Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 – what was the Burn?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Season 3.

As I was wrapping up my Discovery Season 3 series of articles in January, I said that we’d return to the Burn at a later date once I’d had time to get my thoughts in order. The Burn was the main storyline running through all of the show’s third season, and in addition it’s a story which has significant ramifications for Star Trek going forward, so I wanted to be able to do justice to this big subject. As you may recall from my commentary as the season was ongoing, I have mixed feelings. There’s a lot to talk about.

First up, let’s recap what the Burn was purely from an in-universe perspective, then we can get into my analysis of how well it worked as a narrative.

Though the timeline of some of these events was vague, we know that beginning in the 28th or 29th Centuries, the galaxy began to experience a dilithium shortage. The reason for this was never given nor explained in detail, but it was serious enough that the Federation began seeking out alternative sources of dilithium. At the same time, the Federation started to research alternative methods of faster-than-light travel, the most successful of these being the Ni’Var (Romulan-Vulcan) project called SB-19.

SB-19 was a pre-Burn Federation experiment – and one of the clues Discovery Season 3 dropped as to the event’s origin.

All of this came against the backdrop of a conflict referred to as the Temporal Wars. It’s assumed that this is related to Enterprise’s Temporal Cold War storyline, which saw a temporal agent named Daniels spend time aboard Captain Archer’s NX-01 Enterprise. The end of the war in the late 30th or early 31st Century saw the implementation of a ban on time travel, which is an aspect of the storyline that never really went anywhere.

By the mid-3060s, the Federation’s quest for dilithium was ongoing, and a Kelpien ship – the KSF Khi’eth, with Dr Issa on board – travelled to the Verubin Nebula. After finding a route inside, the ship crashed on a dilithium planet inside the nebula, and wasn’t able to be rescued. A child named Su’Kal was born to Dr Issa while inside the nebula, and as a result of exposure to the Verubin Nebula’s radiation and the dilithium of the planet where he was born, Su’Kal developed a telepathic connection of some kind with dilithium, a link which was seemingly amplified by being on the dilithium planet. At moments of extreme emotion, Su’Kal could trigger a psychic shockwave which destabilised dilithium. The death of his mother in the late 3060s caused this to happen, and the psychic shockwave travelled across the entire galaxy near-simultaneously. Almost all active dilithium went inert, and any ship with an active warp core exploded. This event was later referred to by survivors as “the Burn.” No one, including the Federation, knew how or why this happened, and for more than a century the cause of the Burn went unknown.

The Burn. Figuring out what caused it was a big part of Season 3.

The Burn caused widespread societal changes across the known galaxy, including the withdrawal of many Federation members and the rise of a faction called the Emerald Chain – which was implied to be a successor to the Orion Syndicate. Worlds like Trill, Earth, Ni’Var, and others left the Federation, and the severe dilithium shortage meant that other Federation members and colonies were no longer within travel distance. It’s not clear whether the Burn wrecked the Federation’s subspace communications network directly, or whether decades of decline and decay were responsible. Either way, by the time of Michael Burnham’s arrival in the year 3188, the rump Federation was not able to even communicate with some former and current members.

So that, in a nutshell, is the Burn.

Over the course of Season 3, Discovery dropped hints about the Burn and what it could be connected to. We had the mysterious piece of music that everyone seemed to know, Michael Burnham’s year-long research quest into starship black boxes, the aforementioned SB-19 project, the missing Red Angel suits and Michael’s mother, the name “Burn” possibly implying a connection to Michael Burnham, a mention of the Gorn having “destroyed” a region of subspace, a couple of possible ties to the Short Treks episode Calypso – by way of the word “V’draysh” to refer to the rump Federation and the timelines seeming to line up – and a couple of other smaller things.

Discovery implied a connection to the Short Treks episode Calypso – among others!

This setup forms a fairly typical “mystery box;” a style of storytelling pioneered by people like the writer/director of 2009’s Star Trek (and The Rise of Skywalker) J.J. Abrams. Alex Kurtzman, who was Discovery’s executive producer for all of Season 3 and who’s in overall creative control of the Star Trek franchise for ViacomCBS, is a colleague of and frequent collaborator with J.J. Abrams, and has adopted at least some of his storytelling methods. So it makes sense to see a “mystery box” in Discovery considering who’s in charge – and how television storytelling in general works as we’ve moved into an era of serialised shows.

The basic problem with the Burn as a “mystery box” is that the clues we as the audience were fed throughout the season did not add up to the story’s resolution. None of the clues or hints that the show dropped ultimately mattered; there was no way for anyone to put the pieces together to figure out the cause of the Burn based on what we saw on screen, not until the final episode when the Burn’s true origin was revealed. Some, like the piece of music, were dropped from the story altogether, despite seeming to be important when they first appeared. This made for a narrative that was, for many viewers and fans, unsatisfying at a fundamental level.

Star Trek: Discovery executive producer Alex Kurtzman.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I’m not suggesting that the storyline should have been telegraphed or written in a very obvious way, but once the decision had been made to establish the 32nd Century’s semi-post-apocalyptic setting as being of mysterious origin, that mystery needed to be resolved in a satisfying way. The fact that nothing that we learned across the entire season mattered or had any impact whatsoever on the Burn made the reveal that Su’Kal was the cause feel like a bolt from the blue; a deus ex machina.

Had the Su’Kal reveal come in episode 3 or 4, and then the story had moved on to deal with things like the diplomacy with Ni’Var and the conflict with the Emerald Chain, perhaps it would’ve worked better. But it came at the end of a season that had been running for several months, and in which several episodes were side-missions that didn’t further the Burn story in any way. Season 3 feels like it spent a lot of time getting to an anticlimax; all of those expectations which had been built up quite cleverly over the preceding episodes basically fizzled out. It wasn’t a catastrophic disaster of an ending, but it was one which just didn’t seem to fit with the story that had been teased all season long.

Su’Kal, a Kelpien who had no connection to anything else in the story, was ultimately revealed as the cause of the Burn.

For Trekkies – and for more casual viewers too, I would argue – the Burn was the most interesting, tantalising, and engaging part of the story of Season 3. How had Star Trek’s optimistic future been brought to its knees? How had the Federation allowed this event to happen in the first place, and how had the organisation so badly bungled its aftermath that even Earth had quit the organisation? These questions were all teed up by the Burn storyline, and providing a satisfying answer was perhaps the single most important task that befell the writers and producers of Season 3.

Su’Kal being the answer could have worked if the mystery had been set up differently. Bringing in the Kelpiens at an earlier stage would’ve helped, as would clues or hints about missions to seek out dilithium or experiments about radiation and telepathy. But I don’t think there can be any denying that Su’Kal as the cause of the Burn in the version of the story that made it to screen came from nowhere; it simply does not fit with what was set up in the rest of the season. That’s the fundamental reason why, for many folks, the Burn feels like a storyline that didn’t deliver at what should’ve been its climax.

Having set up a season-long mystery, the storyline jumped to a completely different conclusion that ignored what had been previously hinted at or established.

There’s more to say, though. The idea of running out of an essential fuel and looking for alternative options is an interesting analogy considering that the real world remains dependent on fossil fuels. The Burn can be read, perhaps, as an extreme metaphor for climate change – the Federation’s dependence on dilithium ultimately caused a catastrophe that almost led to the collapse of civilisation itself.

But if this kind of analogy was part of the writers’ intentions, it has to get a failing grade. The concept itself works. It does what Star Trek has always done: uses its sci-fi setting to look at real-world issues. But once Su’Kal was shuffled out of the way, what did the Federation find? A massive cache of dilithium. A planet-sized mass of this vital fuel could power the galaxy for decades or more, regardless of the fact that it was almost responsible for the end of advanced civilisation. To continue the climate change analogy, this is the equivalent of running out of coal and oil, trying to use renewables, then the story ending with a huge new coal mine and oil fields being discovered.

Finding a dilithium planet rendered what could’ve been an interesting and timely story about fuel and energy resources somewhat meaningless.

Though some Trekkies may be glad to see that dilithium crystals aren’t in danger of disappearing from the franchise, this adds another element to the Burn’s unspectacular ending. After all of the talk of a shortage of fuel, alternative methods of propulsion (including several mentioned in the season premiere that were never spoken of again), and how dangerous dilithium could be, the story ends not with some new technology being invented to circumvent the crisis, nor with Federation starships being fitted with Spore Drives like Discovery has, but with a cop-out – finding a huge new dilithium planet that can be strip-mined for fuel.

The Burn and the dilithium shortage storylines were effectively reset by the end of Season 3. With Season 4 seemingly picking up a new story, what could’ve been one of the most powerful turning points in the entirety of Star Trek may find itself relegated to being little more than an unsatisfying season-long story arc that future stories will simply ignore. The Burn could’ve led to significant changes for Star Trek, assuming future shows might use a 32nd or 33rd Century setting. New kinds of starship could have been created using different methods of propulsion and new technobabble to explain it. Instead, basically what happened is that after a season-long dalliance with a setting teetering on the edge of the post-apocalyptic, Star Trek will shift back to using the same things as before.

Discovery can warp away to a new adventure next time and shelve the Burn.

A story that comes full-circle can work. After a season of seeing the galaxy struggling in the aftermath of the Burn, it will feel great to see Captain Burnham and the crew bringing hope back to the shattered Federation, and hopefully seeing the organisation returning to full strength. But how we get to those ending points is significant, and in the case of the Burn, the storyline took an odd route that has left many viewers feeling it wasn’t all it could’ve been.

Finally, we come to what I consider to be the worst and most egregious failing of the Burn and its storyline: the portrayal of Su’Kal and his role in it.

Bill Irwin put in an outstanding performance as Su’Kal, and I don’t want to criticise him for a moment. The way Su’Kal came across on screen was sympathetic, and his scenes with Saru in particular were deeply emotional. This is no criticism of the performances of Irwin or any of the other actors involved in the Su’Kal sequences.

Bill Irwin was wonderful to watch as Su’Kal.

Neurodivergent people, people with learning difficulties, and people with mental health issues have long been portrayed on screen in a variety of negative ways. That can be by becoming the butt of jokes, at other times being portrayed as villains, having no say in or agency over their own lives and stories, or simply by being ignored; it hasn’t been an easy road. Simply seeing a positive portrayal of someone in that situation could be a big deal, yet Discovery completely screwed this up.

By saying that Su’Kal accidentally caused the worst disaster in the entire history of the Star Trek galaxy, the show plays to old stereotypes of the neurodivergent as dangerous. Su’Kal is, for all intents and purposes, no different from Lennie in John Steinbeck’s 1937 novel Of Mice and Men. Lennie would accidentally kill another character in the book because he didn’t realise or understand his own strength, and that description of a man who was “too stupid” to recognise or understand his own power fits Su’Kal almost perfectly.

Su’Kal is basically a futuristic Lennie from Of Mice and Men. (1992 film adaptation pictured.)

Discovery treats Su’Kal with a cloying, sickening pity at times, looking down at him while trying to present him in as pathetic a manner as possible. The show sees Su’Kal as a hapless moron who blew up every starship in the galaxy with his uncontrolled emotional outburst, painting him – and, by extension, other people with mental health conditions and learning disabilities – as a serious danger to others. People with learning difficulties are often portrayed as unable to control their emotions, which is a further stereotype that Discovery leans into. These aspects of the portrayal are really just awful, and putting Su’Kal in this position has real-world comparisons that are deeply unpleasant.

How many times can you remember hearing, in the aftermath of a massacre or killing spree, that the suspect had “mental health problems” or a learning disability? It seems like it happens every time we hear of such an event, and there’s a huge stigma even today around the topic of mental health. As someone with diagnosed mental health conditions myself, this is a topic that hits close to home, and I feel that the way Discovery portrayed Su’Kal as this kind of “dangerous idiot” stereotype shows how far we still have to go as a society when it comes to talking about and depicting neurodiversity on screen.

Su’Kal being the cause of this disaster has some really disturbing implications beyond the story.

Though I enjoyed much of what Discovery’s third season brought to the table, the way Su’Kal was portrayed in his two appearances at the end of the season were really disappointing, even more so considering that the Star Trek franchise has so often tried to be a pioneer for portrayals of underrepresented peoples. Season 3 introduced transgender and non-binary characters for the first time, for example, and the show has a married gay couple, is led by a black woman, and has characters from many different backgrounds. But when it came to depicting someone with mental health issues and learning difficulties, Discovery fell back on overused stereotypes and outdated tropes, effectively bringing a modern-day Lennie to the screen.

There are aspects of Su’Kal’s story that did work. I like the fact, for example, that the telepathic technobabble aspect of the storyline was very “Star Trek” – you wouldn’t get this kind of story in any other franchise, and that’s something that gives Star Trek a sense of identity; a slightly esoteric, weirder kind of sci-fi than you get in other stories. But that side of it is drowned out by how badly Su’Kal as a character and a trope landed.

Su’Kal’s emotional outbursts are deadly.

Neurodiversity isn’t always going to be easy to put to screen, and I get that. If there were only two half-episodes to show off Su’Kal and get to know him, perhaps the chance for a nuanced portrayal that was sympathetic without being pitiful never existed to begin with. But if that’s what happened, Su’Kal should never have been created in the first place. Either a different character should’ve filled that role, or an alternative explanation for the Burn should’ve been found. Given all of the other faults, missteps, and failings present in the Burn narrative as a whole, which I outlined above, I would prefer the latter.

Su’Kal as a character exists in a weird space for me. On the one hand, the emotional side of the portrayal, and the performance by guest star Bill Irwin, were outstanding. But there are so many flaws in the premise of the character and his role in this galactic catastrophe that I can’t look past them. Su’Kal being responsible for the Burn is an age-old trope, one which perpetuates the stigmatisation of the neurodiverse, and in particular those with learning difficulties. Star Trek should know better than to use a character like Su’Kal in a role like this; Star Trek should be better than this, and that’s why it’s so disappointing to see this storyline in Discovery.

I’m very disappointed that a Star Trek show would choose to rely on these outdated stereotypes.

To conclude, I’ll say that the Burn was an interesting, if slightly alarming, premise for the season. It allowed Discovery to tell some truly different and unexpected stories, it provided the backdrop for some great characterisation and character moments, and it has set the stage for future stories in this era. It wasn’t a total failure and I wouldn’t want to see it somehow erased or overwritten.

At the same time, however, the storyline itself followed a very odd path. The ending didn’t flow from what had been slowly built up across the rest of the season leading to the Burn as a whole feeling unsatisfying. Season 3 is saved by the fact that it has those other great episodes, character moments, and standalone stories; had it been all about the Burn we could well be talking about Season 3 as Discovery’s worst.

For me, though, the most egregious failure and deepest disappointment with the Burn storyline is the role Su’Kal played in it, and the implications that has for how neurodiverse people are viewed and portrayed on screen. Though the stigma around mental health and learning disabilities still exists in a big way out here in the real world, Star Trek has always been at the forefront of changing minds and challenging stereotypes. To fall back on such an old-fashioned trope, even though I have no doubt it was accidental, is bitterly disappointing and even upsetting.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix in the UK and around the world. 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 7: Unification III

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

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

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

Burnham in Unification III.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book symbolically removes Burnham’s Starfleet uniform.

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

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

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

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

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

Destination: Ni’Var.

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

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

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

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

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

Discovery’s original configuration in the titles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burnham is grilled by the quorum.

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

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

Tilly has been offered the role of first officer.

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

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

Burnham in Unification III.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lieutenant Detmer in People of Earth.

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

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

Saru and Burnham reunite in Discovery’s transporter room.

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

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

Burnham and Stamets are reunited.

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

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

Burnham and Saru catch up.

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

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

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

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

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

Black Alert!

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

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

A robot working on the USS Discovery.

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

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

Tilly takes a moment to consider those left behind.

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

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

Discovery’s dilithium vault.

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

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

Burnham admits she has changed over the last year.

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

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

Burnham and Saru talk in the ready-room.

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

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

The USS Discovery near Saturn.

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

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

Captain Ndoye of the UEDF.

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

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

The USS Discovery in orbit of Earth.

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

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

The inspectors board Discovery.

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

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

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

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

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

Captain Ndoye in Saru’s ready-room.

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

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

Adira in the spore cube.

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

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

Tilly and Stamets meet Adira.

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

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

Burnham has a plan.

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

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

Tilly and Stamets work out what Adira did.

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

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

Book and Grudge.

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

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

Discovery is hit by two quantum torpedoes.

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

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

Grudge, Book, and Burnham speak to Wen.

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

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

Wen unmasked.

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

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

Saru and Burnham: peacemakers.

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

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

Adira is confronted by Stamets.

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

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

Discovery has a new captain and first officer!

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

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

Tilly and the tree.

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

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

Discovery in orbit of Earth.

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

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

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

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

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

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 3, Episode 2: Far From Home

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery, as well as for Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Lower Decks, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 got off to a slow but decent start. That Hope Is You focused exclusively on Michael Burnham and new character Book as Burnham arrived in the 32nd Century and learned of the Federation’s collapse. But Burnham did not travel to the future alone, and this week we got to see the USS Discovery’s arrival in the future. Things didn’t exactly go to plan for Saru and the crew!

After the aforementioned solid start last week, I was hoping for something at least as good this time around – and I wasn’t left disappointed. Far From Home was on par with the season premiere, and in many ways was a co-equal half of the season premiere, continuing the world-building begun last week. We didn’t get any closer to answers about the Federation, the Burn, or any of the season’s other mysteries, but we did get more background to frame those questions. We also marked the welcome return of the USS Discovery and the rest of her crew, who had of course been absent last week. As in many Star Trek episodes, it wasn’t possible for every character to have a major impact on the story, but everyone got some amount of screen time and the chance to make their debut in the 32nd Century.

Far From Home brought back Saru and the rest of the crew, and focused on their arrival in the 32nd Century.

Usually I’d skip over the recap of the “story so far” at the beginning of the episode, but there’s something about the end of Discovery Season 2 that’s bugged me for the last eighteen months, and it happened to be included so it’s a good time to talk about it. The whole reason for taking the ship into the future was to keep the Sphere data from falling into the hands of Control. But when Control was trapped in the spore cube and incapacitated, that seemed to bring the battle to a halt. Even if that wasn’t the end of Control altogether, and the AI was still operating on one of the ships or at its home base, surely that at the very least warranted a pause from Pike, Saru, Burnham, and the rest of the crew. Maybe, if Control was fully dead, there was no need to leave the 23rd Century behind. Wouldn’t that be a cruel twist of fate for the crew? …Or a plot hole.

Anyway, with the Control storyline definitely brought to a somewhat squelchy end, I doubt the issue will be revisited. So on to Far From Home. The episode begins with the USS Discovery exiting the time-wormhole. Unlike Burnham, who was presumably offered greater protection from the time-wormhole thanks to the Red Angel suit, the crew of Discovery are all rendered unconscious and injured by the transit. They awaken as the ship is rapidly drifting to an asteroid field, and with damage sustained in transit are unable to keep control. The ship plummets to the surface of a nearby planet – perhaps the same one Burnham landed on, though that was not clear – and crashes on a glacier.

The USS Discovery’s crash-landing.

The whole crash sequence was visually impressive, and reminded me of the USS Voyager crashing in the fifth season episode Timeless (perhaps because both sequences saw the ships crashing on ice). When we saw the shot of the ship after its crash-landing in the second trailer, I felt it looked pretty crappy compared to a lot of the other CGI work. I was pleased to see that this sequence looked a lot better. Whether that’s to do with touch-up work done in the last few weeks or just because the trailer was on YouTube, which is somewhat notorious for its video compression, I can’t say. But the sequence looked fantastic, and was accompanied by a great score to make it tense and exciting.

The crash was reminiscent of the USS Voyager’s crash-landing in Timeless from Season 5.

One thing I think is interesting about the way both Burnham and the ship arrived in the future is that it was difficult. Star Trek has by no means been consistent in its portrayal of the rules surrounding time travel, but one thread of similarity tying together many time travel stories is that it isn’t particularly difficult, and this is especially true when we look to The Original Series. Episodes like City on the Edge of Forever and Assignment: Earth show time travel being a relatively painless experience for the ship and crew.

After Discovery crashes we get the opening titles, and I have just one thing to ask: is that a DOT-type robot? As seen in the Short Treks episode Ephraim and Dot? Because it sure looks that way!

Is this a DOT-type robot?

The crash saw Lieutenant Detmer – the cyborg-eyed helm officer – thrown from her seat. She appears to be concussed and is sent by Saru to sickbay. And this storyline seemed to go nowhere after that. It was implied that Detmer is suffering some kind of implant-related injury, especially after the doctor couldn’t find anything physically wrong with her. But by the end of the episode, Detmer is back at the helm and seems to snap out of her “concussed” state when she sees – spoiler – Burnham appear in the episode’s closing scene. So… what was the point of that, exactly? We didn’t spend a ton of time focusing on Detmer, but there were enough scenes interspersed through the episode to hint that she was injured, or perhaps even dying, only for it to seemingly come to naught. It’s possible that the Detmer storyline will pick up next time, in which case what we got this week will be the start, but those closing moments in particular seemed to put the storyline to bed, and I’m curious to see if anything more will come. Killing off a character we’ve been with since the premiere would be a bold move – but perhaps one Discovery should make at some point this season as part of its reinvention. Have we seen the first hints of who might not make it?

Despite the fact that the ship has literally just crashed and the damage means they have no propulsion, the bridge crew seem a little too focused on their inability to contact Burnham in the next sequence, and if I were to have one point of criticism at all for this episode it would be that. The ship has crashed on an unknown world in an unknown time and, at several points, the topic of discussion is Burnham. Anxiousness about what happened to her makes sense, but perhaps not this much of it under the circumstances. I have a specific complaint about Georgiou in this regard that we’ll come to as well.

Owosekun on the bridge after the crash-landing.

Saru gives a great speech about needing to focus on repairs to the ship before they can accomplish anything else, and the crew puts a plan in place to use tricorders in place of the non-functional internal sensors to find and replace damaged EPS relays. Saru has done a good job stepping up to be acting captain after the losses of both Lorca and Pike, and it’s a role I hope he’s able to continue in from this point in the series on. Discovery has seen two commanding officers come and go across its first two seasons, and it’s time to get some consistency in the captain’s chair. At this point it can only be Saru, so here’s hoping the position will become his on a permanent basis.

Mirror Georgiou makes her reappearance in the next scene, interrupting Tilly and Saru while they investigate the damage to the ship. As mentioned above, I have a bit of a complaint about the way she seems obsessed with Burnham. We saw this in the Season 2 episode The Red Angel, and for the second time Mirror Georgiou acts completely out-of-character when it comes to Burnham. Remember that this is not the Georgiou who was Burnham’s friend, mentor, and quasi-mother figure we met in the Season 1 premiere. This is the hardened ex-Empress of the Terran Empire from the Mirror Universe, who does not care about anyone except insofar as they can help her win power and influence. Yet here she’s frightened for Burnham’s safety, desperate to contact her, and just fawning over her in the way a doting mother would.

Mirror Georgiou is obsessed with Burnham in an out-of-character manner.

One thing I wasn’t sure how the show would handle was the remains of Control. I didn’t expect Control to be able to reassert itself, but I did wonder whether Captain Leland might somehow survive his “assimilation” experience. Whether he would have survived or not is now purely an academic discussion, however, as it turns out Georgiou destroyed his body at some point between the defeat of Control and Saru’s inspection of the ship. That’s a shame in some ways, as Leland was a potentially-interesting character who we only spent a little time with before his assimilation by Control, and having him awaken from that experience in the far future would have been an interesting angle to pursue. Everyone else is along for the ride voluntarily, but Leland wouldn’t have been, and that could have been a source of tension.

Speaking of people who voluntarily travelled into the future: there are a heck of a lot more of them than I expected. During Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2 (the Season 2 finale) Saru, Tilly, Spock, and a handful of other main characters assembled in one of Discovery’s hallways to tell Burnham that they were staying on board and would accompany her into the future. Perhaps naïvely, I assumed that we were dealing with just those people, not what seems to be practically the entire ship’s complement! I know that, for the sake of the story, there have to be background characters… but this was presented as a voluntary mission that meant leaving all of their friends and family behind, not to mention the life they’ve always known. It’s true that many Starfleet officers are altruistic, but I’m still surprised how many junior officers on the lower decks of Discovery were content to follow Burnham and Saru.

Saru and Tilly in a rather crowded hallway.

The damage to a vital piece of communication equipment sets up the next phase of the story. After a technobabble explanation, it’s apparent that there is no way to repair communications aboard the ship without acquiring raw materials, but luckily a nearby settlement may have just what they need. Saru chooses to go in person, and also picks Tilly to accompany him. The pairing of these two characters worked really well, and as they haven’t had many other opportunities to work closely together in the series so far, was an interesting departure from what came before. Though there are myriad issues with the way the change in Saru’s character was handled in Season 2, having him less cowardly and more assertive does, admittedly, make him not only a better commander, but also a more interesting and easy to root for character.

One thing I was hoping Season 3 would deliver is a proper repair to the adorable Stamets-Culber relationship, and based on what we saw this week, we’re going to get it. In a touching scene in sickbay, Dr Culber awakens Stamets from an induced coma – as they need his bio-bed. This sequence was lovely, and not only did we see Dr Culber demonstrate how much he cares for his husband, but also Anthony Rapp put in a fantastic performance as the injured and suffering Stamets. All in all, a great scene.

Stamets and Culber in sickbay.

After a continuation of the Saru-Georgiou argument from earlier – which, again, had too strong a focus on Burnham as I see it – Tilly and Saru leave for their away mission. I liked seeing Discovery’s ready-room so badly damaged, particularly the desk used by both Captains Lorca and Pike being wrecked. Would it be too much of a stretch to call this symbolic of Discovery making an emphatic break with the past as it moves into this new phase of its run? The team behind the series have talked about Season 3 as a semi-reboot, and how writing it has been akin to writing a brand-new show in some respects. I take some of these images as on-screen representations of that (even if that isn’t how they’re intended!)

Nhan is also present at the conference, having transferred from the USS Enterprise in order to accompany Discovery. I was pleased to see Rachael Ancheril has been promoted from guest-star to main cast member for the season, as she puts in a wonderful performance as the Barzan character. Immediately after this we get a grizzly sequence in engineering showing the remains of Captain Leland being disposed of. Whatever techno-magic happened in the spore cube to Control’s nanobots, it’s safe to say they aren’t coming back. Modern Star Trek has been far less restricted that shows of the past when it comes to visceral, gruesome imagery, and this follows on from the sequence with Icheb earlier in the year in the Star Trek: Picard episode Stardust City Rag as an example of that. Partly the change is due to changing attitudes and a greater acceptance of brutality in the ever-advancing quest for visual realism on our screens, and partly it’s because modern Star Trek series are on streaming platforms and aren’t constrained by the rules (or censors) of broadcast television.

The remains of Captain Leland.

Stamets is back on his feet, and I enjoyed his scene in engineering with Reno. Tig Notaro is just fantastic in her deadpan delivery as Reno, and has been a wonderful addition to Discovery. Reno’s injury (though a little unclear earlier in the episode) will set up a great moment later on, and was explained better here. Something about the trip through the wormhole has caused a spinal injury, meaning she’ll spend most of the rest of the episode sat on what I think is some kind of modified engineering workstation.

Last week I made a big deal of Discovery’s filming locations – especially when contrasted with Picard, which used too many locations within a few miles of Los Angeles! I mentioned that the show is filmed in Canada, and while that is true, many of the outdoor scenes both this week and last week were, in fact, filmed on location in Iceland. The location shoots truly bring a lot to the table, leading to the planet Discovery has crashed on feeling truly different from practically any other we’ve seen in Star Trek. It was desperately sad, though, to see the glacier where the sequence was filmed slowly melting away, leaving a large body of water behind.

The melting glacier.

As mentioned, I greatly enjoyed this character pairing. It would be great to see more uncommon character match-ups across the season or into next season, as I can think of many members of Discovery’s crew who’ve barely said more than a couple of words to each other after two full seasons! Tilly has often been little more than comic relief, so it was touching to see the respect Saru has for her and her abilities. I especially liked this line: “We are introducing ourselves to the future; you, Ensign Tilly, are a wonderful first impression.” Not only did this moment between the two of them cement Tilly as more than just a comic character, it also served as a further demonstration of Saru’s confidence and his ability to serve as a commanding officer.

Tilly and Saru spot a figure in the distance, watching them; presumably someone who had seen or detected the crash and arrived to investigate. This figure doesn’t approach them or try to communicate in any way, and they end up following him for a while. The buildings depicted on the surface of this planet reminded me of the Star Wars franchise, and if I had only seen the establishing shot of the pair trekking across the Icelandic landscape I’d have said it must surely be a scene from one of the Star Wars films. Something about the way the mining buildings were constructed, I think. It isn’t a bad look – modern Star Wars films are visually impressive, after all – just something different. And considering how far into the future the ship and crew have come, they’re bound to see many different things!

Something about this landscape and these buildings looked very “Star Wars” to me.

After rounding a corner and disappearing briefly from Tilly and Saru’s sight, the figure they’ve been following vanishes. This effect was the same as that used for the 32nd Century transporters in last week’s episode, so it’s assumed he beamed somewhere. Tilly and Saru soon find out where, as they’re similarly transported from the same spot to a ledge outside a bar. Star Trek was originally inspired by mid-century Westerns, and we see a continuation of that in the saloon doors used for the bar that Tilly and Saru enter. Not only that, but in true Western style, the patrons all go silent and turn to look at the incomers! It was a great little homage to not only the Western genre, but to Star Trek’s own origins, and I loved this moment.

The bar’s occupants are sceptical of Tilly and Saru – understandable to us as the audience, given what we know of the future, but a shock to the duo. Last week we met Mr Sahil, a “true believer” in the legends of Starfleet and the Federation, and here we meet a second character who is similarly a Federation devotee. I didn’t recognise this race of aliens at first, but they aren’t new to Star Trek; the Coridanites debuted in Enterprise.

Kal the Coridanite vouches for Tilly and Saru.

Though the Coridanties remain uneasy about Tilly and Saru, they agree to a trade when Saru mentions that they have dilithium. As we learned last time, the Burn was the explosive loss of most of the galaxy’s dilithium, meaning the important mineral is in short supply. Though the miners have ships they currently lack dilithium to power them, meaning the trade is perhaps their only option if they want to leave this planet.

The planet that I think we all assumed to be Hima (since that’s where Burnham arrived) turns out not to be. Earlier, when the crew detected several settlements I wondered if one might’ve been the trading post Burnham and Book visited, but it seems that this is an altogether different planet after all.

This planet is known simply as “The Colony.”

A brief scene with Stamets and Reno back aboard the ship sees Stamets climb up a ladder into the jeffries tubes in search of blown power relays. Reno, due to her injury, is unable to go. This sets up a moment later in the story, and again Reno is a fun character so it’s always good to have her on screen.

Back at the bar, Kal is easily able to replace the damaged component from Discovery using “programmable matter,” the first genuinely futuristic-feeling technology that we’ve seen. Mr Sahil’s office appears to make use of the same or similar tech, and we saw that in last week’s opening sequence, but here we got to see a more useful application of the tech as well as get an explanation for it. Kal was, naturally, surprised to see how unfamiliar Tilly seemed with what appears to be a fairly ubiquitous and commonly-used piece of kit. She rather unconvincingly tries to tell him she was “just testing” him, which I liked. It was a very “Tilly” way to respond!

Programmable matter.

Though Kal is receptive to the Starfleet officers and generally helpful, others in the bar are not. They mention their courier, Zareh, will surely be coming to investigate the crash, and that he’s bad news. We saw last week how some of the couriers – like Book’s rival Cosmo – can be aggressive, and the occupants of the bar would not be so afraid of Zareh without good reason. It seemed like an inevitability that Tilly and Saru would encounter him before long, and right on cue he arrived. Kal tried to tell Tilly and Saru to escape out the back, but for some reason they made no attempt to flee.

Zareh appears to be human, and arrives in dramatic fashion accompanied by several armed goons. Saru attempting to bluff his way through the conversation without the knowledge of the Burn or the status of the Federation made for a tense moment, but having abandoned his cowardice in Season 2 he handled himself very well. I was reminded of the moment in Star Trek Into Darkness when Sulu has to bluff his way through a conversation with John Harrison – both characters stepped up and gave it their best shot!

Zareh, the feared courier.

Evidently Zareh considers himself to be in control of this planet and its inhabitants, as they are reliant on him for any resources they can’t make locally. He detected Discovery’s arrival and crash-landing, and makes it very clear from the start that he knows they’re time-travellers, even though he doesn’t come out and say it until much later. The performance from guest actor Jake Weber was magnificent; he portrays Zareh as cold-hearted and creepy, especially towards Tilly.

Tilly eventually reveals the reason she and Saru are in the bar – the repaired component. Saru attempts to stand up for Kal when Zareh threatens him, which is yet another demonstration of his ability to command and his leadership qualities. However, it wasn’t enough for Zareh, who kills Kal in cold blood in front of everybody. Saru and Tilly are shocked; their simple mission to repair a damaged component has now got an innocent person killed.

Kal is killed.

After the show of force, Zareh insists on being taken to Discovery. Saru, however, stands his ground and says that he will offer a trade of dilithium, but only if they stay at the bar to negotiate. Zareh and his goons converse in “pidgin” – a language to Star Trek that isn’t wholly new, having been glimpsed in the Short Treks episode Calypso. But we’ll come to that in a moment. One of the most useful pieces of technology in Star Trek is the universal translator: a piece of kit able to translate between perhaps millions of languages, allowing the Federation to communicate with other aliens and with itself. Discovery has shown the universal translator many times, most notably in the second season episode An Obol For Charon, where the translator malfunctions and practically everyone on the crew is shown to speak a different language natively. So I’m afraid this moment, where Saru asks Zareh to speak in “the common tongue” is not consistent with Star Trek canon, nor even internally consistent within Discovery.

The writers evidently wanted to show that this “pidgin” language is in common use in the 32nd Century, but I feel the way they did so throws up more problems than it resolves. And aside from one word that Zareh uses that we’ll talk about in a moment, there wasn’t any real need for the “pidgin” language anyway. It may be something that becomes important later in the season, somehow, but in terms of the story of this episode it added nothing, and now the confusion surrounding the “common tongue” is going to be an annoyance. Star Wars uses this kind of setup for its fictional languages; “galactic basic” is their lingua franca, with various aliens having their own languages. But although we’ve seen other languages in Star Trek – Klingon most prominently, but there have been others – they’ve always been shown in the context of the universal translator. And for some reason, Discovery has chosen to abandon that here – despite the fact that just last season it was firmly established to be in use.

Saru and Zareh negotiate.

It was eventually decided that Tilly should be sent back to the ship to retrieve some dilithium, while Saru would wait with Zareh and his goons at the bar. This was despite a warning from the Coridanites that after nightfall it will be too difficult and dangerous to traverse the ice. Apparently the ice Discovery landed on is “parasitic,” which seems to imply that the ice itself is alive! Back aboard the ship, Nhan and the crew are struggling with that as they’ve begun to realise the ice is not what it seems.

We get a brief scene aboard Discovery showing Nhan had lost Georgiou, and another great sarcastic line from Reno. Back at the bar, we find out where she went. She’d been captured (or, I assume, allowed herself to be captured) by two of Zareh’s goons who were out on patrol. She’s thrown onto the floor of the bar where she proceeds to engage in a “who’s more evil” contest with Zareh. This is the moment I alluded to above, the one which partly explains the use of “pidgin.” Zareh uses the term “V’draysh” to refer to the remains of the Federation – a term we first heard used in the Short Treks episode Calypso. In that story, the V’draysh were said to be at war with another faction for whom protagonist Craft had been a soldier. Most interestingly, though, that episode showed the USS Discovery abandoned in a nebula, seemingly having been hidden there for almost a milennium. Fans have been speculating ever since how Calypso might connect to the rest of the series, and this seems to be the biggest indication yet that Calypso is set around the same time as Season 3. What does that mean for the ship? Will it be sent back in time only to be left derelict for a millennium? That would be one way to allow Mirror Georgiou to return to the 23rd Century in time for the untitled Section 31 series! But we’ll have to see whether any further connections to Calypso emerge.

Craft’s escape pod and the USS Discovery as seen in the Short Treks episode Calypso.

Georgiou, in her single-minded obsession with Burnham, wants to recover the repaired communications kit so she can contact her. With Zareh and his goons in the way, it was only going to end in a fight, and during the scuffle we got a very cool moment where Saru used his head-spikes to defeat one of the courier’s guards. This isn’t something technological nor some augmentation; every member of Saru’s species has this kind of built-in biological defence mechanism, and seeing him use it in anger for what I think is the first time was incredibly interesting.

The fight ends with Zareh alive but his goons defeated. Georgiou and Saru then have a standoff – Saru wants to let him live, Georgiou advocates killing him. And here, for the first time in the season so far, I felt the promised optimism. Post-apocalyptic settings – which Discovery’s 32nd Century kind of is (and kind of isn’t) – can be a great vehicle for telling positive, hopeful stories. And Saru’s reasoning that killing Zareh would be wrong because it isn’t who Starfleet is was exactly the kind of thing that these settings can do very well. I had been sceptical of a post-apocalyptic setting from the moment we saw the first Season 3 trailer, but so far that side of the galaxy hasn’t been as bad as I had feared. And here, we get to see the way such a setting can be used to tell positive stories and to generate positivity. I liked that – even if I agree with Georgiou that Zareh is too dangerous to keep alive. I have a theory that he’ll return later in the season – probably at an inopportune moment – but we’ll save that for my theory-crafting article!

Georgiou threatens to kill Zareh.

Tilly points out to Georgiou and Saru that the sun has set, presumably making the parasitic ice come to life. The scene ends and we’re back aboard the ship, where Reno has summoned Dr Culber to engineering. Stamets is in a bad way in the jeffries tube, but manages – with the help and support of Culber (and, to a lesser extent, Reno) – to complete the repair task, fixing Discovery’s systems and bringing power back to the ship. We got a great look inside the jeffries tube here, and also at the damaged EPS relay. The way it was designed was reminiscent of similar locations and systems seen in past iterations of the franchise – particularly in The Next Generation’s era. I liked that, and seeing Stamets work on the ship was great fun. The drama and tension of the scene was ramped up by his injury; hopefully Dr Culber can patch him up in time for next week!

After continuing to argue about what to do with Zareh, Saru and Georgiou eventually agree on letting him go. He says he won’t survive the night alone on the planet – but as mentioned, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him. After returning to the ship, the repaired communications equipment was able to be installed. However, the parasitic ice is trapping the ship, and despite Detmer’s best efforts it seems like they’re trapped.

A seemingly-recovered Detmer tries to break Discovery free of the ice.

The arrival of another ship is presented as a problem. The crew anticipate that it is an ally of Zareh who may be seeking revenge (or to steal their dilithium). However, I wasn’t at all convinced by this. It seemed patently obvious that this ship – which locks a tractor beam onto Discovery – would be Burnham and Book, and I don’t know if that’s because I’d read all the episode synopses, seen the trailers, or what. But something about this moment didn’t work as intended and lacked any real tension.

As expected, Burnham and Book arrive to save the day, pulling Discovery free from the ice. To the surprise of the crew, Burnham has been in the 32nd Century for about a year – and if you remember what I said last time, with time-travel such things are possible! I’d wondered if we might’ve learned that it was somehow Discovery that arrived first, but instead it was the other way around and it was Burnham who’d been here for a long time. She’s thrilled to have finally found the ship and crew, and they’re just as relieved and happy to see her.

Burnham appears on the main viewscreen.

So that was Far From Home. There were some great character moments this week, and some great pairings too. The decision to have Saru team up with Tilly worked very well, and it was great to see Stamets back with Culber and Reno at various points. Saru has stepped up to become a captain the ship and crew will want to follow, and that character development has been great to see. The return of Nhan was nice, even though she didn’t have too much to do this week.

Mirror Georgiou is still a one-dimensional character, and I don’t really like her Burnham obsession in a series that already goes out of its way at times to tell us how amazing its protagonist is. Georgiou can be useful, though, and given the chaotic and violent nature of the 32nd Century her assistance may prove invaluable. Despite that, however, I’m not sold on her as a character as things currently sit, and I don’t really see much of a pathway for development given her background as a Terran.

Georgiou kills one of Zareh’s goons.

The other character whose story seemed wasted this week was Detmer. It’s possible her implant-concussion is setting up something that will be paid off in a future episode, in which case I’m all for it and I’m happy to wait and see what comes of it. However, in this week’s story it felt like something superflous, especially considering that by the end when she was back on the bridge she seemed okay.

The only other point of criticism is the confusion the episode introduced regarding the universal translator. That’s something only nerds like us would be bothered by, and perhaps if the “common tongue” is never referenced again it will be a single-episode inconsistency (of which, admittedly, there are many in Star Trek!)

As the second part of the season premiere, Far From Home was good. It was a solid, enjoyable episode with a lot going on. It gave us some tantalising hints at a possible resolution to the story from Calypso, and gave us some further background to establish the 32nd Century as a setting. It was a solidly enjoyable episode, one which gives me confidence that the season is on firm foundations. Roll on next week, which will see the ship and crew head to Earth!

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 back.

Mr Sahil and Burnham shake hands.

One point of interest from the flag is the missing stars. This is what first prompted me to consider the season as perhaps seeing a declining Federation way back when we got the first Season 3 trailer last year. The missing stars could simply be an aesthetic choice on the part of the Federation – but equally, those missing stars could represent seceded or withdrawn planets and races. If the latter is true, I wonder if it means those secessions happened before the Burn. Perhaps the Federation was already in decline, and the Burn was simply the last straw? Let’s save the theorising for my theory post!

Interestingly, Mr Sahil noted that two Starfleet vessels were in flight in the area he was able to scan. I had speculated that Starfleet and the Federation weren’t entirely gone, and this settles it. There are still Starfleet ships, even if there are only two within 600 light-years and even though Book has never seen one! I’m sure that, as the season progresses, we’ll get to spend time with this era’s Starfleet. Rebuilding the Federation is going to be a major theme of the season, and I’m excited for that. But I’m also excited to see what the contemporary Federation looks like.

Mr Sahil notes that Federation vessels are active in the area.

And with that, the episode was over. That Hope Is You was a genuinely interesting start to the season. It built up slowly, introducing us to only two major characters, and perhaps a recurring or side character depending on how often Mr Sahil will return. Book is interesting, and I’m curious to learn more about his potential augmentations and/or cybernetics, as well as why he dedicates his time to rescuing space-worms.

There were a couple of badly-written lines that, unfortunately, detracted from the episode. Of course we’ve covered the line about the Burn, but there was also Book referring to himself as being “space broke” that I felt just didn’t work. Other than that, though, there aren’t any massive points to criticise from the premiere. The story worked well, it had some exciting moments, some quieter moments, and an emotional tug toward the end. It was a decent, solid way for Discovery to return to our screens.

Book and Burnham approach the trading post.

One thing I hope we see more of are references to past iterations of Star Trek, especially to the events of the 24th Century. There wasn’t much of that at all this time, and although we are hundreds of years further along the timeline, finding ways for Discovery to tie itself to the wider franchise – and especially to series currently in production – will be important. Even more so now that we have a fourth season confirmed. That’s right, Discovery is coming back for Season 4 next year, much to the chagrin of followers of anti-Star Trek social media groups!

The setting for Season 3, while still shrouded in mystery, is not as strongly post-apocalyptic as I’d feared. Even the Federation itself is not entirely gone – Sahil confirmed this when he said that there are two Starfleet vessels in operation just in his relatively small patch. Though the Federation is clearly far smaller and lesser than we’ve ever seen it, there is a rump from which it can be rebuilt. The Burn is also not as catastrophic as feared, and there are clearly many millions, billions, or more who survived those events. All of these are positive things. Star Trek has always been a franchise that presents an optimistic future, and while I wouldn’t call the 32nd Century “optimistic,” it’s also not as pessimistic as perhaps I’d feared from seeing the trailers.

Book, Burnham, and Mr Sahil stand by the Federation flag.

That Hope Is You has given Discovery a solid foundation upon which to build. The next episode will reintroduce Saru and the rest of the crew, and I’m really excited to see them back! I hope you’ll join me in the next few days for some theory-crafting, and next week I’ll be back to break down and review episode 2 – Far From Home. I’m looking forward to it already!

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