‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Review: Will the Federation Sell Its Soul in Season 3’s Penultimate Episode?

This Trekkie has to say he’s pretty excited about where “Star Trek: Discovery” is going. Because he has no idea where it’s going!

Season 3, and the jump to the year 3188 with its attendant mystery of “What caused the Burn?,” hasn’t really turned out like we thought, huh? The obvious answer to the season-long mystery would have been some sinister power from “Trek” past, possibly setting up a Dominion War-like arc for the future. Instead, the Burn was caused by a Kelpien man-child’s emotional distress and his unique ability to inflict his damage on the whole galaxy. Hardly a villain. Though it seems like they’ll have to “stop” Su’Kal somehow before he can trigger another Burn, won’t they?

The only real villain we’re facing right now is Osyraa (Janet Kidder), the Orion pirate lord who captured Discovery at the end of the previous episode. But in this second to last installment of the season, “There Is a Tide…” even she is made more complicated. You’d be forgiven for thinking, as I did, that she was using her capture of the ship to turn it into a Trojan horse to destroy Federation Headquarters outright, to just blow it up from the inside. (Not that she’d have been able to with the Sphere Data aboard.) But no, she wanted simply to get her foot in the door with the Federation to talk terms about a potential armistice. What resulted was a uniquely exciting and thought-provoking episode, one that never sacrificed small character moments to advance the plot.

Burnham and Book fly his ship aboard Discovery right before it passes into the Federation HQ, and we’re basically in “Die Hard” territory from there on out as Burnham crawls through Jefferies Tubes and takes out Osyraa’s fighters — or “regulators” — one by one. Burnham’s “You’re gonna need more regulators” is a “Yippie-ky-yay” moment if ever there was one. Meanwhile, Osyraa’s lead thug, Zareh (remember that guy from Episode 2?), is issuing threats to her over the comms about turning her skull into his candy dish. Which is so ridiculous, is it even threatening?


Book and Burnham sneak aboard the ship and try to win it back.

CBS

While she’s picking off pirates, Osyraa engages in negotiations with Admiral Vance: she wants her Emerald Chain syndicate to merge with the Federation and go legit. She’ll outlaw slavery and “walk back” her plundering of innocent pre-warp civilizations. In exchange the Federation will share Discovery’s spore-drive technology, so that the Emerald Chain will no longer need dilithium. Of course, she has an ace up her sleeve, a corrupt doctor who’s trying to get Stamets’ tardigrade DNA out of him so he can make any number of others capable of flying the spore drive themselves. This is a predatory scientist for whom ethics are just an obstacle. We’ve seen their like on “Star Trek” many times before, but the soft-spokenness of this one, his tough backstory, the way he talks about being a family man, the rationalizations he’s created for supporting Osyraa, give us a particularly rich characterization. It’s a battle of wills between him and Stamets from then on.

At least until Michael gets to Stamets and stuns the corrupt guy. Of course, what Stamets wants is to jump the ship back to the nebula immediately to rescue Saru, Hugh, and Adira. “My whole life is in that nebula!” he shouts. She puts him in a protective bubble and launches him out into space. That way, Osyraa can’t use him to get what she wants. How can this relationship survive this?

Meanwhile, in our other ongoing tête-à-tête, Vance finally finds a point where Osyraa isn’t willing to make concessions: when she suggests that a scientist should be the public face of their partnership, Vance insists that that person is not just a puppet for her and that she stand trial for her crimes. Osyraa, of course, states that capitalism is already a part of certain aspects of the old Federation, such as the space station Deep Space 253, which has been trading with the Emerald Chain for almost a century. She’s not about to let herself face justice for things she thinks were necessary in order to bring about what is now a “great society.” Why focus on the past when you can forge a glorious new future?


One thing that does seem to have been lost a bit in recent episodes is further development to Book and Burnham’s relationship. There’s been so much plot to get through! Hopefully, some attention will be paid to their feelings for each other before season’s end.

CBS

Of course, that’s not the Federation’s way. Its ideals are everything. Yet we always did wonder if those ideals could survive without a sprawling infrastructure to support them. In the “Deep Space Nine” episode “The Siege of AR-558” Quark said, “Let me tell you something about Hew-mons, nephew. They’re a wonderful, friendly people, as long as their bellies are full and their holosuites are working. But take away their creature comforts, deprive them of food, sleep, sonic showers, put their lives in jeopardy over an extended period of time and those same friendly, intelligent, wonderful people… will become as nasty and as violent as the most bloodthirsty Klingon. You don’t believe me? Look at those faces. Look in their eyes.”

One of the biggest questions of “Star Trek” ever since has been: Is Quark right? Can the Federation survive when its comforts are gone? And right now, the answer seems to be a resounding yes. Mind you, you’d be forgiven for thinking this entire season that Charles Vance would suddenly turn out to be a villain — as is often the case with Starfleet admirals — but he seems oddly pure, Starfleet’s highest mission uncorrupted despite its reduced circumstances. Take the exchange he has with Osyraa about their replicator food, specifically the apple Osyraa says doesn’t taste like a “real” apple. “It’s made of shits,” Vance says, talking about how their excrement is recycled down to the atom to become their food. (Oded Fehr playing this scene to dry perfection.) “Tastes pretty good for shit.” And he isn’t willing to give that up for all of the Emerald Chain’s creature comforts unless Osyraa submits herself to due process. That feels like as resounding a renunciation of Quark’s argument as you could get, right? By default, it’s also a pretty solid defense of using profanity on “Star Trek.”

Osyraa storms out in a hough, and returns to Discovery. Book dangles a new possibility in front of her: forget the spore drive, I’ll lead you to a planet made of dilithium. You won’t have to worry about running out ever again! Tilly, Detmer, Owo, Rhys, etc. break out of their own confinement, though, and start putting together a plan to retake the ship when they encounter three adorable modified Dot-7 droids: they’re the Sphere Data in robot form! Tilly & Co. have allies now. And cute ones at that. In any just universe, these robots would become the Baby Yoda of “Star Trek: Discovery.”

We can’t wait to see them in action. And find out what happens next.

Grade: A-

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