While I watched “There Is A Tide” with bated breath and clutching a Baymax plushie in fear for the survival of a certain Starfleet Admiral, Star Trek: Discovery managed to deliver a subtle yet scathing condemnation of our modern capitalist culture that unfortunately, I am not sure everyone is exactly ready to hear or process. In a penultimate episode full of action and setups for what is sure to be a big battle ahead, this bit of politicking was an unexpected pleasure, one that brought many dimensions to Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr), Osyraa (Janet Kidder), and the state of the galaxy at large. If there was ever proof needed that a Star Trek West Wing type show would work, this episode is the poster child for that.
But before we wrestle with the political manoeuvring that everything will be centred around, let us run down the action that led us to the Federation and The Emerald Chain coming face to face.
Osyraa has taken control of the Discovery and trying to trick the Federation into letting her through to headquarters by acting like the Discovery is in distress. Vance, unable to establish contact with the crew, does eventually let the ship through, but he was still cautious enough to wait until the last second. It was nice that he did not just immediately let Discovery in without considering the danger, it shows he is a great leader under pressure in knowing when to make the right decisions. Osyraa’s people are trying to convert the computer systems but one bit of data for ancient Earth entertainment is proving hard to delete, they think it is practically nothing and just turn it off, but that little mistake will come back to haunt them.
While all of this is going down, Discovery’s bridge crew have been held hostage in the ready room and who should show up to spoil the mood even further but Zareh (Jake Weber), the courier from Episode 2 “Far From Home” who tried to take the ship and was eventually sent out onto the parasitic ice. Jake Weber is back in all his smarmy glory and so extremely easy to hate. When scenes of Zareh showed up in the “previously on” segment, I exclaimed in many expletives!
Meanwhile, Book (David Ajala) and Michael (Sonequa Martin-Green) are speeding their way through the transwarp tunnel and trying not to end up like a bug on a windshield with all the debris. I just have to say, I am continuously in awe of the design for Book’s ship! This is really something new and unseen, and the VFX team are having great fun creating the visuals. Book and Michael make it back to HQ in time to see Discovery going in, and once they are sure that Grudge is secure, they gun the ship at high speed to make a crash landing into Discovery’s shuttlebay. Important side note, Grudge has a Targ plushie and I really hope CBS makes merch for that!
Book gives Michael a concealment device, knowing that they are expecting to find one person and Michael has the best chance to save the day. They tell each other they love each other in a sweet and funny scene where Book teases Michael about her talking in her sleep and my heart just warms. If nothing else this season, the relationship and chemistry between Michael and Book is just so enjoyable to watch. He respects her, he understands her, he trusts her, and he is always in her corner. That same trust is also extended to Michael’s fellow crew members. When Book is brought into the ready room where the bridge crew are, he silently communicates with Tilly to let her know that Michael is out there. And out there she is indeed kicking butt. When an Emerald Chain regulator is trying to pry off one of the badges on the memorial wall to no doubt keep as a souvenir, I whooped in joy when Michael came in and knocked him to the ground. Though that joy turned into pain when poor Michael got stabbed in the thigh. But at least she is successful in taking him out and getting his badge. Transport function is not available though and Michael must limp away leaving a blood trail. She finds a phaser to cauterize her wound, leaves a Mayday call for her mother to let her know that she loves her (which will no doubt lead to Ni’Var and possibly others arriving to help in the finale), and listens in to know where they are holding Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and heads that way as her Die-Hard journey begins.
Stamets, however, finds himself in an interesting and complex hostage situation. Osyraa has tasked one of the Emerald Chain’s top scientist, Aurellio (Kenneth Mitchel), to figure out how to replicate the spore drive. And Aurellio is a true believer. For Aurellio, Osyraa is the hero of the story, she is trying to free the galaxy from the yoke of dilithium while the Federation is the one hoarding its technology and refusing to share it with the world. He has a career; he has a family with kids because Osyraa saw potential and gave him an opportunity that no one else did. He points out to Stamets that perhaps in that Golden Age of Science of the 2250s, someone like him with a genetic defect would have survived, but in this harsher post-Burn world, that is not the case. I cannot speak to how the disabled community might feel about the representation with this character, I would urge fans to seek and listen to discussions of disabled fans on this matter, but what I find interesting with Aurellio’s story is how this post-Burn world has become a closer reflection of our own society in the present day.
Things that past Trek shows’ time periods do not have to fully address because Trek’s post-scarcity civilizations have moved beyond much of our current issues have now made a comeback. And through these stories, Star Trek has a chance to directly confront some of these issues that are still affecting our everyday lives.
Aurellio’s character also brings another interesting facet that is reflecting society today, and that is complicity when bad things happen just because something does not necessarily affect us. When Stamets tries to connect with Aurellio about having a partner and a child and reminds Aurellio of the things that Osyraa has done to other people, Aurellio gets uncomfortable and tries to deflect, tries to make excuses because he cannot reconcile the person who helped him with the image of a horrible tyrant committing atrocities. And that’s reality, isn’t it? The ones who hurt people in real life do not always act like a horrible tyrant all the time. They have people they are nice too and care about. How often have we seen serial killers who commit such horrible things but have families and friends who never know? How often do we have abusers who present one face to people they are friendly to and another to their victims? We even see this repeatedly happen in the realm of politics where people know someone is doing bad things but if that politician is benefiting them, then it can be excused. But Stamets delivers an amazing line of dialogue, he says believes Aurellio that Osyraa is more than she appears to be, but she is also exactly what she appears to be.
These moments are expertly delivered by Anthony Rapp and Kenneth Mitchell. And it is especially joyous to see Kenneth Mitchell back on our screens and that the show is doing all they can to support him and still give him a part to play despite his ALS diagnosis. To see him out of the makeup was wonderful, and he gives Aurellio such humanity. You know that Aurellio is a good man who genuinely believes in Osyraa, but you also see how Stamets was slowly getting through to him, all of it setting the path for him to fully see Osyraa for who she is later.
Stamets’ humanity has been shining throughout this whole season though, and this week just brought it to the forefront with him acknowledging Adira (Blu del Barrio) as if they were his own child. And that humanity comes into conflict with Michael in heartbreaking ways when Michael, after kicking some ass and ejecting some regulators into space, finds him and must get him away from the ship so Osyraa does not use him to take out the Federation. Stamets is frantic after all Culber (Wilson Cruz) and Adira are out in the nebula. He exclaims in a voice that is breaking that his whole life is inside that nebula, so he is going to get them, but Michael nerve pinches him and gets him to an emergency transport instead. What comes next is possibly one of the most painful scenes of the season as Stamets is screaming at Michael, poking at every bit of pain and guilt that he knows will hurt, lashing out in fear and anger because how could Michael do this to all of them when they followed her here to make sure she would not be alone and now she is leaving them to die. But Michael has spent this whole season learning a lesson, one that meant she had to sometimes set aside her personal feelings to do what’s right for the greater good. And right now, the Federation must come first no matter what she or anyone else wanted. In this season’s tug of war between the needs of the many and the needs of the few, Michael decided for this moment, the many must matter more than the few, even if it hurts in irrevocable ways. As Stamets is ejected into space for the Federation to pick up, one wonders how his relationship with Michael will go from here on out. But I cannot blame Michael either. They all made a choice when they swore the oath of duty, they all knew the risks. Sometimes being a Starfleet officer means duty must outweigh personal desires.
Speaking of duty, our intrepid bridge crew along with Book and Ryn (Noah Averbach-Katz) have been causing their own ruckus for Zareh and the regulators to deal with. First, they use Morse Code to cause enough of a distraction to take out the regulators, with Owo (Oyin Oladejo) notably kicking so much ass that I really hope they give her more fight scenes in the future. Though the Morse Code comment gave me much pain because I am reminded once again why Starfleet did not give Captain Pike a Morse Code machine instead of a once or twice only beep chair. Then they all work together to figure out how to get out of the room and scramble the life signs enough to confuse the regulators on how to find them. There is something so wonderful to see the bridge crew get more time to shine, and it is also a great look at Tilly’s command under pressure. She knows how to plan, she gives everyone their jobs to do, and she is steady and calm. And when Book and Ryn choose to stay behind to cover the bridge crew’s escape, it is not because Book does not trust Tilly’s skills but rather, he knows that she is the best chance to help Michael. I honestly just adore the way Book and Ryn fitted in so well into this bridge crew dynamic. Their team chemistry is just off the charts, which is what really makes it even more painful when Book and Ryn are captured again and Osyraa kills Ryn! It hurt a lot, but I cannot say I was totally surprised. Ryn’s arc had been to find his courage and he finally did, declaring to Osyraa in front of Aurellio and others that Osyraa will not be feared forever and he’s seen what true bravery and leadership all is about. But I like to believe that Ryn’s death is not in vain and is the wake-up call for Aurellio to turn a new leaf. Here is hoping also that Noah Averbach-Katz will return in another role beyond just Ryn and join the cadre of Trek actors playing multiple roles!
As for Tilly and the bridge crew, they run face to face with Zora, hiding in three colour-coded DOT 23s. Given that I have been begging for a DOT army to happen, I can only assume that Alex Kurtzman has been reading my mind or my tweets. They are beautiful, adorable, and I love their little Vulcan salute as they declare “shall we take back the ship?” I cannot wait to see them knock Osyraa on her ass, especially justice for Ryn!
Now though, it is time to talk about the elephant in the room, or rather, the Armistice in the room. In a series of scenes delivered perfectly by Oded Fehr and Janet Kidder, we glimpse more into the world of the 32nd Century than ever before. Because all this time we thought Osyraa is trying to take out the Federation when she wants to unite with the Federation and become something new. Her proposal is for peace. She notes that every empire fall, and she would be foolish to think that things can remain the same after dilithium is gone. So why not join forces to create a better world? The Federation has a spore drive and the reputation of hope in the galaxy, the Emerald Chain has the resources and the best scientists, it is the best of both worlds. She is even willing to outlaw slavery, step back from pre-warp civilizations, making huge concessions that are costing her political capital. She just wants the acknowledgement that the Chain’s capitalist culture is valid and ethical. This sounds reasonable, this sounds enticing, this sounds like a good idea, and it was exactly in that moment that I realize that Osyraa is one of the most dangerous villains that Star Trek has ever had. Not dangerous because she is so strong and has such firepower, she is dangerous precisely because her proposal sounds right. She is dangerous because she can convince you that what she is selling is not only genuine but it is good for everyone. And I know that it works because I have spent numerous times the past few days hearing some people agree with Osyraa’s deal and blasting Vance for ruining the deal by trying to take her power to hold her accountable. And that is what is truly scary. Because Osyraa is a clear reflection of our current capitalist culture. What she says sounds reasonable because we live in a capitalist world and many of us remain supportive of the system and are capitalism apologists. We are like Aurellio, we are like Zareh, benefiting from a system that sometimes blinds us from seeing how the system damages those that it exploits. So many things happen that we can excuse and set aside because it does not hurt us. Because what is a few compromises on values if it gets us peace and security in the end. And that is exactly what Osyraa preys upon, and that is why she almost succeeds.
But she does not because Vance holds to moral integrity. Because beyond just snarkily calling out her atrocity-produced apples, he believes thoroughly in the principles of the Federation. He follows the line that Captain Pike declared in Season 2 that giving up our values in the name of security is to lose the battle in advance. All the concessions in the world would mean little if Osyraa does not stand trial and be held accountable for what she did. But Osyraa, much like leaders in our capitalist world today, refuse to be held accountable. She insists that the past is in the past and it cannot be undone in much the same ways that western societies especially refuse to take responsibility for their past atrocities and insist that it is over and they shouldn’t be held responsible forever. But Vance continues to hold the line to moral clarity even if it is hard because how can he not when he asks his own people to die for it every day. If the peace deal does not go through because he is standing for their values, then he can live with that.
This is what makes Star Trek stand out from any other sci-fi franchise. Whereas other stories would show a future where people compromised on values because that’s “realistic”, Star Trek insists that humanity will one day have a future where values and morality matter and will no longer be clouded by fear, isolation, and scarcity. In any other story, a character like Vance would have taken Osyraa’s deal and compromised on the values and not held her accountable, and it would have been treated as okay. But Star Trek says no. Star Trek says our principles must matter, even if it means we do not get peace and safety. A lesson that Star Trek: Discovery has been trying to teach us since Season 1. A lesson that Star Trek, in general, has been trying to teach us since 1966. A lesson that unfortunately, I do not think humanity is still ready to truly learn.
With a brilliant script by Kenneth Lin and expert direction by veteran Jonathan Frakes, this episode is just full of powerhouse performances by this amazing cast and truly makes us question about our own mortality. I do not know what is to come in the finale of Season 3, I don’t know who lives, who dies, or if the status quo will be forever changed once again, but I am proud of Star Trek: Discovery for its daringness to always challenge the way we look at the world, even if what’s reflected back at us isn’t always the image, we want to see of ourselves.