While it’s titled “That Hope Is You, Part 2,” marking itself as a bookend to the season premiere, the third season finale of Star Trek: Discovery is really the third part of a trilogy that began two weeks ago when the season’s recurring plot lines finally converged. The first part contained most of the exposition and character moments, the second had the burden of building suspense, and now the third is left to pay everything off and build to an action climax. With everything set up, the finale plays out just about every thread that’s been set up in just about the way that you’d expect. In the broad strokes, it’s exactly the ending you’d want from this thirteen-episode saga, but the execution is sloppy, taking some of the joy out of what should be the show’s finest hour.
“That Hope Is You, Part 2” resumes the story of Su’Kal (Bill Irwin), the Kelpien who has spent the past century alone in a holodeck on a planet made of dilithium. Risking death by radiation poisoning, Captain Saru and Dr. Culber have stayed behind on the planet in the hopes of helping Su’Kal to accept that the world outside of his simulation exists and to find some emotional stability so that he doesn’t cause a second pan-galactic disaster. Joined by Adira and their holographically-reconstituted boyfriend Gray (Ian Alexander), they successfully coax Su’Kal into facing the traumatic memory of his mother’s death and leaving the planet, ending the threat of another Burn.
With most of the more interesting exploration of the holographic setting dispensed with two episodes ago, the character story in this episode is pretty unremarkable. Saru helps Su’kal to be brave by sharing his experience of leaving the only world he’s ever known, which ironically is the very place where both characters end up at the close of the season. We get some more quiet, tender acting from Doug Jones’ Normal Human Face while guest star Bill Irwin deftly performs the role of “childlike adult” without becoming irritating or offensive, but neither performance hits as hard as it did in “Su’Kal.” Even though the stakes have textually risen, with the ship slowly collapsing and the radiation levels increasing, this story thread doesn’t ever recover the momentum it lost from being left out of last week’s episode, especially when it has to play the quiet B- or C-plot to the excitement happening concurrently aboard Discovery.
“That Hope Is You, Part 2” also lends some time to Gray, whose story has been so small and scattered that it’s rarely warranted mention in my reviews. Gray ghosted Adira for a while, struggling to cope with being a living shadow who only one person could see, essentially an appendage. I’m happy to see this being explored in the story, as it was my main source of frustration when the character was first introduced. In this episode, Su’Kal’s simulation gives Gray his own holographic body, one that Saru and Culber can also see and touch, and then he has to give it up almost immediately. This, honestly, could have been its own episode instead of a small subplot, but it appears that the quest to find a new sort of body for Gray will continue into next season.
Burnham Down the House
Captured at the end of last week’s episode, Commander Michael Burnham is forced to watch Osyraa (Janet Kidder) torture her boyfriend Book for the coordinates to the dilithium planet. It’s a bizarre dynamic for a torture scene — Osyraa’s not trying to break Book, as it’s apparently a foregone conclusion that he won’t talk. Instead, Osyraa threatens Book to get to Michael, who doesn’t have the information she needs, so that she’ll give Book permission to give up the goods to save his own life. This doesn’t work, of course, and Michael uses her superior knowledge of the ship to escape with Book and lead Osyraa’s enforcer Zareh (Jake Weber) on a chase through corridors and comically-huge turbolift shafts. After a final fight in Discovery’s computer core, Michael kills Osyraa, retakes control of the ship, and expels the invading Emerald Chain regulators.
Michael has undergone a lot of character growth over the course of the season, such that there is really nothing left for her to accomplish in the finale other than run, kick, and shoot. It’s part of what makes this episode feel like a mediocre action movie — the main character has no emotional arc, or rather, has already finished it. Michael finished maxing out her stats somewhere around episode seven, when she learned to reconcile her core values as a Starfleet officer with her new, more pragmatic nature. Now all that’s left for her to do is apply her new, perfected self to saving the day, something that’s usually only the final ten or twenty minutes of a movie but here is drawn out over the course of this and the previous episode.
Compounding the issue is the degree to which Michael seems indestructible in the finale. Last week, Michael was on the run, barefoot and wounded, and finding clever ways to triumph over superior numbers. In this episode, Michael pretty much has everything worked out from the moment she springs Book, and the two of them together are more than a match for wave after wave of faceless regulators who might as well be wearing stormtrooper helmets for how effective they are. Last week she was stabbed in the leg and it raised the stakes of the story. This week, she jumps out of a turbolift and lands on another one three stories below and keeps on trucking. It’s all a bit too much, the consequence of an unsustainably long action climax.
Under the command of Osyraa, Discovery has fled Federation HQ en route to an Emerald Chain base, escorted by her massive flagship, the Viridian, and pursued by a handful of Federation and Ni’Var ships. While on her quest from sickbay to the computer core, Michael tasks the rest of the bridge crew with sabotaging one of Discovery’s warp nacelles, forcing the ship to drop to sublight speeds and be intercepted by the allied fleet. Tilly bravely leads the crew on what they know is a suicide mission, determining that death is likely inevitable since Osyraa is slowly venting the air out of the ship. Eventually, the entire bridge crew passes out from oxygen deprivation except for Lt. Joanne “Owo” Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo), who is skilled at holding her breath and is the only one who has been able to make her limited air supply last. She says an emotional goodbye to her dying comrades, plants the improvised explosive in the nacelle, and then begins to lose consciousness herself.
Owo is rescued at the last moment by a DOT-23 maintenance robot, one of several that have become the collective body of the sentient sphere data that lives in the Discovery computer and has occasionally helped out the crew this season (voice of Annabelle Wallis). We see a number of DOTs get blown away by regulators throughout the episode (oh sure, those you can hit) and it’s implied — though never stated — that this is the last one and that, if she should sacrifice herself for Owo, that would be the equivalent of death. But, despite the episode’s 62-minute runtime, there’s barely been an acknowledgement of the DOTs or the sphere consciousness this entire episode, so there’s no reason to mourn when she apparently dies dragging Owo out of the blast radius, and just as little reason to celebrate when the robot is resuscitated during a montage a few minutes later.
This is another portion of our Big Action Finale that suffers from the stakes not feeling real. At no point was I worried that the entire bridge crew was going to asphyxiate. The show has not invested enough in Lt. Owosekun for her death to feel meaningful, so I was reasonably sure she was coming back in. (They may have had me if they’d sent Detmer.) The character who does appear to die is a nameless intelligence who has done little more than cameo this season and who you’d only be invested in if you’ve seen the Short Treks episode in which she debuted, and if you have seen it, you know she survives. And in a final unforced error, blowing up the nacelle and dropping the ship out of warp turns out to be irrelevant since Michael regains control of the ship in the very next scene, a victory totally unrelated to Owosekun’s.
With Osyraa dead, her forces banished, and Discovery back under the crew’s control, everyone reunites on the bridge, where Tilly immediately cedes command to Burnham because, truly, what sane person would not. Discovery has been swallowed whole by the Emerald Chain flagship Viridian, but Michael has a plan. The scientist Aurellio (Kenneth Mitchell), who’s switched teams after seeing Osyraa’s dark side, theorizes that Book’s empathic powers might allow him to communicate with the mycelial network and operate the spore drive. Michael orders the ejection and detonation of Discovery’s warp core, destroying the Viridian and jumping away at the last moment, arriving at the dilithium planet just in time to beam Saru, Culber, Adira, and Su’Kal aboard.
As with the second season finale, the final minutes of “That Hope is You, Part 2” are dedicated to wrapping up loose ends and setting up a new status quo. The Emerald Chain collapses in the absence of Osyraa, and the Federation — now with an ample supply of dilithium from Su’Kal’s planet — is reestablishing relationships with the worlds Discovery visited during the season. In a touching moment that validates this episode’s title as a bookend to the season premiere, Federation torchbearer Aditya Sahil (Adil Hussain) finally receives his commission. Saru takes a sabbatical to bring Su’Kal home to Kaminar, which is now a shimmering developed world, and recommends that Burnham succeed him as captain of Discovery, a decision that Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr) endorses.
Discovery has been building towards the day when Michael Burnham finally gets her own command since the very first scene of the series, and she undoubtedly has earned the position by the end of this season. Earlier in season three, Michael chose not to pursue the captain’s chair due to feeling disconnected from Starfleet’s way of doing things, and spent the next few episodes validating that decision by breaking rules and betraying Saru’s and the Admiral’s trust. At the season’s halfway point, “Unification III,” she figured herself out and began to merge her old ways with her new ones, becoming her best self. This version of Michael is ready to lead, her crew is ready to follow, and when she steps onto the bridge and greets them in their new (kinda bland) 32nd century Starfleet uniforms, it’s an important moment for her and for the audience.
But “That Hope Is You, Part 2” manages to take some of the wind out of even this moment, by fumbling the message of Michael’s character arc. When offering her the command, Admiral Vance praises the way Michael solves problems — not the “right” way, but her own way, which works. He references the dressing down that he gave Michael weeks earlier, presumably referring to when she disobeyed Saru’s orders to rescue Book from Osyraa’s labor camp. Vance seems to regret tearing into Burnham for not doing things the right way then — drawing a through-line between her earlier insubordination and her recent victory over Osyraa — but this carries the frustrating implication that Michael was right all along, which is not how the story has been framed up to this point.
Discovery season three has not been the story of Michael Burnham being a perfect hero who craves validation, it’s been the story of a lost woman figuring out who she wants to be. This should be a moment to acknowledge Michael’s journey, and instead it becomes about how Vance was wrong about her, even though every time the two have butted heads this year he’s been at least half right and Michael has so much as admitted it herself. Mid-season Michael was not in the right headspace to be Captain, and now she is. If the story doesn’t treat this milestone as a consequence of her growth, then her growth is for nothing and the milestone is diminished. Not ruined by any stretch, just a bit diminished, and that’s unfortunate, because we’ve all invested a lot in seeing Michael achieve the mantle of bona fide Star Trek Captain.
- Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 Episode 12 Review: “There Is a Tide…”
- Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 Episode 11 Review: “Su’Kal”
- Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 Episode 10 Review: “Terra Firma, Part 2”
Some Other Beginning’s End
Season three of Star Trek: Discovery started with the promise of a new beginning, with a new setting, new stakes, and new character dynamics. Much of this promise has been fulfilled over the course of the past twelve weeks as the series has explored a new era in Star Trek’s history, making some bold choices along the way. The 32nd century has added excitement and intrigue to a fictional universe that was standing still for decades. Star Sonequa Martin-Green has shined as she’s explored whole new facets of her character and brought her long arc of her to a conclusion in such a way that the series could really end right here and be pretty satisfying, but happily we’ll get to see Captain Burnham for at least one season.
In my review of the season premiere, I challenged Star Trek: Discovery to “grow the beard,” to find itself in its third year the way many of its predecessors in the franchise have done. As much as I take issue with the execution of the season finale, I do believe that the season as a whole has done that. Discovery is a far more interesting television show now than it was last season, and the Star Trek universe is fuller as a result. It still ranks in the middle of the pack on the ever-growing list of Star Trek series, but for the time being at least, it is solidly the best of the Kurtzman-era crop. I can only hope that Picard and Lower Decks grow into themselves as well.