Warning: The spoilers enter through the ears and wrap themselves around the cerebral cortex.
Episode three of the third season of "Star Trek: Discovery" warps on to CBS All Access today. Now that we're caught up with what happened to both Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) in the premiere and the crew of the USS Discovery (in episode two) as they were separated in space-time while traversing the time wormhole, Season 3 moves forward with everyone together. And therein lies the problem.
It would've been nice to see Burnham and Book (David Ajala) spend more of the series on their own — and likewise the crew of the Discovery— before they all met up. It would have been a little like the simultaneous plots running onboard the Battlestar Galactica and with Lt. 'Boomer' Valerii and Capt. 'Helo' Agathon on Caprica in Ron Moore's reimagining of that show. That would've given Saru and the crew of the Discovery a nice opportunity to have an equal share of the plot, rather than having Burnham always being the one driving the story forward. Or two primary plots, rather than a primary and a secondary.
Regardless, there will almost certainly be a flood of "Discovery" Expanded Universe novels covering the adventures that Burnham and Book had in the 12 months before the USS Discovery emerged through the wormhole. So, we look forward to those.
Episode three is entitled "People of Earth," so straight away there's the hint of being able to see what exactly has happened to our beautiful, little blue-green planet in the 32nd century.
In a flashback, we see and hear some of some of the details Burnham included in the messages she was sending to the USS Discovery before she found the ship last week. "I'm sending this message because you need to know what I've learned here. I hope by some miracle you will receive it someday. Seven hundred years after we left, dilithium supplies dried up. The Federation tried alternative warp drive designs, but none proved reliable. Then came the 'Burn.' No one knows why, or how it happened, but in an instant, all dilithium went inert. Any ship with an active warp core detonated.
"The Federation as we know it disappeared overnight. It's now just a shadow of its former self," Burnham says "We didn't give everything for this version of the future and I'll be damned if I let it stand."
She goes on to explain that she has become a courier, transporting goods in exchange for dilithium and to keep exploring, searching for clues as to what might have caused the "Burn." Does this mean she's partnered up with Book and they've become the coolest wheeler-dealer couple in the quadrant?! We really hope so. We see her appearance changing over the course of 12 months, ending with a badass braid that looks oh-so-cool on Burnham.
We see Burnham with Book and it's already clear from the body language that they're more than just friends. Suddenly her communicator blips … and the montage cuts to her beaming aboard the USS Discovery where it's group hugs all round. Saru (Doug Jones) and Burnham have a chance to catch up a little and they share a little of what they've been through. Burnham then explains to the bridge crew the current situation and how millions died as a result. Poor Lt. Keyla Detmer (Emily Coutts) seems to be showing very subtle signs of a possible breakdown.
Burnham plays a message from Earth that she discovered and plans are drawn up to use the spore drive to traverse the great distance back to Sector 001. Saru addresses the issue of who should command and, in a nicely handled scene, Burnham explains how it should absolutely be him. The issue isn't drawn out — yet — and it's just about as emotional as it needs to be without overdoing it. Roll opening credits. (And we see that this is the first episode in Season 3 that's directed by Jonathan Frakes.)
Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is hanging out by a wall in the corridor that's decorated withlots of Starfleet badges, which we guess is something similar to the endless corridor aboard the Battlestar Galactica that was covered in pictures of people who were missing or dead. That though, had a more haphazard, improvised, realistic feel; this is more like a few shiny badges placed very neatly on a wall, akin to the infamous "Star Trek" gloss.
Tilly's conversation about longing for something recognizable on Earth to relate to quite predictably sets up an event later in the episode, but we'll talk about that when it happens. The crew — and Tilly in particular — seem very depressed about being 950 years in the future. Why not be excited, or at the very least, energized, about locating the "Star Trek" universe's equivalent of the Grays Sports Almanac, just in case you ever did manage to get back to 2257? And since technology in the 32nd century is vastly more advanced — and we learned that time travel had been outlawed in the season premiere, so it was possible — it's not irrational to think it could be accomplished again.
Tilly remarks how Burnham "seems lighter" as a result of her experiences over the last 12 months while the redheaded ensign seems to have grown even more melodramatic.
Book beams aboard and is greeted by Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), who naturally attempts to engage him in a mind game. For the most part Book doesn't give her the satisfaction, but he bites briefly just once, which is disappointing and feels out of character for him.
Such a big deal is being made of Burnham's one-year wait and how much she's changed over that time. It's just one year. You'd honestly think she'd been through an experience like Chuck Noland in "Cast Away" and that was four years. Do people in Starfleet never take a sabbatical? Do students in the 23rd century never take a gap year?
Has the year-long furlough really made her rediscover herself, after everything she's already been through? To ensure this was more believable, the writers should either have extended the time that Burnham had to wait — even to say, three, or possibly four years — or simply not repeatedly returned to reemphasize her experience.
Burnham repays Book with dilithium as she promised and they make the deduction that Discovery's supply of dilithium will be detected by other ships, thus making it a target. We're willing to wager that there's going to be a tug-of-war in future episodes between Burnham's emotions, her feelings for Book and her commitment to Starfleet. She won't want to let go of him, but feels compelled to remain on the Discovery and he won't want to join the crew, despite her attempts to persuade him because he has a life in this time. Just you wait.
So far — thankfully — the profanity has been kept to a minimum and used only where appropriate. In fact, Saru cuts Tilly off a split-second before she's about to drop an f-bomb in the last episode, which was nicely handled. But … no one says "bo**ocks" quite like someone from East London. The writer who fought to include this ought to be commended.
A plan is hatched to hide the Discovery's supply of dilithium aboard Book's ship, which will then cloak and remain in the shuttle bay, thus hiding it from detection. It's at this point, sadly, that Saru does begin to make a big deal of the whole captain issue, yet again referring to Burnham's whole 365-day absence. Book makes his entrance on the bridge, which results in a few raised eyebrows and wry smiles. The Discovery engages its spore drive, does its fidget spinner thing and instantly finds itself in our solar system ( just by Saturn, actually) and heading straight for Earth.
Science Alert: The USS Discovery travels from fairly close to Saturn to fairly close to Earth in under 25 seconds, real time. We'll be generous and call it 25. When the two are closest, the planets lie approximately 746 million miles apart. Covering that distance in that time would require a speed of 29,840,000 miles per second. The speed of light is 186,282 miles per second. So, that's a lot faster. Over 160 times faster. Depending on which interpretation of warp drive you subscribe to, that's either warp 160, or warp 5.4. However, according to Wikipedia, maximum impulse speed — therefore not engaging the warp engines and risking detection — is customarily limited to a maximum of 1/4 light speed. Therefore the journey should've taken 4 hours and 26 minutes, give or take. You'd think maybe the writers would've looked into this and perhaps set at least some of the previous scenes en route.
They reach Earth and are immediately confronted by defense satellites that create a shield around the planet plus two ships on an intercept course. Captain Ndoye (Phumzile Sitole) of the United Earth Defense Force doesn't mince words and informs the crew of the Discovery that they are not at all welcome. Saru attempts to sell Doya a fabricated story on how they've survived this long and Ndoye insists on a mandatory ship-wide inspection. That means both Burnham and Book must quickly don Starfleet uniforms, as "any evidence of piracy will be dealt with severely."
Armed officers of the United Earth Defense Force instantaneously transport throughout the ship, in every department, much to everyone's shock. The dialogue between Burnham and Book feels a little forced, which it really shouldn't, but the quirky surprise is seeing that Georgiou has decided to go with an Admiral's uniform, possibly in an attempt to undermine Saru? We'll see. Once again the conversation circles back to Burnham's return and how it feels to wear the uniform again after one Really Long Year.
Ndoye explains the situation on Earth to both Saru and Burnham in the captain's ready room. Apparently, most of the ships destroyed in "the Burn" belonged to Starfleet and since no one knew what caused the burn, it was believed it could be an attack. Consequently, having Federation headquarters on Earth made the planet a potential target. Thus Earth left the Federation over 100 years ago. Since then, a raider named Wen has been repeatedly terrorizing Earth. Moreover, according to Ndoye, the Starfleet officer, Admiral Senna Tal, who sent the 12-year old message that Burnham recently detected died two years ago on an outbound ship.
Meanwhile, back on the Discovery, the crew is not reacting well to the mandatory inspections, especially in Engineering, where Tilly and Lt. Stamets (Anthony Rapp) are clashing, in particular with Adira (Blu del Barrio). As we already know, Adira is a young, non-binary officer who eventually forms a bond with both Stamets and Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz). It's a painful introduction, but thankfully her character isn't excruciating for too long.
Turns out, the space raider Wen (Christopher Heyerdahl) is attacking. He looks a little like Q9-0 from "The Mandalorian" mixed with an Ovion from the 1970s "Battlestar Galactica" — so, almost insectoid. Ndoye and Saru clash over how to best handle the situation and naturally hers is the more aggressive and unreasonable approach. Burnham hotfoots it down to the mess hall, where Book is trying to get drunk. Sadly, it's to no avail as he's been drinking synthahol. Book is definitely getting the best dialogue in this episode and perhaps that's because he's such a great character to write.
Down in Engineering (and in a nice scene with well-written dialogue) Tilly and Stamets deduce that it was in fact Adira who sabotaged the Discovery and prevented anyone from the United Earth Defense Force from beaming back to the surface.
Back on the bridge, the Discovery has suddenly found itself with "too many cooks" as we learn that Burnham and Book have left the ship in Book's vessel, with all the dilitium onboard. Naturally, Ndoye wants to just shoot everybody and Saru wants to bring Burnham and Book back in, but only Georgiou speaks sense and manages to persuade everyone to wait and see what our new favorite cosmic couple have planned.
Every character is really fulfilling their pigeonhole roles, with each one representing their predictable side of the situation — with the exception of Burnham and Book, who frankly are carrying "Discovery" at the moment, with great lines like, "That was entirely monosyllabic. I love it when you do that."
Wen launches two quantum torpedoes and Saru moves the Discovery into the line of fire — despite objections from almost everyone — and the ship's shields are destroyed. Burnham and Book tell him that the next shot will come from Earth, a salvo that he will not survive, so Wen has little choice but to accept their offer of dilitium.
The seemingly insectoid alien lowers his shields and Book cloaks his ship. The next thing we know is that Burnham and Book are on the bridge of the Discovery with Wen in tow. Ndoye is suitably gobsmacked and Georgiou is suitably impressed. Saru just frowns inside as he's not happy with the way this was conducted, despite the success.
Then we're in the captain's ready room in an attempt to reach a diplomatic solution and Burnham and Georgiou read the situation perfectly. In a perfectly executed "Scooby-Doo" moment, Georgiou knocks Wen to his knees and removes his insectoid helmet to reveal …
Old Man Peabody a human, from a colony on Titan. Ndoye is suitably gobsmacked for the second time in just as many minutes.
Both Ndoye and Wen share stories of their people suffering at the hand of the other, but they eventually reach an agreement, brokered by Saru and Burnham, and the "Star Trek" fanfare plays softly in the background, which is a beautiful, lump-in-throat-inducing way to remind us what Starfleet and indeed, "Star Trek," is all about.
But Wen's reveal is far from the end of this episode. We return to Engineering to see Adira up to mischief in one of the Jeffries tubes. Stamets confronts her and they begin to share some details about themselves. She admits to sabotaging the Discovery and enabling the transporter block, but only so that she could learn more about the ship. She admits to having information that could help the Discovery search for the mysterious Admiral Senna Tal and is granted permission to remain onboard.
At this point we're expecting her to say something like "he's my father," or possibly even that she's responsible for the transmission having created a fictional character. However, it turns that she is Admiral Tal, but not in the way you'd first imagine — she's a Trill, of sorts. These are a humanoid species that co-exist with a sentient symbiotic organism inside their bodies. The resulting joined Trills had personalities that were a synthesis of the two beings, including the memories and often, the characteristics, of previous hosts. Probably the most well known Trill in "Star Trek" is Lt. Cmdr. Jadzia Dax, who was stationed on Deep Space Nine. Adira is host to Admiral Tal, but despite carrying a symbiote, she is actually human, which apparently means she has greater difficulty accessing its memories.
Burnham and Book say goodbye in a scene that feels all wrong. The chemistry between these two is electric and he's the best thing that's ever happened to her. Throughout this entire episode, the two of them have made casual quips about their adventures and it sounds like they've faced life and death together numerous times. Yes, OK, we've actually saw them getting a little more intimate in the "Coming in This Season of Star Trek: Discovery" preview at the end of the premiere episode, but Burnham shacked up with Ash Tyler in the blink of an eye, can she really not see what a catch Book is? That said, if the writers are determined to not let these characters get it together, it's better that he's not around, since the Unresolved Sexual Tension between the two would begin to get annoying.
Burnham officially accepts the position of Saru's second in command and asks for some understanding in her transition back into Starfleet after her oh-so-long, one-year absence. These two are going to make an excellent team and Saru's character continues to mature nicely.
The crew is permitted to visit the Earth's surface and we see where that earlier scripted remark from Tilly set up. They beam down to the surface in Horseshoe Bay, San Francisco, to where Starfleet Academy used to be and hug a tree that, apparently has been there for hundreds of years. It's a truly wonderful idea, but it would've benefited more from a) not being spoon-fed the notion that something like was coming from Tilly's ramble earlier and b) some continuity: Season 1 of "Picard" has aired and we've already seen that this area is mostly covered in water, there ain't no tree here. Why couldn't the writers simply place it around the back of the Academy and zoom out facing south instead, or something. Easy fix.
Life of ignorant bliss on Talos IV ✓
- Always a pleasure to see Christopher Heyerdahl in a sci-fi show.
- Adira being the host to symbiote Admiral Senna Tal was a nice twist.
- Book just steals every single scene he's in.
- Captain Saru and First Officer Burnham will make an exceptional team.
- The Academy tree was a great idea, as was the fallen comrades corridor.
Death by a Varon-T disruptor ✗
- The bridge crew only seem to serve for quick shots of facial expressions.
- Burnham is definitely going to be in an emotional tug of war later on.
- Why the one year obsession? Does no one take a sabbatical in 2257?
- Attention to detail seems to be lacking in so many areas.
- Why wasn't the Scooby-Doo theme played at the end of this episode?!
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