Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the trailers for Season 4. Minor spoilers may also be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
As many folks had predicted, 2021’s New York Comic-Con saw a brand-new trailer for Star Trek: Discovery’s impending fourth season make its debut! The trailer was certainly jam-packed with action and plenty of teases, and gave us a tantalising glimpse of the “gravitational anomaly” that seems to be at the core of the main storyline. Though there will almost certainly be smaller sub-plots and one-off stories like last season, the trailer mostly focused on Captain Burnham and the crew’s attempts to tackle the unknown anomaly.
First of all, none of the theories that I posited a few months ago about the nature of the gravitational anomaly now seem to be anywhere close to plausible! I had a feeling that this would be the case; that Discovery would once again create something wholly new rather than rely on a phenomenon we’d seen in a past iteration of the franchise.
Captain Burnham was heard in the trailer telling her crew that the anomaly was unlike anything the galaxy had ever seen, and that once they “enter” it, they will be literally going “where no one has gone before.” I appreciated the callback to the line heard over the opening titles of The Original Series and The Next Generation – it’s a line which encapsulates Star Trek’s spirit of exploration with a side of adventure, and to me the use of that phrase represents Discovery staking its claim to be the successor of those exploration-focused shows.
Between what Burnham and Stamets had to say about the newness and unknown nature of the anomaly, we can seemingly rule out any connection to things like the Nexus, a graviton ellipse, and Tyken’s rift – as well as anything else we’ve seen before in Star Trek. That isn’t to say there categorically will not be any connection to other Star Trek stories, but that the anomaly itself will be something altogether new.
As mentioned, we got a couple of glimpses of what seems to be the anomaly itself. The first time we saw it it seemed to resemble a black hole within a black hole within a black hole… a kind of recursive black hole phenomenon. Discovery’s second season showed off a great recreation of a black hole (that was actually a Talosian illusion) and while the anomaly seen at the beginning of the trailer was different, especially in terms of colour, the design is comparable.
The second time we saw the anomaly in the trailer it looked very different, as though a “rip” or “tear” in the fabric of the universe, surrounded by glowing light but appearing as a dark smear. Unlike the black hole-inspired visual effect seen near the beginning of the trailer, this second look at the anomaly didn’t feature the same light-bending effect, nor was anything inside the anomaly visible.
Of the two depictions that seem to be of the anomaly – assuming that they are, in fact, both supposed to represent the phenomenon – the first black hole-esque look is, from purely an aesthetic standpoint, my favourite. It was more memorable and different, and the way the anomaly bent light around it seems more in line with its stated gravitational effects. The “dark smear” was fine – but it wasn’t particularly visually exciting, and could have represented any one of dozens of anomalies seen in past iterations of Star Trek.
There were some short sequences that could be taking place on the other side of the anomaly, depending on how we view things. There seemed to be glimpses of characters fighting with swords, a large explosion, a forest that looked a lot like Su’Kal’s holographic world, and a child in a forest that could all be taking place after the USS Discovery enters the anomaly. We’ve seen parallel universes and different dimensions in Star Trek on a number of occasions, and I wonder if this anomaly could be the gateway to a different dimension once again.
But that’s enough story speculation for now! We won’t know more about the gravitational anomaly until the season kicks off in just over a month’s time, so let’s take a look at some of the other imagery from the trailer to see what else we can discover.
Firstly, it looks as though Ni’Var – the new name for Vulcan since the reunification of Romulans and Vulcans – will indeed rejoin the Federation. A brief scene showed the Federation president – a character identified during the Comic-Con panel as a part-Cardassian, part-Bajoran, part-human character named Rillak – presenting the leader of Ni’Var with a folded Federation flag. This was something teased during the epilogue of Season 3, with Saru’s diplomatic initiatives seeming to bear fruit.
Speaking of Saru, after being unceremoniously shuffled out of the captain’s chair in that same epilogue sequence to make way for Michael Burnham, he was back in uniform in the new trailer. The first trailer only showed us a glimpse of Saru out of uniform, and there was confusion over the position he could have both aboard the ship and within the new story after taking a leave of absence and returning to Kaminar.
Saru’s role still isn’t clear – he seems to retain the rank of captain but hasn’t been restored to the captaincy of Discovery. He was also depicted wearing a different badge on his uniform alongside his combadge – I wonder if this might indicate a diplomatic role of some kind. Regardless, it’s great to see Saru back on the ship, and presumably he’ll be part of the crew. What role he will play in the ship’s command structure as an ex-captain is still not clear, though.
I couldn’t identify every single alien race seen in the trailer, but there were quite a few! At Federation HQ we saw an Orion woman not wearing a Starfleet uniform; she could be a representative of the Emerald Chain – or whatever remains of it. There seemed to be Tellarite crew members aboard Discovery, as at least one was present during an away mission. Also featured prominently at Federation HQ was a Ferengi Starfleet captain.
I liked the Ferengi design; it felt familiar enough to be obvious, while at the same time taking advantage of improvements in prosthetic makeup that have been made since the Ferengi debuted. There was more detail in this Ferengi’s face and ears than we ever saw in the likes of Quark and others. That isn’t to say the older makeup and prosthetics were bad, just that there have been advancements in the thirty-five years since the Ferengi were originally created! After Season 3 teased us with glimpses of Cardassians, Andorians, and Lurians who ultimately played no role in the story, I’m not getting my hopes up that this new Ferengi character will play a major part in the story of the season – but you never know!
The existence of President Rillak seems to conclusively rule out the idea that the mysterious Kovich is in charge of the Federation. This had been a rumour or theory that some fans seemed to be quite attached to last time, but I was convinced for much of Season 3 that Kovich is in fact the head of Section 31 – or perhaps Starfleet security. We saw Kovich very briefly in the trailer, and previous statements from David Cronenberg – the famed director who plays the character – had already confirmed that he will be back in some capacity in Season 4.
Tilly appears to have been promoted to lieutenant, at least based on the emblem she’s wearing on her collar in the trailer. Whether that will happen off-screen isn’t clear, but it would be kind of neat after her arc in Season 3 to see her rewarded with a promotion. Tilly was originally Burnham’s choice for first officer, but with Saru back perhaps he’ll fill that role? Either way, it seems that Tilly will be returning to the sciences division and not wearing the red uniform of the command division – something that was ham-fistedly digitally edited in the Season 3 finale!
Dr Gabrielle Burnham and the Qowat Milat are making a return as well, as we saw them involved in a couple of different scenes during the trailer. It wasn’t clear whether the scenes we saw were all taken from the same episode or not, so the Qowat Milat could be in more than one episode. It was great that Discovery found a way to connect with events from Picard Season 1 in this way, and I wonder if we’ll get any other callbacks to the events of Discovery’s sister show. Due to the pandemic and its associated disruptions, Picard Season 2 won’t arrive until after Discovery Season 4 – though the original plan was surely for things to be the other way around!
We got brief looks at Dr Culber, Adira, and Gray. Gray will supposedly be made visible this season after finally being seen by Dr Culber in the Season 3 finale. The short scenes featuring Adira and Gray in the trailer weren’t clear as to Gray’s visibility, and when Adira interacted with Tilly, Gray wasn’t present. But at the Comic-Con panel, Wilson Cruz teased that Gray will indeed become visible and that he may have a connection to the season’s main story in some way!
One of the most interesting shots from the teaser showed Michael Burnham pulling back a shroud over a reptilian-looking alien. This alien seems to be dead, but interestingly seemed to be noticeably larger than the humanoids we’re used to seeing in Star Trek. That could be a consequence of how this one scene was framed, but the idea of aliens – perhaps from inside the anomaly – being “more alien” in appearance is an interesting one in theory. I don’t believe we’ve seen this species before, though the dead alien’s reptilian-inspired look has superficial similarities to a few past Star Trek races.
There was a shot on a snowy planet that I was also taken by. I wonder if this might be a return to the Guardian of Forever’s new homeworld – the one seen in the two-part Season 3 episode Terra Firma. That’s just a gut feeling and it could be somewhere else entirely, but it would be interesting if Discovery didn’t just abandon the Guardian of Forever. If the crew are on a quest to understand a completely alien and unknown phenomenon, the Guardian could be a good place to start. Maybe it has encountered the anomaly before, or at least is aware of it and knows something about it?
Book and Grudge were back – thank goodness! David Ajala was such a wonderful addition to the cast, providing the Starfleet crew of Discovery with an outsider’s perspective while serving as a guide of sorts to the 32nd Century. And Grudge is beautiful, of course! Book’s ship also made a return. We caught a glimpse of Book in the Spore Cube – his telepathy allows him to serve as Discovery’s navigator alongside Stamets. This could be an interesting source of conflict; how will Stamets feel about someone else muscling in on his job? But at the same time the ability of Book to navigate the mycelial network opens up the Spore Drive’s potential. With multiple navigators available – perhaps millions of potential navigators if any Kweijian or anyone who’s telepathic can take on the role – the Spore Drive could finally be rolled out to other Starfleet vessels.
Whether that will actually happen in Season 4 or not is still an open question, but I think finding a way for the Spore Drive to be more than just a gimmick to be used occasionally by Discovery is a good direction for the series to take. With the show now set in the far future of the 32nd Century, it wouldn’t tread on anyone’s toes in terms of canon – and it would be a great way for Starfleet to mitigate the dilithium shortage and future-proof their fleet. I might write this one up as a full theory, so watch this space!
The visual effect of the crew lifted out of their seats by the anomaly’s gravitational effects is stunning. We’re not really used to seeing artificial gravity failures in Star Trek. Aside from The Undiscovered Country, I can’t really call to mind a time where the failure of a starship’s artificial gravity was a significant story element. Even when ships are badly battered and at the point of destruction, artificial gravity usually continues to function! If Discovery uses this effect sparingly I think it could be very impactful in Season 4.
We saw several members of the cast – and a number of unidentified characters – involved in hand-to-hand violence. Some of this looked utterly barbaric, not at all the kind of thing we’d expect from Starfleet officers. At one point the Qowat Milat even seemed to be engaging a Starfleet officer. I wonder if this is all connected to the anomaly – perhaps things on the other side are more violent, like they are in the Mirror Universe, for example? Or perhaps the anomaly has different effects on people, driving some to become violent? Either way, there seemed to be a lot of that on show in the trailer, and some sort of explanation is required!
Though present, Admiral Vance didn’t have much to say in the trailer. I’m glad he’s coming back, though, as he was a great character in Season 3 as someone who embodied the values of Starfleet. We saw several scenes set at Federation HQ, which was of course Admiral Vance’s home base in Season 3. HQ seemed to look at least a little busier in the trailer than it had in Season 3; this could be a visual representation of the growth of the Federation as it begins to bring back wayward members and expand its fleet. The inclusion of President Rillak may mean Admiral Vance has less to do; both characters seem to occupy a similar role as superiors to Captain Burnham.
Speaking of Captain Burnham and President Rillak, a scene appeared to show Discovery’s captain receiving a stern telling-off from the Federation president. My suspicion is that this is something that happens early in the season prior to the discovery of the anomaly. That’s definitely just a gut feeling, but something about this conversation seemed to suggest the stakes weren’t quite so high. Perhaps Burnham did something in an early mission to earn the president’s ire, but the grave threat of the anomaly will force them to work together despite their differences of opinion and leadership styles.
This sequence, out of everything we saw in the trailer, was my least-favourite. It felt like forced drama for the sake of forced drama, and the use of the word “bravery” when giving an officer a dressing-down was incredibly clumsy dialogue. It was a way to communicate to us as the audience that Burnham is brave and that she’s some kind of maverick who doesn’t always conform or do what authority figures tell her – but it just felt a little too forced. We know Burnham doesn’t always play by the rules having seen the way she operates over three seasons, and having a brand-new character dropped in to reinforce that point may not be the best use of the show’s time. I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve seen the full sequence in context, but in the trailer I didn’t like the way it came across.
So I think that’s all I have to say for now. Stay tuned because there are a couple of nascent theory ideas that I have based on the trailer, so it’s possible they could get the full write-up treatment in the days ahead. Discovery Season 4 is offering another “natural disaster” storyline after the Burn in Season 3, and that may not be to everyone’s taste. However, I confess to being genuinely curious to learn more about this anomaly. What is it? What danger does it really pose? Could it be a weapon rather than a natural occurrence? There are many, many questions running through my mind!
Whatever the ultimate cause of the anomaly, Season 4 looks like it’s on a good track. The trailer was action-packed and exciting, with ample interpersonal drama and an awful lot to unpack. I’ve tried to hit the main points here, but I’d encourage you to check out what other fans and publications have to say as they break down the trailer, as I’m sure there are points I missed or overlooked.
I’m really looking forward to Discovery Season 4 now, and with barely a month left there’s not long to wait. When the new season arrives I’ll be writing reviews of each episode and probably indulging in a spot of theory-crafting, just as I did during Season 3 last year. I hope you’ll stay tuned for that here on the website!
Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will debut on Paramount+ in the United States on the 18th of November 2021, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere a day later. Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Lower Decks, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
The first two episodes of this season of Star Trek: Discovery served as our introduction to the 32nd Century, and both were pretty good. They provided background to a setting very different from Star Trek’s past, which is largely due to an as-yet-unexplained event known as the Burn. Episode three, People of Earth, continued the world-building seen in the first two episodes of the season, but definitely took the story in a darker direction. It also marked what seems to be a significant change in the character of Michael Burnham, who, after having spent approximately one year in the 32nd Century before Saru and the rest of the crew arrived, has had to adapt to a different way of life.
People of Earth dropped a bombshell that I don’t think anyone was expecting, and by doing so made the already-bleak setting feel so much darker. The Burn, as we know, had a catastrophic impact on the Federation and the wider galaxy, but the idea that Earth, one of the founding members of the Federation, would have withdrawn and become insular was a shock, one that was unimaginable even knowing how bad things were for the galaxy. It’s certainly the biggest revelation of the season so far, and raises the question of just who remains part of the Federation if Earth itself – which was the home base of Starfleet and where the Federation’s government was situated – has withdrawn from the organisation.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves! One of the points of criticism I’d level at an otherwise-outstanding episode is that it wasn’t always made clear how much time had passed. In moments we go from Burnham’s arrival aboard the ship to making repairs to jumping to Earth, and the way the episode was put together makes it feel as though all of these events took place over the span of just a few hours. But that would mean that, for Saru and the crew, they haven’t had time to take a break since the battle against Control’s armada at the end of Season 2. Other events would seem to hint at some time having passed, but it was a little confused in that regard.
Lieutenant Detmer, who appeared to be gravely injured until the final seconds of last week’s episode, now appears physically recovered – though perhaps her psychological state is not so settled. If Discovery plans to go down a mental health route with her I think that could be interesting, but if that’s the case I have to say that I don’t feel it was set up very well at all last week, as she spent her scenes in that episode looking injured, concussed, or perhaps suffering some kind of implant malfunction. I don’t usually address other fan theories here on the website, but one I heard repeated several times over the last week or so has been that Detmer may have been infected by Control (in the way Ariam had been in Season 2). I don’t agree with that at all, simply because it seems as though Discovery is moving on with a new story and leaving Control behind. While we may get the occasional mention or reference to events from Season 2 (as we even did this week) a resurgence of Control is something I’m sure we can rule out as a story point.
Jonathan Frakes has directed some of my favourite Star Trek episodes – including episodes of Picard earlier in the year. And he was back for his first of two directorial outings this season. Overall I enjoyed People of Earth, not just for what it brought to the table in terms of the overarching story of the season, but for some of its character moments, particularly involving Burnham and Saru.
After the mandatory recap (which included that truly awful line from That Hope Is You about how dilithium “just went ‘boom'” that I’m still mad about), People of Earth begins with a reunion between Burnham and the rest of the crew. After last week’s revelation that she arrived over a year ago I was expecting it to mean more to her than to them, if that makes sense. As relieved as the crew must surely be to see Burnham, from their point of view they only saw her a few hours ago at most. She’s the one who’s spent so long apart from them, and Sonequa Martin-Green put in a wonderful performance that really showed how Burnham must be feeling in that moment.
In fact, everyone in this scene gave an outstanding performance. Mary Wiseman was on form as Tilly, Doug Jones – who has to act through heavy prosthetics and contact-lenses – managed to convey plenty of emotion, and I liked the way Burnham was greeted by Stamets; a less intense, but just as emotional, moment. The only people missing were Nhan and Dr Culber, who were absent for the entire episode. While he wouldn’t necessarily have had much to do in the rest of the episode as the story was focused elsewhere, it’s odd to me that Culber at least wasn’t present during this reunion scene. Is a separate reunion planned for Culber and Nhan next time?
Burnham runs the gamut of emotions, going from shock as she learns of Discovery’s arrival through to her appearing on the transporter pad to relief and being overcome with joy at the survival and reappearance of her friends. It was a touching scene, accompanied by a great musical score.
Saru and Burnham have a conversation in the corridor while making their way to the bridge, and we’ve learned that Burnham has – in her words – become a courier. How, exactly, she was able to manage that without access to a ship of her own or any supplies is left hanging, but later scenes strongly imply that what she should have said was that she became an assistant courier, working alongside Book. It’s still possible, because of the ambiguous wording, that we’ll learn in a future episode that Burnham spent some time working alone, but in a galaxy lacking in dilithium to power its starships, would anyone have hired Burnham and outfitted her with a ship? This is a complete tangent, but in a way this moment of what is really just awkward scripting kind of feels like Burnham exaggerating her own credentials. That’s something we might’ve expected from the Burnham of the Season 1 premiere, who was arrogant and seemed to revel in being told how special she was, not the Burnham we’ve come to know over the subsequent two seasons. However, it is also worth noting that Burnham has changed in her year in the 32nd Century, and perhaps this is part of it. Or, as I suggested, it was just an awkwardly-worded line in Burnham’s monologue.
Burnham tells Saru that working as a courier was the best way to find out what was going on with Starfleet and the Federation, though it seems that she hasn’t made very much progress beyond a single partly-corrupted recording that we’ll see in a moment. I’m pretty confident we’ll see some more of Book and Burnham’s escapades in later episodes, but I wonder how exactly she went about her search. Book, after all, has his own mission – saving the space-worms. And with dilithium the ultimate bargaining chip, was Book content to allow Burnham to trade dilithium for information, or to allow her desire to contact the Federation to dictate their travel schedule?
People of Earth is – quite deliberately – a story that conceals from us as the audience quite a lot of information. Unlike with things like the Burn, however, where nobody knows what happened, we’re in a situation where Burnham has this knowledge and experience that we don’t have; we didn’t follow along with her story over the last year of her life, and thus, in a way, it’s like we’re picking up Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 having not seen Season 3. We’re left wondering what happened to Burnham for all of that time, the passage of which was communicated through a single time-lapse sequence that lasted barely two minutes. When Book and Burnham talk about their adventures, as they do several times across the episode, we’re aware that we missed those events. Structuring a story in this way is a risk, and because Burnham can already feel like someone who is aloof and selfish sometimes, a story which gives her an advantage not only over the rest of Discovery’s crew but also over us as the audience could backfire and make her difficult to root for. We’ll have to see how it’s handled in subsequent episodes, but it’s definitely a concern.
Burnham promised Book some dilithium in exchange for taking her to Discovery – and to his credit, Saru immediately promises to honour the agreement she made. On the bridge, Burnham breaks the news to the crew about the Burn. We got a little more information here than we had in the past, so let’s cover that briefly. Firstly, she offers two possible explanations: an accident or a natural disaster. In my opinion, she’s missed out a very important third possibility: a weapon or an attack. When she says that it affected all the known galaxy’s supply of dilithium simultaneously, Stamets pipes up to say that nothing should be able to do that, at least not all at once. Finally, Burnham believes that the Burn killed “millions” of people. And while that is certainly a large number, in the context of galactic-scale civilisations and empires with potentially trillions of inhabitants, it doesn’t seem as bad as it could’ve been.
Finally, Burnham confirms a theory I’d been kicking around that Book (and, by extension, other couriers in this part of the galaxy) are too far away from Earth to know what’s going on. Burnham had never been able to get enough dilithium together for a trip, but of course Discovery’s spore drive means the trip can be made in an instant.
The spore drive has been part of Discovery since the first season, but the show’s place in the Star Trek timeline made it difficult to use effectively, as it not only allowed for instantaneous travel across tens of thousands of light-years, but also between parallel universes. It was an incredibly useful piece of technology, and one that would have had many applications in Star Trek stories set after Discovery, not least in Voyager, whose crew could have been back home in the Alpha Quadrant in time for dinner if they had access to it. It’s also perhaps the only realistic way for a ship as old as Discovery to be of any use in this time period. Perhaps what we’ll see later in the season is a widespread rollout of spore drives across Starfleet! But I’ll save such things for my theory post.
Saru (quite generously, in my opinion) offers to discuss with Burnham which of them should assume the captaincy of Discovery. However, I think we can all agree that there was only one choice – and that’s him. He takes the captain’s chair in a touching scene – but one that was slightly let down by his being out of uniform! Burnham can be a good officer, despite her mutiny in the series premiere. And she’s a character I can often get behind in terms of the stories Discovery has told, even if I’m not always sold on the way the show tries to put her at the centre of everything! But making her captain would not have been the right move, and I’m glad that the creative team behind the series recognise and appreciate that. Burnham is many things to Discovery, including its main protagonist, but I would never sit her in the captain’s chair.
After the opening titles we get a brief scene outside the ship showing repair work is ongoing. In addition to the “worker bee” shuttlepods, there were also some cute little robots that remind me very much of DOT – the robot protagonist of the Short Treks episode Ephraim and Dot. When we saw these robots in the opening titles last week I wondered what they were and how they’d make an appearance, and it seems as though they’re shipboard robots used for maintenance and repair – much like DOT.
Last week’s episode saw Tilly step up. And here, she’s once again the emotional core of the episode. We encounter her as she puts together a makeshift memorial wall – whether all of the crewmen and officers whose badges she places died during the trip to the future or if they’re simply those who remained behind in the 23rd Century is not clear. It seemed like a lot of people, though, and since the crash didn’t seem that bad I suspect it’s the latter. As Burnham approaches, Tilly speaks of her family and everyone else “left behind” who have now been dead for centuries.
With all of the excitement of arriving in a new century and a new environment, I appreciated the attempt to slow things down and remember those left behind. Tilly is a great character to initiate this, and we’ll see it again at the end of the episode. It would have been the perfect opportunity to talk about some characters we got to know across Seasons 1-2, like Tyler or Pike, but there will be time for more remembrances later, I suppose.
After Tilly notes that Burnham seems “lighter” after spending a year in the 32nd Century – which, if nothing else, means she’s changed – we get Book’s reintroduction after being absent last week. This is his first time aboard Discovery, and his introduction (after a transporter cycle that must be longer than he’s used to!) is with Georgiou, who gives him a short grilling as part of her Burnham obsession.
Book is paid in dilithium for transporting Burnham to the USS Discovery, and it seems like the ship isn’t going to run out of the rare mineral any time soon. Book expresses surprise at how much they have; ominously this will make Discovery a target for anyone seeking dilithium unless they can keep it hidden. The relationship between warp engines and other systems aboard starships has never been fully explained, but it may well be the case, as past Star Trek stories have hinted, that dilithium powers more than just warp engines. Discovery may be able to travel via the spore drive, but if all its dilithium were stolen the ship could lose all power.
Burnham then convinces Book to accompany Discovery to Earth, first with the suggestion of space-worms perhaps in need of help, then with the promise of a clean slate (presumably the Orions are still looking for him), and finally with an appeal to help her and Discovery conceal their supply of dilithium. Though I liked that Book wasn’t just willing to go along right off the bat, he didn’t take a lot of convincing!
Burnham and Saru talk in the ready-room – which still features the broken desk. Saru is initially unconvinced when Burnham suggests they place their dilithium aboard Book’s ship so it can be cloaked, and with several characters now noting changes in Burnham – something she acknowledges herself in this scene – I wonder if the story was trying to set up a “Burnham and Book want to steal the dilithium” fake-out. If that was the case I don’t think it worked; it never felt like a realistic possibility that either of them would steal from Discovery. However, there was certainly a sense that more was going on than what we were seeing, and Saru’s perceptiveness about Burnham and his unwillingness to trust her blindly are all good traits for a captain to have.
Saru continues by saying he had planned to offer Burnham the role of first officer – “Number One,” as he puts it, which was a nice touch in an episode directed by Jonathan Frakes! Burnham asks for more time, and I liked her speech in which she essentially admits it was hubris on the part of herself and the crew of Discovery to merely assume that the future they were heading to would be the way that they imagined: with an intact Federation. There’s a good point in there about how the future is always subject to change, and how it can be dangerous to make such assumptions. We saw this in a way last week with Tilly and Saru strolling into the bar proclaiming to be from Starfleet without realising how bad the 32nd Century was, and this moment with Burnham was an admission of that. I find myself agreeing with Saru, Tilly, and others than Burnham has changed – is it a change for the better?
Saru once again demonstrates his suitability for the captaincy as he talks about being responsible for everyone aboard Discovery. As a duo, I can absolutely see how Saru and Burnham could work well as a captain and first officer – provided Saru continues to show he has the strength of character to overrule her when she’s wrong. He’s been doing that since the Season 1 premiere, so he’s certainly capable of it.
Saru eventually agrees to allow the dilithium to be stored aboard Book’s ship. But he enforces conditions: the ship will be in Discovery’s shuttlebay, under guard, and Book himself will not be allowed aboard until after they reach Earth. Given he doesn’t know Book at all, all of these conditions seem perfectly sensible, and with Burnham’s agreement Book’s ship is brought aboard in a nicely-done CGI sequence.
On the bridge Burnham seems initially uncomfortable to be back at her post – but perhaps it’s less discomfort and more a sense of being overwhelmed? In either case, she snaps out of it as Book arrives on the bridge. Owosekun and Detmer exchange glances after checking him out, and that was cute. The ship is ready for the jump, and Saru politely orders Black Alert.
Having previously planned to travel to “outside of Earth’s scanning range,” Discovery arrives near Saturn. How short is Earth’s scanning range supposed to be, exactly? I know this is another nitpick, but even in Star Trek stories set in the 23rd Century it was possible for Starfleet on Earth to scan way out into the galaxy to detect, for example, the V’Ger cloud or the whale probe. The idea that 32nd Century Earth can’t scan as far as Saturn seems a little silly, but as a contrivance to allow Discovery to jump close to Earth – and, as we’ll see in a moment, to arrive near Saturn – I suppose we can let it slide!
It doesn’t take long for Discovery to travel from Saturn to Earth, and after the excitement of seeing Earth again, the mood quickly changes as the planet activates its defensive forcefields. Things get immediately worse, as Discovery is hailed by an organisation called the “United Earth Defence Force.” United Earth is a term used often in Star Trek; referring to a one-world government of Earth in the years before Star Trek: Enterprise. Saru doesn’t seem sure of what to do; Burnham shoots him an “I-told-you-so” type look, even though she didn’t know about Earth.
Saru offers the UEDF a cover story – Discovery was on a long-term mission and has managed to make it back to Earth at sub-light speeds. Captain Ndoye, the UEDF commander, seems unconvinced, however. She and her team of inspectors beam aboard Discovery – possibly beaming right through the ship’s shields. The 32nd Century transporters that we’ve seen are pretty cool. The almost-instantaneous beaming and the “pop” effect all work together to be visually interesting, yet at the same time feel like an evolution or progression from the transporter technology of the 23rd/24th Centuries.
As mentioned at the beginning, this was a real shock. We had been expecting Discovery and Burnham to travel to Earth to find the heart of the Federation; it’s capital. Instead we learn that Earth itself has withdrawn and is no longer a Federation member. Not only that, but as we’ll see with Wen, Earth appears to care little for any of its colonies within the Sol system. This is even more of an insular, nationalist move than we might have expected, and continues a trend in Discovery of criticising nationalism and isolationism as political concepts. Relevant, you may say, considering the big event taking place tomorrow!
Book and Burnham are able to slip away from the bridge while Saru and Ndoye have their conversation, leading Random Blonde Bridge Officer to step up to her console. RBBO – as she shall be known – looks vaguely familiar as she appeared in Season 2, though I can’t remember her name. Though she didn’t have any lines in this episode she seemed to be a constant presence, the camera lingering on her at several moments. Book and Burnham managed to successfully sneak away before Ndoye and her inspectors boarded the ship.
Ndoye is a no-nonsense “police officer,” which makes for a interesting character. I liked that she gave Saru no time to prepare for the inspection, beaming her staff directly to the bridge and to main engineering. This kind of character can make for a flat antagonist, but her motivations in the post-Burn environment were sufficiently fleshed out that everything she did – and the manner in which she conducted herself – felt natural.
After a short montage of the inspectors – including Adira, who we’ll come to in a moment – beaming aboard, Book and Burnham take a moment in her quarters to get changed into Starfleet uniforms. Burnham makes the valid point that they need to blend in with the inspectors aboard, and I don’t really get Book’s reluctance. He’s supposed to be a “do whatever’s necessary to survive” kind of post-apocalyptic character, and it makes obvious sense to get changed and blend in. Why wouldn’t he do so? Being a “badass” isn’t just about dressing up in a leather jacket, and it seems to me that a character like Book would be willing to do something as simple as dress up for the sake of not drawing attention or causing a problem.
It was touching to see Burnham get her uniform back, even if it is just part of a ruse. As she put her badge on, it was the culmination of a slow sequence accompanied by a great soundtrack. Book doesn’t look half bad in uniform either, though there was less emotion attached to his dressing up than there was for Burnham! Outside in the hallway, Burnham meets up with Georgiou and the two have a proper conversation for the first time. Georgiou is the third character to note a change in Burnham, suggesting she prefers the freedom of life outside of Starfleet and the lack of structure and rules that a chaotic 32nd Century offers. In this scene, for the first time since Mirror Georgiou came aboard back in Season 1, it felt like the dynamic between these two characters actually worked. Georgiou is teasing and tempting Burnham with “freedom” – but what she really means is “anarchy.” Georgiou wants a kindred spirit, and of all the Discovery crew, she sees the greatest chance for someone like that in Burnham. Much of her Burnham obsession can feel out of place, and I haven’t been shy on calling that out. But here, in this scene at least, her relationship with Burnham works.
Burnham is summoned to the ready-room again, where Saru and Ndoye are midway through a conversation. After explaining that, in the aftermath of the Burn, Earth turned inward for self-preservation, Ndoye drops the bombshell that it’s been over a century since Starfleet or the Federation were based on Earth; Earth has withdrawn from the Federation.
Saru and Burnham are, of course, shocked by this revelation, as they should be! Captain Ndoye also suggests that a majority of ships lost to the Burn were Federation, which is interesting as it may hint at the survival of other interstellar factions like the Romulans, Cardassians, or Klingons. Though in such a scenario, why those factions – and their faster-than-light technologies – would not be a greater presence in the galaxy is not clear. The Klingon homeworld is depicted as being less than 150 light-years from Earth, for example, so if their technology were Burn-proof… where are all the Klingons? This revelation feels like it should be a step towards understanding the Burn, but so far it’s raised more questions than it answered!
On the plus side, Captain Ndoye seems convinced that Saru, Burnham, and Discovery are not out to steal from Earth, which does see a temporary drop in the tensions between them. At the very least we can now say that Ndoye is not an antagonist – though I was still concerned about the inspectors potentially discovering the ship’s supply of dilithium. However, she isn’t finished dropping bombshells! The Admiral Burnham hoped to meet – whose transmission she picked up – is dead.
In main engineering, Stamets and Tilly are annoyed by the arrival of the inspectors – including Adira. Adira goes on to look over the spore drive equipment, but before they can get too far, their inspector boss tells them that their job is to “inspect, not engage.” It seemed to me that Adira was inspecting just fine, but I suppose all the inspectors are really looking for is dilithium; the ancient tech and mushroom spores are of limited interest to them if they have such a narrow remit.
Though Stamets is initially hostile to Adira, he will soon warm up to them. Adira’s introduction was great. They come across as over-zealous in their inspection duties, but not in a manner that would make us – or their colleagues – suspicious, and they aren’t as standoffish or openly aggressive as any of the other inspectors. Despite Stamets’ initial reaction, Adira is presented sympathetically.
Much was made in pre-release commentary of Adira as Star Trek’s first non-binary character, and they’re played by non-binary actor Blu del Barrio. So it was a great surprise to me to see Adira referred to as “she” and “her” throughout People of Earth. Is this mis-gendering? Kind of yes, but at the same time I suspect it’s being set up so Adira can have a coming-out moment in a future episode, perhaps explaining in more detail their non-binary nature and pronoun preference in a way that – for whatever reason – was considered not possible to accommodate in this episode. However, as someone who follows Star Trek news it was odd and even slightly uncomfortable to see Adira mis-gendered for the whole episode. Blu del Barrio, along with fellow Season 3 star Ian Alexander, who will be Star Trek’s first trans character, even hit the mainstream press for their roles in the run-up to the season, so something definitely felt off. If they’re saving it for a later episode, perhaps after Adira becomes more comfortable with the crew, I suppose that could work. But in the future Star Trek depicts, would coming out as non-binary be a big deal, or would folks in the 23rd or 32nd Centuries just accept right off the bat? I’d like to think we’re moving in that direction now, let alone in a thousand years. But as I’ve said several times across these opening three episodes, I’m willing to wait and see what Discovery has in store.
On the bridge, Discovery has detected several ships inbound. These are Wen’s vessels, the raider Captain Ndoye feared. Panicking, she attempts to withdraw to Earth, telling Saru that Discovery’s request to visit has been denied. However, something is preventing the inspectors from transporting. This was a great setup, as it forced Ndoye and Saru to work together, butting heads initially. Ndoye tells Saru to take his fight with Wen away from Earth, or risk starting a war. Is it fair to call a planet versus a handful of ships a “war?” We will subsequently learn Wen’s origin and that he’s from a larger group of people, but everything about the way he is introduced here suggests he and his ships are a small collective of pirates. If it’s so easy for Earth to “shoot them out of the sky,” why have they not done so already? I know… I’m nitpicking again!
We get another Book-Burnham moment that feels like we skipped something much more interesting. Burnham tells Book she has a plan to fight Wen, referencing a mission or adventure they had on Donatu VII. Donatu V was mentioned in The Original Series and is supposedly near to Deep Space K-7 (where Mudd sold the crew Tribbles). Whether these two planets are related is unclear; if they are it would suggest Book and Burnham have been relatively close to Earth/Federation space in the past year. I still don’t really like this sense of having missed so many of Burnham’s adventures, and I hope we’ll see more of them in future episodes.
I liked Book saying that he’ll accompany Burnham because he’s worried about Grudge (his cat). And in line with the changes to Burnham everyone is picking up on, she doesn’t tell Saru or anyone else what her plan is. She says she’ll apologise after instead of asking for permission. And I’m not sure how well this kind of change works. It took Burnham a long time to recover from her stupidly bad decision to mutiny in the Season 1 premiere, not just within the show but to us as the audience as a relatable and likeable protagonist. Sending her down a route of “I know best, I’m so smart, I don’t need to follow the chain of command” could, if not executed perfectly, end up feeling like a character regression, and worse, one that amplifies and exaggerates Burnham’s worst traits. Change is good, and giving her an arc and development and adapting to a very different environment are all potentially good things for her character. But I’m not sure that a whole season of “Burnham the renegade” is going to work.
Stamets and Tilly figure out the cause of the inspectors’ transporter malfunction – it was Adira who sabotaged them. The camera work in this scene was neat, circling around the pair as they went through Adira’s actions and motivations, figuring out how smart they are and how they’re several steps ahead of them.
Meanwhile Burnham and Book have taken off in Book’s ship, flying straight at the raiders with all of Discovery’s dilithium. It was obvious that Burnham was up to something; she was neither planning to bribe the raiders with dilithium nor steal the supply for herself and Book. However, her actions catch Saru completely off-guard, and for the first time this season he seems overwhelmed by being in command and unsure of his next move, at least for a moment.
Georgiou immediately realises Burnham’s plan; like her, she can think outside of Starfleet regulations. Saru can’t, and in a way that’s something Burnham is counting on as part of her plan. We get a neat scene aboard Book’s ship with Grudge, and it’s clear from a story he tells about how upset he was when she wouldn’t look at him how much he loves her. He even looks at her with affection while talking to Burnham – in the middle of a very complicated and dangerous mission! As a cat owner myself I can appreciate that, and I think we see the real genius of giving Book a cat as his dependent; it humanises him.
Wen hails them, and Burnham offers Discovery’s dilithium. Meanwhile Captain Ndoye has ordered her colleagues in the UEDF to fire on Book’s ship. Georgiou tells Saru that he has only one option if he wants to protect Burnham and the dilithium, but Saru hits back. “Starfleet does not fire first!” he proclaims angrily, and this line is more than just an “optimistic future” Star Trek expression. It stands in direct contradiction to Burnham’s actions in the season premiere. Is this Discovery making up for past mistakes? It certainly feels like it. Doug Jones delivers the line pitch-perfectly, and if there were doubts about Saru’s ability to command moments ago, they evaporate in this moment.
At Saru’s command, Discovery is positioned between Earth’s defence platforms and Book’s ship, despite Detmer’s objections and the general chaotic nature of the bridge. As mentioned, it seems like the writers are trying to go for some kind of mental health/post-traumatic stress story with Detmer, and this was another example of it. To Discovery’s credit, for a 930-year-old ship she takes two quantum torpedoes like a champ.
It was a nice callback to The Next Generation films/Deep Space Nine to use quantum torpedoes, but in a way it would have been just as interesting to learn that there are different and more advanced weapons in the future. Discovery takes damage, including losing shields, but there are no major hull breaches as far as I could see, and I don’t think anyone will have lost their lives in this attack.
On Book’s ship, the pair warn Wen that Discovery can’t survive another hit, meaning the next shots from Earth will come for him. He agrees to lower shields to receive the dilithium. Burnham and Book work very well together, and the console aboard his ship is neat. Presumably made from the same kind of tech as the reprogrammable matter we saw last week, it has a sleek, futuristic look that’s very different from anything we’ve really seen in Star Trek before. At the same time, though, the console shape and the viewscreen give the bridge area of Book’s ship enough familiarity as to not seem entirely alien; it could be seen as an evolution of past Star Trek vessels. Oh, and I adore how nonchalant Grudge is as she just sits on the bridge console. What a beautiful cat!
The chaos on Discovery’s bridge continues for a moment, with Saru, Ndoye, Georgiou, and Detmer all arguing about what to do next. Suddenly the raiders power down their weapons, and Burnham enters the bridge – having somehow bypassed the transporter interference! She has her prize: Wen, the raider leader, having captured him when he lowered his shields.
After some initial arguing between Wen and Ndoye, it’s revealed that Wen is not an alien but is in fact a human wearing an elaborate costume/mask. Appropriate, perhaps, for an episode that aired so close to Halloween! But again, where are Earth’s sensors? Or Discovery’s for that matter? Nobody thought to scan Wen’s ship or Wen himself to find out what species he is? I know it’s a bit of a nitpick again, but this is someone that has supposedly been bothering Earth for months if not years, and they never bothered to take a proper scan of him, his ships, or anyone else? It starts to strain credulity when we know how detailed Starfleet sensor scans could be even in the 23rd Century.
It turns out that Wen is from Titan, which is one of Saturn’s moons. The human colony there is suffering after losing one of their habitats and much of their food production to an accident some years previously, and that’s why he turned to raiding. The revelation shocks Discovery’s officers, but also takes Captain Ndoye by surprise, as she assumed Titan was fine and self-sufficient just like Earth.
In true Starfleet fashion, Saru and Burnham manage to be peacemakers, bridging the gap between Ndoye and Wen, who agree to work together to assist one another. In this moment we see the beginnings of a restoration of the Federation, which I know sounds like a big claim! But Earth has, according to Ndoye, stood independently for over a century. This is the first time they’re willing to reach out and work with another group on another world, and even though it’s baby steps compared to what the Federation was, it’s something – a step in the right direction. If Saru and Burnham can achieve this, there’s hope to achieve further dialogue and reconciliation with other Federation worlds and ex-members.
Stamets has managed to track down Adira, who is in one of the jeffries’ tubes. They admit to the sabotage when Stamets reveals what he knows, but want to know more about the spore drive. Stamets is happy to oblige, of course, and explains how the spore drive can be used for faster-than-light travel between two points using the mycelial network.
Stamets also reveals that he and the ship are from the past – did he get permission for that from Saru? Luckily it doesn’t matter; Adira isn’t about to get them in trouble. They sabotaged the transporters to spend more time aboard the ship, looking for traces of Starfleet and the Federation. The music used for this sequence with Adira and Stamets was really cute, a light-hearted, sweet little tune that I hope we hear more of in future stories. It suits Adira very well.
Adira, as it turns out, is Admiral Tal, at least partially. Tal was a Trill, and Adira is the new host of the symbiont. We’d seen in The Next Generation that it was possible for a human – Riker, in that case – to serve as host to a Trill symbiont, and apparently that’s what happened to Adira. Captain Ndoye agrees to allow Adira to remain aboard Discovery as they search for the remnants of the Federation and Starfleet, and resolves her argument with Saru.
Burnham and Saru have another heart-to-heart following Burnham’s escapades with Book and the dilithium. Despite what she did, Saru is still content to offer her the first officer’s position. The line that “trust must remain an assumption between us” was very clever, and again Doug Jones is just wonderful in his delivery, rebuking Burnham but doing so in such a calm manner. He sounds not angry but disappointed, to use that old cliché. As they stand over Georgiou’s telescope in the ready-room, Burnham accepts the position.
Book prepares to depart Discovery, paid a handsome reward in dilithium no doubt. He will remain in the vicinity of Earth, at least for now, and presumably plans to continue his mission to save the space-worms that we saw in That Hope Is You. We certainly haven’t seen the last of him – David Ajala is set to be a main character this season – so it isn’t clear what will happen next for Book, or how we’ll see him reunited with Discovery. However, I’m sure it will be done in a relevant way that advances the story!
In the episode’s closing scenes, Tilly, Detmer, Owosekun, Bryce, Rhys, and RBBO have beamed down to Earth. They visit what used to be Starfleet Academy, and share a moment. A large tree in the Academy grounds – which we saw in The Next Generation – is still standing after all this time, an they appreciate that it represents a connection to the world – and the people – that they left behind.
So that was People of Earth. An interesting episode that doesn’t really answer a lot of questions, but certainly does a lot to build up the 32nd Century setting. We also got the second story of Saru and Discovery lending a helping hand and resolving a conflict; following Starfleet’s principles even when Starfleet itself is absent – just like a certain Captain Janeway once did in Star Trek: Voyager.
It was a good episode that took the story of Season 3 to unexpected yet genuinely fascinating places, and I had a good time with it. There were some minor points I could nitpick, but none that really overwhelmed or significantly harmed the story the episode wanted to tell. For an episode directed by Jonathan Frakes I think there were three references to Riker: Adira being a human host for a Trill symbiont, as Riker had been in The Host from Season 4 of The Next Generation, Saru and Burnham using the phrase “Number One,” which was Picard’s nickname for his first officer, and the most obscure one, perhaps, was that Wen was from the moon Titan, the namesake of the ship Riker commanded after leaving the Enterprise-E. The USS Titan recently appeared in Star Trek: Lower Decks, so this was an oblique reference to that show as well.
The timing of the Burn is still unclear; Burnham’s line that it was “700 years” after Discovery’s 23rd Century setting seems to place it earlier than Book’s original timeline, perhaps meaning the Burn took place 200 years before Discovery arrived. This would put it somewhere in the second half of the 30th Century, not the 31st. As we still know so little about the event, other than it rendered most dilithium inert and destroyed many ships that were at warp, the timing is less important right now. However, sooner or later the show will have to pin down a timeframe for the Burn, as well as begin to unravel the mystery of its cause.
I didn’t like what feels like a mis-gendering of Adira, even if that’s setting up something for another episode. With all of the attention paid to Blu del Barrio and the character before the season debuted it just felt uncomfortable, and I hope it’s quickly explained and resolved.
Saru’s line that “Starfleet does not fire first” was cathartic, in a way. It overwrites Burnham’s dumb motivation for her mutiny in the Season 1 premiere, and emphasises that Starfleet has a true moral core; even if this era’s Starfleet is absent, Saru is carrying the flag for Starfleet and its values – alone, perhaps, if Burnham continues to do her own thing. It was also great to see a brief glimpse of Earth underneath its forcefields right at the end. Whatever the Burn was, and despite Earth’s isolationist policies in the decades since, it’s still a paradise, and about as far from “post-apocalyptic” as it’s possible to get!
I’m looking forward to seeing what the next episode, Forget Me Not, will bring. Stay tuned for my updated theories, which I hope to get published before Thursday.
Star Trek: Discovery is available to watch now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, including the latest episode. There are also spoilers for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1, and other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
1998 was a pretty good year. Japan hosted the Winter Olympics, Windows 98 gave the world’s computers a major upgrade, and Billie Piper (later of Doctor Who fame) released Because We Want To, her debut single, which went straight to number one in the charts. Catchy stuff. It’s also the most recent year in which three different Star Trek productions all debuted. We got the film Star Trek: Insurrection, the seventh season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and the fifth season of Star Trek: Voyager. It seemed in those days that the franchise was an unstoppable juggernaut! It’s taken over two decades for there to once again be three productions in one year, but here we are. Despite everything going on in the world we’ve had Star Trek: Picard’s first season, Star Trek: Lower Decks’ first season, and now finally the third season of Star Trek: Discovery!
Oh boy it’s been a long wait! Season 2 wrapped up in April 2019, meaning we’ve had to stay on the edge of our seats wondering what will become of Burnham, Saru, and the rest of the crew for eighteen months! If you missed it, I’ve written a summary of the story so far, up to the end of Season 2. I think that serves as a decent recap of the adventures of the ship and crew over the first two seasons, and if it’s been a while since you last saw Discovery it could be worth a read to get back up to speed. You can find that article by clicking or tapping here.
After the abject failure of ViacomCBS to secure an international broadcast for Lower Decks, I confess being a little concerned that Discovery would have similar issues. With Paramount+ – Star Trek’s new digital home – supposedly being rolled out internationally in 2021, I could quite understand Netflix saying they didn’t want to broadcast a show that will soon be taken down and made available on a competing service. Luckily, however, Netflix is content to broadcast Discovery here in the UK – and in 187 other countries and territories too! The episodes are broadcast on Netflix a day after their CBS All Access premiere, and since that’s the version I have access to, it means I’ll be 24 hours behind the curve when it comes to writing my reviews this season. Sorry, but there’s nothing I can do about that!
Without further ado, let’s jump into the season premiere. That Hope Is You was decent. It wasn’t Discovery’s finest, but it was far and away not the worst episode! Like the premiere of Star Trek: Picard earlier in the year, That Hope Is You builds up slowly and lays a foundation on which the story of the season can build. There was one especially bad line of dialogue, but other than that no colossal negatives to drag it down. The episode focused exclusively on two characters – Burnham and new character Book. This idea of slowly introducing characters instead of dumping them all in at once worked well in Picard, and I’m sure will work here too based on what we saw this week.
After the mandatory recap of last season’s story, we get a slow opening to the new season depicting the Federation official from the Season 3 trailers as he goes about his routine. I loved the holo-bird alarm clock, and the way the furniture in his room rearranges itself. Though other parts of the episode would struggle, at points, to show technology that looked suitably futuristic, much of what we saw in Mr Sahil’s quarters and at his workplace did seem well-suited to the 32nd Century.
This sequence set up, for folks who hadn’t seen either of the trailers and had avoided online speculation, the entire premise of the season. It communicated to us as the audience – entirely wordlessly – that the Federation exists in a vastly weakened state. But it also showed, thanks to Mr Sahil himself, that some people were still hard at work, even if things looked bleak and they weren’t able to find what they’re looking for. I actually inferred from the moment where Mr Sahil begins scanning that he was deliberately looking for Burnham and/or the USS Discovery – that somehow he had been forewarned of their arrival. Luckily this wasn’t the case, as I think that would have complicated the plot significantly.
Burnham’s arrival in the future was not smooth. Through what can only be described as colossal bad luck, given the absolute vastness of space, she exits the time-wormhole and immediately crashes into a ship piloted by new character Booker, who had been in a dogfight against a character who I believe is a Yridian (a race first seen in The Next Generation sixth season two-parter Birthright). Both Burnham and Book crash-land on a nearby planet.
After the sequence in space the action jumps to the planet’s surface, and begins with a (slightly cliché) animated moment featuring two bugs. The animation and CGI work in Discovery has always been fantastic, and these two critters, while clearly alien, managed to look very real. Burnham then disrupts the peace of the planet’s surface by crash-landing, and while the sequence showing her struggling to reboot the damaged suit was certainly tense, as the audience we expected her to survive her fall from space. And she did.
After struggling to her feet, Burnham removes the Red Angel suit. The suit’s on-board computer confirms that there are life-signs on the planet she crashed on, resulting in an outpouring of emotion. In the trailer I was a little sceptical of this scene and Burnham’s screaming reaction, but after seeing it in context I’m happy to say that it worked. Burnham is elated that her mission to save lives worked, and it shows.
With the wormhole about to close – despite the USS Discovery nowhere in sight – Burnham programs the suit to send the final “red burst” to confirm to Pike, Spock, and everyone left behind that they made it. She also tells the suit to self-destruct (though why she did that wasn’t completely clear). The suit, apparently undamaged by its fall through the atmosphere, launches back into space just as the time-wormhole is closing, stranding Burnham on the surface of what we assume to be Terralysium.
Terralysium, by the way, was the planet first encountered in the Season 2 episode New Eden, and was apparently the “anchor” point of Dr Gabrielle Burnham, Michael’s mother, when her own Red Angel suit malfunctioned. In the finale of Season 2, Burnham deliberately chose Terralysium as her destination for that reason. The year she arrived is confirmed to be 3188 – though why the suit chose to use the Gregorian calendar instead of stardates is unclear. Perhaps that was to make it easier for us as the audience to understand? It does seem a little odd, though.
Now all alone in the future, and with no indication of where she is or where to go, Burnham grabs her emergency kit. Inside we see a communicator, tricorder, phaser pistol, and a couple of miscellaneous items that Burnham identifies as ration packs. A nearby hill is smoking from what appears to be the crash-landing of the ship Burnham slammed into when she exited the wormhole, and with no other landmarks on the semi-barren world she sets off.
Here’s one thing Discovery has in its favour over Picard: filming locations. Picard was filmed in Los Angeles and the surrounding area, and if you recall what I said during Season 1… it showed. Every location that the crew of La Sirena visited was a barely-disguised California, and as the season wore on my enjoyment of those settings wore out. Discovery, by contrast, is filmed in Canada. As such many of its filming locations are either wholly new to Star Trek or have only been seen once or twice before, giving its worlds a much less familiar feel. Something as abstract as the filming location can be hard to put your finger on when caught up in watching an interesting and engaging narrative, but in Picard, the obviously-California setting began to get in the way. Here we get something new and fresh, and I appreciate that.
After a montage, Burnham makes it to the crashed ship and is set upon by its pilot. This fight scene dragged a little, at least for me. Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent so long in past months poring over the trailers, but because I knew Burnham and Book were going to end up working together I just thought to myself “c’mon, let’s get this over with and move to the next part of the story!”
We also got the title sequence in between Burnham’s trek and the fight scene, and it’s worth noting some of the imagery from it. The main one that I noticed was the Starfleet badge. It transitions from the Discovery–Original Series style that we’ve been familiar with to an altogether different one that’s still based on the familiar Starfleet emblem, but is clearly quite different. Its oval outer shape reminded me at least a little of the Bajoran badges used by Major Kira, Odo, and others in Deep Space Nine, and perhaps we could suggest that the fact that the logo is split into a couple of pieces is somehow a metaphor for the divided Federation. Too far? Maybe!
The titles also showed off Book’s ship, which sports a design unlike anything we’ve really seen before, being almost wedge-shaped. The phaser pistols also transition from the style we’ve seen in Discovery (and obviously based on The Original Series) to a new style which reminded me at least a little of The Next Generation-era Klingon disruptors. The title music has remained the same (and after the enjoyment of Lower Decks’ theme feels a bit of a downgrade!) and of course we have the new font used for the main titles.
Book brings Burnham aboard his ship after she gives him a speech about needing to trust someone. The damage to his ship appears minimal, but he mentions that he needs to get more dilithium in order to complete his courier run. I liked the name-drop of both slipstream technology (seen in Voyager) and the tachyon solar sails (seen on an ancient Bajoran ship Sisko recreated in Deep Space Nine). We’re also introduced to Grudge – Book’s cat. What a majestic cat she is, too!
After establishing that they could trade Burnham’s “antique” tricorder for some dilithium at a nearby settlement, Book and Burnham set off. And it’s during their journey to the trading post that Burnham learns what we’ve all known since the trailers – the Federation is gone. Book tells her of the Burn, an event that occurred over a century earlier. Somehow this event destroyed much of the dilithium in the known galaxy. And let’s be honest for a second: Book’s line explaining it was atrocious. Truly terrible writing. “Dilithum… One day, most of it just went ‘boom'” has to be a contender for one of the worst-written lines in Star Trek. Ever. It just felt completely unnatural, like Book wasn’t speaking but reading a script. And that’s no criticism of actor David Ajala, who put in an astonishingly good performance across the whole episode. It’s purely the writing.
I get that the writers want to keep the events of the Burn mysterious. Indeed, part of the story of the season is going to be unravelling this event, figuring out what it was, what happened, and perhaps finding a way to undo it or prevent a reoccurrence. But there had to have been a better way to explain it that to say “it just went ‘boom.'” I’m astounded at how bad that line is, and honestly it detracts from the entire episode.
However, we do have the beginnings of an explanation for the Burn and the Federation’s collapse. The Burn, somehow, has destroyed dilithium across the known galaxy, seemingly explosively. It also sounds as though this happened near-simultaneously. Curiously, Book is aware of the Federation’s response to the Burn, which was to tell the peoples of the galaxy that they didn’t know what happened and couldn’t guarantee it wouldn’t happen again. I’m inferring a lot here, and we will deal with this in a day or two when I write up my theories and predictions, but it sounds as though the poor response from the Federation is as much of a reason for its collapse as the Burn itself. Perhaps people were dissatisfied with the response, and star systems began withdrawing or seceding until there were very few left. Book’s next line that the Federation had collapsed “I guess,” strongly hints that he’s never encountered Starfleet or any official Federation representative.
The settlement Book and Burnham visited in the aftermath of this conversation reminded me of Freecloud, the planet visited by the crew of La Sirena in Picard. Though this place was perhaps a little more run-down, both have that “dystopian futuristic city” vibe that we often get in modern science fiction. I did like the design of part of the settlement, with large rotating rings seeming to orbit a walkway as Book and Burnham entered.
The Andorians are an interesting race in Star Trek. Though they appeared in The Original Series, and were heralded as one of the founding members of the Federation, they were almost entirely absent during The Next Generation era. It was only in Enterprise that we got to spend any real time with Andorian characters, and though they have made background appearances in modern Star Trek, the scene we got with Book and Bunham at the entry to the trading post is the first to prominently feature an Andorian in years. I’m a big supporter of bringing back classic races and factions, and this time is was done exceptionally well as the grouchy Andorian guard has to be persuaded to let Burnham inside the trading post.
After strolling through the trading post, Book and Burnham make a trade – he directs her where to go to try to contact Discovery, and in exchange she gives him her tricorder, which now has value as an example of very old technology! However, it soon emerges that Book has not been true to his word, and has instead sent Burnham into a restricted area (described as a “vault”) where she is immediately captured. Book steals her emergency kit and leaves. As a surprise twist, I think this worked quite well. I’m sure a lot of viewers will claim to have seen it coming – Book’s nature had been well-established by this point as someone untrustworthy. Even so, the suddenness with which Burnham was trapped and then robbed made the moment work very well.
The story splits in two at this point, following both Burnham as she’s drugged and interrogated by two of the trading post’s security guards, as well as Book in his attempts to pawn Burnham’s gear. Whatever drug was given to Burnham clearly has a major effect on her, as she begins blabbing about everything that’s happened to her over the last few days – remember, of course, that this episode is set immediately after the Season 2 finale (though walking from the ship to the trading post clearly took time).
As a sequence depicting Burnham under the influence of this “truth serum,” I think it worked overall. However, its success depends much more on the camera work and effects used to represent the impact of the drug rather than on Sonequa Martin-Green’s performance. For all my earlier criticism of Burnham as a character, especially in Discovery’s premiere, Martin-Green has always done a standout job in the role. Here, though, I have to say the performance was a little unconvincing. The sequence worked as a whole, but was salvaged thanks to the way it was filmed and edited.
Book has no luck selling Burnham’s emergency kit, despite the fact that someone higher-up at the trading post saw the gear and let Burnham in. This is a minor inconsistency, as it initially appeared that the now-antique kit would have value, yet the way the traders behave (at least towards Book) indicates that it doesn’t.
After the drug causes Burnham to tell the guards about Book they take her out of her cell and back onto the main floor of the trading post to point him out. Meanwhile Book has been accosted by the Yridian he was battling in space – Cosmo. Cosmo is looking for his cargo that he claims Book stole when Burnham and her guards arrive. Cosmo is a tad one-dimensional as villains go, but his threat to hurt Grudge the cat definitely spurred me on to support Book all the more!
After being surrounded by the facility’s guards, Book and Burnham team up to fight them off in what was a very exciting sequence. I stand by what I said during my look at the trailers – the weapons used by the people of the 32nd Century don’t appear to be particularly advanced compared to the 24th or 23rd. Partly that’s a result of the Burn and the impact on galactic events. But at the same time, the Burn is something a long way in the past, and something which doesn’t appear to have been quite as devastating as feared. While the 32nd Century is definitely different to how we as the audience (and Burnham) may have expected, it isn’t exactly fair to call it “post-apocalyptic.” There is still technology, and there is still a functioning society, even though that society isn’t the Federation. So my point about technology is valid, and this is an issue any science fiction franchise can fall victim to. How do you make technology feel suitably advanced?
During their fight against the security team, Burnham was able to grab a number of fragments of dilithium crystal – hopefully enough to power Book’s warp drive. The duo then go through a prolonged escape-fight, escape-fight sequence using Book’s portable transporter. The third time of escaping they transport inside a body of water, where apparently they can’t be tracked. It’s here that we finally get a break from the constant battling, long enough to slow the episode back down and to allow Book and Burnham to have another conversation.
Book has figured out that Burnham is a “time-traveller,” despite time travel in the 32nd Century having been prohibited. I’m not 100% convinced on that point – and I wonder whether we’ll see the remainder of Starfleet abide by that ban later in the season. However, it was interesting and contained an oblique reference to Enterprise when Book mentioned the “temporal wars.”
We also see a mysterious side to Book. Not only does he offer up a prayer in some alien language, but doing so leads to some kind of glowing marks on his face. My bet is that these are technological rather than biological (they looked similar in colour to his holographic interface) but exactly what the prayer means and what Book’s true nature is is unclear at this point. His prayer allowed him to pull from the water some kind of plant which contained a healing serum for a wound to Burnham’s arm. How all of this works, and whether Book has some kind of cybernetics or other augmentations is a mystery.
After returning to Book’s ship, the duo are once again set upon by Cosmo and the trading post’s guards. The guards execute Cosmo for losing his cargo, then plan to do the same to Book and Burnham. As we’ve now seen several Orions amongst this group, I wonder if the operators of the trading post – and thus at least one of Book’s employers – is the Orion Syndicate. The Orion Syndicate first appeared in The Original Series and was referenced a few times in both Deep Space Nine and Enterprise. In the 22nd-24th Centuries it was an underground criminal group, kind of analogous to the Mafia or similar gangs today. It’s possible that, in the power vacuum caused by the Burn and the collapse of the Federation, the Orion Syndicate is now out in the open.
Rather than simply shoot Book and Burnham, the group insist on seeing Book’s cargo. The guards had become interested in it when Burnham mentioned it was temperature-sensitive, and upon opening the hold of his ship the cargo is revealed: a giant worm-like creature that looked kind of like a cross between a puppy and Jabba the Hutt! The space-worm makes short work of the assembled guards, eating one and forcing the others to flee. Book is able to calm it – apparently it’s another of his pets – but not before it can eat Burnham!
Okay, “eat” is a strong word. It picks her up with its mouth before Book convinces it to spit her out. But considering it had just chopped an Andorian in half with its mouth, I’d say Burnham got lucky! This is the second Star Trek season premiere this year which involved a main character being chewed on by a large alien creature! Ensign Boimler was similarly picked up and chewed by a large critter in Lower Decks’premiere episode, Second Contact. I wonder if that’s purely a coincidence or if it was planned that way?
Back aboard Book’s ship, and the true purpose of his mission is revealed. The space-worms are an endangered species, and Book – along with a collective of others – is rescuing them and relocating them to sanctuary worlds. I had theorised only a few days ago that the Burn might have caused warp drive to not function. Though the loss of much of the galaxy’s dilithium has certainly limited warp drive, as we see from Book’s ship that theory was incorrect. Our first debunking of the season!
After releasing the space-worm at the sanctuary, Book takes Burnham to a “waypoint” that couriers like him use – a damaged Federation relay station. This is the facility operated by Mr Sahil, who we saw at the beginning of the episode. Though the performance was great from guest star Adil Hussain, I can’t help but feel that Sahil is an underdeveloped character. We’re told that he, like his father and grandfather, mans the relay station because he believes in what the Federation used to stand for. Yet he’s been there for his entire life (or so it seems) without any contact from anyone else in the Federation. There are very few people who would have that kind of semi-religious dedication to a long-dead cause, and while on the one hand Sahil’s story here was emotional, particularly when Burnham spoke highly of him and offered him a commission, it also felt just a little unrealistic.
Sahil’s relay station has the ability to scan a radius of 600 light-years, and assuming it’s located somewhat close to Hima/Terralysium, should be able to detect the arrival of the USS Discovery. Assuming, that is, that Discovery arrives in the future not the past! Time-travel stories can get complicated like that, which is why they’ve never been my favourites in Star Trek.
I do like Mr Sahil, despite my criticism above, and the sequence between him and Burnham was the emotional heart of the episode. It’s implied that he’s never met a Starfleet officer, so even meeting Burnham is a big deal for him, and the emotion on his face when Burnham tells him she’s proud of his dedication to the Federation was just beautiful, really. Together, Sahil and Burnham raise the Federation flag on the damaged outpost, signalling – in line with the theme of the season as a whole – that the Federation is coming back.
One point of interest from the flag is the missing stars. This is what first prompted me to consider the season as perhaps seeing a declining Federation way back when we got the first Season 3 trailer last year. The missing stars could simply be an aesthetic choice on the part of the Federation – but equally, those missing stars could represent seceded or withdrawn planets and races. If the latter is true, I wonder if it means those secessions happened before the Burn. Perhaps the Federation was already in decline, and the Burn was simply the last straw? Let’s save the theorising for my theory post!
Interestingly, Mr Sahil noted that two Starfleet vessels were in flight in the area he was able to scan. I had speculated that Starfleet and the Federation weren’t entirely gone, and this settles it. There are still Starfleet ships, even if there are only two within 600 light-years and even though Book has never seen one! I’m sure that, as the season progresses, we’ll get to spend time with this era’s Starfleet. Rebuilding the Federation is going to be a major theme of the season, and I’m excited for that. But I’m also excited to see what the contemporary Federation looks like.
And with that, the episode was over. That Hope Is You was a genuinely interesting start to the season. It built up slowly, introducing us to only two major characters, and perhaps a recurring or side character depending on how often Mr Sahil will return. Book is interesting, and I’m curious to learn more about his potential augmentations and/or cybernetics, as well as why he dedicates his time to rescuing space-worms.
There were a couple of badly-written lines that, unfortunately, detracted from the episode. Of course we’ve covered the line about the Burn, but there was also Book referring to himself as being “space broke” that I felt just didn’t work. Other than that, though, there aren’t any massive points to criticise from the premiere. The story worked well, it had some exciting moments, some quieter moments, and an emotional tug toward the end. It was a decent, solid way for Discovery to return to our screens.
One thing I hope we see more of are references to past iterations of Star Trek, especially to the events of the 24th Century. There wasn’t much of that at all this time, and although we are hundreds of years further along the timeline, finding ways for Discovery to tie itself to the wider franchise – and especially to series currently in production – will be important. Even more so now that we have a fourth season confirmed. That’s right, Discovery is coming back for Season 4 next year, much to the chagrin of followers of anti-Star Trek social media groups!
The setting for Season 3, while still shrouded in mystery, is not as strongly post-apocalyptic as I’d feared. Even the Federation itself is not entirely gone – Sahil confirmed this when he said that there are two Starfleet vessels in operation just in his relatively small patch. Though the Federation is clearly far smaller and lesser than we’ve ever seen it, there is a rump from which it can be rebuilt. The Burn is also not as catastrophic as feared, and there are clearly many millions, billions, or more who survived those events. All of these are positive things. Star Trek has always been a franchise that presents an optimistic future, and while I wouldn’t call the 32nd Century “optimistic,” it’s also not as pessimistic as perhaps I’d feared from seeing the trailers.
That Hope Is You has given Discovery a solid foundation upon which to build. The next episode will reintroduce Saru and the rest of the crew, and I’m really excited to see them back! I hope you’ll join me in the next few days for some theory-crafting, and next week I’ll be back to break down and review episode 2 – Far From Home. I’m looking forward to it already!
Star Trek: Discovery is available to watch now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.