Warning: This Star Trek: Discovery season 3, episode 5 review contains major spoilers – many of them set to stun. Boldly go further at your own risk…
Even an organisation like the Federation needs help sometimes. Thanks to Adira Tal’s co-ordinates, the USS Discovery has finally found its way back to 32nd century Starfleet. While their technology is (mostly) superior and there have been centuries of societal development in the interim, there are still opportunities for Saru, Burnham and co to carry out their Prime Directive of making the future a better place. Five episodes into season 3, it seems there’s no person, creature, planet or organisation they can’t ‘improve’ with their noble ideals.
Okay, humanity being the best it can be has always been one of the central pillars of Star Trek, all the way back to the original series. But in the 21st century iteration of franchise – where even the great Jean-Luc Picard has been plagued by demons – we’ve come to expect a little more moral complexity from our crews. And no, the reinvented Michael Burnham speaking her mind a little more than she used to doesn’t count as edge.
From reopening Earth’s eyes to the universe around them to helping the Trill rethink their policy on alien hosts for their symbionts, the once-flawed Discovery crew have become a bunch of missionaries for Gene Roddenberry’s original vision – and bizarrely, everyone is listening to them. Surely navigating the strange universe of the 32nd century should be a little more, well, challenging.
Starfleet’s commander-in-chief isn’t won over immediately, of course – as he points out, it’s impossible to verify Discovery’s story about saving existence from Control, seeing as the ship was expunged from the Federation records. Besides, after spending most of the 30th century fighting the Temporal Wars that were a regular feature of Star Trek: Enterprise, the Federation has declared time travel illegal, automatically making Discovery and its crew lawbreakers. His decision to requisition and retrofit the ship – and reassign the crew – is arguably the gravest threat Discovery has faced since it crash-landed in episode 2.
Since her extended stay with Book, however – already the show is missing its charismatic Han Solo substitute – Burnham isn’t the sort to accept bad orders without question. Before long she’s persuaded the CIC to let her crew out on a mission to the Federation seed storage facility that should be home to a cure for a group of sick aliens in Starfleet HQ – on condition that Saru stays behind as collateral.
It’s the sort of trip that frequently turns up in Starfleet mission logs – the result of throwing “man trying to save his family”, “transporter accident”, and “crewmate angst” into a Random Star Trek Plot Generator and seeing what pops out. If you’ve watched a couple of seasons of any iteration of Trek, there are no surprises at all – even the Coronal Mass Ejection technobabble feels over-familiar.
Despite the fact she’s rarely been more than a supporting player since joining Discovery at the start of season 2, Security Chief Commander Nhan is unexpectedly catapulted to the forefront of the episode. If we knew her better, her decision to stay on the seed ship and return to her Barzan people – as baffling as it is – may have resonated more. But with what feels like an entire character history and arc crammed into about half an hour, her supposedly emotional farewell to Burnham falls flat. It certainly doesn’t come close to the punch of Airiam’s departure in season 2.
It goes without saying that Discovery’s mission is accomplished successfully and that the observer from 32nd Starfleet comes to realise the crew’s dysfunctional banter is what makes them function – as if dysfunction has completely vanished in the slightly dystopian, post-Burn future. Someone didn’t quite think that one through…
It’s a shame so many of the story beats of “Die Trying” fall flat, because there’s so much to like in this instalment. Discovery’s arrival at Federation headquarters is so visually spectacular that it makes you want to watch on the biggest screen possible. This introduction to the Starfleet armada of the future gives the show’s production designers free rein to show how starships could evolve in 900 years, with detached warp nacelles, organic hulls and holographic components – not to mention the USS Voyager-J, the 11th iteration of a very famous ship. They certainly don’t disappoint, and you share the Discovery crew’s in a scene that’s more than worthy of a few bars from Alexander Courage’s famous Star Trek fanfare. Saru’s declaration that “the USS Discovery is reporting for duty” is the sort of moment that makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.
As well as adding to the mystery of the Burn – not even Starfleet know how it happened – the episode also features plenty of moments of humour. The montage of the Disco crew being debriefed contains loads of brilliant one-liners, while the scenes of David Cronenberg (yes, the David Cronenberg) interrogating Georgiou are wonderfully entertaining, playing up to Georgiou’s status as the show’s hilariously biting MVP. Something clearly happens to her off-screen over the course of the story, so it’ll be intriguing to see how her story pans out in future episodes. That said, her ability to turn off holograms by blinking seems rather implausible. We don’t recall the Doctor in Star Trek: Voyager being quite so susceptible to rapid eye movement…
New episodes of Star Trek: Discovery season 3 land on Thursdays on CBS All Access in the US, and on Fridays on Netflix in the UK.