This is my recap of episodes one to four of season three. My plan is to pick up on the general themes and overall story arcs of the new season and bring you recaps of several episodes at once.
The Discovery, you may remember from the end of season two, has gone through a wormhole travelling 1000 years into the future. They hope that when they get there they will discover life, as this will be proof that Control, the evil AI, has not eradicated all organic life. At this point I introduce my first bit of rampant speculation, is Control connected to the advanced AI from the future that nearly destroyed all organic matter in Picard? Let's discuss this in the forum.
Star Trek sure does love a big ol' space creature
Burnham arrives in the future first and quickly confirms there are life signs, she is ecstatic. She meets Book, a pleasing mix of Han Solo, Mal Reynolds and a kind of a space Steve Irwin with a British accent.
Due to the timey-whimey-ness of time, as you can tell I've read all of Professor Stephen Hawkings' books, the rest of the crew turn up, a few seconds after Burnham from their perspective. But for Burnham she has in fact been waiting a year. Not only does that mean a close relationship with Book, which may or may not end up being romantic, it means a new hair cut and a year’s worth of experiencing life as a courier. This involves transporting sometimes illicit cargo, usually space worms, for unscrupulous clients, this has hardened her a little and made her wary of falling back into the strict life of a starfleet officer.
The big reveal of the season is that the Federation no longer really exists, or if it does it is viewed as a legend, and no one knows where the headquarters are as they left Earth sometime ago. They faded into obscurity and lost authority after something called "the burn", not some form of STI, but a cataclysmic natural disaster that destroyed almost all of the dilithium, exploding plenty of starships along with it. Whether "the burn" was an act of God, connected to a bigger reveal, or just another red-angel style maguffin remains to be seen. Burnham discovers a federation outpost manned by a relation of a starfleet officer, he has been waiting forty years for some sign of the federation, she commissions him as a communications officer and the federation begins again, there maybe only a few of them left but they are the true believers in the ideals of the federation.
It's Trek Jim but not as we've known it for a long while
I am writing this review after watching the first four episodes and it is episode four, Forget Me Not, where Discovery really comes into its own, showing us what kind of show it can be once it has lifted the baggage of being a prequel from its back. As always it is beautifully shot, the colours are sumptuous, and the acting is of the highest order. Where episode four exceeds all previous standards is through its storytelling. It is a contained story full of character moments, whilst also managing to build on deeper Trek law, with a mere nod to the wider series arc.
The episode takes us to the planet Trill, taking new character and symbiont host Adira, for help as she cannot access any of the symbionts previous memories. As a human host is rare she is concerned the transfer has not been successful.
One of the previous host holds memories of the federation because he was a Starfleet admiral, so Burnham hopes it will help them locate the federation HQ. The Trill are initially pleased that a symbiont has returned home as the number of trill hosts has been reduced to the point of eradicating their culture. They explain this is due to"the burn". The warm welcome quickly turns to ice and outright prejudice once they see that Adira is human, she is called an abomination who must leave the planet immediately. Not all the Trill agree with this assessment, and a member of the council shows Adira to the caves of Mak'ala a mystical place where she will be reconnected with the symbiont.
The cave lakes offer up a classic Star Trek landscape, it is trippy, combining a natural habitat with the sort of high technology you might expect to see in the 31st Century. In the pools of remembering (I made that name up) Adira, and then Burnham who has to help her, travel to a very strange place. It is some kind of mindscape. With dark shapes flitting about in the background and tentacles trying to attach themselves to Adira, you wonder if something sinister awaits them. Thankfully the mind tentacles are benign and want to help Adira connect with the Symbiont.
Welcome to the Circle
The reason she could not connect with the symbiont is because she was suppressing the truth of Gray’s death. Gray was the intended host and Adira’s girlfriend, but a tragic accident meant Adira took the symbiont in as Gray died. She meets all the previous hosts and can now access their memories, one of them was the Admiral, who has the information Burnham was looking for.
Meanwhile back on Discovery, Saru consults the computer for advice on how to help his traumatised, over-stressed crew. The computer glitches and it starts to talk in the voice of the AI we met in the Short Treks episode Calypso. Saru surmises the sphere data, another call back to last season, has somehow merged with the ship’s computer.
The computer recommends mindful colouring and yoga, before hitting upon a suggestion Saru likes, a meal for all the bridge crew and movie night, specifically something by Buster Keaton. The meal does not appear to go well at first glance but it proves cathartic because they end up arguing and a few truths come out, including Detmer accepting her PTSD and finally asking for help. The shows handling of mental health is again sensitive and bold. The meal is restorative allowing the crew to own their pain and start to move forward. The whole episode is about connection, a crew adrift from their own time with no one to remember them, and Adira being disconnected from her memories and separated from the one she loves.
It was wonderful to see Wilson Cruz’s Dr. Culber playing a major role in this episode, he is the glue that holds everyone together, using his own experience of trauma to help the crew to own their individual and collective traumas. It is a performance of quiet dignity, more please.
We see that Saru’s ability to listen to others is one of his great strengths as a leader. It shines through in this episode, leading to some speculation within the Trek community that Saru could already be up there as one of the greatest Trek captains we’ve seen. This is high praise indeed, and it is hard to disagree, Saru already feels iconic. And in Doug Jones you get a sense of an actor embracing the role of a lifetime and giving a performance to match.
Discovery is doing for sexuality and gender identity what TOS did for race
Episode four is a great place to recap this whole season so far as it contains all the elements that might turn it into a classic of the Trek canon. This felt like the first completely character driven episode Discovery has offered us, it takes its time.
Burnham is still the heart and soul but it is no longer all from her perspective, and this is a good thing, because now we are seeing the other brilliant actors this show has gathered, featuring more prominently. Stamets and Tilly’s dynamic becomes stronger the more we spend time with them. Detmer and Culber are slowly becoming familiar names with distinct roles to play. Even Georgiou, often used for comic effect, she’s evil don’t forget, is developing a more three dimensional feel, and perhaps a blossoming relationship with Linus, they share some popcorn and a Buster Keaton film.
And in the depiction of Gray and Adira, Discovery is doing for sexuality and gender identity what TOS did for race, and arguably it should gain much more credit for this. It is a poignant storyline and using the Trill to explore non-binary and trans relationships is a stroke of genius. Bravo to all the writers, it is a triumph of inclusion, weaved into the plot challenging the viewer and society with the message, in the 31st century we don’t need to label such things. I just hope we don’t have to actually wait until the 31st century to see our own society reflect these values.
Episode four is a hymn to human connection and inclusion, at a time when in our own lives we have never been more isolated or divided, connections and relationships are so much harder to maintain. This show is about partnerships and working together. This show is the show we need right now. In many ways this was the most Trek-like Discovery has ever been; from the strange planets to the deeper philosophical and emotional questions the show is posing to the viewer. This season is shaping up to be the best season by a long margin.
"The more you are focused on time—past and future—the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is. ~ Eckhart Tolle