This week's episode is a lot of fun, even if it highlights some of the season's overall weaknesses.
- 🖖🏻An extended 'Die Hard' riff is an unexpectedly fun surprise.
- 🖖🏻The Emerald Chain is a much more interesting villain than they first appeared.
- 🖖🏻The Stamets-Michael conflict is heartbreaking.
- 🖖🏻The bridge crew doesn't get much to do in this episode.
- 🖖🏻The interesting narrative choices of this episode highlight some missteps in setting up those plot points.
This article contains spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery.
Check out our review of last week's episode here.
Of all the places I expected Discovery to take its penultimate episode of the season, I was not expecting it to perform an extended Die Hard riff, complete with a winking nod to John McClane in the form of Michael (Sonequa Martin-Green) losing her shoes. It’s a bizarre stylistic choice, to be sure, but it’s also an exciting one, providing an underlying action dynamic for an episode that still has a lot on its mind, particularly when it comes to the relationship between the Emerald Chain and the Federation.
As Osyraa (Janet Kidder) Trojan Horses her way into Federation Headquarters aboard Discovery, Book (David Ajala) and Michael propel their way into Discovery’s docking bay, causing havoc that the Emerald Chain is not immediately able to respond to. One overdue exchange of “I love you” later, Book lets Michael go to take back the ship, so that she may crawl through the vents and confront Emerald Chain goons as she searches for a way to sabotage.
Book, meanwhile, is taken to join the bridge crew, held hostage as Osyraa calls for a meeting with Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr). Tilly (Mary Wiseman) and the bridge crew don’t get much to do this episode besides a token subterfuge of their gullible guards, and they mostly act as a cheerleading squad as they realize Michael’s accomplishments throughout the ship. Though I’m not expecting this ragtag bunch to take on the whole captured ship by themselves just yet, there just isn’t much for them to do while remaining captured, personal bodyguards or no.
Much more interesting this episode is Stamets (Anthony Rapp), imprisoned in the engine room with an Emerald Chain scientist who wants to know all he can about the spore drive. This subplot is initially set up as if this scientist is a torturer and Stamets is going to have his knowledge forcibly extracted – or, worse yet, have his consciousness destroyed so that he can be a tool for use of the spore drive – but the Emerald Chain scientist displays much more compassion than you’d initially expect. This is our window into the main philosophical thrust of the episode, which shows that maybe the Emerald Chain beyond Osyraa is not as torturously evil as we’ve been led to believe.
This comes into greatest focus in the discussions between Vance and Osyraa, who parley for an opportunity to cease the conflict between the Emerald Chain and the Federation. Osyraa calls for a union of their organizations and resources, offering up a picture of the Chain as a system of governance more representative of its people than the gangsters they initially appear to be. The ideological schism between the two competing galactic governments is a fascinating one: after The Burn, the Federation upheld its moral ideals at the cost of hoarding its resources and technology from outposts that were too costly to maintain. The Emerald Chain, on the other hand, established a wider base of law and order, but it resorted to capitalism and slavery achieve its power. From the Chain’s point of view, they did what was necessary to reestablish governance in a power vacuum, and Osyraa’s offer, to concede their gains and use of slavery in return for joining the Federation in a bid for legitimacy, is a compelling conflict between ideological purity and pragmatic sacrifice. It’s a conflict I wish the show had found more room to explore prior to this episode, which would have made Osyraa’s refusal to be held accountable for her war crimes sting all the harder as it causes the peace talks to collapse and pushes the Federation and the Chain to war.
The other major emotional turning point arrives when Michael finally saves Stamets from his interrogator, only for their motivations to diverge. Stamets is understandably traumatized by the prospect of leaving Hugh (Wilson Cruz) and Adira (Blu del Barrio) back on the fatally irradiated planet, so he pleads with Michael to let him jump them back. But Michael knows that the Federation will need Discovery to fight off the Emerald Chain, so she makes the tough choice to incapacitate Stamets and blow him out into space so that he can be safely recovered by Federation Headquarters, preventing Discovery from jumping away with the spore drive. Though this subplot once again highlights how contrived Adira’s trip down to the planet really was (and also makes Stamets’ relationship to Adira more paternal than I personally read it), it establishes a deep emotional rift between Michael and Stamets that might not easily recover, especially in a single remaining episode this season.
Overall, this is an exciting, engaging episode that is faulty not so much for its content as for how it highlights storytelling missteps of the season that preceded it. The Emerald Chain and Osyraa are a much more interesting villain than this entire season made them out to be, and the reveal of their depths feels rushed as a result. I’m convinced we needed at least one episode dedicated to Adira and Stamets, rather than allowing their familial relationship be a background element that’s focused more on the mystery of Gray (Ian Alexander) than on their growing connection. As the bridge crew discovers the sentient sphere data controlling an army of robots in a climactic bid to take the ship back, I wish those robots had been better established in an earlier episode. Discovery has really stepped up its game this season in terms of episodic storytelling, but if they are still going to insist on season-long story arcs, they need to find a balance between the baby and the bathwater. Even so, next week's finale promises to be an interesting one, with a lot to wrap up and a lot to potentially tease for next season.
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