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Michael Burnham goes full John McClane in 'Star Trek: Discovery's' penultimate episode of season 3

Captain, there be spoilers here!

With just one more episode left of the third season "Star Trek: Discovery" on CBS All Access, it's safe to say that this has been a roller-coaster ride. 

While season we've witnessed some genius in the writing — the premiere episode was one of the best of "new Trek" we've ever seen — we've also witnessed some bad writing (and some terrible execution) in "Unification III." We've seen an unusual amount of obvious outside influence for "Star Trek" in the episode "The Running Man" "Scavengers." (Granted the finale is still to come and that could mark a make or break point — the final episode of "Picard" was mostly awful and the final episode of "Discovery" Season 2 was entirely awful.) 

And this, the penultimate installment entitled "There is a Tide," is all of that crammed into a 47-minute episode. There are undeniable highlights, there are unquestionable low-points and it even manages to borrow heavily from another totally different IP.

We dive in immediately where we left off from last week, with Osyraa (Janet Kidder) now in command of the USS Discovery and heading straight for Federation HQ. Her flagship, the Viridian, is firing upon the Crossfield class ship to make the ruse look convincing. Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr) and Lieutenant Willa (Vanessa Jackson) ponder their options as they stroll through the white, sterile interior of Starfleet headquarters.

Do personal transporters come with a health warning? After constant use, you may forget you have legs. (Image credit: CBS All Access)

One of many things that make a show like "The Expanse" enjoyable is that it's believable. Granted the current season of "The Expanse" is set in the 24th century — the same point in human history as "Star Trek: The Next Generation" — and not the 32nd century, the point still very much applies. For instance, take language: In "The Expanse," Belters have their own language called Belter Creole (Belters themselves call it Lang Belter) that has an almost Afrikaans twang to it. And if you think there wouldn't be an evolution of language in 930 years, just look at how people communicate today over social media: "Yo bro, 'sup, dub? lol" — which of course translates in context to, "Good day sir, how are you? Were you successful? It's all been terribly amusing."

But what's worse than that — and worse than not having thought-controlled flight interfaces, but  programmable matter is standard issue — are personal transporters. Teleportation has been a key element of "Star Trek" since the very beginning and that's perfectly fine. However, it was shied away from in "Enterprise," which is one of the many reasons that that's our favorite series. Every time you "beam" you are, in essence, copied and killed

And while we're happy to gloss over this, happy to look past this sky-high philosophical hurdle and just enjoy the show, using personal transporters to purely move from one room to another, or climb stairs instead of using your legs is absurd. It's highly unlikely that either Admiral Vance or Lieutenant Willa are getting their 10,000 steps in each day and they've got absolutely no reason not to go walkabout whenever they want.

The bridge crew is being held under guard and is helpless when we're reintroduced to Zareh (Jake Weber). First seen in the second-best episode this season "Far From Home" (S03, E02) we very much hoped his character would be brought back and developed further. Well, one out of two isn't bad. He's developed a bit of frostbite since he was marooned on "the Colony" so he's feeling a tad vindictive to say the least, but he's also playing second fiddle to Osyraa, so he doesn't have a chance to shine as much as did as when we last saw him.  

Don't misjudge me, I am an evil scientist yes, but I have a deceptively calm demeanor. I also like opera.  (Image credit: CBS All Access)

Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Book (David Ajala) are hurtling through the "courier network" in an effort to catch up with the Discovery. They emerge just as Federation HQ lowers its defensive shields to allow the Discovery — and therefore Osyraa and her forces — inside. In a maneuver straight out of "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier," they fly Book's ship into the shuttle bay seconds before the Federation shield closes behind Discovery. (There's a missed opportunity here for a nod to the same franchise, much like the Discovery crash landing on the Colony also seen in the second episode.) Roll opening credits.

Osyraa unleashes Aurellio (Kenneth Mitchell) and he sets about trying to make heads or tails of Lieutenant Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and the spore drive. Mitchell actually played a number of different roles in Season 1, including the Klingon Kol, and was diagnosed with ALS in 2018. He began using a wheelchair himself last year before publicly revealing his diagnosis in early 2020, so using something similar in his character's backstory in this way is nice. In fact, this role was written specifically for him

Book and Burnham meanwhile make plans to retake the Discovery and free the crew. Book suggests he let himself be captured since Emerald Chain troops will be expecting to find a pilot in the wreckage of his ship, while Burnham slips on a tracking inhibitor so she can move stealthily throughout the ship and avoid detection. There's even a touching moment where Burnham tells Book for the first time that she loves him. The dialogue is snappy, well written and the scene doesn't drag. So far, so good.

Vance is trying to determine why the Viridian is remaining stationary outside the shield of Federation HQ and he quickly realizes Osyraa is onboard the Discovery and orders every Starfleet vessel within the shield to train their guns on that ship. Zareh finds Book as planned and throws him in with the rest of the bridge crew that are being kept under guard in the ready room. 

You don't think the entire Bolivian army is out there? Good, I thought we were in trouble for a minute. (Image credit: CBS All Access)

Then, at this point, we see that the writers were incapable of creating a believable reason for a guard to be in Discovery's corridor with a knife already in his hand. 

"What time is it?" asks one writer. 

"About 4 a.m.," the other replies. 

"What time does this have to be finished?" the first one asks. 

"About 9 a.m.," the second one sighs. 

"Alright then. So, he's there…um, trying to pry Starfleet badges off the wall..? So, he's gonna need a knife, right??" the first writer says. 

"Oh, that's gold," another writer gasps. 

So Burnham approaches him and in the ensuing struggle gets knifed in the thigh, which is crucial for the rest of this … er, borrowed sub-plot to work. So, now Burnham limps down the corridor leaving a trail of blood behind her. She crawls into a ventilation shaft Jefferies tube and calls Sgt. Al Powell her mum, Gabrielle, at first as a mayday, but that quickly changes to an emotional farewell just in case things don't work out. 

It doesn't take long for Zareh's goon squad to find the body of the badge-stealing guard that Burnham took out and deduce that someone is loose on the ship. In danger of becoming cornered in the Jefferies tube, she secures herself to a fixed rail with her belt and activates the fire suppression protocol, which vents the tubes to space. One guard however makes it to Burnham and manages to grab hold of her boots. 

Screaming and struggling to hold on as the air blasts past them, Burnham repeatedly kicks her in the face and at the cost of her boots, the guard is sent tumbling into the vacuum of space. So, yeah, still leaving a blood trail, Burnham is now running around barefoot. And to complete the scene, she further provokes Hans Gruber Zareh over the comlink. And it's pretty obvious that the writers have tapped into "Die Hard" for this episode in a not particularly subtle manner. 

Come out to the 32nd century, we'll get together, have a few laughs. Burnham goes full John McClane.  (Image credit: CBS All Access)

Paying homage or simply tipping one's hat to another great movie or scene is perfectly acceptable, and it can be from the same genre or something completely different. It happens all the time and is almost always clever, subtle, respectful and fun to see. For instance, not so long ago, in "The Mandalorian" episode "Chapter 11: The Heiress," director Bryce Dallas Howard — daughter of Oscar-winning director Ron Howard — included a nod to her father's movie "Apollo 13." The episode "Echoes" from the second season of "Lost in Space" has a number of subtle references to "Aliens" and "Toy Story 2" features a brilliant homage to "Jurassic Park," but these add something of value, either a new perspective or an alternative development.

This third season of "Star Trek: Discovery" has seen an unprecedented number of homages, some subtle and others not so much. It all started with an extremely entertaining homage to "Scooby-Doo" in "People of Earth" (S03, E03) when a space raider named Wen (Christopher Heyerdahl) was unmasked in front of Captain Ndoye (Phumzile Sitole) of the United Earth Defense Force. And it was fun and we all had a good chuckle. 

But then in "Scavengers" (S03, E06) the writers went way beyond homage and practically lifted a scene directly from the 1987 movie "The Running Man." The premise was the same, the effect was the same and even the setting was practically identical. This honestly shouldn't have been allowed to happen. There's a line and it's not even a fine line. It's quite a big, thick line, like the central reservation on a freeway. 

A homage doesn't typically include several similar references to the same movie, it's usually just one.  (Image credit: CBS All Access)

Last week, in the episode "Su'Kal" (S03, E11) there were a number of notable nods to other sci-fi properties, including a debatable similarity between the Kelpien "elder" and Lorien from "Babylon 5", complete with long, wispy white beard and an undeniable similarity between the "fear demon" and a Mimic from the 2014 movie "Edge of Tomorrow." Fans will notice. And they have

It's beginning to mount up and it's not a good look for "Star Trek" — the show that itself was once the one that everyone looked to for inspiration. This growing number of smaller influences would be easier to accept and/or forgive if the entire sonic deadlock perimeter scene hadn't been lifted just a few weeks previously. And now, we have some obvious references to the 1988 movie "Die Hard" and again, it could've made for an extremely entertaining episode had we not seen this becoming a bad habit now with "Discovery." 

"Die Hard" did that weird thing where it became its own trope and has certainly influenced science fiction pop-culture, the amazing "Stargate: Atlantis" episode "The Eye" (S01, E10) borrowed a little from it, but — importantly — it retained enough originality to not be considered a rip-off. "Star Trek" itself has tapped into it in the past in the excellent "Next Generation" episode "Starship Mine" (S06, E18). But it cannot be denied that this goes beyond that when you add it all up.  

Credit where credit is due — in both "Discovery" and "Picard" the holograms have been very creative. (Image credit: CBS All Access)

Back at HQ, Osyraa hails Vance and requests a conference thus setting up the part of this episode. They each leave their entourage outside and begin negotiations; the only other individual in the room is a hologram that's used to monitor biometrics and effectively act as a lie detector. His name is Eli, naturally. He's played by Brendan Beiser, who also starred in Gene Roddenberry's "Andromeda" and we've actually met Eli before, in the episode "Die Trying" (S03, E05). This whole set piece is the highlight of this episode without any doubt. The dialogue is sharp, witty and fresh, which makes the battle of wits between Vance and Osyraa so much more interesting to watch. In particular the moment where the origins of the apple Osyraa is munching on are revealed. Vance's character is the best written it's ever been in this episode and he finally has a chance to show what he's capable of.

She proposes a truce and ultimately an alliance between the Emerald Chain and the Federation. Vance reads over the proposals and is suitably impressed. However, he insists that the new representative of this alliance be totally independent of her and not simply a puppet and that she be tried for her crimes. Naturally, she's none too pleased about that particular clause. 

Onboard Discovery, inside the ready room that's temporarily doubling as the brig — come to think of it, why didn't they put the bridge crew in the brig, it's far more secure — Lieutenant Rhys (Patrick Kwok-Choon) has his break-out moment together with Lieutenant Bryce (Ronnie Rowe). They're tapping in Morse code to each other, which creates enough of a distraction to allow the other crewmembers to overpower the not-too-bright guards. Ryn (Noah Averbach-Katz) and Book will remain to hold off the imminent onslaught of enemy "regulators'' while the others make their escape.

These could've been cool Disco merch, but the heads aren't attached, which might be problematic. (Image credit: CBS All Access)

In Engineering — or as some have pointed out, actually Stamets' science lab and in fact we've never seen Discovery's engine room — Aurellio, complete with Andorian opera playing in the background is excitably hovering about in his … er, hover chair, rubbing his hands together in menacing glee at the thought of probing Stamets further. Since the tardigrade DNA that fused with that of Stamets came from an extinct species, it seems the only way to replicate the spore drive is to grow new tardigrade cells. 

Burnham bursts into Stamets' lab and stuns Aurellio. Stamets desperately wants to jump back to the Verubin nebula to rescue Dr. Culber, Saru and Adira, but Burnham tries to explain why he has to get off the ship. He's not really listening, so she's forced to knock him out with a Vulcan neck pinch. We haven't seen one of those in a while. Osyraa returns to the bridge of the Discovery where she's joined by Aurellio and Ryn and Book, who are now captive. She threatens to kill Ryn and Book pleads with her, saying he knows where there's a planet-sized pile of dilithium. She hesitates just a moment and then blasts Ryn anyway and tragic though it is, it's good to see her not back down and remain true to her core evilness. Burnham puts kicking and screaming Stamets into an escape energy pod — which is cool and blasts him into space at which point Zareh captures Burnham. 

The bridge crew lead by Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman) have done a sterling job and secured more weapons without being caught or killed. And then a couple of those little repair drones (we learn they're called DOT-23s) that we've seen glimpses of in the background before now and are in the opening credits appear and one displays a hologram of the old black and white Buster Keaton movie that the crew watched in "Forget Me Not" (S03, E04) and Tilly identifies the drone as the sphere data — or as we better know it, Zora — voiced once again by Annabelle Wallis. 

"I am at your service captains," she says. "Shall we take back the ship?" And it's a major lump-in-throat moment, setting what could — fingers crossed — be a truly epic season finale. Let's just hope the writers and director, it was Jonathan Frakes again this week, don't try and include an homage to say, "Ben Hur" or "Bambi" or "Bad Taste."

Will Gabrielle answer Michael's call? Will she bring a fleet of ships with her? Will Earth join in the fight? Will this new armada of starships all look absolutely identical..? Was Osyraa really interested in peace? Or did she have an ulterior motive and she somehow managed to remain undetected by Eli? Just one week until we find out.

Thankfully, there is more to like than dislike in this episode, it's just a damn shame, because it could've been amazing

Heisenberg compensator ✓ 

  •  Suspected Zora would show up after the Chain couldn't delete some data. 
  •  The Vance v Osyraa sub plot was a definite highlight, with great dialogue. 
  •  The types and accompanying personalities of holograms continue to excel. 
  •  Thank goodness Osyraa didn't change character and blast poor Ryn. 
  •  Seeing the Vulcan neck pinch was cool, as was the energy escape pod. 

 Heisenberg meth maker ✗

  •  Missed chance for a nod to the same franchise with Book's ship crashing. 
  •  Using a personal transporter instead of a flight of stairs is just plain lazy. 
  •  Zareh's potential hasn't been fully realized and he's been underused.  
  •  Way too many specific references for this to be simply a nod or homage.
  •  Why didn't Zareh put everyone in the actual brig?  

Just like last week's episode title was changed quite late in the day from "The Citadel" to "Su'Kal" the season finale episode title has been changed from "Outside" to "That Hope is You, Part 2" concluding the premiere episode title. So perhaps, this story arc will be wrapped up next week and Season 4 marks a totally different one, who knows.  

And in other "Star Trek" news, Jeri Ryan has confirmed that production on the second season of "Picard" has been pushed back to February 1, 2021. As TrekMovie notes "Discovery," which began production on season four in November is filmed in Toronto, "Picard is filmed in Southern California, which is dealing with a new surge in COVID cases.

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Scott Snowden
When Scott's application to the NASA astronaut training program was turned down, he was naturally upset ... as any 6-year-old boy would be. He chose instead to write as much as he possibly could about science, technology and space exploration. He graduated from The University of Coventry and received his training on Fleet Street in London. He still hopes to be the first journalist in space. You can follow Scott on Twitter @LorumIpsum.