Netflix UK TV review: Star Trek: Discovery: Season 3, Episode 3
Return to Earth9
Great character work9
Book in a Star Fleet uniform10
Ian Winterton | On 30, 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.
“This ship bears the name Discovery. Never has that been more fitting or more prescient. She has carried us into the future and it shall be our privilege to make that future bright. Let us begin – together.”
Genuine tingles are generated by Saru’s speech, made as he – finally and officially – becomes captain of the NCC-1031 USS Discovery. As a mission statement, both for the series going forward and this episode, it’s perfect. And, together with a brief overview of the year Michael spent as a courier/smuggler with Book (surely fertile territory for many a spin-off episode, comic-book or novel), we’re given a clear goal: go to Earth to investigate the source of a message sent 12 years previously by Starfleet officer Admiral Tal.
Cannily avoiding a big Battlestar Galactica-style ‘where is Earth?!’ storyline, the episode nevertheless highlights how different the Galaxy of the year 3188 is compared to that with which we’re familiar. Post-Burn, interstellar travel and communication is harder – and it speaks volumes that Michael has hitherto been unable to reach Earth. Now, though, we have Discovery’s spore drive and Stamet’s plugs in and – one Black Alert later – the Discovery flashes up near Saturn.
Arriving seconds later (the ship’s sublight propulsion sure is nifty) at Earth, the crew of the Discovery find that much has changed. Earth, encapsulated in a force field, is ruled by the United Earth Defence Force – totally cut off for reasons of self-preservation from the rest of the Galaxy. “Earth is no longer part of the Federation?” gasps Michael and, testament to the power of Trek, we share her shock.
Under Captain Ndoye (Phumzile Sitole), the UEDF show themselves to be a suspicious and overbearing bunch, beaming on board, phasers at the ready, trusting no one and prepared – if their strict protocols demand it, to shoot first. They are, in short, the very antithesis of Starfleet. The arrival of a common enemy – raiders, led by an alien named Wen, seeking dilithium – gives Saru and the others the chance to work some Starfleet magic. Unlike last week, when negotiations broke down into violence, here jaw-jaw triumphs over war-war (though, tellingly, Georgiou’s contribution, a kick to Wen’s leg, proves most helpful) – and we learn more about life in the 32nd century.
The episode’s title – People of Earth – not only refers to the people Discovery finds living on the planet, but also to most of Discovery’s human crew and – as is later revealed – the raiders too. Wen (Tin Star and Damnation’s wonderful Christopher Heyerdahl) and his gang are actually humans from Titan, aggrieved at having been abandoned by an isolationist Earth. Perhaps a little too neatly, Saru’s promise to “make the future bright” gets off to an excellent start and Captain Ndoye returns to Earth with much to think about regarding humanity’s place in the post-Burn cosmos.
In among the first-rate sci-fi adventure and intrigue, we get some brilliant character work, particularly for Michael. Though taking a year off her story seemed questionable, the way it’s handled here is perfect; she’s had a year without rules and regulations zipping about with Book, and had said goodbye to her friends aboard the Discovery. Seen through three people who know her best – Tilly, Georgiou and Saru – we get to gauge how much she’s changed. Tilly notes a “lightness” in her old roommate, while Georgiou perhaps recognises more of the Mirror Michael whom she once knew. At any rate, she hits the nail on the head when she says, “I see it in your eyes, Michael – you’ve tasted freedom that you never even thought was possible… I’m not sure you ever really knew who you were without someone else to tell you, but you’re starting to…”
And the tension in the friendship between Michael and Saru gets knottier still. As she opts to acquiesce command of the Discovery to Saru, he wonders who Michael – once defined by duty to Starfleet – now is. And when she takes Book out – seemingly to hand over the dilithium to the raiders – both Captain Saru and the audience are left, for a moment, to ponder quite how maverick Michael had become. The answer, of course, is just a smidgen – the plan was a ruse to capture Wen, and Michael ends the episode saying goodbye to Book and her life with him, and taking up her place as Saru’s Number One (fittingly, in an episode directed by Picard’s Number One, Jonathan Frakes aka Riker).
Moving forward, will the two sides to Michael – as represented by Saru (duty) and Georgiou (renegade individualism) – clash further? Inevitably. And what effect will that battle have on the new, happier Michael – the woman seen laughing with Tilly as they talk about her new hair? Time will tell but, judging by this episode, the writers are more than up to the task of delivering a gripping emotional journey.
Aside from Michael, the episode also serves to introduce a new member of the Discovery crew: Adira (Blu del Barrio, officially playing Star Trek’s first no-binary character). Beaming on board with Captain Ndoye, it’s immediately apparent that they’re more than just a precocious 16-year old. As is revealed at episode’s end, they are Admiral Tal. Sort of. In fact, they’re a human who also happens to be carrying the Trill symbiont of Admiral Tal, along with a few other personalities, though Adira can’t access Tal’s memories as she can the others. Convenient, for sure, in order to eke out the storyline, but in what is such a fine episode of a thus far brilliant season, it can forgiven.
The scene of Tilly et al visiting the former Starfleet academy is pure Trek magic – and seeing that the buildings, and even the Golden Gate Bridge, remain is a symbol of hope. As is the presence of the oak tree – now almost a thousand years older than we’ve seen it previously, still there, still growing – a sign that the Starfleet ethos endures. And will return.
One last thing; Book. Though it’s all but guaranteed that we haven’t seen the last of him (and it seems highly likely that, at some point, he’ll be wearing the Starfleet uniform we saw him in this week for real) it has to be said: seeing as Michael obviously has the hots for him, how did they manage to not hook up during the previous 12 months? Unless, and bear with us on this, there’s a major reason why Book dotes so much on his cat? Discovery’s greatest mystery: who is Grudge really?
Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 to 3 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.