This Star Trek: Discovery review contains spoilers.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, Episode 3
If you were expecting the Discovery’s return to Earth to become a major plot point in Season 3 of Star Trek: Discovery, then keep guessing. The show makes a clever and unexpected narrative decision by, upon reuniting our wayward travelers with Michael, almost immediately bringing the crew of the Discovery to Starfleet’s (former) home planet, only for them to find very few answers or comforts there. It’s a bold move, one that tells the crew and the viewers that, while Earth may have been at the occasionally-visited anchor of many a Star Trek story before now, it has never been what this show is really about—which is to say: looking outward, towards unknown and unfamiliar stars—and it’s not about to start. In this way and many more, Season 3 of Discovery continues to live up to its ambitious title.
While the plot of “People of Earth” is about the crew’s return to the birthplace of Starfleet, the heart of this story really lies in the reunion of Michael and the rest of the crew. We begin more or less where last week’s cliffhanger left off, as Michael beams aboard after dropping the bomb that she arrived to the 32nd century a full year before her ship. It’s an emotional reunion and, at first, that joy is simple. It doesn’t matter that the crew hasn’t seen Michael in days while its been a whole year for her. For a little while, all that matters is that they’re together.
Last week, I mildly lamented the fact that Discovery was reuniting Michael with the Discovery so early in the season, but, after seeing how it is playing out, I am totally on board. While Michael may be back with her family, there is also a tension between Michael and the rest of the crew that is fascinating to see play out. It’s not malicious or even volatile in nature, but it is there, complicating that simple joy into something a bit more uncertain. Michael has spent a year having to make choices in this strange place without her crew as support, and even us viewers don’t know quite what that means. But Michael does, and she knows it’s changed her. She knows that, at a certain point, she had to let go of the hope that the Discovery would come in her lifetime just so she could keep on living.
When the Discovery accidentally pores fuel on the fire that is a dispute between Earth and a band of attacking Titan raiders led by someone named Wen, Michael goes rogue (well, with Book) to solve the problem, expecting that Saru will follow her lead and trust her even though she has kept him in the dark about her plans. He does, and it’s another inspiring example of faith in his crew from Captain Saru, but it’s not not a problem. Michael may have spent the last year looking for clues about the fate of the Federation, but she’s been living without the institution of Starfleet around her, without the rules and regulations of a ship and its crew. As she tells Saru, it’s going to take some time before she can remember what it’s like to be part of something like the Discovery again. It’s really moving to see both Tilly and Saru, the two people that Michael is closest to on the Discovery, recognize the changes in their friend and to offer their acknowledgment and patience as she reacclimatizes to life aboard a Starfleet ship.
It’s an especially big ask of Saru who, as the captain of the ship, needs to know he can count on his number one. He already has Emperor Georgiou—who, to her credit, makes no secret of the fact that she will do exactly what she wants to do, regardless of whether it goes against Saru’s plans—to worry about. He can’t afford to also have Michael as a loose cannon. It’s even more impressive that Saru can find it in himself to trust Michael through this, as she has demonstrated herself capable of making the wrong decision before, as she did in the Discovery pilot. But Michael isn’t the same person she was then, and neither is Saru. He has settled into his role as a leader, and it has been inspiring to see him represent a kind of leadership that is similar to Pike’s, but also a brand of captainship all his own. We’ve never had a Star Trek captain quite like him, and I continue to be impressed by Saru’s combination of even-keeled confidence and boundless empathy.
Saru’s choice to trust Michael, both in the heat of a skirmish and in the quiet debrief afterwards, allows the Discovery to play diplomat between Earth and the people of Titan, aka Saturn’s moon. The “B” plot is similar to many we’ve seen before in on Trek television, but it’s none the less powerful for it. Turns out, Wen and his attacking radars are also human, people who were stationed on a research colony on Titan. When there was an accident that took out much of their capability to take care of themselves, they returned to Earth looking for help, only to be fired upon. Since then, they have been raiding Earth as a way to survive, further escalating the war of humanity that Earth ignorantly began.
The Discovery’s involvement allows the people of Titan and the people of Earth to begin peace talks proving that, one ship can do the work of the Federation even when they’re all alone. It’s the kind of institutional functionality we didn’t always see from Discovery even when they were surrounded by Federation support in their home time, and it’s just one more example of how this series has seemingly finally figured out what kind of story it wants to tell: one of hope in the absence of comfort, and bold kindness in the face of nihilism.
In all the hubbub, it can be easy to forget just how much the crew of the Discovery has been through, how much they have lost, but the episode takes the time to give us a scene between Tilly and Michael in which Tilly grieves the loss of her family and friends and everything she has ever known. Tilly doesn’t wish for her life back so much as hopes for some kind of tangible connection to it, proof that it was ever there at all, and she finds it in a tree on the former grounds of Starfleet Academy. The Federation may be gone from Earth, but the tree is still there: a reminder that the Federation was once a beacon of light in the potential darkness of space and time, and that it could be again.
The main subplot in this episode was the introduction of a new character: Adira! They’re very, very smart and, as we learn in the episode’s final moments, also happens to be carrying the Trill symbiont of Admiral Tal, the Discovery’s best lead when it comes to the mystery of the Federation, inside of them. Given the episode-ending reveal, no doubt next week’s episode will dive further into the story of Adira.
Saru is officially captain. <3
Adira was previously announced as Star Trek‘s first non-binary character. Right now, this is character context you will have only if you have read supplementary coverage outside of the text of the show. It is potentially problematic that Adira’s non-binary identity will be conflated with their identity as a Trill, but it has yet to be addressed in the show itself. For now, I reserve judgment.
Still smiling about that reunion hug scene.
As we learn from Michael’s opening montage monologue, 700 years after Discovery jumped through a wormhole, dilithium dried up. The Federation tried alternative warp drive designs, but none of them worked out. The Burn was what followed, and is still an unsolved mystery: in an instant, all dilithium went inert and any ship with an active warp core detonated. It’s hard to imagine the scope of this tragedy, though Michael does tell the crew that millions died.
“Cake is eternal.”
Directed by Jonathan Frakes! Good job, sir. This season continues to be beautiful.
Book and Michael? Yeah, I ship it.
Continuing to side-eye Grudge. (But don’t tell Book.)
Playing fast and loose with the spore drive. Allows Discovery to move across the quadrant much faster than anyone else, which makes them both a target and uniquely situated to solve the mystery of the missing Federation.
I would wear Saru’s sweater tunic.
No sign of Burnham’s mom so far in the 32nd century.
“We didn’t give everything for this version of the future, and I’ll be damned if I let it stand.”