Netflix UK TV review: Star Trek: Discovery: Season 3, Episode 11
Burn origin let down6
Ian Winterton | On 28, Dec 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.
With Emperor Philippa Georgiou rather clumsily consigned to a spin-off series way back in a century as yet to be determined (something connected with shadowy Starfleet Section 31 has long been mooted), Discovery Season 3 returns to its main story: seeking the source of the galactic calamity The Burn.
The episode hits the ground running, with a brilliantly written pre-credits sequence in which numerous plot plates are set spinning (or re-spinning) for what will be a two-part trip to Season 3’s finale. Compared to the strong stories Discovery has delivered in previous seasons, a lot of this is very soapy – Stamets and Culber’s parental bond with Adira, and Adira moping after her symbiont boyfriend, Gray.
More pleasingly dramatic is the setting up of the three main characters who go on to beam down to the mysterious starship, all of whom are emotionally compromised: Saru’s decision-making is skewed by the presence of fellow Kelpiens (the stakes raised further by news that the Kelpien homeworld is under attack from the Emerald Chain), while Culber seems to have something to prove – willingly putting himself in harm’s way, despite the fact Stamet’s begs him not to go. A similar tension arises between Michael and Book, too, with the latter’s heroics flying through the nebula – and near-death from radiation damage – both reinforcing what a great guy he is, and (possibly) preparing us for a tragedy.
Almost a footnote here, but of great significance by episode’s end – and no doubt next episode – is Tilly taking her place in the captain’s chair. In a week when actress Mary Wiseman has felt the need to publicly confront online bigots who’ve been criticising her appearance, this feels more than timely. Tilly is a fantastic character, played to perfection by Wiseman, as we see in the lovely scene between Michael and an understandably nervous Tilly, which ends with a determined “up and at ‘em” clap from Tilly.
All this takes place pre-credits, culminating with the revelation that the red rash on the Kelpien female we’ve seen in the ancient recording wasn’t the result of radiation, but indicative of pregnancy and that the sole life form detected on the planet’s surface must be her grown-up child. What’s more, the planet is made solely of dilithium – which surely suggests this is the source of The Burn.
It’s an exciting intro, but the storylining – as so often this season – starts to fray fairly quickly. Twenty minutes in we get to what is actually the meat of the story, and really should have been arrived at pre-credits. Beaming down to the planet, Michael, Saru and Culber all discover, and this is a great idea for a bottle episode, they are inside a computer simulation. For some reason they’ve each changed species, which makes no real sense; it would especially be useful, surely, for Saru to retain his Kelpien appearance.
The holo environment is very gothic, all spooky woods and castles, which ties in with the fact it has at its centre Frankenstein’s Monster – the childlike, lonely and dangerous Su’Kal (Bill Irwin). As the Away Team’s engagement with Su’Kal leads to a powerful energy burst – aided by the dilithium planet and the computer – it becomes apparent that Su’Kal, when a child, caused The Burn. If true, this is, to put it mildly, a huge letdown. The entire season, and all the seismic changes wrought by The Burn in the 32nd Century, come down to this? Perhaps the season finale will reveal a more sinister – and therefore more dramatic – cause for The Burn, but for now it seems Discovery’s writers really have had yet another off-day.
Redeeming the rather plodding exploration of Su’kal’s artificial home are the action-packed events taking place above the planet. Emerald Chain leader Osyraa arrives and Tilly finds her first stint as captain more even more challenging than she might expect. She equips herself well, but is outsmarted by Osyraa’s superior tech – the episode ends with Emerald Chain troopers beaming on board, Osyraa taking the captain’s chair, and Discovery jumping away, leaving Michael, Saru and Culber stranded on the planet with Su’Kal.
It’s a decent cliffhanger, and one which promises some shocks for next week – we’re predicting at least one major character death. That we still care shows Discovery remains a strong show, although not quite as first-rate and unmissable as its first two seasons. As to what can be done to get Disco’s mojo back, the writers could do worse than to give more screen-time to Tig Notaro’s Feno. Her single laconic line – “What do you think I’m doing?” – is up there with Tilly’s clap as an episode highlight. But, while Disco’s storylining remains muddled, and they serve up villains as cliched as Osyraa – a mean woman in a black catsuit – then the future of this great series is starting to look in question.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 to 3 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.