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The 'Star Trek: Discovery' season 3 premiere is one of its best episodes yet

"Star Trek: Discovery" season three's Grudge (played by a cat named Leeu) could be the coolest cat in sci-fi since Jones in "Alien."
(Image: © CBS All Access)

Incoming spoilers from Starfleet. 

It's finally here. It's been one year, five months and 27 days since we saw Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and the crew of the USS Discovery defeat the evil A.I. called Control, save the sphere data and use the tortuous red signal time travel technology to jump 950 years into the future in the disappointing second season finale of "Star Trek: Discovery." 

During that time of course, we've been treated to two new incarnations of "Star Trek" on the streaming service CBS All Access: the often entertaining "Lower Decks" and the nostalgia-serving "Picard." 

And while the first season finale of the former offered us an enjoyable, unexpected surprise, the season finale of "Picard" was sadly yet another crashing disappointment. So it's with some trepidation that we turn the pages of another new chapter of "Trek."

However, it is worth remembering that season two of "Discovery" at least started strong. In fact, the second episode, "New Eden" (S02, E02) was far and away the best installment of the entire 14-episode second season. And with that, it gives us great pleasure to say that season three has also started strong.

Entitled "That Hope is You, Part 1," we pick up more or less exactly where we left off one-and-a-half years ago. But before we get to see exactly what happened, we're introduced first to a gentleman far in the future, waking up each morning courtesy of his … er, alarm parrot and each morning placing what looks like an antique, Starfleet-branded box on a table in a minimalist, sterile room; a little like the end of "2001" meets the Armistice Station notion, from the first episode of the "Battlestar Galactica" reboot.  

Each and every morning, it seems, the well-dressed gentleman sits at his desk and patiently activates what appears to be galaxy-wide signal search. The accompanying classical music (Mozart's Symphony No. 45 in D major) adds a sophisticated, dignified air. We could surmise that, whatever he's looking for, he has not found it yet despite repeating the process every single day.

In a sudden, dramatic change of pace, we cut to a debris field and a dogfight between two ships of unknown design. The pilot of one is using a peculiar looking control interface as his viewscreen is filled with the face of a very angry alien who is hurling insults and demanding the return of something that was stolen. 

That pilot is Cleveland Booker (David Ajala) and in the very next instant his ship computer warns him that a time anomaly has been detected. A wormhole of sorts opens up on the starboard bow and in hurtles Burnham in her time travel suit, colliding with Booker's ship. 

Burnham spins chaotically through the debris field and plummets to the planet below. With thrusters malfunctioning and her heat shield only partially operational, she tumbles out of control towards the surface. We see Booker's ship is also in a similar dilemma, with both craft leaving smoke trails and creating a sonic boom as they fall from the sky. 

What would you take to the moon? A tricorder, a phaser and a communicator, of course.  (Image credit: CBS All Access)

 A desperate Burnham reboots her suit's systems and manages to fire reverse thrusters and activate the impact shield just seconds before she crashes. She emerges from the crater (whcih she's just created) and looks a little worse for wear — as one would hitting the ground at about 120 mph. 

Her spacesuit failing and the faceplate cracked, Burnham struggles to her feet and gazes over the Icelandic alien landscape. Assuming the USS Discovery is right behind her, she tries to reach them on a communicator, but to no avail and the reality of her situation begins to sink in.

With little energy remaining in her suit, Burnham is able to determine that she's arrived in the year 3188 — just one year off — and that there are multiple life signs on the surface; a fact that she's happy about to say the least. But her elation is short-lived as the suit's sensors indicate that the wormhole she just travelled through is collapsing. She frantically reprograms it to fly toward said wormhole, broadcast her coordinates for as long as it's still open and then self-destruct. 

Courier and environmental advocate, and possibly even smuggler, swindler and scoundrel. (Image credit: CBS All Access)

Now, with nothing except the wind, the wilderness and the most basic of survival kits, emotion overcomes Burnham and she attempts to re-gather and compose herself. 

If there was an alien in "Star Trek" that was the opposite to a Vulcan, in that they embrace over-emotion, then it's entirely possible Burnham is a descendant. We saw an abundance of excessive sentimental outpouring at the end of season two, but when used in moderation with selective placement, it can be quite effective. And that's what we were seeing here, thankfully.  

She proudly places her Starfleet badge on her flight suit and, with some Beatrix Kiddo-inspired self-motivation, makes her way toward the other plume of smoke in the sky — the crash site of Booker's ship, far off in the distance. And the opening credits roll … and we get to once again count how many different types of producers there are, with new titles like consulting producer, supervising producer and co-executive producer joining the vast number of executive producers already on the show. The sequence itself has had a tweak, with a few new images added to the existing ones, including a transporter pad and a robot drone-of-sorts that looks a little bit like EVE from "WALL-E."

This droid is one of the new images in the opening credits, so we assume it will show up later in the series. (Image credit: CBS All Access)

Burnham approaches Booker's downed ship and he springs a surprise attack from behind. Fortunately, they're both rational people and are able to talk things through … but only after Burnham unleashes a can of whoop-ass. Naturally, Booker notices her "antique" phaser and, with a few other clues, he deduces that she's "not from around these parts."

The character of Booker — and indeed David Ajala — could very well be one of the best things to have happened to "Trek" in a long time. (We shall see more of his awesomeness later.) There is an undeniable resemblance to a young Idris Elba, but possibly more in mannerisms than appearance and yes, they even sound very similar, especially since they have the same accent as both were born in Hackney, in East London. 

At first Booker's not interested in where Burnham came from as she tries to deduce what exactly has happened. It turns out that this planet is not Terralysium, but one named Heem. She pleads with him to help her and, naturally, he caves. At this point, so much more than we want the return of the USS Discovery, we want these two to team up and become a cosmic crime-fighting couple in the 32nd century.

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They enter his damaged ship and Burnham marvels over the technology. Booker makes reference to a dilithium recrystallizer (clearly the technology pioneered on Xahea eventually found its way into mainstream use) and even quantum slipstream, first referenced in the "Star Trek: Voyager" episode "Hope and Fear" (S04, E26). And then we meet Grudge, his cat…and it's official: Booker's been onscreen for less than 10 minutes and already we want a dedicated spin-off series. Hey, it worked for Captain Pike. 

The city of Sanctuary, where couriers go to trade. It's less like Mos Eisley and more like Stardust City (Image credit: CBS All Access)

Booker — or just Book, as he prefers to be called — explains they have to get to a place called Mercantile in order to trade for dilithium. He engages a cloaking device for his ship and they set off on foot. The banter between the two is entertaining and Burnham begins to learn tiny truths about this intriguing character and in particular, about the temperature sensitive cargo in his ship that he "repatriated."

It's also at this point that the conversation turns to Burnham's Starfleet badge and Book, calling her a "true believer" first makes reference to the fact that the Federation no longer exists. Naturally, this comes as something of a shock to Burnham. She presses him for more information and he talks about "the burn," but of course she knows nothing of this either. Only now does Book seriously consider the notion that Burnham truly might not be from anywhere around here. 

And we get to the explanation of what in fact caused the calamity that destroyed the Federation; an event known as "the burn," when every dilithium crystal aboard every starship…er, exploded, for a reason that remains unknown. This probably isn't going to turn out to be a natural phenomenon and obviously has links to the first round of "Short Treks," specifically the episodes "Runaway" and later "Calypso." It just sounds bizarre.

gamma ray burst or a war with a race from another galaxy or possibly even a link back to "The Next Generation" episode "Force of Nature" (S07, E09) where scientists claim that constant warp travel by starships is destroying the fabric of subspace … would've sounded more plausible than having every starship's warp core suddenly exploding.  

Production designers have done a sterling job on this episode recreating a city in the 32nd century. (Image credit: CBS All Access)

We will no doubt learn more about this inexplicable event, but already sensors are detecting trace amounts of a ridiculous, nonsensical plot. You know, like the whole second season Control thing that we're trying so hard to put behind us. Granted, this could be considered a preemptive criticism and hopefully it will turn out to be a plot element that's imaginative, well written and most importantly, believable, but we've been given ridiculous, nonsensical plots quite a lot in the past, so we're wary.

And this is really our only grumble with what is otherwise arguably one of the best episodes of "Discovery" that we've seen so far…so stick with it, the best stuff is still to come.  

Still reeling from the shock, her brow furrowed and her bottom lip shaking like an Orion belly-dancer, Burnham mutters, "No, the Federation isn't just about ships and warp drive, it's about a vision and all those who believe in that vision."

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They continue on until they're able to look down upon their destination; a vast sprawling city laid out in front of them that's less like Mos Eisley and more like Stardust City. To gain access, they must first clear security and of course Burnham doesn't have any identification. Book, using his heavenly Hackney accent convinces the Andorian guards to grant them entry. 

Could these two be the worst aliens at interrogation ever? (Image credit: CBS All Access)

The dimly lit streets of this backwater city are illuminated only by countless neon signs and holograms and as far as futuristic cities go, the production design department has done a really excellent job. Book explains that he makes his living as courier, a job title that probably also includes a little bit of smuggler and maybe even swindler, when the occasion calls for it. 

Burnham offers her "vintage" tricorder for Book to exchange for dilithium when he springs a double-cross. Instead of taking her to the communications array — where she hoped to send another message to Discovery — he leads her instead to "the vault" and she suddenly finds herself trapped in a confinement beam. Book snatches the rest of Burnham's gear as at first she pleads with him and then promises to kill him. But Book's only concern is completing his current assignment and he hastily exits before enforcement drones arrive.

An Orion and an Andorian begin questioning Burnham and give her a dose of a truth drug, which results in some thoroughly entertaining side effects. It's great to see more of Martin-Green's range beyond Emotional and Very Emotional and she's clearly having fun with it, racing through a variety of mental states before settling on "chatterbox." 

"It makes people truthful, they talk," explains the Orion security guard.

"Yes-yes-I-feel-that-I-feel-you-I-get-that-I-have-a-friend-with-red-hair-you-cannot-give-her-any," Burnham blurts.

It's a really fun set piece that adds to the fresh feel of this episode. The SnorriCam shots are used sparingly and to good effect. Burnham is still prattling on and eventually identifies Book, who meanwhile is having difficulty trying to sell the vintage tech before his day gets even worse and he runs into Cosmo Traitt (David Benjamin Tomlinson) the alien who was trying to shoot him down at the beginning of the episode. 

"What cargo was he hauling?" the Orion security guard asks.

"I-don't-know-but-it-was-temperature-senstitive-and-realy-valuable-so-it's-probably-ice-cream," Burnham jabbers on.

I want what she's having. The truth drug set piece feels fresh and fun. (Image credit: CBS All Access)

The guards take Burnham to find Book and they find him getting a pummeling from Cosmo. Pouncing on the opportunity to vent, she also unloads a hefty right hook that connects perfectly with the already battered courier. Just about everyone is aching to blast poor Book — Cosmo, the Orion guards and the Andorian guards. 

Burnham sighs, Book winks at her and in the blink of an eye, they've both disarmed two guards and are blasting at the remaining ones. We know what's going to happen and we want it to happen — which is precisely why it had to choreograph in as much of an unclichéd manner as possible — and for the most part, that's accomplished. Thus begins a beautiful relationship. 

Poor Burnham is still suffering from the effects of her alien-acid-amphetamine truth drug while Book is left doing most of the defensive work. But she spies some dilithium crystals in what looks like an antique dealer's storefront and makes a dash for them. Dodging blaster fire, Book follows behind her, but the incoming fire is intensifying and despite some disagreement over their priorities, he activates a personal transporter and they materialize far away from the city on the precipice of a stunning waterfall. You have to give credit to the location scouts for this episode, they've excelled themselves. 

Burnham and Book hardly have time to argue before a handful of Andorian guards beam to their location having tracked the personal transporter. Working in perfect harmony together they dispense with these guards before beaming out once again, adopting a shoot-'n-scoot strategy. By beaming ahead, they can ambush the incoming guards, the only problem is the personal transporter needs 30 seconds to recharge. What follows is a well-written, well-filmed set piece that yet again makes this episode stand head and shoulders above almost everything we've seen up until now. 

This definitely feels like a beautiful relationship. Long may it continue.  (Image credit: CBS All Access)

Pinned down and unable to stem the onslaught of Orion and Andorian guards, Book grabs Burnham and they leap off the edge of the cliff and activate the transporter as they fall. Thankfully, they land in a different lake and Book helpfully provides the exposition that they can't be tracked underwater … and we'll let that one go since the rest of this episode is so freakin' fantastic. Plus, in the next scene as they dry themselves off, Book does a Kirk and gets his shirt off. 

During the firefight, Burnham caught a glancing round in the shoulder (it's always a glancing round in the shoulder) and Book performs a routine where he recites a prayer and a blue plant emerges from the water's edge that he gently squeezes to produce a healing gel-like liquid that Burnham applies to her wound. This is our first indication that Book shares a symbiotic relationship with the planet and we'll see more evidence soon. He gives her a communications device and she tries to call the Discovery once again … with no luck.

As they share this peaceful moment and we can see each character shares more in common with each than perhaps they first realized: they are both true believers in their own way. Burnham confirms that she is indeed a time traveller and we learn that all time travel technology was destroyed after the Temporal Wars — an event referenced in the "Star Trek: Enterprise" episode "Storm Front" (S04, E01).

Burnham and Book eventually reach his cloaked ship, but are suddenly ambushed by Cosmo, the Andorian and Orion guards and even a Lurian. In a surprising twist, the guards turn on Cosmo, blasting him before demanding Book open his cargo hold, which they intend to keep for themselves. A giant slug emerges and eats everyone much to Burnham's surprise. Then it turns on Burnham…and eats her. Thankfully though, it doesn't chew, or swallow…and Book talks to the slug in the same language that he spoke at the lake. Now, considerably less aggravated, the trance worm as its called begins to calm down and eventually spits out Burnham. 

When she comes to write her personal log for today, it's going to be an interesting read.

The splattering of blood on the camera is a nice touch as the trance worm enjoys an Andorian lunch. (Image credit: CBS All Access)

We're back on Book's ship, now repaired and at warp speed. Burnham and Book, together with Grudge, share another intimate moment and he explains how the trance worms used to thrive in their natural environment when the Federation existed. He talks about his connection to life forms and a little about his family, explaining that they are all poachers, but he is different and as such, he is not welcome at home.

Then we finally see what his motivation was and what the "mission" was all about; the trance worm is released into its natural environment and seen happily thrashing about in water. It's hard to describe the scene to be honest, because my eyes were so full of tears. It's been a while since "Star Trek" has provoked such an emotional response, to paraphrase a certain Vulcan, but this is truly a beautiful moment. And we love Book even more as a result. 

Again we see that both Burnham and Book have many traits in common as they're both willing to make sacrifices in an attempt to ensure a future. The saving of the trance worm invokes fond memories of "The Voyage Home" and reflecting on important socio-political issues of the time is something "Star Trek" can often do — and has done — to great effect.

Burnham shares a little more of her story, explaining that she wasn't the only one who made the sacrifice. She makes a throwaway remark about not having a clue on how to start searching for her ship and her crew, when Book suggests that he might know someone who could help. They fly to an enormous, wrecked space station that Book explains used to be a Federation relay station. Having docked, they make their way to the attendant's desk … where we see the well-dressed gentleman sitting at his desk from the beginning of the episode.

Hope. Boy, we could use a few bucketfuls of that right about now. (Image credit: CBS All Access)

"Hello, welcome to Starfleet. May I help you?" he asks. 

Burnham is gobsmacked, understandably. "I'm Commander Michael Burnham, Science Officer, USS Discovery, serial number SC0064-0974SHN," she says.

It is the turn of the well-dressed gentleman to be gobsmacked and he introduces himself as Aditya Sahil (Adil Hussain) a Federation liaison. Together they scan for the warp signature of the USS Discovery, but are unable to locate it. Sahil explains that he only has limited scanning range now as both he and the Federation were cut off from the other sectors long ago. 

Despite not being a commissioned officer, Sahil has watched and scanned for over 40 years in the hope that someone, like Burnham, might be out there, for he too is a true believer. "Today is that day," he says, "And that hope is you." 

He produces his aged container and we see that it's the flag of the Federation, minus a few stars. "It has been in my family for generations," Sahil says. "Only a commissioned officer may raise it." 

And for the second time in one episode, we're struggling to hold back tears. Burnham stands proudly and says, "We need a Communications Chief to monitor for Discovery. Will you accept this commission?" And so they raise the flag.

"Our numbers are few," Sahil says, "But our spirit is undiminished."

Belief in something better is clearly going to be a big theme in Season 3, a sentiment that rings true now, more than ever before. Next week's episode will obviously look at the events that unfolded for the crew of the USS Discovery, but the focus on just Burnham and Book this week has been a joy to watch. Intertwining the two plot elements into one episode would've been a disaster. The development of this relationship was perfectly paced, as was their gradual reveals about themselves. 

This marks a return to form for "Star Trek" and could perhaps be considered a re-birth of sorts – a recurring theme in this franchise – leaving all that nonsense of the previous season far behind. Along with "Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad" (S01, E07) and "New Eden" (S02, E02), this episode joins our list of the best of "Discovery" and since it's the season premiere, we have high hopes that this high standard will continue. 

Starfleet commendation ✓

  • The truth drug set piece felt fun and fresh 
  • Saving of the trance worm invokes fond memories of "The Voyage Home" 
  • Production design of Sanctuary City and Mercantile were gorgeous 
  • The dilithium dilemma mirrors the notion of a future fossil fuel shortage 
  • Book is the best thing to happen to "Star Trek" in a very long time 

Scrubbing the holodecks ✗  

  • Stunning though it is, Iceland is playing Every Planet in movie and TV sci-fi 
  • It's always a slight shot to the shoulder that results in a superficial wound 
  • Personal transporters can't be tracked underwater? 
  • Hologram interfaces don't seem to have changed much in 930 years 

Rating: 9/10

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  • COLGeek
    It does appear that season 3 will be quite exciting. Time will tell.
    Reply
  • Erny_Module
    ...and why, in your opinion, was the finale of 'Picard' "yet another crashing disappointment"?
    Reply
  • Woodstock
    Erny_Module said:
    ...and why, in your opinion, was the finale of 'Picard' "yet another crashing disappointment"?
    I'm inclined to agree, it was dreadful. The writer's review of it is here https://bit.ly/340PQaH
    Reply
  • deetler
    Was this Star Trek or Star Wars. I couldn't tell the difference.
    Reply
  • Octoparrot
    deetler said:
    Was this Star Trek or Star Wars. I couldn't tell the difference.
    I kept waiting to see if a light saber battle would happen.
    Reply
  • KennyEBHS
    I hope this is not a Voyager reboot.
    Reply
  • fredgarv
    This is not star trek. I am waiting for the new one coming out soon with Capt. Pike. that one looks encouraging
    Reply
  • KennyEBHS
    fredgarv said:
    This is not star trek. I am waiting for the new one coming out soon with Capt. Pike. that one looks encouraging
    Agreed.
    Reply
  • Æterno
    What's with all the negativity, has 2020 beat everyone so far down that it has become the default setting for most people. Come on people, let's have some positivity.

    I for one was very happy with the first episode of the season, can't wait for the rest.
    Reply