Last week’s season premiere of Discovery, “That Hope is You,” resolved season two’s cliffhanger from the perspective of Commander Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), who arrives in the far-flung future alone. This week, we follow the USS Discovery and the rest of Michael’s crew as they hurtle through that same wormhole, crash land on a desolate planet, and get their first taste of the 32nd century, which involves far more Cowboy Shit than they’re used to. In order to affect repairs, Saru (Doug Jones) and Tilly (Mary Wiseman) must contend with a violent outlaw (Jake Weber, Hell on Wheels) who’s been extorting the nearby mining settlement.
All Stations Report
As the series lead, Michael Burnam occupies a lot of screen time on Star Trek: Discovery, and her absence this week allows the rest of the ensemble to shine brighter than ever. Discovery has a wealth of charismatic supporting characters to whom it’s easy to become attached despite most of them never taking center stage for an episode. The fact that a scene can pivot from delight to worry with one look from Lt. Detmer (Emily Coutts) demonstrates that even the quieter Discovery bridge officers feel like real people with lives of their own.
While eighteen months have passed for the audience, the characters are just hours separated from making the grave decision to leave everything they know behind, but with the ship crashed on an unknown world in an unknown time, there’s barely an opportunity to think about that in this episode. Here we are catching up with the crew at work, managing a crisis in true Starfleet fashion but also in ways that convey their character. A badly wounded Stamets (Anthony Rapp) crawls into a maintenance tube to try and restore the ship’s power, throwing himself at the problem he can solve to avoid the one he can’t. A shaken Tilly wants to show that she can pull through in a crisis, even when she’s a ball of anxiety. And Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) reminds us that she’s going to do whatever the hell she wants, particularly now that she has no allegiance or attachments apart from Michael.
Most of all, “Far From Home” feels like Saru’s audition for Discovery’s captaincy. Saru has grown in spurts since we first met him as the skittish science officer aboard the Shenzhou, and it’s rewarding to see him standing up to Georgiou, the kind of formidable personality who might have walked all over him two years ago. He’s found a way to blend his natural warmth with the authoritative voice expected of a captain, and can now launch into Inspiring Speech Mode at a moment’s notice. Like the most effective leaders, Saru knows how to approach each of the individuals under his command in the tone that will most inspire and bring out the best in them. Whether or not he keeps the gig going forward, Saru has earned a place among the ranks of Great Space Dads.
All Saloon Doors are Purely Decorative, If You Think About It
While not the step into futuristic weirdness that I’ve been hoping for, “Far From Home’s” commitment to the Space Western vibe hinted at in the season premiere is absolutely delightful. Saru and Tilly finding themselves insta-beamed into a dusty saloon where they have to duke it out with a mustachioed ruffian wearing literal fucking spurs may not be terribly original, but it is 100% unfiltered Star Trek. Jake Weber’s quietly menacing performance as the villainous Zareh holds the piece together, keeping the scenario from straying into full-on camp. Zareh maintains the tension of the saloon scenes by continually ignoring Saru and directing his questions and demands towards Tilly, who’s more easily rattled, and there’s certainly nothing cute about the slow, painful execution of Coridan miner Kal (Jonathan Koensgen).
A number of cool details help to make this setting feel a bit more otherworldly. Zareh’s marauders dabble in a pidgin language that we’ve never heard before, and thankfully we hear just enough of it to be curious and not enough for it to become annoying, laughable, or offensive. (What’s up, Cloud Atlas?) We get a better look at the programmable matter that was introduced last week, which for the moment falls squarely in Clarke’s Third Law territory — there’s even a wand involved. The “parasitic ice” that traps Discovery is just another variety of space barnacle that Star Trek has employed for decades as a way to create urgency for the main story, but it looks cool, and when Michael finally returns to rescue the ship from this frigid doom, it’s a joyful cap to an overall terrific episode.
The House Subcommittee on Please Not Murdering Us Today
Kal is another of the “true believers” in Starfleet mentioned last week, whose faith is rewarded only briefly before his death. Since their disappearance, Starfleet and the Federation seem to have become idealized in a way that only absent heros can, as symbols that represent a vague notion of “good.” Kal believes that Saru and Tilly will help them because, as Starfleet officers, that’s “how they are.” In the harsh, post-post-scarcity reality of the 32nd century, Starfleet has begun to mean the same thing to some characters as it means to viewers — the fantasy of a benign authority that genuinely wants to help you and isn’t just looking out for itself.
Kal could not have asked for better examples of the Starfleet of his imagination than the kind and curious Saru and Tilly, but ultimately they’re not the ones who save the day — if not for the intervention of cold-blooded ass-kicker Philippa Georgiou, Kal would probably not have been the colony’s last casualty. As much as the ending may frame the colonists not executing Zareh as a victory for Starfleet-style decency, it wasn’t mercy and civility that saved the day, it was Georgiou snapping dudes’ necks with her legs.
Saru represents our better nature, but if the past four years of American history have taught us anything, it’s that moral superiority alone does not triumph over cruelty. Action is also required. Saru successfully models the value system that he hopes to restore to the Federation, but so long as the bullies are in charge, that value system can’t protect anyone. Deliberately or not, “Far From Home” demonstrates the practical strategy for defeating entrenched evil to restore good — you have to defeat it on its own terms first, so that you’re in position to set the terms going forward. If you want the moral victory of sparing your foe’s life, you have to hold it in your hands in the first place.
Is there any chance that someone in Congress is reading this?