This Star Trek: Discovery review contains spoilers for the Season 3 premiere.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, Episode 1
Star Trek: Discovery has taken a long time to find its footing. What started as a show about the Federation-Klingon war quickly became a show about the Mirror Universe quickly became a show about legacy TOS characters quickly became a show about an evil A.I. set on wiping out all living things in the universe. The Season 2 finale, which saw the Discovery jumping almost a millennia into the future, was more than just a cliffhanger—it was a much-needed narrative reset, a way to keep the characters we have grown to know and love while wiping the slate clean of the muddled worldbuilding of the first two seasons. Was it a smart choice? Judging by this first episode, it was a brilliant one.
In “That Hope is You, Part 1,” we are introduced to a strange future where anything is possible. No longer burdened by the weight of canon and continuity, Discovery finally feels like it can tell its own story—and, best of all, it doesn’t feel the pressure to rush through it. This season is taking its time. The series gives its premiere to its protagonist in a way it has rarely been willing to do before, allowing Sonequa Martin-Green the space to show her acting chops. So much of this episode relies on Martin-Green’s performance, as she is our audience surrogate to this strange new world, and she absolutely nails it. She is overjoyed (when she realizes she has saved life in the universe). She is terrified (when it first hits her she is truly alone). She is silly (when she is high on the Mercantile agents’ truth powder). She is devastated (when she cannot contact her ship). She is hopeful (when she meets Mr. Sahil). Somehow, she is able to portray these emotions all in the course of one episode (sometimes, in the course of one scene), and make it feel true.
Of course Michael isn’t the only character carrying this episode. Really, it is a two-man story, centered around the burgeoning relationship between Michael, a stranger in a strange future, and Cleveland Book (David Ajala), a courier with a special connection to animal species who is working to save as many endangered species as he can in an indifferent universe. In a way, they are very similar—both have dedicated their lives to helping those who in need. In other ways, they are very different, and that difference seems related to environment. Book has grown up in a universe without the Federation, which is to say in a world without a just institutional authority that has the power and resources to protect the innocent. This hasn’t made him cruel, but it has made him pragmatic. When he meets Michael, he really doesn’t want to help her—not because he thinks she doesn’t deserve it or he doesn’t think it’s important to help those in need, but because “everybody has a story,” and he has already chosen his specific path of positive change-making. If he chooses to help Michael, it could mean failing the trance worm he has hidden in his cargo bay.
Of course, Michael doesn’t give Book much of a choice. She demonstrates, in action, how they can help one another. When Book is at his wit’s end, he chooses the safe path: betrayal. When Michael is at her wit’s end, she chooses the brave path: hope. She hopes placing her faith in Book will pay off and, even when it doesn’t, she does it again (although not without a punch or two to his pretty face). She hopes that Discovery has made it or will make it through the temporal wormhole, even if there’s no precedent for that outcome. She hopes that the ember that is the Federation could be stirred into something bright and alive again, even if everyone in this time is telling her this hope is foolish.
Then, she meets Aditya Sahil (Adil Hussain), a man who has woken up every morning for 40 years to serve in an institution he isn’t even officially a part of, and she sees her hope mirrored in someone else’s hope. “Hope is a powerful thing,” Mr. Sahil tells Michael. “Sometimes, it is the only thing,” she replies, and there are perhaps some contexts where this exchange would be too much, but in 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic and weeks from the presidential election that has revealed the open wounds on our nation’s soul, they are words to grab onto and hold tight. Watching Star Trek has never solved any real-world problems, but it has reflected hope back at us and the value of that experience cannot be underestimated. Popular culture has power and far too few of our contemporary stories value hope in any honest way. Star Trek has always represented hope as the brave choice, as the strong one, and more than anything, this Season 3 premiere doubles down on that legacy. And, perhaps because this is a story set in a world in which there is no utopian institution that will uphold justice for all and because this is an episode that features no visibly white characters, it feels honest.
In a strange future where the Federation is no more, a red angel falls from the sky. The third season of Star Trek: Discovery has begun, and this show has never been better.
This is a real Mad Max: Fury Road moment…
You may have noticed that, while the title for this first episode is “That Hope is You, Part 1,” next week’s episode is not “Part 2.” Perhaps that will be the season finale?
Olatunde Osunsanmi continues to be one of the go-to directors for this show. Discovery should hold onto him for as long as they can. In this premiere, Osunsanmi makes ample use of the Icelandic countryside, playing up its desolate, alien-like tundras in some scenes and its lush natural landscapes in others. This show has never looks better and that’s saying a lot because it has always looked good.
I do wonder what Book thinks of the Michael/Aditya exchange. Has it made him believe in the Federation just a little bit more? Or does hope take a different form for him?
OK, what is up with Grudge? “She’s a queen” is not something you say about a cat—well, some people might say it, but it’s still weird. Is Grudge literally a queen? Captain Marvel has trained me to expect anything.
While I wouldn’t call this episode particularly Battlestar Galactica-esque, Michael’s crash landing on an alien planet reminded me of Starbuck’s dilemma in “You Can’t Go Home Again” and Aditya’s setup on the old Federation relay station reminded me of dude waiting for the Cylons at the beginning of the BSG miniseries. (It doesn’t go as well for him as it does for Aditya.)
Speaking of references, tell me you didn’t think of Raiders of the Lost Ark when Book told Michael to close her eyes.
I love that Michael has absolutely no chill about being a time traveler. She barely tries to hide it.
“Dilithium… one day it all just went boom.” This feels like the kind of description someone who had shitty science classes in school might use. I know this because I am in fact one of those people. But, really, what is The Burn?
When Aditya is searching for Discovery, he mentions that there are two Federation ships currently in flight within range of his sensors. Whether this means they are active Federation ships of some kind or they are simply Federation ships that have been commandeered by other people remains to be seen…
Who had Andorians and Orions on their Alien Bingo Card for Season 3?
I love how David Ajala says “tricorder.”
“It’s temperature sensitive and really valuable so it’s probably ice cream.” I have never related to Michael Burnham more.
Programmable matter and portable transporters, but few subspace channels and a scarcity of dilithium creates a future that, in some ways, is technologically leaps and bounds beyond what Michael has known, yet, in other ways, is burdened with massive limitations compared to her life in the 23rd century.
“Were you praying?” “Something like.” Michael and Burnham discuss Book’s ability to communicate with different kinds of living creatures, from a plant with medicinal properties on Hima, to the trance worm who, um, swallows Michael momentarily.
Book thanks Michael for saving the world. She deserves a thank you.
What did you think of the Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 premiere? Are you into the time jump? What is up with Grudge? And how long do you think it will be before Michael finds Discovery again? Let us know in the comments below…