek has not been shy to follow the trail blazed by some other big television projects – like The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones – and kill of major and secondary characters. Star Trek: Picard Season 1 had a pretty big death toll of both new and legacy characters – yet no one at all died in this storyline, despite the superficial dangers posed to the crew. In fact, Ryn was the only casualty on the heroes’ side all season.

Killing a character for shock value or just for the sake of it is not what I’m advocating. But over the last decade or so, the well-executed death of a major or secondary character can add to the stakes of a storyline, making it clear that there is significant danger and emphasising to the audience that quite literally anything could happen. In Star Trek: Discovery, being a major character seems to provide a degree of plot armour, and that risks dropping the tension at some of these key moments.

It seemed for a moment as if Owosekun wouldn’t survive, but she did. And so did every other hero character.

I was pleased to see that Aurellio – the scientist working for Osyraa – wasn’t on board with her methods. But this was one point where perhaps an extra minute or two was needed to show him firmly break away from her and the Emerald Chain and join up with Burnham and the crew. After making his protest and being rendered unconscious, Aurellio didn’t really have much of an opportunity to do or say anything else. We saw him briefly on the bridge later on, but that was it. This character had been set up so well last week that his significantly reduced role this time was just a little disappointing. Hopefully we can see more of Aurellio in Season 4 and beyond.

That Hope Is You, Part 2 went out of its way to show Osyraa at her worst, in order to make her irredeemable and justify Burnham killing her later on. Torturing Book was a big part of that, and the sequence in which she and Zareh used the mind control device first introduced a couple of weeks ago as an implement of torture was truly gruelling to watch – in the best possible way! Both David Ajala and Sonequa Martin-Green put in outstanding performances, and I wanted to highlight how well they played their roles. It’s easy to either under- or over-sell such an extreme moment – both in terms of the pain experienced by the victim and the emotional turmoil their partner is going through when forced to watch – but both actors hit the sweet spot and were pitch-perfect.

Book was tortured in That Hope Is You, Part 2.

Admiral Vance, Lieutenant Willa, and Kovich had some short but interesting moments at Federation HQ as they organised the defence of their base against the Emerald Chain. I was concerned for Vance in particular – if no one aboard Discovery were to be killed, I thought he was probably the writers’ main target! There was organised chaos at Federation HQ as Discovery, under Osyraa’s command, ran amok inside. It was really neat to see the ships battling within this confined space at the beginning of the episode, as well as seeing Osyraa know just where to hit the base to take down its shield wall.

The arrival of the fleet from Ni’Var was one of those stirring emotional moments up there with the arrival of the Kelpiens and Klingons in the Season 2 finale, Riker showing up in the Picard Season 1 finale, or the Enterprise-E sweeping in to battle the Borg in First Contact. I adored this moment, and it felt like the beginning of the Federation coming back together – a payoff to Burnham and Saru’s diplomatic efforts throughout thr season. It was a little early in the story, perhaps, but there’s no taking away from the fantastic way it felt when the fleet arrived.

Admiral Vance watches as the N’Var fleet arrives.

A couple of weeks ago, I said that the end of the season seemed formulaic and obvious – save or neutralise Su’Kal to prevent a second Burn, retake Discovery from Osyraa, and use the dilithium in the Verubin Nebula to power and reunite the Federation. And although I didn’t predict how exciting and action-packed that storyline would be, I was right. The end of the season was mapped out in Su’Kal, and Discovery stuck to the path. Not every show has to have twists and turns and shockingly unexpected moments, but I was still hopeful, even as That Hope Is You, Part 2 entered its final moments, that something different may have come along to shake things up.

For all the reasons given above, the Burn is the least interesting and most underwhelming part of both the season and its finale. However, despite that, I had a truly great time with That Hope Is You, Part 2. It’s true that the story unfolded exactly how I would have expected it to for the last two weeks, and it’s also the case that there were some tropes and clichés along the way. But there’s a reason why these action-oriented stories work, and That Hope Is You, Part 2 hit all the right notes in that regard. It was a solid, incredibly fun, action-packed episode of Star Trek.

Burnham assuming command of Discovery has been a goal that the series has been trying to reach since Season 1. Shuffling Saru off to Kaminar with only a brief explanation would not have been my first choice for getting there, because I feel his character deserved more respect than that. But that’s where we are – Captain Burnham. Her stupid disobeying of orders in the episode Scavengers and her struggle to come to terms with that in Unification III do undeniably undermine her ascent to the captaincy. And perhaps we need to step back when the dust settles and look at Burnham across all three seasons to see whether she really meets the criteria. Right now though, as of the time I’m writing this, her becoming captain not only works well, but it feels great too.

Starfleet has always been willing to bend the rules to accommodate talent; it’s a meritocratic organisation. Admiral Vance made his reasoning plain: Burnham may not always follow the exact letter of the rules, but she follows their spirit. She’s willing to make changes and sacrifices to adapt to the moment she’s in, and those are certainly strong qualifications for becoming a captain. Captains Kirk and Janeway in particular bent or broke the rules numerous times, and Picard, Archer, and Sisko were not immune to that either. Knowing how and when to work around the rules is part of what has always made for a great Starfleet captain. Burnham has that ability – and we’ve seen across all three seasons that she’s a natural leader, too.

“Let’s fly!”

The crew want to follow Burnham. They respected Saru, of course, but they love Burnham and they’re willing to follow her literally anywhere – or to any time. There are lingering issues which I hope will be picked up in Season 4 – notably with Stamets, who still seems unhappy with Burnham after she kicked him off the ship last week. But everyone else is fully on board with Captain Burnham, ready for her to lead them on to new adventures.

Where I criticised her earlier in the season for her lack of commitment to Starfleet, that has been resolved too. She felt that she might no longer fit in within the rigid confines of a Starfleet rulebook and uniform, but it turns out that she has at least some freedom to bend those rules to achieve important goals. And that does not come from nowhere. She earned that right across all three seasons of the show. She can be selfish, and she can be overly emotional, and as we saw in the Season 1 premiere she can be a complete idiot. But with a crew around her to support and advise her, with Book by her side as an emotional foundation, and having settled into her position in Starfleet, I can’t fault Admiral Vance – or Star Trek: Discovery – for putting her in the captain’s chair.

Burnham takes her seat in the captain’s chair for the first time.

If you’d told me three or four weeks ago that I was going to say that, I would never have believed it! But that is the strength of the second half of the season. Beginning really with The Sanctuary and running through to the season finale this week, Burnham has grown in leaps and bounds and the series has put in the work to make it feel that she earned her promotion. Where I called her arrogant and selfish I can now see a character with strength and commitment, and that’s not only because she has seen this character development, it’s also because Discovery took at least some of the focus away from her and allowed other characters to shine.

Discovery isn’t an ensemble show, but giving some significant plot threads to characters other than Burnham and spending time with them instead of largely with her has contributed to getting her to where she is at the end of the season finale. There was a sense in some earlier episodes that no other character would be allowed to do anything other than ride on Burnham’s coattails, and I was pleading with the series to allow someone else to do something of consequence… and then it happened. And not only was the show itself better for it, but so was Burnham. Freed from being the “chosen one” who was somehow destined to play the only significant role, her victories truly feel like her own. She accomplished a lot, not just this week but across the latter part of the season, and the work put into developing her character, stabilising her, and getting her ready for a leadership role ultimately paid off.

Burnham and the crew are ready for their next adventure.

There are, as noted, open questions at the end of That Hope Is You, Part 2. Saru’s status is perhaps the biggest, but I’d also like to know what became of Nhan and whether Earth has been in touch with the Federation. But those questions will have to be left for Season 4 to answer – whenever that may come.

So that was That Hope Is You, Part 2. And that was Star Trek: Discovery Season 3. For the first time in almost six months, there’s no new Star Trek to talk about! But don’t despair, because I still have to bring my Season 3 theories to a close. In addition, over the next few weeks I’ll take a look at the season as a whole, the Burn, Burnham herself, and other things we learned over the last few weeks.

There is more Star Trek just over the horizon – Lower Decks Season 2 may be coming out this year, and will finally get its international broadcast in just a couple of weeks’ time. We also have Prodigy to look forward to this year all being well. And you can bet that there’ll be news about Picard, the Section 31 series, Strange New Worlds, and other Star Trek projects coming before too long. It’s a wonderful time to be a Star Trek fan! Despite some gripes with part of its story, That Hope Is You, Part 2 was a great way to bring to an end this season and to the 23 weeks of Star Trek we’ve been lucky to enjoy.

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 12: There Is A Tide…

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

For the second week in a row, there was a last-minute change in the title of an episode. Previously known as The Good of the People, this week’s episode was retitled There Is A Tide… which is a line from Shakespeare. It’s been a long time since I studied the great bard, but this line is taken from a longer passage in Julius Caesar in which the character Brutus speaks of missed opportunities and the need to seize the “high tide” of life; acting when the moment presents itself or missing out and never achieving greatness. Epic stuff, right?

Last week Su’kal left me with mixed feelings, and I said that we needed to see its storylines play out to their conclusion before delivering final judgement. Despite that, I was critical of the technobabble explanation given for the Burn, as well as how easily Discovery was captured by Osyraa. I felt the final act of the season risked becoming formulaic, and its storyline may have been telegraphed ahead of time.

I wasn’t completely sold on Su’kal last week.

There Is A Tide was an action-packed thrill ride from start to finish, with some gut-wrenching choices for Burnham and Book as well as some desperately-needed development for the villainous Osyraa. I’m not 100% sure all of it made perfect in-universe sense; why, after all, would Osyraa take hostages if she sought an armistice? But aside from that, it was a thoroughly enjoyable episode.

What it lacked, though, was any advancement of last week’s primary story: Su’kal, the Burn, and those left behind in the nebula. With only one episode left, we need to have those storylines wrapped up in addition to the Emerald Chain-Federation conflict as well as seeing our crew retake the ship. Or do we? Could Discovery be setting up a big season-ending cliffhanger? Right now that feels like a real possibility. Beginning with The Next Generation’s Season 3 finale, The Best of Both Worlds, Star Trek has seen fourteen seasons end in such fashion – including Season 2 of Discovery.

Aurellio and Osyraa.

As great as There Is A Tide was, it’s worth acknowledging the absence of any advancement of the Su’kal-Saru-Verubin Nebula story. It absolutely could be because there’s a feature-length episode or cliffhanger to come next week, but if that doesn’t happen I’m concerned that There Is A Tide has left the season finale with a huge amount of narrative to get through. I criticised the twopart finale of Star Trek: Picard for rushing too much and skipping over potentially interesting story threads, and I really hope Discovery won’t have the same issue.

There Is A Tide sidesteps the Burn altogether. While the event was discussed – notably by Osyraa and Admiral Vance – the Burn once again was not centre-stage. If there is to be any hope of a proper resolution to what has been the biggest mystery of the season beyond the couple of lines of technobabble we got last week, next week’s episode has a lot of work to do. And that really summarises my concern: taken as a standalone piece, There Is A Tide was non-stop excitement, action-packed, and fantastic… but by the end of its forty-six minutes, there remains a lot of work to do in terms of narrative.

Burnham led an action-packed story in There Is A Tide

So that’s enough about what may or may not happen in terms of the narrative structure next week. Let’s get into what There Is A Tide did right. First up, Osyraa. In her two appearances thus far, Osyraa has been flat, one-dimensional, and boring. Worse, she appeared to go from an easily-defeated cardboard cut-out adversary to a completely overpowered supervillain in between her two appearances. I didn’t find her compelling or even interesting; with no motivation beyond “I’m evil and I like it” she was just as bad as – if not worse than – Mirror Georgiou.

There Is A Tide changed that. Though some issues with Osyraa remain, the episode expanded on her character in a huge way, giving her a lot to do and showing off some genuine complexity and nuance. I’m not fully sold on her plan – which seems to have been to capture Discovery and use the ship and crew as leverage to force the Federation into… an alliance? But the way she went about it, both on the ship and at Federation HQ in her meeting with Vance provided some sorely-needed interest to her character.

Osyraa finally got some character development.

We knew from Ryn a few episodes back that the Emerald Chain was running out of dilithium, and it’s this shortage that forced Osyraa to the negotiating table. While we don’t see the precise nature of her proposals, Admiral Vance considered it impressive that she was willing to offer such terms. Her motivation for doing so is, as the episode’s original title suggests, “for the good of the people.” Osyraa’s plan seemed to offer a trading arrangement and non-aggression pact with the Federation, and she made reference to one former Federation outpost that has already been trading with the Emerald Chain.

There are a couple of points from Admiral Vance’s response to consider, and both have to do with putting principles ahead of being practical. Burnham, as we’ve seen through her actions this season, is very much someone who will work around regulations and rules where necessary to get the right outcome – the ends justify the means. Vance, on the other hand, keeps his principles even if it means problems for himself and the Federation. Firstly he scuppers the deal by adding a requirement he knew Osyraa could not agree to – her standing trial for what he regards as her crimes. But secondly, and perhaps most interestingly, he allowed Osyraa to leave.

Admiral Vance rejected Osyraa’s proposal.

Organisations like the Emerald Chain – at least, the way it has been presented thus far – are often cults of personality, where a strong leader has all the power and influence. As we have seen many times both in history and fiction, the removal, arrest, or even embarrassment of such a leader can bring down their entire organisation. And so it is with Osyraa. If Vance had arrested her, detained her aboard Federation HQ, her underlings wouldn’t know what to do. It would have given him leverage to negotiate the release of Discovery and the crew, and it wouldn’t have done any harm to Federation-Chain relations given that the treaty was already a non-starter.

But I’m not criticising his decision as a narrative point. I think what we have with Vance is a contrast, not only to Burnham but to the way Saru was acting last time – both are impulsive, emotional, and bending the rules. Vance is steadfast – the Federation’s ideals and principles are not to be compromised, even if that means making life harder for himself and the Federation. While Burnham’s storyline in There Is A Tide is far more exciting, I would argue that Admiral Vance is the one who best embodies what Starfleet and the Federation are all about.

The negotiations were short.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what the story of Season 3 has tried to be about? Rediscovering Starfleet’s values and placing them front-and-centre. That’s what Saru has tried to do with Earth, Trill, Ni’Var, Kweijan and so on. It seems at least plausible that these forces may come to the Federation’s aid if there’s a battle or war – like the Kelpiens and Klingons did against Control at the climactic fight in Season 2. If they do show up, it will be because they were inspired by Saru, Vance, and the principles they stick to.

On the other hand, as Burnham and other main characters have shown throughout Discovery’s run, rigid adherence to rules and principles isn’t always the right way to go. Compromise is sometimes needed – and Vance bottled a chance to do so. There’s a real-world message here, one which is a little odd given the polarising times we live through: moral absolutism is okay. Recent political events have reminded us of the need for compromise and to find ways to bridge the gap, yet Discovery seems to be saying that it’s fine to stick to idealism even if that means division and fighting continue.

Vance offered Osyraa terms that he knew she could never agree to.

Perhaps that’s enough politics for now! One character I loved in There Is A Tide was Aurellio, a man with a fittingly Shakespearean name! When it was announced before the beginning of the season that Kenneth Mitchell, who had played Kol in Season 1, Tenavik in Season 2, and a couple of other characters both in Discovery and Lower Decks, would be returning, I wasn’t sure how it would work. Mitchell has recently been diagnosed with ALS (motor neurone disease). There was no way for the series to ignore that – Mitchell uses a wheelchair now – but I was hopeful to see a character and storyline that treated disability respectfully. As you may recall if you’re a regular reader, I’m disabled myself.

I adored Aurellio, and Mitchell’s performance in the role. The way the series incorporated his standing-wheelchair was tasteful and sweet, and Aurellio being disabled was neither ignored nor tokenistic. The fact that Aurellio has – as he puts it – “a genetic defect” was not the only aspect to his character, who comes across as a scientist or technocrat who is unaware of the extent of the criminality and depravity of the organisation he works for. Shielded from the day-to-day running of the Emerald Chain, Aurellio is – perhaps wilfully but perhaps not – able to concentrate solely on his work.

Aurellio was a wonderful new character and a great addition to the season’s story.

Though this will not sound like a compliment, I regard Aurellio as being Albert Speer – or at least, the public persona claimed by Speer after 1945. There are people like Aurellio even in the worst organisations and regimes – blind to the worst aspects, focused only on their own small work. Often in these stories, a character like this will step up once their eyes are opened to what’s going on beyond the confines of their laboratory – and perhaps that’s something we’ll see next time or in a future story. I’ll save discussions of Aurellio’s possible future for my theory post.

Aurellio was tasked with working on the Spore Drive – though it remains unclear how the Emerald Chain came to know as much about it as they do. To that end he was teamed up with Stamets, and their tête-à-tête in Engineering was fascinating to watch; both Mitchell and Anthony Rapp put in outstanding performances during this sequence.

The conversation Stamets and Aurellio had was riveting to watch.

The plan Aurellio had to try to recreate the DNA of the tardigrade seems to have merit – or at least no less merit than any other technobabble in Star Trek. Perhaps with Stamets’ support it could be taken more seriously both by Starfleet and the Emerald Chain. Stamets objected, saying he believes it is not possible and that the tardigrades are extinct – but neither of those claims are supported by on-screen evidence. We’ve seen tardigrades referenced as recently as December 2019 in the Short Treks episode Ephraim and Dot. The nature of that story’s relationship to canon is not clear – but tardigrades are still alive and kicking within the Star Trek mythos, at least.

Earlier in the season Tilly was said to be working on a plan for a non-human navigator to replace Stamets; this is something that, while never followed up on, would have allowed the Spore Drive to perhaps be rolled out to other vessels. It’s understandable why Stamets wouldn’t want to discuss any of this with Aurellio – but we’ve seen in the past that he’s very happy to talk about his creation with other scientists.

Will Aurellio’s plan work?

Besides the plot-heavy conversation about the Spore Drive, two things stuck with me from the Aurellio-Stamets conversation. First was that Aurellio mentioned several times that he’s in a relationship and has children. Stamets figures out he’s in a relationship with “an Orion” – it’s not unreasonable to assume that this person could be Osyraa herself, but we’ll save that for my theory post! Next was that Stamets claimed to have a child of his own. Since, as far as we know, Stamets and Culber do not have any children, this appears to be a reference to Adira, which was incredibly sweet. There has been a parental vibe between Stamets and Adira for much of the season, so for Stamets to say it aloud here was wonderful.

This would go on to be at the heart of the Stamets-Burnham argument later on, with Stamets arguing for a return to the Verubin Nebula to save Culber and Adira, but Burnham insisting he needs to get off the ship to prevent Osyraa using him to take Discovery away from Federation HQ. Rapp put in his best performance of the season so far in There Is A Tide, especially as he desperately argued with Burnham to remain aboard the ship.

Burnham ejected Stamets from Discovery.

That scene was truly heartbreaking. Of all the moments in There Is A Tide, the sequence between Burnham and Stamets was perhaps the shortest, which is a shame; it could certainly have been expanded by a couple of minutes. But a lot was packed into their time together, as Burnham rendered Aurellio and a guard unconscious in order to get Stamets off the ship. She knew that by doing so she was endangering Saru, Culber, and Adira, but when faced with the prospect of Osyraa and the Emerald Chain keeping control of the ship she evidently deemed the sacrifice worth it.

Stamets’ protests as Burnham prepared to eject him from the ship grew more and more desperate, until in his final moments he seemed resigned; cursing her for what she was doing. Anthony Rapp ran the gauntlet of emotions in his scenes this week, and after Stamets hasn’t has that much to do across the season, it was wonderful to see him put in such an outstanding performance.

Stamets argued with Burnham about rescuing Culber and Adira.

So we come to Burnham. This review is surely not going to be the first time you’ve heard this, but her story this week was basically Star Trek’s answer to ’80s action film (whose Christmassy status is debated) Die Hard! Crawling around in the Jeffries tubes and conversing with Zareh on the radio was clearly inspired by Bruce Willis’ character of John McClane, who spends much of Die Hard similarly sneaking around and conversing with his adversary by walkie-talkie. The Star Trek franchise has had many action-packed stories and moments over the years, but Burnham’s entire storyline this week has to be one of the best.

As I’d been predicting since his first appearance, Zareh was back. His return makes it feel as though the story of the season is beginning to come full-circle: we started with the revelation of the Burn and the initial conflicts with Emerald Chain couriers, and we’re ending with the Chain and the resolution to the Burn. Zareh bookends the season in a way, and I like that. It gives something more to the story than in Burnham was just facing off against a new unknown goon. The only drawback is that Zareh didn’t get to see Georgiou or Saru – the two characters who wronged him worse than Tilly.

Zareh made his return in There Is A Tide.

At the beginning of Burnham’s story we saw her and Book navigating a “transwarp tunnel.” Whether this is part of the Borg network or not is unclear – as is the fate of the Borg, come to that. It was convenient that this network leads right to Federation HQ, but I suppose we can forgive such contrivances within the story! Book’s ship crash-landing was a more explosive and dramatic version of the shuttle crash in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. There was also a callback to Voyager, where Borg drones were ejected into space in a manner similar to Burnham kicking one of Zareh’s henchmen out into the vacuum of space. I appreciate that there are these little thematic, visual, or narrative nods within Discovery, even when the show isn’t overtly trying to relive Star Trek’s greatest hits.

It was horribly unfortunate for Burnham that, in her first encounter with one of Zareh’s men, she got stabbed. And my gosh that stab was absolutely brutal! Discovery has been much more gory and visceral with some of its depictions of injuries when compared with past iterations of Star Trek, and this was certainly one of the most visually brutal. The camera work and direction showed just how painful Burnham’s wound must’ve been for her, and the follow-up as she cauterised the wound with a phaser was equally gruesome. Wonder why she didn’t use a medical kit? Compared with the dodgy CGI involved in Mirror Burnham’s death a couple of episodes back, this injury was so much better from a visual standpoint, and worked perfectly within the story.

Burnham suffered a major injury while battling the Emerald Chain.

The injury likewise harkens back to Die Hard, as John McClane suffers injuries to his feet from walking on broken glass in that film. Both characters – Burnham and McClane – were left hobbling by their respective wounds, trailing blood as they crawled and snuck around. I have to assume these Die Hard throwbacks were deliberate on the part of director and Star Trek legend Jonathan Frakes. It’s by no means a carbon copy of that film, but anyone who’d seen Die Hard would struggle to miss the similarities!

Burnham succeeds in her initial objective – to free Stamets and smuggle him off the ship. However, the task of retaking the ship and defeating Osyraa and Zareh is pushed back to next week. Burnham got the bulk of the action this week, but she wasn’t the only one who got exciting scenes. Tilly and the secondary characters from the bridge managed to escape their confinement and defeat their guards, and the morse code tapping was another reference to The Final Frontier – and not to mention a very clever way to outwit the henchmen guarding them!

Burnham in a Jeffries tube.

Ryn, who was initially with the group of bridge officers, lost his life by Osyraa’s hand. This might be the moment that pushes Aurellio to potentially switch sides, or at least to stand up to Osyraa – but we’ll save that for my theory post! I was genuinely shocked by his death, and for a split-second it seemed as if Book, who was also present, was going to be the one Osyraa killed. After he and Burnham confessed their love for one another earlier in the episode, it would have been a tragic end to their relationship. I’m hopeful that Book will survive the season, giving Burnham some stability and emotional guidance going forward.

The final revelation of the episode was the Sphere data had transferred itself into at least three DOT robots. These cute little droids had been part of the show all season long, seen in the background or making repairs to the ship, and I’m glad they get a moment to be front-and-centre. I absolutely need a plush DOT though, so Star Trek merchandising team take note!

The DOT 23s are adorable and I love them.

Tilly didn’t allow the loss of the ship while under her care to compromise her, and she led the remaining crew in a creditable fashion as they escaped and linked up with the DOTs. I felt sure that the Sphere data would find a way to help, and this seems to be the method it has chosen. Seeing the cute little robots address Tilly as “captain” was a strangely emotional moment, and came just after Detmer, Rhys, Bryce, and Owosekun had all pledged to follow her. The crew sticking together – joined by the DOTs – was a hopeful note to end the episode on.

So that was There Is A Tide… which is the penultimate episode of the season. It was absolutely fantastic, with complex themes, great performances, and plenty of action as the season approaches its climax. My only real points of criticism come from what wasn’t present – most notably the action in the Verubin Nebula – and whether there might be a little too much left to get through if the season finale is to wrap everything up neatly. Beyond that, however, I can hardly find a single fault.

Tilly is ready to retake the ship!

Osyraa got the expansion her character has needed since she was introduced, which was fantastic. Vance got to show off his negotiating skills. Tilly remained steadfast in command despite her “bruised ego” after losing the ship. Aurellio was a wonderful new character with depth. Anthony Rapp put in the performance of the season as the emotionally crippled Stamets. And Burnham got her very own Die Hard story, an action-packed adventure as she tried to save the ship from Osyraa and Zareh. There was so much going on in There Is A Tide, and all of it was wonderful.

This episode may be the high point of the season so far – an award I would have previously given to Far From Home. Jonathan Frakes never fails to deliver when he’s in the director’s chair, and this was a fantastic, well-written episode that allowed him to shine. There are a lot of open questions as of the end of the episode; hopefully the season finale can either provide satisfactory answers or set up Season 4 to bring about a resolution. I cannot wait for the end of the season – but it will be a bittersweet moment as it will bring an end to 23 straight weeks of Star Trek which began back in August!

I hope you had as much of an enjoyable time with There Is A Tide as I did! Come back next week for my breakdown of the season finale, and stay tuned for much more Star Trek here on the website as we head into 2021.

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 11: Su’kal

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

Until three days before its broadcast, Su’kal went by the title The Citadel. It wasn’t immediately obvious why the name was changed – or why the producers at ViacomCBS felt a need to conceal that fact. After all, they let us know every other episode title before the season premiered, even spoiler-ish ones like Unification III. So it was a bit of a surprise to learn that we’d be watching Su’kal this week!

The twopart episode Terra Firma largely took us away from progressing the overall story of the season and focused on the departure of Mirror Georgiou to a still-unknown destination. With only three episodes left before the season is over, Discovery really needed to begin bringing its storylines together and wrapping them up, lest it repeat the mistake made by Star Trek: Picard earlier in the year and rush through a lot of potentially interesting plots. This was the moment where the season needed to enter its endgame, and for better or worse it seems to have done so.

Discovery finally took us to the Verubin Nebula after a few episodes of doing other things.

My first thought when the credits rolled was “hmm.” What had we all just watched? The two major storylines both had ups and downs, and we’ll have to deal with them in turn. I liked the idea of the holographic world. Both as an interesting setting and as a metaphor for isolation – something many people dealing with mental health issues will experience – it worked very well. Tilly sitting in the captain’s chair for the first time was great to see, and we can see why she was chosen ahead of, for example, Stamets to serve as first officer given that the conflict with Osyraa needed someone less experienced at the conn. I also liked the standoff between Discovery and Osyraa’s ship; it had a familar feel that anyone who’s seen the Battle of the Mutara Nebula in The Wrath of Khan can appreciate.

Now let’s get into the big disappointments. Discovery being captured so easily by Osyraa, whose ship had been simple to defeat a couple of episodes ago, was poor. Yes, it showed how Tilly’s inexperience at the conn was an issue, but even then it felt too easy. Osyraa’s ship, with its ability to transport huge numbers of troops and its weird grappling arms, just felt overpowered. Next – and I will admit this is perhaps more of a personal pet peeve – the cliched story of “the heroes’ ship/base is captured” just doesn’t really work for me. It’s annoying more than anything, and since we know Tilly, Burnham, and the crew will retake the ship it just feels like forced tension.

Discovery was very easily captured by Osyraa.

Now we come to the point of the season, and the main storyline which underpins all of the others: the Burn. If Burnham and Culber are correct in their assessment of Su’kal, he caused the Burn telepathically when his fears destabilised dilithium across the known galaxy. Though my initial reaction to that was some form of “what the actual fuck,” I’m prepared to wait and see what the next two episodes have in store, and whether they can better explain how this happened. Burnham and Culber’s analysis of the situation was short, and if all the explanation we’re going to get is some technobabble about dilithium and DNA cells in an unborn child, I think that’s poor.

But I’m hopeful that won’t be the entirety of the explanation that we get! The Burn had been set up across the season (and even before if you count the trailers) as a huge mystery, something galactic in scale. Perhaps the reason this answer feels like such a non sequitur – aside from the fact that it only consisted of a couple of lines from Burnham and Culber in the midst of a bigger crisis – is that the explanation for this colossal apocalyptic event being a mentally ill man with the mind of a child is some combination of anticlimactic and small.

A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it line from Dr Culber surely cannot be all the explanation we get for how Su’kal caused the Burn.

Huge events in fiction typically need causes that are comparable in scale, and there’s a disparity between the truly epic, cataclysmic nature of the Burn and Su’kal, a mentally challenged man who’s led a horrible life trapped in a weird educational holoprogramme. That’s before we get into the frankly upsetting real-world implications of this metaphor: a mentally ill person ruining the galaxy.

When dealing with significant events, we can typically point to powerful characters or forces of nature setting those events in motion. We can point to Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, for example, or Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars. Or we could look at the zombie virus in The Walking Dead as a force of nature – a powerful, planet-wide force. Su’kal doesn’t fit the bill, and while the idea of the Burn being something accidental rather than something intentional like a weapon may indeed be a good one – and one I’d support – this particular way of explaining it feels like an anticlimax right now.

Su’kal – the cause of the Burn?

On the other hand, if this is the explanation for the Burn, it would be in line with certain other Star Trek stories. The V’ger probe in The Motion Picture was similarly described as “a child” as it caused chaos en route to Earth. The Star Trek franchise has always been about exploring the unknown and offering help – and Su’kal clearly needs the Federation’s help.

Any time a mystery is created in an ongoing story, there’s a risk of the explanation jarring with what some members of the audience expected. I’m not criticising Su’kal from that point of view, though – or at least I’m consciously trying not to. I’m not saying that the Burn needs to have some other explanation, like one of the ones I postulated before the season began. What I am saying, though, is that if this is all the explanation we’re going to get – that Su’kal’s body somehow adapted, connecting him on a quantum level to dilithium, and that he accidentally caused the Burn as a child while upset – it feels anticlimactic.

We’re being asked to buy into a story that says one mentally ill person caused all of this destruction.

The discovery of the Verubin Nebula and its dilithium planet is likewise a little odd. This is perhaps more of a nitpick, but in the 32nd Century, when the Federation and other spacefaring cultures have had a millennium to explore and chart the galaxy, how could they have been unaware of this dilithium nursery/dilithium planet? A few weeks ago I wrote that the discovery of a huge cache of dilithium at the end of the season, allowing the Federation to get back on its feet and rebuild, could feel like a deus ex machina – and that’s kind of how this planet feels right now. The story from here seems predictable: save or neutralise Su’kal to prevent another Burn, use the dilithium planet to power the Federation and Starfleet, and retake Discovery from Osyraa.

There may be twists and turns along the way, but that seems to be the direction of travel. Simplifying a story as it approaches its end is inevitable, perhaps, but coupled with what I have to call an unsatisfying explanation for the Burn, it risks the end of the season feeling formulaic. Having made those criticisms, two caveats: there are still two episodes to go in which the Burn’s explanation can be padded out or even changed entirely, and if this is the real explanation for what happened, it avoids many of the pitfalls I feared a 32nd Century post-apocalyptic story would. It isn’t as epic in scope as perhaps I was hoping, nor does it seem to connect to other iterations of the franchise. But it is a very “Star Trek” way for an apocalyptic event to play out.

The titular Su’kal seems to have caused the Burn.

By that I mean it’s closer to some stories from The Original Series or even The Animated Series in terms of pure science-fantasy. Su’kal being the cause of the Burn because he has some kind of telepathic link to dilithium is a weird story, and that weirdness and quirkiness is what made many fans – myself included – fall in love with Star Trek to begin with. So I’m hot and cold on the Burn right now, as you can tell. I’m not 100% convinced that it’s the right way for this story to conclude, given that it’s taken us eleven weeks to get here and the Burn has been presented as this epic cataclysm with mysterious origins. But as a pure Star Trek story, I can’t deny that it works.

If you’re a regular around here, perhaps you’ve read my methodology. If not, you can find it via the menu at the top (top-right on mobiles). To make a long story short, I never read other reviews before writing my own, and I do my best to avoid any and all critical opinion and even responses by people involved with whatever I’m reviewing until I’ve got my own piece published. So I have no idea if I’m alone in my feelings about Su’kal offering an unsatisfying end to the season’s biggest mystery or not.

Is this how the Burn happened?

I feel like I’ve deconstructed the titular Su’kal and his relationship with the Burn as much as I’m able to at this stage. Like several ongoing storylines that saw major developments in Su’kal, my thoughts on this point can and likely will shift depending on the way that the remainder of the story progresses. So let’s look at a few other points from the episode.

Tilly becoming first officer was a point of contention in earlier episodes, and I do understand that. While I defended Saru’s reasoning at the time, as he felt Tilly had adapted best to the future which was a significant consideration in his XO search, what I’d say now is that that storyline feels as if it was constructed deliberately to reach a specific goal. The first part of that goal is, as we saw this week, the capture of Discovery by Osyraa, which we’re to understand came about in part through Tilly’s inexperience. But there may be a further plan for this storyline – effectively cornering Saru and forcing him to reinstate Burnham as first officer.

Tilly in command.

So what we got with Tilly this week was a deeply emotional and very touching scene between her and Burnham. As Saru prepared to lead the away team, it was her turn in the big chair for the first time, and she was nervous. Burnham tried to comfort her, and in this moment she was back to the older, more nervous character from earlier episodes. A lot of us have been nervous or anxious about taking on a big task, and Tilly’s reaction to what was going on was very human.

Likewise, the scene where she took the captain’s chair for the first time was also very well done. Though clearly still nervous she sat down for the first time with determination – and with a plan for what to say and do. She handled herself well, and she clearly had the respect of the other officers on the bridge. But there was a different kind of respect that they showed Tilly compared to Saru, or past commanding officers like Pike. Tilly was almost being treated as a child, judging by some of their expressions: “aww, it’s so sweet they’re letting her have a go in the big chair,” some of their faces seemed to say. While the crew followed their orders, there was a sense among some on the bridge – at least in the moment Tilly assumed command – that they didn’t hold her to the same standards as Saru or Pike.

Tilly regards the captain’s chair.

When confronted by Osyraa, Tilly played a role comparable to Sulu in Star Trek Into Darkness – sitting in the big chair for the first time talking to an enemy. In Sulu’s case he was broadcasting a message to someone rather than having a two-way conversation, but like many things in modern Star Trek I appreciate the symmetry that exists between wholly different stories.

As I said, though, the ultimate payoff to this storyline was Osyraa’s incredibly easy capture of the ship. We can argue that Su’kal’s telepathic tantrum damaged all the ship’s systems and thus probably knocked the shields down, which is how Osyraa’s goons could so easily beam over. But as a point of drama, the standoff between the ships was far too short before we got to this point. When Detmer took Book’s ship and completely disabled Osyraa’s flagship a couple of weeks ago, Osyraa’s flagship was shown to be big but flawed, and Osyraa herself made no moves against Discovery. This time, she was able to defeat Discovery in seconds using powers we’d never seen her vessel have before. There were low stakes at the beginning of the engagement – because Detmer had so easily beaten her using Book’s ship a few weeks ago – and thus Osyraa’s victory seems to come from nowhere.

Osyraa’s flagship proved a very difficult opponent… this time.

If we had seen some more of her ship before Su’kal to know what its capabilities were, that feeling would not persist. But despite its vaguely menacing appearance, the only time we encountered Osyraa before this episode showed her ship to be vulnerable even to Book’s glorified shuttlecraft. The turnaround was only explained by a single line from Osyraa, as she claimed to have fixed the vulnerability Detmer had exploited – but that just wasn’t good enough, in my opinion.

There’s also the big question of how Osyraa came to know about the Spore Drive. This seems to have happened entirely off screen, and while it may be shown in a flashback later on, it’s something we as the audience needed to know. What is Osyraa’s plan now she has control of Discovery? What will she use the Spore Drive for? Who told her about it/how did she find out? None of these points were touched on, and while we can construct theories based on Book’s macguffin from last week that concerned Admiral Vance, nothing was explained on screen in a satisfactory way.

Discovery jumped to the Verubin Nebula with its Spore Drive.

As this is an ongoing story, these points may be addressed, and if so I will gladly withdraw my criticisms. But right now it feels like Osyraa knew about the Spore Drive almost by magic – she even knew its name, despite having never heard of it the last time we met her. She also managed to turn her ship from an easily-beaten wreck into an invincible powerhouse and defeat Discovery with a snap of her fingers. And after all that, we don’t know her intentions. There are too many unknowns for the stakes to feel particularly high.

I mentioned at the start that this storyline – the heroes’ ship being captured – has never been one I enjoyed, and that’s a factor in how I feel about Su’kal too. I tend to feel that any time a story goes down this route the ending is usually known, and as a result the drama and tension just feel forced. Whereas we could see any one of a hundred different endings to Su’kal’s story or even Georgiou’s Mirror Universe story over the last couple of weeks, it’s obvious that Burnham and Book will retake the ship from Osyraa, just as it’s obvious in any comparable story that the heroes will reclaim their starship or base. It’s not exactly a cliché, but it’s a basic narrative that I’ve seen play out dozens of times at this point – including within Star Trek.

These stories have never been a favourite of mine.

Enough about Tilly, Discovery, and Osyraa for now. The sequences set in Su’kal’s home were interesting. The setting itself was reminiscent of the castle Captain Pike encountered on Rigel VII – as seen in Star Trek’s original pilot, The Cage. Castles and Star Trek have an association going back a very long time, and the dark, abandoned castle – with a monster to boot – gave the sequences set there a very creepy, almost horror vibe.

The cinematography for some of these scenes was outstanding, too, and shots of the fortress and its surrounding landscape were beautiful and immersive. There were some amazing overhead angles that gave the stepped structure a deeply confusing feeling, one which helped us get into the mindset of Burnham, Culber, and Saru.

Some of the shots here were beautiful. The set design and animation work were absolutely outstanding.

Speaking of the away team, the choice of makeup was interesting. Having Burnham and Culber be a Trill and Bajoran respectively really didn’t do much, and in a lot of scenes where they were seen from a distance the makeup wasn’t even noticeable. Saru being portrayed as human, however, was far more visually interesting, and the reveal of Doug Jones without makeup was perhaps the biggest shock moment of the whole episode. Everything about that moment was perfectly set up, from Burnham and Culber noting their appearances first to build up the mystery to Saru’s voice being heard before the camera panned to him. It was a very well-constructed moment.

Within the story, though, I’m sorry to say it makes no sense. Saru is a Kelpien; a species Su’kal is obviously familiar with as he has at least one Kelpien hologram – the Elder. Likewise we saw human holos within the programme, and since Burnham and Culber’s physical appearances were not changed to copy pre-existing holograms, I don’t know what reason there is for changing their appearances in this minimal way. Nor do I understand why – aside from reasons of dramatic effect – the away team’s radiation burns were visible on their holographic bodies.

It feels like the choice of making Saru human was just there for surprise value.

If the roles of Burnham, Culber, and Saru were to be played by three different actors for this story, actors who also took on the roles of three holograms within Su’kal’s programme, I could understand it more. It wouldn’t be good to have this crucial moment acted out by different folks, but it would make sense in-universe, because the programmer of Su’kal’s world would have intended his rescuers to assume a familiar form. But the way it was done here was just odd, and I can only assume it was done for the sake of that one shocking moment – revealing Saru in his human guise. Constructing a story point off of one moment seldom works, and while it was interesting (at least, at first) to see these three characters in different makeup, as a story point I don’t get why it had to happen.

It also arguably detracts from Saru’s storyline, which seems to be building to an emotional climax. This is the first Kelpien he’s met since he left the 23rd Century, and there’s also the open question of a possible familial connection via Dr Issa. Saru being distracted by all things Kelpien is affecting his judgement, and this is a storyline worth pursuing. However, having Doug Jones essentially be out of costume is detracting from that. While it was visually interesting at first, it risks getting in the way of the story as it comes to a head. It’s possible that there may be a moment where Saru snaps out of the way he’s feeling due to being in this human guise, which if well-written could work and would be a payoff of sorts. Discovery tends not to do things randomly – somehow there may well be a reason why the away team ended up in these bodies. It’s just difficult to see right now, and the question of whether it will work as intended is up in the air.

Saru in his human disguise.

Burnham’s work with Su’kal was sweet, and she seemed to be beginning to find a way to get through to him. Saru asked her to remain because of her training in xenoanthropology, but just as she accused him of being distracted by Su’kal, I would argue that she is equally distracted from the mission by Book – she wanted to get back to him, because within the nebula he is in danger. She did seem to make some progress with Su’kal before he cut her off – but is that the real Su’kal?

I’ll save the bulk of this discussion for my theory post, but here goes: the “monster” that inhabits the holodeck is vaguely Kelpien in appearance, and also looks older. Its decayed body could be a result of radiation exposure, and when the monster met Burnham, it seemed to react to her in an almost-human manner – by which I mean, not like a programmed machine. The character we’re calling Su’kal is far too young to be 125 years old – or at least appears to be too young – and no suitable explanation has been given for this. So my pet theory right now is that the “monster” is the real life sign that Burnham and the crew identified before beaming down.

Is this a holographic monster… or Su’kal?

I don’t know for sure if that will pan out, or how it could be made to fit, but it seems interesting so I’ll go into more detail next time. There were a few other little moments in Su’kal that I thought were worth pointing out, such as the little robots being identified as “DOTs” for the first time outside of the Short Treks episode Ephraim and Dot. That was a sweet little inclusion. I also liked seeing Adira and Gray back together, as well as Gray giving Adira the confidence boost they needed to make their first big independent move since joining the crew.

Speaking of Adira, Stamets’ line to them at the beginning about he and Culber coming as a “package deal” was cute, and ties in with the parental theme going on with the three of them. Stamets has gone out of his way to help Adira since they joined the crew, even talking to the unseen Gray – whenever he does that I’m reminded of a parent talking to their child’s imaginary friend. Stamets feels protective of Adira, and helping them settle in has been an unexpectedly sweet turn for his character.

Gray and Adira in Su’kal.

So there we are. That was Su’kal, an episode which will have to be revisited in context once we know the overall outcome of the season’s big storylines. It can be difficult to fairly judge one section from the middle of a story – it’s like trying to review chapter ten of a thirteen-chapter novel – because Su’kal cannot be taken as a standalone piece of television. That said, it’s an episode which made significant developments and perhaps set up one or two more mysteries.

I’m troubled by the fault for the Burn lying with a mentally disabled man. Mental health and learning disabilities are already the subject of considerable stigma in our society today, and while on some fronts that is improving, we still have a long way to go. The episode The End is the Beginning from Star Trek: Picard showed a very crude stereotype of “mentally ill people” earlier in the year, and laying the fault of the Burn at Su’kal’s feet seems to continue an unfortunate theme in this year’s Star Trek productions. It almost feels as though the writers have picked on an easy target in Su’kal.

As mentioned, there are different ways the story could pan out from here. I briefly explained one theory I have about Su’kal, but there are different paths the story could take over the next couple of weeks before the season ends. I’m cautiously interested to see more; I do want a resolution to the Burn, but it needs to be a satisfying one – and ideally one that doesn’t stigmatise people.

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 10: Terra Firma, Part II

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

Terra Firma, Part I told one of the most interesting Mirror Universe stories I’d seen in a long time. Though the setting can feel one-dimensional, with acting performances that cross over into hammy pantomime, the first half of this story focused on Georgiou. It showed how she’d changed, how there was nuance and different factors to her character that had never really come to the fore. Though there were still many of the familiar Mirror Universe tropes – including some pretty dire acting performances – it was a solid setup to an interesting story. I was hopeful for more of the same this week.

Sometimes two-part episodes are best watched back-to-back. The Best of Both Worlds is a prime example, as is Voyager’s Equinox. I was genuinely annoyed when Equinox ended on a cliffhanger when it was first broadcast! But we’re off-topic. There was no way I was waiting a whole week to watch Terra Firma, Part I! But I did re-watch it before sitting down to Terra Firma, Part II – and I stand by what I said last time: it’s a great episode.

Mirror Burnham and Georgiou in Terra Firma, Part II.

When taking the two parts of Terra Firma together, I’m in two minds. On the one hand, the scenes in the Mirror Universe could have been a single episode of their own, capped off with Georgiou’s departure. But on the other hand, given the passage of time Georgiou experienced after crossing through the doorway, we could have had three episodes or even more expanding on her story and showing even more of how she’s changed since crossing into the Prime universe.

The passage of time was not especially well-conveyed in Terra Firma, Part II. Because the entire Mirror Universe section of the story was shown as one long unbroken sequence, with no scenes set aboard Discovery or back on Dannus V, it felt as though everything Georgiou was experiencing was happening in close to real-time; a decision compounded by having her remain aboard Mirror Tilly’s ISS Discovery instead of going to the ISS Charon or really anywhere else. When it was noted that time had passed, the dialogue choices felt like bare exposition, dumped into the episode solely to tell us time had passed. Because of this, there’s at least part of me that feels Georgiou’s time in the Mirror Universe was rushed.

Mirror Saru had a single line referring to the passage of time, but this was little more than exposition.

That’s not to say we needed to spend much more time in the Mirror Universe, but rather the way these sequences were conveyed, both this week and last week, needed to be structured better to show us how long she had been there. The Mirror Universe, as I said last week, is not my favourite Star Trek setting. For a one-off visit it’s okay, but spend too long there or with Terran characters and its limitations become apparent. We came close to – but didn’t quite hit – the limit of what the Mirror Universe is capable of over this two-part story.

Aside from Georgiou, who continued her theme from last week of having significantly changed as a character, everyone else in the Mirror Universe felt flat. Sonequa Martin-Green was clearly having a whale of a time as Mirror Burnham, but her performance was atrocious. The character is little more than a caricature; a pantomime villain. We spent a lot of time with her over these two episodes – because Discovery can’t ditch Burnham for more than a few minutes! – and unfortunately the character and the performance grated on me practically the whole time.

Mirror Burnham was little more than a pantomime villain, both in terms of scripting and performance.

Mirror Saru and Mirror Tilly got a little more screen time this week, and both had some points of interest. Tilly appeared torn between loyalty to the Emperor and her belief in the Terran way of doing things, questioning Georgiou’s decisions on several occasions. Saru was more nuanced, and apparently whatever differences exist between the Mirror and Prime Universes do not extend to Kelpiens, because aside from being more subservient – the result of a life of slavery, no doubt – he was more or less his Season 1, pre-vahar’ai self.

There’s no easy way to say this, but the Mirror Universe’s tight-fitting black-and-gold uniforms were not flattering; several characters looked out-of-shape in their Mirror Universe costumes, and it’s a shame. I’m not picking on someone for their weight or body type; I’m not exactly slim myself so that would be completely hypocritical. But as a point of costuming I think some of the Terran uniforms have to go down as a miss.

Mirror Tilly during one of the fight sequences.

As mentioned, the bulk of Terra Firma, Part II continued Georgiou’s story from last week. She remained in the Mirror Universe and made some genuine attempts to reform the Terran Empire. This was kind of the core of the Mirror Universe storyline – along with her interactions with Mirror Saru and Mirror Burnham – but I feel we needed more screen time to see her efforts unfold. As with the passage of time, it seems many of Georgiou’s moves to reform the Terran Empire took place off-screen. We were treated to some interesting character moments, but missed the crux of the story that the characters were involved in.

For example, at one point Georgiou is made aware of an impending coalition of several races under Imperial jurisdiction. Burnham wants her to attack and destroy them militarily, but Georgiou found a peaceful solution instead. None of that was shown on screen, however, and aside from a couple of lines referencing what she’d supposedly done, there was nothing to that storyline. It could have been cut entirely, and the story refocused onto Georgiou and the coup being planned by Lorca. Though Carl did reference Georgiou’s actions later in the story, this element didn’t feel well-developed in the moment; almost a “blink and you’ll miss it” affair.

Many of Georgiou’s potentially interesting accomplishments happened off screen.

You know I like to nitpick, so let’s do that. In Discovery Season 1, Georgiou’s base of operations was the ISS Charon. That was her “palace,” as Burnham referred to it. Yet in this two-part story, Georgiou remains aboard the ISS Discovery despite the Charon supposedly being made ready for her. Obviously the team behind Discovery wanted to re-use existing sets instead of rebuilding the Charon’s interior, and that’s understandable. But if that’s the case, why bother referencing the Charon at all last week? Why not simply say that Georgiou arrived weeks or months before her new flagship was commissioned? Given that both parts of Terra Firma clash with the events depicted in Season 1’s Mirror Universe story arc, that wouldn’t have been any more of a consistency issue than the one which already exists.

I’ve re-watched Terra Firma, Part II, but I’m still not clear about what happened to Georgiou. She experienced three months’ worth of the passage of time, and Carl seemed to suggest that she was indeed in a parallel universe. But whether it was the same one she originated from is not clear. Logically you’d think it would be, but there are two points that run counter. Firstly, Georgiou’s technobabble ailment could be cured in two ways, according to Kovich and Carl – returning to her own universe or to her own time period. And secondly, some of the events depicted in both parts of Terra Firma clash with the events of Season 1.

Georgiou learns that she really did spend three months in a different universe.

This poses two problems. Firstly, if Georgiou was genuinely re-living her time in the Mirror Universe, we’ve created major inconsistencies within Discovery’s own internal timeline. And secondly, even if we can ignore or excuse things like Stamets’ death and Burnham’s supposed execution, if Georgiou was genuinely sent back to the Mirror Universe, she made major changes to that timeline, including getting herself killed. How would that impact the way Season 1 would have unfolded?

This is why time travel is so difficult to get right, not only in Star Trek but in fiction in general. It’s too easy to stray off the beaten path and end up creating a time-loop or a paradox; in this case, Georgiou and Burnham’s deaths occurring before the arrival of the Prime version of Discovery under Lorca’s command.

The aftermath of Georgiou’s climactic fight against Mirror Burnham.

Speaking of Lorca, I deliberately kept him out of my theories this week because I didn’t expect to see him return. However, for a two-part episode that didn’t include the man himself, his name was brought up a lot. A reference or two to his coup would have sufficed, yet the storyline of both parts of Terra Firma was largely structured around this character. For Lorca to then be wholly absent was odd, and the lack of a resolution to his coup leaves at least part of the story feeling unfinished.

Because, as mentioned, the storyline of Georgiou’s Mirror Universe experience diverges wildly from what we saw in Discovery Season 1, we can’t assume that Lorca’s absence is because he’s in the Prime universe or that he’ll arrive shortly after her death. It’s just a void in Terra Firma’s story; an entirely unseen antagonist for Georgiou.

Despite being continually talked about, Mirror Lorca was absent from the story.

After spending some time trying to push for reforms to the Terran Empire – and having seemingly accepted her return to her own time and place – Georgiou tries to work on Mirror Burnham, torturing her and trying to bring her to heel. It seemed obvious that a betrayal was coming; both versions of Burnham are stubborn and single-minded, and despite the torture of the agoniser booth, when she pledged herself to Georgiou something definitely seemed amiss – and so it proved.

I did like Burnham’s betrayal of Detmer. Having “killed” several other leaders of the coup, Mirror Detmer was one of the few remaining. We got a flash of the old Georgiou as she ordered her protégée to kill her with only a single word. One character that I thought the episode was setting up for a bigger role was Mirror Owosekun. At several points in both halves of the story she seemed concerned about Georgiou’s newfound softness, and as the camera lingered on her as the head of the honour guard it seemed like she might join with Burnham or even land a blow on Georgiou herself. It was a bit of an anticlimax when that didn’t happen.

Mirror Burnham betrayed her comrade Detmer.

The climactic moment between Mirror Burnham and Georgiou ends with them stabbing one another after a fight. Unfortunately this moment, which was the finale of the Mirror Universe part of the story, was let down by some poor CGI work. Georgiou’s sword as she stabbed Burnham looked just awful, and in addition appeared to wobble unnaturally as it was stuck in her abdomen. The sword had no weight to it; it looked like a hollow CGI shell as it was supposedly being plunged into Mirror Burnham, and for such an important moment, more care needed to be taken.

Discovery’s CGI work has been generally of very high quality, and I don’t like to bash the animators and artists, especially given the difficulties they had working on Season 3 during the pandemic. But this moment was one of the most important in the episode, and when all of our focus was drawn to the sword, it needed to look better. As it is it looks like a video game item that clips through Burnham’s body rather than any kind of solid, substantial weapon causing her an injury. Despite this CGI effect taking up no more than two or three seconds of screen time, it was distracting and didn’t work as intended.

Though it’s difficult to show in a single still frame, the CGI work at this crucial moment was a bit of a let-down.

So the culmination of Georgiou’s return to the Mirror Universe was one of failure, at least in terms of her ambitions. But what it showed to us – and to her – is how much she has changed, even if the Mirror Universe hasn’t or can’t. The time she’d spent away from the Terran Empire had shifted her perspective, softened her, and changed the way she wanted to govern. All of that is incredibly positive and makes her a far more nuanced and interesting character.

I just wish we’d seen even the tiniest hint at this change before Terra Firma, Part I. In every appearance since leaving the Mirror Universe toward the end of Season 1, Georgiou has been a flat, one-dimensional character with little going on besides a devious nature and inclination toward violence. The only time I can recall her being anything other than that Terran stereotype was in Season 2’s worst episode: The Red Angel. And then her actions, particularly towards Burnham, just seemed out-of-character. So while I love that this storyline showed Georgiou how much she’s changed as a result of her time with Starfleet and the Federation, and that it ties into the theme of the season of showing how much good the Federation can do, it feels like it comes from nowhere, and her transformation from the woman who stomped Leland’s corpse to a bloody pulp a few episodes ago to a character Mirror Saru says can’t possibly be Terran is extreme and seems to happen quickly.

Georgiou with her honour guard.

Had we seen, over Georgiou’s recent appearances, a growing tolerance and appreciation for Saru, even a line or two of dialogue or a wordless expression of gratitude or concern, we could say that there had been evidence of this transformation building across the season. But there wasn’t. And that’s a double-edged sword, because while it makes the two parts of Terra Firma absolutely fascinating and shows Georgiou at her best, it doesn’t feel particularly well set-up, and when you’re going to make such a major change to an established character, some kind of prior setup is essential.

In Season 2, Saru fell victim to basically the same thing. This is speculation on my part, but I feel that vahar’ai – the process by which Kelpiens lose their threat-sensing, fearful nature and become bolder and braver – was a response to criticism of Saru’s cowardly nature in Season 1, and an attempt by the writers and producers to get rid of that element of criticism in the most extreme way possible. I’d also make that same argument, by the way, for Discovery’s departure from the 23rd Century, but that’s a topic for another time! Whatever the reason was, Saru’s transformation from cowardice to bravery was extreme and out of the blue in Season 2 – and I’d argue that Georgiou’s transformation here is similar.

Georgiou tried to reform Burnham and the Terran Empire, but failed.

Despite that, however, I liked the change in Georgiou that we saw over this two-part story. Now that we have seen what appears to be her final end as a Discovery character, setting up perhaps the beginning of the upcoming Section 31 series, she’s a far more interesting and complex protagonist for that show. Given that the premiere of the Section 31 show could very well be Georgiou’s next appearance within Star Trek, Terra Firma sent her out on a high.

It also left the Section 31 series with many different options – including where in the timeline it could be taking place. We’ll come to that in my theory post in the next few days, but suffice to say that Carl left Georgiou’s destination ambiguous.

The mysterious Carl.

So we come to Carl! I guessed in my last theory post that Carl could be the Guardian of Forever, and so it proved in Terra Firma, Part II. That revelation was spectacular, and connected Discovery and The Original Series once again. I had a huge smile on my face when Carl revealed his true identity – not just because I’d theorised who he could be ahead of time! Carl and the mysterious door – which was revealed to be the familiar portal – were presented in Terra Firma, Part I as the kind of weird, Roddenberry-esque sci-fi creation that we could’ve seen Kirk and his crew encounter in The Original Series. It turns out that was literally true!

Discovery has paid homage to The Original Series more than any other Star Trek show, and while Season 3 has allowed for more references to The Next Generation and subsequent Star Trek productions, I’m glad that we still got this big tie-in with The Original Series. Carl could have, for example, turned out to be a Q, and that would have changed very little in Georgiou’s story. But the Guardian of Forever is such an iconic part of the Star Trek franchise, with The City on the Edge of Forever often called The Original Series’ finest episode, so this particular tie-in just seems to work beautifully.

The Guardian of Forever’s portal.

It also manages to tie up one possible loophole in the whole “time travel has been outlawed” storyline, as the Guardian of Forever moved to a different location to avoid the portal being used in the Temporal Wars. Though there are still problems with the idea of an outright ban on time travel which every faction from the Borg to the Dominion are supposedly following, the decision to have the Guardian of Forever essentially be in hiding means that at least one of those has been resolved!

The choice of character actor Paul Guilfoyle for the role of Carl was inspired. Though he didn’t spend a lot of time on screen in either half of the story, the moments we got with him were outstanding. His performance as Carl embodied the “weirder” side of Star Trek that was present much more prominently in the Roddenberry era but has fallen out of favour. Even in a season which has primarily dealt with things like the Burn and the collapse of the Federation, I appreciate that the writers took some time to include the Guardian of Forever.

Burnham and Georgiou with Carl – a.k.a. the Guardian of Forever.

I wonder if we’ve seen the last of the Guardian of Forever this season. I’ve talked for weeks about how there have been connections to the Short Treks episode Calypso, and wondered in particular how the USS Discovery could find itself abandoned in a nebula only to be discovered by Craft – who appears to be a human from around this time period. With Georgiou having seemingly departed the series altogether, my theory that she would be the one to take the ship back in time looks dead. But with the rediscovery of the Guardian of Forever, if there was a need for Discovery to travel back in time – and there isn’t right now, but such a need could arise – perhaps this is how it happens.

Carl explained to Georgiou that her time in whatever variant of the Mirror Universe she was sent to was a “test” to see how far she’d come and how much she’d changed. Despite being unsuccessful in her ambitions, the mere act of having the ambition to change the way the Terran Empire was governed demonstrated to Carl that she deserved a second chance. And she got one – being sent through the Guardian of Forever’s portal to an unknown time and place.

Georgiou departs the 32nd Century – and Star Trek: Discovery.

Georgiou’s departure was emotional, and her scene with Burnham as she readied herself to step through the portal genuinely packed a punch. Both actresses put in fantastic performances, and the agony they felt at parting was beautifully expressed on screen. Although Burnham succeeded in her mission to save Georgiou’s life, she still lost her – and that makes for a bittersweet ending to a storyline set up in Die Trying, when Georgiou’s condition first manifested itself. For Burnham, this is the second time she’s lost Georgiou following the death of her Prime counterpart in Battle at the Binary Stars – but this time she got to say goodbye, and could accept the parting.

One thing I’m not clear on is why Discovery set up a little deception regarding Georgiou’s condition. After arriving in the future she was absolutely fine, but only after meeting the mysterious Kovich at Federation HQ did her health worsen. There was thus an implied connection between the two events, one which the writers deliberately set up as a misdirect. I’m fine with stories being unpredictable, and with “obvious” solutions not panning out; those can feel like well-executed twists. But in this case it does feel deceptive to imply a link between Kovich and Georgiou’s condition only for that to have been pure coincidence.

Burnham and Georgiou part ways.

Speaking of Kovich, given that the character seems to be coming back, perhaps even in Season 4 as well, it’s a shame that he and Georgiou won’t get any more opportunities to spend time together. The way Cronenberg and Yeoh talked around one another in Die Trying was riveting to watch, and it’s sad that we won’t get any more of that. Kovich absolutely can contribute to the story in other ways – he’s far from a one-trick pony – but he was certainly at his best when dealing one-on-one with Georgiou.

Finally we come to the remainder of the episode aboard Discovery. Burnham doesn’t explicitly tell Saru what happened to Georgiou – for some reason – but he understands that she survived. However, the two of them don’t explain this to the crew, or at least don’t seem to, and I’m not really clear on why that was. Would it not have been better for the crew to understand that their mission to Dannus V was a success? Admiral Vance made clear to Saru that his crew would “never look at [him] the same way” if he didn’t go above and beyond for her, and while he did take her to Dannus V in search of help, surely the outcome for crew morale would have been better if Burnham and Saru explained what actually happened.

Captain Saru learns Georgiou’s fate… kind of.

The crew hold a wake for Georgiou in which several characters get a turn to speak. Tilly, who hasn’t had very much to do since becoming acting XO, stepped up and delivered a sweet line in honour of her fallen crewmate, as did Saru. Burnham stole the show, of course, with a longer speech about how much Georgiou had meant to her. And again, this was a deeply emotional moment. It was also very well acted by Sonequa Martin-Green – in stark contrast to her hammy, over-the-top performance as Mirror Burnham earlier in the episode.

After last week saw the revelation of a Kelpien vessel in the Verubin Nebula – which is believed to be the Burn’s point of origin – we got a little more information this time. With everything in the Mirror Universe to wrap up, as well as Georgiou’s departure and the fallout from that, I was certain there was no way we’d see Discovery travelling to the Verubin Nebula this week, and so it proved.

Dr Culber leads a toast to Georgiou at her wake.

We did get some minor moves toward that destination, though, as well as further hinting at the Emerald Chain possibly making a move against Discovery rather than against Federation HQ. While attempting to access the sensors of the derelict Kelpien ship, Book installed a piece of Emerald Chain technology – a signal booster – in Discovery’s main engineering. Admiral Vance was especially concerned about that when he found out, and I suspect his concerns will be valid – there could be a way for the Emerald Chain to track Discovery using a “backdoor.”

We did get to see Reno return briefly, and I always enjoy Tig Notaro’s performance. There was a little bit of technobabble about upgrades to the ship from Reno – this could prove important later on, or it could simply be a throwaway line, I can’t tell. Regardless, it was great to see her back. After confirming that they had indeed hacked into the ship, we didn’t actually get to see any of the results of that hack – though I’m sure we will next time. The dynamic between Stamets, Reno, and Adira is interesting, and the addition of Book to that scene in engineering was fun. We haven’t really got to see Book spend much time away from Burnham, so it was nice to see him getting a chance to interact with other characters. As we saw with Narek in Star Trek: Picard, when you only allow a character one or two options for who to spend time with, it can make them less interesting in some respects.

Reno returned briefly, as did Book.

So that was Terra Firma, Part II. There was a lot going on for Georgiou, for the franchise overall, and for Burnham. There was less going on for the other ongoing storylines of the season, but that’s okay. Sometimes it’s nice to step back from the big continuing storylines and have more of a standalone story. Past Star Trek shows were largely episodic, after all!

I enjoyed seeing the transformation in Georgiou’s character, and it’s provided a far better setup to the upcoming Section 31 series than I had expected. I’m now genuinely curious to see where and when Georgiou will end up – and how that will connect to Section 31. I have some ideas about that – as I’m sure a lot of fans do! – so stay tuned for those theories.

Mirror Georgiou in Terra Firma, Part II.

Despite falling victim to some of the same Mirror Universe tropes that have plagued episodes in that setting, the two parts of Terra Firma have to go down as among the best Mirror Universe stories in the whole Star Trek franchise. The contrast of the changed Georgiou with the unchanged setting was genuinely fascinating to see, and her desire to reform it and bring in changes was interesting – and heartbreaking when she couldn’t manage it.

There was a lot to love about Terra Firma, Part II. I was thrilled to see the Guardian of Forever – and hear its original voice which had been lifted from The Original Series. Georgiou’s arc across the two parts – while it could have been built up to more in previous episodes – was emotional and made for some of the best character work of the season so far.

With this semi-standalone story now wrapped up, Discovery should be setting off to the Verubin Nebula to chase down the next lead on the Burn. What will happen when they arrive there? I can hardly wait to find out!

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 9: Terra Firma, Part I

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

I was very impressed with The Sanctuary last week. It was the kind of solid mid-season episode that helped move key story threads along while also telling a semi-standalone story of its own. Following up that success was the goal of Terra Firma, Part I.

The episode synopsis, released a couple of days before it was broadcast, seemed to suggest that visiting the Verubin Nebula – believed to be the source of the Burn – would have to take a back seat to Georgiou’s health, and so it proved. We saw a little movement toward figuring out more about the Burn, including the unexpected reappearance of the Kelpiens, but much of the story focused on Burnham and Georgiou – and it took a surprising turn.

Georgiou and Burnham on the snowy surface of Dannus V.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that, as a Star Trek fan, stories set in the Mirror Universe have never been my favourites. As a one-off in The Original Series, the Mirror Universe was okay; a puzzle-of-the-week for the crew to figure out an escape from. But when the Mirror Universe, or Terran characters like Georgiou, are seen for any length of time, their narrative weaknesses become apparent. The Mirror Universe is fundamentally one-dimensional. Terran characters are villain caricatures, embodying all the lazy tropes of low-budget B-movies. They like power for power’s sake, violence for the sake of being violent, and the entire universe seems to consist of a single personality type that’s ham-fistedly forced into every character. Such characters are ripe for over-the-top acting performances which can leave Mirror Universe episodes feeling almost like pantomime. This is, at least in part, why Discovery Season 1 wasn’t my favourite, and why I’ve never really warmed to Mirror Georgiou since she became a semi-permanent fixture on the series.

However, despite the way I feel about both Georgiou and the setting overall, scenes set in the Mirror Universe toward the end of Terra Firma, Part I were among the most interesting for her character and for the setting. Georgiou appears to have changed far more as a result of her time away from the Mirror Universe than we’ve seen on screen. She has generally remained the flat villain stereotype she’s always been, but when returning to her home setting, cracks in that exterior were evident. Her nuanced performance was, to my surprise, the highlight of the episode.

Mirror Owosekun leads an honour guard.

Though Georgiou’s story is off to one side, unconnected to the Burn, thematically we see it link up with the rest of Season 3 – or at least begin to. Humans on Earth, the Trill, the Romulans and Vulcans on Ni’Var, and even Booker have all come to see the Federation and Starfleet as a force for good over the course of the season so far. Captain Saru very pointedly told the crew that their objective was to “make the future bright.” Admiral Vance gave Saru and Discovery a chance. Clearly all of this has rubbed off on Georgiou – far more than we’d realised.

In fact I’d argue that Terra Firma, Part I was Georgiou at the best and most interesting she’s ever been. There was nuance to her character and a depth that has never really been allowed to come to the surface before as she struggled with returning home. For a long time she’d wanted to get out of the Prime universe, but her homecoming appears to have shown her – and us – just how much she’s changed as a result of her experiences. Perhaps, despite what Kovich argued, Terrans and humans aren’t so very different after all.

Georgiou was at her most nuanced and interesting in Terra Firma, Part I.

Speaking of Kovich, he was back this week. I’m not entirely convinced that he and Section 31 aren’t in some way responsible for what happened to Georgiou – either by inflicting it or accelerating it – but he’s an interesting character and I was glad to see him make a return. Because Kovich is played by David Cronenberg I had wondered if his appearance in Die Trying would have been a one-off; it’s great that that wasn’t the case, as I think the character has more to offer. Despite my assumption that he’s part of the secretive Section 31 we’ve seen no on-screen confirmation of that, and exploring more of who he is and what his role is within Starfleet is something I’d be curious to see.

Kovich explains to Dr Culber that Georgiou’s condition is caused by having travelled through time and from a parallel universe. Doing one or the other is fine, apparently, but doing both causes a technobabble condition. As a premise I think there’s something very “Star Trek” to it, and I’m reminded of medical-themed episodes from past iterations of Star Trek, such as Deep Space Nine’s The Quickening and Enterprise’s Observer Effect. We got a reference to the Kelvin timeline as Kovich presented the only other known case of Georgiou’s condition – a soldier in the Temporal Wars who seems to have crossed over from the Kelvin timeline.

Kovich was back in Terra Firma, Part I.

Speaking of references, there’s one from last week that I forgot to mention that was included in the recap at the beginning of Terra Firma, Part I. When telling Burnham he plans to remain aboard Discovery, Book jokingly says “aye aye,” before Burnham corrects him, saying in Starfleet it’s just “one aye.” This was something we first saw in Lower Decks – no, not the new series, but the episode from The Next Generation Season 7. Whether this was intended as an oblique reference to the animated show, a callback to The Next Generation, or neither is unclear, but I forgot to mention it last week!

Kovich believes that there’s no way to help Georgiou, and that she’ll become increasingly dangerous as her condition worsens. Discovery’s computer, however, offers an alternative solution. We saw in Forget Me Not the merging of Discovery’s computer with the Sphere data, and though that particular story thread doesn’t feel particularly well-developed or explained right now, this was a continuation of that. The AI makes a recommendation that Georgiou be taken to a planet called Dannus V – described as being near the “galactic rim,” which is a term I’ve only heard in Star Wars!

Destination: Dannus V.

Kovich is sceptical of Discovery’s computer and the way it merged with the Sphere data, and Saru is initially reluctant to go. Starfleet is currently on alert due to the Emerald Chain planning military exercises, but Admiral Vance intervenes. This was perhaps the best scene we’ve had with the Admiral since his introduction in Die Trying, as he really took on the role of leader and mentor.

Vance considered the available options and ultimately sanctioned the mission, despite the low chance of success. As he counselled Saru he appeared to hint at having made mistakes in the past, perhaps mistakes which led to deaths. The line that the crew would “never look at you the same way” if he didn’t try to help Georgiou and simply let her die was outstanding, and actor Oded Fehr has been phenomenal in the role so far. We seemed to get some hinting that perhaps Admiral Vance may not survive his encounter with the Emerald Chain – there was an air of finality to his moment with Saru. I hope that isn’t going to be the case, even though the Emerald Chain’s attack is clearly being set up as a bigger event than Starfleet realises. I’ll go into this in more detail when I write up my theories, so stay tuned for that in the coming days.

Admiral Vance sanctioned the mission… but will he survive the Emerald Chain?

With the mission greenlit, Discovery jumps to Dannus V. Georgiou and Burnham head down to the planet, but not before a touching sequence as Saru and Tilly say their goodbyes to Georgiou. There’s a mutual respect – albeit grudgingly – between Saru and Georgiou. While they approach leadership in very different ways, as Saru says he has learned from her. And as we’ll see when Georgiou re-enters the Mirror Universe, she’s clearly learned from him and Tilly. The hug from Tilly was sweet, and this was perhaps the first moment where Goergiou seemed to be different. She was touched by the kindness shown to her, even if it wasn’t what she would have wanted for herself.

Burnham accompanies her to the planet – because of course she does! – which is a snow-covered plain near a forest. This was a fun sequence, and perhaps it’s because we’re so close to Christmas, but I started to feel a little bit of a holiday vibe from the location. Burnham and Georgiou are on a quest to get help – a theme not uncommon in Christmas films – and the snowcapped landscape fed into that.

Saru and Tilly part ways with Georgiou and Burnham.

If I thought the snow made for a Christmassy feel, I was in for a surprise! Burnham and Georgiou arrive at the place where the Sphere data indicated they should go, and out of nowhere a strange man appears along with a doorway. If we continue our Christmas theme, he’s the “Ghost of Christmas Past” offering Georgiou a chance to change her ways! Despite some back-and-forth with this mysterious character – who seems to know who Georgiou is and why she’s there – Georgiou readies herself and steps through the doorway. The mysterious guardian gave his name only as “Carl,” and he was played by Paul Guilfoyle, who’s an established actor perhaps best known for CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, but who’s had many roles on film and television over the years. After David Cronenberg’s appearance, Discovery is doing great for guest stars this season!

I loved this weird sequence. In addition to its Christmassy tone, there was also a distinct sense that this is something Kirk, Spock, and McCoy could have encountered in The Original Series. They always seemed to be stumbling on things like that! The weird randomness of encountering a man in 20th Century dress in the middle of nowhere with a mysterious door is the kind of slightly wacky mid-century sci-fi that The Original Series brought to the table. It’s a far cry from Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War or Picard’s Zhat Vash conspiracy; tonally it’s much more in line with older Star Trek and classic sci-fi. Having spent much of the last two seasons of Discovery dealing with some dark, complex themes, it was an interesting break; a moment of lightness that brought Star Trek back to its roots.

The mysterious Carl.

Before we look at what happened to Georgiou on the other side of the mysterious door, we need to look at the only movement we saw regarding the Burn. After another sweet scene between Stamets and Adira, they manage to decode the distress signal emanating from the Verubin Nebula. To everyone’s surprise, the distress signal was being sent by a Kelpien scientist whose ship had crashed (or become stranded) shortly before the Burn occurred.

Saru is obviously affected by this revelation; it’s the first he’s seen of his people since arriving in the 32nd Century, and while he’d heard that they had joined the Federation at some point, this is the first he’s seen of Kelpiens reaching out into space. The fact that the Kelpien – Dr Issa – was portrayed by the same actress who had previously played Saru’s sister Siranna can’t be a coincidence; they looked identical. In fact at first I thought Dr Issa was Siranna somehow and that’s why Saru was reacting the way he was. Perhaps we’ll learn that this character is a distant descendant of Saru’s family.

Saru with the hologram of Dr Issa.

Regardless, it doesn’t seem as though this Kelpien ship is responsible for the Burn. They crashed or became stranded in the nebula while looking for a “dilithium nursery,” but beyond that we don’t know. A Starfleet vessel was mentioned as being en route to rescue them, but we don’t know what happened after that. Stamets seems to think that Discovery could hack into the Kelpien ship’s internal sensors to see what’s happening on board – but we didn’t see that this week.

Finally we come to Book. He talks to Saru about the Emerald Chain’s “training” perhaps being cover for something more aggressive, and I think this is Discovery building up to a major conflict or attack on the Federation. The Emerald Chain may even attack Federation HQ. Saru was a little too dismissive for my liking, telling Book that he needs to follow protocol when his courier sources seem like they could be incredibly useful. All Saru had to say here was “good job, let me know if you discover anything else.” But instead he turned it into a weird lecture about the need to fit in and find a role, and under the circumstances it just seems that Book’s contacts could be more useful to Saru than if Book himself were to read the Starfleet training manual. Perhaps this is setting up for Book to formally join Starfleet and the crew, and that’s all well and good I suppose. But from an in-universe point of view, making use of his connections and his intel should have been Saru’s priority here. It’s not like we’ve never seen Starfleet captains talk to third parties when looking for information; there are whole episodes based around that very premise, such as The Gambit from The Next Generation’s seventh season.

Saru seemed unwilling to take Book’s help, even though it was offered and could have proven valuable.

Having covered the non-Georgiou elements of the story, we now come to the Mirror Universe. It seemed obvious that the doorway would lead her there, somehow, and she emerges having travelled back in time to the day the ISS Charon – the Terran flagship seen in Discovery’s first season – was officially launched.

So let’s talk about canon and internal consistency. Discovery has been criticised by some in the fandom for its attitude to canon. Things like holo-communicators, the Klingon redesign, Burnham’s relationship to Spock, and so on are all cited as examples of how the show has ignored or overwritten established canon. I’ve never really had a problem with that side of things, though I understand the arguments on that side. One thing we’ve always been able to say, though, is that Discovery is internally consistent – i.e. events within Discovery itself are treated with respect and not messed with or overwritten.

Mirror Stamets was alive in Season 1… so how was he killed here?

Georgiou’s scenes in the Mirror Universe challenge that. She arrives on the day the ISS Charon is being officially commissioned, meaning this takes place before Discovery – under Lorca’s command – crosses over from the Prime universe. Yet we see events depicted here that go against what we saw in Discovery Season 1, such as the death of Stamets – who wasn’t dead in Season 1 – and the betrayal of Burnham, something which happened very differently in that season.

It isn’t clear where Georgiou is, and that may have an impact on what she’s seeing. It could be taking place in her head, in a different timeline, in a “pocket” universe, or in the actual Mirror Universe. Because we don’t know, some of these issues of internal consistency get a pass. But I’m not convinced that they all should. In Season 1, we learn that Mirror Burnham is presumed dead after trying to help Mirror Lorca stage a coup. Georgiou has put the death penalty on her, but did not execute her personally. The only way the storyline of Season 1 was able to unfold in the Mirror Universe was because Prime Burnham was able to convince Georgiou that she was her Mirror counterpart – something which could not have happened if, as Georgiou suggests, she executed Michael for treason days or weeks earlier.

If Mirror Burnham was executed by Georgiou’s own hand days or weeks before the events of Season 1, that storyline could not have unfolded the way it did.

We’re seeing events from Georgiou’s perspective, and I think it’s unlikely that she’s fully travelled back in time and across the divide between universes, so we may be seeing events unfold differently because of that. And if that’s how this storyline will be resolved then that’s all well and good. I just hope they don’t leave it unexplained or imply that Georgiou saw everything exactly as it happened, because that would open up a hole in Discovery’s overall storyline, with two different versions of events in the Mirror Universe. The show has always remained internally consistent, and I hope it does so again here.

Aside from Georgiou herself, who has changed as we’ve already discussed, the rest of the Mirror Universe characters played into the trope of being pantomime villains. We got to spend time mostly with Mirror Tilly and Mirror Burnham, but Stamets and a few others were also present at the dedicating ceremony for the ISS Charon. One of the defences people often trot out for episodes like this – which see the regular cast get to play different versions of their characters – is that the actors “had a lot of fun” doing it. I have no doubt that’s true – Sonequa Martin-Green in particular seemed to be relishing her portrayal of Mirror Burnham. But that doesn’t mean it’s particularly interesting or entertaining viewing, and these characters fit the Mirror Universe stereotype of being evil-for-the-sake-of-it villains with no real motivation, backstory, or points of interest. Martin-Green’s performance as Mirror Burnham in particular was incredibly over-the-top, hammy, and ridiculous. It was, at points, like watching a production put on by schoolchildren doing their best to seem villainous and menacing.

Mirror Burnham is little more than a pantomime villain.

The exception was Georgiou, who was the Mirror Universe’s saving grace in Terra Firma, Part I. At several moments in the story she reacted as if she were her Prime universe counterpart: firstly during her conversation with Tilly, then when she interrupted to save Saru’s life, and finally when she declined to execute Burnham. I don’t want to attribute her changed behaviour to some kind of psychological condition; that would be a pretty cheap way for the storyline to conclude. I hope what we’re seeing is Georgiou realising, having spent time in the Prime universe, that there is merit in some of the Federation’s ideals. It wouldn’t be the first time a denizen of the Mirror Universe came to that conclusion: Spock also felt that way, as we saw in Mirror, Mirror.

She’s clearly not going to have a complete turnaround and become a cuddly, kind-hearted person with nothing but nice things to say to everyone. But if this change sticks around beyond Terra Firma, Part II next week, we could begin to see Georgiou as something other than flat and one-dimensional, and that would be to the benefit not just of Discovery but also the upcoming Section 31 series.

Georgiou no longer feels at home in the Mirror Universe.

If we continue our Christmas analogy from earlier, Terra Firma, Part I unfolded in some respects like the classic Dickens novel A Christmas Carol. Carl, who guarded the door, is the “Ghost of Christmas Past,” Georgiou is Scrooge, and spending time away from her reality has shown her the error of her ways. She’s learned basically the same lesson Scrooge learned – to be nicer.

The play that Stamets and the crew put on for Emperor Georgiou was interesting and certainly something different for a Mirror Universe episode. It was fun to see how people in that universe – who seem to be all about violence all the time – make time for leisure activities that aren’t just blood sports. I wonder how a Mirror Universe actor or acrobat makes a living? Do they assassinate each other – as members of Mirror Starfleet to – in order to get ahead? In a way it would be interesting to see Terran society away from Starfleet; is it as violent and brutal as we think, or is there room for other activities? Terra Firma, Part I has me thinking about all the “normal” day-to-day activities we do, and how they could be similar or different in the Mirror Universe!

The play put on for Georgiou’s entertainment.

Terra Firma, Part I ends on a cliffhanger – Georgiou opts not to execute Mirror Burnham, thus changing the timeline as she sees it. As discussed, whether this is in fact the way things unfolded or this is Georgiou’s interpretation is unclear, as is the exact nature of what we’re seeing. It could be literal time travel meaning everything is literally happening, or it could be all in her head, a holodeck simulation, a vision from a noncorporeal race like the Prophets, or anything else. For my money, I don’t think she’s been able to travel back in time and across the boundary between universes simply by walking through a door on a random planet – so we’ll have to wait and see what is really going on.

I enjoyed Terra Firma, Part I. I liked its Christmas theme, the brief moment of furthering the main story, and for the first time in a long time, I enjoyed scenes set in the Mirror Universe. Georgiou has become a far more nuanced character, and while she’s hard to fully root for, especially if she wants to reclaim her throne, she’s become kind of an anti-hero. We’re seeing the Mirror Universe from her perspective, a Terran perspective, which is rare. The last episode to do that was In A Mirror, Darkly from the fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise.

While Carl and Burnham look on, Georgiou opens the mysterious door.

I’m looking forward to seeing what will happen in Terra Firma, Part II next week. This first half of the story has given it a solid foundation to build upon, and there are many different ways it could go. It doesn’t feel like a predictable story right now, and that’s always something I like!

Stay tuned in the next couple of days for my updated theories. There was a lot to get stuck into from this episode, so it may take a little time to get everything written out.

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 8: The Sanctuary

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

After a disappointing episode a couple of weeks ago, and a follow-up last week that was middle-of-the-road at best, I was hoping that Jonathan Frakes’ second outing as director this season would give Discovery’s third season the boost that it needed. Frakes has directed some of my all-time favourite Star Trek episodes, including some of Discovery’s best in earlier seasons, so there was reason for hope as I sat down to watch The Sanctuary.

I’m trying to see past some of Discovery’s flaws as it pertains to Michael Burnham and be more empathetic to the show’s main character. I’ve recently written an article all about Luke Skywalker’s characterisation in the film The Last Jedi, and while the characters are certainly very different, one thing I’m keenly aware of is the need for empathy – and that extends to fictional characters too, even those who have flaws and failings. Maybe I’ve been a little too quick to jump on Burnham for making mistakes, and even too harsh in some of my criticisms. I’ll certainly try to keep that in mind as Discovery Season 3 rolls on.

Burnham in The Sanctuary.

So on to The Sanctuary. It was a really great episode, with an engaging collection of story threads which brought together elements from across Season 3. Part of the episode – the journey to Book’s homeworld – was relatively standalone, but other aspects which looked at the Burn and the Emerald Chain connect to ongoing stories across the season as a whole.

The only weak aspect of The Sanctuary was its villain: the Emerald Chain’s leader, Osyraa. While she may see further development in future episodes, this week she felt flat, one-dimensional, and really just a villain stereotype. Her scene at the beginning when she executed her nephew for allowing Ryn to escape set that up, and it continued through her threats to Saru and Book’s brother Kyheem later in the episode.

Based on her single appearance so far, Osyraa is not a compelling villain.

A well-written antagonist is important, and finding a way to give villains understandable motivations beyond “I’m evil and I love it” is something Discovery has consistently struggled with. Its Mirror Universe and Klingon antagonists in Season 1 fell victim to this trope, as did Control in Season 2 to an extent. None had their backgrounds or motivations sufficiently fleshed-out, and where motivation did exist – as in the case of the Klingons – it didn’t really make a lot of sense. It would seem that the Emerald Chain, at least from what we’ve seen of its leadership, are basically just over-inflated playground bullies who don’t really have any specific goals or motivations beyond acquiring wealth, power, and, as we’ll learn in The Sanctuary, dilithium.

After Osyraa kills her nephew, we get a scene aboard Discovery when Book chases down Burnham to tell her he needs to return to his homeworld. We learn a little more about Book in The Sanctuary, and it would seem that he isn’t human – despite appearances. I had speculated for a while what the source of his abilities could be, including that he could have a synthetic origin in a storyline that would connect with Star Trek: Picard. While technically that could still come true, it seems that he is, in fact, a native of the planet Kwejian.

Burnham and Book talk aboard Discovery, kicking off the main storyline of The Sanctuary.

I wish we’d spent a little more time with Book in previous episodes to better-inform his moment at the end of The Sanctuary. We’ve known Book to be independent-minded and to have been unimpressed with the Federation overall, and those aspects of his character have been present since we met him at the beginning of the season. However, there have been several episodes where Book was entirely absent, and seeing a little more of his individualism and anti-Federation sentiments would have perhaps made the moment where he seemed to recognise the good that Starfleet can do more impactful. It was certainly a powerful, emotional moment as he explained his change of heart to Burnham, especially after seeing him unsettled aboard Discovery last week; he seemed only to be there for Burnham’s sake. However, it could have been even more than it was had we spent a little more time with him in the episodes leading up to this point.

After his scene at the beginning of last week’s episode felt so rushed, I was pleased to see Admiral Vance was back on form. When considering whether or not to allow Discovery to jump to Kwejian he has to take a lot into account. Not only is Discovery one of only a handful of ships at his disposal, but the Spore Drive is a valuable – and vulnerable – piece of technology. Despite Discovery’s retrofit it’s still a 23rd Century vessel at its core, crewed by people who are still new to this era. Engaging in a confrontation with an enemy vessel is not something he could countenance, and after he acted so rashly last week I’m glad to see him taking some time to consider the options before sanctioning Discovery’s mission.

Admiral Vance was back on form.

Also set up at the beginning of the episode was Dr Culber’s investigation into Mirror Georgiou’s mysterious blackouts. It was clever to have Dr Culber try to talk his way around Georgiou, but my complaints about her being a dull character haven’t really been addressed. She’s undergoing – presumably at her own initiative – a medical examination, yet for the duration seems unable to stop quipping one-liners about how she used to be a killing machine.

This storyline is an opportunity for the flat, boring Georgiou to get out of her comfort zone, and while she did – at least in terms of the setting she was in – the way she acted hasn’t changed. There was a flash of vulnerability and of perhaps reaching for help in Scavengers, but that theme wasn’t continued this time. If Georgiou was trying to mask the way she feels, she did a good job. I understand the feeling that medical exams and questions are invasive, but the way she reacted to it was too much of the old one-dimensional Georgiou and failed to really offer anything different to us as the audience. It may have been in-character from a narrative point of view, but that doesn’t always make for good television, and there were other ways she could have remained in-character but been more interesting. The storyline itself, however, was interesting, and comes to a shocking climax later in the episode.

Giving Georgiou a medical problem is a potentially interesting turn of events for her character.

After Discovery arrives at Kwejian, I greatly enjoyed Saru’s line to Book and Burnham. He tells Book that he has “no authority” over him or what he does, while at the same time giving Burnham her orders. This line made clear that, despite their dispute and Burnham’s demotion, she’s still under his command. After Burnham seemed to have her breakthrough last week in how she feels about Starfleet, she’s okay with that.

One thing that hasn’t really been addressed for two weeks now is the damaged relationship between Saru and Burnham. They’re both being professional on the surface, of course, but they haven’t had any time together to discuss what happened. Saru has not only allowed Burnham to retain her role as chief science officer – and her rank of commander – but when she needed backing up in front of Admiral Vance, was firmly in favour of allowing Discovery to jump to Kwejian. Beginning to repair their relationship on-screen is something I hope we see in future episodes, rather than just working on the assumption that everything will get back to normal.

Saru on the bridge with Burnham in the background.

The Sanctuary also followed up last week’s acquisition of the SB-19 data. Adira and Stamets get to work on analysing it, and are developing an interesting dynamic that’s both friendly and somewhat parental, and the two actors – despite their age difference – have good on-screen chemistry.

The SB-19 data did eventually help pinpoint the source of the Burn – as Burnham hoped it would – but she herself was absent from the moment of victory; away with Book on Kwejian. Having complained for several weeks that “no characters other than Burnham ever get to advance the main plot,” it was actually really interesting to see Tilly, Saru, Stamets, and Adira as they found the source of the Burn. Burnham had set this up, but her on-screen presence has a tendency to overwhelm other characters, especially at important points in the story. Taking her wholly out of this moment was an interesting choice, and it’s one which worked. In fact, as of the end of The Sanctuary, it isn’t even clear if Burnham knows the source has been found.

Saru, Tilly, and Adira find the source of the Burn without Burnham.

So there were several story threads this week, and any time Star Trek attempts to do more than two or three in a single episode there can be a sense that some don’t get as much development or screen time as the others. I’m pleased to say that wasn’t the case in The Sanctuary, and the different story threads all wove together to create an episode that was exciting to watch, and one in which no narrative element felt under-appreciated.

Book has been summoned to Kwejian by his “brother” – not a biological brother, but rather someone with whom he was close in his youth. Kyheem has been working with the Emerald Chain, trading the tranceworms that Book has been saving with Osyraa for macguffin repellent to keep Kwejian’s crops safe from parasitic “sea locusts.” This setup was interesting, and reinforces the idea of the Emerald Chain being a kind of protection racket, but at the same time I have to ask why, in the 32nd Century, are crops and a harvest so important? These people clearly have a decent level of technology – judging from Kyheem’s home and Book’s ship – yet they have no replicators and must rely on crops? Star Trek has never been entirely consistent in how technology was portrayed, but I feel we could have used more background to Kwejian to know why they don’t have access to technological solutions to their food problems. Perhaps it’s Burn-related, but that’s a guess rather than anything confirmed on screen.

The troublesome sea locusts.

Book and Burnham walked into a trap. They were taken captive by Kyheem – Book’s brother – who had conspired with Osyraa to lead Book and Ryn to Kwejian. For the first time in Discovery’s third season, I found myself underwhelmed by the filming location chosen for Kwejian. Though not as bad as some of the obviously-California locations used in Star Trek: Picard, the forest setting didn’t feel particularly otherworldly, and for the relatively short outdoor sequences on its surface I’m sure a better set or stage could have been constructed.

Kyheem was an interesting character, clearly torn between helping his planet and not wanting to see his brother harmed, despite the conflict that has existed between them. Both he and Saru found themselves in comparable positions with Osyraa, and handled themselves in comparable ways. Neither Kyheem nor Saru were willing to surrender someone Osyraa demanded, despite the consequences of failing to comply.

Kyheem was an interesting character.

Tilly’s first assignment as XO appears to be helping Saru in a “personal matter” – figuring out a catch phrase to say on the bridge. I can see this being a point of criticism, and while it was certainly silly and a little bit of fan-service, I thought it was a bit of fun. Picard had “make it so,” Pike notably had “hit it,” and Saru wants to put his own stamp on the captaincy. It was cute, and Doug Jones played it well; the slightly nervous, unsure captain trying out something new. The reactions of Nilsson and Bryce in particular were funny, and I continue to appreciate that some of Discovery’s secondary characters have more of a presence this season than in past seasons.

Saru tries out “execute,” which is… interesting. And it definitely got a reaction! He also tries out “carry on,” which was less effective. I don’t expect these to be a major part of the show or his character going forward, but the couple of moments which dealt with Saru picking a catch-phrase added some much-needed lightness to what can be a tense and dramatic series. Star Trek has always had these kinds of moments, and it worked well here.

“Carry on!”

The Sanctuary also seems to have wrapped up Detmer’s character arc. After being injured in her first appearance of the season, Detmer’s storyline took her down a route that touched on mental health and post-traumatic stress. Through a handful of scenes across the last five or six episodes we’ve seen her struggle, seen her closest friends rally to support her, and seen her come to terms with needing help. This week she appears to finally overcome her lingering issue, taking control of Book’s ship in the climactic fight against Osyraa’s flagship.

If, in future episodes, we see more of Detmer, I will gladly retract what I’m about to say, but if this is as far as it goes I don’t believe it accomplished what the writers intended. Star Trek has never shied away from looking at complex emotional issues, and in general I’m incredibly supportive of portraying mental health in fiction. But Detmer’s storyline – again, if this is the end of it – has not been given enough screen time to tackle the difficult subject it raised. Instead what we’re given is an incredibly oversimplified presentation of mental health: a problem arising from circumstances (the crash-landing and the journey into the future), struggling alone, asking for help, and then a resolution as she realises she can still be a good pilot. For a story that unfolded over six episodes it’s hardly fair to call it “rushed,” but if you were to add up every scene involving Detmer that even touched on her mental health across Season 3, thus far it wouldn’t total more than a few minutes. And that’s all this storyline can really be said to have done: touched on the issue of mental health.

Detmer manually piloting Book’s ship.

Since we’re talking about Detmer and her attack run on Osyraa’s ship, I have a couple of points I wanted to bring up that admittedly stray into nitpicking territory. The first is that it seems patently obvious that Osyraa and the Emerald Chain will not believe that Detmer acted alone, and will treat the attack on their flagship as an attack by Starfleet. Osyraa strongly implied this at the end of the episode, but it should have been obvious to all involved from the start. Book’s ship was launched from Discovery’s hangar, and even if Osyraa didn’t know who the pilot was – or assumed it was Ryn – that fact alone makes it clear that it was a Starfleet-mandated attack, and any argument Saru or Vance might have to say it was a rogue officer will surely be disregarded.

Secondly, having crippled Osyraa’s flagship, would it not have made more sense to either destroy it or take her and her crew prisoner? They did, after all, attack a planet. Osyraa is currently being presented as the new “big bad” of the season, and if she comes back with a vengeance in a future episode, this will seem all the more like a missed opportunity. Saru had her in his sights; a volley of well-aimed torpedoes from the upgraded Discovery could have finished off her flagship. There’s a lot we don’t know about the Emerald Chain, and we have to assume they have more than one ship. However, the organisation has been presented so far as one with a strong cult of personality around its leader, and there may not be an obvious replacement had Osyraa been killed or captured. Cutting the head off the snake, to use an old analogy, may well cripple the entire organisation, and Saru missed a golden opportunity to do so.

Having damaged Osyraa’s flagship, Saru could have moved in to finish it off or capture her.

Though Discovery has, at times, played fast and loose with Star Trek’s wider canon, it’s always built on past events within the show itself. We get another example of that here, when the ultimate resolution to Kwejian’s locust plague used the same principle as when Captain Pike came to the aid of the Kelpiens in Season 2. Book and Kyheem’s empathic signal was amplified, driving the locusts back into the sea. It’s always interesting to see these moments pop up, and it worked well here – even if it harkened back to a storyline I wasn’t entirely sold on back in Season 2!

We learned Book’s birth name: Tareckx. This ties in with the – unstated but strongly implied – assertion the episode makes that, despite his adopted name, he isn’t human after all. This aspect of Book may yet be further explored, in which case I will, again, perhaps need to make a retraction! But I’m not sure that this semi-revelation actually achieved very much. We still don’t know what a Kwejian native is; are they a totally different species, descendants of human colonists, or even (as I’ve suggested before) synthetic? Book has been a mysterious character in some ways since his first appearance at the beginning of the season, but if the answer to the “Book question” is just that he’s a humanoid alien from another planet… it just seems anticlimactic, and the way it was treated in The Sanctuary doesn’t help matters. Why not have simply explained it up front instead of setting up something presented as a big mystery that ultimately went nowhere?

Book… formerly known as Tareckx.

One thing I absolutely loved, and I felt was perfectly handled within the story, was Adira’s moment of coming out as non-binary. As I said when Adira made their first appearance, one’s gender identity should not be an issue in Star Trek’s enlightened future, and as Adira came out to Stamets he reacted just as I hoped anyone would in the 23rd, 24th, or 32nd Centuries: by treating it as not a big deal. Equally, the way in which Adira told Stamets of their gender and pronoun preference was not aggressive or pushy; Stamets wasn’t made to feel bad or like he’d said something wrong. It was a moment which perfectly captured the tone of how I would hope such events would be treated in the future.

Though I don’t expect Stamets and Culber to adopt Adira in any formal way, the two certainly seem to be keeping an eye on them in a paternal way. It suits both of them, and for Adira, having a second person to talk to in Dr Culber would surely be to the good. If they trust Stamets, bringing his husband into the mix too doesn’t seem like much of a stretch, and perhaps that’s something we’ll see in future episodes too.

Dr Culber, Stamets, and Adira.

After hacking into the medical database, Georgiou learns a shocking revelation: she may be dying. I say “may” because Dr Culber’s line immediately after suggests there may be a way to help her. This could set up a storyline for Georgiou that goes in all sorts of directions, and right now it feels unpredictable. However, I’m convinced that she isn’t going to die; not least because she’s set to be the main character in the upcoming Section 31 series!

As mentioned, though, giving Georgiou something different to do and perhaps showing her coming to terms with moments of weakness and vulnerability could add to her character and, at the very least, change things up for her. Dr Culber doesn’t necessarily think she’s 100% dead, and there are many possibilities for how this could pan out. I’m interested to see what comes next.

“It isn’t that cut-and-dry.”

The final revelation of the episode is that the Emerald Chain is running low on dilithium. Ryn confides in Tilly, and while it wasn’t shown on screen that she passed this information up the chain of command, I’m sure she will tell Captain Saru and Admiral Vance. This could make the Emerald Chain more aggressive, or it could give them a reason to try to steal Discovery and/or the Spore Drive. This revelation feels as significant as the Burn’s point of origin, and I’m sure we will see the ramifications sometime soon.

Speaking of the Burn, after Tilly, Stamets, Adira, and Saru look at the nebula which seems to be the source, they uncover something shocking: a Federation distress signal. This cannot be a coincidence, though what exactly it may mean is not yet clear. Are we about to see the reappearance of a familiar starship? That’s certainly one theory I’m toying with. In the Short Treks episode Calypso, Discovery was abandoned in a nebula. Could the ship hiding at the centre be Discovery – either from another time period or another universe? We’ll look at some of these ideas in more detail in my next theory post, so stay tuned for that.

Finding the distress signal.

So that was The Sanctuary. A solid mid-season episode that was in parts standalone story and connected to ongoing events. There was a lot packed into its 45-minute runtime, but practically all of it worked well, and by the time the credits rolled I was having a genuinely great time. Jonathan Frakes is a wonderful director, but I don’t want to give him all of the credit for the most enjoyable Discovery episode for a couple of weeks! There was some great writing this time, and perhaps the episode being one in which Burnham wasn’t centre-stage the whole time helped too.

When we looked at the promo for The Sanctuary I wondered if we’d get an episode which took us straight to the source of the Burn. I’m glad that we didn’t, and that Discovery isn’t rushing its main storyline. With five episodes left, there’s still plenty of time to sort out all of that. Having the story be a slow burn (pun intended) works well, and rather than racing from point to point I appreciate that the show is taking its time and that we still get semi-standalone stories like Book’s homecoming.

This week we’ll get the first half of a two-parter: Terra Firma. I honestly have no idea what it will bring, whether it will get us closer to the Burn, or what will happen to Burnham, Saru, Book, and the rest of the crew. Can’t wait to find out though!

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 6: Scavengers

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

Welcome back to another Star Trek: Discovery episode review. Time really flies, doesn’t it? We’re practically halfway through Discovery’s third season already; six episodes down, seven remaining! It seems like yesterday that we were theorising and speculating in the run-up to the season premiere! Where does the time go?

Season 3 has been enjoyable so far. The main mystery at the core of the series – the Burn – remains a driving force for much of the story, but its origin is still unknown, and finding some way of fixing the damage done seems a long way off. Scavengers brought us a macguffin that may help in that regard… but at the cost of a story for Michael Burnham that dragged her, almost full-circle, back to the self-centred, arrogant character we met at the beginning of Season 1.

Burnham in the Season 1 premiere.

Though I didn’t enjoy Season 1’s two-part premiere, the rest of the season went some way to making up for some of its wrongs. The attempted character arc for Burnham started on far too negative a note for my liking, but by the end of the season she had rediscovered her faith in Starfleet and the promise of the Federation. This continued into Season 2, where she put others first and ended up saving the galaxy. By this point in Discovery’s run, Burnham had changed… or so it seemed.

The beginnings of this undoing of her growth had been laid in Far From Home and expanded upon in People of Earth, when we learned Burnham had spent a year in the 32nd Century before Discovery’s arrival; a year in which she developed an appreciation for a life outside the confines of Starfleet that allowed her the freedom to go where she wanted and pursue leads on the Burn in the manner she saw fit. Clearly this wasn’t compatible with a return to serving under someone else’s command. I had been speculating for a couple of weeks that this storyline was perhaps setting up Burnham’s departure from Discovery. That may yet be true, but in the immediate term we have to deal with her selfish decision to disobey orders.

When Discovery arrived in Far From Home, Burnham had already been in the 32nd Century for a year.

While I may be in the minority on this, I see this as a cheap recycling of the worst part of Burnham’s first-season storyline, and that just isn’t what I wanted – or expected – from Season 3. Discovery is repeating its biggest mistake from back then: telling us that Burnham was right to do what she did because the ends justify the means. Is that the message Star Trek has always tried to teach?

If this was the first time she’d behaved in this way, I think I’d have come away from Scavengers with my heart breaking for the tough choice she made: deciding to do what she felt was right even if it went against her orders. But it isn’t the first time we’ve been down this road with Burnham, and aside from the repetitive storyline, it makes me feel she learned nothing. At her core, she’s still the same arrogant wannabe-captain who thinks she knows better, and that because of how unique and wonderful she is the chain of command should not apply. These were Burnham’s worst character traits in Season 1, and apparently they’re back again in Season 3.

For that reason alone, Scavengers is currently my least-favourite episode of the season.

Burnham commandeered Book’s ship for her own purposes in Scavengers.

Let’s get into the rest of the story, then. Despite my gripes with the way Burnham’s storyline was handled, Scavengers was otherwise a decent episode, one with plenty of action, some interesting upgrades to Discovery itself, and the return of Book – and Grudge! There’s plenty to enjoy, and despite his limited screen time I want to single out Doug Jones’ performance as Saru, which was once again intensely emotional.

Scavengers begins with a truly impressive CGI sequence showing Discovery’s retrofit. Saru notes in a voiceover (that soon merges neatly into a briefing he’s participating with senior Starfleet officers) some of the changes to the ship: the integration of programmable matter, detachable nacelles, and a host of other upgrades which presumably bring the 930-year-old vessel up to 32nd Century specs. No longer will she be outgunned against the likes of the “Emerald Chain” – the Andorian-Orion alliance first named last week, and who may be in charge of the Hima trading post Burnham visited in That Hope Is You.

Discovery’s retrofit.

Discovery is also given an updated number: NCC 1031-A. Although I don’t doubt some fans will argue over whether retrofitted ships are renumbered (the Enterprise wasn’t in The Motion Picture, for example) for me personally this worked well. Season 3 – despite my complaint about Burnham’s characterisation above – has been a soft reboot of Discovery in many ways, including of course the new 32nd Century setting. The renumbering and retrofit of the ship is symbolic of this break with the show’s past – even if the interior of the ship has been left more or less the same from a visual standpoint.

I can also foresee detached nacelles being controversial among Trekkies, particularly those who goggle over starship design! On the surface it doesn’t seem to make sense; how can the nacelles propel Discovery to warp if they aren’t physically connected to the ship? The answer, no doubt, lies in forcefields, tractor beams, warp bubbles, or some kind of technology to keep the nacelles bound to the ship even when they aren’t physically connected. It does make me wonder, though… if the ship were to lose all power, would the nacelles just float away? Can the nacelles go to warp independently? Maybe this is setting up a future episode where Discovery’s nacelles get stolen!

Discovery’s new detachable nacelles.

Compared to Star Trek’s past “hero” ships, Discovery has always had a somewhat clunky design. The saucer has long been my favourite part, with its spinning rings, and the “neck” and star-drive section have these sharp lines that definitely succeeded in Season 1 of indicating that this was a pre-Original Series ship. The detachable nacelles give the star-drive section a bit more visual interest, not least because that concept is something we’ve never really seen before. Overall the changes glimpsed in this opening sequence are positive – iterative improvements to Discovery without launching into an all-out retrofit like the original Enterprise saw. I look forward to seeing Discovery in action soon, as this week we only saw her in dock.

While we’re looking at little details, Saru is the first Discovery character to don the new 32nd Century Starfleet badge in place of the simpler Original Series-inspired gold emblem the crew have worn since Season 1. The rest of the crew will get their badges in a scene we’ll look at in a moment, but purely as an aesthetic, I quite like this design. As above with the ship’s retrofit, this feels like Discovery taking another step to reboot itself, symbolically moving away from Seasons 1 & 2. The badge itself is an oval shape, one that reminds me at least a little of the Bajoran combadges sported by Odo and Kira in Deep Space Nine. It keeps the familiar Starfleet logo (or Delta) but splits it cleanly in two – perhaps a metaphor for the fractured Federation? In addition, the badges show rank – in Saru’s case, four pips indicate he’s a captain. This idea isn’t new, and we’d seen combadges that could show rank in some episodes of The Next Generation that were set in alternate timelines. Taken as a whole, there are inspirations from across the wider Star Trek canon, but above all the badges look great.

Saru’s new combadge.

Several of the other Federation captains and/or flag officers learn about the Spore Drive at this meeting with Saru and Admiral Vance; its existence is to remain a secret on Vance’s orders. I picked up the smallest of hints here that maybe some of the other Starfleet officers present weren’t happy with the Spore Drive – for whatever reason – and we’ll look at that theory in more detail in the coming days!

Saru tells Admiral Vance that Burnham is in charge of re-training the crew and helping them acclimate to the 32nd Century; this process has been ongoing for three weeks or so, along with the retrofit of the ship. It would have been nice to see some of that – even just in a montage – as it would have helped us get to really see how the crew feel about their new situation. Saru tells us that they’re adjusting, but as I’ve said on a couple of occasions already this season: show, don’t just tell!

The senior officers’ meeting, chaired by Admiral Vance.

The crew get their new badges in the next scene, and we learn how far technology has come! In addition to being combadges – which are already new to the 23rd Century Discovery crew – the badges are holo-projectors, padds, tricorders, and personal transporters! All those devices are now rolled into one, which is pretty cool! Star Trek’s technology has always been influenced by current trends, and what we see today with the likes of smartphones is the condensing of multiple tools into one piece of kit. This is reflected by Discovery in these new badges, and I think we all feel what Tilly says aloud: “this is my new favourite thing!”

This sequence also featured some of the bridge crew getting to grips with some of the new features, including programmable matter. The Detmer storyline may have been advanced off-screen, but she clearly isn’t 100% back to normal, still suffering the lingering effects of her injury and mental health issues. Random Blonde Bridge Officer – who last week we learned is called Lieutenant Nilsson – gets another line here, as Linus the Saurian mistakenly arrives on the bridge via his personal transporter; this would be a recurring joke throughout the episode, and although it was silly, it was definitely funny. Scavengers had several great moments of humour like that, but it’s just nice to see the wider crew having some screen time. I’ve written previously that expanding the characters who are in play is something I’d like to see Discovery do, and this was a short sequence, but they all add up.

Owosekun gets to grips with the new programmable matter interface on the bridge.

Book’s ship makes a surprise arrival, kicking off the Burnham plot. The ship has arrived on autopilot, and Book tells Burnham via a recorded holo-message that he’s gone in search of a Federation black box. She takes this to Saru, as finding the black box might help them triangulate the original source of the Burn – perhaps allowing them to figure out what caused it. Saru, however, has his orders from Admiral Vance about the need to be ready to jump to another system, and tells Burnham that her idea of chasing after Book will have to wait.

It was patently obvious from this scene what Burnham was going to do next – just as it became apparent from her conversations with Sarek in the Season 1 premiere that she was similarly going to go rogue. Burnham had already decided that what she wanted to do was more important, and being unwilling to follow the chain of command or be patient and wait perhaps 12 hours, she immediately schemes with Georgiou. I don’t always like Mirror Georgiou – she can feel flat and one-dimensional – but here she actually acts as the voice of reason, telling Burnham she’ll be potentially doing harm to Saru and the whole crew by rushing off half-cocked. It was a change of pace for her, no question, but one that worked well at the outset of a storyline that otherwise didn’t. I particularly liked Georgiou’s line referencing Burnham’s Season 1 mutiny having “a very familar ring.” It was written beautifully and delivered with perfection.

Burnham and Georgiou scheme to disobey Saru’s orders.

After the opening titles, we immediately see Burnham and Georgiou aboard Book’s ship in flight. For story reasons, Book’s ship kind of had to be present, but in a galaxy lacking in fuel for warp travel, couldn’t he have transmitted Burnham a message some other way? Admiral Vance did mention that some of Starfleet’s subspace relays were not working, but it hasn’t been conclusively established that all faster-than-light communication doesn’t work. It just seems odd that someone as concerned with dilithium supplies as Book would send his entire ship in search of Burnham. There’s also the question of how far from Earth Federation HQ is located; Book was last seen in the vicinity of Earth.

Those are nitpicks, but in a story which generally didn’t work very well, I find myself more inclined to pick at elements I might’ve overlooked in a better episode!

This sequence continues something we saw last time – there’s something wrong with Georgiou. She appears to zone out while Burnham talks to her, as we saw her do at the end of last week’s episode. This is definitely something which has potential, adding a new dimension to an otherwise flat character. The writers seem to want us to infer that whatever is happening with Georgiou is related to her interrogation last week by the Starfleet officer (played by David Cronenberg) who may be working for Section 31. It seems too much of a coincidence that she suddenly developed a repressed memory or other psychological ailment immediately after that event and have the two be entirely unrelated – but at this stage we don’t know.

Georgiou is hallucinating.

This new storyline opens up new possibilities for Georgiou, no matter what the ultimate cause of this hallucination turns out to be. Her initial appearance as the Terran Empress in Season 1 was purely for shock value – and it worked. But after Burnham “saved” her and brought her aboard Discovery she’s been rudderless. Assigning her to Section 31 was actually a sensible use of her unique perspective, but even so as a character she has no nuance or depth; I once called her a “23rd Century Heinz Doofenshmirtz,” i.e. a childish cariacture of a villain. However, the possibility that she’s been brainwashed, tampered with, or is suffering some kind of illness or the reappearance of repressed memories could take her in different directions and to new places.

If Starfleet, led by Kovich, has done something to her, I would expect to see her seek revenge, and that in itself could be an interesting storyline. This may even set the stage for her working against Starfleet’s interests, or, as I’ve been theorising, travelling back in time to the 23rd Century in time to link up with the Section 31 series that’s currently in production and is supposedly set in that era. In short, this storyline opens up numerous possibilities for a character I’ve never been particularly keen on within the show to actually do something different and interesting. I’m all for that!

Part of Georgiou’s hallucination.

While Burnham and Georgiou travel to a junkyard planet and talk their way to the surface, Tilly realises Burnham is absent. For the first time this season – and perhaps for the first time since Reno joined the crew in Season 2 – Tilly is used as some light-hearted comic relief. I adored her scene with Grudge in her quarters as she realised Burnham is missing; I was laughing out loud as she asked Grudge “did you eat her?!” That was perhaps the funniest line of the season so far. Tilly is a great character for comedic purposes; Mary Wiseman has great timing and delivery. However, I’m glad she’s not just been a comic character this season.

Her scene with Saru in engineering was interesting. Of note was the fact that she didn’t go to her captain to let him know Burnham is missing right away; he had to track her down and ask. Though the scene was short, any time Saru and Tilly are together makes for great television, particularly after their bonding in Far From Home. Saru once again demonstrates how good of a captain he is, telling Tilly he doesn’t believe she would do the same as Burnham did (i.e. disobey orders) in the same situation. This gentle mentoring of his crew is something we’ve seen Saru do at several key moments. Without being aggressive or dictating orders, he’s shepherding them to make the right decisions for themselves. Tilly would not do what Burnham did, not only because she’s better than that but because she wouldn’t want to let Saru down. He’s instilling in the crew a respect for his authority in a different way; not simply relying on rank, nor on his strictness, he’s building a genuine rapport with officers like Tilly.

Tilly and Saru in Main Engineering.

As Admiral Vance points out later, Saru failed with Burnham in that regard. Not only that, but I felt Admiral Vance was absolutely fair to point out to Saru that he should have told his superior about Burnham and Book’s information; even if they couldn’t have undertook the mission immediately it may have been worth the risk very soon thereafter. Vance impresses on Saru that he’s not happy, but in a not dissimilar manner to Saru does so in a calmly angry manner. I stand by what I said last week: the casting for Admiral Vance was inspired.

But we’ve raced ahead almost to the end of Scavengers! The junkyard location was aesthetically interesting, but I didn’t really get a sense of being in the “far future.” Perhaps that’s the work of the Burn setting things back, but even so the facility seemed rather present-day in some respects. I also got a bit of a Star Wars vibe, as the junkyard reminded me a little of some locations in that franchise. It was interesting to see some of the salvage at the junkyard; I spotted a 24th Century phaser, which was a nice touch, and the return of the self-sealing stem bolt was low-key hilarious to Trekkies!

The 24th Century phaser.

Burnham and Book are reunited; Book having been captured while searching for the black box. I can’t help but feel that Book’s side of this story is the part I’d rather have seen – searching for the black box on a dangerous world and ultimately getting captured by Andorian-Orion slavers seems like it has the potential to make for an exciting Book-centric episode. However, that’s not what we got!

It’s apparent from Scavengers that Burnham and Book’s relationship progressed far more than she let on. Whether they were ever an “official item” is not clear, but there are strong feelings reciprocated by both parties. As I said a few weeks ago, giving Burnham a love interest has the potential to humanise her and blunt the edge of some of her less-attractive character traits; ironic, considering what happened in Scavengers amplified those same traits as she raced off to rescue him!

Book and Burnham at the junkyard.

The escape from the junkyard was tense, exciting, and action-packed. The junkyard’s security system utilises a head-exploding technology – one which Georgiou was able to disable using a macguffin that seemed to consist of two pieces of junk from the facility itself, which doesn’t seem all that secure. But as a concept it was interesting, and made Book’s escape seem implausible.

Book’s Andorian friend Ryn was an interesting character. At first I was sure he was going to meet his end at the junkyard; the story seemed to be setting him up as the sacrificial lamb to allow Book’s escape. When he was shot during the slaves’ escape it was a saddening moment, but not one that was entirely unexpected. What was a surprise, however, was Ryn’s subsequent survival. Has Book acquired a new permanent ally, or will we never see Ryn again? I’d be interested to learn more about him, and if one part of the season’s Starfleet storyline will involve a conflict with this Emerald Chain faction, perhaps Ryn will prove useful. We’ll have to wait and see, but as a character he has a lot of potential. I’m glad he made it!

Ryn the Andorian.

I think I’ve hit most of the points I wanted to about the junkyard, which is where most of the action took place this week. It was an interesting setting, freeing the slaves was suitably tense and exciting, and it gave Georgiou and Burnham a chance to catch up. None of that was problematic, and if I were to criticise one part of the junkyard storyline it would be to say that the main Orion villain – Tolor – was bland and uninteresting; a cardboard cut-out who was only there to give Burnham, Book, and Georgiou an antagonist. The rest of it was fine, and even managed to be a combination of exciting and interesting.

Were it not for the way this had been set up, with Burnham’s total regression to her Season 1 characterisation, I would have enjoyed all of the junkyard sequences a lot more. To be clear, it’s no criticism of Sonequa Martin-Green, who always gives her all when portraying Burnham, but in this case I’m not sold on this kind of storyline for her. It recycled the worst parts of what she did in Season 1 that, for me at least, made her very difficult to root for as a protagonist. Maybe Scavengers is setting up something greater for her in future, but even if that’s the case I come back to the same argument I had against Burnham in Season 1: making your protagonist unlikeable through dumb, arrogant decisions is not the way to an inspiring character arc. It’s absolutely possible to show a character make mistakes, learn from them, grow, and for that story to be engrossing, entertaining, and inspiring. But you don’t accomplish that by making your main character arrogant and self-centred, and you certainly don’t accomplish it by dragging your main character back and undoing two years’ of positive growth.

Georgiou and Burnham aboard Book’s ship.

At the close of the episode, after he received a dressing-down of his own from Admiral Vance, Saru tells Burnham her services as his first officer will no longer be required. This scene was emotional, and it’s hard not to feel for Saru as his heartbreak at Burnham’s selfishness was plain to see. He put his trust in her – twice – and she’s taken advantage of that. We can absolutely entertain the argument that Saru trusts her too readily, but this is all on her. I liked the idea of Burnham as Saru’s first officer when she first took the position in People of Earth, but after a mere three episodes she’s thrown it away again. He certainly can’t offer it to her again; as a story point that would be too unbelievable, even setting aside the in-universe way Saru must be feeling. And if any Discovery fan was under any illusion that Burnham should ascend to the captaincy herself, well I think it’s fair to say that Scavengers demonstrates why she won’t.

Her line to Saru that he’s doing the right thing was unwarranted, and again feeds into the (unintentional) narrative that Burnham is incredibly arrogant. He’s already made his decision as captain to strip her of the first officer’s post, yet she feels the need to give him her opinion. Are we meant to feel that she’s being logical and looking at the situation objectively? That if the roles were reversed, she knows she would have to fire her first officer? Because it doesn’t come across that way. It comes across as Burnham trying, once again, to put herself at the centre. It’s not about Saru’s decision any more, it’s about Burnham, and what she would have done in his place.

Saru strips Burnham of her role as first officer.

I thought Discovery was over this. The warning signs of a Burnham obsession have been present this season, as she’s been forced into roles in two episodes that were better-suited to other characters, so I should certainly have been prepared for something like this. But that doesn’t make it any less disappointing. If Burnham were a side character, a secondary character or someone less important to the series, I think what happened this week would be more acceptable. But she’s the main protagonist, the character we’re supposed to root for and support no matter what. After two-and-a-half seasons, I was there. I was a Burnham supporter. But seeing her like this again: self-centred, insubordinate, and believing that because she’s special that everyone needs to do what she wants, when she wants, felt like being at the start of Season 1 again.

I’m confused. Discovery has given us a protagonist it wants us to support, but it’s going out of its way to make her as unlikeable as she was back then. How are fans supposed to get on board with this version of Burnham? What’s confusing is where the show goes from here. On the one hand we have Saru and the rest of the crew, getting to know their retrofitted ship with its fancy new technology. There’s a real chance they can help bring the Federation together, and that’s a story I truly want to see. But what of Burnham? What role does she have now? Maybe she’s found some clue in this black box that will begin to unravel the Burn, but even if she has, can we trust her to stick with the crew as they chase down this mystery? And more importantly, for such an arrogant and selfish person, do we want to see her help? Do we want to see this victory become her victory? I’m not sure any more.

Burnham loses her role as Saru’s first officer.

I missed out the whole Stamets-Adira bonding, and I did want to compliment the writers on those sequences. Adira and Stamets have a lot in common, and it was great to see them both reaching out for each other. I’m glad Adira has someone to talk to about Gray, and Stamets is kind and understanding. It was nice to see him take her under his wing.

Speaking of Stamets, we also got a brief scene between him and Culber. Fixing their relationship was on my wishlist for the season, and it seems to have happened. I’m so glad, because their cute relationship can be an emotional anchor for the otherwise fast-paced, action-packed Discovery.

So that was Scavengers. Overall, a mixed bag. The scenes aboard Discovery were great. Tilly got to step back into her comic shoes for a short time, Saru was on fine form as captain, Adira and Gray got some screen time, the bridge crew got to grips with the retrofitted ship, and as mentioned, Stamets got moments with Adira and Culber. But the main focus of the episode was Burnham and her incomprehensible decision to put herself first, to ignore the chain of command, and to arrogantly and unilaterally decide that what she wanted was most important. I can’t support that or get behind it, and if Discovery continues with Burnham in this fashion it’s going to be a difficult watch over the next few episodes.

The new combadge.

Above all, I’m disappointed that we seem to be back in the same place we were at the beginning of Season 1. Discovery improved in leaps and bounds in the intervening two-and-a-half seasons, but right now there’s a real risk of much of that growth – at least as far as Burnham is concerned – being undone.

I’m a little anxious about what Unification III will bring. Hopefully it can begin the task of repairing the damage done to Burnham this week, or perhaps sideline her and tell a different story utilising other members of the crew. A continuation of this trend will be unfortunate.

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 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 1: That Hope Is You

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

1998 was a pretty good year. Japan hosted the Winter Olympics, Windows 98 gave the world’s computers a major upgrade, and Billie Piper (later of Doctor Who fame) released Because We Want To, her debut single, which went straight to number one in the charts. Catchy stuff. It’s also the most recent year in which three different Star Trek productions all debuted. We got the film Star Trek: Insurrection, the seventh season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and the fifth season of Star Trek: Voyager. It seemed in those days that the franchise was an unstoppable juggernaut! It’s taken over two decades for there to once again be three productions in one year, but here we are. Despite everything going on in the world we’ve had Star Trek: Picard’s first season, Star Trek: Lower Decks’ first season, and now finally the third season of Star Trek: Discovery!

Oh boy it’s been a long wait! Season 2 wrapped up in April 2019, meaning we’ve had to stay on the edge of our seats wondering what will become of Burnham, Saru, and the rest of the crew for eighteen months! If you missed it, I’ve written a summary of the story so far, up to the end of Season 2. I think that serves as a decent recap of the adventures of the ship and crew over the first two seasons, and if it’s been a while since you last saw Discovery it could be worth a read to get back up to speed. You can find that article by clicking or tapping here.

Captain Pike and Spock watch Burnham and the USS Discovery disappear into the future at the end of Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2 – the Season 2 finale.

After the abject failure of ViacomCBS to secure an international broadcast for Lower Decks, I confess being a little concerned that Discovery would have similar issues. With Paramount+ – Star Trek’s new digital home – supposedly being rolled out internationally in 2021, I could quite understand Netflix saying they didn’t want to broadcast a show that will soon be taken down and made available on a competing service. Luckily, however, Netflix is content to broadcast Discovery here in the UK – and in 187 other countries and territories too! The episodes are broadcast on Netflix a day after their CBS All Access premiere, and since that’s the version I have access to, it means I’ll be 24 hours behind the curve when it comes to writing my reviews this season. Sorry, but there’s nothing I can do about that!

Without further ado, let’s jump into the season premiere. That Hope Is You was decent. It wasn’t Discovery’s finest, but it was far and away not the worst episode! Like the premiere of Star Trek: Picard earlier in the year, That Hope Is You builds up slowly and lays a foundation on which the story of the season can build. There was one especially bad line of dialogue, but other than that no colossal negatives to drag it down. The episode focused exclusively on two characters – Burnham and new character Book. This idea of slowly introducing characters instead of dumping them all in at once worked well in Picard, and I’m sure will work here too based on what we saw this week.

That Hope Is You focuses on Burnham and Book.

After the mandatory recap of last season’s story, we get a slow opening to the new season depicting the Federation official from the Season 3 trailers as he goes about his routine. I loved the holo-bird alarm clock, and the way the furniture in his room rearranges itself. Though other parts of the episode would struggle, at points, to show technology that looked suitably futuristic, much of what we saw in Mr Sahil’s quarters and at his workplace did seem well-suited to the 32nd Century.

This sequence set up, for folks who hadn’t seen either of the trailers and had avoided online speculation, the entire premise of the season. It communicated to us as the audience – entirely wordlessly – that the Federation exists in a vastly weakened state. But it also showed, thanks to Mr Sahil himself, that some people were still hard at work, even if things looked bleak and they weren’t able to find what they’re looking for. I actually inferred from the moment where Mr Sahil begins scanning that he was deliberately looking for Burnham and/or the USS Discovery – that somehow he had been forewarned of their arrival. Luckily this wasn’t the case, as I think that would have complicated the plot significantly.

Mr Sahil with his holographic galaxy map.

Burnham’s arrival in the future was not smooth. Through what can only be described as colossal bad luck, given the absolute vastness of space, she exits the time-wormhole and immediately crashes into a ship piloted by new character Booker, who had been in a dogfight against a character who I believe is a Yridian (a race first seen in The Next Generation sixth season two-parter Birthright). Both Burnham and Book crash-land on a nearby planet.

After the sequence in space the action jumps to the planet’s surface, and begins with a (slightly cliché) animated moment featuring two bugs. The animation and CGI work in Discovery has always been fantastic, and these two critters, while clearly alien, managed to look very real. Burnham then disrupts the peace of the planet’s surface by crash-landing, and while the sequence showing her struggling to reboot the damaged suit was certainly tense, as the audience we expected her to survive her fall from space. And she did.

Burnham – in the Red Angel suit – falls to the ground.

After struggling to her feet, Burnham removes the Red Angel suit. The suit’s on-board computer confirms that there are life-signs on the planet she crashed on, resulting in an outpouring of emotion. In the trailer I was a little sceptical of this scene and Burnham’s screaming reaction, but after seeing it in context I’m happy to say that it worked. Burnham is elated that her mission to save lives worked, and it shows.

With the wormhole about to close – despite the USS Discovery nowhere in sight – Burnham programs the suit to send the final “red burst” to confirm to Pike, Spock, and everyone left behind that they made it. She also tells the suit to self-destruct (though why she did that wasn’t completely clear). The suit, apparently undamaged by its fall through the atmosphere, launches back into space just as the time-wormhole is closing, stranding Burnham on the surface of what we assume to be Terralysium.

The Red Angel suit scans for life signs in the 32nd Century.

Terralysium, by the way, was the planet first encountered in the Season 2 episode New Eden, and was apparently the “anchor” point of Dr Gabrielle Burnham, Michael’s mother, when her own Red Angel suit malfunctioned. In the finale of Season 2, Burnham deliberately chose Terralysium as her destination for that reason. The year she arrived is confirmed to be 3188 – though why the suit chose to use the Gregorian calendar instead of stardates is unclear. Perhaps that was to make it easier for us as the audience to understand? It does seem a little odd, though.

Now all alone in the future, and with no indication of where she is or where to go, Burnham grabs her emergency kit. Inside we see a communicator, tricorder, phaser pistol, and a couple of miscellaneous items that Burnham identifies as ration packs. A nearby hill is smoking from what appears to be the crash-landing of the ship Burnham slammed into when she exited the wormhole, and with no other landmarks on the semi-barren world she sets off.

Burnham tells herself to “walk.”

Here’s one thing Discovery has in its favour over Picard: filming locations. Picard was filmed in Los Angeles and the surrounding area, and if you recall what I said during Season 1… it showed. Every location that the crew of La Sirena visited was a barely-disguised California, and as the season wore on my enjoyment of those settings wore out. Discovery, by contrast, is filmed in Canada. As such many of its filming locations are either wholly new to Star Trek or have only been seen once or twice before, giving its worlds a much less familiar feel. Something as abstract as the filming location can be hard to put your finger on when caught up in watching an interesting and engaging narrative, but in Picard, the obviously-California setting began to get in the way. Here we get something new and fresh, and I appreciate that.

After a montage, Burnham makes it to the crashed ship and is set upon by its pilot. This fight scene dragged a little, at least for me. Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent so long in past months poring over the trailers, but because I knew Burnham and Book were going to end up working together I just thought to myself “c’mon, let’s get this over with and move to the next part of the story!”

The first meeting between Book and Burnham didn’t go well!

We also got the title sequence in between Burnham’s trek and the fight scene, and it’s worth noting some of the imagery from it. The main one that I noticed was the Starfleet badge. It transitions from the DiscoveryOriginal Series style that we’ve been familiar with to an altogether different one that’s still based on the familiar Starfleet emblem, but is clearly quite different. Its oval outer shape reminded me at least a little of the Bajoran badges used by Major Kira, Odo, and others in Deep Space Nine, and perhaps we could suggest that the fact that the logo is split into a couple of pieces is somehow a metaphor for the divided Federation. Too far? Maybe!

The titles also showed off Book’s ship, which sports a design unlike anything we’ve really seen before, being almost wedge-shaped. The phaser pistols also transition from the style we’ve seen in Discovery (and obviously based on The Original Series) to a new style which reminded me at least a little of The Next Generation-era Klingon disruptors. The title music has remained the same (and after the enjoyment of Lower Decks’ theme feels a bit of a downgrade!) and of course we have the new font used for the main titles.

The new Starfleet badge/logo.

Book brings Burnham aboard his ship after she gives him a speech about needing to trust someone. The damage to his ship appears minimal, but he mentions that he needs to get more dilithium in order to complete his courier run. I liked the name-drop of both slipstream technology (seen in Voyager) and the tachyon solar sails (seen on an ancient Bajoran ship Sisko recreated in Deep Space Nine). We’re also introduced to Grudge – Book’s cat. What a majestic cat she is, too!

After establishing that they could trade Burnham’s “antique” tricorder for some dilithium at a nearby settlement, Book and Burnham set off. And it’s during their journey to the trading post that Burnham learns what we’ve all known since the trailers – the Federation is gone. Book tells her of the Burn, an event that occurred over a century earlier. Somehow this event destroyed much of the dilithium in the known galaxy. And let’s be honest for a second: Book’s line explaining it was atrocious. Truly terrible writing. “Dilithum… One day, most of it just went ‘boom'” has to be a contender for one of the worst-written lines in Star Trek. Ever. It just felt completely unnatural, like Book wasn’t speaking but reading a script. And that’s no criticism of actor David Ajala, who put in an astonishingly good performance across the whole episode. It’s purely the writing.

Burnham aboard Book’s ship.

I get that the writers want to keep the events of the Burn mysterious. Indeed, part of the story of the season is going to be unravelling this event, figuring out what it was, what happened, and perhaps finding a way to undo it or prevent a reoccurrence. But there had to have been a better way to explain it that to say “it just went ‘boom.'” I’m astounded at how bad that line is, and honestly it detracts from the entire episode.

However, we do have the beginnings of an explanation for the Burn and the Federation’s collapse. The Burn, somehow, has destroyed dilithium across the known galaxy, seemingly explosively. It also sounds as though this happened near-simultaneously. Curiously, Book is aware of the Federation’s response to the Burn, which was to tell the peoples of the galaxy that they didn’t know what happened and couldn’t guarantee it wouldn’t happen again. I’m inferring a lot here, and we will deal with this in a day or two when I write up my theories and predictions, but it sounds as though the poor response from the Federation is as much of a reason for its collapse as the Burn itself. Perhaps people were dissatisfied with the response, and star systems began withdrawing or seceding until there were very few left. Book’s next line that the Federation had collapsed “I guess,” strongly hints that he’s never encountered Starfleet or any official Federation representative.

Book explains the Burn.

The settlement Book and Burnham visited in the aftermath of this conversation reminded me of Freecloud, the planet visited by the crew of La Sirena in Picard. Though this place was perhaps a little more run-down, both have that “dystopian futuristic city” vibe that we often get in modern science fiction. I did like the design of part of the settlement, with large rotating rings seeming to orbit a walkway as Book and Burnham entered.

The Andorians are an interesting race in Star Trek. Though they appeared in The Original Series, and were heralded as one of the founding members of the Federation, they were almost entirely absent during The Next Generation era. It was only in Enterprise that we got to spend any real time with Andorian characters, and though they have made background appearances in modern Star Trek, the scene we got with Book and Bunham at the entry to the trading post is the first to prominently feature an Andorian in years. I’m a big supporter of bringing back classic races and factions, and this time is was done exceptionally well as the grouchy Andorian guard has to be persuaded to let Burnham inside the trading post.

The entrance to the trading post.

After strolling through the trading post, Book and Burnham make a trade – he directs her where to go to try to contact Discovery, and in exchange she gives him her tricorder, which now has value as an example of very old technology! However, it soon emerges that Book has not been true to his word, and has instead sent Burnham into a restricted area (described as a “vault”) where she is immediately captured. Book steals her emergency kit and leaves. As a surprise twist, I think this worked quite well. I’m sure a lot of viewers will claim to have seen it coming – Book’s nature had been well-established by this point as someone untrustworthy. Even so, the suddenness with which Burnham was trapped and then robbed made the moment work very well.

The story splits in two at this point, following both Burnham as she’s drugged and interrogated by two of the trading post’s security guards, as well as Book in his attempts to pawn Burnham’s gear. Whatever drug was given to Burnham clearly has a major effect on her, as she begins blabbing about everything that’s happened to her over the last few days – remember, of course, that this episode is set immediately after the Season 2 finale (though walking from the ship to the trading post clearly took time).

Book betrays Burnham.

As a sequence depicting Burnham under the influence of this “truth serum,” I think it worked overall. However, its success depends much more on the camera work and effects used to represent the impact of the drug rather than on Sonequa Martin-Green’s performance. For all my earlier criticism of Burnham as a character, especially in Discovery’s premiere, Martin-Green has always done a standout job in the role. Here, though, I have to say the performance was a little unconvincing. The sequence worked as a whole, but was salvaged thanks to the way it was filmed and edited.

Book has no luck selling Burnham’s emergency kit, despite the fact that someone higher-up at the trading post saw the gear and let Burnham in. This is a minor inconsistency, as it initially appeared that the now-antique kit would have value, yet the way the traders behave (at least towards Book) indicates that it doesn’t.

Burnham drugged by the trading post guards.

After the drug causes Burnham to tell the guards about Book they take her out of her cell and back onto the main floor of the trading post to point him out. Meanwhile Book has been accosted by the Yridian he was battling in space – Cosmo. Cosmo is looking for his cargo that he claims Book stole when Burnham and her guards arrive. Cosmo is a tad one-dimensional as villains go, but his threat to hurt Grudge the cat definitely spurred me on to support Book all the more!

After being surrounded by the facility’s guards, Book and Burnham team up to fight them off in what was a very exciting sequence. I stand by what I said during my look at the trailers – the weapons used by the people of the 32nd Century don’t appear to be particularly advanced compared to the 24th or 23rd. Partly that’s a result of the Burn and the impact on galactic events. But at the same time, the Burn is something a long way in the past, and something which doesn’t appear to have been quite as devastating as feared. While the 32nd Century is definitely different to how we as the audience (and Burnham) may have expected, it isn’t exactly fair to call it “post-apocalyptic.” There is still technology, and there is still a functioning society, even though that society isn’t the Federation. So my point about technology is valid, and this is an issue any science fiction franchise can fall victim to. How do you make technology feel suitably advanced?

An Andorian guard wielding a 32nd Century handheld weapon.

During their fight against the security team, Burnham was able to grab a number of fragments of dilithium crystal – hopefully enough to power Book’s warp drive. The duo then go through a prolonged escape-fight, escape-fight sequence using Book’s portable transporter. The third time of escaping they transport inside a body of water, where apparently they can’t be tracked. It’s here that we finally get a break from the constant battling, long enough to slow the episode back down and to allow Book and Burnham to have another conversation.

Book has figured out that Burnham is a “time-traveller,” despite time travel in the 32nd Century having been prohibited. I’m not 100% convinced on that point – and I wonder whether we’ll see the remainder of Starfleet abide by that ban later in the season. However, it was interesting and contained an oblique reference to Enterprise when Book mentioned the “temporal wars.”

Burnham and Book after escaping the trading post.

We also see a mysterious side to Book. Not only does he offer up a prayer in some alien language, but doing so leads to some kind of glowing marks on his face. My bet is that these are technological rather than biological (they looked similar in colour to his holographic interface) but exactly what the prayer means and what Book’s true nature is is unclear at this point. His prayer allowed him to pull from the water some kind of plant which contained a healing serum for a wound to Burnham’s arm. How all of this works, and whether Book has some kind of cybernetics or other augmentations is a mystery.

After returning to Book’s ship, the duo are once again set upon by Cosmo and the trading post’s guards. The guards execute Cosmo for losing his cargo, then plan to do the same to Book and Burnham. As we’ve now seen several Orions amongst this group, I wonder if the operators of the trading post – and thus at least one of Book’s employers – is the Orion Syndicate. The Orion Syndicate first appeared in The Original Series and was referenced a few times in both Deep Space Nine and Enterprise. In the 22nd-24th Centuries it was an underground criminal group, kind of analogous to the Mafia or similar gangs today. It’s possible that, in the power vacuum caused by the Burn and the collapse of the Federation, the Orion Syndicate is now out in the open.

Book’s prayer – and possible augmentation.

Rather than simply shoot Book and Burnham, the group insist on seeing Book’s cargo. The guards had become interested in it when Burnham mentioned it was temperature-sensitive, and upon opening the hold of his ship the cargo is revealed: a giant worm-like creature that looked kind of like a cross between a puppy and Jabba the Hutt! The space-worm makes short work of the assembled guards, eating one and forcing the others to flee. Book is able to calm it – apparently it’s another of his pets – but not before it can eat Burnham!

Okay, “eat” is a strong word. It picks her up with its mouth before Book convinces it to spit her out. But considering it had just chopped an Andorian in half with its mouth, I’d say Burnham got lucky! This is the second Star Trek season premiere this year which involved a main character being chewed on by a large alien creature! Ensign Boimler was similarly picked up and chewed by a large critter in Lower Decks’ premiere episode, Second Contact. I wonder if that’s purely a coincidence or if it was planned that way?

This happened in That Hope Is You…
…and this happened in Second Contact.

Back aboard Book’s ship, and the true purpose of his mission is revealed. The space-worms are an endangered species, and Book – along with a collective of others – is rescuing them and relocating them to sanctuary worlds. I had theorised only a few days ago that the Burn might have caused warp drive to not function. Though the loss of much of the galaxy’s dilithium has certainly limited warp drive, as we see from Book’s ship that theory was incorrect. Our first debunking of the season!

After releasing the space-worm at the sanctuary, Book takes Burnham to a “waypoint” that couriers like him use – a damaged Federation relay station. This is the facility operated by Mr Sahil, who we saw at the beginning of the episode. Though the performance was great from guest star Adil Hussain, I can’t help but feel that Sahil is an underdeveloped character. We’re told that he, like his father and grandfather, mans the relay station because he believes in what the Federation used to stand for. Yet he’s been there for his entire life (or so it seems) without any contact from anyone else in the Federation. There are very few people who would have that kind of semi-religious dedication to a long-dead cause, and while on the one hand Sahil’s story here was emotional, particularly when Burnham spoke highly of him and offered him a commission, it also felt just a little unrealistic.

Mr Sahil and Burnham at the relay station.

Sahil’s relay station has the ability to scan a radius of 600 light-years, and assuming it’s located somewhat close to Hima/Terralysium, should be able to detect the arrival of the USS Discovery. Assuming, that is, that Discovery arrives in the future not the past! Time-travel stories can get complicated like that, which is why they’ve never been my favourites in Star Trek.

I do like Mr Sahil, despite my criticism above, and the sequence between him and Burnham was the emotional heart of the episode. It’s implied that he’s never met a Starfleet officer, so even meeting Burnham is a big deal for him, and the emotion on his face when Burnham tells him she’s proud of his dedication to the Federation was just beautiful, really. Together, Sahil and Burnham raise the Federation flag on the damaged outpost, signalling – in line with the theme of the season as a whole – that the Federation is coming b