Netflix UK TV review: Star Trek: Discovery: Season 3, Episode 2
A great new villain8
Joy of seeing Disco’s crew back9
Ian Winterton | On 23, Oct 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.
Even if you skip the recap, in which we’re filled in on how every single member of Discovery’s main cast ended Season 2, the brief pre-credits scene in Season 3’s second episode tell us quite clearly: the Discovery made it through the wormhole in time. Opting not to make dramatic hay from the suspense seems like a missed opportunity, even more so because the episode is a very workmanlike placeholder. It’s by no means bad, but it lacks the storytelling energy and pace that made the season opener – and make Discovery in general – such a great watch.
Exactly as one would expect, as with Michael last week, so with the Discovery – the starship hurtling from the wormhole and crash-landing on a barren, icy world with strange artificial pockets of oxygen. Bridge officer Keyla Detmer (Emily Coutts) saves the day with some skilled flying, but the Discovery is wedged in a glacier and there are multiple casualties. Among the injured is Keyla herself, the enhanced human taking a knock to her implant. She acts strangely from here on in which, although not much is made of it this episode, is likely due to evil AI Control escaping into her circuitry at the close of Season 2. It’s surely no coincidence that, during the recap, Control’s human vessel, Leland, is seen bellowing: “This will not end here!”
But for this week, that’s as much intrigue as we’re going to get. We get a ticking clock courtesy of some parasitic ice crystals that threaten to subsume the ship, but there’s never really any doubt as to whether the Discovery will escape or not. The rest of the ep is divided between Story A (Saru and Tilly) and Story B (Stamets and Reno, with added Dr. Hugh).
The first sees acting captain of the Discovery, Saru (brilliantly played as ever by Doug Jones), showing off more of his un-cowed true Kelpian self by being decisive and, as lanky peace-loving aliens go, pretty badass. As Kirk and Picard before him, he embarks on an away mission to investigate a settlement they’ve discovered nearby. They need help getting the Discovery back in the air, but one suspects Saru’s real motivation is the chance to get back to Star Fleet/Federation first principles and “to seek out new life and new civilisations”. He opts to take only Tilly with him, for the brilliantly optimistic reason that, “We’re introducing ourselves and you, Ensign Tilly, are a wonderful first impression.”
As it turns out, they don’t encounter much of a civilisation, just a handful of aliens with bumpy heads (called Coridanites) who are stranded on this world. To complement Saru’s wide-eyed zeal, and reminiscent of Sahil Michael met last week, their leader Kal is another true believer in the now (almost) defunct Federation; he knew they’d come and rescue them one day.
Unfortunately, this civilised discourse gets a reality check when local bandit leader Zaher (Jake Weber) drops in and kills Kal – a genuinely shocking moment. Saru’s diplomacy and adherence to protocol is no good and he and Tilly are only saved by the intervention of former Terran Emperor Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh). A Machiavellian realist, she’s everything Saru isn’t. But, as she is official a Section 31 agent, she is as much a part of Star Fleet as the rest of them. But, as we’ve seen in Picard, this duplicitous, suspicious side goes on to erode the soul of the institution; in post-Burn 32nd century, will be discover that the dark side of Star Fleet has survived along with its nobler aspects?
Against Georgiou’s wishes, Saru gives Zaher’s fate is given over to the surviving Coridanites who opt not to execute him. This is good for us as viewers – similar to his role as right-wing radio shock-jock in Homeland, Jake Weber’s weaselly Old West style bad guy is great fun to watch – but will, one suspects, come back to bite our heroes on their collective ass.
Stamets and Reno is more pedestrian, in that the former – almost killed last season – is stubbornly back at work, despite the protestations of his better half, Dr Hugh. As with our main story, this is all about duty, and what Star Fleet represents. Stamets is foolhardy – and going against orders (as Georgiou does) but he ultimately saves the ship from the parasitic ice crystals.
And then comes the episode’s closing scene, in which a mysterious craft tractor-beams the Discovery off the ice. And who’s in the ship? Michael, with a new hair-do, in great health, telling her crewmates that she’s been in the 32nd century for a year. As with the opening, it’s somewhat disappointing; not only do we know the fate of Discovery’s crew, they’re now reunited with Michael. So much for playing the long game, plot-wise.
The extent of this disappointment depends, obviously, on what happens next. Are we going to have a series of flashback episodes that fills in Michael’s missing year, presumably with Book in tow? And, if so, will there be some cleverly set-up storylines that then impact on the ‘present’ we’ve just seen, with Michael back on Discovery? And how does Keyla fit into all this? Controlled by Control, will she attempt to find a way to return Discovery – and the deadly knowledge contained within its systems – back in time?
Whatever happens, this episode – although a little underwhelming – does remind us of Discovery’s greatest strength: its characters. Whether it’s officious but kind Saru, almost-evil Georgiou, loveably big-hearted Tilly, or – this reviewer’s favourite – sardonic engineer Reno, the show boasts an ensemble to rival that of Kirk or Picard’s crew. As with those guys, even in the most by-the-numbers story, watching characters we love is the real reason we tune in.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 to 3 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.