When we got to the end of Discovery’s first season, I was incredibly disappointed to learn that the ship was on its way to Vulcan to pick up their new captain. (We never did find out who that was supposed to be.) Instead, they rendezvoused with the Enterprise, and Pike took over as temporary captain.
The disappointment was that Saru wouldn’t be the new CO of the ship.
Saru is the greatest creation of this show. He embodies so much of what makes some of the best Trek characters: scientific curiosity, compassion, intelligence, character growth. After being a dark, ugly place under Captain Gabriel Lorca’s evil twin Skippy in the first two-thirds or so of season one, Saru took command once Lorca’s deception was revealed, and Discovery became a kinder place, one that was more recognizable as a Starfleet ship, even though it was still in the midst of a war.
But then Pike took over in season two, though Saru still had plenty of journeys to go on, particularly once he unlocked his people’s great secret: that they didn’t die when they undergo the vahar’ai. Now Saru isn’t a prey animal anymore, he’s more confident, more aggressive—but still, at heart, the scientist he’s always been.
And he’s now in charge. I was genuinely worried that Saru would once again be forced to take a step back, get bigfooted by either Burnham or Georgiou, but—at least as of “Far from Home”—that isn’t happening, at least not with Georgiou. (Aside from the very last scene, we don’t see Burnham at all in the episode.)
Indeed, “Far from Home” makes it abundantly clear exactly who’s in charge of the ship now, and at no point is there any doubt. The hesitancy we saw in “Choose Your Pain” when he was given command of Discovery and wasn’t sure how to proceed is entirely gone. Both Georgiou and Nhan question his orders at various points—though Nhan is respectful about it and still follows his orders—but Saru never lets them get the better of him or make him doubt his decisions. He even is willing to use Georgiou up to a point, as her timely arrival at the settlement when Saru and Tilly are negotiating from a very weak position (at gunpoint) allows our heroes to gain the upper hand.
Saru never backs down, never gives up, and knows his people. His wordless exchanges with Georgiou are what saves everyone’s asses.
“Far from Home” is structurally very similar to “That Hope is You,” starting by opening with a crash landing. I found the entire crash-landing sequence to be incredibly thrilling, as the nearly-completely-depowered Discovery has to land successfully, and it only comes about due to contributions from everyone on the bridge: Saru, Bryce, Rhys, Owosekun, Tilly, Reno, and especially Detmer. The bridge crew hasn’t been all that critical to Discovery, but they’ve slowly become more and more important to the overall storyline, and Detmer and Owosekun in particular are two I’m hoping to learn more about. Detmer once again proves to be a brilliant pilot, earning the applause of the entire bridge crew. But she’s not entirely handling the situation well, either, and Emily Coutts beautifully plays the character’s PTSD after the crash, unable to deal with the destruction.
Indeed, many of the characters are struggling to deal with the aftermath of the crash, partly because the ship has very little power, no sensors, no communications, and the only thing they know for sure is that they, like Burnham last week, did not crash on Terralysium. They don’t even know when they are—indeed, the only thing they know for sure is that their greater mission was successful, because they do detect life.
Mary Wiseman continues to be magnificent, as Tilly is obviously completely fried and confused and hurt, but she struggles through to do her job. But she’s so scattered that Georgiou is obviously ready to punch her in the nose, Nhan thinks she’s not entirely fit for duty, and even Tilly herself thinks Saru is crazy to take her along on his mission to make contact with the locals. But Saru says he can think of no one better to create a good first impression, and he’s only wrong insofar as she’s second best—Saru himself is best, as he proves when he talks to the local miners.
Tilly, though, is the one who figures out that something has happened to make dilithium crystals a rarity, as she detects warp-capable ships with no dilithium anywhere to be found, and is the one who blurts out that they have dilithium to trade with the locals, which is good, as that’s the only decent negotiating position they have.
Stamets is suffering more directly, as we last saw him in a medically induced coma. Culber has to bring him out of the coma because they need his bed, and he gets a cycle in a cellular regeneration chamber, which is enough to keep him conscious. Stamets, however, insists on going back to work, to Culber’s annoyance and Reno’s amusement. Stamets and Reno still can’t stand each other, and their banter as they work to fix the ship is epic, especially once you add the what-the-hell-are-you-doing-working-when-you-should-be-in-bed-recuperating ranting from Culber when he finds out. (“We’re gonna focus on one moment at a time, okay? And we’re going to do all of this slowly and carefully—because I need you out of there alive so I can kill you.”)
Whatever the flaws of Discovery over its first two seasons, many of which are borne out of the truly chaotic mess it’s been behind the scenes, the one thing that has been consistent is the hallmark of all great Trek: fascinating characters whose fate you become invested in. Just as “That Hope is You” spotlighted the main character, “Far from Home” spotlights everyone else superbly. This has grown into a compelling ensemble, and going on the journey to learn about this crazy-ass future with them looks to be great fun.
Well, some great fun—it’s also pretty dang violent. Georgiou kills a bunch of people saving Saru and Tilly’s lives, and Saru is too busy staying alive (and Tilly too busy hiding behind the bar like a smart person) to stop her initially. But once he’s in a position to keep Georgiou from killing people, Saru does so. Still, this is a nasty, ugly, unpleasant future, one that Georgiou is already taking to like a duck to water. This week we meet more of the true believers Book was talking about last time, and they’re all miners who are as down on their luck as it’s possible to be: they’re completely under the thumb of a thuggish criminal named Zareh (played with superlative sliminess by Jake Weber).
Overall, this is a fantastic episode that continues the work “That Hope is You” did in introducing us to the future, and also giving us some magnificent alien landscapes. Discovery crashes in ice, which turns out to be alive and it starts constricting the ship. The sound of the hull straining adds beautifully to the tension of the ship repair scenes, giving our heroes a ticking clock to get power back before the ship is crushed.
On top of that, we get some nice original-series techie callbacks, as Bryce has to repair a transtator (established as a major piece of 23rd-century technology in general and used in communicators in particular in “A Piece of the Action”) using rubindium (established in “Patterns of Force”).
And then in the end we get the big twist. Burnham finds Discovery, but she has much longer hair—because “That Hope is You” was a year ago. Looking forward to finding out what happened in that year soon…
Keith R.A. DeCandido‘s latest novel is To Hell and Regroup, which will be on sale at the beginning of November. Also check out his “KRAD COVID readings” YouTube channel, in which he reads from his writings—this week, he’s doing a three-part reading of his 2001 Kira Nerys-focused novella “Horn and Ivory,” part of the post-finale DS9 fiction.