Netflix UK TV review: Star Trek: Discovery: Season 3, Episode 12
Die Hard in space10
Osyraa gets interesting8
Ian Winterton | On 03, Jan 2021
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.
The middle episode of Season 3’s three-part finale sees Discovery get its mojo back – and then some. With Jonathan Frakes directing, it’s no surprise the action is spot-on, nor that the high-stakes emotional drama is played at a pitch that verges on – but doesn’t quite succumb to – hysteria. In other words: this is damned exciting – and a little bit camp. Perfect Star Trek.
The writers wisely keep Saru, Culber and Adira – stranded on the surface of an irradiated planet with a day to live – out of this week’s story, and concentrates on Osyraa’s hijacking of Discovery. As well as finally being allowed to reveal she has to more to her than being a cliched sadistic villain (her vision for an emerald Chain/Federation alliance is unexpected), she also proves herself to be one of the most formidable enemies the Trek franchise has thrown up in a while. Her plan – to have her ship appear to be pursuing Discovery – is brilliant, and leads to Admiral Vance allowing the stricken starship to enter Federation shield bubble.
Furthermore, Tilly finds herself face-to-face with Zareh – the man she chose not to execute earlier in the season, instead abandoning him to the freezing wilderness. He has a grudge – understandable considering he’s lost half his fingers to frostbite (what – the Emerald Chain can’t afford a cyber-hand?), and Michael and Book blast their way into the rear of Discovery – the only glimmer of hope for the good guys.
All this is in the episode’s poundingly thrilling pre-credits sequence, which – unlike last week – delivers on its promise. The storytelling crisp – fast-moving but clear – with each plot-strand deftly dealt with. First off, we have Michael and Book, both confessing their love for one another – which surely indicates tragedy is just around the corner. By the end of this episode, though, they’re both alive, though separated, but the tension is ramped up so effectively that, with Michael sending farewell messages to her mother, we even start to suspect that maybe it’s Michael who’s going to meet her end next week. It could also, of course, mean that Michael’s mum turns up with her fellow Qowat Milat warrior nuns at her back…
It’s very much a Die Hard on a spaceship with nods to that mighty Christmas movie – crawling through ducts, Michael “stitching” up her wounded leg – surely intentional. There are other movie refs sprinkled, throughout, too – with Buster Keaton’s face popping up to remind us that the Sphere Data is still very much a part of Discovery.
An interesting additional character comes in the form of scientist Aurellio, played by Kenneth Mitchell who, in real life, suffers from the same neurological disorder, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). Here, he’s a human who, thankful for Osyraa freeing him from slavery despite his genetic illness, seems blind to the evil perpetrated by her and the Emerald Chain. He and the imprisoned Stamets have a chat, the latter laying the seeds of doubt – that will assuredly bloom next week – in Aurellio’s mind. “I believe you when you say that [Osyraa]’s… more than she appears to be. But she is also… exactly what she appears to be.”
This statement becomes evident with Osyraa’s negotiations with Vance – her adherence to Machiavelli’s “the ends justify the means” dictum making her blind to the atrocities she’s overseen. It also highlights a possible weakness in the Federation’s ideals in that Vance, even in the name of peace, is unwilling to let matters proceed unless Osyraa agrees to be put on trial for her crimes. This, of course, leads to her storming out – war assured. It’s also interesting to note that Osyraa, quite clearly the callous villain, names her ideology as “capitalism”. It’s a tension baked into Star Trek from the very beginning: that this drama, though building on American exceptionalism and created by a huge TV corporation, shows a vision of the future that is a socialist and multicultural paradise. Understandably, considering the USA’s dislike of socialism, the drama has rarely tackled this head on (a notable exception being the Next Generation episode The Neutral Zone in which a millionaire from our time awakes from cryo to discover his bank accounts no longer exist) and Enterprise, set during the earliest days of the Federation developing into a Vulcan-influenced utopia, made no mention of the point when the people of Earth stopped using money.
Here, once again, Netflix and Discovery appear to be flipping the bird to those Americans stuck in the past: a woman of colour, on board a starship with another woman as captain, fights against evil capitalists, with the dastardly Zareh – a black-hat straight out of a Western – the clearest reminder of America’s past.
None of this is on the nose, though, and the main meat of the episode remains telling a cracking space-opera adventure tale. Once again, Michael finds herself making a hard decision, this time ejecting Stamets from Discovery. As he’s the only person who can operate the spore drive, getting him safely back to the Federation is a canny move – but it potentially comes at a great cost. Stamets, desperate to jump Discovery back to the nebula to save Culber, Adira and Saru, is distraught as Michael flushes him out of the ship in a force-field pod and his cry – “My whole life is in that nebula!” – is one of those brilliantly ridiculous pieces of Trek dialogue that nevertheless delivers an emotional punch.
The episode ends on an upswing for the good guys, though. Tilly and the rest of the bridge crew, having escaped, come across some service droids. WALL-E style, they play old-school Earth entertainment (a clip, fittingly, from Go West, Buster Keaton’s take on a gunfighter showdown).
All in all, this near-perfect episode seems to suggest Discovery Season 3 is going to end as it begin – with first-rate plotting, action and – above all – character work that, with the audience gripped on an emotional level, has us really caring who lives and who dies.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 to 3 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.