A suspicious and isolated Earth weary of outsiders. Shoot first and ask questions later, or not at all. Unwilling to communicate and help others. Discovery’s crew may have found themselves on an Earth that is so different from the one they had left behind back in 2258. But this new Earth could not be more of a reflection of 2020 Earth if it tried.
Star Trek has always provided commentary to the times that it was written, and this episode of Discovery, and this season so far, could not be more prescient with the message and lessons that it wants to teach humanity.
When our reunited crew get back home, home is not what they remembered, and home is not welcoming. ‘The Burn’ had changed everything, and Earth had turned inward to protect its own. The remnants left of the Federation have not been on Earth for a hundred years, and in that time, Earth no longer lets others in, shielding itself at any cost in the name of self-preservation. This mentality is not so dissimilar to what we saw of “Terra Prime” on Star Trek: Enterprise. Though at least in this version of a xenophobic Earth, aliens are still living in its ranks as we do see a Tellarite among the inspectors from the United Earth Defense Force when they beam onboard.
But in keeping with the theme of this season, as dark as Earth seems to have become, it is not totally lost. Captain Ndoye (Phumzile Sitole) seems a militant commander at first glance, always ready to fire and take down any raiders coming to take Earth’s dilithium supply. But when she is confronted with the reality that the raiders were actually humans from a Titan research colony who are struggling and need help, and not this “other” that she had assumed, we see her empathy come forward and take hold. Whatever dark path Earth may have been on, the light still exists. We see Ndoye and Wen (Christopher Heyerdahl), the raiders’ leader, actually communicates and listen to one another instead of making assumptions about each other. We see that diplomacy does work, and we see what people can achieve when they stop fighting each other and start working together. Trust may not appear overnight but taking that first step towards trust can only mean good things for everyone.
Michael herself also comes home to the Discovery, but instead of her home changing, it is Michael who has changed. Her year away from the Discovery has led her down a different path, a path that perhaps isn’t so noble because she had to adapt and survive in this new world. A path that has led her away from her people on Discovery because she’s had to accept letting them go in some ways so that she could move on and live a life in this future. Everyone notices her changes too. Tilly remarks that she’s lighter, Booker wonders if this still feels like home or if she might only feel obligated to stay, Georgiou notes that her perspective and strategy are different now that she’s tasted freedom, and Saru is rightly concerned. But much like Earth still has that light, Michael’s light is still there too, she just might need some time to find her way back.
What she certainly doesn’t need though, is how to find chemistry with Booker. David Ajala and Sonequa Martin-Green have such natural chemistry that their on-screen presence just radiates fun and joy. Michael has always had to carry such weight on her shoulders, and while she still carries some of that weight, when she is around Booker, we see this side of her that seems free and happy, untethered by expectations and responsibility. We see her joke around, even teasing Booker a few times. They work together so well and has clearly developed their own shorthand. And Booker, well, my love for him can only continue to grow because he’s just so charismatic and cool. Whether he’s complaining about the uniform giving him a rash, or lamenting how crushed he was when his cat Grudge wouldn’t look at him because a broken nose swelled up his face, or joking about who else they can piss off in this new quadrant of space, there is an openness to him that is inviting. He trusts Michael and she trusts him in return. They make a great team and perhaps one day something more. And in any case, him going “oh shit!” over his first spore jump and excited about it spinning are enough to make him a new favourite of mine!
Speaking of a great team, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how that opening scene of the crew reuniting with Michael made me cry. Five minutes into the episode and I found myself sobbing with happiness. This crew has been through so much together, and they’ve grown so much too. I felt like a proud parent watching how far they’ve come from where they were in Season 1 to now. They’ve jumped across universes and space and time together, that is a bond that has withstood everything. And the music, oh the music! Jeff Russo’s score absolutely killed it this episode, perfectly knowing when to stir our emotions as the camera panned around Michael hugging each member of the crew, all the while sharing a knowing look with Georgiou standing off in the distance. Perfect direction as usual by the amazing Jonathan Frakes!
Georgiou is still a monkey wrench in the works, always needling everyone and everything. But I love that Saru simply does not back down or let her be a bad influence on the values he intends to uphold. A captain in the truest sense of the word, I absolutely loved seeing him finally and officially become Discovery’s captain. While I would have been happy to see Michael be captain, what she said to him is completely true, Saru carried this crew on his shoulders across universes and time. No one is more deserving of being the captain of this ship than the person who’s had to step up every time their supposed captain has left the chair open. And it’s pretty amazing to watch Michael be the one to just come out and say it, not even fighting for the chair because she knows and trusts Saru for all that he’s done for them. And he honours that trust in return when he later asks Michael to be his Number One. This isn’t to say that their trust with each other is smooth sailing in this episode, there are some bumps as Michael is still trying to find her way back to being used to following rules and orders. But unlike what would have been a distrustful and bickering relationship in Season 1, now Michael and Saru are different and grown enough to listen and communicate and trust. Saru may have been a bit miffed at Michael going off on her own plans with Booker to trap Wen without telling him, but he also is willing to give her time to reconcile with herself and who she wants to be now.
Trust is also what brings us to have a new crew member, Adira. A young 16-year-old teen engineering genius, Adira comes on board with the United Earth Defense Force’s inspection team. Curious and full of questions, they first run a bit afoul of Tilly and Stamets who aren’t quite happy with strangers always going on the offensive and touching things they shouldn’t. When the inspectors can’t beam out during the confrontation with Wen’s forces, we soon discover the sabotage was by Adira (Blu del Barrio), who wanted time to stay on the Discovery to see if they could trust this crew. As they eventually reveal to Stamets, they became an inspector hoping to run into a Federation ship one day because they know about Admiral Senna Tal, the person who sent the message that led Discovery back to Earth in the first place. Once again, important information wouldn’t have been known if people didn’t take the step to trust. Stamets opened up to Adira by telling them about the spore drive and how the crew is from 2258. And in trusting Adira with that secret, it led to Adira trusting Stamets to tell him about their intentions and knowledge.
This was also an amazing display of the growth that Stamets had gone through. Yes, he’s still a bit grumpy at times, but this is also now a man who isn’t afraid to open up and speak to others. He is no longer guarded and wary, always defensive over everything because he felt uncomfortable. The Stamets of now is willing to trust, willing to be open, knowing that kindness and empathy can lead to greater results than trying to push others away.
When Adira gets permission to stay on the Discovery and help the crew, we find out that they are Admiral Senna Tal, for they are a human carrying a Trill symbiont, only that they seem to have difficulties accessing the memories of previous hosts. The secret of where the Federation may have gone to when they left Earth could be in Adira’s head, now they just have to find a way to retrieve those memories.
Much has been said about in the months before the season started about the appearance of a nonbinary character and actor, and while I can’t speak to if the character is handled well in that aspect, what I can say is that I adore Adira already. They simply feel real and relatable. They are in turns curious and snarky, but also honest and sincere. They may be a bit awkward and hesitant to open up, but also is willing to open up when they can help others. Adira comes onto the screen fully formed as a person in a stunning performance by Blu del Barrio. Blu may be a new addition to this cast and crew, but it feels like they have been here forever. They simply feel like they belong and I genuinely cannot wait to see where their story goes next, and it is my sincerest wish that we get to keep them for many future seasons to come and see how this wonderful 16-year-old character grow, much like how we saw Wesley, Naomi, Jake, and Nog grew.
When the trailer for Discovery Season 3 dropped, the first thing that came to me when I saw it was how confident the show seemed. And that’s what this script by veteran Discovery writers Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt were, full of confidence. There is no more hesitance that sometimes seeped into the writing in the past, this was a story that knew what it wanted to say and knew its characters to give them the time to say it. It was not afraid to let the story slow down to give characters their moments to breath and sit with the world they are dealing with. Tilly processing the ramifications of not just the loss of 24 crew members after they crashed, but also letting go of her mother and cousins and everyone who’s lived lives and are now gone for centuries.
Detmer still struggling with the PTSD and survivor’s guilt as she once again notably asks about how many the Burn killed and even protesting Saru’s orders to fly the ship to take a hit from a torpedo because she’s afraid of anyone else dying. Saru channelling Prime Georgiou’s “Starfleet doesn’t fire first” and setting up her telescope in his ready room, which has now been cleared of Captain Pike’s broken things (RIP all the pottery and figurines and table, I hope they got a good send-off). And the crew got to go down to Earth and see the tree that they all remembered in their academy days, proof that while some things change, other things still stay the same. Instead of the plot leading the characters along, we have the characters growing alongside the story.
And what a powerful and still topical story, especially for today’s divisive political and social atmosphere. Humanity has always had a tendency to shrink back and protect our own when we feel threatened. In many ways, it’s in our nature. But Star Trek is still trying to teach us that fear and isolation aren’t the way. Much like when Captain Pike once said that giving up our values in the name of security is to lose the battle in advance, and much like when Picard said that fear, secrecy, and isolation is no match for love, curiosity, and compassion, we see the darkness of when we pull away and we see how trust and light can lead us out of that darkness. It is the quintessential Star Trek story. Enemies finding common ground when they finally stop fighting and start talking to each other.
I’ve often heard people say that Discovery Season 3 is taking the path of Gene Roddenberry’s other sci-fi story Andromeda. But I actually think this season’s spiritual predecessor is not Andromeda, but rather Star Trek: Enterprise. Just like the first human Starfleet explorers of old, Michael and the Discovery crew are braving a new and strange frontier where there are no more rules, where there is no Federation to fall back on, and where the universe is weary and wounded. They have to find a way to rebuild the Federation, just like Archer and his Enterprise crew had to painstakingly bring unity to such disparate and warring species. Discovery Season 3 could finally fulfil the promise of that “Founding the Federation” story that Enterprise never quite got the chance to tell before it was cancelled, and as someone who grew up loving Enterprise, Discovery using that past to inform its future can only bring me more excitement and happiness. How appropriate too, because Jonathan Archer once declared, “the most profound discoveries are not necessarily beyond that next star, they’re within us.” And that has always been the way that Discovery has lived up to its name, exploring the characters and their journey of self-discovery. Now, they can continue exploring that journey together in this new world as they help others also find their way.
And maybe, others can also help the Discovery install some seatbelts. No, I’m not going to let this go. Please Adira, you come from a Defense Force that seems very focused on safety standards, add those seatbelts and you will be the greatest hero in the history of Star Trek! Maybe get the DOT-7s to help!
This season has started off incredibly strong and I really cannot wait to see where it will take us to next! And if nothing else, at least cake is eternal, and that is canon.
Be sure to tune into season 3 of Star Trek: Discovery which airs Thursdays on CBS All Access in the USA, CTV Sci-Fi Channel in Canada and on Fridays internationally on Netflix