Netflix TV review: Star Trek: Discovery: Season 3, Episode 5
Ian Winterton | On 13, Nov 2020
Warning: This contains spoilers. Not caught up with Star Trek: Discovery? Read our review of the last episode here. New episodes arrive on Fridays within 24 hours of their US broadcast.
It’s testament to the power of Star Trek: Discovery – and Star Trek in general – that the pre-credit sequence of this latest episode is nail-bitingly exciting but none of the central characters are in any kind of peril; it’s just that they, and we, are getting to see what remains of The Federation and Starfleet in the year 3188.
As the show’s writers have done all season, there’s no stringing out any of the plotlines. As with reuniting Michael with Discovery in Episode 3, here we get the ship and its crew back in the bosom of Starfleet. Eschewing the more obvious story prolongation is a canny move – we have more than enough storylines and unanswered questions buzzing around without Discovery wandering aimless and alone in a strange future. Is the sight of Voyager in the spaceyards (11th generation, as its updated serial number – NCC 74656-J – informs us) an intentional comment on this narrative decision? Star Trek’s already done the Lost in Space thing and, while it was fun, Discovery is all about moving the story forward at a clip; even less so than in previous seasons, Discovery is a serial, not a series – its episodes must be watched in order.
So, The Federation and Starfleet – “Separate entities that must now abide together,” as Saru sagely puts it – in the 32nd century is a mere shadow of its former self. It’s not, though, a corrupted or totalitarian version of what came before (another wise move by the writers) but a continuation of the ideals that held many planets and civilisations together. But they are weary, having been in defensive mode, hidden behind a distortion field, since the Burn 120 years ago.
We learn many other titbits that Trekkies will waste no time uploading into the online canon. Both Barzan and Kaminar (Nhan and Saru’s homeworlds, respectively) have joined the Federation, although contact has been lost since the Burn and the collapse of the subspace relay network. Today, we’re told, The Federation comprises 38 worlds, down from 350 at its peak.
This new info is conveyed to the Discovery crew via Admiral Vance – played by Oded Fehr who, in case you’re racking your brains, you’ll recognise because he was Aredth in The Mummy – who, together with Lt. Willa (Vanessa Jackson), represents Starfleet. They’re suspicious of Discovery’s crew and seem only able to reflexively fall back on protocol. This, of course, is where the healthy tension between Saru and Michael comes in handy, the former inclined to fall in line and do his duty, while Michael – now with a year as an interstellar smuggler under her belt – has a more rebellious, pragmatic streak.
The opposing views are married by episode’s end via the rather perfunctory A-story. Michael suggests they use the spore drive to pop over to a seed repository starship in order to save some refugee aliens dying from a rare space plague, and their success proves to Admiral Vance that the Discovery’s crew – for the good of Starfleet as well as their own mental health – should be kept together as a family. It’s all set up for some great missions, with Discovery able to zap off to see how former Federation worlds are faring post-Burn.
Before that, though, we have a subplot in which the crew are debriefed by Starfleet, and the writers have a lot of fun having characters say out loud exactly what they’ve individually been through. “And then I was murdered,” says Dr. Culber, while Georgiou’s , Kovich – played as unsettlingly unhinged as you’d expect by director David Cronenberg – matter-of-factly tells her, “So, this is your second universe and your third timeline…”
We get big hints, from this, that the Mirror Universe of the Terran Empire may yet play a part. Kovich informs Georgiou that the gap between the two universes is expanding, and they have no reports of anyone crossing over in the last 500 years. She seems to shrug off his suggestion that she is truly all alone in this dimension, but later we see her lost in pensive thought – is she going to begin to unravel (and how will this lead into the much-mooted Georgiou spin-off?)
We lose Nhan, too, which makes as much impact as you’d expect; no fault of actor Rachael Ancheril, but Nhan has been by far the dullest and poorly defined character in Discovery. She won’t be missed. Besides, as this episode reminds us, Discovery has more than enough narrative plates up and spinning. Lt. Detmerx’s PTSD (and possible Control AI incursion in her cyber brain), Michael’s sidebar quest to seek out her mother, and all the complexities involved in Trill symbiont Adira.
It’s a cracking episode, all in all, though more for the ongoing story strands than the by-the-numbers story-of-the-week aboard the seed repository. As with the season as a whole, this ep is a gripping prologue, but the main meat of the story is yet to come. Bring it on.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 to 3 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.