Here we are at the end of the season, and honestly, I’m really sad that Star Trek is going to be away from our screens for a little while. Here in the US, it’s been 23 weeks of Star Trek since Lower Decks began its run and it’s really been a balm during these difficult and often terrifying times. But as every ending is also a new beginning, we do have Season 4 to look forward to and all the other Trek shows coming down the line (YES STRANGE NEW WORLDS!). But before we get to those exciting future shows, let’s get back to the journey of the Discovery and her crew one more time.
Last week everything took place at Federation HQ, but this week we are back in the Verubin Nebula as Saru (Doug Jones) and Culber (Wilson Cruz) try to help Su’Kal (Bill Irwin) come to terms with his fears. They are given some extra time on their survival when Adira (Blu del Barrio) arrives with the medicine and is greeted by the surprising presence of Gray (Ian Alexander) whom the holo environment recognizes as a separate entity. In a heartwarming scene, we see Gray embraced by Culber and just being so utterly happy that he can be seen and feel connected finally after so long. Culber comments that Gray has kind eyes and I just could not stop smiling. The feeling of love and kindness and fondness that they all share in this scene is just so wholesome and beautiful. Discovery often gets flack for wearing its heart on its sleeves and always being emotional and vulnerable with its characters but that is what I love about this show and what I want to see.
As Gray, Culber, and Adira go to find ways to exit the holo environment, Saru stays to continue help Su’Kal. And it is in his interactions with Su’Kal, slowly helping Su’Kal adjust to the changing circumstances, that I began to realize that Saru’s story this season might take him beyond the captain’s chair. He has all the right makings of an ambassador and diplomat. He is steady and diplomatic almost to a fault. And his unique view as the only Kelpien to be in Starfleet during his original time period, as well as his refugee status, has allowed him to give that perspective to other people trying something new and scary for the first time. He understands the path because he’s had to walk it himself, and that relatability is key to diplomacy as it is key here to Su’Kal finding the right path. Doug Jones brings all the earnest heart of Saru to the surface when he talks about knowing how it feels to be at crossroads, to stay in safety or go out into the world. Life is scary and challenging, we see it happening right now in very explicit ways. But life is also beautiful and diverse and filled with wonder. Even if we’re afraid, we can still take a step forward. This resonates not just with the story of this season, but how Saru’s journey began when we saw him in the Brightest Star episode of the Short Treks. He said that he saw hope in the stars, it was stronger than fear, so he walked towards it. And here he is guiding another to take the path he did all those years ago. It’s a beautiful symmetry.
What’s also beautiful is the way the Burn mystery resolved. I genuinely love how it wasn’t a big bad plotting an attack, it wasn’t the Federation being evil, it was just the cries of a traumatized, lonely, and disconnected child. It’s so thematically fitting and perfectly unexpected. The theme of this season was always about connection and finding a way to connect and understand each other by letting go of fear, isolation, and disconnection. And really, what bigger disconnect can there be in the universe than a child losing their mother? It is perhaps the greatest trauma anyone can suffer, even science recognizes that losing a mother can be devastating to a child’s development in forming pathways and connections in the brain. And when you really think about it, the Federation’s disconnect with the Kelpien ship contributed to Su’Kal’s circumstances that led to the Burn. The inability to connect, to reach out to the ship and save Su’Kal, his mother and the other Kelpiens set the stage for Su’Kal to lose his mother. If they’d been rescued from that nebula, if the Federation had been able to reach in and get them, the Burn would not have come to be. Disconnection ultimately led to destruction for so many, creating a world of more disconnections until people truly forgot how to connect with one another and be hopeful again. But Discovery’s arrival in the future brings the different perspective, pushing others to seek out and connect, and through connecting with Su’Kal, they prevented another Burn from happening. Bill Irwin was simply extraordinary as Su’Kal. By turns innocent, childlike, fearful, and sad, he gave the character such nuance and complexity. Watching him realize that he caused the Burn was heartbreaking.
It’s also heartbreaking that Gray cannot stay. Gray fears losing his newfound connection and doesn’t want to let the holograms go because he wants to be seen and heard. Once again, the theme of the season comes into play as Gray has to deal with returning to disconnection when a connection was in reach. But the others promise that they will find a way for him to be seen, and like Su’Kal, he trusts them and takes that leap of faith. I do want to say though, please don’t have Ian Alexander cry again because it hurts me.
Back at Federation HQ, Osyraa (Janet Kidder) is trying to destroy the Federation and Vance (Oded Fehr) has to order all the ships to fire on Discovery. Even as Kovich (David Cronenberg) points out that Discovery is a message of hope to connect to all the Federation worlds they’ve lost, Vance notes that if Osyraa gets away with the ship, then that hope would turn into destruction. Stamets appears and begs to get back onto Discovery. But Vance can’t let him go because Michael was right, they can’t risk Osyraa getting her hands on him so he’s going with the civilian emergency transport away from all this. In a moment of sympathy, Vance tells Stamets that he’s sorry, he knows what Stamets is sacrificing, a foreshadow to the daughter and family he would speak about at the end of the episode.
Another foreshadow that paid off was the arrival of Ni’Var ships, called Razors. Michael’s (Sonequa Martin-Green) mayday message got through and Ni’Var has come to help, but what I love about their arrival is that it’s not a deus ex machina in the traditional sense that they save the day and all is fine. In fact, their arrival pushes Osyraa to try to murder everyone by sending pesticides into their vents and airlocks, and it’s Michael who has to try to negotiate another way out of the situation. She gets Osyraa to hail Vance and asks Vance to trust that she and her crew won’t let him down, she asks him to take a leap of faith just like Saru asked Su’Kal to do. All season we’ve seen a bit of a tug of war between Vance and Michael, his cautiousness running up against her impulse to boldly run into every situation. But slowly and surely across the last few episodes, Vance has softened toward Michael in his recognition of the different mentality of this crew and their ability to still carry the day, especially after the loss of Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) to which Vance had asked if Michael could really let her go if the time comes and she did. So, he puts his trust in her and in the crew, allowing connection to drive him forward and not distrust and disconnection.
There is disconnection within the Emerald Chain’s ranks, however, as Aurellio (Kenneth Mitchell) refuses to use violence and torture to get answers out of Book. Osyraa is not interested in peace anymore though, like all selfish people who would rather smash their toys than share. And after a lesson on Orion heart anatomy, she chokes out Aurellio, stating that the only reason he still gets to live is that she is fond of him, even if he stops being useful. Aurellio is the one aspect of the episode that I do wish we had gotten more time on because I would have liked to see Aurellio take a bigger part in helping the crew take back the ship. He does return to give the crew an idea later, but I wish he was more of a participant and not an afterthought. So, here’s hoping that Season 4 will give him a bigger role because I always want more Kenneth Mitchell.
Osyraa tortures Book (David Ajala) with the neural lock, which puts him in immense pain because of his empathetic nature. Zareh (Jake Weber) chimes in that this is a no-win situation but Michael, channelling her inner Kirk, refuses to believe in such a thing and tricks her way to be closer to Book before putting up a quarantine forcefield and knocking out the guards so she and Book can get away. And while Michael and Book are in the upper decks causing trouble and heading for the data core, Tilly and the bridge crew gets Michael’s coded message to blow out the magnetic fields holding the nacelles to the ship, so they’d fall out of warp for the Federation ships to catch up to them.
Of course, Tilly (Mary Wiseman) and the bridge crew are not without their own troubles because while the DOTs have been able to play cannon fodder, they are running out of oxygen. This plan is a suicide mission because the DOTs can’t get close enough to blow the nacelles and they have to go themselves. But Tilly reminds them that they can either die here anyways or go down fighting. But getting everything ready and getting to a nacelle takes time, and with oxygen running low and everyone falling in the corridors on the way. Owo (Oyin Oladejo) is the only person who can hold their breath long enough to get there in time. And yes, there was concern that she might die, but as she succeeds in getting the bomb to the nacelle and falls down from oxygen deprivation, the appearance of the Zora DOT meant I knew she would make it. I may not have gotten the DOT army I was hoping for, but in a way, I am glad too, because it would have been another deus ex machina that took the stakes out of everything. Having Zora DOT save one person rather than just bulldoze down all the villains work on a much better thematic level, showing that once again the connection to other people is what saves the day. Owo is alive not because Zora is a powerful killing machine, but because Zora connected with this crew and wanted to protect them all. By the way, next season better give me a Detmer and Owo kiss.
And now I have to talk about it, the infamous turbolift rollercoaster in the cavernous space of the ship. There have been criticisms galore over this. But honestly, I can’t say that I ever cared about it. I love rollercoasters, I love the clever ways Michael and Book used gravity to their advantage in their respective fight scenes. Also, space really isn’t that big and with 32nd Century upgrades with the programmable matter, this could totally work. Besides, when has Starfleet ships made sense anyway? If Starfleet hadn’t figured out how to use seatbelts, why do I trust them to make logical ship designs? And really, it was a fun cool scene that got Michael to find a way to get to the data core and for Book to finally kick Zareh to his falling death for threatening Grudge.
Osyraa is waiting at the data core though and she and Michael fight. Michael tries to implore to Osyraa that it doesn’t have to be like this but Osyraa does not want to hear it. In many ways, this proves that Osyraa’s desire for peace was not as genuine as she made it sound like. She wanted peace and unity that was easy and without accountability, one where she got what she wanted and didn’t have to make sacrifices. And when that didn’t happen, she went back to anger and attacking others. A rather chilling parallel given what’s happened in the US in the past few days.
In the end, Osyraa’s downfall is her inability to take accountability and continue to reach out. She gives up so easy, just like she gives up considering Michael a threat once she thinks she’s won by pushing Michael into the programmable matter wall. But Michael isn’t a quitter, she always tries, and she fights her way out and kills Osyraa. A rather ignominious quick end but somehow strangely fitting because I never felt her be the big bad villain of the season anyway. It wasn’t Osyraa that they necessarily needed to defeat, but rather the apathy, isolation, and fear caused by disconnection. Osyraa was always the thorn in the side that they needed to get rid of so they can fix the real problems.
After switching around some floppy discs in what has to be parallel to Spock doing the same in “The Menagerie”, Michael gets the ship to reboot, the computer voice switching back to the usual Discovery voice and restores life support. She calls everyone back onto the bridge where Tilly gives a command to Michael as they come up with a plan to use Book’s empath abilities to pilot the spore drive so they can get away after ejecting the warp core to blow up Osyraa’s ship. This is another story thread seeded early that comes with an unexpected answer because they’d been saying they need another way to use the spore drive without Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and now maybe Book and his people can be the guide for any future ships with a spore drive technology!
Successfully picking up Saru and the others from the nebula and getting back home. We see that success does not mean all is necessarily well. Stamets is still upset at Michael, something that I assume Season 4 will address. And while the Chain has fractured, there’s nothing to say that someone else won’t rise to take Osyraa’s place. But Trill has rejoined the Federation and Ni’Var and others are considering, and Sahil has finally become a Starfleet Lieutenant after waiting for so many decades on his lonely station. So as with all things, there’s good and bad. And with Saru off on Kaminar to help Su’Kal, Vance tells Michael that both he and Saru wants her to captain Discovery. It may have taken three seasons, but Michael has finally found her way to the chair just as both Prime Georgiou and Pike believed she should be. And I love that Vance acknowledges that while Michael may not always do things the right way, like his daughter with learning Math, but her way works, and it’s challenged them to be something more than just the status quo they’ve been living in.
I love Michael is now captain. I had worries that her being captain would sideline Saru and given the vitriol that has already surrounded Michael’s character, I didn’t want another excuse for people to hate on her. But the writers created a story where Saru’s departure from captaincy made sense and is actually far more fulfilling to his story arc. So, when Michael sat down in that chair, I cheered. Not only because finally, a Black woman is the captain and lead of a Trek show, but because Michael’s journey to that chair was beautiful and powerful. And for anyone who says that she shouldn’t be the captain or this was too rushed, might I remind you that Michael even in the first episode was already being talked about getting her own command. If anything, she’s been overdue to sit in the captain’s chair for years. She deserved the chair after all the sacrifices she’s given to save the universe. And I cannot wait to see where she will lead everyone into next season!
I’ll just say though, that I don’t love the uniforms set against the bronze and silver of the Discovery bridge. It works perfectly well in the bright white background of the Federation HQ but on the bridge, it just looks like everyone’s blending into the background, which works if Starfleet is planning for some active camouflage in case of intruders but somehow, I doubt they are that safety conscious.
A Roddenberry quote appears at the very end, speaking about the importance of reaching out to other people, and it’s a poignant way to tie into Michael’s voiceover. She talks about how disconnection is how this future began, unable to communicate, isolated and guarded. Su’Kal’s disconnection and trauma had radiated outward until no one remembered that connection was still possible until worlds began to retreat into themselves instead of reaching out to each other. Until they had forgotten Su’Kal himself or the Federation distress signal still calling out with no one to truly hear. But we as sentient beings need connection, and with time and effort and understanding, we see how the Discovery crew reminded so many people across this season that it’s not impossible to connect, and that if we work at it, miracles can happen.
This is the most thematically consistent season of any Star Trek show and I’m genuinely really proud of all the writers, directors, cast, and other crew members for all the hard work they did to bring us this show, especially the post-production team working through the pandemic. This was truly a beautiful achievement and a reminder to us all the power of storytelling.