If you missed Kelli Fitzpatrick (Star Trek: Adventures) and Mary Fan (StarTrek.com) joining me for a discussion about Star Trek: Discovery at the virtual Farpoint last month, worry not! It’s been preserved on the Tube of You for your viewing enjoyment! Check it out!
I take a look back at the third and so far best season of Star Trek: Discovery, as the ship vaults into the future and the show moves forward in many an entertaining manner. My overview of Discovery season three is now live!
Season one was a show written to be binged that was then released in two sets of weekly drips and drabs over five months, thus utterly spoiling the flow of the narrative. Season two started out as a show about one thing, and very obviously became a show about a different thing at the end, as the writing showed the seams of the behind-the-scenes turmoil.
Season three, though, provides a nice balance of standalone episodes with moving the plot along. It’s less serialized than the prior two, but still with a continuing narrative. For one thing, this gives Discovery individual standout episodes, which have been rare in the prior two seasons. “Su’Kal” and “Unification III” and “There is a Tide…” are all particularly strong.
It’s a slam-bang season finale, with some of the crew working to take back the ship from Osyraa and some more of the crew trying to save Su’Kal and learn the cause of the Burn. My take on Star Trek: Discovery‘s third-season ender, “That Hope is You, Part 2.”
I thought the bizarre alteration of people to a different species was a bit odd, but it does give us one of the best moments of the episode. The fear that Su’Kal needs to face in order to banish the monster and finally shut down the holodeck is the fear of being alone. He was just a child and the last one left alive, and he saw everyone else die—including his mother. We see the final recording of his mother dying, an event that so traumatized Su’Kal that it caused the Burn. (The reasons are given by Culber in a bio-technobabble infodump involving the radiation affecting him in vitro and dilithium and subspace and other such nonsense.) Su’Kal is reminded that he’s alone, but then he turns around and, for the first time, sees Saru as he really is: another Kelpien.
The 800th installment of Star Trek as a franchise is Trek‘s latest Die Hard pastiche as Book, Burnham, and the bridge crew fight to take Discovery back from Osyraa’s Regulators while Osyraa herself is negotiating with Admiral Vance, and those diplomacy scenes are some of the best such in Trek history. My review of the penultimate episode of Star Trek: Discovery‘s third season, “There is a Tide…”
And then negotiations break down, because Vance hits her with a stipulation she obviously wasn’t expecting and won’t go through with. Osyraa’s own history as an antagonistic force to, y’know, everyone means she can’t be the head of the new allied-with-the-Federation Emerald Chain. While she’s willing to step back, she’s not willing to commit to a ruler who isn’t her puppet (she claims to be, mind you, but Eli, the lie-detector hologram played with hilarious blandness by Brendan Beiser, calls her on it), nor is she willing to be arrested and tried for her crimes. Vance insists on that point, because Federation ideals still mean something, and they’re not just going to get into bed with a criminal who claims to have reformed unless she puts her money where her mouth is with regard to that reformation.
These sequences are quick-witted, intelligent, and compellingly played by Fehr, Kidder, and Beiser. From the negotiations themselves to the discussions of Eli (putting a human face on the lie detector was more comforting than red and green lights) and of the food (how it’s pretty much recycled shit), and they’re just as captivating as the action sequences aboard Discovery.
Discovery finally heads to the Verubin Nebula to investigate the origin of the Burn — and, as an added bonus, rescue the lone survivor of it! But things get way more complicated, both on the away mission with Saru, Burnham, and Culber, and back on the ship with Tilly in charge and having a rough time of it. My review of Star Trek: Discovery‘s “Su’Kal.”
Su’Kal himself is a frighteningly effective character, magnificently played by Bill Irwin. One of the prototypical “oh, that guy” character actors who’s been in everything at some point or other (much like [Doug] Jones, in fact), Irwin beautifully portrays someone who has been alone with only holograms for company for far too long. His sanity is questionable, his development hasn’t really gotten beyond the pre-teen level despite his years, and he also does not face his fear, which is manifested as a sea monster out of Kelipien mythology. The monster itself is a nice scary bit of CGI, a clever combination of the Kelpiens mixed with the tattered drippiness of their enemies, the Ba’ul.
Georgiou’s Mirror Universe odyssey continues with the usual assortment of murders, betrayals, and shouting. Plus Booker makes himself useful, Reno likes black licorice, Saru and Vance have a nicely mature professional conversation, and holy crap was I wrong about who/what Carl is. My review of Star Trek: Discovery‘s “Terra Firma, Part 2.”
And I really have a problem with Burnham insisting that it’s Emperor Georgiou whom she loves and cares about, because that’s utter nonsense. This has always been about Burnham’s guilt over getting Captain Georgiou killed. And, truly, it’s been about the spectacular tactical error made three years ago casting an absolutely brilliant actor who had amazing chemistry with the lead as the fridged captain in the pilot, and realizing that killing her was one of many dumb moves made in the early days of the show. Looking back at “The Vulcan Hello” and “The Battle at the Binary Stars” (not to mention reading some of the tie-in fiction like David Mack’s Desperate Hours and James Swallow’s Fear Itself), I keep coming back to the notion that the adventures of Georgiou, Burnham, and Saru on the U.S.S. Shenzhou would have been a much better show than what Discovery was in its first season.
Then comes the greatest revelation, and the one thing Georgiou didn’t know going in to get her do-over: why Burnham betrayed her. Georgiou loves Burnham like a daughter, a love that is sufficiently powerful that it bleeds over into the Burnham of the mainline universe. But then, after her coup is exposed and Burnham is kneeling before Georgiou waiting to be condemned, she reveals the truth. Yes, Georgiou rescued the orphaned Burnham from what Georgiou describes as “a trash heap.” But Burnham explains that that was no kind of favor: she was the at the top of that trash heap, and she preferred to reign in that particular hell than serve in Georgiou’s heaven.
Book gets to go home for the first time in fifteen years, Georgiou gets a brain scan, Culber gets to be snarked at and snarky to Georgiou, Adira gets a new pronoun, Tilly gets to be acting XO, Detmer gets to fly Book’s ship, Ryn gets to see what Discovery is all about, the viewers get to meet Osyraa, and Saru gets a captainly catchphrase. My review of Star Trek: Discovery‘s “The Sanctuary.”
Adira also takes the step of requesting that they be referred to with that pronoun rather than she, which Stamets (and later Culber) immediately take to. The timing of this episode airing the same week that Elliot Page came out as trans and requested he and they as pronouns is fortuitous, and according to interviews with Blu del Barrio, Adira’s progress matches their own journey to coming out. In universe, it’s not treated as much of a big deal. But this has been one of Star Trek’s hallmarks from the very beginning. The original series aired at the height of the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and civil rights unrest, so it was very important for the viewers of the time to see Sulu, Chekov, and Uhura on the bridge working peacefully alongside the white folks. Just as especially Asian and African-American viewers were inspired by the sight of Sulu and Uhura on the bridge and being accepted as peers, so too is it important for trans folks to see Adira’s pronoun request be accepted without question.
Spock’s legacy is seen as Discovery goes to the Planet Formerly Known as Vulcan and we get callbacks to Discovery season 2, Picard season 1, The Next Generation season 5, and even the original series season 1. My review of Star Trek: Discovery‘s “Unification III.”
There are so many fantastic moments in this episode, but my absolute favorite is when Burnham watches the footage of Spock talking to Picard from “Unification II” and seeing the huge grin of sibling pride on her face. Knowing that her brother lived a long and fruitful life, culminating in a batshit crazy long-term mission that he knew he wouldn’t live to see fulfilled fills her with a nearly incandescent joy, and it’s so delightful to see.
Burnham does that old Trek standby of disobeying orders to go on a mission of personal importance. We get Georgiou being snotty, action, adventure, a prison break, self-sealing stembolts, and a heroic sacrifice. Plus back on Discovery, Stamets and Adira bond, Saru has a crisis of captaincy, and more Grudge the cat!!!!! My review of Star Trek: Discovery‘s “Scavengers.”
Speaking of Georgiou, her presence on Discovery is now, as I said at the start, extremely problematic. I actually had no issue with her being on board, and even being allowed to roam freely, when they first arrived in the future. There’s no use in antagonizing her, as it will just pit her against everyone on board, and she’s not someone you want on the opposite side of a fight. By giving her a certain amount of free rein, Saru is able to make use of her (e.g., to get rescued from being held at gunpoint) without pissing her off and setting her against him.
But it’s not clear why Vance is seemingly okay with the deposed fascist running around freely on a Starfleet ship. Saru not throwing her in the brig when they were timelost and alone made sense—a brig is a holding cell for when you bring someone to a proper authority, and they had no proper authority. Now that they’ve found Starfleet HQ, though, why is she still there?