It’s okay for an episode to just be okay sometimes.
- 🖖🏻Saru and Tilly get legitimately surprising character beats.
- 🖖🏻Michael and Georgiou continue their excellent love-hate relationship.
- 🖖🏻The recurring gag with Linus is aces.
- 🖖🏻This episode's main plot is too stock to be compelling.
- 🖖🏻Though I'm cautiously optimistic, the direction Adira's and Gray's storyline is taking makes me nervous.
This article contains spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery.
Check out our review of last week's episode here.
Well, they can’t all be winners.
Okay, okay, “Scavengers” is far from the worst Star Trek: Discovery has ever been, nor is it even a particularly bad episode. But it’s also a disappointing one, as it isn’t so much interested in telling a story in its own right as it is in positioning season-spanning character arcs for their next step. And that itself isn’t a crime. Many of these plot points are pretty interesting when taken in isolation. But it also can’t help but feel like Discovery is slipping back into bad habits and letting this season’s overarching mystery of what caused The Burn to overshadow its potential for good storytelling in the moment.
For instance, take the main plot of this episode. Michael (Sonequa Martin-Green) disobeys a direct order from Saru (Doug Jones) to go on a rogue mission with Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) to save Book (David Ajala) from a slave colony and retrieve a black box from one of the ships destroyed in The Burn. There isn’t much more to the premise than Michael and Georgiou showing up to pretend at being black market dealers so that Book can stage a prison revolt, and that just isn’t as compelling as how earlier episodes this season felt like genuine away missions with intellectual heft to them. The action is well-staged, the stakes are tangible, Michael and Georgiou continue to have great antagonistic banter, and Book is a compelling love interest for Michael. However, that’s all garnish on an episode plot that feels like filler, where none of the three characters we care about are going to have anything bad happen to them or have to grow in any substantial way, especially because we’re still teasing out what’s going on with Georgiou’s debilitating flashbacks without any new information coming to light.
The best stuff in this episode feels relegated to the periphery, in total insufficient to be considered much of a B- or C-plot, but interesting enough that you want to see what is next in store for these characters. Though it feels odd to have Saru and Michael come to an impasse over her rebellions this early in the season, the final scene of the episode where the brokenhearted captain has to demote his supposed confidante is gut-wrenching, especially because Michael explicitly tells him that he’s doing the right thing. Saru has consistently been the most interesting character on the show since its inception, and it’s fascinating to see this once meek officer evolve into the kind of captain who has to make hard decisions that feel like betrayals of friendships.
Also shocking is Tilly’s (Mary Wiseman) decision to not talk Saru out of reporting Michael’s disappearance to the admiral. Tilly has always been the most starry-eyed of the main cast, so it’s practically revelatory to realize she’s grown so much for her to recognize that one of her closest friends did something to directly harm their standing with the new Federation, not only owning that knowledge, but actively pointing out that wrong to a captain who wanted to be talked out of his difficult duty. Wiseman has always quietly been doing some of the toughest character work on the show for years (not in the least part because of how inconsistently her character is written), and this was a very well written moment that allowed her talents as an actress to shine through.
Most interesting, though, is the budding friendship between Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Adira (Bludel Barrio). Though Adira is still lost as to why they are able to see and talk to their dead boyfriend Gray (Ian Alexander), they let Stamets in on the secret, who in turn offers the wisdom gleaned from when his husband Hugh (Wilson Cruz) was dead and subsequently brought back to life. I really don’t know how to feel about the basis for this budding friendship. On the one hand, it is interesting from a paratextual standpoint to watch a well-known gay actor act as a mentor figure to a younger queer person. But on the other hand, they’re connecting over how they’ve both been victims of the show’s overreliance on “burying the gays,” which was once subverted (poorly) in Hugh’s case and has yet to be rectified in Gray’s. I desperately want this bit of intergenerational bonding to be cute and heartwarming, but it also feels like the writers recognize the parallel between their queer story arcs and don’t necessarily see it as a problem. We’ll come back to this one when the show finally shows us what it has in store for Gray.
All in all, “Scavengers” is a bit of a wash. Saru and Tilly steal the show with a handful of scenes, Stamets and Adira raise more questions than they answer, and the most forgettable part was the 60% of the episode we were supposed to be invested in. The MVP, though, is the running gag of bit character Linus (David Benjamin Tomlinson) accidentally teleporting with his upgraded Starfleet badge into awkward scenes. No matter how the rest of the episode shakes out in the grand scheme of this season, that was comedy gold.
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