"The Sanctuary" leans on character moments at the expense of an interesting plot.
- 🖖🏻Adira finally had the pronoun conversation!
- 🖖🏻Great character beats for the supporting cast, across the board.
- 🖖🏻How are Book's subplots always the least interesting?
- 🖖🏻Osyraa doesn't make the Emerald Chain any more imposing.
This article contains spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery.
Check out our review of last week's episode here.
I hate to say it, but Book might be the worst thing about this season of Star Trek: Discovery. It’s not anyone’s fault, really. David Ajala does a good job of walking the line between action bravado and empathetic environmentalism, and it’s nice to see Michael (Sonequa Martin-Green) have some sexual chemistry with someone. But the writing is really transparent about how his main plot function is to act as a window into the Emerald Chain, the outlaw alliance of Orion and Andorian slavers who I guess are supposed to be the Big Bad of this season. That’s not bad in theory, but much like the previous episode that leaned on Book as the focal point of its A-plot, “The Sanctuary” is much more interesting for the character development that’s happening in the periphery.
That said, at least there’s a bit more to Book and Michael’s excursion to Book’s homeworld than the prison escape of “Scavengers.” We get to revisit Book’s empathic abilities and have a central conflict that revolves around getting a gaggle of critters to a less invasive habitat. Book’s brother is a bit of a snooze, but the allusions to his and Book’s complicated history are interesting bits of world-building that could bear satisfying fruits later. Consider me intrigued, but not exactly hooked yet.
The episode is really more a means to the end of introducing Emerald Chain leader Osyraa as an imposing presence. Though her actions are monstrous – the tranceworm death in her introductory scene is surprisingly gruesome for this show – there’s a reserved coolness that makes her personality difficult to read. She’s mainly here to reinforce the season’s continual allusions that the Federation of this future might not live up to the ideals that the Discovery crew has projected onto it, which will eventually make an interesting thematic twist once the show is willing to commit to that darkness. In the meantime, though, this is just more table-setting, and it’s easy to wish it weren’t so relatively ham-fisted and clumsy.
The engaging stuff is all in the secondary cast this week. Hugh’s (Wilson Cruz) examination and verbal sparring with Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) is fun, but the episode once again concludes without actually telling us anything more about her strange condition. Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is taking to the role of first officer with aplomb, and Saru (Doug Jones) gets a great running gag through the episode where he can’t decide on his captainly catchphrase. (The fact that all of them are delivered so awkwardly is icing on the cake.) Ryn (Noah Averbach-Katz), the Andorian whom Book saved from the prison colony, gets some interesting dimension, co-piloting with a gradually more confident Detmer (Emily Coutts) to disable Osyraa’s ship and revealing to Tilly that the Emerald Chain is growing more aggressive because their stores of dilithium are running low. These all contain meaty character beats that manage the task of juggling the large cast and pushing them toward the season’s final act.
And once again, just like “Scavengers,” the most interesting interactions are between Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Adira (Blu del Barrio). The most obviously noteworthy part of the episode from a plot perspective is the discovery of a music cue emanating from the source point of The Burn, a refrain that has been replicated multiple times by unrelated people throughout the season. We have no idea what that means yet, but it’s intriguing. What’s more intriguing is how Gray (Ian Alexander) is now mysteriously absent, receding from Adria’s perception to be more akin to a normal Trill host memory. The jury’s still out on whether the show will do this character any sort of justice, but it was still nice to see Stamets and Adira perform a duet together as a moment of bonding while Adira works through their feelings.
Also, someone finally decided to write in the pronoun conversation with Adira! Because they are non-binary, it was frustrating to spend most of this season with characters assuming their gendered pronouns, so while the explanatory moment comes about a month’s worth of episodes too late for my liking, the casual nature of the correction and everyone’s unquestioning adherence to it is a great example of inclusive storytelling.
“The Sanctuary” feels less like filler than “Scavengers,” but it suffers from many of the same structural issues and doesn’t gel with this season’s best entries. I really wish the writers had something better to do with Book than hamstringing him with all the plotted connections to the Emerald Chain, and I’m just not sold on Osyraa as an interesting villain. As we approach the final five episodes of the season, we can expect these divergent plot threads to congeal, so hopefully this laying groundwork is worth it for what the show has in store for us. There just has to be a better way to set it up than this.
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