Last week’s episode kicked off the season’s three-part conclusion, uncovering its central mystery and making a true threat out of Osyraa (Janet Kidder) and the Emerald Chain, who capture Discovery and jump towards the hidden Federation headquarters. For part two in the trilogy, we leave the riddle of Su’Kal and the Burn behind for now and focus on the conflict between the Federation and the Emerald Chain. In true Star Trek fashion, Starfleet takes one last swing at peace, and failing that, our heroes prepare for war.
Fuck It, Let’s Do a Die Hard
It’s a rite of passage for every lead Star Trek ship to get hijacked at least once. The original Enterprise used to get seized by godlike beings regularly, requiring that the crew come up with some clever way of taking the ship back from a superior force. Every Next Generation-era series has at least one episode where someone crawls through ducts and takes out an occupying force John McClane style. Now, with Discovery captured by the Emerald Chain, it’s Commander Michael Burnham’s turn to yippee-ki-yay. (And only a week late for Christmas).
Michael makes a dramatic entrance into this episode, as she and Book fly his ship through a dangerous abandoned transwarp corridor to intercept Discovery and board before she can enter Federation HQ. This sequence is great fun, providing some of the Star Wars-style space adventure that reliably comes about whenever Book’s ship is involved, answering the question as to why no one uses transwarp corridors in lieu of warp drive, and finally making good use of the puzzling fact that Discovery’s barn door is always left open. I hope its explosive last-second crash into the shuttle bay isn’t the last we see of the Not Millennium Falcon, because frankly that morphing effect is cool as hell and I’m not done looking at it. There’s also a sweet romantic moment between Michael and Book, and I continue to appreciate how their relationship can feel like part of the story without having to be the center of the drama.
Once inside, Michael must wander the ship alone looking for Lt. Stamets, the living key to Discovery’s spore drive. If she can get Stamets off the ship, then the Chain has no hope of stealing or reverse-engineering the technology. The bulk of her journey is the most overtly Die Hard of any Trek episode since 1993’s “Starship Mine” — Michael taunts the black hat Zareh (Jake Weber) over a comlink and even ends up barefoot for a while. It’s been a while since she went full-on action hero, and it’s a good time, if a little derivative. Meanwhile, there’s some reasonably cool run-and-gun adventure happening concurrent with Michael’s sneaking in which Tilly leads the bridge crew to overpower their captors and begin arming themselves for battle. A late-episode twist reveals that they will also have the assistance of the sentient Sphere Data (voice of Annabelle Wallis) and an army of adorable DOT-23 maintenance robots. It’s diverting but rote action that doesn’t leave a lot to talk about, but thankfully there’s more cerebral material being offered by the episode’s other plots.
Trick or Treaty
Minister Osyraa successfully Trojan Horses her way inside Federation Headquarters, faking a life-and-death chase between the captured Discovery and her flagship and slipping inside Fed HQ’s shields. But rather than bomb the place to oblivion from the inside, Osyraa has other plans — she wants to talk peace, and she’s apparently sincere about it. So, while fast-paced adventure unfolds aboard Discovery, Osyraa and Starfleet Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr) indulge in some real Star Trek action: diplomatic negotiations, baby!
Monitored by a lie-detecting hologram called Eli (Brendan Beiser), Osyraa pitches an alliance between the Emerald Chain and the United Federation of Planets. The Chain is a hyper-capitalist conglomerate of worlds that has thrived since the Burn but will soon run out of dilithium and descend into chaos. The Federation is a socialist democracy that has a sterling reputation but still hasn’t figured out how to function in a post-post-scarcity galaxy. The Federation has one spore drive, and the Chain has superior resources to study and reproduce it. They could surely use each others’ help, but their philosophical differences may be irreconcilable.
Osyraa wants the Federation to admit that capitalism serves a valuable role even within their economy, since Federation citizens are still trading with the Chain for the goods the Federation can’t provide. The Federation wants the Chain to kindly stop killing and enslaving people for profit. Osyraa is shockingly open to compromise, offering to immediately end slavery in their territory and to gradually pull out of the pre-warp civilizations they’ve been exploiting, but when Admiral Vance insists that any treaty between their governments has to include personal consequences for Osyraa, that she must be tried for her crimes against sentience, Osyraa balks and the negotiations end.
Osyraa is like so many oppressors who discover that they have something to gain from being less oppressive and then expect a “thank you” for it. Many Americans are taught that “Henry Ford gave us the 40-hour work week,” for example, when in fact it was the result of a bloody, decades-long organized labor movement. If it were still the most profitable option for her, Osyraa would go right on enslaving and extorting people, she’s simply offering to stop because she no longer thinks she can sustain it in the long run. Due to Eli’s lie detection, we’re meant to take Osyraa at her word that she’s trying to look out for the best interests of her people, but as soon as this requires consequences or sacrifice for her, personally, it’s no longer worth it. How perfectly typical of a politician.
You Have One Hour to Radicalize This Man
Parallel to this conflict is the story between the captured Lt. Paul Stamets and the Emerald Chain’s top scientist, Aurelio (Kenneth Mitchell in his fourth role on Discovery after playing three different Klingons). Aurelio is a friend and confidant of Osyraa’s, and he feels he owes her his life. Aurelio (like Mitchell, who has ALS) uses a wheelchair, and credits Osyraa with personally investing in him so that he might thrive in a predatory society where someone with a disability is not expected to survive. Again, this is total bunk— Osyraa is not some philanthropist, she is in charge of this society, she theoretically has the means to organize a social safety net for all her citizens, but she doesn’t. Instead, she invests in this one disabled genius, which allows her to personally profit from his loyalty and brilliance.
Aurelio is an example of someone who has thrived under a capitalist society despite an obvious hardship and sees his success as proof that the system works instead of examining the rare circumstances that contribute to it. He is disabled physically, but extremely gifted intellectually. He has made a friend of one of the most powerful individuals in the galaxy. The system worked for him, and he is oblivious to the suffering of others.
Osyraa has successfully kept Aurelio sheltered from the dark side of her work. He is unaware, for example, that his pesticide has been used as a weapon of extortion against the planet Kwejian. He’s so blinded by his belief in Osyraa’s righteousness that it takes Paul Stamets, his hostage, shouting “I’m a hostage!” to open his mind even a crack. Like so many who apologize for inequitable systems, he has difficulty defending its merits to its victim’s face. Later, when Aurelio witnesses Osyraa murder the Andorian rebel Ryn (Noah Averbach-Katz) in cold blood, the truth begins to sink in, leaving some hope that he may defy her in the season finale.
- Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 Episode 11 Review: “Su’Kal”
- Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 Episode 10 Review: “Terra Firma, Part 2”
- Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 Episode 9 Review: “Terra Firma, Part 1”
The Needs of the Many
Stamets is eventually rescued by Michael Burnham, but his troubles are far from over. He wants to jump the ship back to the nebula and rescue his partner Dr. Culber and their adopted child, Adira. Michael, however, can’t allow this, as it would lose Discovery the homefield advantage the crew will need to hold the ship once they retake it, deliver Osyraa directly to the dilithium planet that she could use to fuel her empire for the next century, and crucially, it leaves Stamets aboard where Osyraa’s people can continue to study him and unlock the secret of the mycelial network. As far as Michael’s concerned, the only way to save the ship, the crew, and the Federation, is to get Stamets off the ship as soon as possible, even if that means sacrificing Saru, Culber, and Adira.
This realization sends Paul into a panic, requiring that Michael knock him out with a nerve pinch and lock him into a small personal escape pod. He wakes up in time to beg her for the lives of his family, to remind her of the sacrifice he and the rest of the crew made for her at the end of last season, and to cry out as he’s jettisoned into space for Starfleet to recover. Actors Anthony Rapp and Sonequa Martin-Green wring a lot of emotion out of this scene (no doubt spurred on by Jonathan Frakes, every Star Trek actor’s favorite director), but it’s hurt a bit by how little Paul and Michael have interacted this season. Michael is making a great sacrifice regardless, as Hugh Culber and Adira are her friends and Saru is like a brother to her, but this scene isn’t about them. Since there’s no way that Culber and Adira aren’t somehow going to be rescued next week, the only thing really at stake in this scene is the relationship between Michael and Paul, and that relationship, frankly, has never been granted much importance. (I’d say there’s a small chance Saru dies or remains on the planet with Su’Kal.)
Michael makes a hard decision, but if asked, both Saru and Culber would agree that it’s the right thing to do. (Adira’s just a kid, but they probably get it, too.) Now, even if Osyraa successfully coaxes the location of the dilithium planet out of Book and survives the trip there via transwarp corridor, at least she doesn’t have the spore drive. Michael is captured moments after jettisoning Stamets, but her mission is over and she no longer has anything Osyraa wants. On top of everything else, Michael sent a goodbye message to her mother on Ni’Var while she was crawling through the Jeffries Tubes, creating a probability that this season will end like the last one did (and the season of Picard that aired in between), with the arrival of a big helpful armada at the last minute, meaning that she may already have saved the day. With the pieces in place for the crew to retake the ship and subdue the Chain, what’s really left to figure out is the plot that was absent in this episode — the fate of Saru, Culber, Adira, and poor Su’Kal.