This might be my favourite episode of the season, which is funny because the main thrust of the story is not even necessarily my favourite out of all the episodes so far. It is a rather simple and straightforward story, perhaps even a little predictable in parts. Yet the character moments that were built around this story are some of the best ones of this season with one moment giving explicit representation for a marginalized community that has long deserved a voice in this franchise.
So, let us break it all down. Book (David Ajala) goes back home to help his planet deal with the Emerald Chain, who wants to get Ryn (Noah Averbach-Katz) the Andorian back. Why? Because Ryn is the only one who knows that the Chain is running out of Dilithium, a secret that could destroy their foothold in the galaxy and ruin their reputation. Osyraa (Janet Kidder), the leader of the Emerald Chain, essentially is holding Book’s planet hostage to force his brother’s hand to do the Chain’s bidding since Book was the last person seen with Ryn. It seems to be a theme of Discovery this season that going home is not always the homecoming we would all wish we would get. Though in Book’s case, he probably was expecting this family drama-filled homecoming.
The plot is ultimately pretty paint by the numbers, the brother does not betray Book, Discovery ends up disabling Osyraa’s ship, and the day is saved. But sometimes having a simple story is hardly a bad thing, especially when its simplicity allows you to juggle many different characters and their storylines so you can give everyone the time they deserve.
Osyraa is not a particularly threatening villain but I do not think she needed to be, because the Emerald Chain is not like the Borg or the Klingons, their modus operandi is more akin to greedy businesspeople with influence and firepower. War is not necessarily what Osyraa is looking for, she is more of the bully who saw an opportunity to extort people weaker than herself. Like Admiral Vance was saying, the Emerald Chain contacts pre-warp civilizations that she can manipulate, we do not see her going after bigger and stronger planets. She is a Harry Mudd, not a Khan. The only reason that the Emerald Chain has such a foothold in the galaxy is because of the Federation has been scattered and divided. If the Federation had not suffered The Burn and was still at full strength, nothing like the Emerald Chain would have been able to thrive beyond petty bounty hunters. The galaxy is being bullied because its biggest and strongest defender has been ill and unable to stand up to the bully. Her lack of threatening stature is more of a sign that the Federation is weak, not Osyraa is strong. This is what makes it imperative for the Federation to find a way to get its strength back.
Speaking of getting back to strength, Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) has been suffering mentally for weeks now. It has gotten her more shaken than she wants to admit and Culber even calls her out on it. She might threaten, but no one is taking her seriously because they know this is terrifying her. She can put on a front but Culber (Wilson Cruz), Pollard (Raven Dauda), and Michael (Sonequa Martin-Green) all see through her. This leads to some amazing scenes where Georgiou is still trying to needle at everyone around her but people either deflect her or confront her, which leads her to eventually having to back off and accept help. Michelle Yeoh and Wilson Cruz are given a scene where they basically have a go at each other, and it is so engaging that I almost wanted to jump out of my seat just watching the tension rise. We still do not know what is wrong with Georgiou, but if the previews are any indication, the answers are coming, and it might open a remarkably interesting can of worms.
As for Culber, while he told Georgiou that if he had time, he would have children, he is managed to pick up a child without fully realizing that. Because he, Stamets (Anthony Rapp), and Adira (Blu del Barrio) feel like a kid with their two dads fussing over them. And it is an exceptionally good look. It is so heartwarming to see Adira being accepted for who they are and given a place to belong that will not judge them. It makes me smile to see Stamets looking at Adira with such pride and admiration, even putting his jacket on them as they nap. There is something so beautiful to just see these character interact so happily, getting to experience all the normality of everyday joys without dark drama. Because Adira just announces their pronouns to Stamets as “they/them” and not “she/her”, and he simply accepts it and moves on. It is so simple yet so meaningful. It confirms that Adira has always been nonbinary, that they had only told Gray (Ian Alexander) and not revealed it to anyone else. It tells us that in this Star Trek future, a change of pronouns is respected and not a big deal. Of course, it is still a big deal for Adira to reveal something so personal about themselves to someone they had only met weeks ago. But the society that they all live in, whether 23rd Century or 32nd Century, do not have issues with people changing pronouns. Stamets simply says “okay” and that is more than enough. I cannot speak for how trans and nonbinary people will feel about this scene, but as a person of colour who understands the importance of explicit representation for marginalized people, this moment is so particularly important and historic. It says these people exist, that they have made it to the future and can thrive and be happy just like anyone else. This is what Roddenberry did half a century ago when he gave the world Uhura and Sulu, and Discovery continues that legacy of representation and diversity.
I have seen some responses to that moment by certain sections of fandom complaining that it is “too preachy” and “a harsh lecture”, and all I will respond to that is: grow up.
If you can deal with Picard giving near-endless lectures over the rights of Data’s personhood and autonomy, then you can suck it up and deal with 45 seconds of pronoun talk. And quite frankly, if you can respect the rights of a fictional android more than you do the rights of real-life trans and nonbinary people, then that says something more about you than the marginalized people you choose to hurt and dismiss.
Anyways, back to Adira and the brilliantly heartfelt performance given by Blu del Barrio. You can tell how nervous they were when they revealed that secret to Stamets, and how the weight lifts off their shoulder at having finally let the truth come out. And the way Anthony Rapp as Stamets just smiles in understanding. It is so subtle but conveys so much without even saying a word. Adira later also reveals that Gray is not speaking to them anymore and how they are struggling with all this symbiont/host thing, and Stamets just listens. Sometimes when we struggle, all we want is to be heard by someone. Stamets does not tell Adira what to do, does not tell them how to feel or what to feel. He is just there for support, and to give them something fun to enjoy in the meantime by playing the piano with them while they play the cello. Sometimes that is all one needs.
Adira was not the only one getting what they needed though, because Detmer (Emily Coutts) looks to have gotten her mojo back this week. She has been full of frayed nerves all season since the Discovery crashed back in Episode 2, and even this week she is trying to modify her console so that she can have fails-safes even though Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo) reminds Detmer that all the fail-safe she ever needed was herself. But with lives on the line and people counting on her, Detmer stepped up. Flying Book’s ship to face Osyraa’s ship with Ryn and Grudge in tow, she finds her courage by helping Ryn to find his courage. Because if you face something, you can beat it. They just needed to be brave for a few more minutes. And that is the truth about facing something scary and traumatic, you can be brave in tiny increments, recovery is not something you find suddenly and entirely. It is hard work step by step. But Detmer has taken the steps towards regaining her confidence in herself, going full manual control, showing off how she learned to fly with great success. As we watch her later in the mess hall laughing and chatting with the other bridge crew members, we see the light back in her eyes and it makes me tear up. By the way, I am calling it, Owo and Detmer are totally!! a couple and I am hoping they confirm this explicitly by the end of the season because I have been waiting for it since Season One.
It was nice to see Ryn the Andorian coming into play in a crucial moment. Tough perhaps nothing was as perfect as his terrified reaction when Grudge jumped into his lap. I wonder if the terror was acting or just simply actor Noah Averbach-Katz fearing to get his eyes scratched out. I was curious when he survived a few episodes ago that if his survival meant he had a bigger part to play in the future, and it is good to see that paying off. He is still hesitant about the Federation, but he also stood up to the Emerald Chain again to help Book. We have not gotten many Andorian focused stories or characters across the years except in Star Trek: Enterprise, so it is nice to see Discovery giving some attention to a founding Federation member species. While I am saddened to see the Andorians so separate from the Federation that they helped create, I am heartened that more and more people are seeing the truth about the Federation and its principles. I also had a good laugh over Ryn telling Tilly that they used to scare Andorian children by saying they were going to send them to Federation summer camp. Apparently sending children from cold planet to summer camp is scarier than death. Though given some people’s experiences at summer camps, maybe that is not such a bad boogeyman idea.
Ryn also finds an interesting dynamic with Tilly, who has been doing a great job figuring out how to assert her authority given her new position. She does not let Ryn wallow in some sad-Andorian fashion, reminds him to respect Saru as captain, and tells him that he is a hero for standing up to Emerald Chain and helping out Detmer. I do not know if there is possible romance up in the air, but since Noah Averbach-Katz is married off-screen to Mary Wiseman, I could see the writers going down that route if Ryn sticks around long enough.
Last week there was a lot of concern over Tilly’s promotion and whether she could handle it given her relative inexperience. But this week seems to have silenced many of those concerns because Tilly is showing so much growth. It is so interesting to note how Tilly used to ramble on when she is nervous and sometimes even shrinks in others’ presence, but this week she was firm and steady and did not ramble or stammer for even a moment. Mary Wiseman deftly shows us without any dialogue that Tilly takes this new role seriously and is standing just a bit straighter than she used to. Saru’s confidence in her is not misplaced.
In fact, I am loving Saru and Tilly’s easy dynamic. They bounce off each other so well from the serious moments to the funny moments. The continuous gag of them trying to find the perfect catchphrase for Saru to use was hilarious. The ways they both tried to say “hit it” like Captain Pike (Anson Mount) made me giggle so much because they were like two kids trying to wear their dad’s shoes. But funny moments aside, Saru continues to be the best mediator there is, whether dealing with Osyraa or presenting information in a way that Admiral Vance would be more amenable to accept. Though I wonder how he might explain to Vance that they did end up engaging the Emerald Chain when they were specifically told not to. Tilly might have found a loophole, but technicalities might not easily assuage Vance who now must deal with a possible war with Emerald Chain on the horizon.
While the Discovery crew handled Osyraa in orbit, down on the planet of Book’s homeworld of Kwejian, it is Michael and Book figuring out how to get through to Book’s brother Kyheem (Ache Hernandez). Kwejian gets plagued by Sea Locusts that come inland too far and destroy their crops, and Osyraa is withholding the necessary repellent to force Kyheem to help Osyraa get Ryn back. Kyheem and Book clash over principles. Kyheem claims that Book abandoned his people, that their father and grandfather asked for Book on their deathbeds and he was not there. But Book insists that principles and honour still matter and one either stands by them or they do not. He refuses to help the Emerald Chain and he is disappointed that his brother would. We also learn that Book’s real name is Tarackx and he left his homeworld 15 years ago. The brothers end up getting into a physical altercation when Kyheem tries to apprehend Book to hand him and Michael over to Osyraa to avoid his planet starving. But Kyheem is an empath just like Book, they both possess that ability to commune with nature, and while they may not be brothers by blood, it is who they are, and who you choose to be your family does matter. Kyheem ultimately stands down and chooses not to hand over Book, but he fears that now his child and his homeworld will starve since they cannot move the Sea Locusts even with both him and Book.
However, Michael suggests boosting their signal, much like what the Discovery crew did on Kaminar last season, and Book and Kyheem are able to convince the Sea Locusts to move away, saving Kwejian from destruction and ruin. This story is nice and simple, some might even say pedestrian, but what stood out to me was the way Book and Kyheem’s relationship is portrayed. They fight but they are not above showing emotion, showing love towards one another, and being physically affectionate. Male characters always being stoic, and macho has been a staple in mainstream media for centuries, but here we have male characters who can be emotional, to express those emotions and show love to others. Characters who are defined by their empathy instead of brute strength or violence. Star Trek: Discovery has always rejected the stereotypes created by toxic masculinity, and I appreciate that they continue to give us a male character who breaks that toxic mold.
To heal a broken future, empathy is needed. So, I am absolutely thrilled to have Book wanting to join Starfleet and the Federation, recognizing that this is the place where he can make a difference for not just his homeworld but for so many other worlds as well. And really, I just love David Ajala and the presence that he brings to the show, especially how Michael seems to just shine when she is around him. She looks so happy and I do not want that to change. Michael did not have the story focus this episode but seeing her telling Book that she liked seeing his homeworld and meeting his family, and just the two of them being a couple was wonderful. Michael’s had so much drama in her life, it is great for her to have some normality of a safe relationship, one would hope the writers do not take that away from her. It was a great bit of character growth too that instead of running off with Book, Michael did go to Vance and try to get help the proper way. Also, I need more scenes of Michael interacting with Book’s little nephew. Sonequa Martin-Green plus cute small child? Sign me up!
We also learned in this episode that the melody that Adira and Gray have been playing and the mom of the Barzan family on the seed vault ship was humming was indeed linked to The Burn. A signal has been coming out of a nebula, playing on an audio range that is the melody people have been hearing. But it is in fact masking and distorting a Federation distress signal, noticed thanks to Saru’s better hearing senses. While we await the results of the decoded message from the distress call, my leading theory has been that it could be another version of the Discovery, in fact, the very one that was sitting in a nebula in the Short Treks episode “Calypso”. How and why? I do not know but given we know that universe hopping and time jumping are not uncommon, whatever happened to that ship and its crew could explain what caused The Burn.
Many questions are still left unanswered. What is going on with Gray? What is the story behind Book’s name? With three mentions of Captain Pike so far, will we get to see a future Talos IV that Pike and Vina possibly helped rebuild so the crew can see their former captain’s legacy? What is happening with Georgiou and how will it set up her Section 31 show?
Next week looks to answer at least one of those questions and possibly lead to Georgiou’s final exit from the show. But for now, I am happily revelling in so many fun moments from this episode expertly directed by the legend that is Jonathan Frakes.
After all, this may be the last bit of calm we have before the oncoming storm that is sure to try and kill us all emotionally. We better brace ourselves.