This Star Trek: Discovery review contains spoilers.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, Episode 8
From the very beginning, Star Trek: Discovery has loved putting Michael Burnham in an impossible situation, and making her choose. This isn’t a bad narrative habit, especially for a show as thematically-driven as Star Trek, but some Kobayashi Maru scenarios are more interesting than others and, some, well… some are just plain clunky. This was the case in “The Sanctuary,” which saw not only Michael but the whole Discovery crew sent to Book’s home planet, Kwejian, to strictly observe, Emerald Chain leader Oysraa show up to bully the trance worm-loving planet. As far as no-win scenarios go, this one has a pretty obvious moral high ground. From the moment Admiral Vance allowed Saru to captain his ship to Kwejian, I think we all knew where this was going to end…
And what an ending it was. Oysraa shows up on the scene, and almost immediately sets about using coercion and violence in an attempt to get what she wants. Saru is easily persuaded into engagement, using the thinly-veiled excuse that it isn’t the Federation who is engaging; it’s Book’s Millennium Falcon-esque ship. Oysraa, understandably, doesn’t care about Saru’s superficial reasoning—to her, the Federation has attacked—but the damage has been done. Detmer, with Ryn as a co-pilot, gets to show off her considerable piloting skills in an epic space assault that loses no points in my book for being heavily reminiscent of Star Wars. It’s been a pleasure to see Detmer’s character used more this season, and watching her go “full manual” is only one entertaining example.
And what does Oysraa want? Ryn, the Andorian refugee we met in “Scavengers,” whom we’re told again and again in this episode has unique value to The Emerald Chain. While the set-up and execution isn’t particularly elegant, perhaps it doesn’t need to be. The way in which Osyraa doesn’t bat a viridian eyelid before carpet-bombing Kwejian tells us viewers everything we need to know about The Emerald Chain’s dominance: they’re not used to being met with any resistance—or at least any resistance that stands a chance. This is why Ryn is so unique, Detmer spells out for us: he’s the only person to have ever stood up to Osyraa.
Again, it’s an effective but inelegant plot point. Not only is it hard to believe that no one else has ever stood up to The Emerald Chain, but it’s even harder to believe that Osyraa didn’t simply kill Ryn years ago. Once Discovery has earned Ryn’s respect for standing up to Osyraa, we discover that Ryn’s value lies in knowledge: he knows that The Emerald Chain is running out of dilithium. It’s a weird secret, honestly; resources, even for crime syndicates, involve supply chains and supply chains are made up of people. It seems unlikely that Ryn would be the only person who knows this deep, dark secret. But, like most plot elements in this episode, I am willing to go with it—one, because Discovery has earned itself a great deal of narrative goodwill this season and, two, because it sets up an interesting parallel between The Emerald Chain and the pre-Burn Federation.
This season has hinted multiple times that the mystery of what caused The Burn is probably related to the Federation’s desperation to either find new sources of dilithium or to find an alternate way of getting around. As we learned in “Unification III,” the Ni’Var had been convinced for more than a century that their own experimental alternate transport project led to the tragedy. While that theory has been discredited by Michael and the rest of the Discovery crew, it’s not hard to imagine that the Federation’s desperation to solve their dilithium problem didn’t lead to The Burn in some way. After all, The Burn happened because most dilithium in the galaxy went mysteriously inert, causing the detonation of every active warp core.
The Burn may have been a tragedy of epic proportions, but it was what followed that truly sent the universe into disarray. Without the Federation to keep the peace and stability of the universe, a power vacuum formed that allowed a force like The Emerald Chain to grow up in its place. In “The Sanctuary,” we finally get our first proper look at what seems to be the Season 3 Big Bad, and they’re just as power-hungry and ruthless as we’ve been told. Heck, Osyraa is introduced in a scene that sees her feeding her own nephew to a trance worm for being bad at his job. I’ve written before about how much I’ve enjoyed this slow-burn approach to introducing the Season 3 villain. Rather than giving us scenes of Osyraa being a jerk, the cruel dominance of The Emerald Chain has been built into the all-important worldbuilding of the season in subtle and consistent ways. Because of this, the actual introduction of Osyraa is a bit underwhelming. But it intrigues me that, in their first encounter with the Big Bad, the Discovery is so victorious. It makes me think things are going to get worse for them before they get better. This was all a little too easy.
Presumably, Osyraa will take retributory action against the Federation for the Discovery’s actions at Kwejian, which will make the easy choice Saru made here more complicated. In this moment, Saru understandably stepped up to protect the vulnerable people and creatures of Book’s homeworld, but will other vulnerable planets and populations be made to suffer because of it? Either way, I think Saru made the right choice here, but, narratively, I would like to see Osyraa strike back in some other way. Otherwise, The Emerald Chain is going to lose some serious cred as the season’s Big Bad, effectively lowering the stakes of the entire Season 3 plot, which has been so gloriously built thus far.
For now, the Discovery is safe and happy. Michael isn’t the rogue officer this time. Saru made the executive decision to disobey Vance’s direct orders, though you can tell he’s hoping to get away with it on a technicality. With five episodes left in the season, I hope the Discovery crew is enjoying this calm before what it sure to be a season-ending storm.
“Where I am from, the emperor’s personal physician was buried with them when they died.” Oh yeah, Georgiou might be dying? Luckily, Hugh “Oracle of the Mess Hall” Culber. It says a lot about how far Georgiou has become integrated into this crew that she is actually allowing him to look into whatever brain dysfunction is going on. It also tells us how terrified she is. (You can tell how scared Georgiou is by the number of aggressive quips she gets out per second. The more she threatens to poison your children, the more terrified, she is.)
“If I had time, I’d poison your children.” “If I had time, I’d have children.”
Book and Michael’s relationship continues to be a beacon of healthy TV romance.
“Carry on.” Are you into Saru’s catchphrase? I am.
The Discovery science team has found a source for The Burn, using the Ni’Var data. It started in a mysterious nebula, and seems to be connected to a distress beacon sent out by a loss Federation ship. The plot thickens!